• Image about basketball-food-san-francisco-foyle-union-square-americanway


JUST BACK FROM

SOMETIMES WHEN You travel to a new city, your trip goes exactly as you plan. You schedule your meals, your sightseeing, your cocktails, and your event attendance, and you proceed apace.

Then there are the times when your trip goes the way all my trips go: haywire.

San Francisco was no different. A food-critic friend of mine had just returned from there, and she was raving about how cutting-edge the town’s cuisine had become. This may not surprise you, because San Francisco has always been known as a foodie town. But a city’s reputation for good grub doesn’t always square with reality. (I can’t name names because, let’s face it, this is an airline magazine. We want you to fly everywhere. But you know who you are, Philly … I mean unnamed city … and I’m watching you.)

The plan, then, was a foodie tour of San Francisco.

As you may have guessed, that’s not exactly what happened: I got derailed by a cover band, a nearly seven-foot-tall Vincentian- American professional basketball player, and a bread bowl.

Let’s start with the basketball player.

My food-critic friend knows two things about me: (a) I am Italian, and (b) I love Italian food. She directed me to the North Beach area, just north of Chinatown, which is full of fine Italian shops, wine, men, women, and, of course, food. In fact, she suggested the not-terribly-originally named North Beach Restaurant.

After checking in downtown (at the Orchard Hotel; highly recommended) and taking a brisk walk, I arrived, ready to begin my 48-hour tasting tour. I entered the restaurant, full of hope.

And I ran square into Adonal Foyle, the 6-foot-10 center for the Orlando Magic (and, for many years, the Golden State Warriors).

This threw my wheels off a bit. See, I get sort of giddy around NBA players. They’re my celebrity weakness. For goodness’ sake, I was carrying a copy of Bill Simmons’s The Book of Basketball in my bag with me.

I forgot all about my plan — take small bites at every place I went so I wouldn’t be full, so I could get a true sampling of all the cuisines the city had to offer — and ordered a bottle of wine. When I get nervous, I tend to imbibe fine wine. Especially on the company dime. (And, man, was that a tasty red.) When I sip such nectar, I also get hungry. So, as I watched Foyle and his friends and family take their seats at the table next to mine, I started ordering food. And I didn’t stop until, oh, about $150 later. (Note to my editor: Please approve my expense report. Pretty please.)

Stuffed and loaded like a baked potato, and well after the front doors were locked, I finally worked up the courage to talk to him.

(Remember, I was nervous about introducing myself to a career backup who, last year, averaged 1.7 points per game. I. Am. A. Dork.)

“Mr. Foyle, I’m a huge basketball fan, and … ”

He jumped up, smiled, absolutely engulfed my hand in his, and said, “Thank you.” We talked basketball for a while, laughed about how he could palm my bald head, took pictures … it was perhaps one of the five greatest nights of my life. (See “dork,” above.)

How did this throw me off? The food was sublime, the service impeccable — everything started off great, right?

Except I was so excited to be me, I immediately headed for a nearby bar and celebrated until dawn as a cover band played Rage Against the Machine tunes. I then slept off my, uh, food hangover until Saturday evening, at which point my overwhelming desire for comfort food led me to sprint up and down the stair-stepper-like streets of San Francisco to the wonderfully touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, where I spent my evening inhaling a gallon of clam chowder in an enormous sourdough bread bowl.

By the time I had fully recovered from my debauched night of NBA groupie-dom, I realized I had to quit trying so hard to make things happen on the court, to use an NBA analogy. I had to let the game come to me.

So I did. I took my basketball book to Union Square and, from my lovely park bench, watched the city stride by. I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. I trollied to and fro. I snacked on street-vendor food.

That evening, relaxed and with tight gams (walking those hills does wonders for your legs), I did visit one of the best restaurants in the city: Canteen. The menu (four appetizers, four entrées, four desserts) changes daily. The celebrity chef (Denis Leary) turned three booths and a stainless steel counter into a place where you can experience the best food the city offers — and read your book about basketball while you do so. My trip may have been derailed, unplanned, and dorky, but it was memorable. That’s all you can ask. Are you listening, Philadelphia?