Impossible to resist the lure of chocolates from Ghirardelli; plump sourdough loaves from Boudin; fat-ribboned slices of barbequed duck in Chinatown; and thick, juicy lamb chops at John’s Grill (the favourite spot of The Maltese Falcon author, Dashiell Hammett).
At the Ferry Market, with so many food options, I go into sensory overload. It’s impossible to describe this city’s culinary scene without making lists.
Mariposa offers gluten-free pastries — how does one make such magnificent bear claws and cinnamon rolls gluten free? The seafood counters include species I’ve never seen (or tasted) before. At Far West Fungi, I moon over chanterelles, black trumpets, matsutake, lobster, hawkwing , and fat earthy truffles. I’ve never seen so many varieties of fungi in one spot. Now if I just had a kitchen at my disposal, I’d be in heaven.
A favourite stop is Cowgirl Creamery’s cheese shop with their own organic cheeses and those of the best artisan producers from around the world. Sampling is mandatory. Oh, that Red Hawk, a glorious, triple cream award-winner.
There’s even a shop selling superworms in various flavours from spicy to chocolate covered. I find these easier to resist.
But all this food is making me hungry. A must try is Out the Door, part of the Slanted Door Group (named James Beard 2014 Outstanding Restaurant). My Hoi-An meatball sandwich is a perfect example of the kind of fusion for which San Francisco has become famous: Italian meatball in tomato sauce meets Vietnamese pickled carrots and cilantro in a French bun.
Indeed, when it comes to food, this town is all about creativity. After all, San Francisco is home to the ultimate ice cream sandwich, It’s It, (think oatmeal cookie and dark chocolate meet ice cream). It’s also the birthplace of the sushirrito, sushi and burrito fused into an Latin Asian seaweed wrap.
To take the heat off our palates, we head to Humphry Slocombe ice cream to choose between flavours like hibiscus beet sorbet, Guinness gingerbread and Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes). Some of each?
The market is part of the quayside complex that includes Fisherman’s Wharf, home to the fishing fleet for about 200 years. Among the recreational craft, fishing vessels still sell their catch, which at this time of the year, includes Dungeness crab. In the 1970s, the city redeveloped this stretch of oceanfront into a tourist area, with a colony of sea lions at Pier 39 providing the sound effects. The inevitable tacky T-shirt shops rub elbows with some of the city’s best seafood restaurants. And this is where you go for some of that Dungeness crab.
Fog Harbour Seafood House advertises every course served with a side of Golden Gate Bridge. And there it is, San Francisco’s icon, lit up against the night sky.
We feast on cracked crab, sesame crusted Ahi tuna and panko crusted Bay scallops, all sustainably harvested and most right off the boats we see in the harbour. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
I can feel my waistline expanding, but when it’s time to head back to the hotel, I realize something: if I lived in San Francisco, I’d be thin.
We’re staying at the Mark Hopkins, at the apex of a city known for its hills. The walk down was easy in the morning. But oh, that hill on the way back! It’s practically perpendicular and provides a workout that rivals any elliptical trainer. Our other option is to grab a ride on one of the famous trolley cars, which, unless you’re very lucky and hit a lull, entails holding on tightly while you hang off the platform.
The Mark Hopkins is at 1 Nob Hill, named for the wealthy — or nobs — who lorded it over the multitude below. Built in 1926, the hotel has a rich history. From the windows of their signature restaurant, Top of the Mark, we get spectacular views of the city while we enjoy a restorative nightcap. During World War II, this is where courting couples came to say goodbye before the men sailed for the front; a corner of Top of the Mark is still known as Weeper’s Corner.
Ultimately, San Francisco is a city of contrasts: of large architectural gems and charming Victorian neighbourhoods; of glorious sunshine and rolling fog; of chic Union Square with its glossy shopping precinct and raucous unpretentious Chinatown. But the biggest contrast is probably the food: white truffles ($187.50 per ounce) and hot dogs topped with everything from mustard and relish to Japanese mayo and seaweed ($5).
If I lived in San Francisco, life would be be just right.