Monday, June 6, 2011

San Francisco

Then we drove to San Francisco! The drive was mostly uninspiring — the part of Cali nobody talks about when they're gushing about the beaches and mountains and celebrities. We saw a lot of rice fields, and SO MANY OLIVE TREES.

But eventually we got to the city, after a very stressful drive. (People in California are HORRIBLE drivers. And they don't know it. Or they don't care, either one.) And we met up at our beautiful, old hotel, the Chancellor. It was right in the heart of Union Square, which we loved, but darn it if it didn't have AC. So windows (without screens) were open, the ceiling fan on. Told you it was old. But it was beautifully modern as well, with saturated green walls and sleek furniture.

After settling in, we researched the cable car line (public transit is scarily confusing for outsiders), and walked down to the turntable, where they turn the cars around (MANUALLY!) and headed to Fisherman's Wharf. We were being tourists one day, darn it.

Waiting for the cable car, there was a Gap and Forever 21 right there. This is what Gap looks like.

And the cable car!

Screw the super touristy spots, we ate at Salty's on the Wharf (thanks to a tip from a blogger who said they had the best deal in the city).

They have this fishwich, and it's huge. I think it's cod, battered incredibly, and was the best tasting fish sandwich I'd ever had. Well we bought a whole one, $8, and we split it. It came with an entire cod fillet between two hilariously small buns, packed with a vinegar-y, cilantro-y cole slaw, which was amazingly fresh.

We were also informed we should order their garlic fries, so we did. The order was huge. And we couldn't finish them (that's how big the fish sandwich was, if we couldn't finish the fries, either). They were made with green garlic and parmesan cheese, twice fried, and were about the best fries I've ever eaten. I was still tasting them the following morning, that's how strong they were. Definitely a hidden gem.

Alcatraz from the Wharf. We didn't visit, but I bet it's cool. It looks a lot closer to land than you would think.

Ghiradelli Square! The area was beautiful brick, and had tons of history for the chocolate-making company's home base. So yes, we bought Leslie some chocolate for taking care of the kitties, and we partook in an indulgent sundae. Vanilla ice cream, Ghiradelli hot fudge, Ghiradelli peanut butter, whipped cream in a waffle bowl that was dipped in Ghiradelli dark chocolate. We shoved that in after our filling fishy dinner.

The Golden Gate bridge from far away. We were actually just resting on the walk home from the Wharf, halfway up a ridiculous hill. People have to be fit in SF, whew.

Day two was completely undocumented, mostly because it was all about food, and I was too busy shoving my face to wipe off my greasy hands and dig for my camera. But I'll share the dirty details with you, mostly because I don't want to forget all the amazing food I ate. It's about to get wordy up in here.

Ferry Building: A food lover's paradise. Basically tons of stores with locals sellers of just about everything you can imagine. Mushrooms. Wine. Fruit. Honey. Olive Oil. Cheese. It was tantalizing.

We had a pre-lunch at Boccalone, which is owned by Food Network's Chris Cosentino (who hails from SF). It's basically pig. Smoked, cured, salted, piggy perfection. The dude has a pig tattoo — he knows his stuff. So we got the salumi cone for like, $3, which is just a paper cone with three types of piggy goodness in it. We had mortadella, pancetta (I think), and something else that I'm sure John can remember. I can't really describe the delicious flavors they all had, all I know is that they were perfection. Fatty, oily, salty, perfect.

Then we ate lunch. Oh, lunch. We went to Cowgirl Creamery after some serious debate on where to eat. We ordered their grilled cheese of the day, and we honestly had no idea what was on it, but we figured it had to be tasty. I remember wagon wheel cheese, and something I can't pronounce and tomato something I can't pronounce. It. Was. Incredible. Melty, tomato-y, crispy. I got a raspberry cream soda, which was made with actual cream and raspberry soda. John got chocolate milk, and it was easily the best we ever had.

We bought some lemon olive oil (haven't used it yet) and some blackberry honey, which was deliciously sweet and complex in flavor, and perfect on a sourdough-type bread, lightly toasted.

Then, dinner. Also inspired by Chris Cosentino, oddly enough. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, he said we had to eat at Mr. Pollo, a latin place mostly known for arepas. But don't get the arepas.

Order the chef's tasting menu, which is a four-course meal of the chef's choice, for $15. So we did. We got there early because it's popular and only seats 12 (though I can't imagine it's very comfortable with that many people) The place was dark, and you sit, like, four feet from the kitchen, which really isn't separated from the dining area at all. Hipster-like music blasted, and there were three (THREE!) people working there to cook our food. The chef, the chef's helper, and some other random dude who made dessert and served us when the chef himself didn't. Now, for the important part, our foray into the incredible minds of Mr. Pollo's chef.

First course: It was a lemon broth with fried yucca, fried plantains (both firsts for me!), chicken and green garlic. A perfect starter, and real depth of flavor.
Second course: Scallops, grilled to latin perfection, with yellow (orange? something? not red) beets, cucumber and cucumber foam on top (which was pretty crazy to try).
Third course: Frog leg, deep fried in crunchy, perfect batter, topped with a broken caesar dressing (we have no idea), over a parsnip puree with asparagus. I think this was my favorite.
Fourth course: Pork loin with fava beans, tomotoes, peas, avocado, topped with a sweet potato croquet.
Dessert (yeah, we went there): It was another little tasting menu, with authentic flan (MUCH better than any Mexican restaurant around here), house-made coconut/lychee ice cream, and the piece de la resistance, the life-changer, a small, steaming hot dulce de leche and queso fresco souffle.

Yeah, bow to our eternal food glory.

The next day we drove out of town, which worked out nicely, because we wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and we crossed it! Here are a few pics during our stop.

After that, we drove five-ish hours north, through towering redwoods and rolling hills to Patricks Point State Park, our camp for one night. I have a few intoxicating pics from the nearby beach as we awaited sunset, so I'll share those in a less wordy post. Gold star for reading through all this.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Redding, Calif.

We began our vacation with an extremely wet (but beautiful) drive through the Siskiyou mountains down into California. No pics of the drive, but we did stop at Castle Crags State Park before we hit Redding, our final destination.

Behind those clouds is a snowy Mt. Shasta. We drove past it, but couldn't quite see all of it. Sorry, no pics of that either, but it's an impressive mountain.

Here's Castle Crags, which are granite. Apparently you can hike/rock climb to the top. We opted out of that one.

The following day, we hit Whiskeytown Lake National Recreation Area, which was just west of Redding. It's an old mining town (now the name makes sense, huh?), and has some old, broken down brick buildings left. There's always tons of hiking, horse riding and water sports happening around the lake, but most hiking trails were very quiet and secluded.

Here's a shot of the lake, which was peppered with sailboats, and Shasta Bally mountain, which has a bit of snow at the tippy top.

We started with a nearly four-mile hike along the old Shasta Mine Trail. It was beautiful and difficult, with tons of sun, interesting flora and views.

Former mines are fenced in and adorned with these signs. I found them humorous.

These trees were everywhere, and I fell in love with them. Their bark was dark and smooth.

After that hike, we stopped and ate lunch (PB and honey sandwiches, trail mix and fruit snacks. Oh, and TONS of water). Then we drove to the other side of the lake along a ridiculous, unpaved road to get to some waterfalls.

Here's Crystal Creek Falls, which was a short jaunt (we needed a rest). We sat on some rocks right at the base of the falls, with the clear, turquoise water flowing around us. The sun was warm and inviting; thank goodness we wore sunscreen.

Then we made a bad decision. We decided to go to Whiskeytown Falls a little down the road, and the map's hike didn't look too long. No biggie, right? Well we got there, and the hike was nearly two miles. No biggie again. Then we started walking.

We quickly realized that it was nearly two miles almost completely uphill. And we were already tired. And hot. And probably dehydrated a little. But we kept going to see if the hike got easier. It didn't.

Then we reached a point where it would be ridiculous to come this far and not see the falls, so we soldiered on, taking tons of breaks. Then we heard rushing water, and...

We made it! Luckily the water was icy and a breezy mist coming off the falls cooled us off, which energized us for the walk back. But man, we didn't hardly move the rest of the night.

After the hike, we trolled around for food, finding this little Mexican joint that had killer salsa and gave us a large amount of leftovers for our lunch the following day (when we were driving to San Francisco).

That was Redding! It was a beautiful town surrounded by mountains, and our hotel gave us a voucher for breakfast, instead of offering a continental. WHAT A GOOD IDEA. We ate at Lumberjacks, ordering from the pre-determined menu for hotel-stayers. Breakfast and coffee were awesome both mornings, fueling us for the day.

Coming next, our visit to San Francisco!