Dining

Where ghosts, gold & hipster coffee collide

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After 17 years spent living in San Francisco, I still find tiny slivers of pure paradise tucked around corners and nestled between buildings, just waiting to be discovered. This week found me uncovering one of these hidden gems in one of my very, very favorite slices of the city. I’ve always known it as the “antique district,” though technically it’s the “Jackson Square Historic District.” It’s part nostalgia for me recalling a previous life spent doing some work in this part of town and partially appeals to my personal aesthetic.  Jackson Square is rich in history, coming to life during the Gold and Silver eras in San Francisco.  It retains most original buildings of the 1850s and 1860s and immediately transports one back to that time for a moment.

Mr. City Mouse recently opened office space in the antique district and I was lucky enough to join him for a coffee one morning. Truth be told, the uber-hipster coffee options are plentiful in this neighborhood. And he literally went down a quick list, debating options, “…the organic café is pretty great or the coffee truck always has amazing coffee…wait!  I know exactly where we should go….” And he led me down a street, around a corner and then abruptly, turned in the middle of the block and walked me through a wrought iron gate spanning two brick buildings. What appeared before me, made my skin tingle. It reminded me of Europe. It was hidden. It was intimate. It was old and new all at once and was ringed on all sides by small office spaces, housing start ups and funds and firms. There was a quiet, almost silent, desperately throbbing energy to the space.  This was Jackson Place and the home of the Jackson Place Cafe.

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It’s billed as …”one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets.”  And I would agree.  It’s idyllic. While sipping a piping hot espresso, one is shadowed by wrought iron railings and twinkly lights. The bricks, climb high above the trees, chipped and uneven, beautiful in their asymmetry with grays and burnt orange, faded to almost white in places.  Flickering gas lamps strain to cast their glow amidst the bright sky, which filters down through the towering buildings.  Strangely, the city ambience largely dissipates in this oasis and one is left listening to a soft music soundtrack of I’m sure, whatever Pandora station was chosen to set the mood by the barista. On my visit it sounded like the selected station may have been “John Mellencamp.”

20150417_092922_resizedIt’s here that one can grab a specialty coffee, made with care at the window. The Jackson Square cafe serves a limited menu of coffees, breakfast and lunches to go: High in quality.  Artisanal.  Expensive. Delicious.

20150417_092005_resizedI do love history and sitting in the plaza, I could almost feel the energy of a long-lost century and evoke a vision.  If only these bricks could whisper their secrets from the past…. I’ve got to think that the energy and pulsating drive of the Gold rush pushes up and through the toes of those now innovating in industry within these walls. The ghosts wander about here, I’m sure, in their tattered clothes and bottomless shoes abandoning boats and salty oceans for dusty hills, under a blazing California sky, searching for sparkle among the rock.  And now I’ve discovered this, too: a bit of brilliance hidden among the concrete.

A few fun facts about the Jackson Square Historic District:

-It’s one of the oldest commercial districts in San Francisco

-It retains almost all original commercial buildings from the 1850s and 1860s

-It recalls the Gold and Silver era

-The waterline previously bordered this district and it partially sits on landfill

-Some of that landfill is made up a hulls of ships, abandoned in the rush to the Gold county

-Now it’s home to interior designers, law firms, creative agencies and architects, to name a few and has undergone a bit of a renaissance of late

I’m very much personally inspired by this space and will be making regular pilgrimages here when I want to breathe in the history of the city and enjoy a perfect cup of coffee.  It’s worth a stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.

http://www.jacksonplacecafe.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Square,_San_Francisco

How can I turn back time? Oh, wait. I can’t: 72 hours in New York City.

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I do believe that I earned my true City Mouse moniker this year, when, upon realizing that I definitely needed a postpartum, adult vacation and mental “escape from it all” chose New York City. Not the beach or the mountains or the wine country. But, a long weekend in Manhattan. To many, it may not make sense. And, I can understand why it doesn’t, on the surface.   We already live in a major metropolitan environment. We do “city living” every single day of our lives. I was, though, so thirsty for stimulation and to quench this, sought out the best remedy I could think of: NYC, a cure for stimulation under-load.

Manhattan is just SO super-sized in every way: So many more restaurants, and so many more really, really good ones. More museums and monuments. More theater and thespians and talent. More amazing architecture and arts. And honking horns and history. It’s loud and vibrant and chaotic and I love it.

It also very much represents a time in my life without kiddos: A place that I traveled to for work and pleasure.   Upon reflection memories flash like an old-fashioned slide show in my mind’s eye.  Click! There I am shooting commercials along cobblestone streets and among sooty, blackened warehouses,  in the West Village, wrapped in the hazy, humidity of a June day.

Click!  Me with Mr. City Mouse, savoring a carefree, pre-kid date night devouring pillows of warm, doughy gnocchi bites, washed down with plum, cherry, tobacco-spiced Barolo at Babbo. Click! Ambling together through the Chelsea Market, delighting in a fresh, buttery croissant, and strong espresso, with no real destination in mind or schedule to keep.

Click!  Enjoying a pre-kid vacation with a girlfriend, spending hours walking through Soho, The East Village, The West Village, Midtown, shopping and talking, laughing and eating and drinking. Only to return to our hotel when we were ready to flop, exhausted from our adventures, upon crisp white linens and fluffy comforters. And relish sleeping to our hearts content until we did it all again the next day.

Upon reflection, subconsciously, I’m sure my first post-kids NYC quest had something to do with trying to recapture a little piece of that old life. Just to feel, for a second, like I used to feel. Breathe it in, touch it, grasp at it. Then let it go again.

And so, a few weeks ago, we embarked upon Manhattan with no real agenda in mind, by design. As any parent of small children can understand, in family life, there is ALWAYS a schedule. So, to operate without one felt luxurious. Apart from a few optional dinner reservations, there was no place that we had to be.

When well-meaning friends asked me retrospectively about our New York trip, you’d hear me say, “It was great! A real treat.” And it was. Having some time to unplug is always a relief. Having not slept more than about 4 hours at a time in 5 months, I luxuriated in sleeping from sundown to sun-up. Having a date weekend with the hubby is also rare and fun and a gift. The truth is, that while it was a wonderful weekend, it was quite different from my expectations.

What I realized is that, while Manhattan has largely remained exactly as I remember leaving it before children, I’m not exactly the same. And the juxtaposition was a bit startling. First, I was tired. I was a tired mom. I was a tired woman. Not the same tired, as I remembered from past visits (“site seeing” tired or “two glasses of champagne too much” tired.) I was to-my-bones exhausted. And I felt the conflict of wanting to get out and experience the city, fighting with my body and mind’s desperation for sleep.

I also realized that after 4 years of having been in the triage unit of mother-dome, always listening or awaiting the next calamity, I was having a hard time relaxing. I got on the airplane, thinking that I could leave it all behind. My unfortunate realization was that I was running like a tightly wound spring. And there wasn’t a transcontinental flight long enough, nor enough complimentary glasses of wine to massage out all of the kinks and rough spots and deposit me on the other end of the country, relaxed, fluid and restored, as I’d hoped. I landed in New York City still feeling the coursing electricity of parenthood alertness and wasn’t able to turn it off.

I also had the illogical feeling that I may never, ever or for a very, very long time, get to go anywhere or do anything like this again. Despite my husband reminding me, rightly so, how irrational this was; that we were fortunate enough to still have the opportunity to travel, I couldn’t shake that motivation. “What if I don’t get back to New York for another 8 years or ever again?!” “We have to hit the Chelsea Market like the old days! See a show! Carriage ride through Central Park! Ice skate in the plaza! Have martinis at the King Cole Bar every night!!” “Aaaggghhh!” And, I’m actually not exaggerating here. At all. Despite not having a schedule, I drove an imaginary, irrational agenda in my mind as though I were on a work-release program from prison, about to be returned in short order. I drove myself crazy. I drove my husband crazy. I was just plain crazy, all around.

It made me realize that what I was desperate for and couldn’t quite recapture was the laissez-faire attitude of the past. Before kids, we did travel all of the time, all over. And speaking of time, we frequently had a lot of it. And because our ambling mornings were not exceptional, we naturally just soaked it all in, in a carefree fashion. Because that’s not the case anymore, everything we did on this trip took on heightened meaning and importance for me, which necessarily increased the pressure, stripping away the very thing I sought to recapture. At the time, I was confused and frustrated. With a bit of hindsight, I can see what I was doing and the natural result.

On the bright side, there were moments of pure bliss, for example wandering uptown through the Upper East Side in search of a late lunch, stumbling upon Le Charlot. It’s one of those tucked away neighborhood spots, slivered between brownstones of gray and beige. We tucked into a red, upholstered booth and devoured large bowls of mussels and crisp glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, while the table of 7 next to us, carried on a raucous conversation in French. It was totally unexpected and exquisite.

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And my husband truly put together a first class experience for the weekend, complemented with 5 star treatment and dotted with memorable meals. It was a gesture of love. For me. Knowing that I needed to get away and unplug. He orchestrated it all and it was truly wonderful and I am eternally grateful.

I have great memories from this trip. I’m so happy that we were able to get away. My lessons learned? Realize, really, really realize that life is different now!  As Mr. City Mouse keeps reminding me, “We have 3 children under 5!”  Remember that.  Embrace it and adjust for that fact. Keep it simple.  Don’t try to tackle everything all at once.  Be realistic about stamina and energy levels and schedules and expectations.  Build in downtime. And of course with a little more sleep most everything is more enjoyable. So, know that.  (Hurray for sleep training and a baby that almost sleeps through the night!)

I love New York. I can’t wait to go back again. It’s still one of my favorite things to do. Next time, though, I promise to keep the trip in perspective.  Be kinder to myself.  And my significant other.  Be more realistic.  And just enjoy the little moments along the way.

Until next time,

The City Mouse

We love eating our way through a city. Here are a few notes from the trip:

Gramercy Tavern- Flatiron District

A classic and my favorite of the weekend. We dined at the bar for dinner, which was lively and fun!

Bill’s-  Mid-town

We lunched at this converted 1890s townhouse and former prohibition speakeasy. The atmosphere?      Clubby and cool.

Marea-  Central Park South

Apparently, this is a hot new restaurant and the wait staff let us know how privileged we were to be dining there. Service grade: F-. The food was creative and exceptional, but we definitely paid for it. I had a case of sticker shock, too and we’re used to big city pricing.  Ouch!

Gotham Bar & Grill- West Village

This was a return to the scene of my first career business trip and first ever meal on an expense account at age 24.   It’s still as special and exceptional as I remember it after all these years.

Bill’s Bar & Burger-  Meatpacking District

What a great spot for a delicious burger in one of my favorite spots in the Village. The Fat Cat was named one of the best burgers in the country and I agree. Delicious!

King Cole Bar-  Midtown

How could you not feel decadent enjoying a Manhattan cocktail in this Manhattan staple?  A definite worthy classic, cocktail stop.

 

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