The West Coast was calling my name after visiting Maine. These recent travels have made me realize that I’m surrounded by some of the best people, most I’ve met in the food & beverage industry. Maine was spent with good friends that I’d met at my time working at Four Seasons, and San Francisco wouldn’t be any different, except sprinkled in are more amazing creative friends I’ve made over the years.
I was excited to make my way back to San Francisco. It’s exhilarating to be in that city, in all aspects of the word. Creatively speaking, no other city has it beat (besides maybe New York) and I feel refreshed every time I go back. This was a very special trip, to be honest. Some of my very best friends (once again, Four Seasons alums), Rebecca Borrelli and Olivia Clark, met in San Francisco and took a trip up the the Redwoods to honor a very special person that passed away last year.
Winston Shipman was a staple at Trio in the Four Seasons Austin. He had plenty of people that requested his presence when dining at the restaurant and everyone loved him. His childhood was in Indiana, went to Purdue (acquired two degrees swimmingly), and ended up being a career waiter (he always joked about his degrees versus profession but he was held in such high regard and the industry folks all adored him). He gave it to you straight, which I always admired and needed. Winston took me under his wing, as well as Olivia and Rebecca, and the four of us could be found walking Town Lake every Sunday.
When he passed away last September, I found out while in Los Angeles, at dinner. I was devastated and drank my feelings away in Malbec and bourbon on the rocks (yes, I know, worst combination ever). I woke up early the next day to a call from Olivia (she’s since moved from Austin back to Los Angeles) and comforted me as I cried in the bathroom of my Airbnb. Rebecca and I had a tearful, practically incoherent conversation, of how I should still make the trek to Joshua Tree to honor Winnie (one of his favorite spots in California besides the Redwoods). The day of of the blood moon, after exploring Joshua Tree in all of its beauty, I penned an emotional note to my friend and mourned his loss. After arriving back home, the three of us made a promise amongst ourselves to scatter his ashes in his second favorite place in California and thus our journey to the Redwoods was in the making.
We left Tuesday morning, after breakfast and tea, in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, at Hazel’s Kitchen and Farley’s. There’s an air to San Francisco coffee shops, with a mix of hipsters and older intellectuals, that is unlike any other city. At one window, two older men conversed over pourover coffee while millenials checked their e-mails on the other side of the shop. We ate outside (admiring hipster families with kids dressed better than I’ll ever be in my life) while discussing our plan for the drive up to Crescent City. At one point, Olivia emerged from Hazel’s with tags and pens, explained that we write what we’re grateful for, and hang them on the “Gratitude Tree” on the sidewalk. It was a great-ful way to start our trip (see what I did there?).
As we drove out of San Francisco and into Northern California, the girls indulged me in my obsession of oysters, by making a pit stop at Hog Island Oyster Company. I’m basically a professional oyster shucker at this point, y’all. If you invite me over to an oyster party at your house, I’ll bring my own shucker (just ask my good friend, Nicolai, since mine is still at his house from the last one). Two dozen oysters later (Kumamoto and Sweetwater, yes please!), we were shucking fresh bivalves, enjoying local Cowgirl Creamery and Cypress Grove Chevre, along with bubbles.
Food & beverage has introduced me to such a variety of wonderful people down the road. Winston, having been a career waiter at the Four Seasons, helped me tweak my approach to people and coworkers over the years. He helped shape the way I looked at service industry and how it is a noble profession. Had I not worked in Trio, I wouldn’t have met these amazing people. Rebecca is an artist but finds herself grounded in the industry. We met at Four Seasons while she was receiving her Master’s in Art Education at University of Texas and we re-connected during our time at VOX Table. She found the service industry organically, supporting herself through college and couldn’t wait until she left it. ‘I lost energy. I became lonely behind a studio table all day long. I felt stagnant. And most importantly when I was serving- even part time- I would come home positively energized to make art. When I left serving, my creative energy was funneled totally into my art job, and I stopped making art at home, almost all together. That was my "aha" moment. I realized F&B was a necessary ingredient for my art career’, Borrelli explained as she told me of the importance of food & beverage to her. Nowadays you can find Rebecca, busy as ever, at VOX Table as well as supporting her business along with her wildly popular project, Austin Coloring Book. Bigger and better things are on the horizon for her and I can’t wait to witness it.
Our trip back to San Francisco was a bit rushed, trying to make it back to the city in time for dinner plans and drinks with friends that had been waiting to see us. I was dropped off at the Airbnb offices to spend time with Shawn Sprockett, principal designer and all around inspiration, while we chatted about creativity and goals over drinks and a tour of their breathtaking offices. We met in Austin years ago (we had to think long and hard about this since it was so brief, over a drunken Halloween party), reconnected in New York last June (over cocktails in Chelsea and rainy nights in Williamsburg), and I was so very excited to see him in San Francisco. While studying International Relations at Florida International University, he realized he was interested in design. He then went to the the School of Visual Arts in NYC for grad school, honing his skills under the likes of Milton Glaser and Stefan Sagmeister. Shawn also teaches for General Assembly saying, ‘Teaching is a great way to share the craft and to help students in a career transition that life doesn't always go the way you expect it—and that's ok. By repeating the basics in my classes, I get better and I learn how to explain things to people better. It makes my work better and makes my collaboration with others better. Watching people get excited about design and go on to fascinating projects is a pretty amazing side gig.’ He hopes to start hosting design dinners (a concept we’ve both discussed in depth over for quite some time) in order for creatives to connect and enjoy meaningful conversation. Believe me, he's lovely company and hours of conversation can go by before you even realize with this gem.
A quick walk from Airbnb is Oddjob, where we met more friends for quick libations before dinner. Patrick Lu, former Austinite, has raved about this cocktail bar for quite some time. He’s finding his niche in the city as well and it’s a pleasure seeing him grow in his endeavors, especially photography and most recently, his recent zine, Loaf Life. He took me to SRO, introduced me to the bartender, who asked what my choice of poison is and what kind of cocktail I usually drink. Standing Room Only is to the left when you first walk into Oddjob and it can maybe fit up to sixteen people (SO tiny!) but worth it. I responded with, “I like bourbon, scotch, and rye. I want a boozy cocktail, it’s my last night in town, and I’m in the service industry.” Let’ just say that cocktail knocked me off my feet and was probably one of the biggest deciding factors that led me to extend my trip.
Dinner at Zuni Cafe was a drunken dream I wish I could remember more clearly. Wine flowed, between good friends that hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, followed by plenty of appetizers (I clearly remember the burrata, I always remember burrata, ask anyone that’s dined out with me), and the world famous roasted chicken (we ordered two, which was overly indulgent at this point).
Let’s just talk about dinner in San Francisco. There are so many restaurants to geek out on and it was very difficult to narrow down where to indulge while there for a week. I spent Friday night walking from Ritual Coffee Roasters in The Mission to Petit Crenn in Hayes Valley, putting my name down for the Chef’s Counter, for dinner with Shawn. It was almost an hour wait, so I walked down the street to Two Sisters Bar and Books for a quick chamomile old fashioned until he arrived. Do yourself a favor, if you don’t know Dominique Crenn, look her up (watch second season of Chef’s Table on Netflix, even) and now prep yourself for dreams of French food for quite some time. I saved the menu from this dinner because I’m a geek and if I can save a coaster/menu/postcard/anything, I will. The heirloom tomato salad with savory granola, local Tomales Farmstead Creamery Teleeka, and succuclent greens is a dish that will be forever ingrained in my memory. There’s just something about California produce that makes such a simple dish absolutely outstanding. Shawn and I took a couple deep breaths to really take in what was happening before us. Looking back on it now, from the heirloom tomato salad to the gnocchi with summer vegetables, pan-seared Dorade, and coconut custard (this isn’t even half of what we ordered, by the way), I don’t think I’ve had a meal better than this in a long while. Crenn’s use of memory in the kitchen, bringing forth dishes that spark recollections that you didn’t even think existed, is fascinating in and of itself.
The next morning was spent over coffee and London Fog lattes at Trouble Coffee Company (theirs is called the Girlfriend, with lavender syrup and soy milk, it’s a dream!) in the Outer Sunset and lunch at Kingdom of Dumpling. San Francisco beats any other city for Asian food, especially dim sum and Chinese. I find myself craving soup dumplings as soon as I land and couldn’t believe it took me a whole week before I made it here. It’s a total hole in the wall with the best selection of traditional Asian fare. Two dozen soup dumplings were ordered along with an array of veggies, green onion pancakes, noodles, and green tea. The authenticity of this restaurant has regulars and tourists coming back for me (I almost opted to come back a second time because it’s just that damn good).
I’d been introduced to Kingdom of Dumpling by a good friend of mine, Katrina Muñez, who currently works at Airbnb, formerly of Real HQ. This girl and I go waaaaay back, like way back. Like, her mother is my godmother kind of way back. We spent our young lives running around South Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, until her family moved to Austin and mine to Las Vegas. We reconnected when I moved to Austin and since then, we’ve taken trips to Los Angeles as well as her hosting me in her lovely Outer Sunset home full of some of the best roommates I’ve encountered. Muñez went to University of Texas for a BA in Psychology, spent some time in Austin working at Apple, then moved to San Francisco with Real HQ. She elaborates on finding her passion saying, ‘I'm still trying to figure out what my calling is! I know that's a very typical, "millennial" answer, but I think it's also true for a LOT of people, regardless of age. That said, I do think my current work is a great combination of things I love - interacting with people, creating positive experiences, contributing to companies or products that just make life more enjoyable.’ She also works with the Creative Mornings San Francisco team as their volunteer coordinator (Yay Creative Mornings, I’m a huge proponent for this breakfast lecture series that’s available to everyone. Austin’s always has breakfast tacos and coffee, y’all!) and runs her style blog, Hello Neighbor (this woman is effortlessly stylish, I always go to her for tips). San Francisco’s creative community has several motivating factors as Katrina perfectly puts it, ‘Given the current circumstances, I think it's even more important to remember that "creatives" span all mediums, ages, and backgrounds... That said, I think there are so many talented, purposeful, weird people that occupy this 7x7-mile space, which has made SF's creative community so incredibly diverse. And if it doesn't seem like it to you, you're not looking hard enough.’
After lunch, we made our way to Noe Valley and found the best treasure I could have ever imagined. Omnivore Books on Food in Noe Valley is a food lover’s dream. Housed in a former butcher shop, this bookstore focuses only on food & beverage (HELLO! The foodie geek in me was freaking out!) Celia Sack is a San Franciscan through and through, having been a rare book specialist with her collecting interest on cook books. Both her parents were collectors (her mother being a handbook binder) and always loved food when growing up. Sack spent seven years at San Francisco auction house, PBA Galleries as the head of Modern Literature, before opening up Omnivore in 2008, which has housed an array of modern cookbooks as well as books dating back to the 1600s. She and her partner also own the pet store around the corner, Noe Valley Pet Company. Imagine my face when I discovered this, puppies around the corner and books on food right next door, I was in heaven. Celia’s stories of Ruth Reichl acquiring some of her antique books along with being able to taste the first harvest of Mas Masumoto peaches is so captivating. Tourists and locals alike flock to her store to build their libraries, attend meet and greets with food authors, and browse the phenomenal collection that her store holds. Make your way here, you won’t be disappointed.
The rest of the weekend was a blur of eating and drinking everything I could, from lunch at Mission Chinese Food (their fried chicken is insane and that cucumber salad is to die for!) drinks at awesome dive bars in walking distance from SF MOMA, like Tempest (they have an industry special which is a Coors stubby and shot of Fernet!), to Dogpatch Saloon (where I proceeded to have probably four more shots of Fernet to end the night, yes I know I’m a trooper), and everything in between.
Slowing it down on Sunday, a trip for the night in Berkeley was needed. We watched the sunset at Indian Rock Park, drinking wine straight out of the bottle while enjoying local cheeses (had to get Cypress Grove's Purple Haze one more time!). The next morning was spent walking to famed Chez Pannise and staring at it from the outside in, thinking about all my readings in culinary school of miss Alice Waters, and why I love food & beverage so very much. A quick coffee at Berkeley’s campus was a delightful way to end my short-lived trip to the other side of the Bay Bridge. Making my way back to San Francisco by the BART was surprisingly easy and I made it a priority to eat some pasta in North Beach, peruse the book collection at City Lights Bookstore, grab a drink at Vesuvio Cafe (pretending I was a beatnik and wondering why I was born in the wrong era, of course) and people watch in such a funky part of San Francisco.
My last dinner was spent at a venue called The Lab and was a pop-up dinner by Chef Eric Pascual, a friend that was made through my good friend, Yana Gilbuena of Salo Series! Yes, life is seriously that awesome that things fall into place like that. Eric’s biggest influence, his grandfather, migrated from the Philippines to Hawaii, finding work on a sugar plantation. He followed him in the kitchen, every summer in Hawaii, falling in love with Hawaiian/Filipino cooking. As soon as I stepped in, the aromas of dinner filled the space and I knew it’d be an experience, to say the least. He playfully tweaks dishes like poke, loco moco, and lumpia, making them his own. Along with his charismatic friend, Alex (who’s at the helm of The Lumpia Company, a cool concept with a modern take on the classic dish), they pulled off a superb dinner. San Francisco’s hub of pop-up dinners has immensely grown compared to the likes of cities such as Austin, and I only wish that there will be more in my town. The Feastly team was present at dinner, and it was so lovely to connect with them as well as Eric and Alex after dinner. I hope to see more of them the next time I’m back in their city.
Tuesday, my last morning, was spent having breakfast at Bernal Heights and taking the trek up to that point to take in some last views of the wonderful city. The fog hadn’t quite lifted yet and I didn’t feel like my time was up. After packing my bags and determining that all I needed before heading to the airport was a Sushirrito in SOMA (yes, that’s ALL I really wanted before leaving), I rushed in an Uber back downtown. In my haste (don’t ever take Uberpool if you’re in a hurry because you won’t make it, lesson learned), I forgot my luggage in my Uber as I jumped out downtown to try and run out before they closed. I didn’t make it unfortunately and scrambled to meet my driver in front of Blue Bottle Coffee to retrieve my luggage. Hungry and disappointed that my quest for a Sushirrito had failed, I sought refuge in a last espresso at Blue Bottle. Deciding to sit in front of the window for a bit of people watching before leaving for the airport, I took a deep breath, and looked out of the window to take one last look at the wild characters that San Francisco had to offer. I was exhausted, waiting for the espresso to kick in, and called my good friend Moyo for advice and a pick me up. “Come home now, you know better than this”, he said. Until next time San Francisco, I’ll be back for that Sushirrito soon enough.