Day 5 in San Francisco: “Top Chef” Thursday

Things we loved in San Francisco:

Two Buck Chuck (Seriously. Wine for $2 a bottle in North America?)

Bristol Farms

Consumer warning labels in stores (how’s that for awareness?)

Scramble crosswalks (coming soon to Edmonton)

Something else we loved? Sleeping in. We decided to give ourselves the benefit of a late start on day 5, as we felt recovery was in order after two consecutive early mornings.

The day as a whole was a lazy one – without any concrete plans besides a dinner reservation and a late show, it felt freeing to be able to wander without direction. So after grabbing a coffee from Peet’s, we spent the morning shopping at Union Square.

San Francisco

Union Square

It was easy to get used to that kind of shopping experience – stores densely packed together, all accessible from street-level, with crosswalks at every block. Sure, some of the stores we visited have locations in Edmonton also, but only locked inside a mall or car-driven complex.

San Francisco

Pedestrian-friendly shopping

We eventually walked over to the Yerba Buena Gardens, which, on first glance, appeared to be the city’s outdoor bedroom. We lost count of the number of people idling on the grass, enjoying the shade and the soothing sound of the water features.

Yerba Buena

Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena

Waterfall

I had read about there being a century old carousel at the Gardens, and, like my giddy stint at the Musee, I couldn’t pass up a visit.

Zeum Carousel

Carousel!

Mack initially wasn’t as keen on reverting back to his childhood, but even he enjoyed circling the wooden animals to select his steed. And at only $3 for two rides, it was well worth it!

Zeum Carousel

Whee!

Zeum Carousel

Mack gets in the spirit of things

I knew we were near ‘Witchcraft, one of Tom Collichio’s casual sandwich outposts, and given we were to later dine at another restaurant connected to the Top Chef series, it just seemed fitting to stop there for lunch.

'wichcraft

Interior

At 2pm, we found the restaurant nearly empty – perhaps we just missed the lunch rush? ‘Witchcraft wasn’t in the most inspiring location (it faces a parkade), but the interior definitely tried to make up for it. We loved the floor-to-ceiling windows, the second floor loft-style seating, and the stylish prints featuring antique kitchen equipment.

'wichcraft

Mack

From what I had read about the restaurant though, I really thought the menu would grab me. But somehow, the sandwich combinations didn’t excite me at all. I ended up with the grilled cheese sandwich and soup of the day, while Mack chose the BLT. Our lunch for two (with one drink) cost $23.

My grilled cheese was good (solid bread foundation, nice combination of cheeses), but the soup was better (great texture and depth). Mack liked the BLT well enough (especially the bacon), but thought the tomato overpowered everything.

'wichcraft

Grilled cheese and soup

'wichcraft

BLT

The side of Tim’s Chips ended up being our favourite part of the meal – kettle-style, they were just the right thickness to offer both a satisfying crunch and a rounded flavour from the frying oil. Best of all, they didn’t have any additives.

'wichcraft

Tim’s Chips

It’s something to be said when the package of chips stands out the most – so all told, ‘Witchcraft was a bit underwhelming for both of us.

A brief sojourn back to the hotel had us ready for our trip’s most anticipated meal. While watching the second season of Top Chef Masters, both Mack and I fell head over heels for Chef Hubert Keller. His personality and modest nature outshone his competitors: where others put ego first, Chef Keller always seemed to let his food speak for itself. So we knew a visit to SF wouldn’t be complete without reservations to Fleur de Lys.

The restaurant was just a ten minute walk from our hotel, allowing us to build up an appetite for the multi-course meal. When we arrived, we were whisked inside a sumptuous room, lined with curtains and complete with a tented ceiling. Most of the tables were arranged like streetside Parisian cafes – facing inwards instead of towards one another. It really felt like we had stepped into another world.

Unlike our experience at Gramercy Tavern in New York a few years back, when I was afraid to even take out my camera, it didn’t seem out of place at Fleur de Lys. Most of the diners were our age, and nearly all of them were snapping pictures of their experience. Also, through the curtains, I spotted a television set tuned to Food Network – of all shows, Top Chef Masters was on!

We chose the $82/person 4 course meal, which of course, with wine, was much more than that. Given that we were provided with several options for each course (starter, seafood, meat, dessert), the price seemed reasonable.

The vegetable ragout with truffle oil was a bit underwhelming to me, though the egg was poached very nicely. Mack enjoyed his Maryland soft shell crab, but had a bit of trouble determining how best to eat it, given the crab had been deep fried whole.

Fleur de lys

Vegetable ragout

Fleur de lys

Maryland soft shell crab

My salmon (sustainably raised, of course) was well cooked, and I loved the accompanying broccolini. The dish also marked my first ever encounter with porcini flan, and I have to say, I quite enjoyed the savoury version. Mack’s dish of prawns ended up being just a singular prawn, albeit one that was pretty tasty, and one that he enjoyed more as it was served alongside pork belly.

Fleur de lys

Sustainably raised salmon

Wild jumbo prawn with brioche crust

The duck, moist as ever, was a play on duck l’orange, served with fresh orange segments. I wasn’t a fan of the spetzle though – they were bland. Mack equally enjoyed his filet mignon, though not surprisingly, he devoured the lobster truffled mac & cheese (stuffed into a brioche bun!) first.

Fleur de lys

Muscovy duck breast, grenadine pickled onions

Seared filet mignon

We both absolutely adored the dessert course. My chocolate souffle was easily worth the additional $6 charge, light and fluffy on top with a satisfying and rich centre. Mack’s plate was a whimsical play on burger, fries and shake, with slices of kiwi standing in for pickles.

Fleur de lys

Chocolate souffle

Fleur de lys

Fleurburger

The restaurant saved the best part for last – towards the end of our meal, Chef Keller came out to meet all the diners! I’m pretty sure everyone in the room knew who he was, but he still made sure to introduce himself at each table, “Hello, I’m the chef here”. Mack didn’t want to wash his hands afterwards. #fanboy

Mack, Sharon, Hubert Keller

With Chef Keller

Our dinner at Fleur de Lys was a memorable experience, though only partially because of the food. We were so happy to have met Chef Keller!

We didn’t plan it that way, but the 19th annual San Francisco Fringe Festival happened to be running the same week we were there. Of course, we had to take in at least one show.

The fact that Edmonton is the home of the second largest Fringe Festival in the world is so often bandied about that I think Edmontonians take it for granted. At least, I know I do. So it was a shock to me that San Francisco, an enviable city in so many ways, could not even hold a candle to our fabulous theatre festival.

With just three venues and a total of 42 shows, the scale of the SF Fringe was much, much smaller than Edmonton’s Fringe. Show times were also confined to evenings on weekdays and the venues weren’t clearly marked. It also probably didn’t help that their theatre district was in the shadiest part of the city that we’d come across thus far (the aforementioned neighbourhood that we were warned by hotel staff not to walk through).

The biggest difference, however, was the lack of a festival atmosphere. The festival grounds are one of the biggest reasons Edmonton’s Fringe is the place to be in August. The buskers, the food, the music and the activities are all such an integral part of the Fringe now that it is difficult to consider what it would be like without it.

We chose Star Crossed Love based on the description on the website, and had pre-purchased our tickets online (just in case). There really was no need – granted, it was a 10:30pm show on a Thursday night, but for a supposed “pick of the Fringe”, the dozen people in the audience was disappointing, to say the least.

San Francisco Fringe

Star Crossed Love

The premise of the theatre company is the showcase of badly written scripts. That is to say, all of their productions are culled from rejected Hollywood screenplays, performed on stage verbatim. For example, any time a character nodded, the actors would nod in exaggerated fashion. As you can guess, some of the actions got old fast, but others, including “lovers a long time” (where the couple looked to be bored of one another) were amusing.

The script itself was indeed awful – an over-the-top, implausible, rags-to-riches tale where the heroine ends the show up on stage, accepting an Oscar. But wasn’t as funny as it could have been, and for that reason, wasn’t that entertaining. We did want to commend the actors though – they really committed to the roles, and tried their best to wring every bit of unintentional humour from it.

We made our way back through the Tenderloin and retired to our hotel for the night. On to the next day!

5 thoughts on “Day 5 in San Francisco: “Top Chef” Thursday

  1. I am totally jealous that you got to meet Hubert Keller who is one of my heroes! Last week, I got to meet Kevin Gillespie at his restaurant in Atlanta, one of Top Chef’s finalists, and a few weeks ago I went to Emile Lagasse’s NOLA and John Besh’s August, in New Orleans, (two chefs who were on Top Chef and Top Chef Masters,) and I must say that it was a great experience, so I’m happy you were able to try the Fleur de Lys 🙂

  2. Love this post Sharon! And I absolutely love San Fran. Thank you for sharing your culinary adventures. I’m so glad I ate lunch before perusing your pics. 😉

  3. That is so cool you got to meet Chef Keller! I went to Fleur de Lys back in 2006, well before I knew who he was. Food was great from what I remember, only thing that I remember clearly from that restaurant however was a pea puree palette cleanser though.

    I also think their Fringe is oddly underwhelming. I also ran into it by accident on a trip there and venues aren’t clearly marked and scattered, and walking by, you’d hardly know it exists. Strange that such a cultured city with a fantastic opera company, great vibe, and vibrant nightlife has such a quiet Fringe festival!

  4. Mack’s dessert sounds like the one offered at Keller’s Burger Bar in Las Vegas, which was easily one of the most phenomenal desserts I’ve ever tasted. I also had to laugh at your softshell crab experience; in New York City I ordered the softshell while at a local neighbourhood place and entertained the server by discreetly asking him how to eat it — he assured me I was nowhere near the only one to ask before telling me the whole damn thing was edible. And it was delicious.

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