Know the dove is on the wing
And you need not know why

“Get Together”—The Youngbloods

I had all of this on my mind as we bounced down Bayshore Freeway at 85 miles an hour with our Italian taxi driver.  We were headed for the St. Regis Hotel on 3rd and Mission, right across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Fortunately, my wife didn’t have any more meetings; it was time to see some sights, be with the family and take in San Francisco. We were looking forward to fine dining, sightseeing, and walking. The only thing on the to-do list was some back-to-school-shopping for the girls. The St. Regis, a five-star joint in a historic building in downtown. The place reminds me a bit of the Sofitel on Rush Street in Chicago: black slate floors, elegant lighting, modern, Asian-style low sitting sofas and feng shui chaise lounges. The lobby also has a nice bar where the hotel guests get together for a drink. To block the cold wind coming in off the bay, there is a large black slate wall with a see-through fireplace, which lets people see and be seen. The rooms were also elegant. The views from the rooms on the eighteenth floor were nothing short of spectacular. If the fog isn’t too thick, you can see the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero at the end of Market Street. San Francisco, like many other downtowns, has turned the old skyscrapers into apartments that have revived inner cities. Downtown is full of shops, apartments, cafes, small and large eateries.

We unpacked and headed out toward the Embarcadero. The Ferry Building opened in 1898 and was the transportation hub for anyone arriving by rail or sea. If you want to catch a ferry to Sausalito, this is the place to do it. The Ferry Building is about as large as football stadium with entrances in the middle and the sides. There is a clock tower that stands almost 250 feet in the air, which is modeled on the Giralda in Seville. Originally the tower in Spain was a minaret from which the muezzin called the faithful to prayer in Muslim Spain for over three centuries. Instead of religions gatherings, the Ferry Building is host to scores of organic food shops. The new faithful are buying their produce local and pesticide free. The board of fare covers everything from artisan cheese, herbs, fresh cultivated mushrooms, ceramics, pastries, breads, wood-fired pizzas, Italian gelato, confections, wine bars, olive oil, and restaurants. We snacked at the Ferry Building and held out for a full-blown meal that evening.

The hotel recommended a place close by. A little family run Cantonese restaurant that had been in business for thirty-five years, was Zagat rated, and was a favorite of all the hotel staff. I sensed the impending doom on the horizon. It usually works like this: one daughter likes the food, and the other finds it so disgusting that we, as a family, must swear a blood oath never to return to the place. Like most fathers, my strategy is to avoid eye contact while the girls size up the menu. There are several phases of this impending culinary nightmare: 1) we enter restaurant, 2) girls discover the menu doesn’t have macaroni and cheese, 3) teenage anxiety boils to the surface with a series of audible groans and sighs, 4) tension mounts, bickering begins, and I look for the exit, 5) Mother tries to help the girls decide by ordering for them, 6) crying and mutual recriminations. We made our drink order, and the waiter may have to give us a “few more minutes,” which offset the rhythm of the entire restaurant. By this time, mother-daughter relations had deteriorated to the point that every statement contains words like “you always…,” “you never…,” or the king-hell crusher of them all, “my sister always gets what she wants!”

I’ve taken to telling the waiter to just bring me one of the specials without even telling me what it is. This time the waiter picked up on my cues and made is play. He was the owner and head chef of the restaurant, and upon hearing that this was our first time dining with him, he collected the menus and said he would order for us. Bobby Fischer himself couldn’t have planned a better move. The bickering ended and a cloud of resentment descended upon our table. The girls didn’t know what to make of it. The owner however was sure that within an hour we would eat, pay the bill and would be out of his hair forever. Most assuredly, he didn’t have to worry about us coming back. He scribbled something in Chinese characters on the dupe, clapped his hands and the cooks set to making our meal. He served us a standard selection of buns, egg rolls and wanton as appetizers. The food came out hot and fast; so did the drinks. My wife had a Tsingtao beer and began to relax. Soon after, the family style dishes came out: pork, beef, chicken and fish, all with rice and vegetables. After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel, and everyone turned in.

To be continued…

Gabacho– according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy– is derived from an old Provençal word “gavach,” meaning a person from the foothills of the Pyrenees who spoke incorrectly. These days, it means “outsider,” somebody who just doesn’t fit in.

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