When people hear "California", visions of sun-soaked, brah-filled, coastal, Southern California beach towns usually fill their minds. Imagine the level of surprise and disappointment we've seen on our unknowing out-of-towner guests' faces when they come to visit us in San Francisco and are faced with our unusual patchwork of foggy and rather chilly micro-climates instead of a permanent summer. It always throws them for a (disappointed) loop. Really, Nor-Cal and So-Cal are so extremely different that it would probably make sense to consider them two separate states, but that's a whole 'nother conversation. But, there is a place like this dreamlike version of California that does exist in Nor-Cal and it's actually not that far from San Francisco. This place actually has that stereotypical beach bum vibe where surfers and skaters live their carefree suntanned lifestyles and tourists flock to catch rays of sunshine. This place is Santa Cruz.
The Japan Center Mall is a mysterious maze-like shopping center full of stalls selling Asian miscellany and a wide variety of authentic Asian eats. There are many places you could choose to eat at – with specialists for just about every Japanese food type you could think of. There are in fact a number of sushi options, but there is only one sushi purveyor inside of this massive mall that I find myself consistently returning to. It's called Isobune and its a truly special place.
Back when I was living in New York, I think I took for granted the fact that it really was "the city that never sleeps". Literally any hour of the day, I could get my hands on anything I craved. Bars stayed open to 4, delivery services ran around the clock and worked lightening fast, and there was always a restaurant open serving exactly what I was in the mood for, no matter what crazy hour it was that I wanted it. Now, let's compare that to San Francisco, where bars start winding down at 1 AM and close at 2. It's a place where most restaurant and bar kitchens close around 10 PM and food delivery is an utter joke. If it's past 10 PM and you feel like having a great late night meal, you've got to approach the situation with a little more care and a lot more knowledge.
One day, Amy and I were headed to Oakland to check out the California International Antiquarian Book Fair (it's way more awesome than it sounds, I promise). This year, the event relocated from its usual San Francisco venue to the Marriott City Center Convention location in the Piedmont neighborhood of Oakland. Well, I'm pretty much always on the hunt for great, cheap sushi and I knew we would need to grab a good lunch before heading into the event, but I wasn't very familiar with the area's food selection. So, I pulled up Foursquare and did a quick search to gauge my options. Immediately, I was presented with an obvious lunch solution – a tiny hole-in-the-wall well-regarded for its quality fish and reasonable prices called Geta Sushi.
What a year!! I did something like this last year too, but oh boy was 2014 a doozy. I started off living in NYC, then a started a new job that whisked me off the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a few months before ultimately relocating to San Francisco permanently. And along the way, I squeezed in a couple of vacations too. Sooooo, I did a LOT of epic eating this year. And truth be told, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list as concisely as last year's, but I somehow managed. So, without further ado, I present the winners (and runner-ups) broken down by category. I tried to cluster similar dish types together, but really they are in no particular order. Let's begin! And if you wanna hear about the 2014's Best Cocktails, read more here.
Just because I moved away from NYC doesn't mean I still don't have a few more gems tucked away to tell you all about. One of my more frequented go-to date night spots from my New York days is a tiny Portuguese restaurant located on the western edge of SoHo serving homey, upscale, and unusual food in a cozy, window-lined space that faces out onto the quiet, infrequently trafficked streets. I think Pao! still remains off-the-radar for most people and prior to Union Bar & Kitchen opening, it really was the only viable date night option in the area.
It's not always easy finding a great sushi place in San Francisco. Often times the quality at inexpensive spots is unacceptable and the high-quality places are just way too expensive. And if you can manage to find an excellent and reasonably priced spot like Domo Sushi, it'll constantly be plagued by long lines and waits due to its extremely popular Hayes Valley location. That's why I was so happy to find Live Sushi Bar in the less trafficked Potrero Hill neighborhood. It has consistently proven its ability to hit that sweet spot of freshness, price, value, and ease of access. And I know you'll love it too.
To celebrate my lovely girlfriend Amy's
redacted birthday, we planned a glorious weekend getaway to the Paso Robles wine country. We had heard excellent things about the remote region's beauty and density of high-quality wineries so it seemed like a great way to spend a couple of days and the perfect way to mark the occasion. On the Friday of her birthday weekend, Amy drove down from San Francisco to pick me up from work in Sunnyvale before we headed off into the beautiful, winding, south-of-SF countryside only to stop quickly in Moss Landing for dinner before reaching Paso Robles at around 11 PM.