Just so, like, San Fran

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

IHAVE just re­turned from San Fran­cisco. I loved ev­ery­thing about it. I loved gay neigh­bour­hood the Cas­tro (for­merly Eureka Val­ley), the men in leather vests and sex shops called ev­ery­thing from Does Your Fa­ther Know to Rock Hard.

I loved Haight-Ash­bury, with its Furry Freak vibe and smell of pot. I loved the mag­nif­i­cent new de Young Mu­seum, with its cracked pave­ment lead­ing from the road to the main en­trance, to sym­bol­ise the area’s tec­tonic to­pog­ra­phy.

I loved the red Golden Gate Bridge swoop­ing across the wa­ter, with the light­house on Al­ca­traz a blink­ing eye in the bay. I loved driv­ing north into the hills of Marin County with the win­dows down and smelling the fra­grant eu­ca­lyp­tus.

But most of all, I loved the food. In San Fran­cisco, they don’t just cook, they kook.

So, hi there, I’m Rachel. I amyour server to­day. Come with me on my crazy Cal­i­for­nian culi­nary jour­ney and, like, en­joy!

On ar­rival I was starv­ing, as I had missed break­fast in Los An­ge­les. So my es­cort, Amy (a lovely hip­pie chick whose ad­jec­tives ranged from beau­ti­ful to just beau­ti­ful), took me straight from the air­port to One Ferry Build­ing (www.fer­ry­build­ing­mar­ket­place.com), where Bill Clin­ton eats when he’s in town. A gas­troem­po­rium where the farm­ers mar­ket is sited on Thurs­days, here you can buy a tomato for $4 and choose from a mil­lion cheeses, hand­made choco­lates, ar­ti­sanal breads, handroasted cof­fees, cup­cakes and so on. But the farm­ers mar­ket was shut. So we went to Boulettes Larder (www.boulettes­larder.com).

As soon as we sat down a waiter came and poured us wa­ter. In the jug were black things float­ing.

‘‘ What are the black things float­ing?’’ I asked Amy.

‘‘ It’s char­coal. It helps pu­rify the wa­ter and re­store the acid-al­kali bal­ance in your sys­tem,’’ she said. I looked at the menu. ‘‘ The in­gre­di­ents we source are grown with prin­ci­ples that are re­spect­ful of taste, the en­vi­ron­ment and so­cial jus­tice,’’ it said.

De­spite that, I or­dered the brodo, which sounded hearty enough on the menu (which de­tailed not just ev­ery in­gre­di­ent in ev­ery dish, but the pro­ducer, so I know that the fava beans and peas came from Mariq­uita Farm and the egg was an Heir­loom Or­ganic).

Be­fore it ar­rived I ate a whole bas­ket of (Acme) bread and (Clover Or­ganic) dairy but­ter. Af­ter it ar­rived it was a beau­ti­ful thing, a richly re­duced golden broth with a few peas and what­not, and a poached duck egg. I ate an­other. Amy had the Prince Ed­ward Is­land mus­sel and fre­gola sarda soup. She ate very slowly, as if she were en­gaged in a mys­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

Then we went to Peet’s Cof­fee & Tea (a San Fran­cisco com­pany, now a chain) and I had the best cup of cof­fee, so roasty-toasty strong and good that I vowed never to visit Star­bucks again. That was my mys­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. Then we bought brown­ies and scones from Lulu Pe­tite to fuel our­selves for shop­ping.

And so it was that I went to pos­si­bly the most right-on su­per­mar­ket on earth, the Rain­bow Gro­cery Co-oper­a­tive.

It main­tains a com­mit­ment to mak­ing the store an in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment that is wel­com­ing to ev­ery­one. It does not sell meat. It cre­ates a non-hi­er­ar­chi­cal workspace based on mu­tu­al­ity and re­spect. You have to take your own bags and con­tain­ers. It is busy, busy. Its muesli sec­tion has to be seen to be be­lieved. It is so crunchy gra­nola, in fact, that I felt my­self be­com­ing a nicer per­son just by walk­ing the aisles.

That evening Amy out­lined two din­ing choices. ‘‘ There’s Greens,’’ she said, ‘‘ in the Pre­sidio. That’s beau­ti­ful. It’s veg­e­tar­ian, and the pro­duce is grown on a Zen farm. Or we could go to Grat­i­tude.’’ ‘‘ Oh yes?’’ I asked. ‘‘ It’s or­ganic and ve­gan, and they serve mostly live foods,’’ she said.

Amy ex­plained that the dishes on the menu weren’t called sprouted al­mond se­same hum­mus and live chilli con queso na­chos, but ‘‘ I am boun­ti­ful’’ or ‘‘ I am­p­re­sent’’ or ‘‘ I am hon­our­ing’’. So when the waiter brings the or­der, she places each dish in front of ev­ery­one, ac­cord­ing to what they’ve or­dered, and says, ‘‘ You are happy, you are pow­er­ful, you are boun­ti­ful. It’s beau­ti­ful.’’

Though I was tempted to try the Zen veg­eta­bles, I felt un­wor­thy of them, and of Cafe Grat­i­tude’s abound­ing­ness. So I went back to my ho­tel, drank beer and ate twitch­ingly fresh sushi on my big smooth bed in front of a flat-screen television show­ing TheSo­pra­nos .

And that was good, too. The Spec­ta­tor

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