May Day

“One day if I do go to heaven… I’ll look around and say “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.”

~Herb Caen

Golden Gate Bridge (Photo courtesy of Ginevra Altomara)

May Day! In many cultures, past and present, this day marks winter’s transition to spring. With the absolutely beautiful days we have been experiencing in San Francisco, I felt the need to honor our lovely home and thank her for her undying quirkiness. I am constantly reminded why I love this city – the fantastic people watching, an endless supply of delicious eateries, truly delightful overheard conversations, a yoga class at any time of day, art galleries and museums galore, hours spent in the park or at the beach, for pleasure’s sake. We are so lucky to live here.

Here are some ways that I will pay homage to our city in the next few months:

♦ I will try new restaurants, instead of my usual haunts. Here are a few that are on my list right now:

  • Atelier Crenn (www.ateliercrenn.com) – Chef Dominique Crenn calls it Poetic Culinaria, I would have to agree. Saving up for this one.
  • AQ (aq-sf.com) – Offer me Monkey Bread and a handcrafted cocktail for brunch? I can’t resist.
  • Bar Tartine (www.bartartine.com) – All I can say is wow. Must go.
  • Flour + Water (www.flourandwater.com) – Pasta, Wood Fired Pizza, Whole Animal. ‘Nuff said.
  • Lers Ros (www.lersros.com) – Apparently truly authentic Thai. How have I not tried this yet?
  • Locanda (www.locandasf.com) – Hoping it lives up to the hype.
  • Outerlands (outerlandssf.com) – “A gathering place for sea goers who seek warmth, shelter, food and fellowship”? And it’s near my ‘hood? OK!
  • Park Tavern (www.parktavernsf.com) – North Beach restaurant opened in 2011, offering some seriously off the hook grub.
  • Ragazza (www.ragazzasf.com) - Neapolitan-style thin crust pizzas…
  • Ton Kiang (www.tonkiang.net) – I. Love. Dim. Sum.

♦ Hike! As soon as yoga teacher training is over, I resolve to get outdoors. Some amazing must-dos:

♦ Culture – I have just not had the time to do as much as I would like, but here are some exhibits and festivals I am going to insist on taking a break for:

I am excited to be able to revel in this period of rebirth, here in this place, now. There is so much to see and explore, I have barely scratched the surface. If you would like to share some ideas on other can’t miss experiences or if you would like to meet up and help me fulfill my commitment to SF, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Wanderlust Bucket List

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the “rest of my life.” Maybe it is the fact that I am turning 35 this year. Maybe it is because I have the great convenience of making a decent living and having a stable place to live. Maybe it has been the upheavals of the last year (a topic for another time). For whatever reason, when faced with the question of where and what I would like to experience in my life, I took it to heart and mind. This list does not include places I have been and want to return to – that list would be a long one, to be sure. Enough said. Here is my top 10 destination list:

  1. India – the land of yoga, aromatic curries, beautiful beaches, cities teeming with life, mountainous retreats, meandering cows and so much more. It is my number one. Incredible India, indeed.
  2. Russia – misunderstood, straddling East and West, Russia has been both fascinating and frustrating to me. Her language is intricate and beautiful, her land vast and varied. She beckons me with her mystery.
  3. Italy – food is one of our most primal needs and I need pasta. And wine. And Pizza. Art, history, architecture, religion, natural beauty, fashion, the list goes on… Italy has it all.
  4. Peru – ever since Anthony Bourdain featured his trip there I have been craving the food. And I am super interested in the multiple varieties of potato grown. I know I am odd.
  5. Mexico – whether on the Caribbean, the Pac Rim, or anywhere in between, I want to go to Mexico. Pyramids, mezcal, cities, tacos, jungles, mestizajes, chilies. Some of the most interesting and delicious things I can imagine.
  6. Ireland/Scotland/England /Wales – I am counting this as a single trip. The land of my ancestry. The land of pubs. The land of double decker buses. Oh, and cool accents, to boot.
  7. New Zealand – Lord of the Rings was filmed here. They are making some beautiful wine. Sheep. Enough said.
  8. Thailand – anywhere that has words I can mispronounce or use in childish fashion to get a giggle, I am down with. Phi Phi. Bangkok. Phuket. I am sure there are more.
  9. Egypt – if a mild fascination with Africa isn’t enough for you, the Pharoahs and their giant tombs may be a good reason. I will definitely wait until all quiets on the political front. Whenever that may be.
  10. Eastern Europe – I apologize in advance for not being specific, but if history can tell you anything about a place, Eastern Europe’s country names mean little to nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. Places I would like to check out include Germany (sauerkraut and riesling), Austria (topfenstrudel and gruner veltliner), Poland (vodka and pierogi),and Georgia (ajapsandali and rkatsiteli – threw ya for a loop there, didn’t I?).

So, that is my list. What is yours?

Sans Souci

After having more than our share of bubbles in Champagne, we were ready to hit the rails and start our adventure in Cognac. Well… most of us were ready. One member of our group, who shall remain nameless, was a tad late. This resulted in quite a stir and some worry that we would not make our train on time. We arrived to the station with less than ten minutes till departure and I can tell you I have never seen a group of people with luggage move so fast! We were nearly knocking people over in our path, but we made it with five minutes to spare.

Once we arrived in Cognac, we were bussed to the Marnier-Lapostolle estate, where we enjoyed refreshments in the salon. After greetings from the Grand Marnier team, we were off to a local cooperage to view the process of barrel making from start to finish. It was incredible to see in person – the trees cut into shape, wood planks steamed for pliability, iron rings hammered into place by hand, barrels toasting in their individual stalls - it gave us all some perspective on why barrels (and the fluids ageing in them) are so expensive. As soon as our stomach’s began to rumble, we were headed back to Grand Marnier for lunch, complete with a goat cheese and roasted pepper appetizer to start, chicken in cognac sauce with wild rice for our entrée and a creme brulee topped cookie with chocolate and caramel sauce that was to die for as dessert. 

Following lunch and a very special tasting, we were spirited off to our respective homes for the next two nights. The majority of our group stayed at a very quaint hotel close to town, while a select few, including myself, were treated to a very special stay at the Hennessy estate, Chateau de Bagnolet. Located on the Charente River, the home is surrounded by lush gardens and grassy expanses. The house itself is grand without being ostentatious and is even more comfortable than a country home should be. Though we did not wish to leave, we were delighted to be returning to the Marnier-Lapostolle estate to enjoy yet another fabulous evening of cocktails and culinary delights. From the reception in the courtyard to the after dinner drinks in the drawing-room, our hosts were more than generous. It was a magical night, only enhanced by our cohort’s companionship and the darling vineyard dog we made friends with.

The next morning arrived with full sunshine and the promise of yet another phenomenal day. Our first stop was at one of Hennessy’s production and research facilities, where we toured the vineyards and enjoyed what was collectively lauded as one of our favorite meals of the week, consisting of fresh gazpacho with lobster claw, terrines of chicken with truffles and seafood with spring vegetables, pistachio puree, a selection of cheeses and local wines.  Appetites sated, we were taken back to town for an extensive tour at Hennessy beginning in the main visitor’s building, then across the river in a boat to the cellars where the cognacs are aged, where we were privileged enough to be taken into cellars holding cognacs dating back to 1800. Our visit was completed with a special blending session in which we all created our very own assemblage to take home with us.

That night we were entertained at Chateau de Bagnolet – a grand finale to a grand week in France. Hennessy cocktails were served on the veranda, including my new favorite drink of VSOP and fresh, unpasteurized apple juice on the rocks. As the sun set, dinner was served and devoured with relish, a feast created by the Chef de Cuisine at Hennessy, who had been planning and preparing our meal for five days. The mood was celebratory, the food was delicious and the night could not have left us with better memories. 

Back in Paris before our long flights home, we reminisced about the enchanted week we were able to share. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I will be forever grateful to all the maisons for such a wonderful odyssey through France.