On August 11th Jack and I celebrated our five year wedding anniversary with an extravagant dinner at Saison. This Michelin 3-star restaurant started as a pop-up project in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco seven years ago, and quickly garnered a stellar reputation. The restaurant earned its third Michelin star in 2013; it is currently ranked 37th on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Saison is located South of Market (technically South Beach), just a block away from AT&T Park. Despite being the most expensive restaurant in San Francisco, it has a very welcoming vibe. The dining room has a warm, urban feel with exposed brick and dark grey walls, leather and wood furniture, with various mounted animal heads on the walls; natural light from a large window softens the overall feel of the decor. The music playlist was a catchy mix of 70’s and 80’s rock including Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones, and Billy Joel. It did not feel pretentious in the slightest.
Bar Crudo is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Jack and I developed an expensive habit of frequenting this restaurant back when we lived in the NoPa (North Panhandle) neighborhood from 2009-2014. Bar Crudo is a fabulous neighborhood spot with a killer happy hour ($1 oysters, $4 beers, $6 wine), incredibly fresh and sustainable seafood, a lengthy beer menu (including several sour beers), and arguably the best seafood chowder in San Francisco.
You’ll want to make a reservation in advance if you don’t feel like waiting a good while for a table or a spot at the counter. You can usually grab a decent reservation with just a couple days notice, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to snag a same-day reservation (you can also expect to wait in line if you show up for their popular happy hour which starts at 5pm). It’s definitely worth the extra planning to experience the delicious food at this special spot.
I love Las Vegas. On paper, I feel like I shouldn’t like it: a city erected in the middle of a desert that struggles to sustain it, full of cheesy entertainment, tacky themed restaurants and hotels, and smoky casinos. However, over in the past 10 years or so, Las Vegas has reinvented itself. Hotels now strive to provide a more inviting ambiance (with windows!), sophisticated entertainment and night life, and a range of dining experiences, some from well-known chefs and restauranteurs. Food is no longer seen solely as fuel to keep you going while you gamble; and for those of us who don’t care to gamble at all, it’s enough of a draw to keep us coming back to Sin City on a regular basis.
My ideal visit to Vegas is a 3 day/2 night weekend trip during the warm months of spring or fall. There are frequent direct flights from SFO to LAS, making it an easy trip logistically. I prefer to stay at a hotel with a great pool and decent restaurants on site or nearby (I like the SLS/W Las Vegas, Cosmopolitan, and Wynn/Encore). The evenings are centered around a good meal and maybe a show while I’m there (I highly recommend Absinthe or a concert at The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan – we saw the Strokes there a few years back and it was awesome). I usually don’t gamble or stay out late, and I’m totally okay with that.
A few weeks ago Jack and went to see Finding Neverland at the Orpheum Theatre. We are members of SHN, the theatrical production company in San Francisco that hosts professional national tours and pre-Broadway engagements of various plays and musicals (Hamilton starts this week!) We typically see these shows on Thursday nights, which means that our pre-show meals tend to be rushed at a restaurant near Civic Center or Union Square. However, for this show, I was able to exchange our tickets for a Saturday evening performance, giving us more time for a leisurely dinner at a restaurant further from the theater.
We opted to get dinner at Frances in the Castro, a few blocks from Mission Dolores Park. Frances was opened by chef Melissa Perello in 2009 and it has received numerous accolades in the years since, including a Michelin star from 2011-2013. The restaurant opened right around the time Jack and I were learning to appreciate seasonal, quality food by dining out at different restaurants around the city, and Frances quickly became one of our favorite spots in San Francisco. So, when we moved to the Castro neighborhood in 2014, we were thrilled to call Frances our “neighborhood joint.”
We spent Christmas last year in Los Angeles visiting Jack’s family. We opted to stay at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel which is located across the street from the beach near the Santa Monica Pier. When we weren’t eating delicious Lebanese food prepared by my mother-in-law, we had the chance to explore some of the restaurants in the area surrounding our hotel. A friend of ours had previously recommended Rustic Canyon, so we decided to check it out one evening.
Rustic Canyon is a “Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen” owned by husband-and-wife team Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan. This is the first restaurant opened by the couple, who went on to open several other popular spots in LA, including Cassia and Milo and Olive. Rustic Canyon prides itself on sourcing local ingredients to make up its creative, seasonal menu. Our waiter informed us that Executive Chef Jeremy Fox has an obsession with making broths and stocks bursting with rich, umami flavor, and these are incorporated into several of the dishes.
We arrived at Rustic Canyon on a rare rainy evening in LA. We each started with a seasonal cocktail to warm us up from the inside out. Jack ordered the Apple Jack Rose (apple infused bourbon, Germain Robin apple brandy, fresh lemon, honey, housemade grenadine) and I had the Gone with the Gin (Four Pillers Gin, tangerine & rosemary syrup, lime, club soda). Both cocktails were delicious and balanced, not too sweet.
Over the past few years Jack and I have rung in the New Year just the two of us in one of our favorite nearby towns. We’ve reached the age where many of our friends are home with little ones or doing family trips to Tahoe, so we’re generally not missing any parties by leaving the city. Plus, the holidays are always so hectic and busy that it’s really nice to quietly mark the New Year as part of a romantic getaway.
This year we chose to visit Sonoma for two nights over New Year’s weekend. We compared hotels in Sonoma, Healdsburg, and Carmel, and the prices in Sonoma were significantly more affordable. In addition, we hadn’t stayed there in several years and there were a couple of new restaurants and wine tasting rooms that we were eager to try.
I love downtown San Francisco during the holidays. I have such fond memories of coming to the city with my family as a kid – ice skating at Embarcadero Center, gazing at the tree at Union Square, then grabbing a bite to eat at The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus after a day of holiday shopping. Now that I call San Francisco my home, I find I am less amused by the large crowds of tourists and holiday shoppers; however, I still get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see the festive decorations downtown, so Jack and I try to make a visit at least once every December.
This year we started our downtown visit with a couple of seasonal cocktails at Clock Bar in the Westin St Francis at Union Square (be sure to use your Starwood card for double points!) There were a lot of tourists admiring the giant gingerbread houses in the lobby, but we had no trouble grabbing a table for two inside the bar. Afterward, we walked past Union Square to get a quick glimpse of the Christmas tree, then continued on to Embarcadero along a less crowded street. The four buildings that make up Embarcadero Center are outlined in white lights this time of year, and they look like Christmas presents. We walked past the ice skating rink at Justin Herman Plaza and admired the beautiful view of the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge in the background.
Jack and I have learned over the years that when we travel, we don’t like to change locations too frequently. I feel like we really learned this about ourselves when we traveled to Costa Rica in 2011; we tried to see too many places in a short amount of time, and I felt like we were constantly packing and unpacking our suitcases and trying to get from point A to point B. From that point forward, we started to plan our trips differently: rather than try to squeeze in as many sites as we could, we would spend more time (typically four nights or more) in fewer locations overall, so we could really get a feel for a place and not be rushed. We followed this rule during our honeymoon in Bali in 2012, as well as our trip to Spain in 2013, with great results. I believe everyone has their own traveling “style,” and we found ours (luckily Jack and I have a similar styles!)
That being said, we bent this rule a bit when we went to Italy in June of last year. We had originally planned on spending five nights in Positano, five nights in Florence, and five nights in Rome, with occasional day trips from these spots. However, we really wanted to eat at Massimo Battura’s acclaimed restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena (pronounced MO-dee-nah), which at the time held the Number 2 spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. We had also heard that Bologna, Modena’s neighbor, was a great city for foodies. So, we decided to steal two nights from our stay in Florence to do a quick jaunt to Bologna, which conveniently was only an hourlong train ride from Florence. This ended up being just the right amount of time to see, do, and taste much of what we wanted to in this region.
Happy Blogiversary to me! I wrote my first blog post one year ago today, and I can’t believe a whole year has gone by already. As I reflect on the last year, I am immensely grateful that my life has allowed for so many fabulous vacations and memorable meals with those I care about. It’s also been really fun for me to look back and see how my writing has evolved over the last year, and to relive so many great meals and adventures.
My original motivation for writing Dish & Room was to have a place to share my travel experiences and recommendations with friends and family. I’ve enjoyed having a quick way to share these suggestions when someone mentions, “I’m going to Rome – do you have any recs?” I’ve also learned that the blog serves as a kind of photo album and travel journal as well, and it’s been especially fun to read through old posts and relive these experiences all over again.
Over Labor Day weekend Jack and I spent a fabulous afternoon at the recently revamped San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), followed by a delicious lunch at In Situ, the museum’s highly acclaimed new restaurant. In Situ’s head chef Corey Lee knows a thing or two about fine dining: he is chef/owner of three star Michelin restaurant Benu, and was previously the head chef at The French Laundry. The concept behind In Situ is as follows: “Like SFMOMA brings together a dynamic collection of artists, we have assembled a display of dishes from chefs and restaurants around the world.” The menu includes standout dishes from some of the best restaurants across the globe; it truly feels like a museum for food. It’s no wonder that a recent New York Times article described In Situ as “America’s Most Original New Restaurant.”
It’s pretty tough to snag a dinner reservation at In Situ these days, but our 1pm lunch reservation worked perfectly with our first visit to the SFMOMA since it reopened in May (the museum was closed for three years while it was expanded to roughly double its size). In preparation for our visit, I reached out to a friend who works at the museum to see if she had any tips. I really appreciated her advice to not try to see everything in one visit; she explained that the new SFMOMA is huge, and if you try to get through each show, you will likely shortchange your experience.