Friday, July 13, 2012

Tour the Mission District with GraceAnn

I've know GraceAnn Walden since the early 1980's when I started the Where-To-Guide and she was just getting started with her walking tours of San Francisco and East Bay neighborhoods.

At that time she invited me to partake of her North Beach Tour, an informative and entertaining walking tour of San Francisco's Italian neighborhood. GraceAnn's tours last for 5 or more hours and include history, a meal, snacks and food shopping along the way. She's an "insider" to all the neighborhoods that she tours, so anyone who takes one of her tours comes away feeling like they, too, are part of that neighborhood.  She gives a brief history of the neighborhood, points out places of interest, and introduces her guests to many colorful locals.

I've considered GraceAnn's North Beach Tour to be her "signature" tour and often take guests on it. One time, when I was doing the spouse program for a meeting group, our most memorable day was a day spent with GraceAnn on her North Beach Tour.

Most of GraceAnn's tours currently cost $80 per person, a price that is quite reasonable, given that it takes most of a day and includes a complete meal and other tasty edibles.

GraceAnn's Latino Mission Tour has long been on my wish list. Finally, last Saturday, with Jim, Mary Ann, and Dean, we took this tour.

Our day started at the corner of Potrero Avenue and 24th Street where GraceAnn gave us a brief history of the Mission.

From there, we headed north on 24th Street toward Mission Street. We only covered about 8 blocks, about as far as Harrison or Folsom Street, but there was so much for us to see and do.

Our first stop was at Dynamo Donuts, a relative newcomer to this neighborhood.

Dynamo Donuts is as popular in this neighborhood as some of the cupcake places in New York City.
Every day, people line up on the sidewalk to order their choice of the day's donut offerings. Other than hot and cold beverages, the only non-donut on Dynamo's menu is a Donut Bread Pudding.

GraceAnn chose four different flavors of donut for us: Spiced Chocolate, Passion Fruit Milk Chocolate,  Vanilla Bean, and the ever-famous Maple Glazed Bacon Apple. We had coffee or tea with them.

I liked them all, but favored the Spiced Chocolate for its subtle flavors of cinnamon, chile, and chipotle. The Bacon donut was surprisingly wonderful, too.

We devoured every last donut crumb while sitting on Dynamo's sunny, flower-filled back patio.

A tour with GraceAnn always seems to include the unexpected.

This time it was a stop at Pops for a Bacon Bloody Mary!

Pops is a bar just a few doors north of Dynamo Donuts. It's at the corner of 24th and York Streets. We stopped in front while GraceAnn told us about what a lively place it was after dark. Then she spotted this sign

and could not resist trying a Bacon Bloody Mary even at 11 a.m....after all, it was "for research." No one else in our group was up to the challenge but we did ask GraceAnn to get extra straws so we could have a taste.

We chatted with the bartender while she mixed this concoction which she then garnished with a spear of pickled asparagus, pickled green beans, olives and, of course, a long slice of bacon.

By the way, it was delicious!!!

Another "unscripted" part of our tour happened when a totally tricked-out red convertible drove past us with a lovely young woman in the back seat on her way to her Quinceanera.

At La Palma market,

GraceAnn told us how to prepare fresh yuca (aka "yucca" by the non-Spanish-speaking) and even picked out one for me to buy.

GraceAnn's recipe: peel it, slice it, simmer it until tender (for an hour or so), drain, toss with butter, garlic and fresh lime juice; salt and pepper to taste.

She took us inside this market where several of us purchased handmade tortillas, spicy yuca chips, fresh oranges and other goodies.

GraceAnn pointed out the Brava Theater whose architecture is a reminder of past days in the Mission.

It dates back to 1926 when it was a vaudeville house called the Roosevelt Theater. It later was called the York Theater. Today, in its renovated state, it is home to a variety of performances and exhibits.

In preparation for walking Balmy Alley, an entire Alley off 24th Street that is filled with murals, we stopped at Precita Eyes, a shop that sells all the materials to create the wall murals that are so abundant in the Latino Mission. Precita Eyes is more than just a shop and studio; it is a cultural center dedicated to the mural arts in the Mission, in other San Francisco neighborhoods, and in locations throughout the world.

Most of the murals in the Mission have been influenced by Precita Eyes.  For those wanting more detail about the murals in the Mission, Precita Eyes offers mural tours.

And, then, it was on to Balmy Alley, the block-long alley with the largest concentration of murals in the Mission District. The earlier murals, which date back to the 1980s, are mostly protests against human rights and political abuses in Central America. The newer murals reflect more current times and often less weighty subject matter.

The following photos are of some of the Balmy Alley murals

Our final "official" stop was at Tio Chilo's Grill for a leisurely lunch.

Tio Chilo's is a favorite with the locals and GraceAnn is one of them. We were welcomed like family and enjoyed a family-style lunch that was specially prepared for our group.

It included Ceviche Tosadas, Pork Chile Verde, a Chicken dish, and Beans and Rice.

I certainly am looking forward to my next tour with GraceAnn...

And, the photos that follow are more of what we saw as we walked around this colorful neighborhood.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Dinner with Jessica at Zazie

Jessica is working in San Francisco for the month of July and falling in love with the City more and more each day.

Last night we got together for dinner at Zazie, a neighborhood French bistro with a lot of charm and very tasty and interesting food.

We started our dinner by sharing the Figs Figaro. Figs are just coming into season in California and this preparation: Grilled Black Mission Figs on grilled bread with goat cheese and wilted arugula was an absolute delight...and a very creative dish.

By chance, we both chose vegetarian dishes for our main courses...The Grilled Summer Corn Cakes for Jessica

 And, the Meyer Lemon and Ricotta Raviolis with Grilled Prawns for me.

And, even though we really had enough to eat with our two courses, how could be pass up Roast Fresh Cherries with Mascarpone Cream and Almonds for a dessert to share?

Zazie is located in the Cole Valley district of San Francisco. They are open daily for dinner, weekdays for breakfast and lunch, and weekends for brunch. Most dinner entrĂ©es are price under $20. A prix-fixe dinner can be ordered each night, with selected full-sized entrĂ©es and selected half-serving first and last courses...for a bargain price of $25.  

I can't wait to return; it's a true gem that gives even an out-of-towner the feeling of being part of the community.