Category: San Francisco
Tony Bourdain has a serious bone to pick with this town, characterizing it as a hotbed of veganism rife with "crunchers". This colored his 2009 program with a bitterness I as a carnivore found depressing and hinting of Personal Vendetta. Sure enough, the name Alice Waters was mentioned; there's a feud so wrenching for him that he misses the boat on what makes San Francisco a great place to eat. I generally enjoy Bourdain's programs, although the Pre-No Reservations, younger-Tony shows were more interesting for his being less angry, jaded, self-conscious, and more bright-eyed.
A forty-four minute program is long. To find it wholly devoted to an anti-vegan diatribe was, frankly, boring. It led him to scarf down low-quality meat at greasy dives for a third of the program and to pursue a manic meat-mission at unexciting places for much of the rest. When the San Francisco show was over, I wondered why I was so vexed by it and tried to imagine how he could better have used his time here.
Neighborhoods and ethnicities are the essence of this sprawling, diverse city. For a New Yorker, especially, to devote forty-four minutes to culinary San Francisco and not mention Vietnamese cuisine is downright negligence; the foodiest of New Yorkers are often completely unfamiliar with Vietnamese food, so common here, and truly spectacular examples can be had at all price points.
Another interesting difference between New York and San Francisco is in the Italian cuisine department, New York's tradition being rooted in Naples and Sicily, and San Francisco's in more northerly regions such as Tuscany. As North Beach's former Italian predominance disappears, some focus on the Italian history of culinary San Francisco would have been apt if not important, not to mention colorful and fun.
Views – restaurants with views from decks and heights – of the bay, of the ocean, of the city, would have provided visual excitement for the TV audience and acquainted it with a unique neighborhood or two. Countless visitors to our city are drawn by this very feature, and there's just no denying the romance and thrill of al fresco dining here. Many establishments have charming small patios and gardens. Why not show one? As for our local people, the camera was pointed at a variety of homeless street persons and toothless beggars.
One wondered why Bourdain, in his one foray outside the city, drove all the way to Oakland for a $2 taco from a fast-food truck, and ate it sitting on a parking lot ledge. Was this the (Eureka) clue: Program as dig at nearby Berkeley's "Chez Panisse"?
Sante's Rx: One heck of a delightful, self-ridiculing segment deliberately integrating soy foods into his palate, with his characteristic vulgar humor saying something like, "I've come to San Francisco to lose my soy virginity." This town would have obliged him, sending him to the moon with creativity. There are Thai and Chinese chefs who would have incontrovertibly proved that tempeh and tofu are "Not Just For Yogis" but actually components of an exciting meal. But then he would have had to drop his beat attitude and let himself walk around stunned thereafter, muttering, "I stand corrected."
I agree that the Anti-Meat lobbyists can be annoying, and I personally do not fancy meatless meals. But I also recognize that restaurant patrons are often looking for tasty examples of meatless cookery, and Western chefs are not cooperating. Our culinary schools are not demanding that chefs master soy, for instance, in order to graduate. Over a quarter century ago, I was offering tofu and tempeh dishes to the meat-accustomed palate on a meat-dominant menu at a resort attracting its share of vegetarians and vegans, and this my innovation kept guests on the property for dinner. Omnivores on vacation would experiment at such a place, opting for Tempeh Piccata over Roast Chicken on a given night, to discover its possibilities beyond Asian expressions. Many a customer complimented and thanked me for both accommodating their health needs and inspiring their own experimentation. There are chefs far more talented than I who could expand their clientele catering to this market. Not that Anthony Bourdain need ever be one of them, but the guy's act is just crying for a shattering, silencing sexy night with soy, and I hear him.
Last night we ate at an atypical Mexican restaurant with amazing food. It looked to me as though persons of every blood type could wrest a multi-course meal from its bold, extensive menu.
Called "Mamacita's", it is located in San Francisco's "yuppiest" neighborhood - The Marina. It was a Monday night, and the place was packed. There was a busy bar scene, too, viewed from afar.
We started with a shared appetizer of grilled scallops, served with a black bean coulis, a variety of tiny, kumquat-sized potatoes of various colors, miniature (Japanese?) artichokes, and grilled pencil asparagus. The scallops (a Nomad superfood) were dense and beefy, and very flavorful: The best scallops I've ever had. I wasn't crazy about the artichokes. For a B-nomad, the scallop/asparagus combination was perfect.
Then I actually passed over the lamb and kale taco for the carne asada taco, being in the mood for steak. It featured Niman ranch "organic" beef, a chili sauce, arugula, and flecks of goat cheese. David (type O) ordered the duck leg taco, with a sweet barbecue sauce and fruity slaw. The meat was perfectly marinated, very moist.
Okay, so we did order margaritas and enjoyed the chips and (tomato) salsa prelude. It would be worthwhile to go back to try the lamb, the mahi mahi, the various tuna dishes...
A Mexican restaurant with something for any and everyone. "Avoids" are easily dodged here; there's so much to choose from, and virtually everything is grilled. Clean food. Hooray!
On Tuesday (March 21st) a “rosary” of earthquakes occurred here in the San Francisco Bay Area, centered 4 miles outside of the suburb of Moraga, consisting of 14 minor quakes and aftershocks. Here in the city, about 15 miles away, I only felt the first one, a 3.7 on the Richter scale; the rest descended in magnitude.
When most people think of earthquakes, they’re media-spectacularly programmed to picture great devastation, such as was experienced exactly 100 years ago here (“The Big One”: 7.7). But the very vast majority of quakes (about 850.000 per year WORLDWIDE under 4.3 magnitude) go undetected by most of their respective local populations. Earthquakes of such minor intensity are very frequent occurrences in these parts. Indeed, when I lived in the geysers-region of the northern wine country, about 2 hours north of the city, I’d feel them a few times a week.
Other unusual geologic phenomena there are the hot springs, heat fissures and fumaroles – the latter being not-quite-geysers, but areas over which steam is emitted from the earth. My “driveway” was actually a steep dirt road about ¼ mile long, and when I’d walk up at the end of the day or after dark, I’d cross many “hot spots”/fissures. I equate the feeling to that of swimming through areas of warmth in lake water, perhaps due to greater reflection of sunlight from the bottom. It was just a normal fact of life to walk across fissured ground every day and “feel the heat”.
People who live far away from earthquake-prone areas wonder how one could possibly choose to live within them. I can’t speak for residents of other such zones, but, here in the Bay Area, they’re usually no big deal.
When I lived on West 86th Street in Manhattan, there was a bump in the road just before the turn onto Central Park West, over which flatbed trucks would thunder in the middle of the night and rattle the windows; now THAT was a heart-pounder, nothing like the, frankly, very gentle rocking of a minor quake in the Bay Area.
“What does a minor quake feel like?” Working with newborns as I do, I’d equate it with what a secure infant feels in its mother’s arms when she gently and ever-so-slightly changes position, whereas those New York flatbeds and their flopping cargo would equate to Mom’s suddenly standing up and dropping a clock radio.
Earthquakes of greater magnitude here are very rare. The last “big one” was 16 years ago (“Loma Prieta”, 10/89, Richter 7.0) and, even so, it was nowhere near as devastating as the hurricanes that frequently ravage the gulf states, or the fires that annually lay waste the Santa Ana region, or the swelteringly humid heat waves that afflict most of the US every summer, or the tornadoes of the Midwest (now THAT’S scary.)
I was in Sonoma County at the time of that “biggie”, sitting on the floor, when it began to move, rolling in gentle, undulating waves for about 5 seconds, and ending with a somewhat sharper jolt. Light fixtures were gently swinging in the house. I said, “SOMEWHERE this was very big.” We went outside and watched the power lines swing between their poles for about a minute. Then my friend turned on the TV and watched that repetitive footage seen by all a thousand times.
“How can we live here?” Are you kidding? We’re spoiled here! It’s common to hear locals say, “I’m ruined for any other climate.” In San Francisco, the temperature is 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit virtually year-round. We have two “hot” weeks per summer (temps 75-80 or slightly higher, with NO humidity).
Here’s the overview: The “Mediterranean” climate here consists of two major seasons: Dry and Sometimes-Rainy. During the Dry Season (approx. April to November) there is absolutely no rain, and this is normal. We put our umbrellas way up in remote closet corners and bring ‘em down in November to keep handy for the showers that may or may not pass through, a couple of times a week, during Sometimes-Rainy. Granted, this region is, for some reason, not nearly as equipped to deal with rain as New York was to cope with blizzards. But we have no “snow days”; there’s no sidewalk- or driveway-shoveling.
And then there are the three subseasons into which the Dry season is divided: Spring, Fog, and Summer.
Spring (March/April through June) is pretty much blue skies and sunshine nonstop, with mild temperatures of 65 to 70. For me, it can get quite boring, as there’s no “weather” to break up the monotony (unless there’s an earthquake). Spring quakes are often accompanied by what many here call “earthquake weather”: A strange (unsettling) balminess in the air. When I get “that Florida feeling”, it’s usually followed by a mild quake, somewhere in this region.
Then, comes July 1st, in rolls the fabled Fog: For many locals (including myself), July/August is the most special time of year here. Having grown up in a temperate clime, I was accustomed to “seasons”. So, after 3 months of beautiful-day-after-beautiful-day, I’m grateful for July’s bracing fog casting its more melancholy mood. It’s called our “natural air-conditioning” and is due to the coastal interruption known as “the Golden Gate” (for which the Bridge is named), through which the entire desert heat basin of the state of California is refreshed from extreme summer heat by ocean-cooled air. July and August in San Francisco and on the Bay can be a full 50-60 degrees cooler than inland! Delicious! And, at this time of year, it can be cooler in San Francisco than at any other time: As low as 50 degrees! BRRRR.
And then comes “Summer”, around Labor day: Six to eight weeks of what other regions consider “Indian” summer. The Pacific High moves off our latitude, the fog lets up, and it’s warm: Pleasantly so, with the stray HOT (over 75) day. At this time of year, the sun is low and strong; exposed south-facing residential windows in the city are often blacked-out in he afternoons, to keep the non-air-conditioned homes behind them comfortable. Summer (“Autumn” in the rest of the hemisphere) is another time of year for the odd quake; indeed our last “Big One” in ’89 occurred in October. As for “Fall Foliage” forget it in San Francisco.
Back to the “Big Ones”: It does depend how far one is from the epicenter. San Francisco damage from the ’89 Loma Prieta quake was surprisingly light. There were a few pockets of serious damage affecting the city, but, compared to the effects of a similar-intensity quake in other world regions’ cities (in Mexico, South America, central Asia, Philippines, etc.) there was a startlingly low death-toll. The news media had a field day/week portraying the city’s one fallen house aflame, the one fallen Bay Bridge section, and, of course, the collapsed section of freeway in the East Bay – over and over and over and over…
My Quake Protocol: When I feel a quake (it lasts a few seconds), I call KCBS radio (“All News All The Time”) and report it, and then I tune in and listen to the reports: There’s usually a quick response on the part of the US Geological Survey in Berkeley, with the details. Tuesday’s 14 quakes (from 3.7 down to 1.0) occurred on the Hayward Fault, and my SF high-rise (“high on a hill”, as the song says) shivered ever-so-slightly. Mama rocks her babies.
It sure beats shoveling!
Thank you, Lord, and, again than you, Lord.
I live in San Francisco, home to a bazillion restaurants per capita, many with very, very busy dishes and complex menus. But I grew up in a pretty food-savvy family that usually appreciated gustatory simplicity.
I - Poppy's Fish
The first of the Four Funny Food Stories will be in honor of Poppy, my grandfather. He was a great connoisseur of Basic Food; he appreciated the perfect steak, the perfect tomato, the perfect baked potato.
One Thanksgiving weekend, 30-or-so years ago, much of my extended family was in Florida, and my grandparents took us all out for dinner at one of those fresh seafood restaurants where a new menu is printed each day, featuring the day's 2-dozen-or-so catches, in the context of Italian cuisine. As we were a large party, the captain and two waiters were assigned arcs of our table and took our orders. I sat to the right of Poppy who, it was clear, was the host. The captain arrived last at Poppy's side and said, "And you, sir, what can we bring you?"
"Ya gotta piece of fish?" Poppy asked.
"Oh, yes, sir," replied the captain, gesturing over the entire menu. "Everything you see here was caught today. Do you have a specific --"
"I don't want bones," Poppy proclaimed. "I want a good piece of fish, no bones, and make sure it's HOT."
Poppy at his finest. It wasn't that he wasn't familiar with each and every variety of fish on that menu. But Poppy's knowledge of restaurants was keen to an undeniable fact: Any kitchen can turn out a dish whose busy sauce detracts from its imperfect fiieting/trimming and tepid temperature. He knew then, as I surely know now: The better chefs excel at the basics of meat/fish selection, "butchering", and simple cooking. Excellent food with nowhere to hide.
II - Trendy Compotes
Ten years ago my cousin Sandy was visiting San Francisco from New York with his wife and son. As usual, he had reservations for all of us for every meal (for 3 days) at the city's trendiest restaurants.
One evening, we arrived at a magnificent spot, were seated at the best table and handed menus. It was here I was offered ostrich for the first time and questioned the waiter about it. He described four medallions of meat, presented with "three compotes" which he went on to describe in exquisite detail, diverting from the meat itself, which he praised but not nearly as highly as he raved over those compotes.
I ordered the ostrich medallions appetizer and the glass of Pinot Noir he recommended with it. The wine arrived and was finished and I was still waiting for that appetizer: My dinnermates, too, were very curious to see and perhaps taste the special dish I'd been adventurous enough to order.
Finally, with my second glass of Pinot, the dish arrived. We all stared at the huge plate, whose epicenter contained four thin discs of browned meat, each the size of a half-dollar. The "three compotes", it turned out, were tiny, thimble-sized molds, composed of ultrafinely minced vegetable matter, whose 25-or-so ingredients had taken 5 minutes for the waiter to describe earlier. And, of course, there was the essential flourish of garniture somewhere-or-other on the huge charger; Sandy's wife gasped, "Oh, what a Presentation! You just HAVE to admire the Presentation!" What else could she say?
As we were marveling over the 2-or-3 ounces of food on my plate, Sandy hailed the waiter.
"Yes, sir? Is everything all right?"
"Look, kid," said Sandy, as he pointed at my plate. "Could you at least bring her a tweezer, so she can eat this?"
We all enjoyed a hearty laugh, everyone at the table was given an ostrich medallion, and I moved on to my prime rib main course and didn't look back.
Like Poppy, Sandy was a "senior" not afraid to call a spade a spade. But what of the younger, greener visitor to our hopelessly decadent eateries?
III - Impossible Hamburger
About fifteen years ago, I was helping a recently-arrived young Chinese woman acclimate to San Francisco, register for an English language program, etc. She had had almost no English instruction whatsoever.
The first time I took her to lunch, she couldn't read the menu and I tried to act-out each dish, pointing, gesturing, describing. She understood "hamburger", indicating that that was what she wanted. I flagged the waitress and ordered.
When I gave my lunchmate's order, the waitress asked, "How do you want it done?" Uh oh. I couldn't convey this to my friend, so I told the waitress, "Just make it medium."
"Sesame bun, baguette, or crunch roll?"
"I guess bun," I said.
"Plain is good," I replied, glancing at my Chinese friend who hadn't a clue...
"Curly fries, garlic fries, homefries or steak fries?"
"You want mayo on that?"
"Just bring it on the side."
"Pickles, lettuce, tomato and onion?"
"Sure. On the side."
Boy was I glad my friend hadn't ordered the Turkey Sandwich: ("Smoked, honey-roasted, or pepper-roasted? Dijon, yellow or maple horseradish mustard? Walnut-olive bread, foccacia, baguette or crunch roll? Cheese? Swiss, Havarti, Cheddar or Pepper Jack?" ARRGGHHHH!
My friend recognized the brand name "Coca Cola", so we defaulted to that. Next time, we went to a Chinese restaurant!
IV - Trouper of a Waiter
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, a friend and I dined at an off hour at a very popular Burmese restaurant, which usually has a line around the corner: I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Ultimately there was precious little I could order and remain within my B parameters. Every dish contained dry shrimp flakes, or oily sauces, or deep-fried-in-who-knows-what crispy, questionable-dough treats...Suffice it to say the waiter really had to earn his tip describing almost every dish in detail at our request.
I ended up with barbecued pork riblets and Asian "sangria", dodging the tomatoes, peanuts, chicken, and shellfish that flatly dominated the menu. And I didn't feel contented afterward. That's what I'm noticing so acutely. Very busy food (unless I make it myself with superb ingredients) isn't as satisfying as a clean, broiled chop or fish-steak, a straightforward salad, vegetable, maybe a potato or yam or a plate of cheeses, nuts, and/or fruits...
* * * * * *
Am I channeling Poppy? or is it simply that I'm approaching my own Seniorness? Who knows, in just a few years I may start ordering like Poppy: "Gimme something Prime, aged, medium-rare and sizzling: No sauce."
"Kid: You gotta hot yam? Butter on the side."
Dr. D'Adamo states that the GT-6/Nomad is particularly "sensitive" to changes in barometric pressure. I confess I haven't understood what he means. But when I consider my tremendous zest for wind and fog, and penchant for weather others consider lugubrious (cf. my 7/20/06 blog: "Lugubreity"), I think I get it. "Sensitive" in a positive way! Boredom with long stretches of unchanging blue California skies. Give me a thunderstorm, by gum!
Here in San Francisco, the temperature is almost always between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. We have no snow, almost no thundershowers, very low humidity -- in short, few of what most consider "extremes". But within the spectrum we do experience, there are marvellous phenomena.
The first and my favorite is Fog. Great billowing clouds of it blasting eastward from the Pacific. To suffer a July or August 3-day heatwave (read: Temperature over 75F) is to look westward, scanning the low skies, the Bay surface, for a hint of that blessed sheet of downy whiteness sure to blanket the city with its chill. Talk about a pressure change!
The second is: Post-Rain: The dark slate-skyed backdrop to an afternoon sun-bathed ivory cityscape, when all is clear, sharp, and brisk: Perfect for rainbow watching: The Major Kind that arches over the entire city, sometimes double- or even triple- or (I kid you not) quadruple-arched. Another pressure change.
Sometimes we get hail, and sometimes a quake, but within our narrow temperature parameters, it's generally fog and rain that punctuate barometric shifts. Hence we learn to "be sensitive to" those shifts, and by "we", maybe I mean we Nomads! Most people aren't as soul-bound to the phenomena as I am, but I have met quite a few who fell under the spell of them while visiting and decided to relocate here.
The indigenous bloodtype maps show something I've often wondered about: The strange surge in the incidence of B bloodtype in Scotland, as opposed to England, Ireland and Scandinavia. Scots will confirm the greyness and drear of their homeland's climate, but also the thrill of the pounding surf on rocky crags, and the bracing gusty gales across the heath, and you wonder: Why the Nomad taste for such barometric drama? And why the little B outpost in Scotland?
And here's another conundrum for you: Dr. D'Adamo says that multiple sclerosis is more prevalent among those of bloodtype B. Anyone studying that disease locationally has been puzzled about the veritable MS hotbed in the Faeroe Islands (62N, 6-8E) way north of Scotland, north even of the Shetlands.
It may now be apposite for me to have a look at the barometric/weather patterns of the Eurasian steppe, Caucasus and Carpathians, whence My People migrated to America, and where B is customarily found.
B in Scotland?
MS in the Faeroes?
This B and the moody heath?
Melancholy weather, shrouded in mystery: And you thought this was just a diet.