Simple San Francisco style

 

You can tell a lot about a place by its food. Move away from the heart-clogging diners around Union Square and travel beyond the reaches of the cable car for a taste of the real Frisco.

Heading to San Francisco for my first visit, hippies, Haight Asbury and the Golden Gate Bridge are three images that immediately sprung to mind. For many tourists it’s updated with the tackiness of Fisherman’s Wharf, aggressive panhandlers downtown and of course, the interminable wait to ride on the cable cars.

I wanted to get back to the hippy roots of the city but in the opposite direction of Haight. Greens, an iconic vegetarian restaurant that opened in the ‘70s, called my name. Getting there turned out to be half the fun.

Skipping the hour queue for the Powell-Mason cable car, we jumped on the Market St tram all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. I love the old streetcars from around the world that whiz down the 6 mile route from the Wharf to the Castro, and travelled it most days we were in town.

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Once we headed beyond the Embarcadero, directions to the Fort Mason restaurant were sketchy. While the map, on paper at least, showed a clear route down Bay Street, on the ground it was illusive. Instead the footpath lured us over the hill to the marina, through the small national park. The ascent was bolstered by spectacular views of the bay and the Marina on the other side welcomed us. The sprawling Green Meadows Park felt a million miles away from the homeless in the city centre.

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With literally five minutes to spare before the end of lunch service we finally arrived at Greens, relieved to be welcomed to a table. The stress evaporated as we sat in the light-filled converted warehouse, watching yachts bob outside in front of the iconic bridge. The view is complemented by a spacious interior design using mostly reclaimed timber, high ceilings and large artworks.

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The food, crafted from organically grown produce was some of the freshest I’ve ever tasted (and I’m both a gardener and organic market shopper at home).  The menu has echoes of its 70’s wholefood roots but has swapped stodge for simplicity. The baby potatoes and corn in my grilled brochette is probably the most flavorsome I’ve ever eaten complementing, rather than competing with, the chimichurri sauce and spicy Mexican slaw.

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The ambience at Greens enhanced the experienced. While only a couple of diners remained so late in the service the staff didn’t hurry any of us, as if understanding the importance of atmosphere on good digestion.

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Calmed and sated by our lunch, we ambled back through the sculptures of Green Meadow Park and took in the views of Alcatraz, Fisherman’s wharf and the bridge once more. Without the pressure of time and unknown geography and buoyed by an organic beer with lunch, we could relax into the beauty of the national park.

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Greens is worth an excursion, so close to the hackneyed San Francisco tourist sights but a million miles away from the urban tension. Choose it for the sheer simple flavours of the produce, inspiring natural design of the restaurant and the iconic views. But also for the path less travelled, which was as refreshing as the meal itself.

How to get to Greens

The walk from Fisherman’s wharf should take about 30 minutes, when you know where you’re going. Click the link for directions.

 

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New York highlights

Unexpected

Dogs – in Macy’s, on the street, in boutiques…

Pregnant women – especially at the Brooklyn markets, it’s a fecund borough

Frozen yoghurt – where our current epidemic started, let’s hope we find a cure…fast

Children playing in fountains on hot days

80s Brit pop – playing in stores and cafes, including quite a few indie bands from my youth, nostalgia city

Bipolar weather – either a chilly all day downpour or sunburn

Subway buskers – the best ever, amazing voices, strings and brass

Ten dollar psychics – on every street corner

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Art

Subway art – lovely surprises, including the subversive Tom Otterness Life Underground  bronzes in the nooks and crannies of ‘our’ 14th St station.

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Museum Mile – annual 5th Avenue street festival where 10 blocks are closed and museums open free for three hours. Visited the Guggenheim, The Met (including the Punk exhibition), listened to DJs, watched buskers and gasped at the glory of Central Park at sunset.

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Murals in the lobby of the Chrysler building (and you thought all the deco loveliness was on the outside?)

Dia:Beacon – perfect rainy day trip up the Hudson to Connecticut. For lovers of modern art only, this place is like entering the Tardis (“it’s a lot bigger on the inside”) Richard Sera, Warhol, Sol Le Witt all standouts as well as the most comfortable sofas ever experienced in an art gallery. Check out the Metro North Getaway Package for a reduced price train trip/museum entry.

MoMA PS1 worth a trip to Long Island, more modern art than you can poke a stick at, the eco themed Expo1 studded with gems from Meg Webster’s Pool to classic Ansel Adams prints.

 Food

Like the weather food is equally polarized. Equal number of vegan and porcine themed eateries, food stalls and products.

Markets – visited the Fort Greene and Union Square farmers markets, gobbled our way through the Brooklyn flea food stalls barely leaving room for a late afternoon trip to Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. IMG_2637

Food trucks – Van Leeuwen’s vegan ice cream was our fave.

So little time, so much amazing food to choose from !

 Architecture

The Empire State and Chrysler buildings around almost every corner. Viewed from Williamsburg, the Hudson, the Highline and all places in between.

Grand Central Terminus – best view from the mezanine Apple Store (tip: free wifi) at rush hour, watching all those busy little ants below and the star map above.

Frank Gehry’s IAC building – from the High Line, the Hudson, during the day, the magic twighlight zone when it’s see-through and at night.

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Ceilings to remember – Rose Main Reading Room and the NY Public library, Bethesda Terrace in Central Park and of course Grand Central.

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…and speaking of the High Line, it deserves it’s own post (here it is). We stayed two blocks from the start and walked 5 lengths of it during our stay. We were wowed during the day, loved it as a pedestrian express route uptown, a spot to drink an excellent morning coffee from Kava but it was on a summer’s night that it totally blew my mind and senses.

 Parks and gardens

While the High Line is a 21st century Central Park, it’s the pocket gardens the breath clean air into most neighbourhoods.

Jefferson Market Garden – a standout Greenwich Village green spot, lovingly tended by volunteers.

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Washington Square – for buskers, the fountain and food trucks.

And also

Happy Hour – what a wonderful institution. Cheap drinks, cheeky bartenders, chatting with the locals. Margaritas at Mole worth a detour. 

West Village – woke up to birdsong every morning, great neighbourhood bars and restaurants, espresso and a potential ‘Little Melbourne’ (can we start the trend and call it ‘LiMe’?) with Crumpler and Aesop around the corner. Plus the usual $10 psychics, healthfood stores and dogs.

Summer fruits, flowers and Tropical Storm Andrea.

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