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Chantal Guillon, San Francisco CA

chantal guillonIf you focus on one or two themes at a time, you can be an expert.  This applies to a number of things, like learning a musical instrument, going to college, and developing the perfect product.  Chantal Guillon, purveyor of macarons and fine teas, excels in pastry making.  August got a delicious iced tea for the road back from celebrating Bastille Day in San Francisco, and we couldn’t leave without one of each of the macarons to try later at home.

macarons!All of the macarons had crisp exteriors hiding rich and sometimes unconventional fillings, ranging from standard buttercream to jelly, and even whole peanuts.  One of the flavors had run out by the time we got to Chantal Guillon, but the sixteen available were still beyond all expectations.  Pictured above we have:

Tahitian Vanilla

Red Velvet

Caramelized Whole Peanuts and Cinnamon

Coffee

Almond Amaretto

Lemon

Apricot

Cherry Amarena

Passion Fruit

Jasmine Green Tea

Valentino Raspberry-Lychee

Orange Blossom Strawberry

Persian Rose

Dark Chocolate

Salted Caramel

Italian Pistachio

Readers, the first of you who can correctly match the names with the macarons in the picture above before July 19 will receive a $20 gift certificate to Chantal Guillon!  We vouch for the veracity of the cookies’ flavors, so expect nothing less than true taste when you take a bite.  The Cherry Amarena, for one, had the mild tartness of rich deep cherry, and it seemed like there was even a small candied cherry in the center.  Similarly, the Orange Blossom Strawberry had a creamy buttercream that enveloped a small square of strawberry jelly.  The Red Velvet, even, had a filling with the flavor of real cream cheese frosting.

Are you already in San Francisco, looking for a new spot to satisfy your sweet tooth?  Or are you from out of town, planning a trip to the city by the bay?  Either way, you cannot pass up this little shop.  There’s plenty of public transportation and parking lots, so there’s no excuse.

Chez Maman West, San Francisco CA

Happy Bastille Day!  July 14 is French National Day, or La Fête Nationale, commemorating the beginnings of modern day France.  To honor the country, we are going all-out French today.  It required a drive to San Francisco, but traffic wasn’t bad and the weather was beautiful.  Our two destinations of a restaurant and a bakery were across the street from each other, so we enjoyed a leisurely brunch/lunch without the pressure of driving across the city.  Chez Maman West of Hayes Valley, the youngest member of the Chez Maman family including Chez Papa and Papito, has a broad menu almost entirely French-inspired, save a section of fresh Mexican dishes.  The basics of French cuisine are, well, to follow the basics; simple ingredients, cooked with exemplary technique by a knowledgeable chef.  Today we were enamored by the food from Chef Russell Cab’s kitchen.

baked camembert with roasted garlic and toast points

baked camembert with roasted garlic and toast points

We split an appetizer of baked Camembert as evenly as we could, but it was difficult because we both liked it a lot.  The extremely creamy and gooey cheese was baked with some of the rind, so there was an earthiness and musk to the flavor.  It was balanced by the subtle sweetness of the buttery roasted garlic and mixed greens with a light vinaigrette.  The toast points for scooping up the cheese were crispy but not rock-hard, thankfully, or else the effort of eating would have overcome the balance of textures.

salmon and goat cheese cocotte

salmon and goat cheese cocotte

Oeuf cocotte, or “egg in a pot,” is a poached egg dish with cream, and August wanted to try Chez Maman’s version with meaty smoked salmon and goat cheese.  Neither salmon nor goat cheese are pleasing to Zach, but he had to admit that the smokiness here drew him in.  That which helped his palate further was the mildness of the goat cheese; more pungent, and it would have overtaken the plate.  The rich yolk melded with the cream to enhance the smooth, creamy flavor of the tender egg, which was complemented so well by the salmon and goat cheese.  Balance is a prominent theme in French cooking – some ingredients work together only when combined in the right amounts. 

chez maman "mac & cheese"

chez maman “mac & cheese”

If you are a truffle fan, you cannot pass up the mac and cheese.  Likewise, if you’re a mac and cheese fan looking for something different, this will hit the spot  For the price, you’ll be amazed at the quantity of truffle oil and thick truffle shavings mixed with al dente noodles and Gruyere cheese.  Gooey, creamy, savory, and earthy, it was not a pretty looking plate but it was “pretty for your mouth,” as per Zach.  The truffle flavor was strong, but the dash of nutmeg did not go unnoticed as it balanced the intense truffle.

crepe savoyarde

crepe savoyarde

The savoyarde crepe had Swiss and Raclette cheese, fingerling potatoes, prosciutto, and cornichons; a sharp salad with tomato tapenade offered contrasting green flavor.  Zach enjoyed the mildly tangy cheeses, particularly the Raclette which to him was like an extremely mild blue cheese.  The term Raclette originates in the French racler, “to scrape”; this cheese is used for melting, and traditionally one would scrape the melted cheese off of a wedge after it had been heated by an open fire.  The potatoes were slightly sweet and tender in this crepe, while the thick prosciutto provided texture, something to chew, and a salty element to work with the potatoes and cheese.  Made with a buckwheat crepe, this plate is both gluten-free and delicious.

cinnamon pain perdu; crème brûlée

cinnamon pain perdu; crème brûlée

We didn’t think we were going to get two desserts when we first came into the restaurant, but hey, it’s Bastille Day!  The cinnamon pain perdu, a favorite here, was served with marinated raspberries and strawberries, apple syrup, and chantilly.  The base of the dessert was essentially French toast, with a thin crispy crust that resulted from grilling the bread.  The apple syrup gave a teensy bit of tart, while the mild sweetness of the chantilly smoothed out the bright fruits.  The crème brûlée had a rich, velvety texture and vanilla flavor with visible vanilla bean scrapings under the candy crunch top.  It was not overly sweet, and August thought it tasted close to homemade vanilla marshmallows.

What makes certain dining experiences more memorable are the chance encounters with charismatic others, be they restaurant staff or fellow patrons, and today we had the pleasure of meeting two of each.  Manager David was conversational and generous in his kindness.  Server Sophia is young but waits like a seasoned professional, so to find out that it was only her second day on the floor was surprising!  At the table next to us were Roger and Jordan, who told us about Check, Please! Bay Area.  Coincidentally, we got home just in time to catch an episode of it on PBS!  So we owe a big merci to all who had a part in memorializing our meal, not just for the food but for the connections made as well.

The Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco CA

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The Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, and trolly cars.  There are few places in San Francisco where you can stay and see all three distinctly San Franciscan sights, all from the same location.  The Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf, part of the Shell Vacations Hospitality group, offer 24 one and two-bedroom suites, both for time share members as well as the standard tourist/traveler.  To be in the thick of of things just a block between Ghiradelli Square, Russian Hill Park, and the Cannery Shopping Center.

welcome basket for elite members

welcome basket for elite members

If you are a time share member, particularly an elite member, expect a welcome basket with items like snacks, bottles of water, Le Belge chocolates, postcards, and a cute magnet.  Believe us, the snacks and water came in handy between our meals out in other parts of the city.

kitchen

kitchen

Some who come to San Francisco are here for an extended stay, and you may not want to go out for every meal.  All the way down to the dishwasher, the suite’s kitchen has everything you need to prepare and serve your own meals.

sitting area

sitting area

The spacious seating area connects the kitchen to the bedroom.  A sectional couch, four person dining table, a desk (for writing those postcards), and a 42″ flat screen TV make you feel like it’s your own home, with plenty of room to spread out.

bedroom

bedroom

When it’s finally time to tuck in, the plush bed with soft sheets and lots of pillows will keep you comfortable.  We had a hard time getting up each morning during our stay!

It doesn’t get much better for the tourist experience than being in the heart of San Francisco, on the corner of Hyde and North Point with the trolly stop at the front door.  Check out our video on YouTube for a walk-through of the suite, and we hope you consider this historic establishment when making your travel plans.