Have you heard the one about the cleaner who would up in the emergency room of a San Francisco hospital because she mistook a bottle of cleaning fluid for an orange squash? The nontoxic fruit acid-based mixture was so skin and respiratory system friendly that the ER physician gave her a “clean” bill of health!
Welcome to San Francisco’s Orchard Garden Hotel, the state’s and the city’s first hotel built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design standards. Who would have thought that the lasting impression we’d have of this famed city by the bay would be its ecothusiasm!
Although most US cities are a true eco nightmare thanks to car fumes, inadequate mass transport, and little renewable energy, Frisco is considered one of America’s top green 10 cities.
We took a weekend to find out why.
The Orchard Garden Hotel – Tragedy Inspires Wellness Emphasis
First stop – The Orchard Garden Hotel, which we chose as our base.
When Mrs. S.C. Huang, owner of San Francisco’s Orchard Hotel, lost both her husband and her 38-year old daughter Lydia to cancer, the Chinese hotelier didn’t retreat into depression. She became an environmental activist.
“Daughter Lydia was passionate about the hospitality industry, and about running her own hotel,” said Mrs. Huang’s spokeswoman. “When Lydia died, Mrs. Huang decided to build a second San Francisco property in her honor.”
Intrigued by suggestions of “going green” from her construction crew, Huang asked a pivotal question. Did creating a cleaner environment for guests and staff mean reducing exposure to carcinogens?
Assured that it would, Huang took an ecothusiastic leap. When the Orchard Garden Hotel opened in November 2006, it was just the fourth hotel in the world and the third in the U.S. to have received LEED-NC certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – New Construction. Not bad for an 83-year old woman from Shanghai.
The step would earn her the 2009 Hotel Hero Lifetime Achievement Award, and transform the image usually associated with eco-tourism. The 104 room boutique hotel’s décor is understated elegance that’s truly wash and wear. The drapes and bedding are totally washable, yet rooms have all the hi-tech amenities, and the entire property is nonsmoking. Upgrades from a standard room with king bed or two doubles to a superior room or junior suite cost just $20 to $50 a night.
Today, two other San Francisco properties have LEED green certification – Mrs. Huang’s first hotel, The Orchard, and the W San Francisco.
Reducing, reusing and recycling are the earmarks of San Francisco’s sustainably-focused eateries. From novices just whisking up their first soufflé to veteran chefs supervising a battalion of assistants, restaurants dedicated to protecting the environment bring dining to another level.
And gourmands the world over seem to know it!
“I was wearing my Scoma’s tee-shirt in Scotland while climbing a ‘Munroe’ (a mountain higher than 3000 ft),” said Alan Fairhurst, Scoma’s executive sous chef. “In the mist, I thought I was alone, and didn’t notice a climber descending toward me. Suddenly he screamed, ‘Scoma’s! That’s my favorite restaurant in the entire world!’ Turns out he was a New Yorker who often conducted business in Asia, and sometimes actually scheduled his trips with a layover in San Francisco to eat at the restaurant.”
“Oldlyweds” for whom Scoma’s has a romantic connection often show up to relive a special dinner. “A very sweet, older couple from Ohio came in several years ago,” said Fairhurst. “They discovered Scoma’s during their honeymoon 30 years ago. Chef had made a ‘very, very special dish’ for them, and they really wanted us to recreate it. They described the dish, but when we presented it, the waiter felt something was amiss. The couple said it was delicious, but not as they remembered. We returned the dish to the kitchen, and with a few more memories as guidance, attempted it again. But it was obvious that we had once again missed the mark. I went over to see if they could provide me with any more clues, when the solution suddenly occurred to me. I went to the kitchen and ordered, ‘One shell sec!’- which translates to shellfish sauté prepared with a dry (sec) white wine. Their faces lit up, and they were clearly on Memory Lane! Since this entrée has been on our menu almost since we opened, it’s possible that the same cook prepared both dishes for them 30 years apart!”
Scoma’s ingredients owe their freshness to the rapidity with which it gets from the sea to wharf. There it’s off-loaded at the restaurant’s own Fish Receiving Station next door, where staff fish cutters inspect it, and rush it to the kitchen.
Nothing that can be reused goes to waste. Thanks to composting, Scoma’s diverts 95 percent of its waste away from landfills, and uses its vegetable oil to power maintenance vehicles and equipment on the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as its own truck!
The Educated Palate
Having fed our aesthetics at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, it was time to feed more mundane appetites. There we were wandering around Fourth Street without a plan in sight when we spotted a restaurant directly across from the museum. Appropriately named the Educated Palate, it’s operated by the City College of San Francisco’s Culinary Arts & Hospitality Studies department. Having sampled similar endeavors in England where the food and service was impressive, we were game to give it a go.
What a find! The cost of the expertly presented silver service (waiters dish sides like potatoes and veg from serving plates to yours) the cost of lunch probably doesn’t even cover the expense of the ingredients. Salads, sandwiches and entrees range from $6 to $15. And it’s as green as St. Patrick’s Day. After instituting recycling and composting two years ago, the amount of garbage was reduced 80 percent. The Educated Palate uses only sustainable fish; donates leftovers to the charity Food Runners, which distributes ready-to-eat items to those in need, and all instructors use public transport.
As you’d expect, cooks and wait staff are all students; what’s amazing is that tuition for the year-long certificate program in food technology and dining services, baking and pastry is free. And boy are those kids motivated – some we chatted with are changing careers, while others are remaking their lives after a period of homelessness and bad luck.
What better way to respect the planet than to shop trendy Pacific Heights for almost new threads from consignment and thrift shops? Sheila snared a perfect jersey top for a business suit for $6 in the bargain rack at Next-to-New Shop & Consignment Boutique, a classy consignment run by the Junior League. Had she been on her own without her more cost-conscious photographer husband and had cash instead of credit cards, she would have been seriously tempted by the madly gorgeous hats, Manolo Blahnik shoes, affordable vintage, Gucci, Chanel and Armani. Hey, the proceeds go to a good cause – the charities supported by the Junior League!
Leaving a small carbon footprint in the U.S.’s second greenest city is easy, surprisingly affordable and totally scrumptious!
If You Go
San Francisco has three LEED-certified hotels.
The Orchard Garden Hotel – San Francisco, California,
The Orchard Hotel,
W San Francisco,
Sup Sustainably at:
Scoma’s, www.scomas.com, 415-771-4383
The Educated Palate, 415-908-7522;
Lunch served weekdays; themed dinners Thursdays evening
Next to New Shop & Consignment Boutique,
, (415) 567-1627
More information from San Francisco’s Convention & Visitors Bureau,
Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every are professional worldwide travel journalists at
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