March 05, 2015

A weekend of eating in San Francisco and Santa Cruz part 1

View from the tower at the top of the de Young Fine Arts Museum

We just spent a terrific weekend in San Francisco with a day trip to Santa Cruz. We mostly explored beautiful spaces and ate, with a few shopping outings thrown in, and had a great, energetic but relaxing, mini-vacation. We arrived late Friday afternoon, and settled into our airbnb in Lower Haight. The small space was comfortable enough, but if I were renting out my place and charging rent plus a cleaning fee, I'd try to make it actually clean.

The stove looked like this, and the oven was 10 times worse — thickly crusted and greasy, as I discovered when I tried to warm up a snack. I scoured the kitchen sink so I could stand to use it — and we had to use it more than you'd think because the bathroom sink didn't drain. My husband wiped down the refrigerator door which was so gross even he noticed. Mostly it was OK, but I wouldn't stay there again.


On Friday evening we went to a new vegan sushi place in the Mission, Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya, and I was very excited to experience a restaurant that served creative vegan sushi, since I'm usually limited to cucumber, avocado, or if I'm lucky, kampyo sushi. We started with a warm garlic-kale-hiziki dish that was extremely delicious.


After the kale we shared two specialty rolls, but I'm really sorry I can't remember what they were. They were both so good I was practically inhaling them. The one above came flaming at one end of the plate, which was exciting.


I can't remember what this one was, either, except that it tasted great. So great, in fact, that we ordered another one, but for some reason the second roll wasn't nearly as good as the first.


My husband and I were sharing gluten-free options while our dining companions ordered with abandon. Imagine, vegans, going to a sushi restaurant and ordering anything on the menu! This roll was one of their choices, and you can see another one of their selections peeking out in the background. (The restaurant was too dark for my camera so I had to rely on my iphone.)

Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya was not without issues. Though I enjoyed eating there, it was impossible not to notice the extremely slow service. I'm talking at least an hour wait before we were seated, another hour wait before the first dish came out, and maybe another hour before we had received and eaten all of our food. Everything was beautiful and delicious, but at least one of my (very hungry) dining companions was rather miffed. And since we ordered two of the same rolls, and the second one was not nearly as good as the first, there might be issues of inconsistency. Still, if you are in San Francisco, you should try Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya. Hopefully they will only get better, if that's even possible. I will certainly go there again no matter how long I have to wait.


My iphone app says I walked more than 12,000 steps on Sunday and even more on Saturday, but now I'm having trouble keeping it all straight. I know we went to the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, where we strolled through the gorgeous gardens, including the succulent garden, above. I love succulents, though I never can seem to grow the really big ones that I see all over San Francisco in pocket gardens and pots.


After the gardens and a view from the top of a nearby museum tower, we went out to a late lunch at Seed and Salt. Alison and I loved our kale Caesar salads — so fresh, crunchy and tasty, with small squares of crispy, fried black-eyed pea tempeh and toasted sunflower seeds, and I think Jordan enjoyed his eggplant BLT.


But my husband was much less enthusiastic about his beet burger. It was pricey at $14, and kind of small. I was stuffed after my salad but he was still hungry. I really loved Seed and Salt — both the atmosphere and the food, though it was on the expensive side, as you can see if you follow the link and peruse the menu. I'd absolutely go there again.


After lunch we had a little shopping expedition to an enormous athletic store where Alison looked for bike gear for a ride she's going on, and the rest of us just wandered around looking at clothes and stuff. Then we headed to Rainbow Co-op which is the most excellent natural foods store I've ever been in. I wish we had a similar store in Seattle. I could find anything I could possibly want there, no matter how obscure. Alison and Jordan did their grocery shopping, and Ken and I picked up a few provisions for breakfast and the trip home. We bought one of Miyoko's Creamery cheeses as well as a package of chewy and delicious Hodosoy tofu and some Suzie's thin cakes crackers.

My favorite crackers — next to Mary's.

On Saturday night we picked up my niece, and the five of us headed to what used to be one of my favorite restaurants, Gracias Madre, for dinner. You can read about my other visits to Gracias Madre here and here. I say "used to be" because I'm now thinking the food is too heavy, or too oily or too something, because I had an upset stomach after my meal.

Tacos and refried beans at Gracias Madre.

It's so dark in the restaurant that my photos are not very mouthwatering, but I can tell you I had three tacos, one of which was filled with roasted beets, one with asparagus and one with broccoli, and a mound of refried black beans that looked like a big pile of decrepit poop, and which were too salty to eat. I ate some of the soft corn tortillas, all of the tasty vegetables, and none of the beans. Maybe it was an off night, but I wasn't as thrilled with the food as I usually am. Read my other posts for much more positive reviews. My husband had the evening special, and he described it as "OK but not great." On the other hand, Alison thought the same dish was delicious. So there you go.

Dinner was late — there had been a long wait for a table, and by the time we got back to the airbnb, we were ready to do some quiet reading, and fall into a deep sleep.

Giant succulents in a pot in front of our airbnb.

16 comments:

  1. I loooove both Rainbow co-op and Hodo Soy! Their yuba is the absolute best. I also cannot wait to visit Shizen one day, I'm a huge sushi fan and everything you ate there looks wonderful.

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    1. Whenever I'm at Rainbow co-op, I'm so jealous. I always see things I want there but can't take back on the plane. I can't believe how complete the selection is — it's the only food store I would ever need to go to. And what can I can about HodoSoy. That stuff is the best. And the sushi! I may have to visit San Francisco more often.

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  2. Bummer the airbnb place wasn't better. At least the rest of your trip sounds like it went well. The sushi looks especially good. Yay for inventive vegan sushi! :-)

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    1. If definitely wasn't our favorite airbnb, but oh well. The sushi, however, was great!

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  3. That looks like a cracking trip - I love your travel posts. Whenever I travel with my partner, we always have to visit the botanical garden of wherever we are. We're not ever really sure why any more, but it's become one thing we have to do on holiday! It's a real shame about the service at the sushi bar - we found a place that does really nice vegan food, but we had to wait an hour for our order, so we've never been back.

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    1. We had a great time. The fun thing for me about travel posts is they are like keeping a journal, and I can go re-read them and re-live the trips. I just did that with my posts about Thailand, and I really enjoyed seeing all the places we went.

      Yes to botanical gardens — I love to visit them even where I live. As for the sushi bar, it took an hour to be seated, another hour to get the food. I think we were there three hours. I didn't notice the time because I was having fun, but maybe I was having more fun than my companions, because they were disturbed. :)

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  4. What a lovely trip. All of that beautiful sushi!

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    1. I would love to return to the sushi restaurant right now. It was so exciting to find such unusual vegan sushi!

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  5. Delicious trip! Oy with the filthy lodgings. I don't blame you for scouring the sink before using it. I clean every hotel kitchen thoroughly when we're traveling because I just can't leave 'em alone.

    One time we checked into a hotel and went straight up to our room only to find one of the housekeepers still cleaning the bathroom sink. We said we didn't mind and stood there chatting with her for a minute. Then she grabbed the coffee pot and wiped it (inside and out) with the same cloth that she was using to clean the bathroom sink and counter. Gross.

    I was going to say that the beet burger looked delicious, but then I saw that it was a disappointment. :(

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    1. I'm not an obsessively clean person, and my house isn't always ready for prime time, but I'm not charging people big bucks plus a cleaning fee to stay here. And I do clean it well before people come. Sheesh. I think our host was just naive, and didn't realize how bad the place was. I had to clean the bathroom mirror and the hair dryer, too. And I really wanted to strip the bed and run to the laundromat — and have the furniture cleaned. I don't usually clean a hotel kitchen before using it, but after what you just told me, I think I'll start. Ugh. That's horrible. I'm glad I didn't have to witness the 'cleaning' job at our airbnb before we arrived. We probably would have had to leave.

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  6. I've been too intimidated by the long lines (and impatient) to eat at Shizen yet, but I've heard nothing but great reviews. These photos certainly follow suit as well! I've got to make it over there, since it sounds like the wait is worthwhile.

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    1. I think it was at least two hours before we saw food, so it's not the place to go if you're starving or impatient. Or maybe pick a time that's less crowded — very early dinner, maybe? I may try that next time.

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  7. I had friends who were cleaning hotels when we were students at some point and boy how gross! They were saying how the cleaners would use the bath towels to wipe the bath and shower dry! I know the towels are getting washed but still, they don't care, they clean with those same towels. Unfortunately, hotel cleaning isn't hygienic, it is just done so that it appears clean.
    But wow, what a nice trip and the food looks delicious, well except for ones you didn't like. I'd love to visit a vegan sushi place one day, I am also just limited to cucumber, avocado and sometimes pickled radish. But I can only imagine, sushi takes a lot of time to make, if you are making them like in the photos you shared. That sushi place probably need more staff.

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    1. Yours is the second hotel cleaning story in the comments — look above for River's comment. I try not to dwell too much on stuff like this when staying in a hotel, otherwise I wouldn't be able to stay anywhere. The problem with the airbnb was that the obvious dirt was so glaring that I couldn't help but wonder about the dirt I wasn't seeing. Oh well.

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    2. Yes, I read River's comment. Ew. I also try to put these thoughts in a corner whenever I have to stay in a hotel. I just pretend it is clean. Although now I think I will re-wash all the kitchen stuff at least before using.

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  8. I was thinking the same exact thing. :)

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