Monday, November 14, 2011

San Francisco: Shrimp Is the Fruit of the Sea

After a weekend full of conference presentations at the American Musicological Society's annual meeting and a bit of on-foot exploration of San Francisco’s Financial District, Chinatown, and the Castro, I’m back in my little cottage in Santa Barbara.

I forgot to bring Clif bars with me to San Francisco as emergency starvation prevention devices, but I wouldn’t have needed them; the area around the Hyatt Regency, which hosted the conference, was rife with vegan food.

By walking across the street (and navigating through the Occupy San Francisco tent city, some of whose inhabitants I had already encountered taking sponge baths in the bathroom of the hotel lobby), I could arrive at the renovated Ferry Building. The collection of stores and booths within the Ferry Building is, for the most part, quite vegan-friendly.

On Friday, I ate lunch with Sasha and Emma at Delica, an American-Japanese fusion delicatessen whose vegetarian and vegan options were indicated on chalkboard menus hanging from the ceiling. I went with the hijiki and soybean salad (seaweed, dried soybeans, edamame, konnyaku, mountain potato, daikon, wild mizuna, fried tofu, and kuko, cooked with soy sauce) - even though over half of the ingredients sounded made-up to me - with the organic agedashi tofu steak:
The hijiki tasted exactly like the ocean.
But the most thrilling establishment? Pepple’s Vegan Donuts. I was floored to discover that all the donuts Pepple makes are homemade, vegan, and use only organic ingredients. I was also floored to discover that “Pepple” is not actually a person (when I asked the saleswoman, "Are you Pepple?" she laughed at me), but I chose to ignore that information for the sake of my vegan donut fantasy. At the saleswoman's suggestion, I purchased the salted caramel donut and then bothered Sasha until she photographed me with my new love:
What's more disconcerting: the fact that I only bought one donut, or my hipster bangs?
On Saturday morning, the Ferry Building is host to the most extensive farmer’s market I have ever encountered. I have an inexplicable, but very real, thing for booths. The only things I love more than local fruits and vegetables are booths. So imagine my delight as I wandered through booth after booth, trying samples of everything in sight and realizing that persimmons might be random, but they’re freaking delicious.

Although I found San Francisco to be on the whole more vegan-friendly than Santa Barbara (and this, of course, might just be due to its larger size), I had quite a confusing dining experience at lunch in the lobby of the Hyatt on Saturday.

One of the professors from UCSB decided to treat all the graduate students to a fancy meal. There were no vegan main courses on the menu, so I went with the whole wheat pasta, which came with all kinds of assorted vegetables... and shrimp.

I told our waitress, who had one of those faces that always look pissed off, "I’m a vegan, so could you just make the pasta vegan, please?" She nodded curtly. I decided I ought to specify that I don’t eat butter, and she cut me off, saying, "Yup, you’re vegan, I get it – I’ll tell them to toss the pasta in olive oil instead." And she moved on to the next person at the table.

When my pasta came out, it was tossed in olive oil instead of butter... but nestled within it were shrimps. I was baffled. "Excuse me," I said to the waitress, "There is shrimp on this pasta." She stared at me, apparently as baffled by my statement of the obvious as I was by the shrimp.

"Uh… I don’t eat shrimp," I stammered. "Remember, I’m a vegan?" She did not become flustered but answered, "Well, I noticed that you didn't specifically mention leaving off the shrimp, but I didn’t say anything because I thought maybe you were ordering for someone else." She stared me down, as if her answer was entirely logical.

I know that shrimp has many virtues - Bubba lists them all in explaining to Forrest Gump why "shrimp is the fruit of the sea." But why would I be ordering for someone else... someone who doesn't eat butter but does eat shrimp? I continued to be baffled, but she took away my meal and replaced it, taking long enough in the kitchen to convince me that she hadn’t just picked the offending shrimps out of the pasta.

Aside from the Shrimp Encounter, my San Francisco dining experiences were exceptional. More to come, including a review of The Loving Hut.


  1. I don't really know about that but they're still a lot of different kinds of shrimp waiting to be discovered.


  2. The hipster bangs. (It's ok, I went through that phase too).