CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

'Tis the Season (Seasons Restaurant -- San Francisco, CA)

So yesterday I got to be a lady who lunches and eat my noontime repast at the illustrious Four Seasons in their restaurant (which is predictably called "Seasons"). The director of one of the theatres I teach for took a bunch of us to lunch (awww...thanks, Andrew!) as a little end of the semester thank you.

I had only eaten at a Four Seasons once before, and that was on my honeymoon in Maui. Curiously enough, that restaurant was also named Seasons. I guess they don't have the creative staff working overtime on naming the restaurants. Anyway, what I remember most from that visit was the service. The hostess actually raced me to my chair as I was returning from the bathroom so she could properly place my napkin back in my lap. It was rock star all the way.

Anyway, at our little festive luncheon, I quickly saw that the service at our very own Seasons was going to be just as yummy. The staff was very attentive, answering our every little whim. At a table full of actor/teachers, you can imagine how trying that would be for a server.

At any rate, the food was quite good. Not the most amazing food in the world, but everything I ate was expertly prepared, if ordinary. I had a damn fine chicken sandwich with balsamic onions, smoked mozzarella, basil aioli and roasted tomatoes served up nice with some kettle chips. And the tuna poke appetizer was delightful (Jeeves, please bring around the car). I also very much enjoyed the panna cotta that ended our meal.

That said, my sandwich was $17. A damn fine sandwich, but not $17 fine. I can get the same thing at Slow Club for $8. You're paying for the atmosphere and service, though, and I have to admit, that's almost worth paying $17 for that sammich. Wow, my posts are heavy on the sammiches lately, huh?

Here are the best/most fun/most entertaining to our table things about the restaurant:

1. The fun little hand towels in the bathroom

2. The floor to ceiling doors in the bathroom

3. The view of Grant Street from our table

4. The big comfy chairs

5. The ice cubes in our lemonades and iced teas that were made of lemonade and iced tea (I got to be the smarty pants and tell everyone what the strange ice cubes were -- go me!)

6. The simple syrup in a little tiny pitcher to sweeten the iced tea

7. The little pots of honey that came with the hot tea

8. The sterling silver cone in which my kettle chips were served

9. The oh-so-nice servers/bussers/host(ess)

10. The people watching

I would definitely go back again if someone else was paying and/or I was filthy stinking rich. Otherwise, I can live without the impeccable service with my chicken sandwich. I expect service like that in my four star dining experiences, but then I also expect haute cuisine in those experiences as well. Seasons is, in a sense, an oxymoron. But that's OK, 'cause I got to be a laaaaaaaaaaady yesterday. And Jesus Christ, the world would be a better fucking place if everyone treated each other the way the staff at the Four Seasons treats their customers.

Happy Holidays to all my faithful readers out there. The best present I received this year was knowing that people who don't live in my house have been reading my shit.

Rock on.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Monday, December 20, 2004

Tonight I Will Be Miss Saigon (Saigon Sandwich -- San Francisco, CA)

Sorry kids, it's the holidays so I've been slacking. Dealing with incompetant postal workers, a broken ibook hinge (c'mon Apple, are you really going to charge $300 for that shit?) and an impending trip to Minnesota (rest assured I will return with a full report on the many levels of beige food and jello I get to experience while there). I'm tryin' to get three more posts in before I leave, and then you can check me out in the new year in the ultra hip Mesh magazine.

Banh mi. It's a sammich (ie, sandwich). A Vietnamese sandwich to be precise. It's typically got some meat, some veggies, some chilies (hooray!), some homemade mayo, and some magical lovin'. It's served up nice on a French baguette.

Slanted Door makes a great banh mi. It's on an Acme baguette with all the delicious trimmins. But it's $7.50. Not bad you say? Hold up bitches, because I'm gonna blow your mind.

Saigon Sandwich in the Tenderloin makes these babies for $2. Yes, $2. Sometimes $2.25 depending on what you order. And I dare say that these are the best friggin' banh mi this side of Asia.

SS is open from 10:00 am to 5 pm. No dinner. There is always a line out the door. The line is about as coherent as a Dali painting. You're never really sure where your spot is, but you'll get your sammich, don't you worry.

Your choices are barbequed chicken, roast pork, shu mai (pork meatball), a spam like lunch meat and a few others. All come on warm and toasty bread that is ultra tasty. And they've got the pickled veggies and mayo (I hate mayo but it melts into the bread and I have to surrender 'cause it's damn good) and CHILIES! I ask for extra chilies. Sometimes I get 'em, sometimes I don't but either way it doesn't matter, 'cause my bomb-diggity super-duper-licious sammich is only $2.

I dig the chicken. Jon digs the shu mai. We like to go there and grab some and bring them on airplanes so we have something tasty to eat instead of airline slop.

Be prepared for a wait -- it's worth it. Before you know it you'll be running through the streets naked shouting "I can't believe my sammich was only $2!" Kick ass.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Sweet Tart (Tartine -- San Francisco, CA)

Let's face it, most croissants in America are greasy, leaden sacks of shit not worth the nasty ass shortening they're made with. Damn fuckers. If you're not going to make your croissant with butter, don't make one at all.

Tartine is a happy little spot (helmed by Elizabeth Pruitt and her multi talented staff) at the corner of 18th and Guerrero. And their croissants are so crazy good that you will find yourself eating one in your car because you can't wait until you get to work/home/school to eat it. Damn the crumbs, you're going to eat that croissant, bitches!

Tartine's croissants are the perfect amount of crunchy and flaky and chewy. The chocolate croissants are also amazing, although I'm pretty sure that they've got to be illegal.

Tartine also has an assortment of cakes, pies, pots de creme, croque monsieurs, cookies, granola, sammiches and other delightful treats for your tongue and tummy. They use organic ingredients, serve wine and one of the sandwiches has foie gras. A corner bakery with foie gras. I fucking love this city.

Their coffee sucks, though. But that's what Jon says and he's a picky ho. But fuck it, you should be picky because, really, there's no excuse for a shitty cup of coffee. Especially at a place where everything else is so mind altering-ly good.

Oh, don't count on eating it there -- the tables are always full. Just go ahead and scarf it all down in your car. Make Tartine your secret lov-ah.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Friday, December 10, 2004

Fungal infection (White Truffles)

$2000 a pound. That's about what these babies go for. Which babies, you ask? Why, white truffles, of course. That's one expensive fungus. But that's because they are delicious.

Truffle season is short. So you gots to get your eatin' on if you want some of the goodness. Here's my little 2004 truffle story.

We love truffles. Black ones, white ones, whatever. That perfumey smell makes me weak in the knees. The white ones are rarer, and therefore more expensive. Anyway...

In 2001, we were going to go to Piedmont with Kathy and Bob. They are my aunt and uncle. Sort of. Kathy is my mom's stepsister. More importantly, they are our friends and favorite dining companions despite the three decades between us. Bob is a wine distributor, so he's got some connections in the part of the world where truffles are harvested (ie, dug up by dogs and pigs). So the four of us were going to go in October of 2001 to go on a truffle hunt and eat and drink ourselves silly. But then September 11 happened and we didn't have any plans yet so we just didn't go. It's still on my to do list.

So, K & B call and invite us to go eat truffles with them at Acquerello. I'll post more on Acquerello later, but it's a lovely, if pricey, Italian restaurant in a renovated church. We, of course, say yes.

A few days earlier, our darlings at Delfina put us on a list for the next time that THEY got white truffles. We heard that we had missed some the previous week and I spent the whole night sobbing in the bathtub with a big bottle of malt liquor. OK, not really. But I was sad.

Wednesday night. We meet K & B. Drink some fan-fucking-tastic Pinot and Barolo that Bob brought. Eat thin slivers of white truffles on poached eggs and pasta and risotto (Oh my!). Go home deliriously happy. The only sucky part was the bill. Acquerello ass rapes you for those beauties.

We arrive home and check our voicemail. It's Christie. From Delfina. They will have truffles on Thursday and Friday night if we want to come in. Oh shit.

So we figure, what the hell, truffle season is short and we're so good at hemorrhaging money, why not? Friday was out so we just went on Thursday.

At Delfina, we just had them on straight up pasta AND (dare I say it?) it was at least as good, if not better, at almost half the price. When the plates came, we stuck our noses down into the pasta and took a deep inhale. Yeah, I know. We have a problem. But there ain't nothing like them. Then we had rice pudding with white truffle oil for dessert.

I am such a slut. White truffles two nights in a row. Oooo, baby, you know that's how I like it.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Top Five for December

Here are my five favorite things about food in December:

1. White Truffles (more to come).

2. Hot Chocolate, I'm a sucker for it (the drink, not the group).

3. Latkes. Working at a Jewish school has its advantages.

4. Squid. The squid coming out of Monterey in the winter is just so good it's stupid.

5. Bread and rice puddings.

I can come up with seven more if anyone wants to gift me twelve days of Christmas style.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

My One True Love (Delfina -- San Francisco, CA and Da Delfina -- Artimino, Italy)

Ribollita. The food of the Gods. OK, not really. It's actually peasant food. But it is DAMN good.

Ribollita is Tuscan bread soup filled with cannelini beans, cavelo nero (a kale-like green), bread and yummy yum yums (that's a technical term). Then, it's stuck in a fridge to get all congeal-y and then it's FRIED. Fried soup. It's like a little blanket for your insides. It rocks.

The first place Jon and I ever had ribollita was at Delfina. Delfina opened about 3 months after we, ourselves, moved to San Francisco. We made the pilgrimage from our shithole apartment about a week after they opened. As it was only 3 and a half blocks away, it wasn't a huge commitment. Or so we thought.

From the moment we stepped in, we were in love. At the time, it was about a third the size it is now (if that). They described ribollita for us, and we figured eh, what the hell, how bad can it be?

Well, I sure as hell may be a restaurant whore, but at that moment, I was ready to kiss my whorin' days goodbye and settle down. I love Delfina so much that it gets me all choked up just thinking about it. This is going to be a gushy post, so if that's going to wig you out, either suck it up or stop reading. Because I loooooooove them.

It's taken me a long time to get to this post because I knew it would be a biggie. So settle in and get goes:

The food. Ribollita yes. Simple-as-pie-but-delicious-as-hell spaghetti with plum tomatoes. For that matter, any pasta at all. The soups. Oh, dear God, the incredible soups (chickpea, Jerusalem artichoke, pappa al pomodoro, etc.). They just blow your mind. Grilled calamari and white bean salad where the beans are as good as those we had at French Laundry. The insalata del campo with everything good in the world in it. The panna cotta, the profiteroles, the crostatas....Oh, fuck it. It's all amazing. It's everything you hope, wish and dream for in your deepest fantasies. And special occasions bring special food, like the Bucatini with lobster and rice pudding with truffles that we eat each New Year's Eve.

Craig and Annie Stoll. The owners. These people are the best people you could know. I have never, ever seen people so devoted to their business, their staff, their customers. They are so loyal. They will bend over backwards for their regulars. They take such good care of us, it makes me feel guilty.

Here's the thing about Craig and Annie. They hire staff as devoted to their customers as they, themselves are. The staff are so amazing at their jobs, and so kind and wonderful (gush, gush, gush). I love them. I mean that. I LOVE THEM. And they treat us like friends instead of paychecks when we come in. LOVE THEM.

We have been to Delfina during our highest ups and our lowest downs. Some examples: Losing a job, getting a new one, grieving a death, entertaining guests, celebrating birthdays, buying a home, moving, losing a friend, reconnecting with each other after hectic weeks apart, the aforementioned New Year's celebrations. And then there are the big ones.

Such as September 11, 2001 when our families were on the east coast and we were lost. We wandered into Delfina and they told us they didn't know what to do but stay open and we told them that we didn't know what to do but turn off the TV and start walking in their direction.

And the time when we packed up that same shithole apartment, to move to our beautiful new home. It was a happy thing that we were moving, but six years of our lives had been spent in that apartment during which time we had gone from dating to married, purchased a cat (hooray for Charlie!), gained and lost friends. It was a huge chunk of our lives. So when we shut the door for the last time, we felt strangely sad. And we walked straight to Delfina. After all, we'd now be 7 blocks away instead of 3 and a half. And they took care of us, as always.

It's nights like those that made us come up with the code word "home" when referring to Delfina. As in "Where would you like to go for your birthday?" "Home." It is where we go when we want and/or need to share something important in our lives.

Delfina is the restaurant we'd choose if we had to eat at only one place for the rest of our lives. So it is only fitting that when we were in Italy last September, we made a pilgrimage to Da Delfina in Tuscany, where Craig had studied.

We arrived in Florence with Jon's super wonderful but disorganized family (5 of us total) and wandered the streets with a shitload of luggage trying to find our hotel. Yes, Florence has cabs. But why take one when you can avoid making a decision and blindly stumble around like jackasses?

Anyway, we found our hotel, threw our stuff in the door and made our way back out to the train station (We did this alone, we would be meeting Jon's family in Siena in the evening. Delfina is so personal to us that we felt we needed to go alone).

We took a train to the town of Signa (one stop away, but there are only a few trains a day that go there). Once in Signa, we thought we'd take a cab to Artimino. Nice try. No cabs at the station. So we go into a ghetto hotel and ask them to call us one. We feel bad, so Jon goes to the bar and orders a shot of tequila for their troubles. Nice.

So our "cab" arrives. It's a minivan with an older dude inside. As we wind through the hills, he describes everything we're seeing. In Italian. But it's so beautiful, and he's so good natured, that we don't care.

And then we get there. There she is in all her glory. Da Delfina. And when I say that, I mean the restaurant and Delfina herself, sitting in the foyer. Delfina is in her 90's and she is beautiful.

Carlo, the owner, looks at the young Americans like "What the hell are you here for?" But he seats us anyway. At a table overlooking the Tuscan countryside. We spent the whole meal with tears streaming down our faces. We felt like we had returned to the mothership.

We order everything. I order the Tuscan bread soup (ribollita, before it becomes ribollita, if you follow...Carlo was very concerned that I knew this). And in everything we ate, we saw our own Delfina's roots. Jon's guinea hen was a clear ancestor of Craig's chicken, the chicken liver crostini was almost identical, etc. We each had an appetizer, a primi, a secondi. Plus wine. A lot of wine. By the time we got to secondi, I thought I was going to hurl. It was so amazing but it was also a shitload of food. When I let the last third of my salt cod go, Carlo asked me about four thousand times if it was OK. Damn, people, I just can't eat that much food!

Nevertheless, they talked us into ordering dessert. Very Tuscan, very good, but again, on the verge of hurling. In between, we received vin santo and some Sangiovese grapes grown by the older Americans at the table behind us.

Well it turns out the guy growing the grapes was a trustee at the college Jon and I went to. And he and his wife ended up inviting us to their Tuscan villa. But alas, we needed to meet Jon's family and only had 2 short days left in Italy. Damn. But how fucking cool is that?

By the time we left, Carlo was hugging us and we were giving him some of the fake tattoos from the SF Delfina. And when our nice man in the minivan came to take us back to the train station, we were grateful for the meal of a lifetime (at only $110 euro, no less).

When there are places in the world like Delfina and Da Delfina, why settle for anything less, ever?


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld