The California We Love: San Francisco
Sushi, suitcases and jade
San Francisco | Potrero Hill | Soma
Kyo-Ya, the serious, businessman's sushi bar on the ground floor of the Palace Hotel has impeccably fresh fish. Favorites are their whimsical rolls, particularly the "49ers": crab and avocado wrapped in pink soybean skin and decorated with gold leaf. $8-$13 each for special rolls. 2 New Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA 94105; 415-546-5090.
Chef-owner Gordon Drysdale's stylish concrete-and-steel renovation of a former warehouse is in an industrial area at the base of Potrero Hill. But Gordon's House of Fine Eats, his version of an unprepossessing restaurant with good food (think Tadich Grill or LuLu) is worth the cab ride. You're likely to see suited guys next to arty types in sweats, all of them downing frosty martinis and grilled lamb T-bones. At lunch, the delicious big fat burger with Cambozola cheese is accompanied by the best "skinny French fries" you've ever had. Lunch, $54; dinner, $70. $ 500 Florida St. (at Mariposa), San Francisco, CA 94110;
Ordering chicken in a restaurant to see how the lowly bird is handled is usually a test of a chef's creativity and talent. Ordering the roasted poussin at Fifth Floor, the stylish restaurant (zebra carpeting, velvet banquettes, carved ebony chairs) in SoMa's Hotel Palomar that's been a hit since it opened last September, is something else altogether. Considering chef George Morrone's already outstanding reputation, it came as no surprise that what appeared was dazzling, a composition of four pieces, half deeply flavored with a citrus reduction and sherry vinegar, the other with foie gras jus and chanterelles. Also spectacular were the seared Sonoma quail with smoked bacon and parsnip purée; a trio of tuna tartare, silky with just a hint of sharpness; Morrone's signature ahi with foie gras in a Pinot Noir sauce.
And then a sampling of four chocolate sweets: a warm chocolate cherry cake, chocolate orange tart, malt mousse, and chocolate soufflé. This is good eating. $127. 12 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-348-1555.
Omnipresent designer Pat Kuleto's dramatic fantasy design sets the scene for the SoMa restaurant Boulevard, a perennial favorite. But the draw is truly Nancy Oakes' richly flavored American cuisine. A change from the culinary pyrotechnics occurring around town, Oakes' menu is solid and satisfying without being challenging, its snap derived from exceptional ingredients. Pan-roasted quail is tender and accented by hazelnut mashed potatoes, butternut squash relish, candy cap mushrooms, and a maple vinaigrette; the spit-roasted free-range pork chop is accompanied by sweet potatoes, garnet yams and apples roasted with chestnuts. This is food for the idealized Vermont country inn. Pastry chef Heather Ho is completely in sync: What better finish for a meal like this than butterscotch crème brûlée or devil's food cake with bananas foster sauce? $96. One Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94105; 415-543-6084; www.boulevardrestaurant.com.
The New Curiosity Shop
"Bell'occhio is a mix of fine antiques and handcrafted items made for our shop in European ateliers," says owner Claudia Schwartz, who scours the world for antique and contemporary ribbons, trimmed boxes, and other one-of-a-kind items such as silk flowers and engraved cards. The SoMa store's a delight to pick through because you never know what exquisite little collectible you're going to find. Ribbons: $2 a yard for contemporary cotton, $186 a yard for hand-painted silk from the 1920s. 8 Brady St., San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-864-4048; www.bellocchio.com.
San Francisco | Soma
Pot Roast, Anyone?
"Where are you going?" asks the doorman to your hotel, tooting for a cab. "To Dine," you reply. "And where are you going to dine?" "Dine." "Yes, but where?" "Dine is a new restaurant." Don't despair if you're momentarily trapped in an Abbott & Costello routine. The energy of this hot South of Market dinner house quickly brings you out of it. Opened early this year, Dine is the kind of place people either love or hate. The lovers like the trendy minimalist decor (brick, stone, wood, industrial materials), chef Julia McClaskey's homey take on modern American comfort food, the with-it but well-dressed clientele, and the generous distance between tables. The haters despise the hip crowd, the din, and food they swear they've eaten a thousand times before. Yes, Dine seems more style than substance, but don't be fooled. Not with braised short ribs and pot roast like this. $70. 662 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94105; 415-538-3463; fax 415-538-3466.
It's A Lulu!
Even on the night of the Oscars, Restaurant LuLu, the SoMa classic, is packed. In fact, the only complaint to be made about LuLu is that the noise level can be unbearable. But it's worth putting up with because the expansive room is so inviting, the wine list includes at least 70 interesting selections by the glass, and the rustic, earthy food is yummy. Don't miss the skillet-roasted mussels; the densely flavored, juicy, rosemary-scented chicken; and the rich, warm chocolate cake. $64. 816 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94107; 415-495-5775; fax 415-495-7810; www.restaurantlulu.com.
Buying a briefcase or suitcase from Myron Glaser of Glaser Designs isn't a simple matter. He likes to know what you're going to pack in it, how many days you'll be on the road, what else you're carrying. The reason is that Glaser makes painstakingly crafted, ingeniously engineered suitcases, such as garment bags with attached packing cases and soft-sided bags that are light but protective and stand upright. His materials and workmanship are topnotch—strong but supple Italian and American cowhide, reinforced seams, nylon layered inside for strength—and he will customize the interior compartments of the bags. $500-$1,000. 32 Otis St., San Francisco, CA 94103; 800-234-1075, 415-552-3188; fax 415-431-3999.
Sunny Soma French Bistro
"Now, Willie Mays, that was a center fielder." The three men huddled at the bar lost in their Giants memories were an odd counterpoint to the rest of the action in Fringale, a quintessential bistro—dot-com executives talking launches and ladies talking lunch. The wild mushroom ravioli in a dense mushroom jus and the pork tenderloin with apples, cabbage, and bacon—all are perfectly cooked and richly flavored. And the eavesdropping is great. $66. 570 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA 94107;
415-543-0573; fax 415-905-0317.
High Society Art
It's hard to know what to look at first at SFMOMA: Mario Botta's stark, modernist building with its soaring, skylight-filled central atrium punctuated by a striped staircase of polished and matte black marble, the $130 million worth of newly acquired marquee-name contemporary art—such as Rauschenberg, Rothko, Lichtenstein, Johns—or the plaques listing the benefactors. This is the museum version of Field of Dreams—if you build it, the paintings will come. Once the museum's trustees realized that they didn't have enough of a collection to fill this epic structure, the city's social lions opened their checkbooks: people like Charles and Helen Schwab and Mimi Haas, the wife of Peter Haas, the former chairman of Levi Strauss. Earlier in the year the real buzz, and a great deal of chuckling, surrounded an exhibit on the fourth floor called Fact/Fiction—Contemporary Art That Walks the Line. And it did. Closed Wednesdays. 151 Third St., San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-357-4000; www.sfmoma.org.
San Francisco | Financial District | Jackson Square
The Midwestern high school teachers were practicing their French haltingly on the waiter at the door and he, in turn, was indulging them, listening politely and responding slowly. Plouf, tucked away in Belden Place, an alley in the Financial District, feels so Parisian with its outdoor tables jammed with diners smoking and arguing in French that you somehow feel compelled to break into the language. Then there are mussels, the house specialty: bowls of the plump mollusks in tomato concassée with basil and garlic. Or the classic marinière version—with white wine, garlic, and parsley. They're perfect. Finish the meal with the tarte Tatin. $70. 40 Belden Pl., San Francisco, CA 94104; 415-986-6491; fax 415-986-6492.
Zen And The Art Of Design
The years he spent as an advertising copywriter in Tokyo undoubtedly taught Koichi Hara how to get a message across. He's doing that now in a three-dimensional way: Japonesque, his Jackson Square gallery of Japanese furniture, tableware, and art objects, some of them his own design, is like a sanctuary. "It's for mind and spirit, to give you calm," he says. "Not just for showing art." The pieces—ranging from a burned ca. 1700 Buddha rescued from an incinerated temple on Kyushu Island to glazed contemporary teacups to a table carved from an oak log—are so lovely and beautifully exhibited that some come here just to study his displays. $60 for a bamboo letter opener; $150,000 for a stone sculpture by the Japanese artist Masatoshi Izumi. 824 Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-391-8860; fax 415-391-3530.
A Luxury Lookout
You check into the Financial District's Mandarin Oriental Hotel , get to your room, and open the curtain to look out at the view—and what you get is the best one in town. You can look out over San Francisco Bay, Coit Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Transamerica Pyramid. The vistas from these rooms, particularly from the 04 (Golden Gate Bridge view—the best) and 11 series (Golden Gate and Bay Bridge view) are phenomenal. Sometimes you can even observe from the bathtubs, among the sexiest around. $500-$3,000. 222 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94104; 800-622-0404, 415-276-9888; fax 415-433-0289; www.mandarinoriental.com.
Aqua Marine Meals
At Aqua, in the Financial District, such is the appeal of chef Michael Mina's seafood preparations that once you've seen a few plates being delivered to neighboring tables, you want to try as much as possible. Everything is delicate, perfectly cooked—and looks stunning on the plate. On the menu: a silky marinated loin of hamachi (yellowfin tuna) with soy and red chile vinaigrette, a parfait of Russian osetra caviar on a crisp potato cake. Terrific desserts follow, including a root beer float, a touch of whimsy in an otherwise serious place. Five-course menu, $150.252 California St., San Francisco, CA 94111; 415-956-9662; www.nextcenturyrestaurants.com.
Dim Sum Du Jour
Yank Sing, in the Financial District, is an anomaly. For one thing, it looks more like a suburban café than a Chinese dim sum restaurant. "We wanted something modern, not those chandeliers and dragons that you see everywhere else," said S.W. Tang, the manager. The clientele comprises more Caucasians than Asians. All of which makes you nervous that they've left authenticity behind. But once the carts roll out, you're convinced: perfect Peking duck by the slice; dumplings stuffed with shrimp, crab, basil, and chives; potstickers; and pork buns. Each more luscious (and hot) than the last. Lunch only, $30-$35. 427 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111; 415-362-1640; www.yanksing.com.
San Francisco |Cow Hollow | Pacific Heights | Lower Pacific Heights
For the truly adventurous, Jenifer Mathieu designs a line of felt hats in shapes like exaggerated rose petals that wouldn't have looked out of place on movie stars of the '30s and '40s ($125-$500). At her shop, Coup de Chapeau, in Lower Pacific Heights, she also does classic straw lawn-party hats swathed in fabric with exotic trims ($95-$500). A large portion of her custom business, however, is in the bridal line, ranging from a simple silk rose on a comb to tiaras with rhinestones and crystal beads ($150-$700). Allow a one-month production time for straw and felt hats, and four to six weeks for bridal. 1821 Steiner St., San Francisco, CA 94115; 415-931-7793; www.coupdechapeau.com.
Hotel In A Mansion
The Victorian Italianate Sherman House mansion, built in 1876, had fallen on hard times by the early 1980s, when present owners Manou and Vesta Mobedshahi bought it and turned it into an inn. They then hired interior designer William Gaylord, who dressed it up in mostly French Empire style. Today the house still has good bones, as they say: 14 rooms, many with high ceilings, fireplaces, and views of the Bay (best is the Sherman Suite, with a superb view of the water from its large terrace), a grand music salon with an arched carved plasterwork ceiling and crystal chandeliers, and a quaint garden. But Gaylord's work, finished in 1985, needs refreshing: Many of the fabrics look old, and the rooms overall need to be brightened. It would be a shame to neglect this, since The Sherman House has an estimable location on a Victorian-home-studded street in Pacific Heights and, as a small luxury mansion hotel, is a rarity in town. $460-$1,200. 2160 Green St., San Francisco, CA 94123; 800-424-5777, 415-563-3600; fax 415-563-1882; www.theshermanhouse.com.
Cheese Of All Nations
"Come back in a few weeks and we'll have shelves up. The place will look a lot more put together," Peggy Smith said, slightly embarrassed. The co-owner of the artisan cheesemaker Cowgirl Creamery in Tomales Bay (see On the Go, May/June 2000) was worried about appearances in her new hole-in-the-wall shop, Artisan Cheese, in Lower Pacific Heights. But she shouldn't be; the fragrant cheeses that she produces and the products from artisans around the world that sit alongside them—such as the local Bellwether Farms Crescenza, Vella's Dry Jack Special Reserve, and England's premier Montgomery Cheddar—are all the decoration she needs. $ 2413 California St., San Francisco, CA 94115; 415-929-8610.
Kozo Arts is a tiny shop in Cow Hollow with exquisite paper, handmade and silkscreened in Japan, along with feathery mango sheets from Thailand. But the paper itself is just the beginning; it is used to construct absolutely lovely and unique custom boxes, photo albums, picture frames, and invitations. Japanese paper, $20 a sheet; invitations, $7-$13 apiece; photo albums, $42-$168; boxes, $65-$225. 1969 Union St., San Francisco, CA 94123; 415-351-2114; fax 415-351-1426; www.kozoarts.com.
Touring The Town
San Francisco's florid "Painted Ladies" are only one of the sights shown by Victorian buff Jay Gifford on his Victorian Home Walk, an informal tour by foot and city bus designed to avoid any uphill trekking (he also offers private tours, in a customer's car, by request). During one two-hour walk around the hills of Pacific Heights and environs, he explained in lively detail the differences between Italianate, Stick Style, and Queen Anne, pointing out the massive improvements being made by new dot-com owners of once-derelict buildings. He offered local gossip, identifying, for example, the house belonging to Robin Williams' former neighbor, who turned down a walk-on part in Mrs. Doubtfire, filmed down the street, because she didn't approve of the breakup of his first marriage. Fascinating and great exercise. $20 for standard tours. $ 415-252-9485; www.victorianwalk.com.
Bakery Par Excellence
"This is the best bread in town," said a Parisian émigrée making her daily visit to Boulangerie Bay Bread, in Lower Pacific Heights, which with its blue-painted facade and racks of specialty, crusty breads and pastries could easily have been plucked from her native country. The spectacular breads baked in Pavailler ovens imported from France range from Levain (mild sourdough) to more exotic loaves, such as pistachio-fig. As for the pastries: an exceptional lemon tart, chocolate fondant, and a Bordeaux specialty, cannelés, from owner Pascal Rigo's hometown. Easy to spot by the line of cars double-parked outside. $ 2325 Pine St., San Francisco, CA 94115; 415-440-0356.
This popular restaurant in lower Pacific Heights takes no reservations, so there's often a throng in front. And it's obvious why. From the first bite of the Mediterranean tapas-style dishes at Chez Nous, the café sibling of nearby Boulangerie, you sense this restaurant is focused on bright, vivid flavors. A salad of grilled Monterey calamari, fennel, oranges, and olives and true gnocchi with sautéed morels and fava beans are flawless. And since the pastries are from Boulangerie, the choice is tough. $40. $ 1911 Filmore St., San Francisco, CA 94115; 415-441-8044.
Put On Your Best Face
The best facialist in town may well be Angelina Umansky at Spa Radiance. She's a third-generation Russian aesthetician who custom-blends herbs, oils, even nuts in formulas handed down through the generations for completely individualized facials. The spa itself is in a Victorian house on Filmore, in Cow Hollow. The treatments are pure elegance. Facials, $85-$220. A full-range of wraps and massages are also available, $85-$210 (ask for Kevin). 3061 Filmore St., San Francisco, CA 94123; 415-346-6281; fax 415-346-6170; www.sparadiance.com.
Judy Gilman and daughter Marcella Madsen are devotees of French flea markets, and the contents of their corner shop, Nest, on Filmore in Pacific Heights (along with a shop housing larger furniture several blocks west), show off the best of their finds. Most of it is French, a mixture of old and new—from contemporary quilts done in traditional designs ($280-$630) to an iron fourposter bed formerly in a nunnery ($2,000). But there is also a quirky mix of special selections from other countries—Moroccan tea glasses, brightly colored cotton Italian bed bolsters, and intricate silk slippers produced by New Yorker Olivia Rose Tal. 2300 Filmore St., San Francisco, CA 94115; 415-292-6199; fax 415-674-1216.
San Fancisco | Union Square
Art Deco Masterwork
At 450 Sutter Street, a terra-cotta building near Union Square, the ceiling is a masterwork of silver Art Deco design, completed in 1930. How lucky for patients whose doctors are located here—it certainly makes the wait for the elevator more pleasant!
Although John is the son of Heinz Berggruen, noted art collector and creator of Berlin's remarkable Berggruen Collection, he established the John Berggruen Gallery on his own. (He grew up in California while his father lived in Europe.) He may not have learned by exposure, then, but clearly he inherited his father's eye for talent. Apart from the established names he presents in this modern bi-level space—Calder, Stella, de Kooning, Hockney, Oliveira, to name a few—he has enthusiasm for such new artists as the Texas painter David Bates, whose broad brush strokes are reminiscent of Van Gogh. 1 228 Grant Ave., San Francisco, CA 94108; 415-781-4629; www.berggruen.com.
Deep Sea Dining
Diners walk into Farallon, one of designer Pat Kuleto's most outrageous restaurants, and gape—it's an undersea fantasy in which sea-urchin lighting fixtures drip from the ceiling, chairs are in the shape of snails, and the bar looks as if it could be swallowed up in a shell. The decor is so assertive that the food might take a back seat; fortunately, the mostly seafood menu is strong enough to command equal time. Truffled Peeky Toe crab, blood-orange salad, and pan-seared blue-nose bass with potato ravioli and braised leeks have clear, true flavors and are perfectly cooked. So what if you feel like the Little Mermaid while eating it? $98. 450 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-956-6969; www.farallonrestaurant.com.
"Just look at the jade. Look down into yourself . . . the one that is best will become clear. . . . " It sounds like the refrain from a self-help seminar. Not at all the answer you expect when asking which ring contains the highest-quality jade. But George Tom, proprietor of Tom Wing and Sons jewelry store, founded by his father, a jewelry designer in Shanghai, gives elliptical answers in keeping with this highly subjective stone. Suffice to say, he only carries the best. But he leaves it to the customer to bond with a particular piece, like a jade cabochon ring mounted in platinum and set with two diamonds ($280,000). 208 Grant Ave., San Francisco, CA 94108; 888-755-5233, 415-391-2500.
Federico de Vera has a master collector's eye. His main gallery, de Vera, on Sutter Street and his jewelry gallery on Maiden Lane are filled with impeccable pieces from artisans he has discovered. Also featured are antique pieces, such as a first-century Roman glass necklace and a 17th-century gilded dog that once guarded the roof of a temple. "Basically, Federico shops every day," says store manager David Morsa. Fortunately, he knows where to look. $8 for a glass ring to $95,000 for a 22-karat gold necklace with rose-cut diamonds. 580 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-989-0988. 29 Maiden Lane, San Francisco 94108; 415-788-0828. www.deveraobjects.com.
The trademark of Diana Slavin, a local designer, is that she specializes in tailoring women's clothes with the same precision that men usually receive. Her designs are classic, her colors generally neutral, and her fabrics sensational—Italian silks and buttery soft linens, cottons, and wools. Dresses, $500-$1,200; jackets, $600-$700; pants, a specialty, $350-$400. Custom orders are available in two weeks. 3 Claude Lane, San Francisco, CA 94108; 415-677-9939; fax 415-677-9641.
San Francisco's European Boutique Hotel
With its charming, elegant lobby and attentive staff, Campton Place is San Francisco's premier small (110 rooms) luxury hotel. A $15 million overhaul is just being completed. Gone are the dark pseudo-antiques; in their place are modern pearwood built-in cabinets, cinnamon wool coverlets on the beds, and sliding doors leading to sparkling bathrooms with deep soaking tubs. The tone overall is light, stylish, sophisticated, and soothing.
Best rooms: the 01, 02, and 03 series for their views over Union Square, particularly rooms above the ninth floor. (1601 is a luxury suite; 1701, the top-of-the-line penthouse suite.) Despite the double-paned glass, however, prepare for the plaintive screeches of taxi whistles from the street below.
Campton's restaurant is a draw on its own. It may be the only time you'll be asked to make a reservation for the next morning's breakfast when you check in, and it's easy to understand why. The suave, quiet, apricot-colored room provides a rarefied, European-toned setting, and the breakfast menu is sensational, with dishes such as gingerbread-brioche French toast with orange cranberry conserve and applesauce pancakes with honey-walnut butter. Surprisingly, considering that chef Laurent Manrique created vibrant dishes when he was at Peacock Alley in New York, lunches and dinners are much more subdued. Rooms $295-$2,000. 340 Stockton St., San Francisco, CA 94108; 800-235-4300, 415-781-5555; www.camptonplace.com.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Folk Art Emporium
The building that houses Folk Art International would be worth a visit on its own: Frank Lloyd Wright's 1949 structure for the then V.C. Morris Gift Shop, complete with a circular path from the ground floor to the upper gallery that presaged what would be the layout of New York's Guggenheim Museum. What is on display here now, though, is equally impressive, a museum-quality array of Asian and African artifacts and jewelry. Among the standouts one day were a 14th-century wooden figure from Nepal ($55,000), carved Ethiopian chairs ($1,650), a Gandharan (now Pakistan) Buddha from the era between the second and third centuries a.d. ($350,000), a stunning, complex collection of amber jewelry, and a selection of interesting collectibles—antique copper ikat print blocks, wooden purses from Southeast Asia, Chinese cooking molds—all under $100. 140 Maiden Lane, San Francisco, CA 94108; 415-392-9999; fax 415-984-5856; www.folkartintl.com.
"Oh, Gump's isn't really Gump's anymore," said one local disdainfully, discussing the emporium that was founded in 1861 and reinvented in a new location in 1995 under new conglomerate owners. That may be true, but this Gump's is still pretty special. Among the best assets: the exquisite jewelry of Lynn Nakamura, particularly her South Sea pearls with bamboo fittings strung on Japanese silk cords; and Gump's jade pieces in a rainbow of colors—gray, gold, apple green, and lavender in addition to the familiar green. Also on the main floor, displayed in a series of gallery spaces dominated by an 18th-century Ch'ing dynasty Buddha, are Asian antiques and unique decorative pieces by ceramicists and glass artists, especially the work of California artist Robert Kuo, whose elegant repoussé pieces look like sculpted silver. 135 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94108; 800-766-7628; www.gumps.com.
At first glance you don't hold great hopes for E&O Trading Company—the decor looks too gimmicky, too theme-park Asian, the re-creation of a 19th-century Southeast Asian trading house with birdcages, dragons over the bar, a lot of burlap and bamboo. Since it's also a microbrewery, and all around are groups doing flights of beers, you think the food would not be memorable. On the contrary; every one of the small plates is a standout—the tamarind-glazed Thai ribs are sweet but sharp and utterly tender; the ahi tuna tartare stands out from so many other versions around town with the vibrant kick it gets from lemon grass, chiles, cilantro, green onion, and sesame oil; even a simple papaya-and-avocado salad provides an intricate and interesting experience with its mint, Thai basil, and sweet-and-spicy vinaigrette. Later on, while at some other Thai restaurant, you'll be wishing that you were back here instead. $70. 314 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94108; 415-693-0303; fax 415-693-9137.
"My desks are designed to be used, my benches to sit on, and my tables to eat your soup off," says the ebullient Garry Knox Bennett, one of America's foremost studio furniture makers. Working in combinations of hardwood, brass, copper, aluminum, and synthetics, Bennett's large-scale desks, benches, sideboards, and trestle tables are totally irreverent. "When a piece has a nice hard edge, I like to throw in a curve," says the artist, who attended school to become a painter, left as a sculptor, and then broke new ground with his intriguing, meticulously crafted furniture. Made in Oakland, a one-man retrospective of his work, can be seen at the American Craft Museum in New York City from January 18 to April 29, 2001 and at the Oakland Museum of California next summer. Most of his pieces are shown at the Tercera Gallery, 550 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-773-0303. Two other branches of the gallery: 534 Ramona St., Palo Alto, CA 94301 (650-322-5324) and 24 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, CA 95030 (408-354-9484).
Owner Monique Zhang of Cicada commissions almost 100 artists around the country to produce wearable art in the finest fabrics. The results are simply stunning: hand-dyed silks, velvets, linens, and chiffons, often in vivid colors and floaty designs. There's also a bridal salon with gowns demonstrating the same individuality and artistry. Daywear, $350-$850; evening wear, $500-$1,400; bridal gowns, $1,800-$4,500. Custom orders are available. 547 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-398-4000; fax 415-398-3739.
San Francisco | Hayes Valley
You never know what you are going to find at Alabaster. Owners Paul Davis and Nelson Bloncourt go in for a little of this, a little of that. Given the store's name, Italian alabaster lamp bases, some from the turn of the century, are a given ($200-$725). But other items that might catch your eye include an 18th-century Dutch cabinet ($15,000), gilded mirrors in a variety of shapes and sizes inlaid with Murano glass ($175-$750), a hanging lamp of Murano glass ($1,250), and an assortment of Fortuny silk handbags ($150). A wide variety, selected with exquisite taste. 597 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-558-0482; fax 415-558-0587.
You'll find a top selection of 17th- to 19th-century furniture at Evelyn's Antique Chinese Furniture. The Tams emigrated from Hong Kong in 1982 but kept ties to great furniture sources back home. Among the standouts one day: a mid-19th-century red lacquer cabinet with gold leaf ($8,000). 381 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-255-1815; fax 415-255-0688; www.evelynantique.com.
Meet You At Zuni
The German biker with long gray hair, black leather jacket, and huge silver crosses was a pretty terrifying sight when he walked into Zuni Café. But perhaps he was mellowed by the convivial tone in this 21-year-old hangout, where everyone meets up at one time or another, or by the platters of shellfish and bottles of white wine that he and his companion ordered. By the end of the meal he was holding her hand, blowing kisses to the waitress, and engaging in charming conversation with the diners at other tables. Zuni, which started as a casual American café and now has mostly traditional Italian dishes, can't claim credit for all such transformations, but it can claim to serve the best Caesar salad and roast chicken in town, along with an impressive assortment of shellfish—and to provide one of the town's great gathering places, at the long copper bar. $70. 1658 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-552-2522; fax 415-552-9149.
The Joint Is Jumpin'
Another of Pat Kuleto's fanciful designs, with exaggerated metal sculptures of kitchen implements on the brick walls, a gold-domed ceiling, and part of the balcony railings doubling as wine buckets, Jardinière would be a lively place even without the jazz trio playing. Chef-partner Traci Des Jardins is also one of the city's stars. So a dinner here comes with great expectations. The upshot? You can have a good meal here if you order carefully (otherwise, the food is prone to mixed results). A salad of heirloom tomatoes and boquerones, delicate Spanish white anchovies, is an explosion of flavor and color, a vivid mosaic on the plate. The rabbit rillette paired with duck sausage is a solid classic preparation, dense and gamey. For main courses, a Liberty duck with sunchokes, baby turnips, ginger, and stone fruit compote is sensational. Ask for a table upstairs along the railing, overlooking the bar action. $98. 300 Grove St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-861-5555; fax 415-861-5580.
San Francisco | Nob Hill | Polk Street
DEEP SEA DIVE
"What patch of water are these from?" asked a couple surveying the Miyagi oysters being placed in front of them on the marble counter at Swan Oyster Depot, on Polk Street. The discussion that followed was intensely specific, pinpointing the exact location at the exact distance north of Tomales Bay. That's the kind of customer they get here—locals who really know their shellfish. Since 1912, people have been coming to Swan for the freshest and the best—cracked crab and prawn cocktails as well as a daily selection of oysters. It's not fancy, and it's tiny—just that one marble counter. But this is where the aficionados go while the tourists go to Fisherman's Wharf. Lunch only, $26. $ 1517 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-673-1101.
Rarely does the Ritz-Carlton formula work as well as it does here, in this imposing 1909 building on Nob Hill that wouldn't look out of place in ancient Greece or Washington, D.C. housing the Supreme Court. It's the perfect setting for the Ritz's trademark chandeliers and chintz, so all 336 guestrooms have the luxe, overstuffed look. A favorite spot in the hotel is the lobby lounge, with its grand 18th- and 19th-century portraits and a harpist accompanying the very proper afternoon tea. Another favorite place is The Dining Room, where Sylvain Portay turns out exquisite French dishes. The feeling is grand and elegant. Rooms, $440-$3,800; afternoon tea, $26-$38; dinner, $122. 600 Stockton St. at California, San Francisco, CA 94108; 800-241-3333, 415-296-7465; fax 415-291-0288.
A Serious Italian Restaurant
Acquerello, near Polk Street, is in a handsome pastel room accented with watercolors and sprays of flowers. A parade of professional waiters and a train of sensational dishes await you here. Start with their signature appetizer, the Parmesan custard budino with asparagus and pea sprouts; or more lightly, with their sea bass carpaccio, freckled with red and yellow peppers. Then move on to the sybaritically rich and intoxicating tortiglioni (ridged pasta) with foie gras, scented with black truffles; or the delicate sautéed red mullet in Livornese sauce with saffron oil. For dessert, terrific vanilla gelato with aged balsamic vinegar. All in all, partners Giancarlo Paterlini and Suzette Gresham (he runs the dining room, she the kitchen) provide the most sophisticated Italian experience in town. $96. 1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-567-5432; fax 415-567-6432; www.acquerello.com.
A Little Paris, A Little Florence
Nob Hill's Grace Cathedral, built (from 1927 to 1964) in a French Gothic design strongly reminiscent of Notre Dame, has replicas of Ghiberti's bronze Baptistry doors, created from the same casts in Florence. Also of note: 67 stained-glass windows with themes ranging from the 23rd Psalm to the space achievements of John Glenn. And it's worth checking the concert schedule to see if their well-known Men and Boys Choir is performing. 1100 California St., San Francisco, CA 94108; 415-749-6300; fax 415-749-6301;
San Francisco | North Beach
Jean-Marc Gorce was the chef for Fringale and the Westin St. Francis Hotel, but two years ago he and wife Casimira decided to move in a different direction. They opened a tiny North Beach truffle shop, XOX Truffles. What a boon for chocolate lovers that they did. His handmade chocolates are rich, delicate, and filled with 27 flavors, from a totally addictive caramel to coffee crunch, Earl Grey, and hazelnut. They're also bite-sized, and correspondingly priced: 20 pieces for $5. 754 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-421-4814;
Going To The Chapel
Known widely as the Italian cathedral (even though it also offers services in Chinese, catering to a sizable section of its parishioners), the Saints Peter and Paul Church, in North Beach, is renowned for a number of reasons: Its components, including six types of marble, were imported from Italy so that it would really feel like an Italian church; it was a movie star during its construction, as the Temple of Jerusalem in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments; and it was the backdrop for one of the most famous wedding photographs ever: Local hero Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe posed out front, though they were actually married elsewhere (since both were divorced, they couldn't perform their nuptials here). 666 Filbert St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-421-0809; fax 415-421-0217;
There isn't exactly a shortage of focaccia in North Beach, but locals in the know come to Liguria Bakery for the Soracco family's melt-in-your-mouth version, in plain, raisin, onion, and pizza varieties. They're the reason it's often impossible to navigate the corner of Filbert and Stockton due to the lineup of parked cars. Store hours are variable (generally 8 a.m.-4 p.m.)—the bread supply rarely lasts to the end of the day. $2.75 apiece. $ 1700 Stockton St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-421-3786.
"We specialize in exceptional pieces," explains Ray Parker Gaylord, son of the late founder of Charles Gaylord Antiques, pointing to the 72-inch carved jade vessels created for the last emperor of China ($525,000 the pair), a Russian Neoclassical cobalt-and-crystal chandelier from 1800 ($225,000), a Russian mantel (ca. 1800) of Carrara marble with a malachite veneer ($125,000), and two gilded, Rococo red velvet chairs made for Anne of Austria and not for sale because he's taking them home. Remarkable pieces all, made even more so by the setting, behind opaque doors in a nondescript section of North Beach several blocks from Fisherman's Wharf. Along with conversation pieces, mantels are Gaylord's specialty, begun by his father: Downstairs in the basement are 250 European mantels from the 17th to 19th centuries ($5,000-$125,000). $ 2151 Powell St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-392-6085.
San Francisco | Hayes Valley
Chinatown | Telegraph Hill | Fisherman's Wharf
Known as the Coca Cola restaurant due to the soft drink's massive sign outside, Yuet Lee is a stark, too brightly lit dive. It's the place to go if you are craving salt-and-pepper squid at 2 a.m. (the kitchen stays open until 3 a.m.). Brusque service, horrible decor, but some of the best-prepared Chinese seafood in the city. Closed Tuesdays. $ 1300 Stockton St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-982-6020.
The Connoisseur's Tea Salon
Many of Roy Fong's customers never come into Chinatown's Imperial Tea Court; they simply trust him to send whatever he thinks is special. Others do come in to taste, at $3-$5 a serving. What most want, and endure time on the waiting list to receive, is an ounce of Lotus Heart Dragon Well ($380 a pound), a rich, complex green tea that delivers its flavor in waves and remains on your taste buds for hours after you drink it. Fong produces it, as he does 70 percent of the teas he carries, and its rarity is based on the fact that 90,000 handpicked leaves are required for a kilo and there is only one week a year in which they can be picked. But since man cannot live by Dragon Well alone, Fong stocks 200 other rarefied teas, including Jasmine Pearl. This rich jasmine, bursting with florals, is utterly unlike any other jasmine tea ($98 a pound). Private tastings by appointment. 1411 Powell St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-788-6080; fax 415-788-6079; www.imperialtea.com.
The Greatest Meal In Town
The restaurant Gary Danko, which opened in August, 1999 in Fisherman's Wharf, is perhaps the toughest table to get in town due to consistent critical raves. Which might lead you to expect just a touch of attitude. Seeing the room reinforces the thought—it's cool and sophisticated, with golden wood, modern art, and waiters dressed in sharp black suits with gray shirts and gold ties. But the surprise is that you'll probably get the most conscientious, even impassioned service here. These waiters love the menu and it shows.
Danko, the former chef of The Dining Room of this city's Ritz-Carlton, has a deft touch for blending bright flavors. It's all good: warm quail salad with fall vegetables and a pomegranate sauce; Maine lobster salad with avocado, grapefruit, and mustard tarragon dressing; glazed oysters with leeks and salsify; seared duck breast with pears; Moroccan-spiced squab; beef with Stilton and candied shallots. To break the deadlock of ordering from so many delicious things, get the chef's tasting menu. Top it off with a dessert of densely flavored roasted caramel pears on gingerbread. Simply the best. Five-course tasting menu, $150. 800 North Point St. at Hyde St., San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-749-2060; fax 415-775-1805; www.garydanko.com.
the slim tower on top of Telegraph Hill, built in 1933 with funds bequeathed by local philanthropist Lillie Hitchcock Coit, is one of the city's most recognizable symbols. But some of the best images are inside: a series of murals funded by President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration to put artists to work during the Depression. Among the scenes of California life depicted on the walls are workdays in a seafood cannery, on a farm, and on the streets of the Financial District. 415-362-0808.
San Francisco | Golden Gate Park | Lincoln Park | Presidio
So grandiose and European, the Neoclassical design of the Palace of Fine Arts (note the domed rotunda above) dates from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. But to look at it you'd think you were in Italy. That's not accidental; its architect, Bernard Maybeck, drew inspiration from the drawings of Piranesi. It houses the Exploratorium science museum and the Palace of Fine Arts Theater; but on a sunny day, it's enough just to sit near the monument, by the edge of its lagoon. Lyon St. between Bay and Marina, San Francisco, CA 94123; 415-561-0360 (Exploratorium), 415-567-6642 (Theater).
De-Marvelous De Young
Deemed seismically unsafe after the 1989 earthquake, the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum is closing at the end of 2000 and will reopen in a newly constructed, state-of-the-art facility in Golden Gate Park in 2005. Visit quickly to see the collection of Turkmen carpets, African and Oceanic art, 19th-century silver, 18th-century American furniture, and early-American paintings. 75 Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco, CA 94118; 415-863-3330; fax 415-750-7692; www.thinker.org.
La Marseillaise Monument
A true homage to the French, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, in Lincoln Park, is modeled on the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur in Paris and is dedicated to the display of French and other European art. And what art it has: Don't miss the Katharine Hanrahan Gallery's concentrated collection of Renoir, Degas, Manet, Pissarro, and Van Gogh; the gilded paneling of the salon from the Hôtel d'Humières, a grand house in Paris' 7th arrondissement; the Rodin Gallery; and the Louis XV room, with its ornate marquetry furniture. 34th and Clement Sts. in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, CA 94121; 415-863-3330; www.thinker.org.
Rare And Asian
Open until the fall of 2001, when it begins a move from Golden Gate Park to its new building in the Civic Center, the epic Asian Art Museum contains 12,000 objects of Asian antiquity, some of them the rarest in the world. Not to be missed: the oldest-dated Chinese Buddha (368 a.d.); a bronze vessel in the shape of a rhinoceros, believed to be 3,000 years old and a former possession of descendants of Confucius; and the vast jade collection. 75 Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco, CA 94118; 415-379-8801; fax 415-668-8928; www.asianart.org.
San Francisco Vicinity
The Perfect Catch
At 5 p.m. on Sunday it practically requires hand-to-hand combat to get a parking space at Tony's Seafood. Everyone comes here—bikers, grandmothers, Wine Country weekenders on their way back into the city. The reason: Since 1948 the Konatich brothers have been serving great, simply prepared fresh fish—mammoth barbecued oysters (best with little sauce and no garlic), shrimp Louis, combination platters of scallops and prawns. Take note: They're only open Friday through Sunday and major holidays. "The brothers," explains a manager, "figure they've worked hard enough." $ One mile south of Marshall at 11863 Highway 1; 415-663-1107.
Oysters A Go-Go
One of the best, if not the best, oyster harvesters on the coast, Hog Island Oyster Company is the place to buy a dozen briny Kumamoto oysters to take home. If you can't wait, they'll do the shucking and you can sit at a picnic table in the back—a wonderful way to spend the late afternoon. And for those who prefer them cooked, grills are provided. $7 for a dozen. $ Highway 1, Marshall, CA 94940; 415-663-9218; fax 415-663-9246.
You Take The High Road...
The centerpiece of Manka's Inverness Lodge is a 1917 hunting and fishing lodge, styled in the manner of the Arts and Crafts movement. But most of the 14 rooms are furnished more in the style of fantasy: oversized log beds, stone fireplaces, fish and bear artifacts, and claw-foot tubs. The turn-of-the-century Fishing Cabin glowingly shows off this rustic decor. But the Boathouse, which looks nothing at all like the rest of the lodge, is wonderful. It's down the hill on the waterfront and is an actual 1911 boathouse. Painted white, with modern art and sculpture, it brings to mind a loft in New York's TriBeCa. But the spectacular views over Tomales Bay, misty in the mornings like Scotland's Inverness, give it sense of place. The only aspect of the lodge that disappoints is dinner. Dinner, $95; rooms, $185-$465. $ Argyle Lane, Inverness, CA 94937; 415-669-1034; www.mankas.com.
It's A Gem!
Don't be fooled by the nondescript store in a strip mall that houses Glenn Lehrer Designs. Glenn Lehrer is an artist, carving gemstones from agate to sapphires so uniquely that one of his carvings holds a patent—the cut called Torus has a hole in the center into which another gemstone can be placed. And he puts them together in unique combinations, such as the "white lily necklace" (right), in which purplish-blue and electric-blue tourmalines and blue chalcedony are linked with hand-sculpted gold beads and diamonds ($17,900). $500 for a simple amethyst ring to $60,000 for a carved emerald necklace. 1137 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, CA 94939; 415-461-2212; fax 415-461-8252; www.lehrerdesigns.com.
Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most magnificent stretches of Pacific coast. From Inverness, drive 20 miles into the preserve along its only road, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Favorite sights: the lighthouse and Drake's Beach.
Inn-Style California Cooking
The Lark Creek Inn, a quaint yellow house and spare but elegant dining room, has been home base to Bradley Ogden, one of the architects of California seasonal cuisine. Ogden isn't in the kitchen anymore—he has other restaurants sharing his time—which has resulted in some egregious faux pas. But you can still have excellent food: a luscious first-course Gorgonzola soufflé; ravioli with red chard, shredded ham hock, and mushrooms; or, for dessert, a rich and delicious butterscotch pudding. $90. Also Sunday brunch. 234 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, CA 94939; 415-924-7766.
For 16 years at her eponymous gallery, Susan Cummins has been displaying the best of contemporary art, ceramics, and enamel. The work of June Schwarcz, for example: extraordinary pieces made from sheets of copper stitched together and enameled inside. Or the jewelry of Mary Lee Hu: spectacular gold pieces woven together to look like ribbons. Or the mixed-media designs of craft artist Dominic Di Mare (left), who casts a spell of enchantment with his stone, bone, and wood forms. With a subtle palette and natural materials (including horsehair and stripped or carved wood), Di Mare's works are reminiscent of animist shrines,talismans destined to ward off evil spirits. $5,000-$40,000. 12 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941; 415-383-1512.
The restaurant that gets best-view award in America's most photogenic city is actually across the Golden Gate Bridge in the quaint bayfront town of Sausalito. The new Ondine reopened last year (1999) in the same over-water 1898 building (it housed the San Francisco Yacht Club at one time) where the original fine-dining spot had reigned for three decades. There isn't a bad seat in the house—large windows provide an unbeatable panorama of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. Come before sunset, when the city is bathed in a pink glow and wisps of fog begin filtering past the Golden Gate. That chef Seiji Wakabayashi turns out some very good (and very pretty) fusion cuisine is merely a plus. $100. 558 Bridgeway Dr., Sausalito, CA 94965; 415-331-1133.
Toshie and Marico Chigyo specialize in the centuries-old tradition of sashiko, the Japanese style of quilting with running stitches of heavy, double-cotton thread. Originally, sashiko was valued for its strength and durability, but today it has evolved into a highly prized decorative art. "We see our work as not only preserving a venerable handcraft tradition but as a way to keep people in touch with natural beauty," says Toshie.
Born in Osaka, the sisters came to the U.S. in 1980 to study English and remained to marry and set up a new life here. Together they have rejuvenated and updated sashiko with their stunning spirals, chevrons, and contrasting stitch patterns on cotton vests, jackets, and coats. Using only roots, herbs, onion skin, and other natural ingredients, they dye their fabric and threads indigo, green, rust, burnt orange, and most stunning of all, a deep dark-as-midnight blue. The sisters make their own patterns in contemporary shapes and styles. Avid travelers, their clothes synthesize a European flair for sophisticated design and a time-honored Japanese technique and spirit. The tea house behind Toshie's house, built for her by her husband, Munetaka, a maker of tatami mats, shares the same aesthetic as sashiko: a concern for beauty, studied simplicity, and harmony with nature. Count on a six-month wait for each custom-crafted piece. By appointment only. $ 163 Tomales St., Sausalito, CA 94965; 415-332-8419.
Looking at the grand, strapping redwoods of Muir Woods, it's a sobering experience to realize that they once covered the entire Bay Area. Fortunately they're still here in western Marin. See them either at the base of Mount Tamalpais or by driving down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard east from Point Reyes Station along the coast.
On The Waterfront
If you're awakened by what sounds like barking at The Inn Above Tide, it could well be seals, frolicking in the waters around the boats of herring fishermen heading out for the day. This hotel's claim to fame is that it is built completely over the water. An incredible sight it is—that postcard view of San Francisco from the waterfront rooms. In all honesty the hotel is little more than a three-level modern block of a building that feels like a dressed-up motel. But those views, and the terraces attached to many of the 30 rooms to take advantage of them, make it special. Best of all is the Vista Suite, a breezy blue-and-white corner suite with a canopied bed and wraparound city views. $215-$540. 30 El Portal, Sausalito, CA 94965; 800-893-8433, 415-332-9535; fax 415-332-6714; www.innabovetide.citysearch.com.
A Touch Of Glass
Award-winning architectural- and stained-glass artist Arthur Stern collaborates with home owners, architects, and interior designers to create artistic glass doors, windows, walls, and sculptures. His installations fit so seamlessly into their environment that they make you want to throw away your curtains and replace them with fresh, modern glass art. Stern draws on his love of the Prairie school and Frank Lloyd Wright for inspiration. He studied and revered Wright as a college student and now, 25 years later, has restored the master's stained-glass windows and replicated them for collectors and museums alike. For his residential, public, and liturgical site-specific works (in 35 states and Japan), Stern relies on a geometric vocabulary, claiming that in every period, whether ancient Egypt, Art Deco, or the Arts and Crafts Movement, it is perfect for designing architectural glass detailing. "One of the great things about working geometrically is that it's timeless," he says. "It won't go out of fashion." Arthur Stern Studios, 1075 Jackson St., Benicia, CA 94510; 707-745-8480; www.arthurstern.com.
Upstairs/Downstairs At Chez Panisse
Downstairs at Chez Panisse, the tone is reverent and quiet. In this austere, almost Japanese, wood-accented room, Alice Waters invented seasonal California cuisine, using the freshest ingredients for daily changing menus, when she launched the restaurant in 1971. A word of advice: Don't let the restaurant's near deification get the better of you. Emphasis is on the perfection of the local ingredients and on solid technique and execution. Flavors are subtly layered; there are not a lot of fireworks. It's still a top draw for exquisitely balanced set menus. You can review menus for the week so you can choose your night.
Upstairs, the scene is entirely different. The boisterous Café at Chez Panisse is the locals' favorite, and it's easy to see why. The menu is à la carte, more casual, and every dish is explosively flavored; it's probably heresy to say so but Waters' emphasis on seasonal freshness seems much more apparent here. The menu changes daily, but a recent dinner included shaved artichoke salad with Parmesan, parsley, and white truffle oil; Cannard Farm chicory with Roquefort, apples, and walnuts; wood-oven-baked local sardines with Meyer lemons and capers; pizzetta with wild nettles and Pecorino; grilled pork loin with potato-and-rutabaga gratin; ravioli with oxtail, raisins, and pine nuts; andthe most incredible walnut ice cream. Every dish more vivid than the last, and the experience overall far more exhilarating than the one downstairs. Both restaurant and café now take reservations up to one month in advance. $45, $65, or $75 downstairs; $60 upstairs. 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94709; 510-548-5525, 510-548-5049 (Café).
A World Of Wood
Resplendent in color, texture, and patterns of grain, Bob Stocksdale's refined turned-wood bowls are the epitome of understatement. A leading light in the world of wood turners, Stocksdale, of Berkeley, California, works with native species like black walnut and acacia and exotics such as ebony and African blackwood. His thin-walled bowls have simple, classic shapes—nothing wild, bizarre, or postmodern. Instead, with constant turning on his lathe, he grinds away until the inner beauty of the wood is revealed. On occasion he will alter the form to take advantage of a particular grain or color in the raw material, but in general his goal is to expose what lies beneath the rough wood's surface, not to create whimsical forms. Stocksdale, who was born in 1913, began turning wood on his father's farm in Indiana. Today his works are prized by collectors and museums alike, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Alta Tingle started The Gardener store 16 years ago to appeal to the sensibilities of a gardener, even if many of the pieces were to be exhibited indoors. These days the one-of-a-kind pieces on display span the world—an antique Chinese console, Pakistani urns, German fountains, copper candlesticks by a local artisan, carved wooden bowls from South Africa, hand-painted Italian ceramics, Belgian linen napkins, Moroccan cabinets and tea glasses. The only common thread is Tingle's cultivated eye. The Gardner is one of those stores in which you want everything you see. 1836 Fourth St., Berkeley, CA 94710; 510-548-4545.
European Chocolate—From America
European chocolates—Callebaut (Belgian), Valrhona (French), Lindt (Swiss)—used to rule pastry chefs' pantries in this country. Not any more, now that America's top dessert chefs have discovered Scharffen Berger. Pâtissiers are buying up the bittersweet (70% cacao) in 6.6-pound blocks like crazy and scheme to get their hands on the unsweetened version that boasts an astonishing 99% cacao count. Demand is so high that it's often sold out.
Founded in 1996 by a former Anderson Valley sparkling wine producer, John Scharffenberger, and physician-turned-chocolate-fanatic Robert Steinberg, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker doesn't even bother with milk chocolate and only recently, because of demand, introduced a semisweet. These confectioners dream of dark chocolate of the finest quality. To that end they buy whole beans from small farms in Venezuela, then blend and roast them. The result: a silky smooth chocolate so dark it's almost black, with the complex, lingering finish of a great wine.
They've discovered that people like a little with espresso, or as dessert. So now they're making three-ounce candy bars for chocolate lovers willing to pay the price. (A box of 12 sells for $48; miniature one-ounce bars are $90 per box of40.) For the home baker, 9.7-ounce bars are scored for easy measuring ($18 for two bars; $27 for three). 914 Heinz Ave., Berkeley, CA 94710; 800-930-4528; www.scharffen-berger.com.
June Taylor Baking Company makes preserves and conserves the old-fashioned way: hand-cutting fruit, all of which is organic; using very little sugar; and producing them in small batches for maximum flavor. The results are intense and rich, and Taylor is always searching for heirloom fruits to combine in inventive ways. Favorites: blood orange and kumquat-ginger marmalades. About $9. $ 424 62nd St., Oakland, CA 94609; 510-923-1522; fax 510-601-6989.
Dari Gordon and Bruce Pizzichillo are an immensely talented glass-blowing team. Their playful, inventive vases and bowls are the epitome of self-expression, marked by a painterly fluidity. Each piece has a powerful, almost brazen, sense of movement. Yet the couple exercise considerable restraint when it comes to form, constantly simplifying so the shape of their objects doesn't compete with their intricate patterns and vibrant taxicab yellows and Crayola reds. "Color for us is primary," says Pizzichillo, explaining that it enables them to express feelings and emotions they can't capture in words. As they are artists rather than producers, the couple limit their output to small series of hand-blown and hand- finished pieces rather than developing a large inventory. Their work is strongly represented at Gump's in San Francisco and their Oakland studio may be visited by appointment. 2680 Union St., Oakland, CA 94607; 510-832-8380.
Into The Woods
Hike in the a.m., be pampered in the p.m. is the formula at The Lodge at Skylonda, a fitness spa and retreat in Woodside, about an hour southwest of San Francisco. Skylonda offers a menu of hikes, graded according to distance and difficulty, ranging from two to ten miles. All of them traverse the magnificent public land and Open Space Districts, much of it covered with redwoods, that surrounds the property. There's an equally diverse menu of treatments, all of which—but particularly the hot-stone therapy—garner high praise from guests.
Rooms are simple but comfortable, especially the bed (the freestanding, contemporary-design armoire, however, is laughably small for two people and out of place in this redwood-and-granola environment). Get an even-numbered room since they look out on the forest behind the lodge; odd-numbered rooms overlook the parking lot. And bring a couple of books, for aside from the hikes and the treatments, the activity menu is modest and most events occur at the same time as the hikes.
Regrettably, the service and food in the dining room are forgettable. That notwithstanding, The Lodge at Skylonda is worth the trip. The hiking/pampering routine is terrific—and so is the calm that ensues from being amidst the stands of evergreen and redwood. $630-$770, separate rates for single occupancy. 16350 Skyline Blvd., Woodside, CA 94062; 800-851-2222.
The word "quilt" cannot adequately describe the mesmerizing creations of Sunnyvale's Joan Schulze. Her mixed-media works of art are hung on the wall and can be viewed in the round. But Schulze prefers to simply call them quilts. Honored, awarded, and exhibited around the world, her works are ravishing. Through their themes, personal vision, and imaginative use of just about anything on her table, Schulze's tapestries are wild explorations of colors and subjects—contemporary riffs on her travels, her convictions, and her experiences as a wife, a mother, and an art teacher.
She incorporates and juxtaposes silk, cotton, linen, paper, plastic, Velcro, photographtransfers, and machine-stitching and handstitching, fabricating images that speak to the mind as much as to the eye of the beholder. Her San Francisco studio can be visited by appointment. 415-642-8312; www.joan-of-arts.com.
Highway 1 from Redwood City, southeast of San Francisco, to Santa Cruz. The route runs along the San Mateo coast, perhaps the most underrated stretch of beachfront in the state. Big-shouldered waves, dramatic cliffs, and lots of space all to yourself.
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