Tuesday, May 25, 2010

North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf, by App

My new travel app on San Francisco's North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf is out and available on iTunes. I'll have more in future blog posts but check it out if you're looking for a guide to these two favorite San Francisco areas, among the top-visited places in the city.
I've included descriptions of more than 80 cafes, restaurants, shops, bakeries, bars, attractions and historic sites. It's an insider's guide: I lived in North Beach for many years and my Italian family has roots there.
I've also covered the waterfront from Ghirardelli Square south to Pier 39 where, amid the souvenir shops catering to millions of tourists, there's still authentic San Francisco in the colorful old fishing boats, the smell of boiling crab pots and oven-fresh sourdough bread.
The app sells for .99 cents and includes dozens of photos, interactive maps, telephone numbers and web site links to help plan a trip, and to use while visiting San Francisco.
It can be used together with my first app, San Francisco's Chinatown, which was released earlier this year and covers the city's Chinese quarter that, in some places, overlaps with North Beach.
Both apps were produced by Sutro Media, a San Francisco company that is creating a collection of worldwide guides of photos and useful travel information, downloadable onto computers and mobile devices. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Impressionism Exhibit Opens at de Young

The Impressionism exhibition that opened at San Francisco's de Young Museum this weekend has all the makings of a blockbuster event: nearly 100 paintings from the Musee d'Orsay's permanent collection that will never be loaned out for an exhibition as a group again, according to the French government.
Through Sept. 6, the first of two exhibitions is on view: Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay.
Eleven galleries are filled with art by Bouguereau, Manet, Renoir, Sisley, Caillebotte, Monet, Pissaro, Cezanne and Degas.
On a media tour on Wednesday, it was clear that this is the kind of exhibit you want to linger over and return to again if possible. The paintings are indeed masterpieces, the ones that people travel to Paris to view -- or only see in an art history book.
The works include The Fifer and Woman with Fans by Manet, The Magpie by Monet and The Floor Scrapers by Caillebotte. A famous American work is in the mix: Whistler's Mother by Whistler.
The exhibition breaks down the evolution of Impressionism in engaging and understandable pieces for a layperson.
It traces the origins of Impressionism and how it grew in the late 19th century when the political and social turmoil in France was reflected in the art produced by the greatest painters of the time.
Some art lovers may look at this exhibit, however, as a warm-up act: the de Young's second Musee d'Orsay exhibit this fall will be devoted to Post-Impressionism, with the works of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne.
The two back-to-back exhibitions are the only such exhibitions anywhere in the world. How did San Francisco get so lucky? The city was in the fortunate position to take advantage of the closure of the Musee d'Orsay as it undergoes a major renovation for its 25th anniversary in 2011. Besides a sister-city partnership between San Francisco and Paris, there is a close relationship between board members and the directors of the two museums that led to the mounting of the two exhibitions.
The de Young has instituted the timed-viewing arrangement that works well for these types of blockbuster exhibits. But there's also something new.
In addition to the regular hours and Friday Nights at the de Young series, the museum scheduled extended viewing hours -- until 8:45 p.m. (last ticket: 7:30 p.m.) -- on Thursday evenings from June 17 until Sept. 2. Called "Impressionism at Twilight," the Thursdays offer reduced admission and a special fixed price menu at the de Young Cafe. Also, the tower, usually closed in the evenings, will be open so that visitors will be able to watch the sunset from high above the museum.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Destination Diner

The Putah Creek Cafe in Winters is the kind of place you hope to find on a long road trip. It's cheery, comfy and, even though it's relatively new, it feels as though it's been part of small-town life for decades. Oh, and the food is good.
This isn't the kind of diner that relies on a pre-packaged food distributor for its menu items. Most things are made on site, including pies and desserts such as apricot bars, which garnered a rave in the late Gourmet magazine some years back (Despite encroaching development, Winters remains a farm town, surrounded by orchards and the fruit is used in the restaurant).
I tried the locals' favorite (according to the waitress), the Buckhorn Farmer's Market Char-Roast Sirloin Sandwich with the side of cole slaw and French dip. It was delicious.
Then, I wandered the quaint old town and had an excellent espresso at a homey coffeehouse, Steady Eddy's, across the railroad tracks on the shady town park, which stretches to Putah Creek. A rebuilt, historic trestle bridge -- now for bicyclists pedestrians only -- crosses the creek and lies alongside another historic bridge, this one a concrete arch span for cars, built in 1907.
The Putah Creek Cafe is a sister restaurant to the better-known Buckhorn steak houses (there's one across the street at this intersection of Winters' Main Street) and in Marin County. All are known for their Angus beef.
I can now vouch for the excellent beef. Next time I'm going to get to Putah Creek Cafe a little earlier and try the breakfasts, which I hear are scrumptious. And, I'll leave room for a piece of pie.