Tired, happy, and full in San Francisco

Rosamunde's Sausage Grill

After a day of walking up and down hills, good food, great friends, and free-flowing drinks, I’m happily exhausted. I love how that’s the way things are on visits to San Francisco.

When Jan had a bachelor party to attend in the city and suggested I drive up with him and spend time with our friend Lucy, I quickly agreed.

After arriving at Lucy’s in Haight Ashbury, our first stop, before we could do anything else, was to get Jan some serious food. We walked to Rosamunde’s Sausage Grill, where Jan ordered the nuernberger bratwurst (savory pork). We waited in the small restaurant, which had a handful of barstools lining the counters at the front windows.

Two sausages were grilled and served with sauerkraut and peppers on a toasted French roll. This was the kind of gourmet hot dog Jan had been dreaming of. But we had to get back in time to head off for the picnic Lucy planned, so we tested the to-go qualities of the bun as we walked back to get the rest of the picnic ready. Jan might have had mustard all over his face, but he could now carve the chicken Lucy had roasted earlier without dying of hunger.

While Jan headed off to meet the boys at AT&T Park for a Giants game, Lucy and I caught the bus and headed toward the Presidio.

The multi-million dollar view

We met friends at the top of the Lyon steps at Lyon and Broadway, enjoying a beautiful view on a sunny day. Then we walked into the adjacent Presidio in search of a good picnic spot. Our map hadn’t told us of all the construction projects going on where picnic tables had been listed, but we finally found a table hidden away between rows of converted army housing.

Not your average picnic

Lucy was a picnic pro, and I was so impressed that she brought tablecloths, real plates, and silverware. I thought that was what had made Lucy’s backpack so heavy on our walk through the Presidio, at least until Lucy pulled out the 32 oz. bottle of Tapatio we’d gotten for her during our last visit! (See An open mind, and mouth, for oysters).

Zesty gazpacho

We feasted on roast chicken, sausages from Rosamunde’s, guacamole, cheese, pickles, dried fruits and several bottles of Pinot Noir. Though I’m not usually a gazpacho fan, Lucy’s gazpacho topped with avocado was excellent. I thought it would have also made the most delicious bloody mary.

But we stuck to red wine, and continued stuffing ourselves on tasty two-bite brownies and chewy peanut butter cookies from Whole Foods. We rolled ourselves to the bus stop and up the last hill back to Lucy’s place.

After resting our feet and several cups of tea at Lucy’s, it was time to continue work burning off our picnic. We met up with Jan on his way back from the bachelor party and all headed to the Castro.

The Mix bar on 18th street provided the atmosphere we needed. And it was conveniently located across from Nizario’s pizza, where Jan sampled a combination slice on our way into the bar and the California (chicken, pesto, spinach, and feta) on the way out.

Beautiful breakfast

In the morning, Lucy had prepared us a real Midwestern breakfast. (She’d asked me the day before if I preferred cereal and granola for a lighter option, and I heartily declined, saying I liked to use the vacation excuse whenever I could.)

Sausage, Canadian bacon, bacon, pancakes, berries, and more

We had breakfast sausage, Canadian bacon, and bacon served on the meat platter. There were also pancakes, strawberries, blackberries, and Greek yogurt. Then there was fresh walnut bread and butter. And Lucy even heated the maple syrup on the stove and put it in a mini-pitcher, the perfect combination of West meets Midwest!

Planter at Flora Grubb
Even the coffee was artfully arranged

We headed to Flora Grubb Gardens for some backyard inspiration, and Lucy enjoyed a beautiful cup of coffee as I took in garden ideas to duplicate at home (though I won’t be copying the car-as-planter idea).

Gravad lax: a taste of Sweden
Last stop: meatballs

After saying goodbye to our gracious host, Jan and I headed across the Bay Bridge. We already had our lunch in mind: meatballs at IKEA in Emeryville. It’s become the tradition that we’ll brave Saturday IKEA crowds for, even though we realize the meatballs aren’t the best. But, we did get to stock up on a staple in our household: Lingonberry preserves.

Finally it was time to head home, for some much-needed rest after our two-day vacation.

An open mind, and mouth, for oysters


Jan shucks oysterLet me start by saying I’ve never been much for raw oysters. Jan loves them and actually convinces me to try one every so often, but I feel their greatness is wasted on me. If they’re considered delicacies and here I am thinking they’re only tolerable, I’d rather save the slimy mollusks for those who truly appreciate them. 

However, one recent experience put the oysters in a slightly more favorable light. Visiting our friend Lucy in San Francisco, Jan and I thought we should take advantage of a gorgeous day and go for a drive through Marin County. Jan wanted to return to an oyster farm we’d passed on a prior trip – and Lucy was also an oyster fan who was thrilled about the chance to eat oysters fresh from the ocean. 

We started our Saturday at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market to get picnic ingredients. At the Sur La Table there we were in search of the tool we would need later, more specifically, an oyster-shucking knife, since the place we were visiting only sold oysters and visitors were supposed to shuck the oysters themselves. An employee directed us to a knife and oyster-holder contraption and said this was made for the job. Having no experience in oyster-shucking, we took his recommendation and headed north. 

It was a beautiful drive that seemed worlds away from the city we just left. We stopped in a market in Stinson Beach for the last few necessities we couldn’t get at the farmer’s market –Tapatio, white wine and beer – all the while our appetites grew steadily. 

Setting up the picnic


The parking lot of the Tomales Bay Oyster Company was packed, and the smells coming from each picnic tables’ barbeque was like a walk through an international food court. Next to us, one group prepared pot stickers and a spicy soy dipping sauce while their oysters cooked on the barbeque. On the other side, a group of friends pulled out a trio of freshly made salsas from a cooler brimming with food. 

Trying out the proper technique


Jan returned with a bag of one dozen oysters in each hand, and I read over the oyster-shucking instruction sheet. We tried the fancy Sur La Table tool, but soon realized it wasn’t going to get the job done. Lucy and I went to find an expert, worried they would probably have a thing or two to say about our knife. 

After quietly grinning and calling our tool “worthless,” we got a lesson from one of the oyster farmers himself, who generously lent us his knife – something purchased at a hardware store, not a culinary boutique. After a little work getting the right technique, Jan, Lucy and I took turns cracking open the oysters with a slight twist of the knife. We tried different toppings, from our neighbors’ salsas to our own Bloody Mary concoction of tomato juice, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Tapatio. When the oysters we’d placed on the barbeque began to open, we let them cool slightly before trying those topped with spicy mayo (mayonnaise mixed with the condiment of the day: Tapatio). 

The face of trying something new


We took our time eating lunch, but we still weren’t able to finish the 24 oysters we’d bought. Between sips of beer and wine, enjoying the sunshine, and shop talk with our picnic table neighbors (comparing barbeque techniques, best toppings, etc.), we’d spent a wonderful afternoon stuffing ourselves while overlooking the calm waters of Tomales Bay. I’m not sure if it was the music, fun-loving atmosphere, or the company, but I’d managed to enjoy an oyster or two. Perhaps the recipe for the squeamish raw oyster eater is to simply shuck the oyster yourself. After all, putting in the effort to pry the thing open and top it with something you’ve prepared did improve the taste. While I don’t think I’ll be at a restaurant ordering raw oysters on the ½ shell anytime soon, I’d definitely go back for the do-it-yourself oyster-shucking picnic any sunny day of the year.