Tuesday, January 31, 2012

California 22, or, Mission Bars Part 2

One of the contenders for best bar in the Mission, and, perhaps, best bar in the universe. Apologies that this is really getting way into "what I had for breakfast" blog territory, but, it's what we've got at the moment.

First of all, old neon signs are great, and one that actually says "Cocktail Time" right on the sign? Pure win. Also: Shuffleboard. Also, also: Cheap drinks. Also also also: Good jukebox, mixed crowd, bartenders are great until they start kicking people out at 1:45 so they can close, which I guess is fine, but shouldn't one be allowed to finish up at my leisure as long as he will be walking out the door at 1:59? Oh, well, a minor problem for one of our favorite bars.

If you're really curious for some reason: the other contender for best bar in the Mission and maybe best bar in the universe is the Latin American Club, conveniently just around the corner! Their sign isn't as photogenic, though.

Monday, January 30, 2012

California 21, or, Culinary Investigation Two of Three, or MUNI-N-SUSHI DAY

One item that your correspondents, personally, feel is a particularly dark spot on the DC culinary map: sushi. So we knew we had to spend a day in San Francisco gobbling up as much sushi as we could. But that could be costly both for the stomach and the pocketbook. How to slow things down and make sure we didn't wind up eating more sushi than we could actually handle? We decided to ensure a leisurely interval between each sushi restaurant by exploring different restaurants in different neighborhoods, and getting from one neighborhood to another as slowly as humanly possible, i.e. via Muni. Neither the Sushi nor the Muni let us down.

Case in point: We decided our first stop of the day would be Wayo Sushi, on Van Ness, and therefore a straight shot of the 49 Van Ness up from our Mission/Bernal digs. We didn't get an early start on the day, but when a 49 showed up, we had scarcely gone five blocks before it had to be taken out of service and we had to go wait for the next 49 to show up, and then slowly make our way up Van Ness with various crazy shouting people. When we arrived at Sushi Wayo, they were no longer serving lunch and wouldn't open again until dinnertime. So, we made our way back down to Sushi Hana, which was not as well reviewed, but was actually open. The sushi there was nice. I guess I should have written this a little less than six months after the event because I don't really remember more detail than that. The picture above doesn't really do much to bring back the details on the food, either.

I do recall that we then caught a 47 back down to Mission for our next stop at Sushi Zaoh. I don't recall how on earth we decided this not-particularly-noteworthy spot should be on our agenda, other than the following: 1. They were open; and 2. We were realizing the enormity of the task we had established for ourselves attempting to get around via Muni. One place I wanted to try in the Richmond was obviously not going to happen. Retreating back down Van Ness on the 47 with a gaggle of screaming teenage girls yelling at each other about what stop to get off at was a more manageable dose of Muni. So we had some nice enough sushi at Zaoh, which was a fitting local for the Civic Center neighborhood. No-frills, perhaps even a little down-on-the-heels, and very blue (as seen above), but the sushi was fine. We then took a tactical pause to digest at the Asian Art Museum.

For our next stop, we were hoping for the pièce de résistance with some sushi in Japantown. We thought maybe we would take the 19 Polk up to Sutter and transfer to the 3 Jackson, but we wound up walking all the way up to Sutter before a 19 ever came by. But the 3 took us the last few blocks without incident. The reputations of Sushi places in Japantown are a bit mixed, perhaps due to high expectations, but Kiss Seafood gets rave reviews all around. We were hoping that on a Tuesday night if we arrived right at opening at 5:30 we might be able to get seated. No such luck. So we went for plan B at Ino Sushi inside the Peace Plaza building. It was awesome. Expensive, and they had a minimum order so we wound up filling up more than we had perhaps planned, but it was a definite get-what-you-pay-for proposition.

We took a brief digestion interval in the crazy Japanese Dollar Store in the basement of the Peace Plaza building in Japantown, and acquired all sorts of hilarious stuff we didn't need, like popsicle molds and a space age lunchbox. Then we decide to push our luck in Japantown - but where Ino is sparse to the point of austere and feels very traditional, we veered now in the other direction and went to Isobune, "the original sushi boat restaurant." We sat at the bar where they have a little moat around the sushi chefs and a train of boats going around in endless circles so you can grab anything that looks good, then pay at the end by how many empty plates are stacked up in front of you. The sushi was not up to Ino standards, but it wasn't terrible. And your correspondent finds it hard to resist when something really exotic floats by, like the octopus pictured at the very top of this post.

For our final stop, we went back down to Noe Valley (ending in Noe on both Ice Cream Day and Muni-n-Sushi Day because of certain relatives of the Holla who live in the neighborhood). In a foolhardy move, we attempted to take the 22 Fillmore and then transfer to the J Church Muni Metro. The 22 was not a particular problem, but we waited for something like six hours for a the J to come by. It was good to finish, as we began, in true San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority style. When we finally got to Hamano sushi, and then finally got a table, we again rolled with the style of the neighborhood, with some high-falutin' rolls with ingredients like lemons and field greens and stuff. Definitely our least traditional stop of the day, but also a good one.

Sadly, at that point we were stuffed, and maybe also had enough sake and Kirin to call it a night, and I couldn't persuade anyone to join me in a mad dash to one more restaurant before closing time. Five sushi meals and four self-inflicted trips on the muni would have to do on this day - a record we hope to top on Muni-n-Sushi Day 2012 (or whichever year we manage to get back to San Francisco).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

California 20, or, Alameda Day

Alameda is one of the funniest places in the Bay Area. It's a little island off the coast of Oakland with a quaint suburban feel and a quaint main street that probably should be called Main Street. It was formerly home to a Naval Air Station, which has since been closed. So now, it's home to an abandoned Naval Air Station on a prime piece of real estate that is mostly a Superfund site.

However, it is also home to a couple wineries (or at least their tasting rooms) a distillery, and one of the Bay Area's goofier museums. And you can take the ferry there directly from the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Perhaps the centerpiece of our visit was the St. George Spirits distillery. It is located in one of the old hangars on the Naval Air Base (pictured at top) and is, as far as your correspondents could tell, the only tenant in any of the buildings on the base, the remainder of which sit eerily abandoned (pictured immediately above).

In any case, the good people at St. George are friendly and knowledgeable and offer a variety of delicious beverages in their tasting room. The most broadly distributed are Hangar 1 Vodka in a variety of flavors, including Buddha's Hand, which lemon-related fruit they kindly display in a jar for people wondering what the heck a Buddha's Hand is. They also make some fancy liqueurs, some whiskey, and perhaps most notably, absinthe. The tasting series a great way to wind up a little tipsy in the middle of a ghost town navy base in the middle of the afternoon.

More about our favorite museum in Alameda some other time...

California 19, or, Mission Bars Part 1

Nice bar. Love the sign. Good but a bit too much on a weekend night. It probably is just as good as the bars we love in the Mission, but since we don't actually live in the Bay Area any more the old sentimental favorites are going to be tough to displace from the top of the list. Photo turned out surprisingly nicely for trying to handhold a point-and-shoot camera on the street after dark.

Friday, January 27, 2012

We're back! Or, California 18

We're back! We were gone! Our day job was kicking our asses for the last week. It may do so again soon. But for now, it's the weekend and we'll post a few more ridiculous pictures here for our eternally patient reading public. Above: To keep you from getting too excited that we're back, here's a picture of something we found posted at a Muni stop in San Francisco. What does it all mean?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

California 17, or, Culinary Investigation One of Three

Your intrepid correspondents endeavored to maximize our time in the culinary paradise that is California, before spending a year in the culinary wasteland that is Washington, DC (improving, so maybe now only a mediocrity rather than a true wasteland, but still). The first of these efforts -- undertaken, of course, in the name of Science -- was San Francisco Ice Cream Day.

As with any place where the young and hip and employed gather, there are all variety of artisanal and farm-to-table and homemade and crafty and unique foods in San Francisco. Case in point: Blue Bottle Coffee which is way over-hyped and people wait in ridiculous lines for it, but it is perhaps, it turns out, actually worth it. Iced creams are no exception. There are far more high-falutin' ice creameries in The City than we could have hoped to try in a day. So we settled on three.

The first stop was Xanath in the Mission, which features all-organic ice cream in fancy flavors, such as saffron, as seen above. There were a bunch of other places that should have been the second stop, but we accidentally walked by Zeitgeist and had no choice but to stop for a while and have some beer in the sun.

When we eventually got back on course, the second stop was Smitten, on Patricia's Green park on Octavia in Hayes Valley, by some truly horrible public art, which we gather -- nay, hope! -- may be temporary. Anyway, Smitten's gimmick is that they actually make the ice cream as you order it, in an impressive cloud of liquid nitrogen.

After we were (if I recall) tempted to stop at another bar for some wine around cocktail hour, time for additional stops was slipping away. I don't really know how many ice creams your correspondents would have been up for, but our dedication to sugar is no match for our dedication to alcohol. Three full servings of ice cream would have to do.

So our final stop was Mitchell's, down in Noe Valley. (All photos from Mitchell's involved one of the taste-testers in an unflattering pose while eating ice cream, so they will remain unpublished.) In contrast to the fully-organic or made-on-the-spot varieties we tried earlier, Mitchell's gimmick is that they have been making kick-ass ice cream for 50 years and change. And the winner, by acclimation, was Mitchell's in a landslide. Maybe they could just add some clouds of liquid nitrogen for effect, and there would be no reason to go anywhere else.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

California 16, or, I Like This Picture

Maybe you don't. Shotwell near Cesar Chavez.

Monday, January 16, 2012

California 15, or, Architecture

We like this picture. Although we also recognize that some of these San Francisco pictures have not exactly been thrilling compositions or subjects. But we hope to remedy that soon with some tales of San Francisco derring-do. But really, the good pictures ended when we left the coast and came down to The City.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

California 14, or, Jugs of Wine

Sutton Cellars is a warehouse in the Dogpatch neighborhood in San Francisco, where they make tasty wine from grapes that are fortunately not from the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. We have a connection who's on their mailing list for their monthly "open studio" wine tasting events at the warehouse. The wine was good, but perhaps better was the atmosphere which was very laid-back and not at all wine snobby. And, they have maybe the coolest "labels" ever on these swing-top jugs.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

California 13, or, Records

We did some poking around in the various goofy stores on Valencia. This was found at the Salvation Army I think, but where-ever it was, you have to be a serious crate-digger to be going through used records stacked up with no sleeves. But maybe there's some genius in a basement in the Mission making amazing music out of samples from scratched-up contra-dance records.

Friday, January 13, 2012

California 12, or, Stipplemania

Still in the same spot since the time we lived a couple blocks away some seven years ago (and who knows how long before that), this display in the Mission is only somewhat worse for the wear. I figure the creator considers it art. Or maybe he or she just loves Wall Street Journal Stipple Portraits. And who can blame them? Long may it reign.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

California 11, or, Newspaper Hat

Since on a previous trip (which it turns out we never really detailed in these pages in our rush to Afghanistan) we biked across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and on to Tiburon, we figured we needed a different touristy bike ride this time. So we decided on a spin around the perimeter of The City, starting at Pac Bell Park or whatever it is now, up around the Embarcadero to the Marina, past the foot of the bridge, down by the Sutro Baths to Ocean Beach and then down to some unknown spot to cross back over to the bay side. Our first detour was when your correspondent decided it would be way cooler to bike over the top of Telegraph Hill rather than around us. So that basically kicked our asses right from the outset.

Then over by the Lincoln Park Golf Course and the Legion of honor we made a vain search for a small trail that led to us riding up and down another decent sized hill several times. So that was ass-kicking number two.

So when we got to the Beach Chalet, we didn't really have much choice but to stop for a beer. And when we got done with the beer, we figured we might as well just head straight for home through Golden Gate Park and the Wiggle. So our bike ride wasn't quite as long as we planned, but not too bad.

But anyway, the point of this was the above detail from the WPA-era murals at the Beach Chalet. Love the newspaper hat; love the Mark Twain book; love the angry sandcastle maker. There are a lot of other things to love in those murals, but these are some good ones that are right next to each other.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

California 10, or, Doggie Panniers

Like the title says. Dogs in panniers. I guess they also make panniers for dogs, but who cares, that's not as cool. And we didn't see any in San Francisco.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

California 9, or, Three Image from the Way Back of the Mystery Machine

Presented in order of being able to discern the surroundings.

We had a great evening in Oakland eating fine meats on Piedmont Ave and seeing a New Orleans-style brass band play at Disco Volante downtown. The prospect of a long painful trip on public transportation ahead of us, this friend of a friend offered to give us a ride back to The City. Turns out that ride was in the most awesome 1970's van of all time. All these pictures taken from my seat way back by the rear doors, some 50 yards away from the driver and passenger seats up front.

Monday, January 09, 2012

California 8

It wasn't all campgrounds and sunsets in California. We also spent a fair bit of time in The City, split between a couple nights in a swanky hotel in Union Square and an apartment rental deep in the Mission. We wandered around and occasionally took pictures of nothing in particular.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

California 7

Two more pictures we like from camping in Northern California. Above: Something big; Below: Something small.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

California 6

More surprisingly to your correspondent than the very cool tide pools -- which were awesome, but as promised -- were the really nice fields of feet-high wild grasses. Not something that springs to mind when you (or at least, when I) imagine the coast of Northern California.

Friday, January 06, 2012

California 5

While we're at the seaside, in addition to crazy little marine animals that I don't know the name of, there were seals. But also in addition to seals, there were plants I don't know the name of. For example, those pictured above, which seemed to be making a little tropical forest of miniature trees on the rocks that were at times underwater but at this time, not. Also, crashing surf, producing a rain-like effect in this picture which was captured at the slowest shutter speed at which I could keep the camera relatively still.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

California 4

Some really nice tide pools at the Salt Point State Park. Crazy critters; anemone things, hermit crabs, starfish, and more. We took a lot of pictures but didn't get them all and even the stuff we got, I don't know what they're called other than "crazy little tidepool creatures." If you want to see a more traditional closeup of this purty starfish, we did that, too.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

California 3

When in Northern California, we recommend Salt Point State Park. On the Pacific Coast of Sonoma County, it features a dramatic shoreline perfect for exploring tide pools, some very pretty grassy meadows and stands of trees, and... a pygmy forest. Pictures of tide pools and pretty grassy meadows coming over the next few days. Somehow -- whether due to incompetence or laziness, we don't know -- the staff photographer didn't wind up taking any pictures of the pygmy forest. Our apologies. To aid in your imagining the pygmy forest, it was like a regular forest - but shorter.

We did take the above picture of star trails on a bright moon-lit night in the campground of Salt Point State Park, which does feature some odd trees. Some of them are short, but I think they're just young, not full-fledged pygmies.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

California 2

This picture of a rusty fire ring is just a placeholder because it's late and we don't have it together to write any thrilling anecdotes about our time in California. We remain, as ever, suckers for close-up pictures of rusty things.

Monday, January 02, 2012

California 1

So, to catch you up on the story, in case you're just joining us, which we can't imagine why you would be:

In 2010, we started working in Afghanistan and due to the needs of the Foreign Service to have us in Afghanistan right now, we were kindly granted a waiver to take less than the Congressionally mandated amount of home leave in America between foreign tours. So then, when we left Afghanistan for a job in Washington with much less urgency that we report right now, we had some extra home leave days in the bank. So we got a nice long break that allowed us to see Alaska (about which see the previous 30 or so posts) and our old stomping grounds in California's picturesque San Francisco Bay Area. And some other stuff, but that's coming soon.

Coming over the next [however long it takes]: pictures and occasional anecdotes from Northern California. If you hadn't figured it out yet, we're currently on assignment in Washington and the exotic travel photography opportunities are a little slim, so we're not exactly moving at lightning pace to get through the home leave pictures. I know that's not what faithful fans of the Foreign Service Blog are looking for, but one does spend some portion of a FS career in Washington, so there you have it.