Flew up to San Jose on Alaska. Nice flight; may not have had all the bells and whistles, but had at least one bell and one whistle.
Aunt Fran and Uncle Don picked us up and they were so kind and generous to us throughout. First up was lunch at Santana Row at Left Bank. IIRC, we were joined by Greg & Christian, and Patty. Enjoyed the Croque-monsieur, even if my drink was a lot girlier than I expected. Got to chat with a few people, but ultimately the big event was lassagna dinner that night at Fran & Don's. In addition to the above, there was Jim-Holly-Marshall & Holly's mom, and Tom-Aidan-Cordelia, and Patty's beau, Jeff. Cordy cracks me up; I think she was born to be in sales and marketing. She designed a sign and distributed tickets for her dance performance in the living room. She also helped arrange publicity for Aidan. Last time I saw Christian, he must have been about 9, so it was neat to talk to him (now 16 or so) about trains, travel, and The Big Lebowski. Lots more chatting and catching up.
The next day, Don started the day by impressing Dr. Pookie with his scrambled eggs. Fran and Don drove us out to Filoli, a mansion and gardens a ways up the peninsula. The place is gorgeous, inside and out. From there we headed over to Princeton-by-the-Sea area of Half Moon Bay for a pleasant lunch. Fran wanted to visit a nursery on the way back, and it was a pretty ridiculous place, with all sorts of colorful and/or exotic plants. Excellent leftover lasagna for dinner.
In the morning, Don was working on biscuits. The man's a smooth talker, and cooks a mean breakfast. I'd say Fran is lucky, except that she's so wonderful too. They dropped us off at the train station, and we took the CalTrain into San Francisco (waving in the general direction of Prime and Megan as we drifted through Mountain View). We slowly divined the nature of the bus system, and just in time! Other tourists asked us how it worked, and with our new-found expertise, helped them get to Union Square (which coincidentally was near our hotel). Along the way, we picked up a huge number of other passengers, and we squeezed our way out, waving frantically for our new-found friends to also find their way out.
A few blocks down, we found our hotel, the Hotel California (obligatory joke). Celebrating its 100th year, the hotel's gimmick is to offer a shot of tequila to new guests (and free wine & cheese every evening). After trains and buses, the shot was welcome. The original (I assume) elevator is an antique Otis, with a 1,250 lb weight limit. Americans being the size they are, the passenger limit is 4. Perfectly nice place, but right on the border between Union Square and the Tenderloin. Going toward Union Square, you'll see a few homeless people -- no biggy. Going toward Market Street, you'll put your wallet in your sock and reach for your rape whistle.
Hopped on a bus that took us to Golden Gate Park, where we took in several sights. The Conservatory of Flowers is "the oldest municipal wooden conservatory remaining in the United States". Lush tropical plants, and (when we visited) a great butterfly display. We also took in the CA Academy of Sciences, with its nifty green roof. Really excellent aquarium. At one point you walk through a clear plexi tube underwater beneath a rainforest-y area. Later, there's a huge sphere that you spiral up, with the same rainforest inside, so you see it from below water, up to the canopy. And more butterflies up there, too. Get to watch the penguins swimming around underwater, and skates and rays and sharks. And an albino alligator. Lots of other exhibits, too. A great place.
Across the way is the De Young, with a nice park and music shell in between. We didn't go in the art museum, but you can take an elevator up to the observation deck to get some nice pictures of the city from up above.
The bus trip back took us through Haight-Ashbury. Then later that evening, we made our way to Luce. It occurred to Dr. Pookie that we could have dinner at a place with a Michelin star. It did not disappoint. Everything was made with such care and delicacy. I'm not really much of a gourmet or gourmand, but after long decades of slow training I've worked my way up to a point where I could appreciate how good this was. From the little curls of zucchini with hypercondensed basil essence as a pre-appetizer appetizer to the last sip of port, it was all amazing. Let me crib from and expand on my Yelp review:
I started with the asparagus. Some of the stalks had just been cut, while others had been mandolined or something into thin slivers. The tiny dots of lemon curd were amazingly packed with flavor and really made the dish.
I had a bit of my Dr. Pookie's sweetbreads ravioli, and it was very tasty (though now I'm a little disturbed at how vague 'sweetbreads' is -- I always thought it was pancreas, but googling around... "Sweetbreads or ris are culinary names for the thymus or the pancreas especially of the calf and lamb. Various other glands used as food are also called "sweetbreads", including the parotid gland, the sublingual glands, and testicles."). But we agreed that I had won the appetizer battle.
For an entree, I had the lamb loin with crispy belly fat, cilantro(?) sauce, carmelized baby carrots, yogurt and granola bar. The loins were ridiculously clean and even looking, cooked to perfection, and magnificent with the green sauce and/or yogurt. The belly fat was a revelation. Though not really my sort of thing, it was still tasty, and the small portion made it just the right amount. It was clear that this is what they had been aiming for at 9 Olives in Hollywood... and missed (see #4). The carrots were fantastic, and the sweet carmelized ends were the best. The only thing that seemed completely out of place was the granola bar. Skip it and you'll be even happier.
My companion had the ribeye, and the chunk I tasted was done perfectly, but I wouldn't trade. I won round two.
For dessert, I opted for 'Textures of Pistachio and Cherry'. I don't remember all the individual bits and pieces, but it was all lovely. My companion had a variety of ices and mousses. The hazelnut ice was her favorite. Eating a bite, you feel tiny ice crystals, which immediately melt, leaving hazelnut essence filling your mouth. She claims she won the dessert round, but I think it was close to a tie.
The Ridge Zinfandel was an excellent complement to both meals (if I do say so myself). I remembered Ridge fondly from our trip to Napa, and it didn't disappoint.
I finished with a nice port.
That'll do for part I.