San Francisco was awesome, as always, but it's good to be home. If nothing else, I heart my main computer, and particularly its full-size keyboard. :)
We had a great time, though, and I'm going to babble about some of it.
This first part is for Travis. :D SF is a great place for food, particularly if you're into meat. We were staying at the Hyatt on the Embarcadero, right across from the Ferry Terminal. I've never gone over there before for whatever reason, but a few days before we left to fly up, Jim and I were watching an episode of a Food Network show called The Best Thing I Ever Ate. A bunch of the Food Network people talk about great food they've had in various places, and this was a bacon themed episode, yum! One of the guys talked about a great little butcher shop in the Ferry Terminal called Boccalone; their slogan is "Tasty Salted Pig Parts." Can't beat that, right? They cure their meat right on the premises; there's a glass-doored cabinet off to one side with slabs of bacon and legs of prosciutto and whatever all else hanging there. The "best thing" here was a salumi cone for like $3.50. Salumi seems to be like a superset of salami; it's a variety of cured pork bits, sliced thin and curled up in a paper cone, sort of like a snowcone only with meat instead of ice. We got that a couple of times -- good stuff. It's salty and porky and just fatty enough.
[Note that the Terminal is a great place just to walk around and eat. There were three artisanal butcher shops there that I counted, plus a fish monger, a couple of cheese shops, an artisanal bakery, three or four places selling local produce, a mushroom shop, a place specializing in olive oil, and a gelato shop. These are all local shops; the only chain was a coffee place, Peet's, which is a local chain. There weren't any McDonald's or Starbuck's or Cinnabon or anything like that. Highly recommended for wandering around to get lunch. After having my salty pig parts, I got some bread and some grapes and a pear to sort of balance things out.]
Also off that same show, Jim went to this little shop called Dynamo Donuts one morning while I was asleep and got us bacon donuts. No kidding, these things are great! They cut slab bacon into chunks and cook it, then knead the bacon pieces (I'm not calling them "bacon bits" 'cause that gives absolutely the wrong image) right into the donut dough. They fry the bacon-studded donuts, then glaze the tops with maple icing and sprinkle on more bacon. Mmmm! It kind of reminds me of when you're having breakfast and your bacon gets into the syrup from your pancakes, you know? Good stuff.
We also went to The Stinking Rose. If you like garlic at all, you can't hit SF without going to this place -- their slogan is that they flavor their garlic with food. :) We started out with a bagna calda, which is a dish of roasted garlic cloves in olive oil and butter. They put it over a candle to keep it warm, and serve it with bread. The garlic is soft so you just spread it on, and drizzle some of the oil. Much more dangerous than just basic bread and butter. Then both of us had the prime rib. Wow. Note that they have three sizes: regular, large and the slab. With both got regular cuts and I couldn't finish mine. I was pushing the last few bits over onto Jim's plate because this thing was just huge. I can only speculate what the larger cuts are like, but I suspect you could probably feed like six people if you got the "slab" size. After the regular cuts, couldn't even think about dessert, which for us is very unusual. [duck]
Oh, and the sides rocked too. It came with garlic mashed potatoes and creamed swiss chard. Now I'm not a major swiss chard fan -- it has a bit too strong of a flavor for my taste. I don't hate it, though, so I tasted it, and I'm glad I did. Jim's almost as anti-vegetable as Travis and even he liked it; I don't know what they did to it, but the flavor was mellower and more spinach-like, and of course with the cream and the garlic, it was just perfect. I could've done with about half as much prime rib but three or four times as much chard. :)
We ate at the hotel a few times and in their lobby cafe-bar, and that was good if a bit expensive. You can actually get a rare burger there, which is more and more difficult to do these days, and the garlic-parmesan fries are really good. The clam chowder is excellent, and the quatro leches cake.
Jim had enough upgrade points to get us a small suite at the hotel. It was actually a single large room rather than a bona fide suite, but it was an excellent room, long enough that I could be on the laptop on one end without disturbing a sleeping spousal unit at the other end. It also had an awesome view of the Bay Bridge. The only problem was a certain busker down on the sidewalk. This dude played the saxophone. Every day. For about twelve hours a day, with periodic breaks but essentially from around nine to nine. Every day. Did I mention every day? This dude wasn't a horrible horn player, but he wasn't awesome either and I'm not really all that into unaccompanied sax at the best of times, so a little goes a long way with me. Oh, and he only knew about fifteen songs. O_O And he played every one of them a little slow. I don't know whether he wasn't capable of playing on-tempo or whether he thought he was being artsy or whatever, but... yeah. After a day or two I was ready to offer to drop a twenty out the window if he'd go four or five blocks in, well, any direction actually. [headdesk]
We went to the movies, down at the Sundance Kabuki theater in Japan Town to see Public Enemy and Ice Age 3. The theater is upscale for a movie theater, with assigned seating like at a play, so you can buy your tickets in advance and choose your seats. They sell alcohol up on the balcony so there aren't any kids allowed up there, which is nice if you're not into kids and don't mind sitting in the balcony. Looking at the architecture and decor, I have to wonder whether it used to be an actual kabuki theater. If not, they did a great remodel on it, because it looks like a place where there used to be live performances.
Public Enemy was great; Johnny Depp rocked the part and made it feel natural to be rooting for a bank robber. Christian Bale's a great actor too, but playing Melvin Purvis didn't really give him a whole lot to work with. I didn't get the impression that the role was badly written or anything, but rather that it's a supporting role and they didn't develop it all that much. Ice Age was fun, with Scrat getting all the good bits as usual, but I discovered that my eyes don't agree with 3D. :/ In addition to being nearsighted, I also have a hard time focusing on objects at a distance; I see double without my glasses, which have prisms on the edges to help me see straight. Add the 3D glasses and it was intermittently blurry and just generally unpleasant. Luckily I'm not all that into 3D anyway, so I'll just let Jim go by himself to 3D showings he wants to see in the future.
The trip to the theater was like the second day we were there and I was still feeling lively enough to be kind of stupid. [cough] I suggested we walk back to the hotel, or at least start walking; I figured if my knee or feet or whatever gave out, we could grab a bus at the next stop. So we start walking and there's this humongous hill right off the bat, but once we're past that it's all flat, downhill, flat, downhill, flat, downhill from there on. So we're walking and walking and walking, and by the time I'm starting to get uncomfortable I can see a clocktower in the distance which I recognized as being near the hotel, so I grit my teeth and keep going. It's around dinner time so we decide to go past the hotel to the Ferry building and grab some food, but when we got over there everything but the coffee shop was closed, so back to the hotel. Jim went out and grabbed some sandwiches for dinner, one of the few situations where we'll eat basic chain-shop food on a vacation. Everything from about the hips down was really griping at me, though, and looking at a map we probably walked about three and a half miles. [sigh] Really stupid, but when I get going I get stubborn. You'd think I'd know better by now.
A couple of days later we took the cable car up to Chinatown and walked around there for a while, up one street to the border of North Beach, then a block over and walked back. We didn't buy anything, but just enjoyed looking around, seeing the carvings and jewelry and clothes and things in the shop windows, and the things in the food shops, which all tend to have huge displays right out to the sidewalk. The produce smelled wonderful, green and sweet, interspersed with shops selling dried everything -- spices and mushrooms and fish and squid, earthy and rich and salty and fishy.
Oh, on another day we got dim sum at a little place that's only open a few hours through lunchtime, but they're incredibly busy and have wonderful food. This wasn't in Chinatown, but was a couple of blocks from the hotel. They had some things I've never tasted before, including these little dumplings full of soup. :D It's like a little balloon full of broth, about an inch and a half across. You take it onto your ceramic spoon, then pierce one side with a chopstick to let the soup out. Then there was a little bowl of vinegar and shaved ginger; you put a bit of that on if you want to, then eat the whole thing, one spoonful at a time. Wonderful stuff; I could've made a lunch of just a few more servings of those.
One thing Jim really wanted to do was go on a duck tour. They have these amphibious vehicles called ducks, which were built to land troops during WWII. We took a similar tour up in Toronto a few years ago, but those vehicles were purpose-modified for the tourist trade, and they had to stop and do a bit of conversion between land and water. These are refurbished but otherwise work just like they did during the war, going right from the land into the water and back again without having to stop and fiddle with anything. The soldiers didn't like them because they could only do about five knots in the water and that made them... sitting ducks. :P They're great fun for touring around the city and then into the bay, though.
The tour went past the new ballpark three times, twice on land and once on the water. I don't know, I used to go to Candlestick when I was a kid, so I view the new park with a jaundiced eye. It's nice, and there are statues of famous Giants players around the plaza on the land side. There's plenty of parking (which is kind of amazing for something right there on one end of the city like that, well up the penninsula) and there were a bunch of people having a huge tailgate party, even though the game didn't start for a few more hours, so obviously people like the place and have fun there. I think that to me, though, the "real" home of the San Francisco Giants will always be Candlestick Park, despite the wind and the cold and the slightly grubby structure. :)
And of course, there's no way I can tourist around San Francisco for a week without going to A Different Light. It's a great gay bookstore up in the Castro. A trolley went from right outside our hotel to within a block or two of the store, very convenient. I came out with a bunch of books and could easily have bought a lot more. I restrained myself, however, and what I got will keep me for a few more days:
Alex Beecroft's False Colors
James Buchanan's The Good Thief (hardcopy to replace my e-book -- I prefer paper copies of my favorites if I can get them)
Erastes's Frost Fair
Scott and Scott's E-male
NL Gassert's The Protector
Jim did a lot more running around than I did; my joints just aren't up to hard touristing every day. I had a great time, though, and just being in the city, hearing the cable cars go by and enjoying the wonderfully cool temperatures -- San Francisco is absolutely the place to be in July. :) It's one of the few really urban areas I wouldn't mind living in, if only the cost of housing wasn't so ridiculously high. Maybe some day.