It is a strange feeling being a tourist in a place you know as home. I lived in San Francisco and the Napa Valley for ten years right out of college, and I am not just visiting “the City by the Bay”, a beautiful place bursting with funky people, colorful neighborhoods and amazing cuisine, I am revisiting my favorite haunts and hot spots with a whole bunch of new in-between.
Here are a few of my favorite things:
The San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace a.k.a Heaven on Earth- My personal heaven most definitely is a long corridor of bright open specialty shops dedicated to caviar, oysters, salty pork snacks, exotic mushrooms, wine, Cowgirl Creamery, delectable Vietnamese food, boutique coffee, organic humanely-raised meat, chocolate, European-style larders, locally loved and grown produce and artisanal everything— this is the Ferry Building. On Saturdays and Tuesdays it outdoes itself by filling its surrounding plazas with a farmer's market. Basically, an environment bursting with and dedicated to pure ambrosia: food of the gods.
Bi-Rite Market- Secretly, I yearn to do a peaceful take-over of this tiny, but treasure filled neighborhood market. I would leave everything exactly as it is, but I would make it Mine all Mine! And while I am at it, I would also peacefully integrate the neighbors-- Bi-Rite Creamery, Delfina Restaurant, Delfina Pizzeria, and Tartine Bakery into my foodie empire. 3639 18th Street.
Tasty Salted Pig Parts- Years ago, my friend Teague introduced me to sushi, a few years later, abalone, so the opportunity to follow his bread crumb trail through the Ferry Building was a chance at the thrill of discovery not to be missed. When I saw him heading for a shop called Baccalone: Tasty Salted Pig Parts, I began to drool and picked up the pace. With a sly, knowing grin, he handed me a salami called Nduja, a soft, spreadable, spicy salami originating in Calabria, but made just over the bridge in Oakland. Think salami rillette. Teague did not let me down; it is heart palpitating pork slather. As I write this, Nduja and I are solidifying our life-long bond over crackers.
Napa Valley- I moved to Napa after finishing California Culinary School because I wanted to train near the soul of field-- where the food and wine was grown. Plunge back into seasons; dig into the roots of each product; revel in the preciousness of each element of a perfect bite. Living among the vines, I lived a life for three years that people only dream of.
Wine Shops- Specifically, wine shops dominated by California wines. Browsing the tight isles of a Castro wine store, I felt as though I was surrounded by all of my old friends. Winery owners, vineyard managers, or just people serious about their tasting were all smiling back at me as I surveyed the labels. Great memories of days and nights consuming bottles of grape juice goodness among barrels and vines were illuminated in the names of just about every bottle.
Hog Island Oysters- Everything good about the coastal area north of SF is reduced down to one briny succulent slurp of these oysters (and perhaps a piece of Red Hawk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery). Of course, there is no way to have just one. Drive 49 miles north up the coast with a bottle of wine and a Frisbee and spend the day shucking and sucking at the Hog Island Oyster Farm on Tomales Bay. Better yet, take a bus, 40 friends and some side dishes and drive up for the day, as I did for my 28th birthday.
Fog- Clearly, the fact that SF is surrounded by water on three sides and has a foundation prone to earthquakes, has a lot to do with its quaint population of 808,000. However, I also think the death grip of the bone-chilling fog keeps the masses from making this near-perfect city their home.
Blue Bottle Coffee- OK, this really isn’t a favorite of mine I just wanted a segue into, “HOLY CRAP! PEOPLE PAY 2.5 AMERICAN DOLLARS FOR A SMALL CUP OF DRIP COFFEE!” And they will wait in a line out of the building, around the corner and down the street to PAY 2.5 AMERICAN DOLLARS for it!
Friends Who Like Food As Much As I Do- The constant talk of gourmet clubs, new restaurants, foods I must try, or farm stands not to be missed, was pure delight. I miss you all so much! It was so great to see everybody.
If there is someone out there who would like to commission a more complete guide of “Smash and Sniff’s Favorite Things in San Francisco” or any city anywhere, our passports are up-to-date and we are currently accepting plane tickets, accommodation and research funds.