Monday, August 22, 2011

A Perfect San Francisco Day of Culture, Entertainment, & Food

Saturday, I continued celebrating my birthday, this time with Mary Ann, who took me to see Billy Elliot and for dinner afterwards in San Francisco.

Our day was, in my estimation, a perfect day in downtown San Francisco.

Two San Francisco museums have been paying tribute to Gertrude Stein this summer. Both museum's exhibits close on September 6, 2011. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) exhibit, "The Steins Collect," is an extensive exhibit of the art that Gertrude Stein and her family acquired while living in Paris. It's such a huge exhibit, that, when I saw it earlier this summer, I came out exhausted from the sheer volume of works by Matisse, Picasso, and other Parisian Avant-Garde. At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the exhibit, "Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories," is about the life of Gertrude Stein, starting with her early days in the United States and continuing in Paris. These two exhibits complement one another.

Before I went to the SFMOMA exhibit, I had tried to take in the Jewish Museum exhibit but did not have enough time to get through the complete exhibit. I wanted to view the rest of it and Mary Ann was interested in seeing it for the first time, so we started our day at the Contemporary Jewish Museum which, itself. is an architectural attraction with waterfalls and a large plaza in front.

It is on the site of a former Pacific Gas & Electric Power Substation, designed by Willis Polk and built in 1907.
The facade of the substation, facing Mission Street, has been preserved and is the main entrance to the museum.

However, the interior of the museum and the remainder of the exterior is extremely modern and somewhat abstract, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. One corner of the Jewish is a huge, off-kilter blue metallic steel "box" that houses the gift shop and the Yud gallery. To the west, the "Jukebox" Marriott hotel looms over the museum.

Getting to the Jewish at about 11:30, we were just in time to join the 11:30 docent tour of the Gertrude Stein exhibit. I got new insights into the portion of the exhibit that I'd already viewed and we both learned a great deal about Stein's life and work.

We next stopped for a quick lunch at 'wichcraft. 'Wichcraft is chef Tom Colicchio's sandwich restaurant, the casual member of his Craft family of restaurants in New York. There are other 'wichcrafts in Las Vegas and New York City. I often stop here for lunch or an early dinner when I am downtown shopping or museum-going.

Mary Ann had the Frittata sandwich

and I had the warm pressed Zucchini and tomato sandwich.

All sandwiches are served with a bag of potato chips and are reasonably priced at between $6 and $10. 'Wichcraft also offers creative meal-sized salads and freshly-made soups. Because it is on Mission Street on the back side of the Westfield San Francisco Centre shopping center, only those "in the know" know where to find it. It's a great alternative to the San Francisco Centre's hectic food courts.

From there, we walked to the Orpheum Theatre which is a few long blocks away on Market Street. If we had gone directly to the theatre without making our downtown stops, we would have taken BART to the Civic Center stop which is right in front of the theatre.

Billy Elliot's run in San Francisco was cut short by a few weeks because of lagging ticket sales. We were among those whose tickets had to be changed to an earlier date. Although Billy Elliot's run in San Francisco is now over, we, and everyone else we know who saw the show, cannot understand why it was not a smash hit. In fact, it is currently running in Toronto where it has been extended because it is such a success. At any rate, we loved this creative and touching musical...outstanding choreography, dancing, singing, acting...

After the show, we had dinner at Passion Café on 6th Street, in a not very pleasant part of downtown. This is a part of San Francisco which is said to be "evolving" but it is going to take some time before that will happen. I did notice a few other new restaurants on Market Street between 5th and 8th...Show Dogs and Original Joe's... but change happens slowly in this part of town.

Passion Café is a few blocks from the Orpheum Theatre and just a few doors down 6th Street across Market Street from the Golden Gate Theatre.

While I would not walk in this area by myself after dark, I'd say that before or after theatre there is enough foot traffic to feel secure. Also, the restaurant partially validates parking at the Priority Parking lot across Sixth Street. The café is open every day except Monday, from 9 a.m., serving breakfast pastries, lunch, dinner, weekday happy hour, and weekend brunch.

At any rate, Passion Café offered a free glass of wine to Billy Elliot attendees and Mary Ann thought the restaurant sounded interesting enough to try. I was game.

Our dinner turned out to be the most authentic French meal I've had in San Francisco, or anywhere in the Bay Area, in years. I felt like I was sitting in a Parisian Bistro. Passion Café serves the classic French bistro food that I most enjoy of all French cuisine.

Waiters were running up and down the stairs from the basement, where we guess the kitchen is, carrying trays of food. Our waiter spoke French to us. And the food was reasonably-priced and superb.

Mary Ann ordered the three-course $28.50 fixed-price dinner which includes choices for each course. I ordered à la carte and shared her first course and dessert.

We started with the Country-style Pâté.

The presentation was as beautiful as the pâté was delicious...on the plate was a radish salad, cornichons, pickled onions, and toasted bread croutons dabbed with a bit of olive spread.

Mary Ann's main course was Salmon with a cream sauce and pesto, served with a cucumber and apple salad and herbed rice.

My main course was the Bouchée à la Reine aux Fruits de Mer, a seafood Vol au Vent (Puff pastry shell filled with sauteed seafood and a white wine herb sauce). It was served with herbed rice and sauteed mushrooms.

I'm fairly certain I've never had this dish in the United States, but know I've enjoyed it in France.

Our dessert was a slice of Tarte Tatin, a classic French caramelized apple tarte. I was so excited about eating the Tarte Tatin that I forget to photograph apologies.

After our dinner in the front dining room, we further explored Passion Café's rooftop outdoor dining area. This would be a lovely place to sit for lunch or happy hour on a warm San Francisco day. Inside, on the bar, where we were admiring the whole Tarte Tatin, I spotted the colorful French Macarons, meringue sandwich cookies that have become popular in the Bay Area. I bought one in each flavor to take home...strawberry (pink), pistachio (green), and chocolate (brownish). When I asked who supplied their macarons, I was told that their in-house baker makes them.

Thus, ended our lovely San Francisco day.

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