San Francisco City Hall and The French Laundry

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, May 9, 2011

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My first stop in San Francisco was City Hall. The impressive 500,000 square foot Beaux-Arts building was completed in 1915 and takes up two entire city blocks in the Civic Center neighborhood of downtown San Francisco. It's large dome is the fifth tallest dome in the world.

They give three tours a day at 10:00, 12:00 and 2:00. I arrived just after the 12:00 tour had left so I toured the building on my own and took some pictures, killing time until the next tour.

The tour was quite informative and lasted nearly two hours. We went to the Board of Supervisor's meeting chamber and the Mayor's Office, areas that are not accessible on self-guided tours, as well as the public areas on the lower two floors.

It's a good thing I took pictures early. It seems a lot of wedding parties come to have their picture taken in the Rotunda and the numbers kept increasing as the day wore on. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were married here, which may have something to do with it's popularity as a wedding venue.  Also, they rent out space in the building for private functions and a couple groups were getting set up before our tour was over. I'm also lucky I came on Monday. The Board of Supervisor's are scheduled to meet the rest of this week so if I had come any other day I couldn't have gotten to see their meeting chamber, which is quite nice.

I wandered around the Civic Center neighborhood a bit before heading for my hotel in Berkeley to get ready for dinner at The French Laundry in Yountville, about an hour north of Berkeley. The French Laundry is Thomas Keller's first restaurant. It was number 32 on Restaurant Magazine's World's Best Restaurants list in 2010 and is one of two San Francisco restaurants with a Michelin three-star rating. I visited another of his restaurants, Per Se, at the beginning of this trip.

I arrived after dark making it a bit harder to find the restaurant since their sign isn't very well lit. I didn't get to see their ornamental gardens adjacent to the building or their nearby produce gardens where they grow some of the ingredients used. The restaurant is in an old stone building. My seat was in a small room with two other tables.

I ordered the Vegetable Tasting menu with one substitution: I got a lobster course from the non-vegetarian menu. It's an item that's on the menu at Per Se and I knew it was good there so I thought I'd compromise a bit and get it. A number of the other courses and the amuse-bouche were familiar from Per Se.

As expected, the food was very good. I preferred the setting at Per Se, although my opinion might be different if I got to eat outside in the gardens in the summer. I think I'd have to give Per Se the edge in service as well although the mistakes I noticed were minor.

I wound up talking to the couple next to me. When the other party of three in our room got up to leave the woman jumped up and the man took her picture with the person from the other party who had been seated facing me. I assumed that they had spoken earlier since both parties arrived before me. After she sat back down I found out that she had just had her picture taken with the actor Hugh Jackman. Now I'm familiar with the name but I don't know that I've ever seen any of his movies and I certainly didn't recognize him. I realized I had probably worried him when I sat down and promptly took out my camera.

There was one big disappointment: The French Laundry does not serve Parker House rolls.  I have fond memories of them from Per Se and was hoping to have them again.  On the plus side, I was shown the kitchen although not until after all the cooking was done for the night.  It's much smaller than I would have expected.

The restaurant tour continues tomorrow with a visit to Chez Panisse.
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