We’ve got a lot of friends up in San Francisco and each of them represents the pulse of the city in his or her own way.
Alanna — the chef, author, photographer, and stylist behind The Bojon Gourmet and Alternative Baker — has elegant ease to her style that’s so San Francisco. To see the city through her eyes, we asked her to share how she’d spend a perfect day in San Fran.
San Francisco is a cultural and culinary mecca — a bit of urban sophistication mixed with Norcal hippie and a touch of the cultural melting pot. I love that SF is like Paris in that the geography creates little neighborhoods and pockets. So, while you’re in the midst of a city — albeit one that you could walk from end to end in a day — it can feel as though you’re in a small town.
This city values quality over quantity so most neighborhoods reject chain stores in favor of independently-owned businesses. In SF, it’s hard to go wrong, food-wise, whether you’re at a little hole-in-the-wall taqueria in the Mission, or a Michelin-starred restaurant in SOMA, but here is where I’d go on my perfect day.
7:30 AM – Vinyasa Yoga at Yoga Mayu
On my perfect day, I’m perfect, so I leap up out of bed at the crack of dawn to practice yoga at my favorite studio. Yoga Mayu’s Mission location is just a short walk from my apartment, and owner Gizella is a dear friend.
Classes are a mix of vinyasa, and every teacher offers a unique practice. I’m a fan of Alyssa, an acrobat(!) who manages to make you laugh while simultaneously torturing you. After an hour of vigorous practice, I feel amazing. And hungry.
9 AM – Breakfast at Plow
There is no better place to enjoy a stack of fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes or a soft egg scramble than Plow. Since they opened, there has been a line out the door, and for good reason. Chef Maxine sources the highest-quality ingredients from local farms, and can usually be found slinging orders behind the counter.
If you score the Chinese Breakfast–a pulled pork number in a gingery chile sauce served over rice with poached eggs–save me a bowl. The crispy potatoes—smashed then deep-fried with rosemary–are crave-worthy. And the bacon tastes like magic. For something lighter, try the chia pudding or housemade smoked salmon with Acme toast and Fromage blanc. To drink, there’s good coffee and an extensive selection of tea but order a grapefruit mimosa.
After breakfast, stop in at Collage Gallery down the street to peruse their selection of locally-made art and jewelry and a handful of antiques; at Christopher’s Books to page through their first-rate cookbook selection, and at Farley’s for a chai and to browse through their epic magazine rack.
11:30 AM – Soaking at Kabuki Springs and Spa
Since two girlfriends took me to Kabuki last winter, I’ve been hooked—now this is where I come when I want to seriously relax. The dimly lit Japanese-style bathhouse nestled in the Japan Center is an oasis within the concrete jungle of the city. Step inside, strip down to your skivvies, and slip into the hot tub, steam room, dry sauna, and (for the brave) refresh in the cold plunge.
When you’re through being parboiled, lounge around on a chaise sipping cucumber water or hot tea and let the gentle music soothe away all your stress. When you emerge, you will smell like a flower and be floating on cloud nine.
1:30 PM – Lunch and Tea at Samovar, Castro
It’s hard to choose where to lunch since there are approximately 3 billion amazing restaurants in SF. There’s okonomiyaki at Namu Gaji, tofu veggie pho at Mau, vegan organic Mexican eats at Gracias Madre. But my favorite spot to unwind is Samovar in the Castro. As a tea-lover, I’ve been crazy for this place since they opened.
Their menu features teas and bites from all over the world, and you can buy loose tea to brew up at home. (Their breakfast blend is what gets me out of bed each morning.) I love their wasabi Caesar salad with smoked salmon, their maki bowl full of vegetables, rice, and nori strips, and the squash dumplings with sesame dipping sauce are culinary magic.
For tea, there are herbal blends, white, green, oolong, pu-erh, and black teas, each the freshest, flavorful iteration I’ve ever tasted. And their chai is legendary.
3:00 PM – Groceries from Bi-Rite
Down the street from Samovar is the Bi-Rite market. Though roughly the size of a 1 bedroom apartment, Bi-Rite manages to pack in every ingredient you could hope for, from a fabulous wine and spirit selection to fresh flowers, artisan cheeses, and farm-fresh produce. I’m always inspired to cook when I step into Bi-Rite, but their prepared food section also rocks, and you can also pick up a pint of their ice cream made across the street at their creamery.
4:00 PM – Ice Cream at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous
Speaking of ice cream, my very favorite is over in the Dogpatch at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous. Housed in an industrial-chic building, their selection changes daily and they boast the creativity of Humphrey Slocombe with the refined quality of Bi-Rite. I recently enjoyed a scoop of pumpkin ice cream in a housemade waffle cone, a creamy, frozen custard that tasted exactly like pumpkin pie.
Other favorites over the years have been orange blossom, coffee chicory, and ballpark: made with local Anchor Steam beer, peanuts, and pretzels. They also have housemade candy and confections.
5:00 PM – Shop at Heath Ceramics
Now that I’m well-fed and slightly caffeinated, I head over to Heath Ceramics to ogle their tableware. Heath has been making quality ceramics in the Bay Area since the 1940s, even crafting a line especially for Chez Panisse. Pick up a bowl or mug in your hands and you can feel the heft and texture of these lovely pieces. They’re built to last, with neutral tones and matte glazes that are simple and pragmatic.
In addition to the tableware made on the premises, Heath carries serve boards, flatware, table linens, and loads of treasures in their spacious 18th Street location. Thursday through Sunday you can also pick up flowers from the Le Fleuriste stand that sets up shop in the foyer, and sip a cup of Blue Bottle coffee at a communal table while designing your new home entirely out of Heath tile.
6:00 PM – Drinks and Snacks at ABV
Cocktail hour lands me at ABV, my favorite spot for drinks and snacks in the city. I order my usual – a Mumbai Mule loaded with fresh ginger and curry spices, a hit of booze, and a mint leaf. ABV uses no utensils or straws, so all offerings are finger food, from boiled peanuts (heaven) to cheese plates and charcuterie served with Tartine bread that gets slathered in butter and grilled, to the ABV (a box of veggies): a platter of seasonal vegetables prepared in different ways (pickled or marinated) and served with aioli for dipping.
One could easily make a meal of the green goddess grilled little gems, fish tacos, falafel lamb dogs, and grilled broccoli di Cicco, but I manage to hold out because there’s still dinner ahead.
8:00 PM – Dinner at Piccino
Though the Mission is crawling with restaurants, I make my way back over to the lesser-known Dogpatch and into Piccino, which has the fine food and drink of a Mission spot but without the attitude. Piccino has a neighborhood feel, with locals and families enjoying meals at long tables and an open kitchen. Score a seat at the bar and you can watch the action.
Their wine list – written by descriptor rather than type (crisp, minerally whites, country-quaffing reds, etc.) – has something for every palate. Start with a glass of bubbly, a garden greens salad with watermelon radish, herbs, and red wine vinaigrette, and their soup (today it’s a squash with ginger, lemongrass, crema, and kaffir lime), then move on to pasta (chestnut gnudi with wild mushrooms and basil mostarda), and finish with a contorno (fried Brussels sprouts with shishito peppers and garum vinaigrette).
And don’t skip the pizza – Piccino makes the crispest, delicate crust I’ve ever had, and their toppings range from classic Margherita to seasonal offerings such as persimmon with spiced goat cheese, sorrel, and basil. And what would a perfect day be without dessert? Piccino’s are as sublime as the rest of their fare and the Pear Tarte Tatin with crème Fraiche ice cream and pomegranate calls my name.
All photos by Alanna of The Bojon Gourmet
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