Four Days in San Francisco

Still adjusting to being back on Eastern Standard Time – California was a welcome change of scenery (though not particularly pace) and after spending a great weekend in Yosemite Park, M and I hopped across the Bay to San Francisco. He’d put a lot of thought and time into the Yosemite leg of our trip, and basically left the “city” part of the trip up to me. Which meant…

On our first day, we hopped on a bike tour out of Hayes Valley with a company called Streets of San Francisco – it was a blast, and although a lot of companies try for the “cruise the city with a cool friend who lives there already” vibe, these guys pull it off completely. We had a blast, and due to an ingenious route called the Wiggle (would I kid?) we did dodge the worst of the hills. Post Half Dome, my legs were very grateful for this reprieve.  It helped that our tour guide, Josh, was as savvy about food trucks as he was about the copious amounts of street art around the city’s downtown.

Lunch on our bike tour day found us darting under the San Francisco Chronicle’s building for a small Off The Grid event – in the alleyway beneath the building, five or six food trucks waited. Food trucks, from what I could glean, have been booming in SF for the past two years, and as the trend is fairly new to Waterloo Region, it’s inspiring to see what two years of ingenuity looks (and tastes) like.

It was tough to choose what to order, so Mike waited in line at The Chairman for steamed and baked bao, and I headed over to The Taco Guys‘ truck (right) for a summer squash taco and a Maui fish taco.  The summer squash taco and the pork belly bao (Chinese baked bun) with pickled daikon were standouts – summer-bright and packed with flavours that were at once comforting and unique.  …mmm, pickled daikon.  We ate them too quickly to take pictures!

That said, both of these food trucks have a pretty serious food enthusiast following – we were glad to have the chance to try them at a smaller event. We found these food trucks again at the larger food truck gathering on Friday evening, and the lineup for the Chairman looked like it might be twenty to thirty minutes of waiting in line, easy!


At the end of the tour, we found ourselves back in Hayes Valley and wandering over to Smitten Ice Cream and its Kelvin machines that turn fresh cream and locally sourced ingredients into ice cream by using liquid nitrogen.  M was intrigued by the science, I by the sweet corn with berries ice cream. Though sweet corn was a flavour I chose for its quirky factor, bypassing salted caramel, which would normally be my YES PLEASE, NOW? choice, it was a worthy experiment. (And the blackberry sauce was perfect.) The texture of the ice cream, which the shop notes is less ‘icy’ than most ice creams as ice crystals don’t have a chance to form in the flash-curing from the liquid nitrogen, is very smooth, allowing the delicate flavour of the sweet corn to shine through. Unusual, but yummy.

Day two, and M and I were en route to the Ferry Building’s Farmer’s Market… until, as we chilled out on a streetcar (we’d figured we’d take the scenic route) a bright green truck in the Financial District caught our eye.

“It’s called the ‘Nom Nom Truck,” I explained as we waited at a stoplight. “If I don’t get off this streetcar and check it out, my foodie friends back in KW (and some of our climbing buddies) will disown me.”

M only laughed, following me across the road.

We split a lemongrass-chili banh mi (Vietnamese submarine sandwich; right) – the guy who took our order was great and split it in half for us. These are one of my favorite kinds of sandwiches, as I enjoy the collision of tastes, from the fresh, crunchy cucumber and carrot matchsticks to the sweet heat of the lemongrass chili chicken – the add-on of their vegan vegetable pate was brilliant. It added a savoury, earthy quality to the sandwich in the best of ways, and was completely different from anything I’d tried on a banh mi before.  (Now, to start talking with KW’s own Givral Deli to see if they’d make something similar…)

 The Ferry Building’s market is definitely a fantastic experience – not least because I was able to track down one of my favorite Japanese foods, okonomiyaki – with a Korean twist at Street Food Namu, Namu Gaji’s traveling booth. (M has a picture of me smiling with said second breakfast in the minute before devouring it, but he’s notorious for never uploading his pictures.)

Kimchi made for a satisfying twist on the pancake-like treat I’d enjoyed in Japan, and while I still think that Osaka-style okonomiyaki is my favorite, I floated around the Ferry Building somewhere around Cloud Nine.  M & I marveled at the wide variety of specialty mushrooms and their colours; my photo doesn’t do the brilliant, burnt-orange-crimson colour of the lobster mushrooms justice!

I also got a kick out of the grow-your-own-mushrooms on display under massive bell (?) jars, and there were kits for sale, but I can’t imagine Customs taking too well to my bringing one home as a souvenir!

At left is the inside of the Ferry Building. It reminded me of Chelsea Market in NYC on a variety of levels, and it was fun to have a fellow wanderer (M) with me, this time around.

We snacked on everything from airy vanilla bean marshmallows to a tall glass of Cowgirl Creamery milk – the latter of which was simple perfection, and probably a wiser treat than the home-made donuts in every shade and flavour just down the hall. (Another trip!)


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