Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Day with Sara in San Francisco (and a great recipe)

As I told you in my previous post, Sara is spending three months with our family in Northern California to learn English and help with grand kids. Sara is 19 years old, Italian, from Como Italy, on her first visit to the United States. Except for what she saw on the drive home from the Airport, Sara has not seen the sights of San Francisco.

This past Saturday, after several days of unseasonably cold weather for Northern California, sunshine and warmer weather were back. It was Shirley's day to work at the hospital and our kids and grand kids were busy with activities, I didn't have any place to be, so Sara and I went to see the famous sights of San Francisco.

I figure that many of you have never been to San Francisco or it's been a long time since you were there so I am sharing a few of the sights we saw. I know my blog is supposed to be about our life in Provence and visits to towns and villages, historical monuments and old ruins, wineries and restaurants we discover and occasionally share some recipes.

I feel blessed to have a house in Sablet, a small charming village in Provence and live near San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. In the South of France, we generally walk everywhere we go. During our visit to San Francisco, we traveled around town on foot, car, taxi and cable car. Maybe next time we will take a ferry too.

San Francisco (Spanish for "Saint Francis") was founded on June 29, 1776, when Spanish colonists established a fort at Golden Gate and a mission named for St. Francis of Assisi a few miles away. The 1849 California Gold Rush brought rapid growth, making it the largest city on the West Coast at the time.

Three-fourths of San Francisco was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire. During World War II, San Francisco was the port of departure for service members shipping out to fight the war in the Pacific Theater. Today, San Francisco is one of the top tourist destinations in the world and renowned for its cool summers, fog, steep hills, and landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Alcatraz Island, and Chinatown.

The City of San Francisco

Fisherman's Wharf gets its name and neighborhood characteristics from the city's early days during the Gold Rush when Italian immigrant fishermen settled in the area and fished for Dungeness crab. If you have not had roasted Dungeness crab dipped in melted butter, then you have missed out on one of the most tasty delicacies you can imagine. From the Gold Rush until the present day, Fisherman's Wharf remains the home for San Francisco's fishing fleet.

The well known symbol for Fisherman's Wharf.

San Francisco has been served by ferries of all types for over 175 years. John Reed established a sailboat ferry service in 1826. Although the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge led to the decline in the importance of ferries, some are still in use today for both commuters and tourists.

One of the ferry terminals at Fisherman's Wharf.

California Sea Lions have always been present in San Francisco Bay but they began to haul out on the docks in September 1989 shortly before the Loma Prieta earthquake. The population of sea lions at Pier 39 fluctuates dramatically, as many as 1701 of these animals, weighing up to 1/2 ton each have been officially reported on the docks at one time.

Some of the California Sea Lion population at Pier 39.

Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay, 1.5 miles offshore from San Francisco. Often referred to as "The Rock," the small island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison (1868), and a federal prison from 1933 until 1963. Today, the island's facilities are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; it is open for tours.

Alcatraz Island

The San Francisco cable car system is the world's last manually operated cable car system. An icon of San Francisco, the cable car system forms part of the transport network operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway, or "Muni" as it is better known.

Of the twenty-three lines established between 1873 and 1890, three remain in service today. The cable cars are the only mobile National Monument in the world and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A cable car at the turn-around at Market and Powell Streets. 

Lombard Street is famous for a one-way section of the street on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets where there are eight sharp turns (or switchbacks) that have earned the street the distinction of being the crookedest (most winding) street in the world.

The switchback's design, first suggested by property owner Carl Henry and instituted in 1922, was born out of necessity in order to reduce the hill's natural 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles.

Looking up Lombard Street.

Coit Tower, also known as the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower, is a 210-foot (64 m) tower in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. The tower was built in 1933 using Lillie Hitchcock Coit's bequest to beautify the city of San Francisco.

The art deco tower, built of unpainted reinforced concrete, was designed by architects Arthur Brown, Jr. and Henry Howard, with fresco murals by 27 different on-site artists plus two additional paintings installed after creation off-site.

Coit Tower

The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge 4,200 feet (1,280.2m) long and 746 feet (227m) above the water spanning Golden Gate, the opening of San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean. As part of both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1, the structure links San Francisco, on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County.

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin County.

Construction of the bridge began on January 5, 1933 and was finished on April 19, 1937 at a cost of more than $35 million, but $1.3 million under budget, something unheard of for a public project today. Today, 110,000 vehicles cross the Golden Gate Bridge on a daily basis.

Golden Gate Bridge

Back at home after our visit to San Francisco, I set about to make dinner for Shirley who would be hungry after working a twelve hour shift. As I told you here, my 2013 cooking challenge is to try 52 new recipes out of different cookbooks. January has not ended and I have cheated already, but it was so worth it.

A few weeks ago, January 9, to be exact, there was a recipe for fennel compote in the New York Times Dining section that took me to Provence and I wanted to try it. Mark Bittman who included the recipe in his column said to serve it as a side dish or top it with a portion of cooked fish. Shirley likes fish and I thought the compote would be a perfect accompaniment for sauteed Petrale sole.

My mise-en-place for my fennel compote including rosé to sip while I cooked. 

Fennel Compote With Tomatoes, Olives and Fish (or Not)
Serves 4


1/4 cup good olive oil
1 bulb fennel (or two smaller ones), trimmed and chopped
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 plum tomatoes, chopped (canned are fine, but drain excess liquid)
1/2 cup big, plump olives, green or black or a combination, preferably unpitted
1/4 cup capers, optional
4 servings cooked fish, optional
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves, for garnish


1. Put the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel and some salt and pepper, and without browning (adjust the heat as necessary), cook it down, stirring occasionally, until it's quite soft, about 20 minutes. Add the thyme and garlic, and cook 1 minute, stirring.

2. Add the tomatoes, olives and capers, raise the heat a bit, and cook until the mixture is saucy, about 15 minutes. Serve as a side dish or top with a portion of cooked fish. Garnish with parsley.

The fennel compote is ready to be plated and topped with cooked fish.

As I said, I saw this recipe and it made me think of the foods we eat in Provence and it turned out to be even better than I thought it would. I used canned tomatoes, it is January, it would be better with those of summer, capers and unpitted olives as recommended by Mark Bittman as he says he believes the pits contribute a flavor that isn’t there otherwise.

The dish will be just as wonderful as a side dish and it will be a regular feature on our family menu both here in Northern California and at our home in Provence. It might even make it onto the menu at our Bistro Des Copains. Stay tuned!

In the words of one of my favorite television chefs Jacques Pepin, "I wish you happy cooking." Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. Lovely photos of SF and a recipe I can't wait to try - Merci Michel!

  2. It looks good, I'll have to give it a try. My kids are 5th and 6th generation Californians on their father's side, so I know SF quite well.

  3. Thanks for these photos, I appreciate seeing parts of the USA. I have never been there and am unlikely to get there now. It is good to be able to travel through someone else's eyes. That recipe looks interesting, will try it out. Merci beaucoup, Diane

  4. Barbara - Thank you! San Francisco is a very photogenic city so its easy to get nice shots. You will have to let me know if you try the recipe.

    Mem - You should try it, that's for sure. I made it again today and it was just as good the second time.

    Diane - I am glad I could share our tour of SF with you, especially if that is the only way you will get to visit the City.

  5. Michelle - I tried this recipe and it was exceptionally good. The only thing I did differently was for the final 5 minutes of reducing the sauce I add a small piece of fillet of sole and let it poach in the juices. I actually had plenty left so the next day I reheated it with cooked shrimp, which may have been one of the best things I've ever made.

    Thanks for posting.

  6. Lee - I am pleased you tried the recipe and more pleased you thought it was good. Cooking the fish and shrimp in the fennel compote sound like a great idea. I will do that myself next time.