On most nights the queue for a table at San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions begins hours before opening.
Locals and tourists alike willingly endure two hour, sometimes three hour, waits to dine at one of the hottest tables in town, a trend that has been happily embraced by its West Coast cousin for decades.
After all, New Yorkers seem to feel nothing is worth having unless they have to wait for it. Could San Francisco be morphing into New York? New York Magazine thinks so, writing that San Francisco, newly flushed with wealth, and infatuated with power and status, was “more New York-ish than New York itself”.
A visit to the private members club, The Battery, which opened almost a year ago in San Francisco’s Financial district, certainly feels very New York.
Attracting “creative” types, many from nearby Silicon Valley, the five-level establishment comprises a vast super swanky bar area, restaurant, a wine cellar, a library, meeting rooms, a gym and spa, an outdoor garden and 14 hotel rooms, including a $10,000 a night penthouse suite.
At the unmarked bar, mixologists carefully craft whiskey and bourbon laced cocktails in the dimly lit space, which is packed most nights
Unless you can find a friend who is a member of The Battery, you will have to go elsewhere, perhaps to Bourbon and Branch, a speakeasy bar which only requires a password to get in and no monthly fees.
At the unmarked bar, mixologists carefully craft whiskey and bourbon laced cocktails in the dimly lit space, which is packed most nights. Reservations are required to ‘open sesame’ so to speak.
Dining opportunities abound in San Francisco, but like New York, some of the hip new restaurants which take a mammoth time to nab a reservation, can fail to live up to the hype.
That was our feeling after dining at State Bird Provisions, which is a Western style dim sum – known as yum cha in Australia – restaurant in San Francisco’s Fillmore district.
While we found the experience was novel at this much-lauded restaurant (where actor Ryan Gosling was recently spotted) we were left a little disappointed. Would we return? Probably not.
Thankfully, our dining experience at legendary San Francisco restaurant, Acquerello, was a different story. Established almost 25 years ago, the high end Italian is reminiscent of New York’s Gotham Bar And Grill, institutions which have stood the test of time, due to their superb food and impeccable service.
Our tasting menu included such sumptuous delights as the beautifully presented Ahi tuna crudo with grapes, pickled green strawberries, rosemary, black olive; ricotta filled tomato raviolini, oven roasted tomatoes, Balsamico Tradizionale which was bursting with flavour; and Thai basil Acquerello risotto with poached mussels, scallops, and Tiger prawns.
Local purveyors sell delicacies including cheese, bread and ice cream, and there is no shortage of places to grab lunch
For a more casual experience, Acquerello’s sister restaurant, 1760, is nearby, also in Nob Hill, and offers sharing plates and a vast wine and cocktail menu.
An area worth exploring is San Francisco’s Mission District, which is undergoing a sort of “gentrification” due to the influx of Silicon Valley techies into the largely immigrant community, a move that has attracted plenty of controversy.
The district took second spot on Forbes’ list of America’s Best Hipster Neighbourhoods, and in many ways it resembles New York’s Lower East Side or Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, with its quirky stores, galleries, cafes, and street art.
We spent a few hours strolling down Valencia Street, between 16th to 24th streets. Look out for Paxton Gate, which has some eye-catching taxidermy, and Beta Brand, a hip clothes store which specialises in limited-batch pants, jackets and bags.
The Mission district, long home to Hispanic immigrants, is the place to sample some Mexican food. Try El Toro Taqueria for $1.50 tacos and cheap burritos, served by Mexican mamas.
Where to stay
For accommodation in San Francisco, boutique hotels are proving a drawcard and include the Clift Hotel described as old world elegance with contemporary glamour, as well as the Hotel G.
Reliable hotel favourites include the centrally located Four Seasons which boasts a great high-rise glass-to-ceiling restaurant, MKT. The coffee was excellent (hard to find in America), enhanced I’m sure by the accompanying mini plate of salted caramel truffles.
Foodies should head to the Ferry Building Marketplace, which is similar to New York’s Chelsea Market but has the bonus of being on the waterfront. Local purveyors sell delicacies including cheese, bread and ice cream, and there is no shortage of places to grab lunch, including the famed nouveau Vietnamese eatery, the Slanted Door.
Prime spot for lunch is on the benches on the promenade or visitors can dine at an array of outdoor restaurants, including the Hog Island Oyster Co where we found ourselves on a sunny afternoon.
Over a bottle of crisp sauvignon blanc and a platter of seafood, and with the stunning San Francisco Bay before us, it felt a very long way from the craziness of New York.
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