Road trip day 8 – Carmel by the sea, roadside grilled artichokes and Delfina Pizzeria in San Francisco
After spending three nights at our destination we packed the hummer yet again (getting a little tired of it as we are accumulating more “stuff”) and left Paso Robles to begin our return journey home. We wanted to make it to San Francisco and spend a couple of nights there but I had a few stops in mind along the way. We did not want to repeat the nerve wrecking drive along winding cliffside Ca-1 that we drove down on so we thought we would take route 101 to Carmel and then continue on Ca-1 from there (not so cliffside north of Carmel).
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a picturesque community made famous by once mayor and still resident “go ahead make my day” Clint Eastwood. We were only passing through but I wanted to check out one of the restaurants on my list. We stopped for lunch at Basil Seasonal Dining, a cafe-restaurant right in the center of town. We ordered grilled shishito peppers, roasted asparagus, (tried to order Umbrian lentils but they ran out), fresh pea and leek soup and tortellini primavera style with peas and asparagus. Lunch was seasonal, fresh and flavourful and we enjoyed the interlude before strolling through the beautiful town center and then driving along Scenic Road by the beach.
Carmel has a playful storybook architecture by Hugh Comstock who in the 1920’s designed many storybook cottages with rolled eves, asymmetrical stone chimneys and unusually shaped doors and windows. I am told (see reader comment below) that the few remaining houses designed by Comstock are located East of Junipero and North of Ocean Avenue. One in the heart of town is the Tuck Box restaurant. Along scenic drive there are homes incorporating elements from this storybook architecture as you see in the images.
Driving down Scenic road you see most of them, including the Hansel and Gretel homes. A stopover in Carmel-by-the-Sea does not do it justice. It’s a worthwhile destination on its own and is on my “list” to return to. No sighting of Eastwood but we weren’t really looking.
Next stop was at an artichoke farm along the way. Artichoke season is usually earlier in the spring (this is late June), but the season was extended because the plants were not performing as well due to cooler weather. The fresh artichokes stands on both sides of the road were making my head spin wanting to buy. Since I had no kitchen for the foreseeable future we had to settle for eating them right here. We stopped at a stand with a sign that said “french fried artichokes”. Sorry to say but I was disappointed. The artis may have been fresh but they were covered with greasy batter and deep fried and had no flavour or texture. I did not give up, went back to the stand and ordered grilled artichokes. These were perfect: fresh artichokes cut in half, brushed with oil and grilled until crisp and tender. A big squeeze of lemon was all they needed and even tough this was after lunch in Carmel, I could have eaten a few of them. So, check off another item on my must experience list, had the grilled artis at a roadside stand.
We were going to stop again along Ca-1 at Duarte in Pescadero but that was not to be. Construction on the road turned us around and before you know it our GPS directed us elsewhere and we found ourselves heading north east on 17 on the way to Route 101 to San Francisco. How annoying is that. We should have paid more attention.
We arrived in San Francisco late, had a bit of an ordeal with a last minute hotel that we booked from the car and did not like, so we did not check in and went to another hotel on Union Square. Much better. Hopefully I can get a refund for the non-refundable night at the other hotel (we did).
We checked in, cleaned up a bit and left for pizza at Pizzeria Delfina in the Mission. It was 9:00 pm and we did not have much energy so pizza was just what we wanted. We ordered a couple of lovely fresh salads with lemon dressing and shared a pizza with broccoli rabe, caciocavallo, mozza and arugula. The crust was crisp and chewy and the slightly bitter topping did not overwhelm the pizza as some toppings do. It was fun to sit at the counter (no tables were available) and watch the scene. If you go there, you can expect a long line on the sidewalk of people waiting to get in. This time it was late, about an hour before closing, so we walked right in. When you enter put your name on the blackboard to the left of the door instead of going to the hostess. If you don’t, those behind you will put their names down first. It was taxi there and taxi back to the hotel but a very enjoyable late evening.
The next morning we intended to have breakfast at Mama’s restaurant on Washington Square up on top of the hill. We walked over from Union Square up through China Town and then Little Italy to Washington Square but even from a distance it became clear that breakfast at Mama’s was not going to happen. The line-up was waaaay too long, wrapping around the corner a looong way. I did walk over to take a look and the place inside was packed. Funny how some places just become popular and stay that way for so long. Mama’s is a family run restaurant, in business for 50 years, and clearly has a loyal following. Too bad about the lineup, I was all worked up and in the mood for the French toast made with their cranberry-orange bread or Pan Dore with apples in lemon butter sauce. Well, another time.
We were already on top of the hill so decided to continue down the other side to Fisherman’s Wharf and end at the Ferry Building for breakfast and good San Fran coffee. We walked down Stockton street straight to Pier 39 with no problem but the Ferry building was at Pier 1 and that seemed like a long way to walk this morning (about 2 km). We did proceed on foot along the Embarcadero for a while before we gave up and hailed a cab who delivered us to the Ferry Building and dropped us in front, where a vegetable market was well under way that day. The Ferry building is a must destination when visiting San Fran. You can walk there from downtown along Market Street or take the historic trolley cars. The Ferry Building is an indoor marketplace destination offering anything from produce to cheeses, bakeries, restaurants and cafes. There is even a Sur la Table store at one end that is not to be missed. The Ferry Building begun its career as a wooden ferry house back in 1875 and developed into a hub of transportation for anyone arriving by train from eastern USA. After several transformations today it is a remarkable steel structure that withstood a couple of major earthquakes, easily recognizable from a distance by the 245 feet tall clock tower modelled after a 12th century bell tower in the Seville Cathedral in Spain.
As far as I know the Ferry Building is not the place to go for a traditional sit down breakfast where you get the usual breakfast fare (correct me if I am wrong). As far as my experience goes you pick up a couple of things at different vendors and settle outside on one of the benches and watch the going on at the waterfront. Of course you can sit at one of the restaurants as well but they don’t serve traditional breakfast. I picked up crusty baguette sandwiches with brie and jam at Acme Bread Company (delish), G picked up some foods from Slanted Door (Vietnamese). Not exactly breakfast but good. We picked up coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee on the north end and a couple of their waffles to go that you hold in paper coffee filter type cones and eat on the go. The coffee was not hot enough but I just went with it. The waffles were good, not too sweet, a little oily but still fun. Hey, we are in San Francisco.
After breakfast I did my traditional walk through, this time without buying because we still had a few days in the car before getting home. I love checking out the cheeses at CowGirl Creamery, the pastries at Miette (gorgeous, I have the cookbook), walk through the Village Market to look at produce (yes), check out the mushroom selection at Far West Fungi and of course buy a few things at Sur la Table (beautiful ceramic bowls and plates). If there is time, perhaps another coffee at Pete’s Coffee and call it a day at the Ferry Building. We had to keep going because I wanted to make it to the department stored for some retail therapy. I had to go by Heath Ceramic and the Gardener pretty quickly because we could not carry any more “stuff”. That evening we went to see a musical so dinner was rather quick at a hotel nearby. I was worried about the heavy shopping bag from Sur la Table that G was carrying and wanted to take a taxi but G wanted to walk so we walked up market street back to Union Square and out hotel. We had a fabulous morning and a good exercise walking while we were at it. G went back to the hotel and spent the afternoon shopping by myself (success and no witnesses) and in the evening we went to the theatre.
Clearly we did not have enough time in San Francisco but we had a schedule and the trip was not open ended. It’s definitely on my “list” to spend more time there in the future. We left the next morning heading north on Route 101 with more adventures in store. Dune Buggy’ing on the Oregon dunes, olive oil tasting in Sonoma. Don’t switch the channel. We’ll be right back.