05 November 2010

Five Days of Gastronomy, California Style (Days 2-3)

The Amazing Variety of San Francisco Food 
Down the Coast to Rancho Arroyo Grande

(Subtitle:  Cousin * Cousine * Cuisine)

Our second day, Jack and I spent the morning walking ALL over San Francisco, seeing, smelling and tasting good food everywhere we went.

San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and such fun to stroll through, meandering in and out of shops and street vendors' tables. Jack bought a hefty Chinese chef's clever, for just $10, at one cooking supply shop. It has turned out to be a terrific knife - sharpens easily, cuts well and is easy to hold and maneuver. He's been using his purchase since we returned home.

Chinese pates, stuffed buns and other goodies.

Different varieties of chickens, quails and other birds for sale.

Fish of every description!

Crazy cucumbers

 Dried roots (?) or fungi (?)

 Aromatic (!) dried shrimp (not my favorite scent).

Our visit to Fisherman's Wharf was something of a disappointment, since it seemed very touristy. We did watch some delivery vans unloading fresh fish and shellfish, such as the lively squirming crabs pictured below.

And we visited Boudin Sourdough Bakery (their facade, above), which was great eye candy!

Next we walked to Ghirardelli Square, and I was blown away by the hot chocolate we ordered in the Ghirardelli boutique. It was so rich, so chocolatey - hands down the best hot chocolate either of us has ever tasted. I wouldn't be surprised if it was made with heavy cream - it was that rich! Thank goodness we both ordered smalls, as I think larger sizes would have done us in.

We bought our evening's dessert at Kara's Cupcakes in Ghirardelli Square.

San Francisco's trollies are electric - great for the environment. (photo source: Google images)

Taking the trolley back to Union Square, we spotted the huge open-air Farmers Market on the Embarcadero in front of the Ferry Building. The driver kindly let us off at the last minute, and said that our ticket was good for the entire day, so we could continue our journey whenever we were ready - wow!

I had never before seen so many different varieties of peppers!

Inside the renovated old Ferry Building is an amazing food lovers dream: the entire building is dedicated to gourmet foods, and every shop displays items you think you just can't go another step without tasting!

Boccalone Salumeria has a huge selection of cooked and cured meats - a pork lover's heaven!

At Cowgirl Creamery's Artisan Cheese Shop, our enthusiastic salesperson, who was so interesting to talk with about the cheeses she sold. (We ended up buying way too much!)

One of our favorite cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery in Marin, just outside of San Francisco, sinfully rich triple creme Mt. Tam ended up in our basket.
(By the way, you can buy this south of Boston, at Bloomy Rind, in Hingham).

After Drake joined us, we packed our food for a picnic and hit the road south to Arroyo Grande.
I just can't describe how good this salami was, but I think the label kind of gives you the idea!

Picnic somewhere south of San Francisco, with our purchases from the farmers market and the Ferry Building - three cheeses, salami, head cheese, ham, fresh fruits and veggies (carrots with the dirt still on them), olives, French mayo & mustard. Dessert was chocolates we had purchased earlier at Ghirardelli.

Heading south toward Arroyo Grande, to visit my cousins, we drove through so many acres of lush farmland, including the artichoke capital of the world....hundreds and hundreds of workers in the fields picking vegetables. It's no wonder this area is called "the salad bowl of the nation".

We arrived at Rancho Arroyo Grande, my cousins' ranch, just in time to taste a variety of their wines with Chris (my cousin Ann's husband), who did not hesitate to open and pour copious amounts of every one of their labels. This was just before 6 o'clock. Then Ann arrived and we all cooked together, and lingered over dinner - incredibly flavorful steaks, which the guys had grilled outdoors, and Ann's special oven roasted veggies, as well as something Drake invented on the spot: steamed potatoes sauteed with green grapes, fresh herbs, butter and crunchy sea salt. We then visited the wine cellar (a few minutes' walk from the house), before returning to the dining room for the cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes, whose boutique at Ghirardelli Square had been impossible for us to resist. (Ann's and my favorite was the dark chocolate with fleur de sel.) More than a couple of bottles of Conway wine were consumed. Six hours later, we were finally falling into bed, although I understand Drake and Chris stayed up talking on the terrace for at least another hour!

During dinner, Chris told us "spooky" stories of an underground crypt, and asked if we were brave enough to visit it. So between dinner and dessert, we laughed as Chris put on his best macabre attitude, and led us through the dark outside, to the mystery location. With an ancient looking key scraping in the locks, we entered through two heavy doors that creaked on old iron hinges, increasing the eerie atmosphere. Once inside the room, which turned out to be the wine cellar, of course, all eeriness fled as we reveled in the gorgeous cellar, whose walls are covered in some of the shell fossils found all over the property.
Although the ranch is over ten miles from the Pacific Ocean, it was underwater a millennium ago, and the property is rich in shell fossils, inspiring the Conways to name their Deep Sea line of wines, as well as Coquina Vineyard.
 Early the next morning - the view from Jack's & my bathroom door, of fog burning off the hills.

Although we had to get back to San Francisco the next day, we did have time for a leisurely breakfast, including huevos rancheros - poached eggs with black beans, cheese & salsa on a flour tortilla. Then we toured a small part of the ranch before heading south to the winery. (On our next visit, we'll make time to see the vineyards, up close and personal.)

Drake, Jack and Chris on the deck of the environmentally green building the Conways built - a recording studio for The Bravery (John Conway is keyboardist for the band). The building is constructed of hay bales, covered in cement, and looks adobe-like. Apparently this construction is very efficient, and of course, uses natural materials - very cool! The upstairs space can eventually be used for wine tasting events, etc.
A gorgeous building of totally green construction.

The Conways cold press and bottle two varieties of olive oil from their own trees. They kindly gave us some to bring home for our salads - a great memory of their beautiful ranch!

Jack, picking pink peppercorns. The trees, right outside our bedroom door, were incredibly abundant with pepperberries.
We picked and brought some home to the East Coast, for cooking.

There is nothing like an apple just off the tree!

Zefferino Vineyard, below, one of several different vineyards on the ranch, is simply gorgeous! Of the 3,500 acres that comprise the ranch, 250 acres are currently planted with vines. After purchasing the property a few years back, the vines - which had been neglected for several years - had to be severely pruned back. Also, the Conways are now growing their vines in the French style, so the vines' growing patterns needed to be changed, as well.

The Conways - Ann, Chris, kids, grandchildren and dogs.
(Both photos above from the Rancho Arroyo Grande website.) 

Conway Family Wines is owned and operated by the entire Conway family, and is the full-time job of three of the five kids. The winery is about a half hour south of the ranch. 

Freshly picked chardonnay grapes being loaded into the press (above)...
...and their juice pouring out (below).

Me, Ann, Chris, Jack and Jonathan Medard, their French winemaker.

Jonathan gave us vat and barrel tastings from several vintages. Above, chardonnay.

I always love tasting wine, as it's changing and maturing before being bottled. Jonathan explained a lot of characteristics to us about each different sample. (Note the chardonnay grapes on the floor.)

Cabernet or Pinot Noir (can't remember).

Drake and I amongst the barrels.

Outside, the empty buckets that had contained the chardonnay grapes. They were picked and brought into the winery, throughout the night before.

5:45 PM Gotta run - Jack just came into my office to tell me that he's drinking the Conway Deep Sea Red, and he's REALLY impressed with how good it is... Hey, Jack, wait for me!!

Stay tuned for more on our California food and wine adventure tomorrow.

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