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The Lonesome Traveler Hits San Francisco: Part 1

Well, dear readers, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I’m happy to report that I have not dropped off of the face of the Earth.  On the contrary, I’ve been off on a new adventure and I can’t wait to tell you about it!  One week ago, I, aka The Lonesome Traveler, took off to attend the first ever BlogHer Food [1] conference in San Francisco, California.  With my confidence bolstered by my recent solo trip to Seattle [2] (and because Mr. SGCC had too many work commitments), I decided to make the trip alone.  So, last Thursday, I packed up my guts (and some cute outfits) in my suitcase and headed west.

I’d never been to San Francisco or anywhere else in California before, but had always longed to visit there.  For weeks, I had been exchanging emails and tweets with my peeps – making plans to meet up for drinks, dinners, shopping, exploring and general carousing around.  When the time finally came for me to go, I was so excited I could hardly stand it!  Not even waking up before dawn followed by seven hours in an airplane, one frantic layover and a very swollen pair of feet could dampen my spirits.

My first impression of the city on my cab ride in from the airport was one of pure awe.  San Francisco is HUGE!  So huge in fact, that by the time I reached my hotel, my infinitesimal smallness in comparison became acutely apparent.  In short, I was a little overwhelmed.

That first evening, I wandered around the immediate neighborhood to get the lay of the land while taking care not to venture too far out of my comfort zone.   Fortunately, my hotel’s restaurant, Ducca [3], served up some excellent Italian fare and I didn’t even have to leave the premises.  I only wish they had also served up some excellent service to go along with it!    My server was as charming and solicitous as could be – that is, until I informed him that I would be dining alone.  After that, it seemed like he couldn’t get away from me fast enough.  As I enjoyed my delicious (and quite pricey) meal, the most I saw of that guy was the back of his head as he schmoozed and fell all over the cute twenty-something couple sitting at the table next to me.  Once or twice I got a quick “Everything okay? Good.” as he raced by me, carrying yet another “special dish” for my dining neighbors to try.  After trying to get his attention for almost fifteen minutes to order another glass of wine, I thought about sticking my foot out from under the table and tripping him – just to get him to stop!  I didn’t, though.  My mama raised me right!

What I’d like to know is, why are women who eat alone in restaurants so often treated as pariahs?  Isn’t our money just as good as the next guy’s?  Why would a restaurant in a hotel that caters to business travelers treat anyone like that?  Mr. SGCC says it’s because women are thought of as notoriously bad tippers, and my server probably didn’t want to waste his time on me.  Well, I showed him.  I tipped him 25%.  I’d like to think I struck a blow for lonesome women travelers everywhere, but all I probably did was reinforce his bad behavior.  Sigh…..  BTW, the photo above is of Ducca’s Arancini, which are deep fried, cornmeal-crusted risotto fritters filled with herbs and ooey, gooey sottocenere cheese [4].  To. Die. For!

The next morning, I woke up to steel gray skies and lots of spooky, swirling fingers of fog.  As I looked out of my 19th story, floor-to-ceiling window, my heart sank a little. It looked scary out there!  This was to be my big sightseeing day in  San Francisco and all I wanted to do was crawl back under the covers.  Sometimes, being on your own in the big city just isn’t that much fun.  So, I did what any lonesome traveler would do.  I logged onto Twitter to see if anyone I knew was close by.

As luck would have it, Laura from Hey What’s for Dinner, Mom [5] took pity on me.  She was having coffee just down the street and tweeted that if I met her there, she would get me over to Chinatown.  It was an offer I couldn’t refuse!  I hustled my buns over to Market and 4th as fast as I could.  When I arrived, Laura was there waiting with a big smile and a good map.

We rode a cable car up to Chinatown for some fun, food and shopping.  Did I mention that we sailed up and down those hilly streets standing on the outside of the cable car and hanging on for dear life?   We did, and it was a blast!  I would have taken a picture of us for all you nonbelievers out there, but I didn’t dare let go of the rail for fear of falling off and becoming another unfortunate cable car accident statistic.  You’ll just have to trust me on this one.  (By the way, don’t ever piss off one of those cable car operators by asking a lot of stupid questions.  They are a tough bunch and don’t suffer fools well!  Don’t ask me how I know this.)

Laura and I spent the rest of the afternoon eating, exploring and soaking up local color.  We also bought a lot of stuff, especially cute little plates, bowls and chopsticks for shooting food photos for our blogs.  Of course, neither of us has an Asian food blog, but…whatever!  I’m sure we’ll use them anyway.

Here’s me taking a little bubble tea break.  Yes, I know I look a little ragged around the edges. That’s what happens when you shop ‘til you drop.  So, sue me!

All that shopping can really make a girl hungry, so we treated ourselves to a fabulous dim sum lunch.  Don’t ask me the name of the restaurant, because I don’t remember it.  But, I do remember that we tried about a gazillion different dishes and we loved each one!

This is Laura getting ready to try some kind of dumpling filled with lots of sweet, spring onions.  Amazing!

It was a good thing we decided to pass on dessert, because a little later on, we came upon this place on the left.

This is the Golden Gate Bakery.  I had never heard of it before, but the line out the door speaks for itself.  A couple of very nice Chinese ladies explained to us that the Golden Gate Bakery is famous for it’s “dan tats” or egg custard tarts.  Custard tarts?  That was it for me. I was not budging from Chinatown without some of those tarts!  I talked poor Laura into waiting over an hour on that outrageously long line, getting pushed, shoved and barked at by a bunch of Chinese grandmas also looking to score some tarts.  Was it worth it?  Yes! When our turn finally came, trays of piping hot, flaky and impossibly creamy egg custard tarts had just come out of the oven and into our greedy little hands.  Words cannot describe how good they were.  Sublime!   And look at the pretty bakery box they came in.  I loved it so much that I saved it!

All good things must come to an end, as did my wonderful afternoon in Chinatown.  Laura and I dragged our tired, aching bodies onto another cable car and back to our respective hotels.  I can’t thank Laura enough for being my companion for the day. We had so much fun!  Even though we had never met before, we felt like we had known each other for years.  She lives in Alaska and I live in Florida.  That’s about as far apart as you can get!  But, I sincerely hope that we have the chance to meet again soon.  In the meantime, there’s always Twitter!

When I got back to my hotel, I couldn’t believe that I had to turn around and head right back out to meet some of my favorite bloggers for drinks and dinner.  I spritzed, misted and pinched my cheeks, frantically applying fresh lip gloss as I ran out the door.  This was an evening I had waited a long time for!  I was finally going to meet the lovely Helen (Tartelette [6]), the super cool Todd and Diane (White on Rice Couple [7]) and my dear, sweet Jen (Use Real Butter [8])!  As an added bonus, we were also joined by Alice (Savory Sweet Life [9]), Lisa (Lisa is Bossy [10]), Ashley (Not Without Salt [11]), Chuck (Sunday Nite Dinner [12]/Food Gawker [13]), Anita (Dessert First [14]), Michelle (Thursday Night Smackdown [15]) and Karen (Off the Meat Hook [16]).

Some of us met up for Happy Hour on the 39th floor of the Marriott.  Then we headed over to meet the rest of our party for dinner at Anchor and Hope [17].  Of course, it was dark by then, so the only pictures I got with my travel P&S camera were a bunch of craptastic shots of the food.  Jen, on the other hand, got lots of terrific shots of both the food and the people.  If you’d like to see how much fun we had, check out her post here [18].

It was so great (and a bit humbling) to be sitting at the same table with so many talented and creative people.  Everyone was talking a mile a minute, including myself.  It’s not easy trying to catch up on that many lives in one night!  When the plates of food started coming out, everyone’s forks were launching like rockets into them!

Eventually, the time came for us to say goodnight.  We all had a busy day ahead of us.  BlogHer Food was scheduled to begin early the next morning and we needed to be rested and ready.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I reflected on my perfect first day in San Francisco.  I thought about the places I’d been and the wonderful people I’d met.  I may have begun my adventure as a lonesome traveler, but at the moment my eyes began to close, I knew that I was anything but lonely.

I still have lots more to tell you.  Stay tuned for Part 2, where I fill you in on the conference happenings, share about more new friends that I made and tell you all about my chance encounter with big celebrity!