What do you get when you mix one part gorgeous weather, one part excellent fresh food, one part world-class wine, and one part home? You get October in San Francisco.
October has always been the best month to visit San Francisco. The summer fog gives way to the autumn sun, making for a rare time of year when the city is actually warm and its beautiful outdoor areas can be enjoyed without sweaters and jackets.
The wineries to the north and south harvest their grapes around that time and the leaves on the vines start to turn beautiful orange, gold, and red colors for fall. The Indian summer means that organic strawberries still abound at the local farmers’ markets, and restaurants have an abundance of fresh produce to use in their kitchens.
Not wanting to miss out on this perfect time of year in San Francisco, I traveled up to the city after my friend’s wedding in Paso Robles. Aside from eating good food, drinking good wine, and enjoying the nice heat wave, I didn’t have much of an agenda for the week.
One day I drove north up to Tomales Bay, where I stopped for lunch at the Hog Island Oyster Company. Its location right on the estuary meant that the oysters were freshly plucked from the water that morning. Hog Island’s picnic tables and BBQs were the perfect place to enjoy these delicious parcels from the sea. I started with a dozen Sweetwater oysters, which were so good and so fresh that I couldn’t help getting a dozen more.
Full of shellfish, I was ready for some wine. It was a good thing, then, that my favorite area for wine tasting was just a short drive away. Russian River, home of some of the best Pinot Noirs in California, was my next stop. First I went to Dutton-Goldfield’s tasting room, where I enjoyed the wines and the fact that my host was an avid Giants and 49ers fan. It was such a relief to hear someone say the word “football” without meaning “soccer” that I could have stayed for hours.
I had more tasting to do, though, so I left and continued on to Adrian Fog Winery. Their tasting room doubled as their warehouse, so visiting was by appointment only. It was a unique experience, and was made particularly enjoyable by the fact that Stewart, one of the owners, was pouring.
Back in the city my culinary adventures continued. On Monday evening I went to Gary Danko, which is generally considered one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. The tasting menu and wine pairing were excellent, but the service disappointed. First there was a 30 minute wait for a table despite my 9:30pm reservation. During the wait the staff alternated between being very apologetic and slightly abrasive. When the meal finally commenced, there always seemed to be three different staff members at my table running into one another in their efforts to refill water glasses, serve wine, or set plates down. It all felt a bit rushed, and was particularly disappointing given the restaurant’s good reputation.
After Gary Danko I had several other restaurants to visit on my trip. I ate excellent dinners at Zushi Puzzle, Trattoria Contadina, and Nectar, and a decent one at Tacolicious, a restaurant on Chestnut Street that opened after I moved away. I also enjoyed delicious lunches at Ocean Taqueria, Tartine Bakery, and Pacific Catch, and some great wines at Press Club, a new wine tasting venue near Union Square that doubles as a wine bar.
Most importantly, on the final day of my trip, I made a pilgrimage to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. There the late summer was personified in the most delicious organic strawberries I’ve ever tasted, as well as fresh citrus fruits, plums, pluots, and more. Fresh ripe figs, plump red pomegranates, and a rainbow of bell peppers all took their places next to amazing local cheeses, freshly baked breads, and cheerful cut flowers.
After getting coffee at the famous Blue Bottle Coffee Co, I headed to the back of the market to stand in the obligatory line for chilaquiles from Primavera. Eating my breakfast by the Bay Bridge in the morning sun, I couldn’t think of a better way to start my Saturday.
Well, until I got inside the Ferry Building, that is. Miette’s cupcakes were so picture perfect that I couldn’t resist buying one for my mother, who has a birthday coming up. Far West Fungi’s mushroom collection had me wishing I had $175 to spend on a white truffle, and the olive oil and chocolate shops smelled so good that I could have lingered all day.
Alas, I couldn’t. It was time to travel back to London, and it was just as well. After a week of eating my way through San Francisco, I was going to need to get to the gym if I didn’t want to outgrow my clothes. This was not least because I was invited on a press trip to Paris later this week, and if there’s any city aside from San Francisco that makes me want to eat, it is the City of Light.