Tuesday, November 22, 2011
One of the occasionally, not entirely rare boons of frequent travel for business is the fortuitous intersection of work and pleasure, professional and personal, when happenstance and destiny align to create an opportunity. When I was out west in California the other week, to attend a large medical conference, the planets were shifted in my favor: I would be in San Francisco, and could orchestrate a subsequent visit with one of my best and most lovely friends, Katherine. She, along with her dashing Partner-in-Crime, were ideal hosts, welcoming me into their newest new apartment, after a hasty move up one floor in their original building due to a slight structural inconvenience.
This was my first trip to San Francisco and to Berkeley, and I am so thankful to have shared the experience with Katherine, who has spent the past few months out there. While I am frequently saddened that she is the furthest away from my physical being that she has ever been these past six years or so, since our first day of university as fresh and bewildered new students, I was so excited to be able to absorb a small glimpse of her new life in a beautiful new town.
Following my conference, Katherine met me in downtown San Francisco, and we trekked the streets in search of sustenance, taking a few photographs meanwhile. The art deco skyscrapers and the purposeful design elements meet wilderness of Yerba Buena Park were inspiring; the buildings are not so claustrophobic and daunting as out east, so I was able to actually imbibe some of the details of the towers.
Initially, we attempted to dine, in elegance and sophistication on an outdoor terrace, at this fine establishment, one that surely boasted a fine cocktail menu and decadent delights. Alas, we arrived at the exactly incorrect and imprecise time of middle to later afternoon, just as the kitchen had cooled for lunch, and too early for any hopes of dinner. Terribly foiled.
Some brief, and surprisingly silent, other than our own giggles and banter, moments later, we were out in Berkeley, delighting in the quick and easy slider and tater tot combination from Phil's Sliders. Precariously placed between delicate sesame buns, the beef sliders featured cheese, local organic lettuce, and a mysterious, though not entirely unfamiliar, special sauce, evocative of, but vastly superior to, another more widely known, and quickly prepared, version.
Despite our ravenous attack on these miniature burgers, we were able to muster the courage and fortitude to continue our delicacy quest, as we are generally not ladies who deign from abundant and healthy meals, traveling to Pizzaiolo in Oakland for dinner. Pizzaiolo is an unassuming but smart wood-fired pizza house; the atmosphere is cool and comfortable, blending with the tenor of the terrain, with the body language of the natives. It is a great neighborhood joint for anyone who loves food. The cocktails were strong and unique, and the pizzas featured an array of delectable vegetable, meat, and cheese toppings.
At this point on my trip, my time had predominantly spent within the confines of the San Francisco conference center; I always enjoy seeing a new city, and with its stark hills and lackadaisical temperament, San Francisco was pleasant and interesting, however, I had not really formed any strong opinions, positive or otherwise. That all changed as soon as Katherine and I woke up, and following a brief breakfast at a local organic grocer and a haphazardly packed picnic lunch, drove to Napa. I fell in love with Napa, very intensely, which is not at all surprising, given my strong affinity for bucolic landscapes, fresh air, and good wine. The terrain moves in waves somehow different and foreign to those shaping the land here in the east, the trees are different, their shapes, how their bodies bend with the wind, towards the sun. My new life goal is to be able to afford a few acres out here, a plot that can become home to a rustically elegant home. Sigh; a girl can dream.
Our first destination was Artesa, a vineyard recommended by my longtime friend, and now mutual friend to Katherine, Diana, mostly for the grandiose views and the subtle architecture. The angles are harsh, a geometry that is far from organic, yet it seems that the façade of the building was intended to jut out sharply from the hillside, a natural and beautiful accident. Surrounding the building were various sculptures, encompassed by clear fountains, all obviously artificial and yet, again, somehow so perfectly apt. The wine was a bit above mediocre, pleasant to taste, though, for the price, not worth indulging in an entire bottle; with such a lovely landscape, any wine can be enjoyed, and I was certainly in good company.
The kind and jocular lady pouring the wine for us thought we were sisters; I think it is the similarly styled, loosely curled hair.
Our next stop was a vineyard specializing in sparkling white and rosé wines; the name of the winery currently eludes me, but that is a minor detail when greeted with this impressive, faux-French, Louis XIV chateau edifice, built a could of decades ago.
Brown leather boots, jeans, and a black blouse were an ideal outfit for a day of romping about and tasting wines.
Thankfully, the sparkling wines were not overtly sweet, and ranged from semi-dry to dry. I enjoy the effervescence, especially with oysters; sparkling always creates a more festive illusion with any event.
The moon loomed softly over the roofs, the sky still warm with the sun. Beautiful.
After the two vineyards, Katherine and I ventured into downtown Napa, and stopped by a local wine tasting bar, Vintner's Collective. The Southern belle working behind the counter was knowledgeable, refreshingly down-to-earth, and a total doll. They specialized in less common vintages, prepared in smaller batches, generally only a few hundred or less cases. I bought two bottles of red, one that Katherine and I shared later in my trip, and look forward to opening the second, a full Zinfandel.
Berkeley apparently has a number of young men, or older men, named Phil, who are entrepreneurial and successful proprietors; Phil'z Coffee features delicious, slow drip brews, a whole plethora of flavors and tones to suit any palate. I realized this only after I attempted to order a latte, since it has been eons since I have enjoyed decent espresso. With a smooth but powerful flavor, I did not miss the espresso.
This cinnamon bun deserved a photograph.
Thursday evening, after a long afternoon of strolling the streets of Berkeley and doing some shopping, we went back into San Francisco and explored the Mission. Unfortunately, this shop was closed; I was seriously tempted by this cephalopod.
A wine tasting and cheese bar, featuring local wares from the western states.
Hopefully, this coming spring, I will be able to head back; California is such a wonderful change of pace, and I would love an opportunity to catch up again with dear friends.