Thursday, December 8, 2011

Raclette and Other Holiday Indulgences

The Ferry Building

I love going to San Francisco in December.  This "city by the bay" sparkles.  The hotels and restaurants are decorated for Christmas, the big trees all around town are wearing their holiday lights, "The Nutcracker" is playing at the gorgeous War Memorial Opera House, and the foodie's mecca aka the Ferry Building pulls out all the stops for Christmas.

Last weekend we went to San Francisco to hear my daughter sing in a Christmas concert put on by The San Francisco Lyric Chorus.  It was held in the beautiful Mission Dolores Basilica and to say it was magical is an understatement. They performed "The Christmas Oratorio" by Saint-Saens, several Christmas Spirituals, and some lovely renditions of popular Christmas Carols that were sing-alongs.  Their songs were hauntingly beautiful and brought tears to my eyes.  I was also a proud mother as I watched my daughter participate in this melodious chorus of voices.

Because we were only there from Friday through Sunday we had limited time and so had to be discriminating  as to what we could do.  For me, it was an easy decision.  Head to the Ferry Building on Saturday morning to gaze upon all the gourmet foods, lunch afterwards at Zuni Cafe, and shop at Bell'Occhio and other specialty stores unique to San Francisco in the afternoon.  The concert was at 7:00 and dinner was at the excellent Locanda restaurant in the Mission area.

The Ferry building houses an array of specialty food shops, restaurants, and markets.  On Saturday mornings it also hosts one of the best Farmers' Markets around.  But I mostly wanted to check out all the incredible specialty food shops that line the perimeter of this food hall.  Some people like to window shop for jewelry and clothing, but my idea of eye candy is the gourmet items featured at this beloved food emporium.  And to see it decked out for the holidays was truly the icing on the cake.  And so I made my way through the crowd and checked out all my favorite purveyors.

Miette Patisserie showcases exquisite pastries and candies

Heath Ceramic carries earthy and beautiful wares, including at this time of the year their Holiday Red 

Luscious chocolates at Scharfenberger

Artisan Breads at Acme Breads

The best cheese you'll ever have at Cowgirl Creamery

And this is where I discovered the Swiss delicacy know as "Raclette."  Do you, dear readers, know about this delicacy?  I had to wonder, "' Raclette, where have you been all my life?"   How have I not known about this incredibly delicious melted cheese dish from Switzerland?  I noticed a chef right next to Cowgirl Creamery preparing what looked like a delectable concoction of melted cheese on toast.  The smell was intoxicating and the sight was just too hard to resist. 

  Photo via here

The preparation of this dish begins with a big wedge of cheese, in this case a Wagon Wheel cheese that they make at Cowgirl Creamery.

The top of the this huge chunk of cheese was placed under a heating element which is a sort of broiler.  As the top layer became melted, all the luscious melted bits were scraped off with a special spatula onto some pieces of thickly cut toasted bread.  I learned that you have to use a special flat sided spatula to take the cheese off and that raclette can be eaten with potatoes, cornichons and many other types of food.  

This process was slow and painstaking but well worth the effort.  I could not take my eyes off of it, particularly because the next one was for me! 

Here it is almost ready.

The luscious finished product, which I thoroughly enjoyed on this cozy winter day at the Ferry Building.

Next I peeked into Boulettes Larder, a chef's kitchen providing elegant, prepared foods for private parties  and busy commuters.  They also carry rare spices, hard to find pantry products and other quality culinary ingredients.  I spotted some unusual gourmet prepared foods such as roasted duck and quail, as well as many exotic culinary ingredients. I love the beauty of this display table.  

Every kind of mushroom, fresh and dried, at this purveyor

Tangerines outside at the Farmers' Market

Baskets and baskets of fresh pine cones 

Fresh nuts and nut butters

Pomegranates and jewel-like grapes from Rojas Family Farms

After our visit to the Ferry Building, lunch was at the fabulous Zuni Cafe.  This is their sparkling bar.

Bell'occhio, a gem of a shop filled with ribbons and vintage embellishments, is across the street.

And after the concert, dinner at Locanda, an excellent Italian restaurant

San Francisco, you gave us a beautiful holiday weekend, filled with great food, wonderful shopping, heavenly music, and lots of good cheer.  And on a gastronomical note, you introduced me to raclette, a dish that I would love to make in the chilly winter months and enjoy in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine.  Now if I can only find a raclette maker...      


  1. San Francisco has always been a magical city for me. I really do leave my heart there when it's time to go home. I got married there many, many years ago. I was only 19.It was the first time I had ever tasted champagne. So many dear memories there. I also love the Ferry Building, with it's amazing displays of food and people. Your post is just lovely and I'm sure it was so wonderful to hear your daughter singing. Christmas concerts always bring on the tears for me if they involve children, mine or someone else's. And it really doesn't matter if those children of ours are in preschool or in their twenties.

  2. San Francisco is such a beautiful city. I've been there once in early spring. I can only imagine how lovely it is at Christmas. Thanks for sharing this lovely city.
    Enjoy your weekend.

    The French Hutch

  3. I need that Raclette!!! Maybe I'll head to the Ferry Building this weekend and get some! Thank you so much for the visit, it meant so much to me!!! Love you, xoxo

  4. Such a feast for the eyes! I love days out like that and your Raclette reminded me an awful lot of a Croque Monsieur I enjoyed in Hampstead. Delicious cheese pooling everywhere...yum!

  5. These are fabulous photos! I've never had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco, but you've given me several good reasons to do so! Raclette here I come...

  6. What a feast for the senses! That must have been amazing to hear your daughter sing. I haven't been to San Francisco since I was a child, and this has me longing to go back.

    Have a wonderful weekend!


  7. never had raclette at the ferry building (I echo other readers' yum). thank you for the tip and beautiful, as usual, photos. I lived in sf in my 20s post college so it still feels a sort of (former) home for me..and a special part of my history. sounds like a wonderful weekend and concert!

  8. When I was 19, quite a long time ago, I was in Zurich and had raclette, with baby potatoes and cornichons for the first time. I became obsessed! When I came back to California, I built a makeshift raclette wheel, and would serve that to friends in college. It's been years since I've even thought about it, but your post makes me want to hop a plane to SF soon. Thanks for all the splendid pictures, and congratulations on Megan's performance.

  9. What a wonderful outing!! Yes I adore Raclette. I used to live in Switzerland and we had it regularly - served with potatoes and pickles (I never had it with bread) as you mentioned. Many specialty cheese stores sell raclette machines which make the entire process much easier.

  10. Wow, it's all so beautiful!

    I've been telling my husband that we should get a raclette maker--they are very common and popular here. We love doing fondue at home, and I'm sure we'd feel the same about raclette.

  11. So many beautiful photos and shops! I love them all.

    RAcellette is a favorite of mine, we even have a racelette maker from Sur la Table. I cannot get enough of this cheese!