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Archive for November, 2011

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Temperatures have been dropping here in San Francisco which means it’s noodle soup time!  The hubs and I were in Union Square for Black Friday (I know I know, bad idea…) and after just 2 hours of shopping, we needed a break so we headed to Katana-Ya.  While the menu is quite extensive with multiple types of ramen, rice bowls, and sushi, the most popular item is the Katana-Ya ramen, which is what the hubs and I both got.  The ramen should satisfy most appetites since it comes with sliced barbecue pork, fried chicken, potstickers, corn, and bamboo shoots!  You get your choice of miso, soy sauce, or salt broth.  The noodles were perfectly cooked, firm with a chewy bite.  Overall, it was tasty, although a little too salty, and it certainly hit the spot after a chilly day of walking around and fighting shoppers.  The restaurant itself is small so most likely you’ll end up waiting quite a bit for a table since they don’t accept reservations, but the atmosphere is reminiscent of an authentic Japanese noodle shop.  I would certainly recommend Katana-Ya if you have a craving for ramen or happen to be in Union Square looking for an affordable meal.

 

Katana-Ya

430 Geary Street, between Mason and Taylor St.

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I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!  I know that I’m a little late with this week’s travel inspiration and I can give you all plenty of excuses but frankly I’ve just been enjoying my extra long weekend and spending some quality time with the hubs and the pooch.

So the holidays are officially upon us and nothing evokes the festive feelings than family and food.  What better way to strengthen family ties over the holidays than to take a trip together to a charming farm property where the whole family can partake in culinary activities while breathing in the fresh mountain air.  This week’s travel idea was inspired by Blackberry Farm, an intimate luxurious boutique property nestled in the western foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.  Although there is plenty to do on the property, it would be a shame to travel all the way to Eastern Tennessee without visiting the famous mountain ridge.

Featured Travel Idea: Great Smoky Mountains


 top: blackberry farm, blackberry dining, heritage center

middle: blackberry farm, smoky sunset, fly-fishing, pumpkins

bottom: hill cottages, cades cove, sheep, market square

Book a stay at Blackberry Farm during one of their culinary events, like the Delicious Decadence event on December 4-7th and watch a cooking demonstration by the famous pastry chef, Francois Payard.  Even if you can’t make it to one of their events, you can still participate in various culinary activities like their “A Day in the Life of a Chef”.  Or you can get down to the basics and help out around the farm, learn all about gardening from the master gardener, or spend some time with the shepherds.  The whole family will enjoy seeing how the food they eat is grown, harvested and prepared.  All this emphasis on farm-to-table and artisanal preparation means that dining at Blackberry Farm is nothing short of fantastic so make sure you savor the exceptional cuisine there.

Venture out of the property by hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Walk on part of the historic Appalachian Trail or bike in Cades Cove, a historic settlement from the 1800s that is open for exploration.  Try your hand at fly-fishing at one of the numerous trout streams.  You can take a beginner’s class at the Little River Outfitters or book a wading trip with R & R Fly Fishing.  When you need to take a break from all the outdoor activities, visit the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center.  Both kids and adults will enjoy learning about Native American life through interactive exhibits and detailed displays.  Finally, head to nearby Knoxville and stroll through Market Square, taking in the historic buildings, shops, and festivals.

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We’re back to our regularly schedule Friday date night!  And what a night it was! I had been wanting to go to Frances forever and finally got my chance.  The restaurant is so popular I had to book the reservation a month in advance and even then could only get a 9:30pm table.  But it was worth it!

Even though Frances is a one-michelin starred restaurant, the price range is still reasonable and the atmosphere is casual and unpretentious.  The restaurant is small and you end up sitting really close to the other customers so this is not the place if you want some privacy.  The service however is great.  We arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes early and they seated us right away.  The host was really friendly and attentive, as was our waiter, who even made a point to tell us not to feel pressured to drink all of the wine.  Frances sells their own blend of house red and white wine, which they sell at a $1 an ounce.  They bring out a carafe of it and you only pay what you pour.  Even without the waiter’s urging though, the hubs and I found ourselves finishing it, $16 for 4 small glasses of wine, not too shabby.

To start, we ordered two bouchees (bites in French), the applewood smoked bacon beignets and the grilled local calamari.  The beignets were wonderful.  It was savory with a very strong bacon flavor and served with creme fraiche and chives.  The calamari dish was a good balance to the beignet.  It was grilled perfectly and tasted really fresh.  The hubs ordered the five dot ranch bavette steak and I had the caramelized atlantic scallops.  The hubs thought the steak was cooked perfectly (medium rare) and extremely tasty.  The scallops were also delicious.  My only gripe with the dish was that there were only two, albeit very large, scallops.  The portions are on the smaller side but you’ll be fine if you also order an appetizer.  Or you can request bread, as I did.  Frances doesn’t automatically bring bread to the table as most restaurants do, but they do have it available if you ask for it, and you should since it’s Acme bread!

To cap off the evening, we ordered the brown butter ‘friand’ cake with roasted warren pears, huckleberries, and creme fraiche.  A friand is similar to a financier, a small french teacake, which actually reminded me of a madeleine.  It was delicious!  As an example of how good their service is, the table next to hours ordered the friand cake before us but the waiter mistakenly served it to us first (oops) so the restaurant gave them a small plate of chocolates and an extra dessert!  Man, I wish they mistakenly give our dessert away!

Frances is a MUST try, but just make sure you make a reservation in advance, it’s popular!

Frances

3870 17th Street, between Pond and Noe St.

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Twin Peaks is one of the highest hills in San Francisco and offers sweeping views of most of the city.  On a clear day you can see all of the bay, the Bay Bridge, downtown, the Golden Gate Bridge, and even glimpses of the ocean.  Most people will visit the peak by driving or taking a tour bus up there, park, and walk two steps to the observation area.  However, if you can, I’d highly recommend walking up to the Twin Peaks summit.  From the Cole & Carl St. muni stop in Cole Valley, you can walk over to Clayton St., make a right onto Twin Peaks Boulevard and follow all the way to the top.  As you walk through the residential neighborhood, admiring the lovely homes, you’ll get glimpses of the city skyline.

The walk is rather steep and it’s approximately 1 mile to the top, but you will be rewarded with awesome views.  Afterwards, treat yourself to a delicious brunch at Zazie in Cole Valley or if the wait is too long, head across the street to La Boulange for coffee and pastries.  Then round out your day with some window shopping and people watching a few blocks away on Haight Street, best known for the being the center of the hippie movement in the ’60’s.  Nowadays, it’s a bohemian neighborhood filled with boutique, bookstores, and coffee shops.  It’s also a fun place to go if you want to recycle or trade some personal goods since the street is full of consignment shops and is home to Amoeba Records, which will buy, sell, and trade your used records, CDs, and DVDs.

 

What: Twin Peaks

Where: Start at Cole & Carl Street

Activity: Hiking, Walking (~2 miles roundtrip, Easy to Moderate with steep inclines)

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This week’s travel idea was inspired by the recent NYC marathon.  Watching it on TV reminded me of when I ran the race a few years ago.  Back then I was pretty active in signing up for races all over the city.  While it was great challenging myself physically, what I loved most about those races was the ability to go places I’ve never been before.  The NYC marathon winds through all five boroughs and took me through neighborhoods that I never even knew about.  I think that for those who love to run, a marathon-cation is truly an epic way to experience a city.  There are numerous marathons that give you an up-close-and-personal experience of the location, like the Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Disney World (!) marathons.  But I’m sure that one of the most scenic would be the Big Sur Marathon that happens in the Spring.  While the marathon is already full, there are numerous smaller races that you can still sign up for.  What could be more wonderful than spending half a day running along the beautiful Pacific Coastline and then spending the rest of the weekend wining and dining in nearby Carmel?

Featured Travel Idea: Carmel-by-the-Sea

 top: chateau julien, la bicyclette, carmel mission

middle: l’auberge carmel, big sur marathon, mission ranch

bottom: carmel beach, point lobos state reserve, downtown carmel

First off, book a stay at the L’Auberge Carmel, a beautiful boutique hotel that looks like it was plucked straight from the French countryside.  As luck would have it, Voyage Prive is having a flash sale on the hotel in a few days so you may score a great deal!  The race is on Sunday so you may want to take it easy before then.  Go for a leisurely walk on Carmel Beach, one of the most serene and scenic beaches on the Pacific Coast.  Then visit the Carmel Mission and stroll through the poppy gardens.  Or head to charming downtown Carmel where you can shop, eat, and browse art galleries.  You’ll want to fortify for the big race tomorrow so have a delicious dinner at Casanova or La Bicyclette, two restaurants that are known for great food and great atmosphere.  After the race, why not unwind with some wine tasting at Chateau Julien Wine Estate.  Travelzoo also happens to have a great deal that includes wine tasting for 2, a bottle of wine and appetizers, all for $25*.  Cap off the weekend with a visit to the historic Mission Ranch for dinner and music.  If you’re lucky, you may even see Clint Eastwood there.

*disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with these discount websites, I just enjoy spreading the word on good deals!

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The mission burrito, oh how I love thee.  While the hubs and I didn’t go out on our usual Friday date night, we did enjoy some yummy Mexican take-out.  San Francisco is known for Mexican food and Mission Street is chock full of taquerias that offer light on the wallet, delicious food.  Ask any local and they will surely have a different opinion on where to find the best burrito.  However, Taqueria Can-Cun does boast the distinction of best burrito 10 years in a row (and boast they do, it’s printed on their menu!).  We have been to other taquerias but so far our favorite is this place.  While the ambiance leaves much to be desired, the food more than makes up for it.  The menu is fairly simple and while they offer other typical Mexican fare, by far the most popular item is the burrito, but not just any burrito, the Super Burrito!  Suffice it to say you will not leave hungry!  The hubs always opts for the carne asada, while I always order the marinated pork.   They’re both delicious.  Other items we’ve tried include Super Nachos with marinated pork and Menudo, which is a traditional Mexican soup, served only on weekends.  Both are good and recommended.  The restaurant is open until 1am on weekdays and 2am on weekends, which is always great when you’ve got a late night snack attack!

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Taqueria Can-Cun

2288 Mission Street, between 18th & 19th St.

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I have a love-hate relationship with the San Francisco hills.  Living on top of a hill, it’s always a little windier and chillier than the rest of the city.  Not only that, but if I want to take a walk, grab a cup of coffee, or grocery shop, I simply walk down the hill which is all well and good, until I have to drudge up that blasted hill later to get home.  I convince myself that my rear will thank me one day, but I have yet to see any changes.  However, living in a hilly city also means unbelievable views.  I’m constantly amazed that no matter how many hills I climb up, I will always get a different view of the city that takes my breath away.

The hubs and I are fortunate enough to live close to Buena Vista Park and Corona Heights, two parks that are literally a block apart but offers a slightly different perspective of the city.

There are several entrance points to the Buena Vista Park, from the bottom at Haight Street, all along Buena Vista Avenue, and also at the top at Upper Terrace.  Once you enter the park though, it’s like another world, you don’t feel like you are in the middle of a major city until you get glimpses of the skyline through the trees.

Since the park is elevated it makes for a good workout just by walking to the top.  There’s paved trails, unpaved trails, and stairs within the park, making for a nice, varied walk.

It’s a wonderful park to bring your pooch or if you want some peace and quiet since it’s mostly frequented by locals looking to work out or walk their dog off leash.  We have been to the park about every other week since we moved here and we’ve never seen more than a handful of people during our entire walk.  There’s also a children’s playground, tennis courts, dog run, and benches sprinkled throughout.  It’s probably a 1 hour leisurely stroll to the top and back down again, making for a wonderful way to get some fresh air.

If you have time, exit Buena Vista Park at the Upper Terrace entrance, walk a block to Masonic Avenue, take a left and head straight to Corona Heights Park.  This park is mostly barren, a stark contrast to the heavily wooded park you just came from, but if you climb to the peak, you will have an expansive unobstructed view of downtown San Francisco.

My sentiments exactly!

What: Buena Vista Park and Corona Heights Park

Where: Multiple entrances to Buena Vista, Roosevelt and Museum Way for Corona Heights

Activity: Hiking, Walking (~1 hour round-trip, Easy to Moderate)

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