Monday, March 10, 2014

A Day in San Francisco - from Chinatown to Pac Heights to Fisherman's Wharf

San Francisco, March 3, 2014
A street in SF Chinatown
One of my nieces, Lauren, has been studying abroad in Spain for a good part of her junior year. She returned to the US last month and recently came to visit her sister, me and my parents before she heads back to school. She stayed with my other niece in Berkeley during most of her visit but I took a day off from work and met her in San Francisco last week for some aunt-niece bonding time.
We had a whole day ahead of us so I asked Lauren what she wanted to do in the city. Her first response was "I want bao! And dim sum!" Yup, she's my niece all right. It's all about the food for both of us. In case you're not familiar with what a bao is, it's a filled Chinese bread roll like pork buns or cocktail buns. Dim sum I've waxed poetical about enough times that hopefully that's not a new term on my blog. And when you're in San Francisco, there's no better place to get dim sum and baos than in Chinatown.

I searched for "cocktail buns in San Francisco" and yelp obligingly spit out Garden Bakery. It's got a 4-star rating from 75 reviews but what really sold me on it was one review mentioning it was well patronized by elderly Chinese people. You can't ask for a better affirmation than that because they would know a good place to go for cocktail buns and pork buns, right? It's like the old adage that a sign of a good Chinese restaurant was if Chinese people ate there. This was no different.
1 baked pork bun, 2 cocktail buns
Lauren holding the baked pork bun
We met at the Powell St BART station and made the walk to Chinatown. Or I should say climb. When you google map places in San Francisco, everything looks deceptively close and walkable since SF is rather small in land mass compared to other major cities. What's a mile or two? Nothing if it happened to be flat terrain but in San Francisco, you can count on a good number of hills. Getting to Chinatown from downtown was an uphill trek and by the time Lauren and I got to Garden Bakery, we felt we'd earned those baos. The bakery is rather small and, sure enough, populated mostly by elderly Chinese folks. Score. The baked goods are in a glass display case but you have to know what to ask for as I know from past experience that just because you don't see it doesn't mean they don't have it. Sure enough, both the baked pork buns and the cocktail buns weren't in the glass display but behind the counter on baker's racks. I got a pork bun and two cocktail buns for later - all three for $1.80. Super cheap as out in the 'burbs, even at a cheap Asian bakery like Sheng Kee, I'd pay almost that much just for one. Gotta love Chinatown. My Chinese friends said I got the non-Chinese price as they would have likely been charged $1.20 for the 3. Whatevs, it was still cheap to me, lol.

Then we hit the second item on Lauren's must-eat list and found a sit down restaurant for dim sum - restaurant review to follow in a separate post.  As usual, after indulging ourselves with good food, we had to get on the move to burn off lunch. Also as usual, what motivates me to walk is if our next destination was another food place. In this case, it was Sift, a cupcake bakery I'd first heard about on Cupcake Wars. Review to follow in a separate post as well.
After Sift (and dim sum and egg custards and pork buns), we really needed a good long walk. But we were rapidly tiring of the hills, literally, metaphorically and figuratively so we decided not to do the hilly backtrack to Market Street but instead headed for the wharf since most of that seemed to be flat walking ground. We walked from Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow to the Presidio (some hills were sadly unavoidable), Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, pausing by Ghirardelli Square, home of San Francisco chocolate (no, we didn't eat any). A brief pause to refresh ourselves with drinks then, walking along the pier, onward to the Ferry Building to poke around the little shops and past Embarcadero. On the walk along the wharf, we discovered Tcho Chocolate housed in a building on the pier. Separate post on Tcho to follow in the future.

Ferry Building
The day was overcast and muggy, unseasonably warm for San Francisco but we were lucky that it didn't start raining until we made our way from the Embarcadero to Westfield City Center at the Powell St BART station. All in all, we walked over 10 miles that day, including the uphills and downhills that forcibly reminded me of almost every single muscle in my legs. My fitbit even congratulated me for walking over 34,000 steps that day. Fortunately, both Lauren and I run for exercise so it never occurred to us we couldn't do it so we did. It also helped that I didn't realize just how far we had walked until I mapped our ambulatory wanderings the next day. Powered by dim sum and cupcakes, we can go anywhere.....

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