So far in San Francisco we have covered a lot of savoury ground. I’m talking from the ocean with salmon rice bowls to south of the border with burritos to err, Italy with macaroni cheese sandwiches…? Granted, that is one tenuous link there on the last one but forgive me and something deliciously sweet washed down with something tropically potent will be your reward…
First stop of the day then is Beard Papa’s Cream Puffs. Do you know how I knew these were going to be good before I even delicately stuffed one into my mouth? Because J recommended them. J doesn’t have the world’s sweetest tooth so when we wandered past the unassuming, downtown store front and he exclaimed with delight that they were amazing, I knew I had to stop and experience them for myself.
Apparently he knows them from a time long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away known as Oxford St, London. It’s a tough galaxy to naivigate figuratively, financially and physically so it’s not the hugest surprise in the world that the branch closed down in 2014, only 4 years after it opened. The brand began in Japan in 1999 and since then, they’ve served nearly 450m puffs to customers around the world in locations as various as Indonesia, El Salvadore & Pakistan. The thing is these are places with a hot climate so anything heavy and chocolately is unlikely to be very popular – these puffs are so light and cool that it’s easy to see how desired a treat they could be in stifling heat.
The website lists flavours ranging from sweet potato to pomegranate to dulce de leche but sadly our first choice – and J’s suggestion – of a green tea cream filled puff was sold out so we went down the classic-as-a-Chanel-bag route of vanilla.
What sets these sweet treats apart from others is that they actually have 2 layers of pastry – the inner one being a traditional Choux variety and the outer, a pie crust style. This is what gives them their characteristic crunch followed by softness in your mouth followed by freshly whipped cream. Oh and the whole thing is finally doused in icing sugar. Y’know, because why not?
This was every bit as light and airy as it looks with the golden outer shell giving way to fluffy inner pastry and velvety, vanilla-bean-flecked cream. Sat in a nearby park with the sun high in the sky and warm on our faces, it was exactly the tiny treat we were after and with none of the predictable heaviness of a muffin or a slab of gateaux, it felt as though there was nothing in your tummy afterwards save the jolly lovely feeling of sweetness & light.
Now what’s the one thing that you absolutely need when you’ve had several days of good food?
Ding ding ding! Congratulations! You’ve just won a brand new dishwasher with your 100% correct answer of ‘good drink’!*
*Just to clarify there will be no giving out of free dishwashers so please don’t start asking…I may stretch to maribou trimmed marigolds for the wittiest comment but even that would be pushing it.
One of the most charming presents J gave me last Christmas was an off-the-beaten-track, vintage-esque map of things to see, do & eat in San Francisco and on it was a recommendation for a place called the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar. You’re sold already aren’t you?
Whereas J is more of a classic, timeless, ‘Mad Men’ cocktail sort of man – Old Fashioned is his drink of choice and he wears it well – I am more of a fruity-creamy-comes-wearing-an-unbrella-and-a-sparkler-and-at-least-two-Maraschino-cherries cocktail kinda gal – I’ll try anything that looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in the finale of ‘Grease 2’. Rock a hula luau anyone?
There’s no other way to describe this place except to come right out and say it’s amazing. Located in The Fairmont Hotel, the first challenge for us was actually finding the bar because the hotel, which is one of the city’s plushest and swankiest, is about as far away from a tikki lounge externally as it’s possible to get. The second challenge was scooping my jaw up off the floor because when you do find your way in and see what lays before you? Well, it wasn’t like any other bar I’ve ever been in and I’m a dame who’s drunk her way round London, Sydney, Paris, New York…well, let’s stop there shall we?
I feel it important that you are swiftly made aware of the finer points of this particular bar; every 10 minutes, the heavens open and a tropical rainstorm complete with thunder & lightning pours down onto the 75 foot lagoon, onto which an 80’s covers band floats each night to serenade you with a little Lionel Richie & Stevie Wonder.
Time for a drink? The cocktails are large & lethal and come with names that scream sophistication & elegance like the Scorpion Bowl, the Hurricane or, our own particular favourite and downfall, the Pineapple Royale; rum, brandy, Cointreau and pineapple juice served in a subtle & understated ceramic pineapple.
Fancy a dance? How about displaying all your very best moves – and after sampling the bar offerings, there’s no doubt they’d be anything other than your very best ones – on a dance floor made of the SS Forrester, a lumber ship that used to sail regularly between San Francisco & the South Sea Islands.
Please, please, please don’t misunderstand this gentle ribbing sarcasm for anything other than complete adoration. I loved this place. It was no surprise to find out that the decor had been created in 1945 by MGM’s leading set decorator, the wonderfully named Mel Melvin or that this bar is constantly recognised as one of the hottest in the country by tomes as varied as Harper’s Bazaar & Wallpaper and after another long day of exploration, it was exactly what we needed – not too serious, not at all pretentious with friendly service and a lively buzz from the surrounding tables, all of which were full or filling quickly.
I cannot put my feelings about this place any better than to quote celebrated, award-winning American chef Anthony Bourdain who got it oh so very right when he declared that “if you have no love in your heart for this place, you are a sick, twisted lonely f**k with too many cats.”
The drinks will knock your feet out from under you, the ambience will dazzle, charm & stupefy you and though you’d never take someone for an intimate tumbler of 25 year old whiskey or a glass of vintage Merlot served by white-jacket-and-glove-wearing waiters, I guarantee as a one-off? As a place for a laugh & a merry buzz? As somewhere to say you’ve been? Well, on my mai-tai loving life, it gets no better than this.