Oh, we ate like horses in San Francisco! The tourism board and various PR reached out to us, and set us up with the city’s most innovative restaurants.
For me, trying the local cuisine is one of the best ways to get to know a place and its culture. When you travel, I urge you to open your mind and palate. Don’t hide behind fears and restrictions. You never know what you might discover — like Yukiro’s new appreciation for seafood!
From fresh seafood to Peruvian fruits, here’s a chronicle of our San Fran eats. We loved every experience, but put the favorites at the top. Forks up, and let’s dig in.
Our absolute top pick is La Mar Cebichería Peruana at the Embarcadero. Yukiro agrees: “La Mar with La Carmina was my best meal during the trip. We could have spent a day there, just eating and eating. Seriously, you must visit this seafood paradise if you ever come to San Francisco.”
You couldn’t eat Peruvian seafood and ceviche in a more beautiful setting, at the pier. Loved the outdoor dining space and lively color scheme, which matches my hair.
We started with these plantain chips and dip. It didn’t take long for us to finish the bucket. Yukiro adds, “The service here was very good; our waitress chatted with us like a genuine friend. In the open-air kitchen you could see how all the fresh fruits they make into drinks or sauces.”
“We had ceviche to die for, served beautifully with a lot of fresh and variable seasonings.” Cebiches, or raw marinated fish, are the national dish of Peru for good reason. We had a 100% sustainable sampling platter. The yellowtail one was so good that we ordered another serving.
I’m the type of diner who likes to try a bite of everything, so I appreciated the menu’s many sampler platters. We ordered pisco sour cocktails, empanadas, and causas (whipped potatoes topped with artichoke, beets, broccoli and avocado).
And the award for best dessert goes to… the chocolate lucuma crepe! The Andean valley fruit flavor is out-of-the-park, and unlike anything I’ve had before. If you only go to one restaurant in San Francisco, make it La Mar.
We also adored Le Colonial, a Michelin starred restaurant near Union Square. Inspired by the French era in Vietnam, the entrance is a lush jungle, and the service is top class.
Everything, from the low lighting to the southeast Asia Buddhas, adds to the romantic fantasy. On the top floor, we saw figures in top hats dancing to live jazz.
Yukiro reminisces, “The wine blew our minds far away. Very delicate flavored indeed. The appetizers were Vietnamese inspired and included tofu, spring rolls and skewers. It all tasted magnificent.” For the mains, I fell for the steamed Chilean sea bass wrapped in banana leaves.
Finally, Vietnamese flourless chocolate cake with a warm interior, and lemongrass panna cotta topped with a (Michelin?) star. Yukiro puts it best: “After stuffing our faces with this luxury, we felt we had to roll down the hills of San Francisco to get home!”
I always say that when it comes to food, quality and location matter. Yukiro adds, “I have to admit that before coming here, I didn’t think highly of shellfish. Pier Market Seafood proved me wrong. The crew treated us fellow pirates to a feast of freshly-caught seafood dishes. The pomegranate cocktail was super refreshing and probably the best we had during the whole trip.”
We died over the mahi-mahi (melt in your mouth!) and grilled salmon, swordfish and shrimp. Some of the best I’ve had in recent memory, and this is coming from someone who is always in Tokyo and Vancouver.
Yuki-chan continues, “After this feast we got coffee cocktails and tremendously tasty desserts bestowed upon us. Chocolate cake and home-made apple pie with ice cream. What a treat! I got a nostalgic feeling from my childhood when my mother used to make a similar apple pie. But this one tasted even better than those sweet memories. Overall you must come to Pier Market Seafood for the Mahi Mahi dish, fresh cocktails and tasty desserts.”
In the Marina district, we had a relaxing dinner with friends at Isa Restaurant. “The venue was romantic, gothic and darkly cozy. The very pleasing wines filled our tummies and spirits.”
Our server at Isa was a fun fellow who used to work as a translator to the Cambodian court. “He brought us a lot of nice recommendations, which we took time to share and enjoy.” The chef did a outstanding job of infusing French with Californian cuisine, keeping it simple to let the ingredients do the talking: lamb lollipops, Tomales bay oysters, and baked Chenel goat cheese.
Yukiro enjoyed a good cup of dark coffee after the dinner, and I was all over the refreshing (and pretty) grapefruit granite.
We had a divine time at Pisco / Destino, a Latin lounge and bistro. Modern Central / South American is currently one of my favorite choices for dining out.
“This Latino place was to die for. Their sinfully good sangrias were non-sweetened and ‘diluted’ with more red wine. We had several re-fills due to the exquisite and rich fruit flavor. The best sangria I’ve ever had. Red wine is consumable in all conditions but this was probably its best form!”
“The fresh raw fish in different seasonings, called ceviche, was a killer dish. We loved every slice and dice of it.”
For those with “meaty” appetites, we recommend Historic John’s Grill. This is one of San Fran’s oldest establishments, and was a setting in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.
The dark one says, “A traditional American steak house with a long reputation at stake. Could this satisfy a drag queen diva who eats children for breakfast? Certainly, m’am!”
There was an impressive wine list, and we drank their own label — a fine white, recommended by the vivacious server. “The only thing unclear was… why they are named Historic John’s, when the founder’s name was Arnold?”
Start with escargot, Dungeness crab cocktail, and lobster-stuffed ravioli. Move on to the filet mignon, or Sam Spade lamb chops.
And end with fresh berries with cream, and vanilla cream caramel flan. “There was no surprise, you got what you expected and loved it to the fullest. Historic John’s lives up to its reputation for sure.”
After all heavy eating, we were grateful for the seasonal gastropub grub at Urban Tavern. Trevor, Yukiro and I appreciated their mascot, the robot-mechanical horse.
The sunflowers aren’t for eating… but we enjoyed healthy green salads and wraps, with quinoa and hummus. Yukiro especially loved the fresh avocado, and I devoured the yam fries.
But you’ve got to end a meal with dessert, heavy metal style. Here’s to good old chocolate cake, peanut brittle and ice cream.
The sun sets over Fog Harbor Fish House, another Pier 39 seafood restaurant with a cool view of Alcatraz.
(Here are more photos of our SF waterfront explorations.)
It was fun to wear bibs, and crack open this impressive seafood platter — crab, prawns, oysters, mussels and even corn on the cob.
I only wish we had more time to do tastings around San Francisco! Do you make efforts to try local foods, when you are in a new city? Which of these restaurants made your taste buds tingle?
There’s no other way to put it: the next month will be cray-cray. Here’s the huge travel news… I’m off to five countries in two continents, including Africa for the first time!
My filmmakers and I are thrilled to be shooting a travel episode in Cape Town, South Africa. And as the ambassador of a trip-planning startup, Odigo, I’ll be going all over Asia: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul.
Want to know more, and meet me in Japan on June 25? Read on for the exciting details. (Above image by Jesse Winter Heading for our Vanity Magazine cover shoot.)
As you know, my filmmakers and I travel around the world, making shows for my series published in Business Insider. (Previous episodes are on my YouTube.) We’ve shot in the Maldives, Dubai, Budapest, Jordan and more.
This time, we’ve teamed up with Cape Town Tourism. They’re bringing us to South Africa to explore the local design, fashion, nightlife, restaurants…
… and animal safari, my very first one! Can’t wait to hang out with Basil Farrow’s lion cousins, in their natural environment. If you have any requests for Cape Town coverage, please let us know in the comments. (Pic by Meraj Chhaya)
But first, I’ll be in Tokyo, as the ambassador of Odigo! This new site introduces travelers to little-known local hotspots in Tokyo and other cities. In a nutshell, you can plan a Japan trip tailored to your interests (such as Goth culture, otaku, or temples), and Odigo will link everything up in the best possible schedule.
Exciting news: I’ll be speaking at Pecha Kucha Tokyo on the evening of Weds, June 25! I’m making a 7 min presentation (20 slides, for 20 seconds each) about my passion for Tokyo underground travel: how I got started, adventures in TV hosting, and funny stories involving mistresses and whips. It’s an honor and challenge to present at this worldwide speakers’ event. I hope you’ll stop by to watch me, it’s free.
And on Sun, June 22nd, I’ll be partying with the Harajuku kids at Heavy Pop. Join the party for visual fashion, alternative music, cake, and a drag queen performance by Yukiro’s dark persona, Die Schwarze Frau.
Then, I’ll be traveling around Asia with my photographers, capturing local spots and meeting with influencers. We’ll be in Seoul, Korea — I haven’t been here for over 10 years! Can’t wait to experience K-pop madness in the flesh.
And I’m excited to be in Taipei, Taiwan – home to some of the most bizarre theme restaurants, including cafes dedicated to Hello Kitty, Barbie and more. (Above two images via Wikicommons.)
I’ll also be hitting Hong Kong with Yukiro and John Skeleton. There are photoshoots in the works… and a lot of shopping and eating during our down-time!
(Image by Ken Yuen and Jacqueline Kwok, for Dark Beauty Magazine cover and spread).
I’m passionate about my Odigo partnership, and believe in their mission to encourage meaningful travel in Asia. I hope you’ll enjoy my upcoming adventures — to stay in the loop, you can sign up for updates on their site.
La Carmina is at your service! Do you have suggestions for places to visit in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Africa? Any must-see locations or topics to cover? Please leave a comment on my blog or Facebook letting me know, and I’ll do my best to fulfill your wishes.
I’ll do my best to update this blog during this crazy time, but for the most current coverage — including outfits and travel previews — please add my social networks below. Hugs and kisses!
Yukiro and I wanted our San Francisco journey to be rejuvenating. A time to regroup with friends and chill out. With these goals in mind, we did something I’ve dreamed about for a long time… and went on a mini-retreat at the San Francisco Zen Center.
Read on for the story of our Buddhist temple stay, and how these guest rooms are a hidden travel gem.
In 1959, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi arrived from Japan to be the head of the Soto Zen temple in San Francisco. He spoke English, and encouraged people from all walks of life to sit zazen with him. As a result, the Zen Center became a gathering spot for creatives in the Beat and hippie movements.
Suzuki-san established the Beginner’s Mind Temple (Hosshin-ji) in 1969. We stayed at the current location of this “City Center” (308 Page St at Laguna). The SFZC also has locations in Tassajara and Green Gulch, for more isolated retreats and intensive practice.
The historic building carries a genuine, natural sense of calmness. The front hall is decorated with sparse but graceful elements, like this meditating Buddha.
A shadow of a monk on a scroll: so simple and beautiful. The door leads to the meditation hall, where all are welcome to take off their shoes and enter.
You can imagine what a joy it was, to make this our home! The Zen Center offers lovely guest rooms for $105-$162 a night, which includes a healthy breakfast with the residents, and lunch and dinner by donation. These accommodations aren’t listed in any hotel sites, and are an incredible value considering the location and experiences offered.
As you can see from these posters, the SF Zen Center welcomes diversity. There is a regular “Queer Dharma” for LGBT practitioners, and their website states, “People of every race, nationality, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability — all are welcome.”
We felt perfectly comfortable staying here: there are no curfews or restrictions. Our rooms had Wi-Fi Internet, along with Buddha statues, Yogi tea and lavender soap.
Plus, we felt great about supporting the Zen Center, and taking part in the Buddhist practice. All guests are welcome to attend classes, dharma talks, and ceremonies. You can see upcoming listings in their events calendar.
Our favorite part of the San Francisco Zen Center was the courtyard garden.
I’m wearing a vintage Japanese robe (it’s been in my family for years), Liz Lisa dress, and white sandals c/o Y-R-U.
Such relief to slow down, breathe and appreciate nature.
The garden is filled with hidden Buddhas. Look closely, and altars will appear.
If you want to stay longer, SFZC offers a two-year Work Practice Apprenticeship program for Zen students, “to express, make accessible, and embody the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha.”
One of the foundations of Zen Buddhism is to live in the moment — something that people often forget, leading to stress and unhappiness. As Shunryu Suzuki Roshi wrote, “Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”
He taught, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”
“What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.” Now that is food for thought…
The City Center has a bookstore, where you find Buddhist works including Suzuki Roshi’s well-loved book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
The SFZC Zen Center is a very special place, and part of San Francisco history. I’m grateful we spent time here, as I’ve always wanted to do a temple stay. I hope you’ll also get the chance to visit, take a class, or rent a guestroom in this Buddhist monastery.
Sending you loving-kindness. I’ll soon be exploring more Buddhist environments… stay tuned for the announcement of a major Asia trip.
Are you familiar with Buddhist teachings? If you’re curious, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a wonderful book for getting acquainted. After all, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…”
Or as my Scottish Fold Zen Master would say, “Mmm mmm mmm!” (I found him this cat crossing sign at a Pier 39 pet gifts store.)
Shopping for alternative fashion in Toronto takes a bit of know-how. If you follow the tourists to Eaton Center or Yonge-Dundas Square, you’ll be disappointed (unless you enjoy Adidas and GAP).
Courage, my loves! In this article, we’ll explore the coolest vintage, indie and underground boutiques, mainly found in two areas: Kensington Market and Queen Street West.
After our Gloomth fashion shoot, my local comrades Linda Tea, Mao and Ashavari took me to their favorite shops on Queen St W. This is the area that houses the OCAD art school (which looks like a brick held up by chopsticks) and MuchMusic studio.
First, we followed the arrow down the narrow stairs of Black Market Vintage (256-A Queen St W).
If you see fellow shoppers like this girl, you’re probably in the right place.
Black Market has an immense selection of secondhand clothes. Some are on the “80s soccer mom” side, such as sweatshirts with cheesy prints of dogs in baskets. However, there’s also a rocking selection of band tees and this “Pentagram pizza slices” wonder.
This See / Hear / Speak No Evil shirt put the middle cat in headphones.
Instead, I think they should have printed a Scottish Fold cat, like my earless fuzz-face! (Tons of Basil Farrow photos on his cat blog.)
Two of hearts. Black Market has a wall of novelty sunglasses, studded belts and bracelets, fishnet tights, and other alt accouterments.
Together, we ducked into Borderline (425 Queen W #217). As you can see from the display, Borderline sells brands like Lip Service and Hellbunny.
Onward to a Canadian institution, John Fluevog Shoes (242 Queen St West). I’ve collected several pairs of Fluevogs over the years. They stand out for their workmanship and alt styling. Many have Victorian elements, such as these claw foot high heels.
Fluevog carries both men’s and women’s styles. I’m particularly fond of his boots like the Swordfish Edwardian.
Across the street, it looks like the live music venue, Cameron House, is having an insect infestation.
Lots of old-style buildings and cool stores (Moog Audio) on this street.
Pastel stars and poofy gowns? Original Toronto (515 Queen St W) looks like my kind of party.
We goofed off at the entrance before heading in. Taeden Hall and I are wearing Lolita ruffle dresses by her clothing label, Gloomth and the Cult of Melancholy. How sweet of her to give me this Chrysanthemum dress, made of cotton and with tiers of ruffles.
Original is possibly my favorite boutique in the city. The name speaks the truth: you’ll find one-of-kind garments, like hedgehog-spiked shoes and sequined tulle corsets.
Linda found these Irregular Choice polka dot shoes, with bow-tied bunnies for heels! This brand makes an amazing Tic Tac Toe platform as well.
At the entrance, I fell for this pastel rainbow crochet sweater. On the upper floor, there is a dizzying selection of prom dresses and bridal wear.
We saw girls trying on glamorous dresses and accessories that would make the Queen Mother proud.
Like Patricia Field in NYC, owner Donna Saslove is the life of the store. Go visit Original and give her a hug for us.
A few blocks away lies Kensington Market, known as the most diverse, funky and historic part of town. The Victorian-style houses are painted with bright shades. Many have a hippie vibe, with Buddha statues and Tibetan flags.
While officially a “National Historic Site of Canada,” Kensington’s real protector appears to be Mr Rogers and his trusty cardigan.
Anthony Bourdain would love the cluster of cafes, which include artisan cheese shops and gourmet coffeehouses. But we were here to shop — so we followed the row of cowboy boots that lead to Courage My Love (14 Kensington Ave, Toronto).
Taeden told me that she and her brother used to spend hours in this store, marveling at the 1970s lace dresses, yin yang buttons, Mexican mirrors, and other vintage oddities.
We all stopped to take photos of the Day of the Dead skeletons. Haven’t seen so many sugar skulls since my adventures in Mazatlan.
I recommend wandering through Kensington Market, sampling food and poking your head into the many little eclectic stores. Look for the mural influenced by my favorite painter, Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha.
Chat with the store owners, and shake a paw or two along the way. Not bad for a walking tour, right?
I leave you with a few bonus photos. I ran into this clubwear / lingerie boutique while walking aimlessly around downtown Toronto.
Not sure what the mannequin boy did to deserve this punishment.
What’s your impression of the fashion scene in Toronto? Are there any places you’d like to add to my list? Leave a comment and let me know.
For more alternative attractions, check out the rest of my posts about the city.
I’m currently in NYC – join my TV shoot and party with me on Friday the 13th! Full info here. Thanks for being part of my blogging journey!