Walking further east we got enchanted by one of Fisherman’s Wharf’s most popular attractions: the sea lions that congregate on wooden platforms in the water just west of Pier 39. Even at close to 9 pm these creatures were still awake and livening up the area with their characteristic barks. The story behind this interesting colony of marine mammals is also fascinating: a few dozen specimens moved in shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and today as many as 900 sea lions take over the wooden docks in front of Pier 39.
A giant crab sculpture at Pier 39
We would have liked to spend more time there, but the evening was now definitely clammy and cold, so we decided to head inside to have our dinner. We went into Neptune’s Palace, a well-known seafood restaurant at the tip of Pier 39. The restaurant features huge panorama windows that showcase a 180 degree northerly view of San Francisco Bay, including Alcatraz. Unfortunately it was dark and foggy, but we imagined that the view must be absolutely stunning from there.
One of the typical vintage street cars at Fisherman’s Wharf
Now chilled to the bone from this foggy and cool February night, we enjoyed the warm atmosphere in this spacious restaurant. We had a look at the extensive menu, and I decided to order some crab cakes and a vegetarian risotto, and my travel partner Leslie decided to try the coconut fried prawns followed by the hazelnut crusted sea bass. My usual inquisitiveness drove me to find out more about the restaurant and I located Mark Allen, the assistant manager, who gave me a tour of the establishment.
Inside Neptune’s Palace
We started off with the Carousel Lounge which overlooks Pier 39’s historic carousel, a popular attraction for families who travel here. Although it was pitch dark outside, I could also see the illuminated Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid through the Panorama window. Past the full-service bar we entered the main dining room area which features wall-to-wall panorama windows. Mark informed me that the view here includes Ghirardelli Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island and Alcatraz. I truly regretted coming here at night and thought that I should have visited in the daytime to catch this phenomenal view. On the left hand side of the restaurant Mark took me into the Garden Room, a large room with skylights and picture windows that is often used for large parties. Not surprisingly, Neptune’s Palace is very popular, given the view and its cuisine.
A tasty appetizer: crab cakes
Mark informed me that fresh fish is brought in on a daily basis, and Dungeness crabs are currently in season which starts in November. Neptune’s Palace has a number of signature dishes: very popular are the Mixed Seafood Grill and Baby Lobster, as well as the “Cioppino” which is a medley of crab, scallop, clam, mussel, rock shrimp fresh fish and penne pasta in a spicy broth. Patrons also really enjoy the Fisherman’s Stew which is served with a bib and a hot towel. Frequently requested fish dishes include the Seared Thai Salmon and the Marinated Ahi Tuna, and of course, the old stand-by – Fish & Chips.
My main dish: vegetarian risotto
We chatted a bit about the restaurant in general, and Mark mentioned that while the customers are very international at all times of the year, there is a noticeably greater number of Japanese visitors in the winter. Neptune’s Palace is a favourite place for proposals, first dates, anniversaries and other personal celebrations. Valentine’s Day is a definite favourite. Many guests come with their families, and kids get special attention at Neptune’s Palace. Business customers include participants of the many international conventions that are held in San Francisco.
Neptune’s palace – perfect for fish and seafood lovers
After the tour we settled in and started to enjoy our dinner. I am not usually a big seafood eater, but I definitely enjoyed my crab cakes, and the vegetarian risotto delighted my taste buds. Leslie enjoyed her seafood combination as well, and we started to relax after a very packed day. After a delicious dinner we headed back along Jefferson and up to North Point Street from where we could catch the 47 bus again to a well-deserved rest at the Queen Anne Hotel.
Despite the less than optimal weather, our first day in San Francisco had been a real success. We were already curious what Day 2 would hold which would include a culinary tour of Little Italy and a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. More excitement was awaiting us…