And so, we come to the end

When we landed in San Francisco, I was giddy with excitement at the thought that we had another week(ish) of our trip. But as the nights blended into days, and as the week progressed more quickly than either of us wanted, we started toying with the idea of just not getting on the plane on Friday.

Complimentary wine tasting & shoulder massages at Hotel Monaco Happy Hour

Each of our dining experiences for the rest of our trip followed a “Part II” theme, in that they had made such an incredible first impressions, we elected to go back…or in my case, visit for the first time. During the day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I was taking notes at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). Tuesday evening after conferencing wrapped up, I met Jason in the lobby of the hotel, where we enjoyed complimentary wine tasting and shoulder massages. (And you wonder why we wanted to stay…) I had to dash back over to NTC for an evening session of Ignite presentations, but then Jason and I rejoined for an incredible dinner at Le Colonial. Le Colonial is Vietnamese-inspired food prepared by French chefs, and the atmosphere feels romantic, as if we were having a dinner in early twentieth century Vietnam (mind you, I have no clue what that might actually have been like.)  Jason had an incredible coconut curry dish with black tiger prawns, and I dug my way into a pouch of banana leaves housing a delicate sea bass. We also split a salt and pepper tofu side dish, which was fabulous. Although he had visited the restaurant on a previous visit to San Francisco, it was absolutely worth a second trip.

Wednesday night, we met up with my longest and oldest friend, Thomas, and his lovely fiancee, Liz, for dinner at the Salt House.  Thomas had eaten at the restaurant two nights prior, and the chicken had made such an impression on him that he suggested the restaurant for our rendezvous. The boys, unsurprisingly, had the chicken; Liz enjoyed Thomas’s “other favorite”, the pork chop, while I devoured a melt-off-the-bone lamb shank. I think we may have had a shrimp appetizer too, but that lamb is permanently wedged in my brain. It seems only fitting that I should begin and end the trip with a meat I’ve been avoiding for years.

Thomas and I lived around the corner from each other growing up. He taught me how to trick-or-treat a nd shot nerf guns at me when I was in a wheelchair; I taught him how to spell and permanently scarred him against cats, when I lured one of mine into his sleeping bag one night. His mother, Linda, taught me English while I was out of school during chemotherapy treatments, and together we suffered through reading Tom Sawyer together. Though we have bounced around to different cities since those childhood days in Plainfield, I always try to make a point to see him whenever we happen to be in the same place – if only because Thomas remains one of the few people who can consistently make me laugh til I cry. I’m so thrilled to see he has found a wonderful person to share his life with, and I wish them the best!

Pickled quail eggs

Thursday morning before conferencing, Jason and I enjoyed a lovely coffee and brunch at a French bistro on Union Square and walked around enjoying the beautiful morning. Friday evening, we departed from the square and took several buses up the hills of San Francisco toward Haight & Ashbury, a neighborhood that has all of the charm of NYC’s East Village, but doesn’t give me the flight response that I normally feel in Manhattan. We strolled down to Golden Gate Park, and as the sun started to set, we headed toward The Alembic for a cocktail. For comparison’s sake, Jason enjoyed a Sazerac, while I was drawn in by the name and description of a special cocktail. (Those who know Lake George will appreciate this one.)

The Poop Deck Cocktail: It’s hard to resist a cocktail with a nautical theme (or scatological reference for that matter). this classic cocktail blends cognac, port wine, and blackberry brandy, making for smooth sailing on stormy seas. overindulgence, however, could send a wave up over your stern.

I’m not sure it sent waves up over my stern, but it was a nice accompaniment to our appetizer of pickled quail eggs and sumac chips with yogurt dip. Leave it to us to find a hip cocktail bar in any city, and then order the most obscure items.

Crispy scrapple - for Cory

From the Alembic, we headed up to Magnolia Brewpub and added our name to the list. The wait was long, so we wound up killing time in a clothing boutique, where the ladies lavished sparkling wine and cupcakes on Jason (probably hoping to distract him while I bought something.) Once Jason had been thoroughly sweetened up, we grabbed a beer at a crepe shop, and then returned to the Magnolia, another place Jason had been to before.

Perhaps because the quail eggs weren’t especially filling or perhaps because we wound up eating so late, we let our eyes do the ordering and elected to worry about our stomachs later. We feasted on decadent cheeses, “devils on horseback” (stuffed dates), charred asparagus, fried chicken, lamb merguez sausage, Louisiana boudin sausage, and crispy scrapple.  Oh yes, I did just write scrapple; we ordered that one in honor of Jason’s friend Cory, and it was delicious, though our stomachs did ultimately win the  battle.

As I struggled not to fall asleep that night, I felt a bit like I used to as a child on Christmas. Maybe, if I stay awake, I can slow time down to a crawl and prolong the inevitable. Then, I desperately did not want my favorite holiday to end; this time, I was hoping to make the trip last just a bit longer.

Never in my life have I taken a trip like this, completely zoning out from my day-to-day for three weeks of adventure and learning, with just one travel companion. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt zen -completely calm and content within the moment, without giving a thought to the hours ahead or behind me. I wanted to believe that it was the place — that San Francisco is my new Boston, a city that just feels right to me, for reasons beyond my grasp – but I think the credit needs to be fairly divided among all of the places we visited, the delicious food we ate, the wonderful friends and family we connected with along the way, hours of driving through the desert, each other, and, of course, our trusty little Ford Focus.