July 2011

Eating San Francisco

Here in the frantic countdown before i leave for Amsterdam i thought i’d cover a few recent culinary experiences.

Last week i got around to trying Criolla Kitchen, a new place at 16th and Market in the space formerly occupied by the Baghdad Cafe.  The website in the link above is today just a placeholder, but hopefully they’ll update it with more information soon.  The place bills itself as creole/southern food, as seen in this menu in a review back in May.

I know this food well since i was born in deep east Texas just across the Sabine River from Louisiana and one of my father’s sisters married a man named Lafitte who claimed he was a great-great-great grandson of Jean Lafitte although from what i read it’s iffy whether Lafitte had any legitimate offspring.  Yes, that Jean Lafitte.

And now that i think about it, i figure i’m one of the relatively few folks in San Francisco who know that “Nachitoches” on the Criolla Kitchen menu is not pronounced the way it looks.

I went there for lunch with a friend and we had the chicken and waffle, which was good, and a crispy catfish sandwich, which was better.  Both were good enough that i’ll go back.  Besides, the waitress was a delightful young woman, and i don’t say that only because i made her laugh.

With me, dammit.

For my birthday my friend David took me to Mission Chinese Food.  It was his first visit, and i’d been eager to get him to try it.  When he told me he’d be bringing his fourteen-year-old son, i was pleased because he’s a good kid and i like him.  But when they came in the place the enormity of it swept me as i remembered that the kid, while wonderfully voracious, is not the least bit adventuresome in his food.

I looked at the menu and my heart sank.  Then i saw the Hainam Chicken Rice and the “Chinese” BBQ Platter and relaxed since how can any kid not like chicken and rice or Oklahoma style (in spite of the name) barbecue?  Well, i found out.

The barbecue came with a stack of Wonder Bread (i told you it was Oklahoman!), which the kid wolfed first, it being the only familiar thing in sight.  Then i watched him carefully slice off the lean meat every single molecule of disgusting, quivering fat and had a flashback to 56 years ago when i was his age and routinely did exactly the same thing.  The hot links he could just tell from their appearance were inedible.  The chicken rice?  Well, i’d glossed over the fine print, “Dressed in Shaoxing wine, chicken fat, roasted peanuts, and cilantro”, so it tasted funny although he did pick off the peanuts and eat them.

And it wasn’t just the kid i pushed.  David is a gourmet, but he eats very little meat and has a low threshold of tolerance for pepper.  Sigh.

So for the first time at Mission Chinese Food, i did not get to sit there watching folks gorge themselves on food far better than they’d dreamed possible.   Hell, i felt so bad about getting them in there that i didn’t even gorge myself….well, not completely.

I tried to make up for it afterwards by treating them to ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery, where i got to try their ineffable (and Chronicle award-winning) salted caramel ice cream.  Superb.  And they ate theirs with gusto, too.  Finally, something that tasted normal.

In this morning’s Chronicle there was a big article in the food section about a blind tasting of Bay Area ice creams.  Bi-Rite’s salted caramel got very high marks, but the highest scorer of all was the Mitchell’s chocolate.  So of course on the way home from taking some photographs on 6th Street for my friend Robert who needed them for an article he’s writing, i rode oh, about thirty blocks out of the way so as to swing by Mitchell’s and see for myself.  Yep.  Best chocolate ice cream i ever ate with the possible exception of Michael Recchiuti’s, which i tasted twenty years ago in the brief window when he was retailing it and which is now available only at a handful of top end restaurants he makes it for when he feels like it, so i’ll never taste that again.

And finally, tomorrow morning i’ll drop by Goody Goodie and pick up four of their Olive Cocoa Nib Wafers to carefully wrap and take to Amsterdam.  These things are astonishing.  Hard to imagine that something consisting mainly of ground up olives and cocoa nibs could be so good.

And this is it for the 2011 Journal for a month.  Check out the menu in the left gutter and click on “Amsterdam Revisited”, where i’ll try to post some episodes about the stay there when i’m not studying Dutch.

mind openHere’s a new little minipark made by blocking a street nobody was using off San Jose Avenue at about 28th or so, just north of Mitchell’s.

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The Wicked Witch of Seward Street

I’ve stretched out the conditioning program for the new Segway batteries, but i’m still actively seeking excursions so as to run the batteries completely down.  Today i realized i could zip over to the Seward Street Slides and take a look at that plum tree i noticed on the park grounds just a little too late last year.

Got there and immediately noticed that there wasn’t a plum on the whole damn tree, and shocked at this development since i’d been thinking they probably wouldn’t be even starting to ripen yet, i rolled down the sidewalk a couple of doors to the south and spoke to a woman watering her yard.

Told her i’d noticed the tree covered with plums last year and had been thinking i’d get a couple of quarts off it this year and make an only-in-San-Francisco specialty, Wild San Francisco Plum Jam.  She got back to me that i’d just missed ’em, that one night last week a “commercial harvester” had come in and stripped the tree.  Well, whoever did it, they did a thorough job, as there was not a plum to be seen.

But then we got into conversation, and she identified herself as a lifelong resident of the neighborhood and pointed out neighborhood features like a meticulously constructed stone retaining wall that had been built by the original owners of the old house next door, etc.

Quite a nice conversation until she mentioned that the neighborhood had been ruined when the slides were reviewed on Yelp and “outsiders” came to use them.  And then i realized that she must be the Wicked Witch whose behavior had been glowingly described by numerous Yelpers.  Not too surprising she doesn’t like Yelp considering the things folks have written about her there.  That said, she was quite pleasant to me.

But then i’d identified myself as a forty-year resident of the city, so maybe that qualified me as someone other than an outsider.

And perhaps more importantly, i wasn’t laughing.

seward agaveHere’s a shot of the gardens above the slide portion of the park:

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A Day of Infamy

Wires were jammed this morning with accusations outing Matte Gray as a practicing septugenarian.

Mr. Gray could not be reached for comment, and his friends expressed shock and disbelief.  His office issued the following statement:

artichoke“Matte urges all his readers to remain calm while we look into these scurrilous charges, but we remain confident that his name will be cleared.  A thorough internal investigation has been launched, and we have demanded a recount.”

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The Quake-Catcher Network

I’ve found a new way to get involved in the best kind of volunteerism, something that takes little time and effort but which has the potential to be of significant benefit to the world.

All i’ll have to do is stick an accelerometer to the floor beneath my desk and plug it into my PC, download some software (BOINC) and set it running, and voila, i’ll be a part of the Quake-Catcher Network in which zillions of us worldwide will form the world’s largest and densest earthquake monitoring system.

Click on the link above and take a look at the worldwide QCN sensor map.  We’re everywhere!  Not surprising to see us thick as flies up the San Andreas Fault, but amazing to see so many volunteers in places where earthquakes are not much on people’s minds.  Like Austin, Texas.

us bakeryBack in Petaluma, the focus is entirely on the quality of the pastries….and BTW, this is not the back door of the Petaluma Pie Company praised above:

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Countdown to Amsterdam

You know how you have those days when everything goes wrong and you sit there in despair.  Well, i have to remind myself that sometimes things fall into place.

I had been stressing out over completing my preparations, but then KLM confirmed that i was set up to bring the Segway along as a handicap assistance device.  Whew.  And then after a little back and forth managed to get Walgreens to issue me some meds in advance since i won’t be here when the prescriptions are due to be renewed.

And then after some frightening delays Battery Refill down in Ontario came through yesterday with the recelled NiMH batteries for the Segway.   The company tends to run a little slow, but they do good work.  Besides, getting your batteries recelled is much cheaper and greener than buying new ones.  I put them through phase 1 of the conditioning procedure overnight.  Then i went out this morning with the intent of running them down, forgetting how accustomed i’d become to much weaker batteries.   I took a scenic route over to the Alemaney Farmers’ Market in the southeast part of the city and from there rode pretty much due north over the top of Bernal Heights and thence down Harrison to Star Stream.   The last few times i’ve popped in for one of Remi’s obscenely delicious cinnamon rolls, she hasn’t been there, but i caught her this morning in between customers and got the good news that she and Mary have now moved out of partnership with Star Stream and are on their own as Goody Goodie Cream and Sugar (website a work in progress since they went out on their own, and it does not yet mention the delicious sandwiches), still at 1830 Harrison and still with fabulous food in reasonable portions.

Oh yes, i traded her a jar of Tayberry Pasilla Jalapeño Jelly for one of those damn cinnamon rolls and then continued on down Harrison to the Embarcadero.   Over to Pier 24, which was so barricaded up that i couldn’t get into the area outside the door where i want to take another pic.  So then in a big loop to the east of the bridge underpinnings before finally cutting west over to Market, returning home after couple of extra loops around the block, brought the Segway in and left it running propped against the wall for an hour and the batteries still were not fully discharged.   Had to run it around the block another time to run it down.  The phase 2 double charge cycle is now underway, and i’ll run the batteries completely down again tomorrow.

park truckLast Thursday i met Gloria at the Seed Bank in charming downtown Petaluma, where we enjoyed the store for a bit and then went across the street to a good Thai restaurant.  From there, we drifted over to a little park, split a delicious almond cheese tart with coffees from a little pie shop Petaluma Pie Company run by a delightful young couple, and talked for a couple of hours.  Wonderful to unwind with old friends.

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The Eventual Emergency Mousecat

I had a brilliant idea this morning for an effective way to study some Dutch in preparation for my trip to Amsterdam later this summer.  I could just sit down and carefully read my way through the Dutch cookbook that my friend Danny sent me several years ago, looking up every word i don’t know.  While i get some good cooking ideas, i can be building vocabulary in one of my favorite areas.  That way when i find myself understanding nothing in a conversation that’s going on around me in Amsterdam, i can steer the conversation back onto cooking, where i’ll at least have a chance of following it.

I already knew the names of most foods in Dutch, but my knowledge of cooking terminology was close to zero.  So i set out with the cookbook at my left hand and a small dictionary at my right in case i couldn’t work my way through relying on context and cognates to German and English.

Good thing i had the dictionary because before i got beyond the list of ingredients for the first recipe i hit “eventueel nootmuskaat”, which i decided was probably not “eventual emergency mousecat” although i sure did like the ring of that.

Well, yes, “eventueel” is one of those false cognates and means “optional” rather than “eventual”; and as much as i like the idea of an emergency mousecat, if such a thing existed it would be spelled “noodmuiskat” instead of “nootmuskaat”, which means “nutmeg”.

And yes, i fear this one may be funnier in Dutch, so we’ll see how it plays in Amsterdam.

sf generalMeanwhile, this morning i Segwayed over to SF General Hospital for my final visit participating in a study of brain trauma victims that i agreed to join after i woke up there on a gurney last January.  Today they did some tests, not all of which i passed although i think the problem is senility rather than leftover trauma.  The Brain Trauma Center is in the old part of the hospital, and as i exited i noticed that the building across the street could almost have been in Amsterdam.

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