Monday, September 6, 2010

San Francisco Inspiration

When your job comes to an end, the best way to ease the transition is by taking a trip to a favorite place. My beloved show “South Pacific” closed on August 22nd after a 2-½ year run, and there were many tears mingling with all of the hugs and glasses of bubbly during that bittersweet final week. However, I think the prevailing sentiment amongst the company and orchestra was one of intense gratitude for having been part of this truly extraordinary production, and a few days later my sadness began to lift when I boarded a plane for San Francisco. After a summer of working hard and sweating it out in the concrete jungle of NYC, I treated myself to a week of balmy Northern California sunshine and crisp fresh air, not to mention a good dose of culinary inspiration.

I stayed at the Harbor Court Hotel, a lovely boutique Kimpton Hotel located right on the Embarcadero just a block away from the Ferry Building Marketplace, home to one of the greatest food halls and farmer’s markets I’ve ever encountered. Arriving just in time for lunch at the Thursday farmer’s market, I was properly welcomed to SF by one of the greatest sandwiches ever to cross my lips: a thinly-pounded pork chop crisped to perfection, nestled in a tender brioche roll along with slices of luscious heirloom tomatoes and a chopped fresh herb salad, slathered with spicy mayo to tie it all together. Talk about street food at its finest!

As though I didn’t already have a big enough grin on my face, I followed this soul-satisfying sandwich with an equally mind-blowing cupcake from a neighboring food stand. This outstanding little creation was studded with cocoa nibs, filled with fresh huckleberry jam and topped with a violet-infused icing. Welcome to San Francisco indeed!

The late summer San Francisco trip has definitely become a tradition for me by now, having spent late August there three years in a row. I took my first solo vacation there last summer, and I wrote my way into a semi-permanent writer’s cramp throughout that week. I was trying to write my way out of deep melancholy, as though I would collapse in a heap if I didn’t prop myself up with incessant and furious scribbling. But it was a pivotal week for me as I began some significant work on Project X during that SF solo week, penning a letter that set the whole project in motion and which will come to fruition soon.

I was much calmer this trip, not feeling the same desperation to reach for my journal the moment I sat down somewhere. I’m in a much happier place than I was a year ago, and I don’t think I had a single twinge of regret that I had come on vacation alone this year. I thoroughly enjoyed my sunny hotel room, often crawling into bed early to read just so that I could spend as much time as possible in the luxurious Italian sheets. I had a delicious morning at San Francisco MOMA, taking in the new exhibit with the Alexander Calder mobiles and the newly acquired Warhol prints.  I went for long walks all over the city, soaking up the vibe of radically different neighborhoods and enjoying vivid color juxtapositions.

Sometimes you need a friendly little blue lion to welcome you home.

Who needs cable cars to get to the top of ultra-steep hills when you are in good cardio shape and are strong enough to climb them on your own two legs?

Seriously, when you pound those hills the way I did, you can justify eating desserts like these strawberries with marsala-laced whipped cream in between thin meringue discs at Zuni Café:

You can also rationalize eating something like this:  

Believe me, this luxurious lemon cream tart at Tartine was worth scaling the sharpest inclines.

Tartine Bakery is one of the main reasons for going to San Francisco. Located in the Mission district, the line always stretches out the door of this establishment, and justifiably so. It was actually painful to peer into the pastry display cases without being able to try everything. The tarts alone were dazzling—lemon cream, coconut cream, raspberry, fresh black&blueberry, to name a few. The devil’s food cake was adorned with pulverized cake crumbs, and the shaggy coconut rectangles contained a lime & passion fruit Bavarian cream in between sponge cake layers. Lord have mercy.

I did finally decide on almond frangipane croissant, and I wasn't the least bit sorry.  In fact, I enjoyed it to a ridiculous degree, for most almond croissants can't lay claim to layers of shattering flaky pastry encasing a brandied almond cream filling the way this one did. Oh my...

How did that banana caramel chocolate tart get back to my hotel room? Hmmm... (The diet officially started today, by the way.)

My spirit feels revived after this week away, as though the golden California light warmed me from the inside out. My culinary imagination is brimming with ideas that I want to try and my creative juices are kicking into overdrive, both musically and writing-wise. While it still feels strange not to have a theater to go to each night, I am ready to embrace this new chapter in my life and I am truly excited to see what will happen in these next months.


Shari said...

Loved hearing (and seeing) about your San Francisco trip. The Tartine pictures made me drool a little. I always love reading your blog! Keep 'em coming!

louise said...

Thank you, Shari! I know you can appreciate the drool-worthy beauty of that Tartine pastry display case. I was practically getting a sugar high just writing about my morning there and choosing my photos for this post!!!

Pinnie said...

I'm now dying to try brioche sandwich.
your explanation is just.... Y U M