Monday, March 31, 2008

Did I leave my heart in San Francisco?

I sit listening to the song by Tony Bennett entitled"I Left My Heart In San Francisco" searching for inspiration to describe my sentiments on the "city by the bay". I found San Francisco to be another busy city with people’s aim to get here and there. While not completely smitten by the city, I found pleasure in the surrounding areas. I solicited advice from friends before leaving on my trip so that I could be “in the know” about Frisco's hotspots. That was one of the wisest things that I could have done. Along with my Insight Guide book on San Francisco I sought out to enjoy what some have called a romantic city.

I enjoyed the obvious tourist sights such as Union Square, Golden Gate Bridge, North Beach and the like. I also challenged myself to find my own special interests apart from what I’ve been told. Here is a look at what I enjoyed.

Sausalito – I enjoyed the beach town of Sausalito and found it to be tranquil and charming. It is just far enough away from the city to be in another world. A slower pace and less crowded, Sausalito has mom-and-pop-owned restaurants (although disturbingly there is a Starbucks) and shops. We took advice from friends and hit the restaurant simply named “Hamburgers”. We ordered a cheeseburger, which is served with cheese from Finland. This hamburger was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. No trip to Sausalito can be complete without a stop at this burger joint. The line was out the door but orders came fast. This burger alone made the town of Sausalito a winner with us.

Golden Gate Park – Seeking more refuge from the busy city we sought out quiet spots in the Golden Gate Park. We walked around small ponds and took advantage of the photo opportunities in the Japanese Gardens. Since we thrive on beautiful parks and botanical gardens our day in the park was a Frisco highlight.

Cable Cars – Our first experience on a cable car came near the end of our trip. I am glad that we saved something that we had been in anticipation of for the end of our vacation. Jumping onto a crowded cable car and holding onto the side railing was one of the moments where we were able to appreciate and enjoy the character and history of this crowded city. Going up and down the steep hills of Frisco on this unique form of transit is one of the most exhilarating of ways to view the city.

Dining Out – One can spend years trying to visit all the restaurants and cafes in Frisco. There are a few restaurants that stand out in our mind as being the type of dining experience that you would expect in San Francisco.

400 Dewey Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94116

You will feel like you just walked into a Paris café when you enter Chouchou, with a twist of San Francisco sophistication that is. You will be greeted by a former Parisian in the typical French fashion, with a kiss on both cheeks. The menu has your appetite holding its breath until the food arrives at your table. All the senses are touched at Chouchou. We started with a spinach asparagus soup puree and a cheese plate. Holding on for the main course I had the Grilled Angus Flank Steak. Other guests in our party had the Baked Vegetarian Manicotti “Provencale” and the Duck Leg Confit. Each dinner was delicious-as we all tasted each others dinner. I would definitely return to this petite trendy restaurant, it satisfies both your craving for gourmet food and for France.

Panta Rei
431 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133

This ultra chic Italian restaurant in North Beach is the place to be seen at night. We however opted for a quiet lunch. We loved our dish, penne pasta filled with gorgonzola in a tomato sauce and fresh basil. Mama Mia! The service was quick and friendly with a little bit of Italian warmth.
The Crepe House
429 Gough Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

With three locations in Frisco it’s hard to miss the Crepe House. It is warm and cozy with a relaxing atmosphere and great prices. The Crepe House offers plenty of choices besides crepes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were directed here by frequent visitors to the bay area and were pleased to enjoy yet another quaint café. The portions were generous and tasty.

Understanding San Francisco
After contemplating my first experience in San Francisco I’ve reached the conclusion that it is a truly unique city among those in California. It differs greatly from Los Angeles, Monterey, San Diego and other beach cities in California.I enjoyed the diversity of Frisco and the endless dining options. I took in with ease my bay view from my hotel room. While I wasn’t inspired to poetry I am happy to have seen a part of California I have never seen before.

I confess that San Francisco did not steal my heart (apologies to Tony Bennett). My heart still belongs to Europe and more specifically France.What can I say? Enjoying a view, eating great food and exploring an unknown city is just another day in a European style life.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Art of Hospitality

An art that has nearly been lost is the art of hospitality. People lead very hectic lives and hospitality often ends up at the bottom of our “to do” list. In a time past, there was a certain excitement that took over the mood of the house during the anticipation of a guest’s arrival. Preparation might start several days before the “lookout” began. And when the time came, all the household including the servants would line up outside for a formal welcoming.

The art of hospitality is one that I truly enjoy indulging in. We’ve had guests from various parts of the world stay in our humble home. Yet, we’ve learned how to make even the most foreign of guests feel right at home. Here are my suggestions on how to provide superior hospitality on the occasion of overnight guests.

Have a welcome message. – I like to do this by using a decorative chalkboard in our guest room/office. I write on the board the guest’s name and what I plan to serve for breakfast in the morning. If your guest speaks another language other than your own, write out the message in their native language. HINT: You can look it up on the internet.

Plan out the details. – Is your guest from a foreign country? Why not search out some food items that are from your guest’s country and make them readily available for snacks. If your computer is password protected be sure to leave them the password. Make sure your guest has their own key.

Subtle touches. – Little luxuries go a long way with overnight guests. Think of yourself as the owner of a Bed and Breakfast. Provide travel size bottles of lotion and fancy soap. Perhaps giving a small welcome basket upon their arrival with some of their personal favorite items. If you are not sure what that might be, gourmet food items always do the trick. Example: wine, crackers, cookies, olives or fresh fruit. Fresh flowers add warmth to the room.

Be the first to rise in the morning. – Even if it is a mere 15 minutes before your guests rise much can be done. You can start the coffee and throw in a fresh batch of muffins or cookies into the oven. What a lovely way to wake up in the morning! Now, immediately after your guests wake they can enjoy a fresh cup of coffee and something to nibble on while breakfast is cooking or as they prepare to leave for the day’s activities.

Accessible Delectable. – It’s likely that you will do some special grocery shopping prior to guest’s arrival. You may ask your guest in advance of any food allergies or special likes and dislikes. Since you’ve gone through all the trouble and expense of having special food items, leave them out in eyes view for your guests to enjoy. Communicate to your guests that they are welcome to help themselves to whatever they need.

Sweet Dreams. – While your guests are enjoying breakfast discreetly enter their room and make their bed for them. In the evening, turn down the covers and add a small piece of chocolate on their pillows. Sprinkle pure lavender oil on thier pillow cases and offer a cup of hot tea before bedtime. Be sure to have an ample tea selection.

Coat or Sweater? – Your guests will be grateful if you print out a 10 day forecast for them. Leave it in an obvious place for them to see. If you can, email the forecast to them prior to their departure from their home for practical packing purposes.

What to do? – Prior to your guest’s arrival think of and be ready to provide a list options of places to go and places to eat. For places to eat, keep in mind all your local favorites and a wide variety of cuisine. Knowing where to shop to get all the best deals is always welcomed information.

Home Cooked Meals. – It may be difficult to coordinate the guest’s schedule of sightseeing with your daily routine but it’s worth a try. It may be possible with good planning to prepare dinner for your guests. A special meal and a nice bottle of wine will be appreciated as you spare them from another restaurant meal. This may also provide the opportunity for your guests to meet your friends.

Warm and Cozy. – Look for ways to make your guest feel at home. Making sure the temperature is right, have extra pillows, a soft blanket and anything else you can think of that is personal. The more personalized the visit the quicker you will see them get comfortable enough to put their feet up.

All your efforts will be appreciated and memorable. Your guests will feel as if they had visited a 5 star resort. They will long to return for another visit and will brag about your hospitality to all their friends. In the end, both the guest and host benefit. Even if it is their first time staying in your home, they leave your home as old friends. Offering warm hospitality is just another day in a European style life.

What are your favorite ways to express hospitality? Post a comment for all to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anniversary Dress-up

Each year I am completely enthusiastic about our anniversary. Saturday, March 22 is my 11th wedding anniversary. We are going to a special fondue lunch at a French restaurant and I am unsure what to wear. I happen to have two new dresses in my closet which I have been saving for the right moment. The weather will be 80 degrees and sunny. Which dress would you suggest?

Take the poll (right side bar or post a comment. I will post a picture of me wearing the winning dress. FYI, the dress that’s shown in white I actually bought in a seasonal yellow. Sharing fashion advise is just another day in a European style life.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Tivoli Salad

We came up with the idea of “Salad Day” at work (an attempt to get away from cakes and cookies). This challenged all to bring a variety of salads that would sustain us until dinner. With 12 ladies participating this was a challenge. I however resorted to my salad that I am famous for with friends and family (and now my co-workers), the Tivoli Salad.

Perfect for a spring day and filled with your favorite seasonal fruits it's like a party in your mouth. Eating a fresh salad on a warm sunny day is just another day in a European style life.

Tivoli Salad

Mixed Greens
1 ½ cup of chopped red apples or pears
1 ½ cup of sliced strawberries
½ cup of dried cranberries
½ cup of crumbled gorgonzola
½ cup of candied pecan pieces
Raspberry Vinegarette Dressing

Combine all ingredients together. Add in the dressing in small portions and toss the salad. You can also add chicken to the salad.