Monday, August 1, 2011

walkin' in berkeley (SF part 2)

Before continuing the picture parade, I realized I left out one of the most memorable parts of our karaoke experience, so we'll pick up with my inventive rendition of "Walking in Memphis" (inventive because it's been a while since I've heard it so I made up parts of the melody that I forgot...oops!  no one seemed to notice, though - tip from a music teacher: if you are confident in your mistakes, no one will know you made one).  Anyway, there was a group of about 8 reeeeaallly drunk 20somethings close to the stage and by the time I sang my last song, they were singing along with everyone and dancing to everything.  One of the girls had fabulous legs and she knew it, since she was wearing a micro-minidress and apparently doing high kicks to impress her boy-toy and showing off a bit more than she needed to.  I'll censor one of the comments my sister and her friend made, but this one needs to go down in history (inserted inflated sense of importance here):

"I felt like I was watching a peep show with my sister singing in the background."

There ya have it, folks.  Glad I could entertain.  Moving on....

Sunday morning we packed up our things and checked out of The Chancellor because Sister's company was picking up the tab at the Oakland hotel we were staying at until Tuesday.  After checking out, we took BART to downtown Oakland (which I learned upon my return home is the 5th most dangerous city in the USA) and checked in at The Waterfront on Jack London Square, overlooking - you guessed it - the water!  The room had a charming nautical theme and was a bit larger than our room in Union Square.  It also had a Keurig, which is really all you need to make me happy.

Best Do Not Disturb sign ever

Between the BART station and the hotel, we passed two Starbucks and I'll tell you - people in the Bay Area take their coffee seriously - every Starbucks we passed while we were out there had a line to the door and every table was taken.  I've never seen anything like that in Philly, but then, we have an almost snobby "need" to patronize indie coffee shops.

After getting settled in the new room, we headed up to Berkeley, my mouth watering just thinking of the cinnamon bun I was only minutes away from eating.  We made our way to Cinnaholic and I was stunned with all the choices.  I realized I was just going to have to make a decision and regret that I couldn't come back every week until I'd tried them all (and gained about 10 lbs).

Sister chose the Blackberry Pie bun: vanilla frosting with blackberries and pecans and a sprinkle of streusel topping.

After much deliberation, I ordered a cinnamon bun with butterscotch frosting and bananas.  It was insanely tasty.  I thought it was funny how they made the frosting (since I was watching everything like a hungry vegan hawk); there was a big bowl of pre-made vanilla frosting and they added the desired flavor to it (in this case, butterscotch), but it still looked like vanilla.  The bananas were perfectly ripe and the whole experience was just incredible.  As I was waiting for my bun, I spied something irresistible in the corner of my eye.

And so I came to be the proud owner of a 16 oz Cinnaholic travel mug.  At the time this picture was taken, it was also full of freshly brewed coffee mixed with Silk French Vanilla creamer.  Heaven!

After the buns, we walked around town a bit to burn off the calories.  While I don't doubt a dieter would get into serious trouble there, the buns were actually not that big - they were smaller than a Cinnabon which is the food equivalent of Death, I think.

Sister ducked into a coffeeshop (Peet's, not SBUX, so she could get a table) to work on something she was presenting at her conference while I wandered the streets of Berkeley and visited a few bookstores, emerging victoriously with a book I'd been searching for for years (2nd in a series of which I already possess the 1st and 3rd books).  We were meeting up with a couple of her friends for dinner, but were a little ahead of schedule, so while we waited for them to show up, we decided to make a little Happy Hour action happen.

Completely by accident, we ended up in a beer garden called Jupiter.  The reason we found this amusing enough to commemorate with a photo is that our dinner plans involved the Saturn Cafe!

We met Sister's friend and her boyfriend at Jupiter and headed over to Saturn together after we finished our Ciders (yes, we drink the hard stuff).  It was funny being at a vegan/vegetarian diner with three omnivores because they were both intrigued by the menu but also felt like they needed to state how they don't actually eat meat all that frequently... such an interesting phenomenon - I've even noticed my mother saying that to me more, as though my lifestyle demands reckoning of their own.

Anyway, we started out with a not-so-healthy appetizer just to nail down that "vegetarian" does not always equal "healthy."

potato fries, onion rings, sweet potato fries, taquitos and some kind of ranch-y lookin' dip

Then we all ordered burgers, which came with more fries.  I was thinking of getting a vegan milkshake, too, but decided that between the burger (which was quite substantial!), fries, and earlier cinnamon bun, I didn't really need those calories.

As you can see, the food was incredibly colorful!  Isn't it just astonishing what fresh ingredients can do?  Sister went with the California Burger, made with organic veggies and a slice of local jack cheese, accompanied by the standard burger toppings, as well as avocado - they put that on everything out there, don't they? No complaints here!

Hers took a prettier picture but I was pretty darn happy with my Guacamole Burger - an organic veggie patty topped with house-made guacamole and salsa - and a very generous quantity, too!  We both selected sweet potato fries because they are such a novelty to us East Coasters (I don't care if she currently lives in Arizona, they still don't have sweet potato fries there, either).

Sister's friend and her boyfriend shared a Portobello Burger with a side salad - they were far more responsible than Sister and I, but we normally eat very moderately, so we felt like it was alright to splurge, especially with all the walking around we'd been doing.

Speaking of which, after we stuffed ourselves with dinner, we wandered around University of California's Berkeley campus before getting back on BART and returning to Oakland.  From our travel from downtown San Francisco to Oakland and then to Berkeley and back, my sister proudly dubbed us Public Transit Queens until I had to go and rain on her parade by pointing out we were just barely skimming the surface of my daily commute to work.

We retired early because Sister had to be up very early the next morning for her work conference.  I got up shortly after she left and made my way back to San Francisco because I wanted to visit the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  I mean, I heard they had vegan donuts - how could I resist finding out if that was true?  Also, a friend told me I had to try Blue Bottle Coffee while out in San Fran.

It turns out they do have vegan donuts.  Tucked away in a dark corridor near Sur La Table, Pepples Donuts were everything I wanted them to be - cakey and dense, moist and sweet... I got a Salted Caramel donut and I can't describe how satisfying the crunch of coarse salt sprinkled over sweet icing was.

I wandered along the corridors, seeing specialty shops of all ilk - salted pig bits, a creamery, a butcher, a couple of confectioners, a honey stand, a jam stand, assorted ethnic food kiosks, a couple of actual grocers, a little corner devoted to tofu (!), and plenty of trendy looking restaurants.  One loooonnng line caught my attention and I was not at all surprised to find that it led into Blue Bottle Coffee, so I took my place and waited for my super-hip pour-over brew.  While waiting, I looked at their merch and found a couple of gift-worthy coffees, so I left with a cup of fabulous coffee (you are so right, Kelly, and I'm glad Pure Food serves this coffee for an East Coast fix!) and two bags of beans - Bella Donovan for my sister, Giant Steps for me and Mister.  My favorite line from the description of our Sumatra-Uganda blend is "if it were any heavier-bodied, you could pour it on pancakes."  In all seriousness, it was some of the richest coffee I've ever had - it was very similar to espresso.

After walking the market back and forth a couple of times, I went out on the back deck pier, overlooking a gorgeous setting while I drank my coffee.

After mourning my East Coast anchor, I took one more pass of the market, including a short pit stop in the ladies room, then headed back to BART and north to Berkeley to have lunch in another spot I didn't want to go home without hitting.

I scoped out Cafe Gratitude while wandering around Berkeley before dinner the day before, but there simply wasn't enough time between our Cinnaholic "lunch" and Saturn dinner to squeeze in even low-cal "living" food, so I figured I'd lunch there while Sister worked.

The menu is amazing - I very much encourage you to check it out, not only for the actual food descriptions but also for the names!  I'll admit, ordering felt a little bit awkward, but I figured the nice lady behind the counter had probably watched plenty of non-crunchy folks fumble through their orders before.  The really fun part was that when she brought out the various components of my order (that is, my beverage and entree), she turned the affirmation around on me, saying "You are [insert fruity affirmation here]."

I am Effervescent
(lemon + ginger + agave + sparkling water)
incredibly refreshing and no flavor overwhelmed the others

I am Fortified
(quinoa + steamed veg + avocado + sunflower sprouts + sesame-ginger dressing)
completely satisfying, hunger- and taste-wise; aptly named!

After my life-affirming lunch, I wandered back through Berkeley, taking my time observing the amusing interactions between college kids, John Mayer Wannabes with a guitar, their voice, and a hat for cash, and homeless folks trying to sell "newspapers."  Intriguing culture, really.  It occurred to me to double back over to Saturn Cafe to see about that "milk"shake for dessert, but then I came upon Gelateria Naia, which had a stunning selection of vegan gelato.

I got the small size, which consisted of two scoops, so I chose Mint and Cookies 'n' Cream (the irony was not lost on me).  It really hit the sweet spot on my tongue, though I must say, the Cookies 'n' Cream could have been a bit more flavorful.  The Mint, however, was sublime and I was thrilled to see flecks of real mint in the gelato.

When I'd finished my gelato (and numbed my lips!), I got back on BART and returned to the hotel just in time to join Sister for her company's wine (and cheese) reception in the lobby of the hotel.

It is indescribably bizarre to walk into a room in July and see a fire burning in the fireplace.  It is even more bizarre to be excited and grateful for that, but I was and Sister claimed the seat closest to the fire.

After some amusing and slightly rowdy conversation with a few of Sister's colleagues, we headed to the room to pretty up for dinner.  Ever the Public Transit Queens, we hopped back on BART and returned to Berkeley at my suggestion for dinner (thanks for the tip - again - Jackie!) at Herbivore.

We started dinner with a couple of cocktails - a Mad Cow for me (kahlua + amaretto + vanilla soy milk) and a dirty martini for James Bond my sister.

We shared Sister's greens-n-beets salad, as well as an order of Bruschetta that appeared to be coated with a sprinkling of sumac for reasons I will probably never understand.  It was interesting, but the tomatoes and basil could have been marinated in olive oil and lemon juice with a bit of garlic for flavor, in my opinion.  There are way too many Italian restaurants with close proximity to my home...

Although there were many amazing things on the menu, I could not escape a need to order the Macaroni and "Cheese".  I've steered pretty clear of the obsession with vegan Mac 'n' Cheese so far, but eventually, if you hear about something enough, you have to just go for it.

I was not sorry - it was as delicious as it is attractive.  I was also quite happy about the broccoli.  Despite my best intentions, when I travel I turn into Captain Junkfood and feel completely justified in eating all manner of NotGreenThings.  Granted, my Fortified lunch was totally, unavoidably healthy, but aside from that, I didn't exactly seek out vegetables.  Whenever I do that, this moment comes when I have an irrepressible obsession with veggies - although that did not happen this time, I think the kale at Gracias Madre and the broccoli at Herbivore (and everything at Cafe Gratitude) helped keep it at bay.

Ever the curry-lover, Sister got Coconut Noodle Soup, which shamed me with its BrimmingWithVegetables-ness.  Once again too stuffed for dessert, we returned to the hotel for a nightcap at Miss Pearl's Jam House.

The next day was Leaving Day.  My flight actually ended up getting cancelled and I was rebooked on a flight that left 10 hours later, so I waited for sister to get finished her conference, then we went back to the Ferry Market, ate another donut, drank more coffee, looked out over the bay, and then took the ferry back to the hotel before heading to our separate airports (she flew out of Oakland, I flew from San Francisco).  I had plenty of time to kill, since my flight didn't leave until 11, so I discovered:

  • how easy it is to get through security when everyone is bored - seriously, there was no line.
  • how easy it is to get a seat at the only restaurant in the terminal when there are no flights for a couple of hours.
  • how tasty a Lemon Drop really is.
  • what restaurants do when they run out of silverware.

again with the avocado - do you see it peeking from beneath the bun?

apparently, plastic knives are a completely acceptable 
substitution if you run out of "real" knives.

So there you have it!  I'm pretty sure no one wants to hear how much it sucked getting home (San Fran to Detroit was the most turbulent flight ever) or how after two planes, two trains, a bus, and a few blocks I finally walked through my front door at 11AM, crawled into bed and completely messed up my schedule by sleeping until 4PM, and then went food shopping and made dinner for the first time in 5 days... but if you do, then there's always tomorrow's post!


  1. I wrote a nice long comment, then Blogger ate it. Hmphm! Anyway, take two...

    I loved it down at the Ferry Terminal, sitting there in the sun eating lunch (I got salad from Hodo Soy Beanery - was that the tofu corner you saw?) and a cinnamon sugar Pepple's donut (my first donut in over a decade) and watching the water and the boats and the people... heaven!! Did you go and see the sea lions at Pier 39?

    I went to one of the Cafe Grattitudes in San Francisco in the Mission. It was cute and quirky there, I enjoyed ordering my I Am Conforted and I Am Cool and I Am Awakened!

    I didn't get to the East Bay at all, so your posts there are all new to me! I debated long and hard if I would get to Cinnaholic, but didn't have time in the end, but one day I hope to make it to the Berkeley and go to all the great places they have there!

    I must hurry up with blogging about my own US trip, I haven't gotten to my San Francisco posts yet, so you can see what I ate and compare. ;)

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed Herbivore! I've always wanted to hit up the Ferry Market but my husband sleeps laaaate & we always seem to miss it.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Susan - Yes, Hodo was the tofu corner and I really wanted to get some, but I'd already determined to lunch at Cafe Gratitude and refrigerated things don't travel well from Cali to Pennsy, so.... I didn't see the sea lions, I was hungry ;)

    Jackie - The Market itself if open until about 6pm and that encompassed everything I wrote about - I missed the FarMar, too :) Pepples donuts are there all the time in a dark hallway across from Sur La Table (in other words, GO) and there are a bunch of other great stores that are just part of the building - a spice/olive oil/balsamic vinegar store (fab!), the Hodo Soy Beanery is just across from Blue Bottle Coffee - which isn't to be missed, regardless of the line. There were a few actual grocery markets but they had a really high mark-up (or I just don't get NorCal pricing) but there were also a bunch of restaurants with seating on the pier that overlooks the bay which I totally would have gone back to if I was there longer. If you go, let me know what you think!