San Francisco, CA

San Francisco shows why it’s so special

Clay Kallam

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There were fish everywhere, from the Academy of Sciences to Ancora.(Photo courtesy of Ancora)

It was a perfect San Francisco day.

The skies were blue, the fog hovered off the coast and the temperature was in the mid-70s. Of course, there was a light breeze and the air was crystal clear.

When we emerged from the overpriced by oh-so-simple parking lot underneath the DeYoung Museum, we were greeted by that wonderful weather that helps make San Francisco so special – as well as the perfect oval of the Music Concourse with the spray from the central fountain reflecting the gentle sunlight.

At one end of the Concourse is the Spreckels Temple of Music – I had to look up the name, I confess – and on it three couples were dancing to music from a boom box. At the other end sits the SkyStar Wheel, a temporary Ferris wheel that offers, for a price, views of the city that was once called the Paris of the West.

As usual, the Music Concourse was full of families, friends and pairs, laughing, chatting, checking their phones and generally soaking up the atmosphere that can make the City special. (We won’t go into the homeless or car break-ins – that’s a different article.)

Our goal, however, was across the way: The California Academy of Sciences. Granted, this is a quite pricey ticket, but it only takes a couple trips to justify a membership. And if a young granddaughter might spend some time there, then it’s definitely the way to go.

The Academy of Sciences is a spacious, airy building with a large central courtyard, and around it are exhibits mostly focused on plants and animals. One exception was the 30-minute film we watched in the Morrison Planetarium, “Living Worlds,” which was more about astronomy than biology. But even though we’ve been to the Morrison before – and yes, back in the day, the visits had some chemical boosters – the detail and immersion in the movie was better than ever before.

After staring at the immobile albino alligator for a while (a must every time I visit), we headed downstairs to the Steinhart Aquarium, with its darkened, maze-like corridors and stunning collection of gorgeous underwater life.

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The jellyfish are stars at Steinhart Aquarium.(Maggi Brown)

The final stop was the spiraling Osher Rainforest, with its circling butterflies, and lush greenery. (And note that everything is less crowded late in the day.)

But a trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without a meal at one its many superb restaurants, and this evening’s choice was an early dinner at the new seafood spot in the Mission, Ancora. The tasteful interior isn’t that much different than Locanda, which previously occupied the spot on Valencia, but the new owners Joe and Andi Conte had to spend lots of money on the back of the house, upgrading the equipment that diners never see but that chefs can’t do without.

And executive chef Nick Anichini (formerly of Atelier Crenn) took full advantage, as dish after carefully prepared dish arrived at the table. And it doesn’t hurt that the Contes also own Water2Table, which supplies seafood to many Bay Area restaurants, so the fish is marvelously fresh.

Naturally, the presentation on the plates was eye-catching – this is San Francisco, after all – but the taste stole the show. We had so-good oysters, clams in a delicious sauce, and prawns that all but melted in our mouths before digging into the halibut rack for the main course.

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Ancora’s halibut rack is not only really good, it’s lots of fun.(Maggi Brown)

So there were some complicated explanations about how the halibut was presented much like a rack of lamb, but what made the entrée special was the side dishes that accompanied it. The halibut, naturally, was cooked to perfection, light and flavorful, but alongside were mushrooms in one dish, peppers and sausage in another, a cilantro-based sauce from Morocco, and garlic bread soaked in butter and spices that was to die for.

And even though Ancora has only been open for about a month, it’s already found an audience, as it was buzzing early on a Thursday night. That meant, sadly, that the traffic heading back home was likely to be a nightmare, but all good things come at a cost, right?

Well, not this time. The traffic flowed like a dream, the sun set on the Berkeley hills as the clouds rolled across the Bay, and we headed home with smiles on our faces.

All in all, it was a perfect San Francisco day.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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