Finally, Food P@^n!!

December 30, 2005

The weird symbols, O Best Beloveds, are because the last time I sent around food porn via this list, which was much, much too long ago, some spam blockers prevented it from coming through, thanks to the use of “porn” in the title. So I tried to get around that. We will see how successful it was.

But yes, this is an email to talk about What We Ate During Our Trip To San Francisco, and for those who have better ways of spending their time, all the non-food related news is this; I feel fine, I like the chemo off week thus far very well, and that after some days of hair coating my fingers, the backs of my clothes and the floor around my desk, I went to Steve and pulled out a chunk for dramatic effect, and, holding it up for him to see, said “Gradual thinning, my ass,” to which he responded “No, that’s falling out.” Falling out faster than I recall from previous chemos, and since this was after just one complete round, I figured to hell with it, and went off, on Christmas Eve, to our local barber shop, where the nice elderly barbers give haircuts to men for $12, and where they were mightily puzzled when I came in asking for a shave. “We don’t do women’s hair,” they said, with a slight edge of anxiety. “Yes, I know,” I said, “I want it shaved,” which should have been evident from the scant tufts of fluff still clinging lifelessly to my scalp, hardly the sort of thing that qualifies for a proper ladies’ haircut. “But we don’t do women’s hair,” they repeated. I tried again. “Oh, you want a zero setting? That’s all?” Yes, I sighed, and so they set the electric razor accordingly, and a few moments later I looked like an egg with earrings. Steve swears bald is better than the freaky-deaky hairy hairless look and at least this way, I was able to cook Christmas dinner without dropping strands into batter. I suspect eyebrows and eyelashes won’t last another round or two either.

But no matter; on Tuesday we went off to San Francisco, and Meredith picked us up and drove us right to Berkeley, where we started off our sybaritic stay with slices of the pizza of the day from the Pizza Collective (gorgonzola and potato, I think). From there, it was a trip to a friend’s cheese shop, and three gourmet cheeses went into our miniature ice chest, and then it was the Ferry building (beautifully restored and full of all kinds of cafes, restaurants and food-related shops), for lemongrass pork and clay pot chicken with sticky rice from the Slanted Door take out. More cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery (for a total of seven or eight, I think, including Old Kentucky Tome, Durris, Chalosse, Crottin, raw milk goat pyramid and Sally Jackson), plus a small packet of chocolates from Recchiuti and a disappointing mini cupcake rounded it out. Mer dropped us off at our hotel, a former Allan Ginsberg haunt smack in the middle of North Beach, easy walking distance from City Lights and Black Oak books (sample purchases: a giant Peter Esterhazy novel, an old Rumor Godden novel, a book about the parrots of Telegraph Hill, a flock of which squawked past us as we left the Ferry building) and a favorite local restaurant, Da Flora, run by a Hungarian woman who grew up in South America and learned to cook in Venice. She had just come back from Budapest the night before, which means she wasn’t ready to do the pork paprikas with creme fraiche dumplings for which she brought back a great deal of fresh paprika, but we were consoled with a composed salad of orange, olives, and onions; a butter lettuce salad with gorgonzola vinaigrette; sauteed duck livers, homemade tagliatelli with fresh crab; lemon and pistachio pound cake with creme fraiche. In total, I ate more this day than I had for the previous two weeks combined. Perhaps it only felt that way.

The next day, after a quick tour of the new DeYoung, we had lunch in the museum’s cafe, splitting a spinach salad with oranges and goat cheese, which I instantly regretted when we tried Mer’s perfect cheeseburger. Drat. From there it was–oh, wait for it–the musical “Lestat,” adapted from far too many Anne Rice vampire novels with music by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. THe interested should call me for a dramatic reading of Anne’s bio from the Playbill, which is a piece of self-written hagiography of epicly absurd proportions. (“One hardly knows where to begin,” said Wesly, after I read it to him.) The play was, unsurprisingly, bad, and not even deliciously so, but we made up for that part at least at Scott Howard, a new brilliant restaurant. The following is not a precise rendering, as I lost the menu they nicely gave me, but it went something like: Me: tuna tartare mixed with slivered almonds and cocoa nibs topped with apple sorbet (I know it sounds like an odd combo, but it all worked, with the fish taking on the sweetness of the dish, and the crunch of the nuts giving it some heft), then a seared to caramelized perfection pork belly–with a pillowy layer of fat on top of pork that shredded into piggy wonder as soon as I touched it, resting on pureed cauliflower with a gastrique of honey and black pepper, a combination that made me wipe the plate clean three times to make sure my bread got every last sweet and tangy bit; and then rosy venison with buttery “hedgehog” mushrooms, and black truffle potato puree, all of which was cooked precisely as it should have been, but all I really wanted was another plate of pork belly. It wasn’t the venison’s fault for following the best dish of the night. Mer had a pretty lobster salad and crispy sweetbreads and rosy perfect lamb accompanied by dabs of puréed watercress and olives. Steve had a beet salad, three different colors cut into geometric cubes, a rilette of a bird I have forgotten, and sea trout that was similar to salmon but not so much salmon-hater Steve didn’t love the dish. Dessert was a napoleon with a sort of chocolate flan layered between chocolate-coated filo that had a dash of (I think) cayenne in it with a side of dense chocolate ice cream topped with a flick of (sea?) salt, plus a sort of gourmet peanut butter sundae and a “quartet” of pear including pear tarragon sorbet and saffron poached pear. We waddled home feeling very lucky.

Though I vowed I would never eat again, this is a vow I have yet to keep (to no one’s surprise) and we recovered in time for dim sum at a place new to us, a welcome combination of usual faves (crab legs coated in shrimp, shrimp hao gow, other dumplings), divine soup dumplings (such a feeling of accomplishment when you successfully retrieve them out of the steamer and land them whole on the spoon so that when you bite into it, all their soupyness is safely caught by that utensil) and some new (to me, anyway) varieties, including bacon wrapped around a small shrimp and a piece of green onion, a sort of cake of chicken and something nutty (sorry, again doing this from memory), and a pretty little herby-chicken dumpling, all finished off with fresh fresh fresh custard tarts, the crust still crumbly and the egg in the custard still warm. Then it was off to an inventive cafe for dear little mini cupcakes, works of frosting art piled on each (favorites so far: chocolate filled with raspberry iced with orange-chocolate, and a thick mocha). A spin out to Down Home records took us past Mer’s dad’s favorite bahn min (Vietnamese po boys, essentially) place for a pork version lest we grow faint when we arrived home that evening. (We ate it at home, and it was excellent. Wish we had gotten more.) But before that, we joined up with Meredith’s excellent mom for lobster rolls from Sea Salt. See, when I was in NYC with the Marymount Girls, I promised Jean lobster rolls from Pearl’s, but failed to get us there. I promised to make it up to her with a trip to the Hungry Cat in Hollywood, as I had heard they served a credible lobster roll. But a reconnaissance trip with Steve (quality control, don’t you know), which was his first lobster roll, found them underwhelming. Now I had two lobster roll debts to pay. Sea Salt’s buttery version convinced Steve of the glory of the lobster roll, and he’s now a true believer. Jean, I still owe you. I think I have a solution; I will call you.

And now we are back home, and I have to go to chemo in a couple of hours, which means a likely return to the bland nibbling diet. Well, apart from seven fine cheeses for our low key New Year’s Eve dinner, that is. And, clearly, if this busy chemo-off week and the relative ease of the previous weeks is the model for the next five rounds, I have nothing to complain about.

For you, my Best Beloveds, I hope this new year brings you even less to complain about, and all manner of great good things, personal, global and gastronomic.

Rolling out the door,