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Dishing it Out in Frisco

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Dishing it Out in Frisco

It had a sprightly rhythm and the restlessness of an ever-crashing ocean. We were at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf where vendors hawked giant crabs from bubbling cauldrons. Haunting aromas wafted from seafood restaurants clustered along this historic waterfront, and impulsively we sampled a seafood cocktail even as the fragrance of freshly baked sourdough bread, another local specialty, wafted around us.SanFrancisco-Food-Service-1

Nearby, at lively Pier 39 (with its 100 shops, 13 restaurants and numerous other attractions), a portly Italian gent with pretensions to being an opera star belted out arias from popular operas; not too far away a Bolivian flautist and guitarist entertained the surging crowds of tourists. Children and adults rode a brightly lit carousel and sea lions lounged by the bay while a local brandished a placard that said: “Why lie? I need a dollar for a beer.”

Something seemed to be happening and erupting all the time like bubbles in a glass of sparkling wine. It leant a spring to our step as we headed for Eagle Café, a favourite local hangout since 1928. A tattooed and charming waitress recommended we have the ultimate comfort food, a creamy clam chowder, for starters. Another San Francisco speciality, hot crab melt with Dungeness crab served on fresh local bread, followed while one gourmet in our group opted for a crab cake appetiser. A grilled seafood salad whose recipe has remained unchanged for 20 years, fish and chips with Alaskan cod, French fries and tartar sauce and cocktail sauce appeared in quick succession and in humongous proportions. SanFrancisco-Food-Service

Indeed, this most beautiful of American cities is food obsessed and it is said that one can eat out every day for a year and not repeat a restaurant. While there is no San Franciscan cuisine per se, it is a gourmet destination where one can dine well in no-frills neighborhood eateries or the trendy ones that serve dollops of attitude with the food. The cuisine is concocted by inventive chefs who use familiar ingredients that are seasonal and fresh. SanFrancisco-Food-Restaurant-1

That first evening we walked to Union Square where the beat was genteel – people waltzed as a band played Strauss waltzes. Here John’s Grill, a restaurant dating back to 1908, is wood-panelled and warm, and famous for its legendary steaks, seafood and honest prices. It resonates with the legend of Sam Spade, hero of a classic Dashiell Hammett crime novel who would drop by for a meal.

As timeless as the legend, is the grill’s menu which has substantially remained the same despite several changes in ownership. We nibbled on imported Feta cheese and steamed clams; savoured the chef’s special red snapper (topped with shrimp, Dungeness crab, mushrooms and lemon cream). Jumbo prawns Dijonnaise were sautéed with wine, garlic and mustard and drizzled with mushrooms; chicken Jerusalem came with sautéed artichokes and mushrooms in a creamy white wine sauce; a hearty New York steak, and seafood cannelloni… in a city where the visual is everything and presentation is all, the bounteous repast was a celebration of our quest for the good life.

 

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We touched a different facet of San Francisco’s personality in China Town. In this conflagration of colour and tangled calligraphic Chinese street signs, we stopped by the Eastern Bakery, which claims to be the oldest in the US. Here in the linen-less eatery, we sampled some rice cakes and shrimp dumplings and also savoured some neon-bright gold-brown melon cakes. SanFrancisco-ChinaTown-DimSimBakery-1

In sharp contrast was our meal at the classy Cliff House restaurant which features a casual bistro and the stylish Sutro’s dining room. Both have stunning views of the deep blue Pacific venting its fury on the Seal Rocks below. We lunched on California style sandwiches – a broiled mahi mahi sandwich with tartar sauce, ciabatta roll and baby greens; grilled salmon with light mustard glaze, roasted Yukon potatoes, market vegetables and spicy fried calamari.

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Ultimately, San Francisco is a visual feast where one can give one’s taste buds a real treat as well. It’s a city with a sense of humour – the latest culinary offering is the swank and outré Supper Club where a five-course banquet is served on over-sized beds!

Gustasp Irani

Gustasp & Jeroo Irani are a husband and wife team of travel writers/photographers, more accurately, travel junkies always on the lookout for the next fix, the next trip... They have traveled across India and the world. But eventually they return to the city they call home: Mumbai. The footloose couple have edited Indian travel magazines, researched and written two guides for South African Tourism in India. Gustasp is the author of the book Once Upon a Raj.

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