100 Things To Do In San Francisco Before You Die

My interveiw with Kimberley Lovato

S.F. Bucket List - Book cover

I first met the author, Kimberley Lovato at our home

when she was the guest of honor at one of my wine tastings. I interviewed her about her first book – Unique Eats and Eateries of San Francisco – and we all tasted wine and she signed books for everyone, and we all had a great time.

So when I heard she had published a second book with co-author Jill Robinson, I wanted to repeat the popular event. But it came out during the holiday season, and I had one or two other things going on and so did she, so… I had to settle for this Blog interview.

Co-authors, Robinson and Lovato

Dave: Kimberley, you and I both love our city and its fun, little-known (as well as well-known!) unique haunts. And I almost hate opening these great little secrets to everyone! But tell us, what did you and Jill want to do with this book?

Kimberley: We wanted to share some of our favorite ways to play in the city, and given the number of guests and tourists we’ll host this holiday season, this new book is a timely source of new activities and discoveries. Our book is loaded with tips for all readers, whether it’s their first time in San Francisco or they’ve been here for ages. It’s really just an idea generator. And I’ll let your readers in on a little secret – our book lissts way more than a 100 things to do!

Dave: Can you describe some of the things you decided to include in your book? That must have been a difficult editorial decision for the two of you!

Kimberley: We divided the book into sections – Food & Drink, History and Culture to lend some organization to our long list. And we enjoyed spending hours looking into the nooks and crannies of our citie’s four corners (we mean literally, since the city is pretty much a 7X7 square!) Some of our favorite places are well-known, others are hidden gems you’d only find by diving deep into San Francisco’s eclectic neighborhoods. We’re hoping the book will be popular as a holiday gift for that friend who keeps promising to visit year after year, or put it on your guest room’s bedside table.

Dave: That sounds like a great idea, you just solved one of my gifting challenges for this year!

Kimberley: My co-auther also uses it during her daughter’s school breaks. She asks her to choose a few things in the book, or turn to a random page, and then they do them together. It’s been a fun source of mother-daughter activities.

Dave: Kimberley, thanks for speaking with me today, but let’s close with a few of your favorite activities from your list. What are your top suggestions from your book?

What are some of the best things to do in San Francisco around the holidays?

San Francisco is great anytime of year but the holidays are lovely. Union Square has an ice skating rink beneath a big Christmas tree, and the Macy’s has SPCA Holiday displays where adoptable pets frolic in the windows. Ghiradelli Square also has a large tree and plenty of entertainment for visitors to enjoy. Plus, you can drink hot chocolate nearby.  The San Francisco Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker is a holiday tradition and this year is the show’s 75th anniversary in the city. The decorations inside the War Memorial Opera House are magical. San Francisco hotels really get in the spirit too in terms of décor – you could spend a fun day touring their lobbies and stopping in for tea (or wine, Dave suggests!) at each one. The Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill even constructs a massive gingerbread house in the lobby. 

Is San Francisco a fun place for kids? What can they do for fun?

Yes, and there are so many things to do. Since San Francisco is relatively small and easily walkable, kids of all ages can enjoy it.  The Cable Cars are a fun way to get around the city, and kids always love to hear the clang-clang as they move effortlessly up San Francisco’s steep hills.  If the weather is nice, we recommend getting out on the bay and we list several ways you can do that, both as active and passive participants, including ferry rides to nearby towns, such as Sausalito, or even kayaking.  One could spend a whole day in Golden Gate Park where you can rent paddleboats, romp in the playgrounds, count the buffalo, and ride a carousel.  Our museums are also really fun and interactive for kids, especially the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and the Children’s Creativity Museum. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge is a popular pastime, and ideal for teens who need to burn some energy and want to take really cool selfies.

A fun way to get around the city. A moving museum!

Where would you recommend going for the best holiday family photo?

Crissy Field is not only a wonderful walk along the San Francisco Bay, it also boasts one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the city. You can snap the family portrait with the entire span in the background. It’ll be a framer for sure!

Where should someone go for a celebratory glass of bubbly or holiday cocktail?

We write about how hotel bars in San Francisco are having a moment and we still think that’s true. Some of the best bars in the city are in hotels, and they feel especially fun and festive during the holidays thanks to twinkle lights and décor.

The former Starlight Room on the 21st floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel is now called Lizzie’s Starlight and it’s a chic spot for bubbly and some of the best bar food in the city. Make sure to go during daylight hours so you can enjoy the sweeping views.  The Palace Hotel, under its crystal atrium in the lobby, looks like a snow globe scene and is the perfect place for a celebration. And the Clift Hotel’s Redwood Room always feels swanky and luxe.  We already mentioned the Fairmont Hotel, and across the street atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel is Top of the Mark, known for its panoramic city views and martinis.   One of our favorite old stand-bys is Buena Vista Café, known for its Irish coffees, which hit the spot on a cold and foggy day.

The Buena Vist’s Irish Coffee. Expensive, but worth it?

What should people eat this time of year?

‘Tis the Season for Dungeness Crab in San Francisco.  You can get it at Fisherman’s Wharf at one of the stalls, or restaurants around the city will likely have it on their holiday and winter menus.   We like the casual Swan Oyster Depot, an institution on Polk Street. You’ll have to wait in line but it’s worth it.  Tadich Grill is another SF mainstay. They annually serve more than 20,000 bowls of Cioppino, a seafood stew considered by many to be the signature dish of San Francisco.

Read more about the authors or pick up a copy online at www.100ThingsSF.net or wherever books are sold.

Explore the popular wine discoveries from Dave the Wine Merchant at www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

New Book: “Unique Eats & Eateries – San Francisco”

I thought this book would be of interest only for Bay Area foodies, but as one of my wine club members explained “all paths lead to San Francisco eventually“.  So I post this review for perusal by all who want to be prepared for that next trip to San Francisco, even if that trip is yet to be planned!

Local author, Kimberly Lovato, was kind enough to attend a wine tasting I organized, and discussed her latest project. You’ll find it refreshingly unique among restaurant books in that it doesn’t provide reviews or ratings. Instead, its objective is to illuminate interesting restaurant history, local foodways, and tidbits unique to the city’s food scene.

It makes no attempt to document the city’s thousands of restaurants, or even to isolate its handful of “best”. To earn its way into this book, a food establishment had to be sufficiently unique and interesting to stand out from the crowd in one way or another – like the donut shop featuring a donut as big as your head.  Good ol’ “Bob’s“. Or the oldest continuously operating restaurant in California – the Tadich Grill – who doesn’t take reservations and whose white-coated staff proudly turns away the world’s rich and beautiful alike if they are unwilling to wait their turn.

These and many more discoveries await in this new book from Lovato. Crack the cover of “Unique Eats & Eateries” and you’ll find your brief perusal has quickly turned into many minutes spent flipping from one interesting feature to the next.

Enjoy!

New Cookbook from “Once Upon a Chef”

Available through Chronicle Books, $29.95

Online chef sensation, Jennifer Segal, has developed a considerable following for her home-tested recipes. Today she introduced the release of her first cook book – Once Upon a Chef, 100 Tested, Perfected, and Family-Approved Recipes.  I’ve subscribed to Jennifer’s email feed for years now, and though they include more desserts than I can feature with wine pairings, her savory dishes all replicate quite well in our home.

Because Jennifer also happens to be a talented photographer, she normally shoots her own food shots, and they are clear, simple and well-shot.  So I was surprised to see that her cookbook photos were shot by Alexandra Gablewski.  I can only presume Jennifer hired her for this project because Alexandra is even better than Jennifer, which only builds the anticipation for the release of this book, now avaialable for pre-order. And at just under $30, add this book to your short list of gifts for friends and family.

And, as always, let me know if you need help pairing wines with any of Jennifer’s recipes!

Cheers!

BOOK REVIEW: Pinot, Pasta and Parties. Dee Dee & Paul Sorvino

Book Review: Pinot, Pasta & Parties. Dee Dee & Paul Sorvino

Renaissance man Paul Sorvino has many talents.  He’s a musician, an opera singer, a sculptor, and a great cook.  But he’s best known as an actor – of his 200+ roles on stage, film and TV, it was his roles in Goodfellas and Law & Order that raised his level of familiarity above the casual “man that actor looks familiar… what’s his name and where have we see him before?

As one would expect of a modern renaissance man, the woman he chose for his life partner is also a force of nature.  His partner in life as well as in this cook book project is Dee Dee Sorvinao – a tall woman with a cherubic face and an electric personality, she makes a living as a political advisor and spokesperson.  They met a few short years ago on the studio of Fox News, went out to drinks afterwards, and were married within the year.  As Paul and Dee Dee contributed to this book it became as much an ode to each other as to the recipes and lifestyle it promotes.

And you’ll get hungry as you read it.  The recipes, and the Sorvino’s commentary that accompanies each one, celebrate Italy’s love of fresh ingredients, simple procedures and meals shared with friends and family around a table full of conversation and devoid of electronic devices!

The book features over 80 recipes, most of which are accompanied by beautiful color photos.  I prefer a cookbook with photos that provide a clear vision of what the completed process looks and also allow me to recipe shop without reading.  Food photographer Vincent Remini did a commendable job here.

The recipes are organized into chapters featuring meals inspired by the Sorvino’s life and loves.  Each chapter opens with a story from the Sorvino’s lives along with a related, thematic menu that flows (roughly) in the Italian tradition, from aperitivo (small bites during cocktail hour), to antipasto (appetizer), to primi (pasta), to secondi (main), to contorni (sides), to insalata and ending with dolce (dessert). I get the impression the Sorvino’s home is where everyone wants to be, come dinner time – not just for the good food, but to celebrate life on a daily basis.  You’re sure to find quite a number of fun dinner parties between the covers of Pinot, Pasta & Parties.

One of Dee Dee’s cocktail recipes opens each chapter, and though they all look delicious (and yes, I’ve already tested some!), the title of the book seems to have been chosen more for the alliteration than the practice – I could find nary a reference to pinot.  In fact, the whole subject of wine, so essential to the Italian table, is primarily relegated to the two-page reference guide to Italian grape varietals – a handy primer indeed, but I was hoping wine would be given a stronger supporting role since it’s mentioned in the title.

One thing I found rather curious is that most chapters are accompanied by the Sorvino’s take on politics and patriotism, which I found an odd thing to include in a book on Italian cooking.  Stating one’s views in today’s divisive, bifurcated political environment seems to be a no-win proposition as it immediately alienates half the population.  But as I said earlier, this book is as much a paean to each other as it is to the Sorvino’s love of the Italian approach to food, friends and family.

At the time of this review (April 9th, 2017), you could buy the hard-cover book on Amazon for a list price of $30.  Planned release date is April 18, 2017.

Photo - Dave the Wine MerchantCheers!

Dave the Wine Merchant

Book Review – Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible (2nd Edition)

Karen MacNeil Wine Bible 2nd Ed

Amazon describes this book as “The #1 Best Seller” in their Wine Collecting category.

Do I really need to say more? What can I add that the intelligence of the collective community hasn’t already said by voting with their credit cards?  Just my opinion, I guess.

Which one might see as sycophanitc burbling.  You see, this book is utterly charming.  Informative but not pedantic.  Fun and enjoyable to read.  It is not the ONLY wine reference book you need, but it is certainly the first one to buy – the cornerstone for any wine library.

My only gripe is minor – some topics can be a tad difficult to find, as the book is organized by country/region and (at least in the advance copy I received) has no index. This makes researching a grape variety very difficult to do if using the paper version of the book, which lacks the convenience of electronic search capabilities.  BUT, for those buying a paper version, I recommend the hard cover as you’ll use it often and your increasingly well-thumbed softcover version will need to be replaced all too soon.

Karen MacNeilBut the biggest surprise to me was Karen’s warmth and lightness of tone.  Her obvious enthusiasm is shared with brevity and the perfect ratio of images to text, and does so without ever tiptoeing into the “look how smart I am” territory.  

You see, I’ve never taken a class from Karen, but I’ve met her several times and have one of her wine education video series, and she strikes me as one who is (hmmm, how do I put this?) “very precise”.  Like someone whose parking meter change is organized by coin size.  Whose floor-to-ceiling library is organized alphabetically.  Whose clothes somehow are never marred by coffee consumed from a leaky to-go cup on the way to her office. And whose writing style would lean towards the deeply informative while eschewing the engagingly captivating.  I may or may not be right about the first three, but I am very pleased to be wrong about my last conclusion!

You’ll enjoy this book, over and over again!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Save 50% – Pre-Order the new book from Wine Folly

WineFollyBookAmong the many producers of wine info-graphics, WineFolly is the consistent winner in terms of creativity and the visual display of information.  And now the minds behind these reliable graphics are coming out with a new book, available for under $12 when you pre-order on Amazon (sorry, U.S. only).

Check it out here – http://bit.ly/WineFollyBookOffer

I’ve not yet seen the book, but perusing the preview on Amazon provides a good indication that it will be a useful and reliable guide to wine and the grapes that produce them.  Wine Folly seems to have brought to wine literature what DK Publishing brought to tourism guides.

Cheers!
Dave

Book Reviews: “Proof” & “Dial M for Merlot”

I must be the most frustrating book reviewer in the world.  When I agree to review a book relevant to food and wine enthusiasts, the publicist sends me a promotional copy.  And then… they wait.  Sometimes for quite a while. Because I have two habits that virtually guarantee my review will miss the critical 6-8 week period following release:

  1. I read the entire book .  Most reviewers see this behavior as inefficient. Farcical, even. But a fair review requires an understanding of the book’s gestalt, not just a skim of a few pages.  Besides, if I struggle to finish the book in a timely manner it usually means other readers will too.
  2. I don’t enjoy publishing bad reviews.  I know how difficult it is to craft a compelling story and tell it in an engaging manner. But a desire to caution readers from investing time and money on a book they may not enjoy eventually means the review gets publish.

I apologize to the publicists for being so late to the party.

Dial M for Merlot, by Howard K

20141207_161416This is the first effort from author “Howard K”, who spins an interesting tale.  But sadly, that tale was told via the prose of a novice author employing metaphors so clumsy they were sometimes painful to read. In addition, Mr. K uses a rather liberal hand in sprinkling gratuitous sex throughout his story, with female characters that seem to have sprung from one of Ian Fleming’s old James Bond series – fun, pretty baubles to adorn a male protagonist.

And finally, Mr. K requires the reader to suspend belief and accept the absurdity that a virgin computer nerd / Star Trek enthusiast without any interest in fine wine or food, can transmogrify into an expert wine taster and womanizer within a few short months.

That said, by making his protagonist a wine novice, Howard K has a convenient reason for diving into some substantial details about wine, and doing so without ever making his story seem like a dry reference piece.  It is a great conceit for leading the general public to a greater appreciation of this ancient and noble beverage.  In addition, he has woven a story of intrigue, in fact one that I think could be easily adapted to the big screen.   The story line is engaging despite the author’s shortcomings as a writer, which improve over the course of the book.  Quite dramatically, in fact.  

Which gives me hope that Howard K’s next book will be even better.  

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Proof – The Science of Booze – Adam Rogers

20141207_161429

Rogers’s book is just the opposite.  An experience writer (for Wired Magazine), he sprinkles his dry humor throughout this dry subject, well researched and supported with a 19-page notes section.  A book about booze being dry?  Well, yes and no.  The subject is near and dear to the heart of any fan of wine/beer/cocktails, but READING about yeast/distillation/fermentation and hangovers is about as engaging as reading a manual on good sex.  It’s more enjoyable to put down the book and actually partake.

That said, those willing to read through the tough parts will find many valuable nuggets as they mine this book for fun and useful information. The well-researched chapters don’t really flow in a cohesive narrative, but that also makes them easy to serve as stand-alone topics.  I confess to not reading this book in sequence, as my interest in yeast or sugar are not as great as those of Aging, Smell & Taste, or Body & Brain, each of which I found to be useful chapters.  I’ve taken notes for future classes and presentation from each of these chapters.  Valuable nuggets abound for those willing to do a little hard rock mining.

All in all, this is a book for which any enthusiast of wine/beer/spirits will gladly make room on their bookshelf.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Cheers! Dave

Book Review : “Provence, Food & Wine, the Art of Living”

Cover Photo: Provence Food & Wine

Authors: François Millo, Viktorija Todorovska

When I visit a new vacation spot, particularly one as captivating as Provence, I come home laden with gifts and souvenirs that remind me of my time away.  My favorite ones are long-lasting and usable on a regular basis.

For example, I once stayed at a hotel where the in-room toothpaste was flavored with grapefruit.  Though odd at first, I soon began looking forward to it.  So on my way to the airport I stopped by a Drug Store and bought two or three tubes of the stuff.  For months I was reminded of France at least twice a day!

If you like this idea, but aren’t sure you want Grapefruit-flavored dentifrice, you’ll find that a good regional cook book is an excellent alternative. It can provide a lifetime of experiences that will pull you back into vacation mode from the time you begin shopping for ingredients until you finish drying the last dish.  

But finding a good one can be a challenge – even if the translation is adequate, old-world cooks often under-communicate techniques that they’re taught shortly after suckling but are unfamiliar to those outside the region.  And books by New World authors often miss the authenticity you fell in love with in situ.

Provence Food & Wine - ImagesEnter Millo and Todorovska, the authors of “Provence Food & Wine, the Art of Living”.  Born and raised in Provence, Millo is a talented photographer (not surprisingly, the photos in this book are captivating) and enthusiastic advocate of his region.  His partner in this project is a Chicago-based cookbook author, food and wine educator, and owner of the food, wine and travel company www.oliviacooking.com.  Together, they’ve put together a book that is part travel brochure, part history book, part photo book and part cookbook.  All-in-all, it’s a nice way to spend an evening or two.

The recipes offer some easy dishes ideal for light mid-week meals as well as some more complex meals that are a better fit for a weekend, if your schedule looks anything like ours.  But over-all, this is the best collection of regional dishes I’ve seen in my two decades of casual searching for such things, and for this I thank the authors. 

Provence Food & Wine - Wine ImagesAs for the wine, the book comes with a helpful map of the Provence AOCs, and covers each one in enough detail to belie Todorovska’s wine educator chops.  But the authors primary passion is clearly Provençal Rosé.  And who can blame them?!  These wines are dry, perfect for a hot summer day and, due to their good acidity and mid-weight body, pair beautifully with a huge range of dishes.  Plus, they’ve been enjoying ~40% YOY sales growth over the past few years.  So yes, they are very worthy of emphasis.  If you were in pursuit of the coarse, spicy reds from this region, you’ll find they’ve gotten rather short shrift, however.

In summary, this book is not for everyone, but if you love Provence, if you love the food and wine of the region, and you want to bring them into your home on a regular basis, I don’t think you’ll ever be disappointed that you separated with the reasonable $20 fee – available at Surrey Books.

Cheers!

Dave the Wine Merchant

P.S. No compensation was received in exchange for this review.  A complimentary copy of the book was provided by the publisher for my consideration, but the choice to review it was entirely mine.

Book Review: “Buy The Right Wine Every Time”

A helpful guide to global brands

Tom Stevenson, a prolific wine writer and respected authority on the subject (including The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia!), is known for tomes whose pages are mostly flipped by those training to be wine experts.  But he’s taken a different tack with his latest book – ‘Buy The Right Wine Every Time‘ (Released on March 4th, 2014).

He’s written this book for those new to wine. I wish I’d had access to such a book when I was a newbie, some 35 years ago. It appeals to anyone who needs some wine competency but doesn’t have the time or inclination to pursue it as a hobby.  I don’t know such people, but I hear they exist in large numbers and that some of them are actually quite pleasant to be around.

Tom doesn’t waste any ink introducing the conceit for his book. In just a few pages he introduces his reader to the book’s intent and organization.  Then he dives in.  The first 25 pages show his top recommendations by ~30 types of wine, using a simple ranking and 1, 2 or 3 dollar-sign indicator for rough pricing guidance.  His top tier ($$$) indicates a cost above $25 (retail price, not restaurant), which may seem a rather low ceiling to fine wine buffs, but in reality such wines make up less than 4% of wine sold in the U.S.  

Tom’s quick ranking-by-type then yields to the bulk of the book, which describes each wine in greater detail (and with extremely helpful label images – no mean feat when writing about hundreds of wines). Though the book will be a handy guide for those browsing through a wine shop, it’s just a bit too big and bulky to bring into a restaurant setting (unless available for mobile e-readers, which I don’t see anywhere – just yet).

Photo, Tom Stevenson
Author, Tom Stevenson

Be sure not to miss the back section of the book, wherein Tom provides his ’20 most useful wine tips’. He’s not kidding, these are useful tips. If you’re new to wine, learn these 20 tips and you’ll know more about wine than most people ever will. (Cautionary note: Don’t be too eager to show off your new-found skills. The world of wine is a never-ending warren of curiosity, with new questions that arise at every turn. A single lifetime is insufficient to learn all the twists and turns. And believe me, if you have a healthy dose of insatiable curiosity, you’ll find Tom’s 20 tips as nothing more than a good start. Good on ya!)

As for the hundreds of wines in the book, they tend to be global brands – those that are easiest to find in your local store. Which makes sense for guide book – what use would it be if you could never find the wines it describes? However, I’ve chosen a different wine life. To me, the most amazing and enjoyable part of the mondo vino is the small producer who’s ignored the siren call of ‘biggering’ production in favor of crafting a wine that makes a unique statement. Wine as art vs wine as widget. Such wines have little mass appeal and instead develop cult-like followings among a small but devout niche of wine lovers. If you worship at that alter, this book will not scratch your itch.

But then, that was not its intent. And in fairness, it provides a useful launch pad for those who think they may become interested in such endeavors. I recommend it for what it is – a useful guide for those new to wine and for those seeking some quick competency without investing much time or money to get there.  

Cheers!

Dave the Wine Merchant

Book Review: The Vintage Caper, Peter Mayle

Click to Buy

My wife and I enjoy our family time, but it leaves few opportunities for adult conversations.  We sometimes make up for this by reading to each other, each of us alternating chapters, from a book of mutual interest.  We don’t do this often, but it was something we did on our honeymoon, where we were joined by Ruth Reichl (brought to life through her book, Garlic & Saphires…)  and we’ve enjoyed it ever since.

When Peter Mayle’s latest book – The Vintage Caper – arrived in the mail, my wife said “I was just about to buy that for you!”  I’m an unabashed (i.e., slightly jealous) fan of Peter Mayle’s writing as well as his life in France. His descriptions of French wine, food and culture are masterful works born of his keen observations and engaging storytelling ability. An imaginative reader can easily picture Mayle telling his story with a twinkle of delight in his eye.

Click to see all Mayle's works.

Sadly, the same is not true of his fictional works.  I’ve read four of them over the years (yes, you’d think I’d learn by now) and none capture the same zest as his delightful observational works.  His fictional stories are formulaic and unnatural, as if he finds writing such things dreary work.  My wife described his view of women as “a little backwards”, though I tend to excuse him his shortcomings, as his world view was set by his coming of age in the world of 1960’s advertising (I easily imagine him as a copywriter from Mad Men).

By contrast, he seems to find writing about life in France a more joyful way to spend his day.  I can hardly blame him, frankly.  Any Francophile or food lover is well rewarded by a full collection of these delightful books.

His non-fiction track record continues with his latest mystery, The vintage Caper.  With its dual setting in L.A. and Marseilles and its story of thievery in one of the world’s best cellars (ripped from the headlines, as they say), we REALLY wanted to enjoy this book.  Instead we found it only partly engaging.

Wine fans will appreciate his description of the wines and cellars as well as some choice cafe settings – the accuracy of his painstakingly researched wine notes is unsurpassed.  But the characters themselves were thinly developed and barely believable.

If you’re thinking of shelling out a few hard-earned shekels for “Vintage Capers” I encourage you to click instead on Mayle’s image, above – that will take you to a complete listing of his works.  Try instead any of his non-fiction stories about life in Provence, and your rare and treasured hours reserved for reading will be much more enjoyably spent.

Happy Reading!
Dave
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com