April 25, 2008
Alamo Square Park, Divisadero, and the Western Addition
One thing that I love about cities is how often you just turn a corner and find yourself in a totally different place. San Francisco in particular is a city of a thousand disjunctions. It packs more geographic variety into a smaller area than any other major city in America, and it is this constantly changing landscape that drives the creation of small, distinctive neighborhoods.
Given that Rebecca and I like this so much, it is somewhat embarrassing that we have never walked west from our apartment through Alamo Square Park and into the Western Addition. Sunday we decided to fix this.
We'd done our spring cleaning the day before, and despite having friends over the night before, when we woke up that morning the place still felt fresh and new. "I feel like I'm on vacation or rental home," Rebecca said. It was almost lunchtime already by the time we got out of bed -- we'd stayed up pretty late with our houseguests -- and since we'd just gotten our bacon of the month club shipment for this month, we threw some clothes on, walked down to the corner store, and picked up the materials for this month's pear and bacon sandwich.
It was during lunch that we decided to take a walk and eat in the Western Addition for dinner. I don't know why we hadn't done this until now. I can only suspect it's because we thought that it was farther than it actually is. That and the fact that part of the trip is up a pretty steep grade, and Rebecca does hate to walk uphill, a fact that makes her attachment to San Francisco a bit puzzling. Maybe we just hadn't thought of it. With Hayes Valley and the Civic Center directly to the east, the lower Haight and Upper Market to the south, Japantown and lower Pac Heights just up the 22, and Inner Mission just down it, we never really gave much thought to what was on the other side of the hill directly west of us.
The walk was gorgeous. It wasn't necessarily the best time for taking pictures, since the setting sun caused the hill and the parks tall trees to cast shadows in the foreground, but it sure seemed beautiful in person. (Other people have taken better pictures.) Alamo Square Park holds one of the more famous views of San Francisco: postcard Row, a group of Victorian homes with a view of downtown in the background. The park itself is full of giant, old trees.. The only thing that is missing is a place to barbecue.
We hit Divisadero and headed south. On our way we passed a large number of neighborhood stores that could be quite useful to us. I constantly complain that our neighborhood needs a butcher, and while we still don't have one, apparently we have the next best thing -- a butcher in the next neighborhood over, just 10 minutes' walk, or, if you like, 3 minutes away on the 21 line. Country cheese Co., which also carries gourmet olive oils, meats, and condiments, is guaranteed to get a lot of visits from us. I'm also very curious about Cookin', a dense, chaotic purveyor of cookware that was closed and we passed by. Gamescape, possibly San Francisco's only game shop, will likely see us again as well.
We had dinner at Metro Kathmandu, a Nepalese restaurant associated with the Metro Hotel. Capsule review: Buffalo momos, B+; Pickled Daikon, B; Vegetable Korma, B+; Goat Curry, B-; Parathas, B. Pretty-good South Asian, worth another look. I should note that the parathas I had here are the closest in style to the ones that I had when I was in India, but they'd were not nearly as good. I'll just have to keep looking.
We stopped by New Star Ell on the way home. New Star Ell is a corner store that has a fantastic selection of Belgian beer, as well as some great high-end liquor on offer. We picked up a few to experiment with and headed home for a nightcap.
February 24, 2008
The New Saturday Morning Pleasure: Pear, Bacon, and Cheddar sandwich
At least two weekends a month, Rebecca and I wake up, throw some clothes on, and head down the Hayes St. corridor, and walk in to Arlequin for lunch. She orders the Sage and Portabello Mushroom sandwich, no onions, and I order the Pear, Bacon, and Cheddar sandwich, both of which are toasted lovingly on levain bread in the panini machine until crisp and tasty. We stop by Blue Bottle on the way home, and when we arrive back in our living room, put something on the telly and unwrap our delicious booty, Rebecca will attempt to convince me that I want to trade half of my sandwich for hers. And she will fail.
Or at least that's how things used to go, back in the idyllic days of yore, before Arlequin To Go and the adjacent wine store did some remodeling. While generally an improvement to the space in the sense of giving everyone more room to maneuver, the remodel also brought some adjustments to the menu, one of which saw the pear and bacon sandwich transform into an unholy pear and prosciutto sandwich.
Not that I have anything against prosciutto, mind you. But the previous sandwich had a delicate balance; it had just enough of each ingredient that you could taste each one, and it was thin and aerodynamic, but packed with flavor. The mass of prosciutto they stuffed into its replacement overwhelmed the other flavors. Plus, you know, sometimes you just want bacon, and the thick-cut bacon they used in the original sandwich was excellent. Anyway, the prosciutto sandwich apparently didn't prove too popular, and it eventually disappeared from the menu altogether.
These days, when we find ourselves at Arlequin, I feel like a jilted lover. ("Why don't you make me bacon like you used to?" is a cry, I imagine, heard in many a faltering relationship.) I have to make do with the Croque Arlequin when I go, which is a fine sandwich, but eating it always makes me feel sad in some small way, like a realization that, however fine your current relationship might be, the sex will never be as hot as it was with your ex. Because your ex tasted like bacon, and really, what could top that?
For Christmas this past year, some good friends of ours gave us one of the most fantastic presents in existence: the Bacon Of The Month Club. (Studies have shown its magnificence to only be exceeded by that of the Threesome Gift Certificate and the Bacon Three Times Per Month Club). It immediately occurred to us to try to replicate the Pear and Bacon Sandwich.
What do you know -- the result was stunning; even better than the original. For hours afterward I had a warm, fuzzy feeling inside and the sense that all was right with the world. Arelquin, I love ya, but we've reached a crossroads in our relationship. I think we should eat other sandwiches.
- I spread an extremely thin layer of dijon mustard on one side of one of the slices of bread.
- I cooked the bacon with a second pan nestled on top of it to make sure that it cooks flat; this is critical. Of course, if you're the kind of freak that owns a bacon press, you can use that instead.
- I sauteed the pears in butter to soften them up before adding them to the sandwich.
- I used a single layer of thick-cut bacon, which I think works better than multiple layers of thin bacon in this sandwich. The bacon should be chewy rather than crisp.
In addition, I'd admonish you to use a really good bacon. In this country we are slowly becoming aware that not all bacon is created equal. Branch out a bit and see what's available to you locally.
January 08, 2008
Bar Jules: welcome to the neighborhood!
Bar Jules is a bit of an oddity. First off, it's a restaurant, not a bar, and despite the name, it doesn't (yet) have a liquor license. It's a tiny restaurant, but it doesn't take reservations. It sprung up on the site of the "Don't Call It Frisco" laundromat, an unassuming little spot way at the western end of the Hayes Valley strip. But despite the circumstances, Bar Jules may just be exactly what Hayes Valley needs.
The menu is very focused. There are typically four or five appetizers, two to three entree choices, and a couple of desserts. And it changes daily. It's written on two large chalkboards in the interior of the restaurant, though it's posted on paper on the outside window for passers-by, and -- brilliantly -- is posted every day on the web.
The preparations are simple and ingredient-driven. The night we dined, there was a ribeye available, but I've been trying to eat more fish lately, so with some reluctance I ordered the wood-grilled swordfish ($24). But the dish's focused presentation of fish, citrus, and olive flavors was far more satisfying than I expected. Rebecca had the farro and chestnut soup ($9) and the raw artichoke salad ($8). The soup in particular was curiously delicious, a tasty combination of uncommon flavors and textures.
If subsequent meals are this good, eating at Bar Jules might be a regular occurrence for us. (If they get their liquor license, they'll be a shoe-in!) Strangely, the overall Yelp rating sits at around 3.5 stars. Mostly this appears to be due to some hiccups during the first few weeks of being open, but a lot of it is due to the way people rate things on Yelp (and on open review-based sites in general) -- there's a strong tendency to give punitive one-star reviews, or to give artificially low reviews to "correct" what people feel are other reviewers' poor taste, ostentation or bandwagoning. Nevertheless, I think the rating will eventually converge on four stars. In any case, don't be put off by the Yelp score, whatever it might be. It's worth checking the place out for yourself.
Hayes Valley has a lot of restaurants, from casual eateries to high end destination spots. But to my mind, Bar Jules fills a need we didn't know we had. Welcome to the neighborhood!
April 26, 2006
Happy Birthday To Me (Vignette Restaurant, San Francisco)
It's birthday season. Not content with a single day, I've annexed an entire week to celebrate my birthday, at least in spirit. My wonderful and beautiful girlfriend initiated the festivities last Saturday. First, she took me to my favorite shirt store and bought me several great new shirts. We had lunch at The Pork Store, tromped through the Haight for a bit, and then headed home for a leisurely afternoon.
After some relaxation, we got dressed up and headed towards Nob Hill. She took me out to dinner at Vignette, which, despite being three or four blocks from home, we hadn't yet been to.
You can't really tell from the picture (above), but this is a very tiny little cup. What's more,
there's almost no liquid in it -- just a very little bit at the bottom. The cup is mostly
full of foam. Of course, this is what all the cool kids are
doing these days. And, strange as it may seem, it really can be quite impressive. Despite being mostly air, the foam somehow contains the concentrated essence of mushroom.
Not a particularly interesting course. It felt out of place among far more stimulating dishes. The goat cheese was very nice, but even it felt like it was there as a platform for other flavors that the restaurant elected not to actually put in the dish.
We're always a fan of sweetbreads. Actually, that's not true. If they're poorly selected or prepared they can be veiny, rubbery, or mealy. These, however, were quite acceptable. Rebecca specifically asked for this dish to substitute for the Crispy Skin Quail that was supposed to be served. When she'd looked online before making reservations, the menu she'd seen had sweetbreads for this course, and she'd been looking forward to that. Fortunately, the sweetbreads were still on the A La Carte menu even though they were no longer on the tasting menu, so the substitution was no problem.
A very tasty dish. I imagined that the sauce would overwhelm the scallops, either with the tartness of the vinegar or with the sugar necessary to balance out the vinegar in the sauce, but I was wrong; the sauce was fairly mild, and though it was rounded out with sugar as I'd imagined, the scallops were actually sweet enough to stand up to it. The puree it was served on was impressively smooth and also had a mild natural sweetness. I guessed that it was some sort of squash that I was not familiar with. When we asked, we were told it was a potato puree. I have no idea how this could be. I have never made a potato puree that tasted like this, and I have never had a potato puree at a restaurant that tasted like this. On the other hand, the menu that we found online (which was, as I mentioned before, not up to date), corroborates the potato story. Furthermore, Craft's semi-eponymous cookbook describes a potato puree with exactly these characteristics: ...I was told that the dish had sparked a debate among chefs in San Francisco: What did I put in Craft's version to make it so sweet? The answer: nothing. Use only Yukon gold potatoes... If what I had at Vignette was a pure potato puree, I must be doing something terribly, terribly wrong. Not that that isn't entirely possible. (Note: The current tasting menu posted on the web says that it is, in fact, a potato puree.)
A solid dish, but not stellar. The venison is tasty but not bursting with flavor, and the ensemble is somehow standoffish and never really gels.
The desserts were very good. I actually had the Warm Chocolate Cake with a Port sauce and Berries, which was also good, but the pictures didn't come out well, so what you're seeing is Rebecca's Apple Gallette. Both were worth eating.
We haven't had a lot of tasting menus since we've been back in the town. We enjoyed this one. There were a few weak spots, to be sure, and nothing just killed me, but there were several solid dishes and a few surprises.
After dinner, Rebecca told me we were headed to a show. I expected us to wander toward the Theatre district, but we wound up going along Market towards the Civic Center area instead. No, she didn't take me to an Opera. We went to Snowshow, which was a lot of fun. Much of the clowns' movement reminded me of dance movement, and from that perspective it was enjoyable to watch.
During the intermission, the clowns came out into the lobby to shower people with "snow" (little pieces of paper) and generally make a nuisance of themselves. The ghostly figure below had just finished opening up a woman's purse and filling it with paper snow when I snapped his picture.
I had a great day. Thanks, baby!
August 07, 2005
Welcome, Home part 2
I had about a week left before I had to fly back down to Orange County and we had to move all of our stuff up. We were already making plans to move into storage, since things didn't seem to be going our way. I'd found no less than five apartments that I really liked, but we'd been beaten to the punch on four of them, and although we were first in line with the fifth one, the guy refused to rent or reserve the place for us until he'd met Rebecca. He wouldn't even take our application or check our credit if she wasn't there. It was very frustrating, as it was a great place in Hayes Valley. Remodeled kitchen, great hardwoods (these were important criteria for me). The main room was long and large and had big windows on three sides! If you've ever lived in San Francisco you know this is a big deal.
I was mostly trying for North Beach, but since there were so few openings there, I filled my time with Hayes Valley and Mission openings as I had the time. We were pretty down on Nob Hill by this time. There was one spot on a pretty weird place on Nob Hill, though, that I decided to go to because it was on my way to North Beach from my hotel. Turned out to be on top of the Stockton Tunnel, about as far as you can go northeast on Nob Hill before you're in Chinatown. The apartment itself is actually below ground level (from the perspective of the top of the tunnel, anyhow). The walls were a rich red brick, which was kind of cool, and the floors were blond hardwoods. It was a 2 bedroom, but priced like a 1 bedroom. This is probably because it was pretty small for a 2 bedroom -- but it would be just fine for the two of us.
Here's the thing, though -- I only had a chance to see it for fifteen minutes, because I had to make my next appointment. I really liked it, though, and took an application, filled it out later that day, and faxed it that evening. Monday morning I got two phone calls saying that my application had been approved. The Stockton place was one of them, and the beautiful, tiny apartment on Grant in North Beach was the other. Rebecca and I opted to take the Stockton place even though it wasn't in the neighborhood we'd wanted.
Over the following week, as I continued working, and flew down to Orange County, I was very nervous. What if Rebecca didn't like the place? Worse yet, I'd based my decision on a fifteen minute viewing that even I didn't remember very well at that point. What if I didn't like the place?
Of course, I needn't have worried. It's turned out to be a great apartment so far. Here's a rundown of what we like and don't like about it:
One of the things we like about San Francisco is how distinct different parts of the city are. There are many reasons for this: elevation, microclimates, racial/cultural makeup of the residents, zoning. The great thing about this apartment is that it's right at the center of several very different neighborhoods. Technically, it's on Nob Hill, but it's right at the edge of Chinatown. Towards the east it overlooks downtown, and to the south is Union Square.
I've tried to give a feel for how different these neighborhoods are through pictures, for those of you that don't know San Francisco. (Click on them to see larger versions.) The first picture is taken right at the end of our block overlooking downtown. You can see a bit of the Bay Bridge down at the end. The picture above is what you see if you turn ninety degrees to the left and walk twenty or thirty feet. This is the edge of Chinatown. From this view, if you turn around, you'll see the third picture, which gives you a bit of the stately feel of Nob Hill. Finally, if you turn around again, go down the stairs into Chinatown, head to the end of our block and turn right, and if it happens to be evening, you'll get a vew of the northern end of Downtown that looks like the last picture.
We're very central to some great neighborhoods, even beyond the ones that we border. We're a literally a ten minute walk from North Beach, Market St., Embarcadero, the Theatre District. Everything those neighborhoods have to offer is accessible to us without even taking a bus or a taxi.
Speaking of busses, the transit situation is pretty excellent. The 30 and the 45 both run up and down Stockton. The 30 in particular is a strong line and runs every 6 minutes during peak times; the 45 runs every 9 minutes. This means that there's a bus going by every 4 or 5 minutes at worst. My main concern is getting to the train station, and this turns out to be not much of a hassle, as both of these busses go directly to the train station. The trip takes about 12 minutes. There's also an owl (late bus) that runs that route if we are out late (although we often take cabs if it's late).
How good public transportation is in your area is, in my book, mostly a function of (a) what neighborhoods you can get to without a transfer, and (b) how fast you can get to Market St., where you can basically get everywhere worth going without a transfer. For us, the 30 goes to Union Square, Market, SOMA, and the train to the south, and Fisherman's Wharf (if for some weird reason we wanted to go there), Ft. Mason, and the Marina to the north. The 45 has the same route to the south, but to the north it hits Russian Hill and Union St./Pacific Heights. Both busses wind up at the eastern edge of the Presidio.
In the other direction, we have the 1 running along California, and the 2/3/4 complex running along Post. These hit southern Pacific Heights, Western Addition, Laurel Heights, and the Richmond, as well as the southern edge of the Presidio. The 38 does basically the same, and runs more often, but it's a little bit farther of a walk rather than being right out the door like the California. You can also use these busses to get to Golden Gate Park, but you'll have to walk four of five blocks.
All in all, not a bad situation. There are some areas that we can't get to without a transfer, though, that we do visit a lot. Hayes Valley, the Mission, and Upper Market are the primary culprits. But ultimately it's not that bad; we can always make the 10 minute walk down to Market and go from there.
Chinatown is obviously a strong area for eating out. There's dim sum all over, bakeries with their dried pork rolls and beef curry buns, and the meat vendors with roast chickens, ducks, cuttlefish, and barbequed pork. And, of course, there are a great many traditional chinese restaurants. I don't even know how many; 20, maybe? 30? I don't know how varied they are, but perhaps we'll learn to distinguish different styles of Chinese cooking and develop strong preferences. At the very least, we'll learn to order beyond our traditional Chinese take-out favorites. I expect to discover a whole new world of Chinese food.
There's also a lot of great food in North Beach. It's long been said that the best Italian restaurants in the City aren't in North Beach, and this may or may not be true, but there are a number of quality offerings nonetheless, such as Tommasso's. But there's a lot more on offer than just Italian food. Intriguing Thai (Citizen Thai), Basque (Iluna), Brazil-Ital (Mangarosa), Pacific Rim (the house), and even French (Cafe Jacqueline). And of course there's plenty of great non-fancy, weekday food as well.
Finally, Union Square/Theatre District is no slouch when it comes to restaurants, and there are too many here to mention. We've already had some good meals there which I will detail at a later time. There's a decent amount of food a little ways into Nob Hill, too, but I doubt we'll much need to avail ourselves of it. There's just too much to eat elsewhere.
Rebecca and I used to hop on a bus every other Saturday and head up to Chinatown to shop for the week. Fresh vegetables are cheap and plentiful...even if you don't know what they are. Fresh ducks and chickens are all around -- in fact, there are at least four whole stores devoted to fresh poultry. Seafood is incredibly varied. Stockton St. is basically devoted to Chinese markets. We can just pop downstairs, walk up a block or two, shop, and walk back home.
Although there are many things you can get in Chinatown that you can't get anywhere else, there are also plenty of things you can't get in Chinatown and need to look farther afield for. Fortunately, the buses that run up and down Stockton can put us right at the door of a Safeway and a Whole Foods. They also pass directly in front of K&L, which is a great wine shop that I used to live directly above. This is important, as wine is one of those things that you can't get in Chinatown. (Though we can also walk to Coit Liquor in ten minutes if necessary, and it has already been necessary.) Ironically, if we take the 1, which runs along California, we can get dropped off right at the door of another Whole Foods. So getting good grocery isn't going to be a problem.
Enshrined as we are below ground level and between tall buildings, our apartment doesn't get as much natural light as I'd like, and what we do get isn't direct -- it's reflected off of other buildings. My imagination, however, had transformed it into a complete cave, and when we finally moved in, I was surprised to find it quite livable. Still, more natural light is always nice, and the lack of it is forcing us to find creative ways to administer artificial lighting so that the place -- particularly the room we use as a dining room -- feels less cave-like.
Here's the one thing that we really don't like about the place. And it's a pretty important thing. The kitchen is terrible. The fridge sucks -- it's small and lacks a lot of features that we've gotten used to since we bought a nice fridge while we were in Irvine. The kitchen itself is completely open to the living area, which is nice in concept, but in this instance it means that there's virtually no counterspace. There's little storage space to speak of, especially considering just how much cooking-related crap I own. There's no garbage disposal. There's no dishwasher. The oven is one of those little half-size jobs with only one rack in it. And on top of it all, it's electric.
This is basically a worst-case scenario. We've confronted it aggressively, though, and are making progress. We bought a large kitchen island and put it up to block off the kitchen from the living area, giving us some counterspace (and at the same time ensuring that whoever is cooking can see both the television and any guests who happen to be there, rather than facing the other direction). We bought a "grid system" which allows you to hang things on the wall such as spice racks and shelving. We've appropriated space in bookcases and closets for wine glasses and rarely-used kitchen items. We're making do. It'll never be a dream kitchen to work in, but it'll do, for now.
This is more of a question right now, or a suspicion. The fact is that our building is made out of brick, and our internal walls are brick as well. This is very neat, but what happens when it gets hot? In San Francisco, this is not normally a concern -- the temperature is fairly moderate most of the time. But there's always a couple of weeks every year where the temperature is just through the roof. No one (including ourselves) has air conditioning because, well, why buy an air conditioner for ten days out of the year? But those ten days you just want to kill yourself or someone else. They're annoying and difficult enough that you remember them the rest of the year. So I'm wondering if our building will act like a brick oven and hold in the heat, cooking us to a crisp like a Chinatown duck. We'll know soon enough.
So there it is. We have a new place, it's great, we love it. Now that we're getting settled, if you're planning to make a trip to town, let us know; we'd love to show you our favorite bits! I swear I'll be better about updating the weblog now, so you can start checking it again.
In the past two months, Rebecca and I have finished school at UC Irvine, gotten our Master's Degrees, found an apartment back home in San Francisco, and moved in. I've started work as well, and slowly our situation is stabilizing enough that I have time to start writing blog entries and contacting friends again.
Our friends in San Francisco say that it doesn't feel like we've been gone but a few months. I'll tell you honestly -- we felt the whole two years. Now, I'm not saying that there's no fate worse than living in Irvine. (At least, I'm not saying that right now.) We did get degrees, after all, and managed to learn a few things despite them. We had some good times, cooked some good meals, and met some great people in the process.
Still, the whole time we were there, I had a feeling I couldn't shake -- as if I had made the wrong decision and chosen to be with some city other than the love of my life. And worse yet, that the love of my life was off having a great time with thousands of other residents and didn't miss me at all, while I was mostly alone and somewhat miserable. (Well, I suppose I'm glad that at least one of us could be happy.)
But it's all academic now; we're back in town, picking up where we left off. Already my mind is working its continuity tricks; the two years in Irvine feel as though they were lived by somebody else, as if I'd watched them on television or read about them in the memoirs of a person suspiciously similar to myself.
But enough of that nonsense. Let me tell you about our apartment hunt.
I was in town three weeks before Rebecca was able to move up. I stayed in a hotel on Nob Hill and started a job in San Mateo. My plan was to find a place that
- we'd love to live in
- was in a neighborhood we liked
- we could afford
- was commutable from work
and to do all of this in less than three weeks , so that when Rebecca was done with school, we'd just move right in to our new apartment. This way, we'd minimize the amount of time spent paying for a hotel, and we wouldn't need to move our things into storage while we looked for an apartment together. A good plan, generally, but I did worry about choosing a place without Rebecca having seen it at all -- even though she gave me full authority to do so.
I set up appointments on weekends and after work during the week. If I was feeling industrious and was lucky while scheduling, I could usually hit 3 appointments on a weekday after work and 5 or so on a Saturday or Sunday. All told I must have seen 40 or more apartments.
(I apologize in advance to all of you non-San Franciscan friends of mine who don't know the area. I've tried to link to information about the various places I'm rambling on about so that you can follow along.)
As far as neighborhood candidates: commutability to San Mateo put a big restriction on neighborhood choice. This is particularly true considering that I want to sell my car. When we lived here before, I used it twice a week at most, and it seems ridiculous to spend $150 or more a month on parking to drive a couple of times a week. But this means that the neighborhood we chose had to be accessible to the train station (pictured at right) so I could get to work reasonably fast. This leaves the following possibilities:
- SOMA / "South Beach"
- Potrero Hill
- the Mission
- Upper Market
- Hayes Valley / Lower Haight
- Nob Hill / Tenderloin
- Downtown / Fidi
- North Beach
Seems like a lot of choices, but there were other constraints. We lived in the SOMA before moving to Irvine, and while we liked it fine, we wanted someplace different this time -- some place with more of a neighborhoody feel if possible. (The scene to the right is from the balcony of our SOMA apartment two and a half years ago.) The Tenderloin was...not where we wanted to live, so rule that out. Downtown/Fidi are pretty empty in the evenings and on the weekends, and there's not much housing there anyhow. Potrero Hill is a little bit far from everything to suit us. As much as I liked the idea of living in Chinatown, it's tough to find housing there if you don't speak Chinese, and a lot of what's there is subpar anyhow. As a result, I found myself primarily looking in Hayes Valley, Nob Hill, North Beach, and the Mission.
At first, Hayes Valley was where we really wanted to live. It's got its own center of culture, plus it's pretty central to the Lower Haight, Polk St., Castro/Upper Market, and Inner-Inner Mission. At first, I was put off a bit by the projects on the west side of the neighborhood. I heard mixed reports on how much of an effect these had on the neighborhood, so I focused on the east side near Van Ness. Found two great apartments there, but they were just too small. (This would become a theme in the search. There are lots of great apartments right in the middle of very cool neighborhoods. And they're all just about the size of a dorm room.)
I did a lot of looking in Nob Hill for two reasons: my hotel was there, which made it easy, and also there is a lot of housing available there, because it's so high density. You can't walk a block without seeing a FOR RENT sign in Nob Hill. Whatever you're looking for in terms of size or price, you can find it on Nob Hill. The downside is that you must like urban living -- you can't get much more urban than this on the West Coast -- and you have to like hills. One other problem is that it wasn't as commutable as I'd hoped. The 27 is the only bus that really runs through Nob Hill toward the train, and it turns west on Harrison at 5th, leaving you with a 7-10 minute walk to the train station. No big deal, but this was the route I took to work while I was staying at the hotel, and between waiting for the 27 to come, which itself was a dicey proposition, as it is one of the least reliable busses I have had the misfortune to take, and the time it takes for the ride down, you had to budget 40 minutes or so just to get to the train station. Nevertheless, we almost wound up living on Nob Hill anyway, because the plethora of housing meant that I found a couple of superb apartments. I mean, they were really choice -- top of the hill, top of the building, luminous red hardwood floors, remodeled kitchens, glorious period details, etc. (Pictured above is one of the Nob Hill apartments we did not get -- not even one of the nicer ones, but one well within our price range with which we would have been perfectly happy.) Other people thought they were great, too, I found out, and several had applied before I even submitted my application, so we didn't get them. I'm glad it worked out that way, though.
A lot of my friends live in the Mission, so it was somewhat tempting to try to move there. With a single exception, however, I wasn't excited about any of the places I saw there. Most of them weren't in very good condition and lacked the most basic amenities. I think this was mostly just coincidence, however, since several friends have great apartments in the Mission. I'll be damned if I could find anything decent, though. And there is one other downside; I don't think there is a direct route to the train station on a bus. Not that it matters, given that the apartments all sucked.
At first, I resisted the idea of looking in North Beach. It seemed too far from the train and too far removed from everything else. Then I went to dinner at a friend's place who lives in North Beach and works in San Mateo not far from where I do. He drives sometimes, but he also takes the train, and he told me that it's only 15 minutes on the bus to the train station. This made me reconsider North Beach as a neighborhood. That and just walking around in it. I'd forgotten how cool it is! (The picture at left is of North Beach at night.) Italian grocers and butchers, lots of restaurants, clubs of all sorts, night life, a nice park, and just a really cool vibe. After that, I made North Beach my #1 priority. Not that it mattered, because (big surprise) housing is pretty hard to come by in North Beach. I probably only saw four or five apartments there the whole time I was looking. I did find a nice one, applied for it, and was offered the place the same day that we were offered the place that we finally accepted, but -- guess what -- it was just too small. It was in a perfect spot, just up the street from all of the Grant St. shops and restaurants, 2 minute's walk from the bus stop. It had gorgeous hardwoods and a remodeled kitchen. But it was tiny. Theoretically a 1 br, I saw several Nob Hill studios that were larger.
So where did we wind up moving? You'll have to wait until the next entry to find out...