California Academy of Sciences

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Last year’s reopening of the California Academy of Sciences opened up with much fanfare, and for a while all San Francisco could talk about was the new space’s environmental design. I had visited the museum in 2006 at its temporary location on Howard Street during the primary building’s renovation, and had been a little disappointed. It wasn’t until recently that I found the time to visit the primary location’s new facility, and while I’m incredibly impressed, I do miss the old California Academy of Sciences of my childhood.

Inside the California Academy of Sciences

As a native Bay Arean (is that a word?) – I remember the earthquake simulation exhibit of my youth, the beautiful structural columns of the old building, the mediocre cafeteria food before haute cuisine became de rigeur.

But that’s not to say these things haven’t been replaced with equally engrossing (and educational) components. The academy now boasts a gorgeous 2.5 acre “Living Roof,” a four-story rainforest encased in a giant clear sphere, a trendy cafe menu and word is that the planetarium is a must-see, though when I visited at ten on a weekend morning, tickets had already sold out for the day.

The Living Roof

4-Story Rainforest

Some exhibits from my childhood remain intact – the Steinhart Aquarium is as magical as ever and the natural history museum still hosts life-size replicas of endangered species.

Tropical Fish


The architecture alone is reason enough to visit, but the crowds are reason enough to stay away. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll absolutely revisit the California Academy of Sciences time and time again, but it can be difficult to fully see the exhibits because the number of people makes it difficult.

If you can, visit on a weekday. Make sure to visit the planetarium – and tell me all about it!

Cafe Colucci

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The East Bay is home to a large Ethiopian community, made evident by the Ethiopian restaurants that dot Telegraph Avenue and the surrounding neighborhoods in Oakland and Berkeley. Still, it took me several tries until I found an Ethiopian restaurant in the East Bay that stood up as some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve had.

Cafe Colucci doesn’t sound like an Ethiopian name, but the menu is authentic. So authentic, in fact, that they don’t carry my favorite dish sometimes served at other Ethiopian restaurants: bamya alicha, a deliciously spicy okra stew that is strikingly similar to the Iranian khoresh-e bamiyeh. I’ve been told at other Ethiopian restaurants that bamya alicha isn’t truly Ethiopian, hence why most restaurants don’t serve it.

Cafe Colucci’s menu is instead filled with Ethiopian classics: azifa, messer-wot, kifto and the ubiquitous doro tibs. During our visit, my dining companion and I ate family style, as is the norm at Ethiopian restaurants, and shared a platter of doro tibs (chicken sautéed with spices and tomatoes), azifa (spiced lentils), messer-wot (lentils in berbere sauce), kik-alicha (split peas in turmeric sauce), gomen (collard greens) and atakilt (string beans, carrots and potatoes sautéed in turmeric sauce).

Ethiopian lentils, greens, vegetables and chicken tibs

The split peas and lentils were my favorite – spicy, smoky and very slightly sweet. We ate with our hands, sopping everything up with addictively chewy and sour pieces of injera bread. The best part about Ethiopian food is that even after you’re done eating everything on your platter, there remains a huge piece of injera underneath, soaked with the flavors of each component of the meal.

I usually get a stomach ache after eating here, but I think that has much more to do with the huge portions and spiciness of the food than anything else. The stomach pains are worth it though, and Cafe Colucci has become my go-to Ethiopian restaurant in the East Bay.

Boccalone Salumeria

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I’m a huge Chris Cosentino fan. Incanto is one of my favorite restaurants, and ever since Boccalone Salumeria opened up in the Ferry Plaza, I’ve been a regular visitor. Cosentino was pushing offal before offal was cool, and thanks to his efforts, more and more people these days are willing to try things like tuna heart and beef kidney.

For the squeamish, Boccalone Salumeria offers more traditional salumis, but in a myriad of flavors. During my last visit, I bought a brown sugar and fennel salame sandwich to snack on.

Brown sugar and fennel salami sandwich

The slow-aged salame was perfectly spiced and the sandwich had bits of sweet fig to balance things out. My only wish is that the sandwich had more actual salame; the bread to meat ratio was a little higher than I prefer. But Boccalone makes a great product, and I’m due to return and try another one of their cured meats.

Boccalone carries soppressata, prosciutto, guanciale, pancetta, paté and all the usual suspects, but what I’m really interested in is their nduja, which they began carrying earlier this year. Nduja is a soft, spreadable, spicy, salame that originated in Calabria and I’ve never heard of anything like it. Intrigued? So am I.

Oh, and they carry mortadella with black truffles. As an Iranian-American, mortadella holds a special place in my heart (the pistachio-flecked, garlicy variety is the preferred deli meat of Iranians around the world), so I know I’ll be picking up a pound or two of Boccalone’s version when I visit next.

Chris, if you’re reading this, God bless your offal-loving soul. Offal is no longer something that elicits cries of disgust when I mention it to fellow eaters. On the contrary, now they welcome it with open arms.

Isobune Sushi

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There’s something kitschy to be said for sushi boat, or conveyor belt sushi restaurants. It’s not a particularly traditional presentation of sushi, and who knows how long that little plate of tekkamaki or hamachi has been making the rounds.

Still, there’s a novelty to it that I just can’t resist. And if you choose a sushi boat restaurant that is busy and well-regarded, you can ensure that your sushi hasn’t been sitting out there for too long. My favorite is Isobune, which bills itself as the “original sushi boat.” I’ve been a frequent visitor to both their Burlingame and San Francisco Japantown locations for years.

Both branches offer several varieties of sushi, but the Japantown location is always more crowded and so the boats are refilled more quickly. Both locations’ selection range is good, offering everything from the Americanized crunchy roll to broiled baby octopus maki. If there is something you want in particular but don’t see, Isobune’s sushi chefs are always more than happy to oblige. (I often go for a cleansing and slightly sweet kampyo maki at the end of my meal.) My only wish is that Isobune offered less American-style sushi and more traditional variations.

Isobune’s sushi boats offer a few non-sushi items as well, like edamame, mango pudding and deep-fried shrimp heads.

Deep fried shrimp heads

These shrimp heads may not look appetizing, but they’re delightfully crunchy and flavorful. Plus, the looks of horror from those dining around you as you bite into a piece are totally worth it.

Isobune’s sushi is fresh, the service is good (particularly in Burlingame), and best of all, the anticipation of not knowing what kind of sushi will come around the corner next makes for a really fun dining experience.


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Bouchon may not be the holy grail of American restaurants, but it’s right next to it. During my weekend trip to Napa, I arrived at Bouchon with my dining companion early enough to explore Yountville’s Washington Street and to my delight, the French Laundry is just a stone’s throw away from Bouchon.

This meant I had plenty of time to take photos and gaze lovingly at the French Laundry’s garden. (Thomas Keller, if you’re reading this, I swear I’m not a stalker. I just really wanted a reservation at the French Laundry!)

Once it was time for our Bouchon reservation, we walked back to the restaurant and to my surprise, Bouchon is far more intimate and casual than I thought it would be, in a good way. The seafood bar was busy and looked like the kind of place I could visit regularly if I lived nearby. As soon as we were seated, our waiter brought us a toasted baguette with white bean puree and butter.

Toasted baguette with white bean puree and butter

The white bean puree was delicately seasoned with the faintest hint of herbs. I couldn’t stop slathering it on my baguette. Who knew the humble bean could be so elevated?

We ordered the boudin de lapin et figue, or rabbit and fig sausage, as an appetizer. The sausage came served atop a bed of polenta cake, sweet corn, mission fig and tarragon jus.

Boudin de Lapin et Figue

The sausage was delicious, and not too sweet. It could have been easy to let the fig’s intense flavor to overwhelm the rest of the dish, but it was all perfectly balanced.

For my entree, I chose the classic moules au pistou, which came served with a massive (and I mean massive) cone of frites. Even though Anthony Bourdain famously quipped about the dangers of eating mussels in restaurants in Kitchen Confidential, Bouchon can get a pass, right?

Moules au Pistou

The Maine bouchot mussels were steamed with white wine, sweet garlic, basil and cherry tomatoes and I sopped up the briny juice with my frites. The mussels were tinier than I would have wished, and the sauce was not as strong as I was expecting, but it was still a good dish.

My dining companion ordered the steak with puree de pomme de terre, a pan-seared prime flatiron, served with maitre d’hotel butter and the most ethereal potato puree ever.

Steak with Puree de Pomme de Terre

I had to stop myself more than once from picking at his potatoes. The steak was incredible too: rare, succulent, and topped with savory minced onions.

I’m happy to say that I’ve crossed one Keller establishment off of my to-eat list (well, two, if you count Bouchon Bakery). But the French Laundry remains, and so I left Yountville with unfinished business. Bouchon felt like a (delicious) taste of things to come, and I can’t wait to return.