^ But not before I biked into downtown Sonoma for some food and fun reading time while Jon was still asleep!
(I was able to sneak in a lot of reading this trip, which was so so lovely.)
Then, Jon and I were off!
So there's this big red bridge in San Francisco that people go crazy over. Huh.
(I'm kidding YOU GUYS, I know about the Golden Gate Bridge, sheesh.)
Before checking into our rental, we popped into a restaurant called Saru Sushi for lunch.
We split the edamame, which was good - your standard edamame. Then I ordered the restaurant's delicious - and slightly sweet - eggplant appetizer, as well as a veggie roll filled with avocado and sweet potato. It was soft, warm, sweet, and DELICIOUS. Jon ordered two big ole rainbow rolls and really enjoyed them. He said it was some of the freshest sushi he's ever had!
After lunch, we bought some gear for the Giants game we were going to in a couple of days (since our beloved former Astro Hunter Pence is on the team, this seemed acceptable), and then we checked into our really cute studio apartment we rented off of VRBO.
(it had a killer back patio.)
(which I never used because it was 66 degrees outside and I was cold.)
(you can punch me in the face now.)
Once we were settled in, we walked to the restaurant Al's Place for dinner. This is THE place to eat in San Francisco right now, and it's very hard to get a reservation. Rated the Top New Restaurant of 2015 by Bon Appetit Magazine, I was super pumped.
Once we were seated, Jon and I looked at the menu and realized we had no clue what we were looking at. Most of the ingredients were completely foreign to us, so we had many questions about the food. In terms of drinks, Jon went with a glass of wine, while I tried one of the restaurant's cocktails. Their small cocktail list is made up of mixed drinks with low proof alcohol that I'd never heard of and fun names such as "Mr. White," "Mr. Pink," and "Mr. Orange." After chatting with our very helpful server about my preferences (we were seriously lost), I opted for "Ms. Brown." It had a light, almost bourbon tinge to it (though I can't exactly tell you what it was), and it was good enough for me to order a second one!
Then we ordered our food. The restaurant's menu is designed for sharing, and our first item to try was their infamous brine pickled french fries with smoked apple sauce.
These were very unique and very tasty. They had the consistency of french fries (with a little more sponginess), but the pickling process gave them a salty fermented taste that made them taste altogether like something else.
Next up was the fava'd mushroom broth chawanmushi (don't worry, we didn't know what it was either) with cherry and pistachio.
To be honest, I don't really remember what this tasted like, so I can't tell you much about it. But the general reaction we were starting to have about everything was, "This is pretty good..but it tastes very different than I thought it would..."
Our next round of food consisted of the General Leo's cauliflower with mashed peas, burrata, pistachio mousse, and rhubarb.
Do you see cauliflower in this picture? It's there, I promise...I think? The chilled burrata was very nice, and the cauliflower (the brown stuff below the greens), actually tasted like a very fishy fish. So once again, it was unique... but good... but odd.
After that, we shared the yellow eye bean stew with torn bread. I didn't snap a photo of this one (probably because it was our favorite shared item), but Jon and I really enjoyed this. It was hearty and herby, and did in fact taste like bean stew!
Our last shared round of food (Jon also ordered trout and pork belly, and had similar puzzling-but-not-bad reactions to them) was the campanelle with smoked fumet, charred fava pesto, and goat's gouda.
Not pictured, I also ordered a poached egg on the side, which I added to it. I enjoyed this pasta as well, and it did taste like pasta. The pesto was a little thicker and earthier than what you typically find due to the use of fava beans, and it was a very hearty dish. It was fragrant, and had some lovely flavors. Altogether, it was a nice course.
After ingesting all of these teensy tiny plates of what we had come to learn were molecular gastronomic surprises, we were hungry for dessert. We ordered some sort of berry and cream compilation that sounded promising and safe.
...until I put it in my mouth and ATE AN ENTIRE WAD OF CILANTRO!!!! (or something else that tastes like cilantro, because we know it couldn't actually have been cilantro). I haven't recoiled from a piece of food so drastically in a very long time. Jon explained that once he mixed everything together the "cilantro" taste was subdued, but I couldn't stomach another bite. He really liked it, but he also really likes cilantro. SO.
In conclusion, re: Al's Place. If you are looking for a creative - and I will say, surprisingly non-pretentious dining experience (the clientele was chill, and the staff was super friendly), and you aren't worried about paying a premium for it (oof.), you will definitely get that at Al's Place. I think by this point after all of the elaborate meals we had been having recently, Jon and I were pretty tapped out of the culinary dramatics. The food was good, and it was never what we expected it be, and I totally get that that's the whole point. We certainly laughed a lot, and our new game of "Guess what the heck I'm eating now?" was quite entertaining!
After our scientific dining experience, Jon and I hit the hay so we could wake up early for...
dun dun dunnnn!!
Jon is a major history buff, so this was one of his "must-sees" in San Francisco. We purchased tickets ahead of time for the first ferry tour of the day, so we could beat the bulk of the crowds.
While Jon ate the tour up, I was glad I did it, but probably wouldn't do it again. First of all - and I completely understand that the reason they do this is to accommodate the sheer mass of people that come in every single day - I found it strange that everyone was given an audio headset for a guided tour and walked around in silence throughout the island. It was really bizarre to me. That, and I'm acutely affected by my surroundings - shopping malls depress me (anyone else?), so I'm sure you can imagine what a crumbling maximum security prison might do to me.
But it really was fascinating, and I learned a lot of interesting facts about Alcatraz, like 1) It started off as a Civil War fort, but of course California didn't really do anything in the Civil War, so it remained untouched until becoming a state prison; 2) Since Alcatraz was a state prison, there were like only seven prisoners there who'd gone to jail for murder, since that's a federal crime. Most of the prisoners were there for things like theft and tax fraud; 3) After it closed down, Alcatraz became the site of an American Indian occupation in the 60s, which was a peaceful demonstration that lasted almost two years.
See, I learned stuff!
Also, there were some killer views of San Francisco from the island.
After a few hours, we headed back into the city for food!
Lunch was at the restaurant Tony's Pizza Napoletana. As advised by my parents, Jon and I snagged seats at the bar, where we had front row seats of the employees making perfect pizzas in the woodfired oven. Jon ordered a pepperoni pizza, and I ordered one of the restaurant's specialties - the tartufo, without prosciutto. Oozing with melted mozzerella, burrata, and goat cheese, the crisp, fluffy-crusted pizza contained wild musrooms, truffle oil, a sprinkling of piave, and some fresh arugula. It was absolutely as rich and lovely and satisfying as it sounds!
Once we'd finished up our food, we did some exploring!
We decided we should walk over to Lombard Street, since it wasn't too far from Tony's.
(Sidenote: When I say we "walked" anywhere in San Francisco, what I'm actually saying is we "hiked up a 90 degree incline, aka Mount Everest 2.0.)
Then we wandered over to Chinatown!
On the way there, we stopped at City Lights Bookstore, which is a really famous historic bookstore with a bajillion books that I just had to check out.
(Actually, props to Jon - he's the one who did the research and found this gem for me.)
San Francisco's Chinatown reminded me a lot of NYC's Chinatown - Crowded, bustling, colorful, and filled with lots and lots of stores containing a variety of different knick knacks.
Once we'd felt we had gotten our Chinatown fill, we went back to the apartment to rest up before dinner.
(PLAN YOUR NAP TIMES, PEOPLE.)
Speaking of dinner, we actually had reservations at another high profile San Francisco restaurant that night. But as previously mentioned, Jon and I were pretty tapped out and just wanted some chill, no-frills, yummy food. I canceled our reservation, and did a quick search on my phone of restaurants nearby. We settled on Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, located in San Francisco's eclectic Bernal Heights neighborhood.
The inside of the restaurant was funky and casual (think string lights, aprons hanging on a line, photo booth in the back, etc.) There was about a 15 minute wait, so Jon and I had a drink at the bar. He ordered a glass of wine, while I opted for a white sangria.
I'm not even close to kidding when I say I think this is the best sangria I've ever had! It was sweet and light, and the beautiful flavors of the fresh basil and strawberries were astounding. We were off to a great start!
After we were seated, Jon and I were presented with some complimentary bread with oil and vinegar.
The spongy focaccia had a nice hint of rosemary to it, and was a great way to kick everything off.
For our first order of food, Jon ordered a dungeoness crab cake, I ordered a small mixed greens salad, and we split the bocconcini balls.
Jon thoroughly enjoyed his crab cake. My salad was simple, and nothing out of the ordinary, but I was needing some greens in my life, and this is exactly what I was looking for. The two of us went nuts over the bocconcini balls though - Deep fried, ooey gooey fresh mozzerella was wanderfully crispy on the outside and loaded with sensational herby flavors. Served with a house marinara and homemade ranch, they were absolutely fantastic!
After eyeing the size of an order of spaghetti at another table, Jon and I decided to split one for our last round of food (and he got meatballs on the side).
And let me tell ya, there's a reason Emmy's restaurant is called the Spaghetti Shack! This was soooooo good. The thick, fresh, gummy noodles were beautifully soaked in a tart, citrusy tomato sauce and sprinkled with fresh parsley and a heaping amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese. This hearty dish was comforting, simple, and just wonderful.
It's safe to say this last minute change-of-plans dinner was one of our favorite meals (and one of the cheapest!) during our entire vacation!
(This is why it's good to make plans, but also be okay with changing them while on vacation based on where you're feeling you are right then in your life.)
The next morning began with more sightseeing, starting with Fisherman's Wharf!
The seals at Pier 39 are HILARIOUS. They sunbathe, and do synchronized swimming dances, and make the most ridiculous trumpeting barking noises, and we are kindred souls.
After communing with my seal peeps, we headed to the Ferry Building to grab a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed at West Bluff Park.
With arguably some of the best views in San Francisco, we were shocked to find that this park was not very busy or touristy at all! I DEFINITELY recommend doing this if you're ever in San Francisco.
And remember how I mentioned in my last post Jon's new passion for Insect Photography? Well...
^ Are you dying? I'm dying. Step aside, bugs!
After we'd finished our food and wine, we headed back to the apartment to get ready for the Giants game!
Pride was happening in San Francisco that weekend, and it happened to be Pride Night at the game, so I wanted to buy a rainbow scarf to celebrate! (and keep me warm, let's be real). We headed to Castro street, which was so alive and buzzing with happiness and rainbows, my heart burst into a million pieces.
There was also a really moving shrine to the victims of the Orlando shooting, which definitely brought me to tears.
After we walked around, and I had purchased my scarf, we headed to the game.
AT&T Stadium - where the San Francisco Giants play - is GORGEOUS. With sweeping views over the bay, this is definitely the most stunning baseball stadium I've ever been to.
A few years ago AT&T Park was rated by Peta as one of the Top 5 vegan ballparks. So there were plenty of options for this vegetarian! I went with a veggie dog (slathered in cheese), and I really really enjoyed it. We also kept seeing signs for garlic fries? (because apparently that's a thing in San Francisco?), so we ordered a side of them. They were very good, but very potent, and I'm pretty sure my pores were oozing out garlic for the next three days as a result.
(sorry to everyone I came within feet of.)
The Giants won, and the game was awesome! It was a great way to spend our last night in San Francisco.
If you have the opportunity to go to Northern(ish) California, I strongly encourage it. Everything is completely surrounded by jaw-dropping natural beauty, there are so many things to do (WINE.), and lots of fantastic food options. By time we got back to Houston, Jon and I were already talking about what we were going to do on our next trip back!
^ Huh. There's that big red bridge again.
*All photos were taken by me with my iPhone, or by Jon with his Nikon.