Yesterday, Lisa and I went in to the city and spent the whole day together for her birthday. It rocked, though I got very tired. First we went to the California Academy of Sciences, which is my favorite museum in the Bay Area. We checked out much natural history type stuff, including neat stuff about the Galapagos Islands, and there were two very unhappy looking reindeer in an enclosure outside (presumably to celebrate the season, though they definitely didn't look like celebrating -- they kind of looked dead, actually), and we checked out the lazy albino alligator (and I told Lisa about how Shannon insisted last time that it was just a statue, because it never moves -- Lisa and I then spent the rest of the day suggesting that various animals were statues if they didn't move around much), and the Steinhart Aquarium (with manta rays and tropical fish and sharks and eels and coral and all kinds of cool stuff), and the planetarium (where we watched a kind of boring film about how life developed on Earth, and how the universe was formed, and other stuff -- but I fell asleep for part of it).
We had lunch at the Moss Room, which is a rather fancy restaurant in the downstairs of the museum. I treated Lisa to lunch, and it cost $52! Holy mackerel! But I was happy to be able to treat her for some part of the day, as she payed for my museum ticket and my dinner, despite the fact that it was *her* birthday. Anyway, we had excellent food at the Moss Room (I had the "Moroccan Spiced Lamb Kefta" with lentils, harissa, sumac, and preserved lemon. Lisa had the "Chilled Soba Noodles" with sesame, cucumber, and ginger chili vinaigrette.), and we both had a kind of ginger beer I'd never heard of before: Maine Root Ginger Brew, which is quite spicy and not too sweet. Yum! I've never seen it in stores around here.
After lunch, we went to the rainforest exhibit, which is pretty much the coolest thing ever! 4 stories of "living rainforest," with exotic butterflies and birds flying free through the tropical trees and huge Amazon River fish swimming around in the pond below. They even had a new turtle (swimming around with the fish), which was new since I'd last been to the museum (a couple years ago). The turtle was one of my favorite things we saw all day (certainly much more exciting than the comatose reindeer).
Lisa and I had a great time in the rainforest exhibit, because we have a very similar approach to the exhibits. Along with the free-ranging birds and butterflies, there are all these glass cases with living animals inside (mostly frogs, lizards, and snakes), but the cases include lots of plants and stuff for the animals to hang out in/on/around, so sometimes the animals are difficult to locate. But there are signs next to the exhibits, telling you what animals are in there, and Lisa and I both stuck persistently to each exhibit until we had found all the creatures the signs described (though there was a "strawberry poison-dart frog" we were never able to locate, despite very determined searching). Sometimes it took several minutes, but it was fun! And so rewarding when we finally spotted the camouflaged gecko or hidden frog!
I felt bad for the little flying snake, because it was continuously bashing its head against the glass, trying to get out (and leap at people from the light fixtures, perhaps). It just kept trying and trying, hitting the glass over and over again, and I couldn't help wondering if it does that all day, every day, over weeks and months and years. Very sad! What a life!
The "panther chameleons" also looked very unhappy. Maybe their mouths just naturally turn down like that (the photo on the Wikipedia page seems to indicate that this is true), but they just sat there on their branches and glared at all the people staring at them.
At least people (even kids, of which there were multitudes) weren't tapping on the glass (which always annoys me, and probably the animals as well), though many people were taking photos with their phones despite the numerous "No Photographs" signs posted every few feet. The chameleons seemed particularly popular with the illicit photographers.
The neatest frog was a poison-dart frog that was singing and singing and singing. Even though it was inside the glass case, we could hear his song! We wondered if there was a microphone inside the case and a speaker hidden somewhere behind us, because it seemed strange that we could hear him! But he kept bulging out his throat and making this sort of continuous chirping, trilling kind of sound. It sounded a lot like this. (I think that may be the same species of frog, actually.)
After the museum, we headed back to Union Square, where the restaurant where we had dinner reservations (Farallon) is located. The inside of the restaurant is sooooo cool! There are arches and domes and cool light fixtures (some shaped like sea urchins, some like jelly fish) and ocean-themed mosaics everywhere!
We shared pretty much all our food, which allowed us to have more variety in what we got to taste.
First Course: Lisa ordered the "Hawaiian Hand Line Caught Ahi Tuna Tartare" (with "hickory smoked hearts of palm, roasted asian pears, [and] toasted sesame seeds"). I ordered the comparatively tame "Star Route Farms Mixed Lettuces" (with "sierra beauty apples, toasted pistachios, [and] cider-whole grain mustard vinaigrette"). We each tried a bit of the other's dish, but I'm not a big fan of raw fish and Lisa's not real big on salad, so we mostly stuck to our own orders for the first course.The presentation of every dish was truly stunning, just beautiful, which Lisa and I both appreciated. And there was a tremendous attention to detail, with tiny pomegranate seeds decorating the edges of plates here and there -- stuff like that.
Second Course: Lisa ordered the "Mediterranean Shellfish Bisque" (with cognac chantilly, chives, [and] extra virgin olive oil"), which she didn't really care for. She said it was sort of dull, that she couldn't taste any "edges" to the flavors, that it was sort of a mishmash of different fishes that resulted in a muddled flavor. I ordered the "Champagne Poached Nantucket Bay Scallops" (with "celery root flan, petite sierra beauty apple salad, [and] cara cara orange fondue"), and Lisa and I both wondered what in the world "cara cara orange fondue" might be. To be honest, I don't even remember what it looked like or tasted like, because I was more focused on the scallops, which were delicious. The flan (made with egg yolks only, and therefore unlikely to make me sick) was just kind of bland and mushy. The apple salad, however, was terrific.
Third Course: Lisa and I were both torn between the same two dishes, so we just ordered both and split each in half and shared them equally. We ordered the "Grilled Sacramento Delta Sturgeon" (with "artichoke heart puree, balsamic glazed brussel sprouts, [and] brown butter hollandaise") and the "Grilled Creekstone Farms Petite Filet of Beef" (with "olive oil crushed new potatoes, crisp parsnips, roasted cipollini onions, [and] red wine jus"). I didn't take much of the hollandaise sauce, since it's made with quite a bit of egg, but the brown butter was delicious. The real winner (with both Lisa and me) of this course, though, was the crushed new potatoes. They were an interesting consistency -- not quite mashed, not quite diced -- which we both really liked. Lisa said she's wondering if she can figure out how to make them at home.
Dessert: Again, we were both torn between the same two options, so we shared them equally. We ordered the "Gingerbread Caramel Apple Sundae" (with "vanilla bean ice cream, Aspall cider caramel sauce, gingerbread, [and] roasted Sierra Beauty apples") and the "Sticky Toffee Pudding" (with "banana-date ice cream, candied kumquats, [and] eggnog creme anglaise"). Both were wonderful, but the banana-date ice cream was a favorite for both Lisa and me, though we disagreed on the candied kumquats. Lisa liked them, but I thought they were a kind of disturbing chewy texture that didn't go well with the rest of the sticky toffee pudding dessert elements. The sticky toffee pudding itself was not at all what I got in Scotland; this one was much more of a straightforward cake, not nearly as dense. But it was still very tasty.
I feel lucky that I got to eat somewhere so cool! And Lisa was very happy to have someone to go with her somewhere that she really likes but which apparently intimidates many of her other friends.
After our meal, Lisa and I walked around the restaurant to check out the different rooms. Neither of us was terribly fond of the rather garish paintings on some of the walls, but the lamps, the mosaics, the arched doorways, the organic fluidity of much of the architecture ... it was all just gorgeous.
When we were getting ready to leave, we stopped by the bathroom, and while there I noticed that my black boots (which I hadn't worn in years) were totally coming apart! I mean, the internal structure was still sturdy, but the black surface fabric was coming off! It looked horrendous. I was a bit embarrassed, but I figured if anyone got terribly interested in my shoes, then they were probably a little weird anyway, so who cares what they think!
So we came home on BART, and it ended up being about a 12-hour outing. I can't believe I spent 12 hours being continuously social (well, except for the 10-15 minutes of sleeping in the planetarium)! When I got home, I was absolutely wiped out. I threw away my disintegrating boots (too bad! they fit really well and were cute!), talked a bit with Shannon, and went to bed soon after. But it was a great day!