Friday, May 29, 2015

San Francisco: Cornell Hotel de France and Restaurant Jeanne d’Arc


Cornell Hotel de France  715 Bush St./Mason St., 2 blks. from Union Square, (800) 232-9698, (415) 421-3154.  6 floors; 58 rooms.  Full breakfast; restaurant.  Self- parking $28 (across street).  This 1910 building has been restyled into a French country-style hotel, with each room individually decorated.  
entrance to Cornell Hotel de France in San Francisco

The owner has been employing an artist three days a week for 15 years to decorate the interior with original art.  So doors, walls, and more throughout sport delightful artistic details.
painted tropical detail at Cornell Hotel de France in San Francisco

Each guest floor is dedicated to one artist and features reproductions of their works.  My floor, the 6th, featured Gaugin, while another floor spotlighted Matisse.
Matisse floor at Cornell Hotel de France in San Francisco

The fresh yet vintage room decor was a sweet mix of pastel paint, wallpaper, and famous art prints by other artists.  There is no air conditioning, but in San Francisco that isn’t usually a problem and, joy of joys, the windows open and let in a lovely breeze.  And, since my room faced east and the cable cars were less than a block away, I could hear the iconic sounds of clanging bells and even buzzing cables.  The sounds stopped at some point in the night, and I knew it was morning when they began again.  A complimentary bacon-and-eggs American breakfast is served in the restaurant in the morning, but French toast is also an option.  The hotel’s original, elegant, and automated four-person Otis elevator—the owner thinks it might date to 1850 and that it possibly hails from NYC--continues to deliver guests where they want to go.
vintage Otis elevator at Cornell Hotel de France in San Francisco

Allow time to explore.  You are just a few blocks from Union Square and from the gates of Chinatown.  And, should you be wanting to take a walk on the wild side, a male strip club is just next door. 

Restaurant Jeanne d’Arc  D Tu-Sat.  This low-profile subterranean French restaurant is popular with aficionados of authentic French cuisine as well as with those who appreciate a bargain.  
Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc at Cornell Hotel de France in San Francisco

The only menu option is a four-course, prix-fixe dinner ($48) that includes soup, salad, entrée, and dessert.  The approximately ten entrée choices change daily, depending on current fresh and seasonal ingredients, and include fish, rabbit, and lamb.  More than 75 well-priced French and Californian selections are on the wine list.  Most guests enter the dining room after exiting that turn-of-the-century Otis elevator, which sets the mood for an unusual dining experience.  The atmospheric restaurant space reminded me of a castle dungeon I once dined in.  Meant to evoke medieval times, this inner sanctum features arched doorways and several cozy dining nooks, and the decor consists of tapestries, stained glass windows made in Chartres,
Chartres stainted-glass window at Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc in San Francisco

assorted artifacts, paintings, hand-painted wall murals and frescos, vintage posters and statues, and numerous tributes to Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc statue at Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc in San Francisco

The fact that the owner hails from Orleans in France--the town of Joan of Arc—explains the theme.  This feast for the eyes complements the cuisine, making for a satisfying evening.  My “salade des iles du sud” was a simple but delicious composed circle layered with shredded mango, shrimp, and avocado made tangy with a balsamic dressing.
salade des iles du sud at Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc in San Francisco

My dining partner selected a colorful “salade de molinon” featuring spinach with goat cheese, fresh berries, and glazed walnuts.
salade de molinon at Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc in San Francisco

For entrees it was “bouillabaisse” for him
bouillabaisse at Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc in San Francisco

and “saumon nouvelle Orleans” for me.  Though my dish was described as blackened, it was more topped with a tasty peppery sauce.
saumon nouvelle Orleans at Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc in San Francisco

You don't see a souffle on a menu every day, so even though I’d been advised that the “fraisier” French strawberry cream cake was a winner, we both opted for the “souffle au grand marnier” and were not disappointed.
 souffle au grand marnier at Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc in San Francisco

On Saturday nights, this hopelessly romantic experience is enhanced further with live violin music.

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

80 North: Berkeley, Rangoon Super Stars


Rangoon Super Stars  2826 Telegraph Ave./Oregon St.; (510) 647-9744.  L-D daily; $$.  Located in an out-of-the-way spot, this Burmese restaurant features a hidden-away dining room.  Entry is through a long bar leading to a back room filled with comfy booths and also some smaller tables.  
dining room at Rangoon Super Stars in Berkeley, California

The lunch special features many tempting authentic dishes and includes soup, salad, and steamed rice.  You choose which meat or vegetarian option you like and the degree of spiciness, and the optional upgrade to coconut rice is a delicious choice.  I feasted on medium-spicy Rangoon Lemon Grass Chicken, a delicious wok-tossed combination with green beans, red bell peppers, and fresh basil. 
lemon grass chicken at Rangoon Super Stars in Berkeley, California

My dining companion chose the yellow Burmese Chicken Kebat with fish, which was stir-fried with tamarind, mint leaves, and cilantro in a hot-spicy sauce, and it was indeed hot but delicious. 
chicken kebat at Rangoon Super Stars in Berkeley, California

The regular menu offers an array of delights such as samosa soup, tea leaf salad, sesame chicken, stir-fried pea shoots, pumpkin chicken stew, fish soup with noodles, and fried banana with coconut ice cream.  Drinks include refreshing beers as well as a non-alcoholic mint soda.  This is a menu that I want to return to and explore in more depth.
Rangoon Super Stars on Urbanspoon

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Friday, May 22, 2015

San Francisco: Hong Kong Lounge


Hong Kong Lounge  5322 Geary Blvd./17th Ave., Inner Richmond, (415) 668-8836.  This newish, highly-rated, and very popular dim sum parlour is also well-priced—it cost us only $15 per person including tip.  It’s easy to find—just look for the crowd out front on the sidewalk.  Diners are accommodate in three clean and comfortable dining rooms--one large one in the front with a small alcove off of it, and another largish one in the back.  Unfortunately, there are no rolling carts here, but that means you can start filling out the menu order form while you are waiting.  Then, when you are seated, you give it to your waiter and dishes start arriving piping hot from the kitchen.  Though the tea pot brought to our group of four was of adequate size for only one and of poor design—it burned my fingers as I tried to remove the top to stir the leaves—dim sum items are generously sized.  Order two dishes per person.  My favorites here were baked pork buns and pork taro dumplings, though I liked everything.  Pork ribs in coffee sauce were unusual enough and became weird with the addition of whipped cream.  One among us was crazy about chicken feet in general and said of these that “they are the best I’ve ever had.”  Note that only one credit card is accepted per group.  On a Sunday it took us ½-hour to park four long blocks away followed by a 1½ -hour wait (don’t forget your SPF; I actually got a sunburn while waiting on the shadeless sidewalk).  I recommend stopping to get your wait ticket before you park.  Overall, I think it was worth the hassle.  I'll go again, but only on a week day.  
Hong Kong Lounge on Urbanspoon

interior of Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco

baked port buns at Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco
baked pork buns

coffee pork ribs at Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco
coffee pork ribs with whipped cream

chicken feet at Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco
chicken feet

shrimp chives dumplings at Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco
shrimp chives dumplings

eggplant stuffed with fish at Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco
eggplant stuffed with fish

the bill at Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco

Dim sum photo gallery.
 
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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 


Monday, May 18, 2015

Highway 49--Gold Rush Country: Volcano, Black Chasm Cavern

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Black Chasm Cavern  15701 Pioneer-Volcano Rd., (866) 762-2837, (209) 736-2708.  M-F 10-4, Sat-Sun 10-5; in summer daily 9-5.  $15.95, 3-12 $8.50; gemstone mining & gold panning $5+.  Stalactites, flow-stone, and dragons, oh my!  This easy 45-minute cave tour visits the Colossal Room, which measures 100 feet across and 150 feet deep and provides glimpses of a deep, turquoise lake far below, and the Landmark Room, which features a spectacular display of twisting, looping helictite crystals.  The caves are a constant cool 57 degrees.  Gemstone mining and picnic tables are available outside.

 
"dragon" feature at Black Chasm Cavern in Volcano, California
flow-stone at Black Chasm Cavern in Volcano, California


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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 


Friday, May 15, 2015

80 North: Berkeley, Gaumenkitzel


Gaumenkitzel  2121 San Pablo Ave./Addison St., (510) 647-5016.  L-D Tu-Sun, Sat-SunBr; $-$$.  Reservations taken but not needed.  This colorful north German bakery restaurant operates in one large open room with a high ceiling and light-colored wood tables.  It is airy, inviting, and filled with mellow background music.  The name translates as "palate thrill," and that seems to be the goal of the menu.  According to the menu the owners are “Germans from Hamburg,” so I was expecting some tradition.  Flour for the fresh-baked bread is milled in house, and a pastry chef makes everything on site as well.  Local, seasonal, organic ingredients are used, and pride is taken in having no microwave, deep-fryer, or freezer.  I lunched on a very good crispy, thin pork schnitzel sandwich with mustard aioli.  Items I’d like to try in the future include a housemade pretzel with small sausages and potato salad, some spaetzle, goulash, and the fresh soup.  As would be expected, the selection of German beer is extensive--the menu claims it is the largest selection of German beer in the East Bay--and I understand they even have apple cider from Frankfurt.  I was a bit disappointed by the Black Forest cake that was described as traditional.  The cake itself was light-colored and not very chocolatey, while I was expecting a dark devils food-style cake as I’ve had in Germany.  There are only a few desserts, so check in advance in the case by the register to see what is available.  I noticed there, too late, a promising Meyer-lemon meringue that I will order next time.  A small grocery selection of German candies, chocolates, condiments, and beverages are available to purchase.  Guten appetit!
Gaumenkitzel on Urbanspoon


interior of Gaumenkitzel in Berkeley, California


pork schnitzel sandwich at Gaumenkitzel in Berkeley, California


Black Forest cake at Gaumenkitzel in Berkeley, California

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Highway 49--Gold Rush Country: Sutter Creek: Sutter Creek Inn

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Sutter Creek Inn  75 Main St., (209) 267-5606.  17 rooms; $-$$.  Unsuitable for children.  Some TVs & wood-burning fireplaces.  Afternoon snack; full breakfast.  No pets.  Opened as an inn in 1966, this 1859 Greek Revival structure was one of the first B&Bs west of the Mississippi and has staked its claim as the first in California.  Rooms are available in the house as well as in six vintage out buildings.  As guests arrive each day, homemade lemonade and cookies are served in the garden, and a full sit-down breakfast is served family-style at long tables in the dining room and kitchen.  Each room has its own charm--one has a closet filled with books, another a clawfoot tub.  For those who have been longing to spend the night swinging in a bed suspended from the ceiling by chains, this inn fulfills that and other yearnings.  Some visitors have even seen a friendly ghost, although it has been more than 25 years since the last sighting.  Croquet and hammocks beckon from the garden. 


exterior of Sutter Creek Inn in Sutter Creek, California


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top image ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers; bottom image courtesy of inn


Monday, May 11, 2015

San Francisco: Super Duper Burgers


Super Duper Burgers  721 Market St./3rd St., downtown, (415) 538-3437. B-L-D daily; $.  The usual long line here moves fast.  Music and staff are pleasant, and among the seating choices are a small balcony and outside patio areas.  Popular menu items include the mini burger combo (single burger, garlic fries, and a fountain drink); organic Straus soft-serve ice cream cones and tall, thin shakes; and complimentary jalapeno peppers and pickles.  A super burger with two patties and an organic veggie burger are also available.  Vegetarian-fed beef is ground fresh daily, and packaging is compostable.
Super Duper Burgers on Urbanspoon

exterior of Super Duper Burgers in downtown San Francisco

indoor menu at Super Duper Burgers in downtown San Francisco

Super Duper Burgers burger in downtown San Francisco

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

Friday, May 8, 2015

80 North: Albany, Potala Vegan Restaurant


Potala Vegan Restaurant  1045 San Pablo Ave./Marin Ave., in Albany, (510) 528-2375.  L-D daily; $$.  No reservations.  Named for the striking hilltop palace in Lhasa, Tibet, this all-vegan, all-organic restaurant has only one set menu available each day.  A server with take your order after you select your choices from a white board in the entry, after which you can help yourself to a glass of water or complimentary hot tea—on the day I visited it was Organic Kukicha Twig Tea—from the bar and then seat yourself.  Your choices involve how much food you would like—a simple, medium, or full plate.  I ordered the medium portion and finished it all.  All but the soup is served on a single dinner plate.  An a la carte menu is available; children are welcome and can order from that.  No fake meats are used.  The menu for my visit was kidney bean veggie soup (my favorite item); wild brown rice and green split pea with onion (I also really liked this); sauteed red and green cabbages, carrots, and potato; steamed collard greens with beets burdock onion sauce; mixed green salad with brown rice vinegar-tahini dressing.  Flavors and textures vary, and I felt healthier when I left.  I would have liked some bread, but none is served here.  Cookies and other desserts cost additional, and vegan wines and beers are available.  Decor is secondary but pleasant--some lovely Thai carvings left from a previous restaurant here, flute music, a tiny orchid on my table that I had to pinch to be sure it was plastic--and comfy booths are a big plus, as is the free parking lot.
Potala Organic Cafe on Urbanspoon

dining room at Potala Vegan Restaurant in Albany, California

kidney bean veggie soup at Potala Vegan Restaurant in Albany, California

medium plate at Potala Vegan Restaurant in Albany, California

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

San Francisco: Cinderella Bakery & Cafe


Cinderella Bakery & Cafe  436 Balboa St./5th Ave., Inner Richmond, (415) 751-9690.  Daily 7am-7pm.  This compact Russian cafe dispenses housemade pastries, sandwiches, and hot dishes.  Simple boiled Pelmeni dumplings stuffed with ground meat and served with sour cream are a must; they can also be ordered with broth as a soup.  
pelmeni dumplings at Cinderella Bakery & Cafe in San Franicsco
pelmeni dumplings

Similar potato, cheese, or sour cheery Vareniki are also available.  Piroshki pasty sandwiches have a variety of fillings, as do Siberian-style pies made with puff pastry.  A selection of soups includes my hand-down favorites—hot beet and cabbage Borscht, and barley-mushroom.  Dinner entrees include beef Stroganoff, chicken cutlet a la Kiev, and Golubtsy cabbage rolls.  Blinchiki crepes and French toast are popular at breakfast.  Service is generally efficient and without a smile.  A vast and inviting selection of dessert pastries await your decision—mine was an unassuming but totally scrumptious cherry croissant—and breads are also available by the loaf to take home, think Russian Black Bread.
order counter at Cinderella Bakery & Cafe in San Franicsco

Only a few tables are available inside, so come here on a nice day when you might want to linger at one of the larger array available outside.  The large, open bakery is visible adjacent.
exterior of Cinderella Bakery & Cafe in San Franicsco
Cinderella Bakery and Café on Urbanspoon

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Monday, May 4, 2015

Highway 49--Gold Rush Country: Ione, Preston Castle


Preston Castle  900 Palm Dr., in Ione, (209) 256-3623.  Tour Sat 10-1, Apr-Sept.  $10, 6-12 $5.  Built atop a hill in 1894 in the Romanesque Revival style of architecture, and using hand-carved Ione sandstone and bricks from Folsom, this massive building was a boy’s reform school until 1960.  Owls and bats live here now.  One of the oldest reform schools in the country, it saved delinquents as young as 8 from being sent to prisons such as Alcatraz and Folsom.  Celebrity inmates include Beatnik Neal Cassidy, country-music singer Merle Haggard, and actor Eddie Anderson (he played Rochester on Jack Bennie’s show).  But infamous killer Caryl Chessman was also confined here.  The tour includes seeing a massive dormitory room and a vertical circular “waterslide” on the second floor, and hearing the story of the female staff member who was killed in the kitchen pantry in 1950 (the killer was never found).  Not surprisingly, many people think the place is haunted.  Though the inside has been ravaged, the plan is to restore it and perhaps even  eventually turn it into a restaurant and lodging.  “Ghost Hunters”, and “The Great Escape” TV shows have filmed here.  Special events include ghost-hunting nights--when participants bring their own sleeping bags--and an annual Halloween haunt. 

exterior of Preston Castle in Ione, California

interior of Preston Castle in Ione, California

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Friday, May 1, 2015

San Francisco: Madame Tussauds San Francisco and The San Francisco Dungeon

exterior of Madame Tussauds San Francisco
Madame Tussauds San Francisco  145 Jefferson St./Taylor St., Fisherman’s Wharf, (855) 753-9999.  Daily 10am-8pm.  $26, 4-12 $20.  You can hang out front with Johnnie Depp or the Royal Family for free, but this will likely entice you to pay the entry so you can do more.  I was surprised to be told that it was ok to touch and get up close and personal with the iconic celebrity figures inside.  Though I had my companion take pictures of me with almost every figure, I did find it creepy to actually touch them.  And the only way I could tell for sure they weren’t real was to check that they didn’t blink.  One factoid is that hair is inserted by hand—strand by strand—and it can take up to five weeks just for one figure.  Celebs are broken into categories, so Janis is in the Spirit of San Francisco section, Elvis is in the music section, Marilyn is in the film section, and George is in the A-List Party section (you can cozy up to him on a couch).  A few tips:  make sure your camera battery is charged; and dress nicely so that your friends might actually believe you were hanging with the stars.  Many discounted coupons available.

travel writer Carole Terwilliger Meyers with Johnnie Depp at Madame Tussauds San Francisco
Carole Terwilliger Meyers with Elvis at Madame Tussauds San Francisco
 
The San Francisco Dungeon  Adjacent.  From 10am.  $19-$26.  Recommended for age 10+.  The first such attraction in North America, this subterranean walking tour takes you through San Francisco’s sordid past.  Actors bring stories to life with the help of atmospheric sets, special effects, and a boat “ride.”  The journey keeps you moving, and though surprises evoke a few screams and squeals, they also elicits smiles, and you might even become part of the show.

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers and Gene Meyers