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

Monday, November 29, 2004

Zu(ni) Story (Zuni Cafe -- San Francisco, CA)

Jon and I bought our first home in April. It's just about the only residential structure in our neighborhood. Lucky for us, Zuni Cafe is also in our neighborhood. We can WALK there. Hooray!

Zuni's an interesting place. The first time we went there, several years ago, we didn't love it (the shock! the horror!). I think we went in expecting something different than what it was. But aside from that, we know several other people that haven't loved their first Zuni experience only to return later as die hard fans. Must be something in the water.

Zuni's been around since, well, forever. Not really but it seems like it. Judy Rodgers has been working her magic since the 80's (Come on, sing some Oingo Boingo with me now). It's like the Winchester mystery house with alcoves and nifty little seating areas in hard to reach spots. Fun!

It's hard to believe that we weren't completely enamored on our first visit because it's now one of our most favorite places ever. Here's why:

1. Oysters (and seafood in general). They have about a hundred different kinds of oysters (OK, I'm hyperbolizing but they do have a lot), and it was the first place we ever ate periwinkles (a.k.a. snails), which we loved.

2. The fries. Man do I love fries. They might be my favorite food if I was actually willing to admit it. And Zuni's, called shoestring potatoes, are sublime. They're super duper skinny and come in a huge pile. The pile is so big that you will say "Oh but I could never eat that many fries." Think again, fatty. Before you know it you'll be shoveling them in as fast as you can.

3. The ricotta gnocchi. Gnocchi made of cheese. What more could you ask for?

4. The Caesar salad. The best ever. No contest.

5. Brunch. Especially the fried eggs in chimichurri sauce (when they have it).

6. The burger. Not Jon's favorite, but it IS the favorite of many others.

7. Bloody Marys. Fresh and tasty.

8. The whole roasted chicken for two. Sure, it takes 50 minutes, but really, what else were you planning to do tonight?

9. They are open until midnight. Score. This city sucks for places that are open late. I have spent many a post-rehearsal meal at Zuni.

10. The servers are nice, pretty and fucking good at their jobs. There is one guy (we don't know his name) who just rocks our world. He's funny to boot.

Everything there is fresher than my 8th grade students. I love going there and seeing what's new on the menu. And you can take your cool friends, your dorky friends, your parents, your babies, pretty much everyone short of that homeless guy on the street, and they'll LOVE it (or they won't but then for some strange reason, they'll want to go back and then they'll realize that they DO love it). We were there 3 nights ago with some friends and we're going back tomorrow night with Jon's parents. Makes me want to do a little happy dance.


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

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Good Night Moon (Luna Park and The Last Supper Club -- San Francisco, CA)

***UPDATE: Last Supper Club is now closed (Praise be to the sweet Baby J) and the far superior Beretta now occupies their former space***

We first went to Luna Park right after it opened. Their signature items such as the goat cheese fondue, tuna poke and the oh-my-GOD-I-love-it-so-much s'mores dessert were always good. The other items, eh, not so much. Additionally, it was always more crowded than a frat house on wet t-shirt night and the staff kind of sucked.

As the years have passed, Luna's cleaned herself up a bit. Now you can pretty much count on all the food being good, a crowd (but not one that has people crawling up your ass) and a significantly improved staff. They are just super now. Great bartenders (shout out to the super cool Fran), great servers and again much better munchies. They've still got the signature stuff (Thank GOD or I'd have to throw down for some s'mores) but the rotating menu is very tasty as well.

We've found lunch to be a great time to go. It's quiet, it's cheap and they have fantastic sandwiches and salads. Brunch ain't too shabby either, with some pretty great chilaquiles (careful, though, we found that was all we needed for 2 people -- it's HUGE). I wouldn't say it's in my top ten or even 25 favorite spots, but it's comfortable and reliable and did I mention they have a make your own s'mores dessert?

Now her snotty ass little sister that lives five blocks away, that's another story. The Last Supper Club should be called the Last Time I Ever Eat Here Club. This place sucks. Really.

I think they were going for another Luna, except Italian instead of "California" or "Neo-American" or whatever we call the we-have-a-little-of-everything restaurants these days.

We went there right after it opened (and one of the hostesses happened to be someone we knew from Slanted Door). We had a reservation. We still waited 45 minutes for our table. They comped us several appetizers, which was cool. Except they sucked. Here's what was good: The fontina cheese and truffle oil fondue and the tuna tartare. Things that were basically Luna's dishes with a twist. The pastas were awful. The desserts were worse. The plating was a mess. There's a huge fucking fountain (that doesn't work) in the restaurant that makes getting anywhere past the bar a big pain in the ass.

I will say the service (once we were seated) was good.

So we figured, hey, what the hell, maybe it was a first week open fluke. Let's go back. Months later.

So we did. And it sucked again. And it's not getting my money again. And I'm not working out every friggin' morning to waste my calorie intake on shitty food.

What a disappointment.

We'll see, they may have a turnaround a la Luna but I'm not betting on it. If you ignore my advice and go anyway, you should stick to the drinks and the fondue. Don't say I didn't warn you. But if you want to support the owners, just go to Luna Park. You'll be much happier.


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

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Highway to Heaven (A16 -- San Francisco, CA)

If you want to make Neapolitan pizza, you have to go through a whole certification process in Naples. So when we heard that a new restaurant was opening that had a chef who was certified, we couldn't wait to try it.

We're amateur pizza makers ourselves, constantly tweaking our dough and changing our oven conditions to make it a little closer to perfection but nothing comes close to A16, named for the highway that runs between Rome and Naples in Italy.

So when A16 opened we kept meaning to go. But it's in the Marina, and we're lazy so we just didn't get around to it. One night while we were at Delfina (our favorite spot -- more to come), Craig Stoll told us to check it out. When Craig tells you to check out another restaurant, you do it. So the following Friday, a day I had off, I asked Mia and Ariana, our friends, to join me there for lunch.

Holy crap. We were all floored. We had the fava bean puree, an antipasti and the best fucking pizza ever. It was so thin that the middle was pleasantly soppy. The dough was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. The arugula and prosciutto we got on top was fresh and delish. All three of us loved every bite, none of us could believe how good it all was or how cheap. $10 for that pizza is a steal.

I knew Jon would be upset he missed it. I raved and raved but the bitch just didn't believe it could be as good as I said it was. I made him go back for lunch with me the very next day (quick fyi: they do dinner 7 nights a week now so there is no longer lunch sat.-tues.). When the pizza arrived, his jaw hit the table. It quickly became one of our favorite spots.

Shortly after those initial visits, Michael Bauer reviewed them in the Chronicle. So long walking in, hello reservations. But that's OK with us because if anyone deserves success, they do.

Shelley, one of the co-owners is sweeter than pie (mmm..pie). She's just awesome. Everyone I know wants to marry her (she's already married).

While the pizzas are spectacular, the rest of the food (and wine) shines as well. The braised pork is heavenly as is the fennel sausage and the pastas. Desserts aren't too shabby, either.

It's also just plain fun. It's comfortable and the staff is great. Young and old are there having a grand old time. It's just an all around great dining experience.

If you go, make sure you order the burratta (mozzarella wrapped around it's own curd) if they have it. And pizza. And ask for the chile oil to go on the pizza. And maybe order an entree, too. And while you're at it, give me a call so I can go with you.


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

The Way We Were

There is no doubt that the bay area has the best food in America, and is a candidate for the best food in the world. It is a sad fact, though, that there are just some things we don't have.

Jon is from New Jersey and I'm from Massachusetts with a family from NYC and we both went to school in Ithaca, NY. There are regional, ahem, delicacies that we just can't find here. I've listed some below:

1. A good sub. Italian style. I'm talking peppers and eggs on a toasted bun. Jon prefers salami, capicola and turkey with lettuce (always shredded), onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper and oil and vinegar (that last bit is the key) on a toasted bun. We have yet to find an equivalent here. I've heard Roxie's Subs is good, but I also heard that from people born and raised in California. I'll have to check it out.

2. Pizza. Yes, we've got wood oven fired pizzas in their Chez Panisse/Oliveto glory. And we've got incredibly perfect Neopolitan pizza a la A16 (more on that in a later review). But we are sorely lacking in pinkish grease covered, thin, New York style slices. Arinell is the closest we've found (more on that later, too) and fortunately we live close to them. But it's still not quite the same thing, and it's the only one in the city (compared to a slammin' pizza spot every two feet in NYC). And the biggie......

3. NO DELIVERY! What the fuck? Not only does Arinell's not deliver, but no one does in this city. And if you do, that's a pretty good sign that you suck here. Only the sucky places seem to deliver. Now Sparky's delivers, and Sparky's can be good if you eat there. But order it for delivery and you get a soggy sack of shit after waiting for more than an hour. Whenever I talk to my best friends in NYC, they've just ordered something fantastic from anyplace you can imagine. Even the evil empire (ie, McDonald's) delivers there. Alas, when you are sick, tired or just plain lazy, your options for dining are sorely limited in the bay area.

4. Seafood. Best lobster in the world for $15 back home in Massachusetts. I paid through the nose for one at Michael Mina and it was the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth. Tough, chewy and just bad. I've had some good lobster here at French Laundry, La Folie and a few other places, but I've always paid a hefty price for it, and it's always accompanied by frou-frou veggies and stuff, which is great but....I just want my steamed lobster with drawn butter, lemon and some fries on the side for $15.95. I have to pay hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket and deal with my crazy ass mother for that $15.95 piece of heaven now. Same goes for scallops. There are good ones here, for sure, but the restaurants that serve them get them from, you guessed it, Massachusetts. We have our own type of great seafood here, but we're sorely lacking in some areas.

5. Buffalo Wings. Kezar comes the closest but they all suck. SUCK. SUCK. SUCK. It's like they're covered in ketchup. That's just bullcrap. They should be spicy and yummy and not so salty that you need an IV drip.

6. Bagels. Don't give me this Noah's bullshit. Even the Jewish school I teach drama at serves Noah's when they get bagels. That's just wrong. Noah's should be illegal. I've heard there's a place on Polk that ships their bagels in from NYC, but I haven't been there yet. Katz does a decent job. But I have yet to find a truly authentic bagel. And it's fucking cream cheese, OK? Not this pansy ass shmear crap. CREAM FUCKING CHEESE.

7. Hot dogs and pretzels from the street. Yes we have these here, but they suck balls. In NYC, they're actually a pleasant dining option.

8. Dunkin' Donuts (Jon's contribution). Krispy Kreme's are just too damn sweet. And Dunkin' Donuts has munchkins. And great coffee.

All that said, we are truly blessed with all of the wonderful food we have here. Sometimes I just want a decent goddamn bagel.


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

Monday, November 15, 2004

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream (Mitchell's Ice Cream -- San Francisco, CA)

This summer I did a show where one of the characters referenced Mitchell's Ice Cream. Night after night I'd listen to the line in rehearsal. Finally, one night I couldn't handle the temptation any longer and drove straight from my rehearsal in Berkeley to Mitchell's in the Mission. I felt like such a junkie.

Mitchell's has been around for ages. Jon and I were there at around 10 last night and there was a line out the door. We took our little ticket with the number 84. We looked at the counter and saw they were on number 72. This is at 10 p.m. in November. It's about 50 degrees out and there is a line out the door.

This line includes us, people dressed up for a night on the town, some families, a group of teenage kids, etc. It's like a little cross section of San Franciscan peeps.

Now you don't just get hungry for Mitchell's, you get horny for it. I'm not kidding. Once you get a craving, you can't avoid it. It's homemade, ultra creamy and they have the best flavors.

Mitchell's has all the regular stuff (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, etc.) and then they've got the stuff that no one else has like Mexican chocolate, ube (purple yam), avocado and my personal favorite -- buko (young coconut). They also have seasonal flavors. Right now they've got pumpkin, egg nog and peppermint stick.

Once, when Jon's sister was visiting, we decided we had to take her there. We decided to go on the way to the airport. The line was pretty long and it was taking longer than expected. Rather than have her miss out on the experience, we called jet blue, moved the flight to the following day, paid the change fee and got our ice cream. We moved a flight to eat Mitchell's ice cream. I'm not kidding.

Last night, we decided to sample the pumpkin ice cream for kicks (they'll let you sample anything). It was super tasty, but we decided to stick with our original orders. Jon got a waffle bowl sundae with oreo ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. I got a single scoop of buko in a cup with chocolate sprinkles. I love buko. You can also go with macapuno (another coconut) but I prefer buko. It just melts in your mouth and it's got chewy coconut bits.

So go to Mitchell's and have some buko or mexican chocolate or chocolate caramel crackle or avocado or ube or egg nog or whatever the hell you feel like. It's all there, it's all good and it's worth the calories.


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

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Amber-ific (Amber India -- Mountain View, CA)

Jon and I have been together nine years. And until last Friday, I don't think we'd ever eaten Indian food together. How lame is that? I've been alone or with friends and he...well, he went once with some friends while I was out of town and was so horrified by the raisins in his dish that he's had nightmares about it for five years.

I trapped him into trying Amber India because:

a) It was one of the only restaurants on the San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 list we hadn't yet been to.

b) He now works in Mountain View and we were attending a screening of "The Incredibles" on the company's dime later that evening. We needed to eat somewhere first.

c) I was driving.

Now Amber India has been touted as the best Indian restaurant in the bay area -- if I was ever going to get him to eat Indian food, now was my chance. Here's a roadblock: neither one of us likes raisins. And, unfortunately for us, they can be hidden land mines in Indian food. But I had a plan.

We pulled into the strip mall location of the restaurant (weird at first but once you are inside it's OK). Jon later told me that every muscle in his body was telling him to flee.

We sat down and Jon told me to order -- he was going to trust me (and blame me should this turn out the way he was expecting).

I told the server that we loved spicy and hated raisins. PLEASE, I urged, let us know if we order anything that has the evil element. Our server was great. We ordered Shrimp Kabobs, Butter Chicken, Vegetarian Dal, Butter Naan and some Saffron rice. No raisins, no problem.

Our favorite was the acclaimed butter chicken. And for people who think chicken is trashy and boring, that was a pretty big deal. The chicken is delish; it's all shredded in a sweet/smoky/buttery/tomato-y sauce. It was just super great. Not spicy, but very good. The Dal was spicy and I just loved it. Not quite spicy enough for me but it was still yummy. The Naan was perfect, the rice great. The shrimp were simple and good, but we were so full that we could hardly eat any of them (they came last). I wouldn't order that dish again because although it was good, it was pretty ordinary.

Jon was pleasantly surprised, ate the leftovers the next day and said he'd go back. Mission accomplished.


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

Monday, November 08, 2004

Restaurant Behavior 101

Why is it that people are total jackasses at restaurants? I mean, it is completely appalling the way most people act. Here are some guidelines because I just can't take it anymore.

1. That host/hostess/server/bartender/general manager/etc. has a life. It's probably cooler than yours at that. So stop treating them like you are better than them. Show them some respect. Make Aretha proud.

2. If you see people waiting for a seat at the bar, don't run to take it from them first. If someone does this to you, don't get pissed off -- they probably didn't see you were waiting.

3. Everyone else wants to eat at the same popular restaurant as you. If you have to wait 20 minutes for your table, suck it up.

4. For the love of GOD, leave a fucking decent tip. Look at your bill. The total bill including tax. Move the decimal point one place to the left and double that. There's your tip. Servers work very hard and get paid very little. Plus a lot of the cooler places pool tips which means what you leave goes in a big bucket and is divided between servers, bartenders, bussers, etc. You need to make up for the jerk wad who left $6 on his $50 bill.

5. Say please. Say thank you. Repeat.

6. Ask questions (politely). If you don't eat sesame seeds, tell them. Don't wait for it to come on your seared ahi and then throw a fit.

7. Your salmon is not undercooked. It's supposed to be that way. Deal with it or order chicken.

8. Try it. Just try. Once. Then I'll never ask you to try it again. You might learn you like oysters/fennel/deer testicles.

9. If your baby/father/spouse/pet makes a mess, either clean it up or thank the people who do.

10. Maybe think about ordering a wine that's not from California. Try asking your server what goes with the food instead of immediately going to the Cakebread Chardonnay. Nothing against it, but it's not the best match for everything you're ever going to eat.

11. Ask the server for their advice/opinion on what to order. They know the food better than you and a good server will point you in just the right direction.

That's all for now. I'm sure I'll think of more later.


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

Dim YUM (Ton Kiang -- San Francisco, CA)

I feel like Bubba Gump when I go to Ton Kiang. Shrimp and snow pea, shrimp and spinach, shrimp and scallops, shrimp and mushroom...the dumplings I love to shove down my pie hole never end.

Now if you live in San Francisco and you've never been to Ton Kiang, you might as well move. Seriously. You are a waste of space. There's really no excuse.

Ton Kiang churns out the finest dumplings and other assorted dim sum in this city. Yes, Yank Sing can give it a run for it's money, but TK is cheaper and more basic and I just love it to pieces. Itty bitty tasty dim sum pieces.

Everything there is just super delish. Besides the dumplings, they've got peking duck, crispy calamari, chicken feet, tofu pudding, fruit bowls...the list goes on and on and on and on (just like Erykah Badu). It's all GREAT.

We usually go on the weekend which can be very busy. When it's the two of us, it's no problem. Larger groups can have a big wait. The exception to this is Christmas. We were there during Christmas of 2002 when we stayed in town because I was understudying a play and couldn't leave. Apparently, everyone else who lives in SF eats there on Christmas, too. We waited 90 minutes. Worth every second.

Here's a little secret, they open at 10 a.m. on the weekdays and 9:30a.m. on the weekends. Get there when they open and you'll be alone in dim sum heaven. Going for dinner is fun, too. They serve dim sum until 4 p.m., but you can order 9 dim sum items for $35 any time after that. It's just super.

The only problem is I always get a coke when I go there (I try not to drink soda). I just need the fizzy sweetness to cleanse my palate between the select fried bits and pieces.

And really, the best part of dim sum is that, in theory, you can be eating something as soon as you sit down at your table. It's like a dining experience just for your id. Freud would love it. I sure as hell do.


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