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If Central Park is New York’s heart, Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s soul. A 1,000-acre rectangle wedged between Richmond and Sunset, the providentially engineered expanse of green stretches from The Haight to the sea. Flowers, lakes, museums and elbow room make Golden Gate a favorite haunt among residents and a must-do destination for city visitors. Any patch of grass in the park could serve as a leisurely picnic location, but with so many notable restaurants in close proximity, we suggest that you work up your appetite with a short walk and experience San Francisco’s stimulating culinary scene.
Haight-Ashbury abuts Golden Gate on the east end, just south of the park’s narrow panhandle. Shops full of vintage ’60s clothing allude to the district’s hippie history, but little else remains of that storied era – unless you make a beeline to the park’s Hippie Hill. If your idea of sensory pleasure tends toward the gustatory, you can still enjoy the “anything goes” attitude in The Haight’s profusion of restaurants.
Axum Café transports the heady aroma of East Africa to its airy dining room at 698 Haight Street. Meat, poultry and fish simmered in tomatoes, onions and jalapeno peppers share menu space with vegetarian entrees of chickpeas, lentils, potatoes, spinach and mushrooms livened with classic Ethiopian spices.
The Zagat-recommended Magnolia Pub & Brewery at 1398 Haight Street serves bistro-style fare on steroids alongside its cask-conditioned ales. You may actually volunteer for a knuckle sandwich here: beef knuckle on a roll delivers a punch of flavor with giardiniera and charred onion aioli. Or snack on such morsels as goat cheese-stuffed dates wrapped with bacon and drizzled with a kolsch gastrique, Scotch quail eggs and Monterey Bay sardines.
If an inexplicable force seems to draw you out of the park, it’s probably the Latin beat coming from Cha Cha Cha. This Caribbean-fusion eatery and its altars to the saint-gods of Santeria is worthy of a detour, though its location on Haight Street – at 1801, just one block from the attractions-dense east end of the park – make it an easy diversion. You can put together a tapas-style lunch – try chicken wings glazed in a guava-chipotle chile sauce, fried platanos with black beans and sour cream, and a chicken curry or ricotta-spinach empanada – or opt for a sandwich, such as the Cubano Clasico.
When the flavor diversity (or other influences) leaves you jonesing for a good ole American standby, visit The Pork Store Café at 1451 Haight Street, where homestyle favorites such as a club sandwich, BLT and grilled cheese command the table.
The park’s northern boundary stretches along Richmond, a district known for its multicultural atmosphere. Clement Street, as you head toward the Presidio, is a sort of unofficial food court of Chinese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai and Korean cuisine. For samusa soup like your “imaginary Burmese grandma used to make,” Brandon Kleinman, writing for The Blog at Huff Post, recommends Burma Superstar at 309 Clement Street.
The Asian character continues as you head west, but plenty of other cultures represent with a sprinkling of French, Spanish, Jewish, Japanese, Egyptian, Moroccan, Indian, Russian, Mexican, and yes, American, restaurants in the mix. If the thought of more than a momentary slow-down puts you on edge, grab a pork bao (or three) at Jook Time at 3398 Balboa and keep on going. This typical Chinese street food wraps barbecue pork and veggies in a tender steamed bun. SF Weekly’s SFoodie recommends this as one of the top 10 dim sum restaurants in the city. Soup sounds good at any time of the year in San Francisco, where average high temperatures rarely climb above 70 degrees. When the fog descends, you should immediately go find warmth in a bowl of ramen at Miki’s. Lauren Sloss at Serious Eats calls this restaurant at 3639 Balboa Street “a cozy respite from the cold.”
It’s easy to forget that San Francisco is, technically, a beach town. But on the ocean side of the Sunset District, a laidback surfer vibe cuts through the ever-present fog. Take advantage of the time warp and head to 4001 Judah Street, where carbs are still very much in vogue. Alissa Merksamer of Serious Eats recommends making the trek to Outerlands on a Sunday, when you can order the “much-ballyhooed restaurant’s best treat,” a Dutch Pancake. The maple syrup-drizzled popover/pancake cross comes with built-in bacon.
Harkening back to the glory days of worker’s cooperatives, Arizmendi Bakery at 1331 9th Avenue is a darling of the crowd-sourced reviews. The owner and staff turn out daily pizza specials according to a monthly menu. This isn’t the place for pepperoni or personal opinions, but if you like to take chances with sourdough crust and toppings such as marinated artichoke hearts, arugula, caramelized onions, goat cheese and sugar-plum tomatoes, grab a slice or two to go.
It’s a straight sight from San Francisco to Japan, and Yum Yum Fish at 2181 Irving Street may leave you wondering if you’ve been teleported to Tokyo. The fish market-style counter service adds to the authenticity, though Yelp reviews overwhelmingly recommend ordering your sushi and sashimi to go.
Let’s say you catch a slice of sunshine and want to eat lunch outdoors. Since you can’t go two blocks in San Francisco without passing some place selling food, you should have no trouble rounding up provisions. For the quintessential picnic fare – a sandwich – stop into Arguello Super Market for a turkey and avocado sandwich on Dutch crunch bread (which Lauren Sloss wants to make the National Sandwich of San Francisco).
Or try the meat-packed subs at The Yellow Submarine, which practically define American excess. You’ll find this Sunset institution at 503 Irving Street. For a Middle Eastern take on the sandwich, visit Sunrise Deli and order a falafel to go. You can visit either of two locations near Golden Gate Park, one in Sunset at 2115 Irving Street or the newer shop at 1671 Haight Street.
The Rainbow Room is shining brightly once again, high above New York City on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Doors of the famed restaurant and dance hall reopened in early October for brunch, dinner and entertainment. After being closed several years for renovations, the legendary Rainbow Room is back with the same spirit, style and sophistication. The dazzling crystal chandelier and revolving dance floor are still the centerpieces of the room, just as they were in the 1930s and beyond.
The Rainbow Room will be open to the public for most holidays, Sunday brunch, and on Monday nights for dinner and special performances in a variety of genres, including jazz, swing and more. The venue will also be available for private events on Tuesday-Saturday.
During the Great Depression, on October 3, 1934, the doors of the Rainbow Room opened for the first time. It was the first restaurant in the U.S. to be located in a high-rise building and remained that way for decades. With its cosmopolitan elegance, the Rainbow Room overlooks midtown Manhattan and unveils a sparkling skyline at night.
Over the years, the biggest movie stars, entertainers and other notables - from Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson, to New York City mayors Fiorello LaGuardia and Michael Bloomberg, to Al Pacino, Barbra Streisand and Muhammad Ali - all dined, danced and celebrated countless occasions at the Rainbow Room.
A downturn in the economy and corresponding decline in business resulted in the 2009 closure. In September 2013, building operators announced the landmark would reopen to its former status as “one of the city’s most notable culinary icons.”
British chef Jonathan Wright was hired to helm the kitchen, which will serve Sunday brunch and Monday night dinners. Wright, who brings over 20 years of international experience to the Rainbow Room, has created a menu of classic and contemporary cuisine, including Oysters Rockefeller, Lobster Pot Pie with Black Truffles and Herb Roasted Pennsylvania Lamb. Known for his globally-inspired and interactive brunch at The Setai on Miami Beach, Wright will “transform the iconic dance floor into an expansive culinary stage.”
Comprised of several stations each run by a chef with a cuisine specialty, the brunch experience will take diners on a bite-by-bite journey around the world. Dedicated chef’s tables will feature a spectacular raw bar, house-made breads, a roasted meat station offering dishes like Herb Roasted Amish Chicken and an array of Asian specialties, including Char Siew Barbeque Pork Steamed Buns and Thai Chicken Green Curry. An assortment of breakfast pastries, cheeses, charcuterie and smoked fish will also be available. A child-friendly, kid-height brunch buffet will delight those under the age of 12.
Next to Rainbow Room sits SixtyFive, a new cocktail lounge that will be serving classic and contemporary cocktails, such as the 1915 Gin & Tonic made with Dorothy Parker Gin, Lemon, Angostura biters and Johnnie Ryan Tonic. A previously vacant outdoor terrace on the 65th floor has been appropriated for outdoor seating.
If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of urban life, a weekend on Vashon Island is just the ticket. It certainly was for me.
Driving through Tacoma, WA, to catch the ferry (the only way onto Vashon Island without an airplane), I absent-mindedly hurried through a yellow-but-actually-red light. Few things will force you to slow down like a moving infraction. But, even if a ticket from Tacoma’s finest doesn’t do it, the 30-minute ferry ride to the Puget Sound’s largest island gives you time to pause and enjoy the feeling of the wind in your face as the boat slides across the water.
There are three locations to catch a ferry to Vashon Island: Fauntleroy in Seattle, Southworth in Kitsap and Point Defiance near Tacoma. Buy a roundtrip ticket online ahead of time to save yourself delays boarding the ferry.
Rolling down the ferry ramp and onto Vashon Island, I was immediately struck by the scarcity of commercial activity. I drove north past heavily wooded forest and farmland, and passed numerous cyclists and walkers. It was mind-boggling to find such an unspoiled place so close to Seattle. And I’m sure its 11,000 residents would like to keep it that way.
In just 30 minutes, I drove the length of the island, which is 13 miles long by 8 miles wide. There’s only one town, which also is named Vashon, but is referred to as Uptown by the locals. There are plenty of restaurants, coffee houses, hardware stores, and a wealth of art galleries, antique boutiques and curiosity shops. There’s even a large grocery store.
Trying to get a sense of what was happening in town that late-summer weekend, I was informed that a knitting convention was being held as well as a “how to be a vegan” workshop. I would have made light of it, but would have ended up being poked with knitting needles and lashed with leeks. Anyway, those activities should give you a sense of the pace of the place.
For nightlife, the Red Bicycle Bistro and Sushi has performances every Friday. In October, the music calendar has Celtic music, a Voices of Women lineup of singers and a comedy show. Many recommend The Hardware Store for great eating, but we elected to stuff ourselves in the casual confines of Rock Island Pub and Pizza.
Out and About
Vashon Island is also a great getaway for outdoors enthusiasts and seafood lovers. A respectable resource is the Vashon Park website.
As mentioned earlier, the island welcomes bike riders. While the bike paths are rare, some roads have wide shoulders (but not all), and motorists are generally accommodating. Storefronts in Vashon have plenty of bike racks, and the ferries allow bike riders to board with foot passengers. If you need to rent, Vashon Island Bicycles has some sweet rides to reserve.
Water sports enthusiasts will find Vashon heaven on earth. Here, there are plenty of sailors, sea kayakers and standup paddle boarders taking advantage of the gentle waters. If you don’t have a kayak or paddleboard of your own, fear not: The friendly folks at Vashon Watersports have rentals available. Closed for the fall and winter, they’ll be open again Memorial Day 2015.
On the island’s eastern side, there is a scuba diving park and marina. Swimmers tend to gravitate on the island’s southern end, where the beach is flatter, the tide more gradual and the water a few degrees warmer.
Chances are, you’ll want to spend more than a day exploring the island. The Chamber of Commerce website has a list of lodging options from the rustic to the refined.
I had gone to spend a weekend reuniting with a few of my fraternity brothers at a private vacation home set on a rocky beach. The first thing my friends from Los Angeles wanted to do was get fishing licenses to go crabbing and fishing.
While they went off on their quest for wild seafood glory, we fired up the Weber and set about barbecuing the king salmon, clams and fresh oysters that our Seattle-area friends thoughtfully gathered at Pike’s Place Market before getting on the ferry. We even enjoyed homemade rhubarb pie. Great Pacific Northwest fish, wines, ales and camaraderie made for a wonderful weekend.
I’d like to say that we stayed up until the wee hours, regaling one another with war stories of our wilder days, but in truth, we all hit the hay by 11 p.m. to snore away at the sound of water lapping against the shore. For me, that was the best part of Vashon … doing very little except wallowing in the quiet and beauty of the place.
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