Dancing at Sea: I Left my Heart...
Monday May 11 The Gourmet San Francisco Food and Sonoma Wine Tour
Part 1. The Food
We docked in San Francisco around 8 am and were scheduled to depart at 10 pm that evening. I had chosen the tour that left at 8:45 and would be back to the ship by 4:45 pm, leaving time for a quick shower and change from jeans into dancing attire. Unlike Santa Barbara where we had to anchor out in the harbor, the Sapphire Princess docked at the pier so for this tour, this ticket indicated that we should meet at the tour bus on the pier. Hmmm... well I guess there will be signs and plenty of helpful cruise staff to direct us to the right bus.
After another 3 hours of late night dancing, getting to sleep after 1 am again, and needing to get up early for the tour, I figured that I would need all the extra sleep time I could get. So I thought it would be a good time to try out the room service breakfast. Unlike in a hotel, there is no extra charge for getting a continental breakfast delivered to your cabin. So I hung out the form requesting my breakfast at 7:30 and to my surprise the breakfast was actually delivered promptly at 7:30 - how do they do that with the huge numbers of people on board?
By 8 I was showered,and dressed, and with fruit, yogurt and a couple of cups of coffee in my tummy, my notebook and camera in my purse, and I was ready to taste and drink the best of San Francisco and Sonoma. We board the bus. This time our group was a little smaller- maybe 30 people including the tour guide, Jim, and John “from the office” who was called in to help with the in-city part of the tour. It is 9 am and we are eager to get going.
The tour guide is pacing outside the bus and checking a list. A frantic-looking lady gets into the bus and calls out “Have you seen Nick?” Nick apparently decided to go and get a coffee and is nowhere to be seen. The minutes tick by. The tour guide is pacing. Nick's wife is hovering. Eventually Nick saunters up to the guide, coffee in hand, blissfully indifferent to the fact that a bus-full of strangers have been kept waiting for him. I think that this is going to be another interesting day.
We set off up Nob Hill into town, driving into the Chinatown and North beach area. Our first stop Jim announces is going to be in Chinatown for dim sum. I check my watch – 9:10 and I am still feeling comfortably full from breakfast. The tour description had not mentioned that the very first stop would be for dim sum; in fact dim sum was not specifically mentioned at all. Had I known, I would have probably just had coffee. So for anyone thinking of doing this tour, you may want to check about the dim sum stop and skip breakfast.
Our group gets off the bus and the reason they need two guides becomes apparent. We have to split into two as th dim sum eatery cant seat more than about 16 people at a time. I stick with the group going into You's Dim Sum. Yup- that's what it is called. One of the men in the group grumbles loudly to Jim that he had just had breakfast and it was too early to eat. Jim politely points out that the eating is optional and he could simply observe everyone esle eating the food. The grumbling subsides but a little while later in the cafe I notice that the grumbler is chowing down on the food with gusto just like everyone else.
I think of dim sum as a form of Chinese cuisine that is served in our large Vancouver Chinese restaurants at lunch time but these small light dishes served with Chinese tea are actually a morning tradition. I suppose that we also have small dim sum cafes in Vancouver but I have never been to one. I make a mental note to check this out when I get home, with my friend Susan, a font of knowledge about all things Chinese.
A potsticker, a vegetarian dumpling wrapped in a translucent riceflour skin), a shrimp shaomai, a pork dumpling and what I think he said was sharks fin with pork.
Anyway whatever they were, they were delicious but very filling.
Now absolutely stuffed to the gills, I am relieved to hear that we are going to walk a few blocks to the Fortune Cookie Factory which is up a little alley known as the Street of Gamblers. As we stroll through Chinatown I am struck by a sense of familiarity. Back in Vancouver I live about a twenty minute walk from our own Chinatown, and the shops here, fo example the herbal medicine places look exactly the same.
Jim tells us that the fortune cookie which I think of as quintessential North American Chinese restaurant was actually originally invented by the Japanese to serve with tea. We take turns going into the narrow shop to watch the cookie making process. I will show it in my brief video if I can figure out how to upload it.. Several people come out with bags of the cookies. I am satisfied with my sample.
Next we are off for gourmet coffee tasting and pastries in North Beach. We stop at MELT, European Coffee and Wine Bar. The coffee is great and they have laid out trays of tempting but very large pastries. I spot a chocolate croissant – it is huge. Even with 3 hours of dance each night I fear disembarking looking like a blimp. I ask the woman behind the counter if she has a knife so I can cut off a piece to taste. She tells me to take the whole one and leave what I don't want.
I spot a newspaper - The Onion. A strange headline catches my eye – something about God touching down in a local church - weird I think, only in San Francisco. A minute into skimming the article I realize that the whole paper is one spoof article after another and I can't resist reading the rest. Before I know it I have chocolate all over my fingers and there is only one tiny portion of the croissant left. Dang! That had to be 1000 calories at least - on top of breakfast and dim sum. I really need to get a lot of high energy dances in tonight!
We take a walk up the hill opposite Washington Park to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul - Two saints sharing a church? I guess they wanted to make doubly sure of attention from on high! Apparently Joe Dimaggio and Marilyn Monroe had their post-wedding photos taken on the steps. Like good tourists we all pose and Jim obliging takes our pictures.
After people have wandered inside to admire the interior, John sets off down the hill again, telling us that the next stop is for Irish coffee at La Rocca's. We retrace our steps past MELT. This is John's “hood” and he points out his apartment just opposite the coffee shop. It is about a 5 minute walk to La Rocca. We all pile into the pub and find seats. John charges around distributing large Irish Coffees to everyone.
Now I don't really drink alcohol from any sources other than grapes. Love wine- just don't like beer, whisky, rum etc.
So I don't usually drink Irish Coffee but what the heck – today I gotta live dangerously!
I decide I will need evidence for my family to believe that I actually drank one so I get my table mates to take a photo. Then I sip. The cream is great and I sip the coffee through it. I think the coffee probably is good but wham – the whisky is strong. I took a few sips- I really tried – but if I had finished the drink someone would have had to carry me back to the bus. And it is barely 11:15! So there are the before and after pictures - of the coffee that is.
We all pile back onto the bus. We are heading to Cioppino's Seafood at the Wharf for lunch. LUNCH!
Well the description promised lunch at a fine restaurant. We are greeted with many smiles by the staff and seated at three long tables. Baskets of bread are set out. I decide to go very slow on the bread; I am eager to taste some of the famed Gourmet San Francisco sea food.
Bowls of steamng clam chowder are distributed. I decline mine - Although I love most other forms of sea food, I avoid clams and mussels in any form after a really really bad mussel experience. it was probably 20 years ago but the memory lingers on!
A quick consultation among the wait staff and a bowl of minestrone is set before me. I don't want to tell them that I don't want it after they obviously were trying to please, so I sip the broth and wonder what the main course will be. Well quelle surprise. The soup and bread was it. .
We are ushered out of the restaurant and onto the bus for the drive to Sonoma. I wish I had known that the soup and bread was all we were getting. I would have had a bit more of the bread. Well I guess they did not specifiy what lunch meant - but still. .There is a bit of grumbling- others had expected more of a meal too, but it soon subsided as we headed out towards the Golden Gate Bridge and wine country.