I'm in love.
I once lived in San Francisco, a city that made my youthful heart flutter so persuasively the first time I saw it in 1966 that I moved here from Wisconsin a few years later. It has fluttered ever since.
FOR THE RECORD:
San Francisco: A photo caption with a Feb. 10 article about San Francisco mislabeled the building shown in the photo as the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. The picture was of the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District. In an accompanying map, locations of the Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, the Cliff House and Seacliff were incorrect. See the corrected map, below. —
Never mind that I was an unfaithful lover, moving to Hawaii years ago. Though I'm attached to my little corner of paradise, how can I but say I left my heart, with a nod to Tony Bennett, in San Francisco?
I go back often to reclaim it, visiting friends and relatives several times a year, almost feeling as though I had never left.
But familiarity may have blinded me to what attracted me in the first place. I took it for granted.
Then a funny thing happened: A woman named Susan stormed into my life last year. As fate would have it, we live 4,500 miles apart and must compromise on our meeting places. It seemed natural to meet midway, in San Francisco, if only for a short weekend. Better still: She barely knew the city; perhaps a few of my favorite places could make her a believer. And, love it as I do, it's still just a jumble of concrete unless I can share it with others.
CLOAKED IN FOG
The sun was bright and warm at San Francisco International Airport when I met Susan, but I knew the weather gods had something less summery in store a few miles north in the city: a blanket of cool, moist fog. For some, this is cause for alarm, especially those who pack for their visit as though they are going to Orange County. For me, that fog is a siren call.
Inside the fog, you might think the whole world is overcast, but its localized coverage is all the more impressive when viewed from, say, Marin County's Mt. Tamalpais: The thick, white, ground-hugging clouds spill and roll over the city's hills like Waikiki surf.
After some consultation, Susan and I settled on a place for a romantic weekend: the Hotel Drisco on Pacific Avenue in residential Pacific Heights. The hotel is set among the mansions and gardens of San Francisco's wealthiest neighborhood and looks more like one of the city's trademark low-rise, stuccoed apartment buildings than a hotel. The Drisco has housed guests for more than 100 years. Its 40-odd rooms and suites still exude turn-of-the-last-century charm, but recent renovations and indulgent service ensure contemporary comforts and amenities. And, of course, there was plenty of fog to envelop us.
Pacific Avenue defines the crest of Pacific Heights, allowing its residents stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, Cow Hollow and the Marina District, plus easy access to the shops and restaurants of Fillmore Street. Tourists occasionally find their way here, but except for the Palace of Fine Arts and Union Street, this is locals' territory.
From the Drisco, we took a short walk down the hill to Union Street, where we took a break from the fog with a cup of tea in Anna's Cafe, bought a T-shirt at City Cycle and meandered back among the city's most opulent residences.
If one sense predominates in San Francisco, it surely is taste. The city has more good restaurants than one could prudently patronize in a lifetime. Susan knows food, so I had to choose carefully.
The culinary highlight of our San Francisco weekend was dinner at the Outer Richmond District's Chapeau!, a French bistro that was lovingly tended by proprietor Philippe Gardelle, a transplant from Toulouse, France. It has a crowded, unspectacular dining room, and you may have to wait to be seated, but it's worth it.
Susan started out with oysters, and I had the frisée salad with duck, topped with a delectable morsel of sautéed foie gras. A creature of habit, I always gravitate to the cassoulet, a humble bean casserole from the south of France larded with sausage and duck confit. This night was no different, and Susan joined me.