I’ve just returned from a lovely Parisian-style afternoon… a leisurely lunch, followed by a stroll through a neighborhood with interesting art, architecture and small shops. I even have a treasure-trove of goodies that I accumulated, including macarons, artisan chocolate and Mariage Frères tea.
Am I writing this from Paris? Au contraire, mon frère, from San Francisco! Conventional wisdom describes the Belden Lane area near Union Square as the “French quarter” of SF, but Hayes Valley certainly evokes that je ne sais quoi of Paris.
The leafy green streetscape incorporates enticing window displays, quirky shared spaces and public art alongside classic San Francisco features like bay windows, tattooed hipsters and ironic hats.
One of the things I love in Paris are the shops that specialize in a single type of product. Here there is Will Leather Goods, a store featuring only leather items from the Oregon-based company. Another store, True Sake, only sells sake and bills themselves as “America’s first sake store”. (In a French twist, their overhead sign has lost the “T”, so it looks like “rue Sake”.)
I started with lunch at Souvla, a Greek “sandwich shop” that could only exist in San Francisco. The tiny storefront looks like hipster heaven… tall metal stools and communal seating, a long line at lunch, thumpy-thumpy music. But the food is straight-up souvlaki – spit-roasted meats (chicken, lamb or pork, plus a vegetarian option) wrapped in fresh pita or as a salad. A few sides, dessert of frozen Greek yogurt, beer and wine (yes, including retsina), and that’s it.
If I’d known how French the rest of the afternoon was going to turn out, I would have started at one of the French restaurants in the area — the classic SF brasserie, Absinthe, or Chez Maman, perhaps. But perhaps I can consider Souvla as the functional equivalent of L’As du Fallafel and let it go at that.
As I wandered down Hayes Street (my route was west to east, from Laguna to Franklin), I made sure to stop in at Chantal Guillon, who makes the best macarons outside of Paris (and maybe the best, including Paris). As usual, I bought too many macarons… but who could resist flavors like rosé wine and raspberry (their Mother’s Day special), passion fruit, and my special weakness, salted caramel?
To add icing to the cake (so to speak), I found that the store carries Mariage Frères tea. Unfortunately, they don’t carry my favorite, Breakfast Earl Grey (a very strong Earl Grey), but they agreed to look into it!
Another lovely discovery was a new-to-me chocolate shop called Christopher Elbow. Again, I brought home way too many of his filled chocolates. But flavors like passion fruit, spiced orange, Earl Grey Tea and, of course, Fleur de Sel Caramel somehow jumped into my bag. And my favorite part of the shop is the little lounge area where you can sit and sip several varieties of “liquid chocolate” and rest up from your shopping.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Parisian if there weren’t a bakery (La Boulangerie) and a wine store (Arlequin), although I didn’t stop in either.
If there’s anything missing, the neighborhood could use a patisserie, a fromagerie, a charcuterie and a boucherie, so I could pick up all of life’s necessities on one street, just like in Paris. If they do that, I might have to look into one of the new pied-à-terres I saw being built there.
568 Hayes Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
560 Hayes St. (between Octavia and Laguna)
517 Hayes Street
437 Hayes St.
401 Hayes St
La Boulangerie de San Francisco – Hayes
500 Hayes St.
384 Hayes St.
French restaurants for next time:
Absinthe – 398 Hayes St. (lunch and dinner)
Chez Maman – 401 Gough St. (lunch and dinner)
Petit Crenn – 609 Hayes St. (lunch and dinner)
Jardiniere – 300 Grove St. (dinner only)
Monsieur Benjamin – 451 Gough St. (dinner only)