Secret San Francisco: Shopping. Food. Nightlife. Four Experts Share Their Favorite Finds

By Edwards, Irene | Sunset, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Secret San Francisco: Shopping. Food. Nightlife. Four Experts Share Their Favorite Finds


Edwards, Irene, Sunset


The news is out: San Francisco is having a rebirth. This isn't the same town you knew even five years ago. Ever since the famed dot-com boom and bust, a sense of creative rediscovery has taken over the scene; the crop of baby millionaires has been replaced by a talented, diverse new crew of insiders intent on reclaiming the city as their own.

The best way to get to know any city is to run with the locals. So for a firsthand look at the goings-on, we turned to four experts in fields for which San Francisco is known--people who make a point of scouting for hidden treasures and offbeat finds. There's the four-star French chef who prowls through Chinatown for culinary inspiration; the Internet CEO who's perfected the art of boutique shopping, high and low; the fitness entrepreneur who serves up killer workouts with majestic views; and the jazz headliner with his finger on the cultural pulse. From an early-morning run along the waterfront to a late-night jam session at a dive bar, we found an exhilarating mix of surprises and familiar favorites. Exploring San Francisco through their eyes makes it impossible not to give in to the spell of one of the world's most beloved cities.

The chef

Laurent Manrique first fell in love with San Francisco at the Saturday farmers' market on the Embarcadero. It was spring, and the French native--who was working at a prestigious New York restaurant--was visiting the city for the first time. "I saw all these young parents with their kids, all the vegetables and fruits," he recalls. "I thought, Wow, the people in this town really love to eat."

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As executive chef of the well-regarded Aqua in the Financial District, Manrique turns his culinary expertise to seafood, transforming a humble John Dory fillet into a work of art. It's quite a departure from his origins in Gascony, a landlocked region of foie gras and Armagnac, but Manrique enjoys confounding expectations. A devout Buddhist with an eye for the finer things in life, he sports a modest prayer string on his wrist next to pink-and-orange Pucci cufflinks; he's also at home in Chinatown's raucous, colorful food markets, from which he derives inspiration. "Walking to work through Chinatown each morning is like instant vitality," he says.

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Like many chefs, he takes his own meals on the fly at off-hours--dim sum at 10 a.m., or a 3 p.m. lunch at his favorite trattoria on Belden Place. And instead of heading home at the end of a busy night, Manrique (along with chef buddies Roland Passot and Gerald Hirigoyen) is often spotted after-hours at the newest nightclubs and bars. "I need to see what's going on out there," he says. "You cannot be a great restaurateur in San Francisco if you aren't in touch with what people are doing."

INFO: Aqua ($$$$; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily; 252 California St.; 415/956-9662)

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Laurent Manrique's picks

Cafe de la Presse. Euro visitors and locals alike start the day with a cappuccino and first-rate people-watching at the warm-toned bistro across from the Chinatown Gate. Manrique consulted on the menu, which includes the superlative eggs en meurette (poached and served on toasted country bread). $$$; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 352 Grant Ave.; 415/398-2680.

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Cafe Tiramisu. Tucked into romantic Belden Place (a pedestrian-only alley lined with outdoor tables in the Financial District), the traditional Italian restaurant is Manrique's pick for a late lunch. At peak hours, the street is swarmed; flirtatious waiters abound. $$; lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat. 28 Belden Place; 415/421-7044.

Chinatown markets. The swirl of scents and flavors along with bins of unfamiliar ingredients make Chinatown's markets one of Manrique's favorite sources of inspiration. …

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