Monday, September 14, 2009

Diversion: San Francisco

My free decaf Vietnamese coffee from Slanted Door

Over Labour Day weekend, Eric and I escaped to San Francisco for some relaxation, culinary exploration, and time with good friends who reside in the Bay Area. It was an opportunity to revisit the city which, inadvertently, has become woven into the misguided journey I took towards pediatric ophthalmology.

Lemon cream tart from Tartine

I was lucky in the past to spend two summers in the San Francisco Bay Area, first in 1996, and then in 2001. After receiving a grant from the American Pediatric Society, I spent six weeks, during the summer between 1st and 2nd year medical school, doing childhood lymphoma research at San Francisco General Hospital with an inspiring clinician scientist. Honestly, I think it was the best summer of my life, being independent for the first time in a dynamic city while being mentored by the first of many physicians whose passion for medicine seemed so limitless and contagious.

Del Dotto wine caves by candlelight in Napa

By the summer of 2001, two years of ophthalmology residency had passed and despite encounters with three ophthalmologists who were very influential in my professional life, I was struggling to emulate the passion for ophthalmology which they possessed and shared freely. In my naivety, my desire to have their passion became confused with my desire to pursue ophthalmology, leaving me intensely conflicted as I progressed through residency, unable to find any path which felt right. After spending the summer at an ophthalmology course in Stanford, the slow realization that I may never find that passion in ophthalmology culminated in my final excruciating decision to leave my pediatric ophthalmology fellowship in 2005.

Art at Artesa Winery, Napa

And so, this visit to San Francisco was a strange intersection of my former medical aspirations and my new existence, especially because my ten year medical school reunion also happened to be scheduled for Labour Day weekend in Vancouver. Since I had neither an ophthalmology practice nor child to brag about, going to San Francisco was definitely the better choice.

neon EAT at Taylor's in Napa
In between window shopping and a day trip to Napa with friends, we had three favourite meals. The Slanted Door in the Ferry Building provided excellent service, a fabulous view, and a well-balanced modern Vietnamese lunch (try the grapefruit and jicama salad as well as the cellophane noodles with crab). Perbacco, an Italian ristorante recommended by a former San Franciscan (thanks Thahn!), was a highlight not only because of our dinner company, but also because of the divinely tender seared squid on arugula and the hearty handcut tagliatelle with pork sugo which I devoured.

water carafe at Chez Panisse

Most memorably, we made the pilgrimage to Chez Panisse and ate upstairs rather than downstairs (I like having choice). This historical birthplace of California cuisine and the organic locavore movement was cozy and straight from the 1970's but the food was refined and current. The duck breast with fig relish on rocket was so intense and delicious. Then, the wild nettle pudding soufflé with corn, zucchini, and chanterelle mushrooms was so uncomplicated and pure in flavour. I could eat there every day.

Wild nettle souffle with corn, zucchini & chanterelles

I will always love San Francisco for many reasons, the diversity, the hippie spirit, even the odd weather. But mainly, I will always love San Francisco because it was where I was filled with so much promise and desire to find passion and direction in my career despite not truly knowing what I was meant to be passionate about. Perhaps I am still on my way to finding out and this visit is merely another breath of inspiration.

view of Napa from Artesa Winery


Lee Gomes said...

Do you know the story of Bruce Healy? He was a fully-tenured professor of physics at Yale who left science to study French pastry. He's since written three books about the topic, all of which are excellent. So there is a long and distinguished history of smart folks switching careers and picking up a whisk.

Charmaine said...

Lee: Thank you for telling me about Bruce Healy. Knowing that others have made the strange leap always makes me feel less "abnormal".

Anonymous said...

What an incredible journey you have been on! I think we are all "finding ourselves" in different ways every day! Just enjoy the journey! Sylvia

pk8 said...

Charmaine..memories of Palo Alto. What a summer: rollerblades, sunshine, dropped mattresses, strewn raisins, Trader Joe's & car trips in a little Acura Integra. Chase your passion!

Charmaine said...

Sylvia: Thank you, I hope Adam is guiding you on a wonderful path too!
Lica: Gilroy, pylons, airborn mold...the list is endless. :) Charm