February 2013

A Coven of Chocolati

I wrote about my plan to stop at Aslam’s Rasoi last Wednesday, and i did just that for an early supper on their saag gosht. Afterwards i segued on down Valencia to Dandelion Chocolate, where i joined about forty other chocolati to watch Caitlin and Greg’s talk and slideshow about their five day blitz through four chocolate farms in the wilds of Venezuela, getting to know vendors and encourage them to strive for quality rather than quantity in their production.

Caitlin and Greg were fine narrators, and we all got a good feel from this presentation that the adventure, like all excellent adventures, consisted of a mixture of terror and exhaustion leavened with learning and excitement, not to mention some real joy. Well, some relief, too, as their van managed to get safely across numerous rural Venezuelan versions of a bridge, two stout logs planed flat on one side and positioned so that the tires of the van would stay on them if the vehicle were guided across by someone on foot indicating minute course corrections to the driver while the passengers gazed far below, fascinated, at the water seething with piranha between the anaconda-infested banks.

Gives you a good appetite for a rustic supper. Well, that is, if you don’t look too closely at it. The supper…of umm, different vegetables and unidentifiable meats.

We chocolati, on the other hand, were seated in comfortable chairs in the squeaky clean Dandelion cafe being plied throughout the show with cups of hot chocolate, chocolate delights from the bakery case, and samples of the various chocolate bars.

The best time to go is on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday (11:00 – 6:00) since that’s when the production line is running and the place is buzzing with worker bees. You can walk all along the right side and get great views of the process.

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We must live life to the fullest, extracting every sweet morsel, and just to demonstrate that it’s not by food alone i went out last Sunday evening to a Noe Valley Chamber Music concert at the little Lutheran church on the stub of O’Farrell between Franklin and Gough for a program of the music of Berkeley violist Nils Bultmann.  It opened with his Homage to Bach for solo viola followed by 10 Short Viola Duets played by Bultmann and Charlton Lee.  And then, after an intermission, From the Depths for viola and didjeridu featuring Bultmann and Stephen Kent on the didjeridu.  It was a fascinating concert, and i have to say they pushed their instruments to levels i’d not known possible.

But it’s really mostly about food, so this morning i rode down the the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market and picked up a pound of fresh anchovies to saute for lunch.  Then i spotted the fresh asparagus and couldn’t resist, thinking i could cook that with creamed eggs for a supper, and then capped the trip by spotting Erik Schletewitz at his booth.  He doesn’t come to the market all that much anymore, but he was training a new worker and we reminisced about our having met back in 1993 when we were both young and skinny (OK, when we were both skinny and he was young) and he threw a few bags of his oranges into the back of a pickup and ventured to the San Mateo Farmers’ Market, which at that time was at Fashion Island.  It’s just wonderful to have relationships with some of my vendors going back twenty years.

And then coming back home i realized as i hit Valencia that Dandelion would be open, so i swung by there and discovered that they finally had bars of their newest chocolate, the Patanemo Venezuela.  And since i was in there went ahead and had a cup of their Mission hot chocolate, which killed my lunch hunger so i just ate the legs off a Costco roasted chicken when i got home.

And then realized that what i really wanted for supper was an order of the saag gohst and a couple of pieces of naan at Aslam’s Rasoi, so that’s what i’m gonna do.

And no, it’s not all food and flowers.  Here’s an alley shot off Valencia

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Cecil Wayne Blank

Last year i discovered Openhouse and started getting their help in finding housing. Thanks to their understanding of the system and the alerts they send me, i managed to get myself onto a waiting list very quickly, and realizing that i needed to give back, i volunteered for their Friendly Visitor program in which shut in or otherwise isolated gay seniors get some human contact with the outside world in the form of a periodic gay visitor.

It took quite a while for the program manager to match me up, but finally just before last Thanksgiving she found a man with whom she thought i’d be compatible and took me to his apartment for an introduction. We hit it off immediately.

He’s 86 and has started to use a cane, but he can walk at least as well as i can. He’s getting forgetful, but frankly his mind doesn’t seem all that much worse than mine, as he’s a voracious reader. Mostly history rather than fiction, but still, there’s plenty of overlap and we can talk about books we’ve both read. He doesn’t have the energy to do much gardening anymore, but he’s quite knowledgeable about horticulture. Here’s a potted begonia on his back steps.





Went back for a second visit during which we talked about history and music and discovered that we’re both apostate Methodists. Turns out he’s a birder, and we spoke of going out to Stern Grove down the street and giving me introductory lessons.

For the next visit, i introduced him to Riverside Seafood Restaurant at Vicente and 23rd Avenue. Although it’s in his neighborhood, somehow he’d never eaten here, and it was an enormous pleasure to watch a man who likes his dim sum discover a new place. Few pleasures are greater than good food in good company.

And then i called a couple of times and he didn’t respond to my message on his machine, and out of the blue the idea hit me that he was in the hospital. He was. I went. He’d fallen on the street, had a horrible bruise on his forehead, and seemed a little disoriented. Then he was discharged to a convalescent home way out in the avenues, and when i saw him there he was still a little disoriented but he was crystal clear that he didn’t like the place.

Somehow he managed to get himself sent back to his apartment, but before i could visit him there he was back in the hospital. He was pushing his tray away at meals, but i managed to seduce him with mandarins from Olsen. He ignored them while i was there but later tasted one out of boredom and on my next visit told me he was astonished at how good they were. I reminded him that he was in the presence of a major foodie and produce procurer.

And then the bad news started. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer so advanced that nothing could be done and was discharged to a hospice. I kept calling in hopes that he’d be up for a visitor, but not quite yet, not yet.

And then this morning he went and died on me.

Rest in peace, Wayne.

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Recent Culinary Adventures

Jeff got a big promotion and a major raise the other day so we celebrated by my taking him to dinner at the Zuni. And yeah, yeah, i know it’s supposed to be the other way around, but we take turns treating, and it was my turn.

I’ve loved the Zuni since it opened in 1979 in the southern sliver of Red Desert, the most gorgeous cactus and succulent store i’ve ever seen, before or since. The food at first was southwestern and quite good, but Judy Rogers changed the focus and drove the quality higher when she came on board ten years later. Superb food at fair prices for what it is.

For an appetizer i had the house-cured anchovies, which were merely good and an entree of duck breast with wild rice that was the best of both i’ve ever had. The wild rice was braised in stock and wonderfully chewy, the duck breast was buttery and fork tender. We both had the Gâteau Victoire, which has got to be the lightest flourless chocolate cake i’ve ever eaten, and among the most delicious, not that i don’t perhaps enjoy even more the luscious denseness of a Gâteau Reine de Saba.

And now, from the sublime to the HP Pavilion snack bar. We knew. We knew all along. Leopards do not change their spots. And somehow, seeing new vendors and menus at the refreshment stalls in the pavilion made me forget what food was like there. So i looked through the offerings and spotted a barbecued chicken sandwich that i assumed would have smaller amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and salt.

One bite was all it took to discover that if the ingredients in that sandwich had been listed by weight, the first would have been high fructose corn syrup because the sauce in which the shreds of chicken were swimming tasted like, and had the mouth feel of, barbecue-flavored simple syrup. But i was starving, so i ate it. And then when, in the middle of the first match, The Great Thirst struck, i realized that the second ingredient by weight would have been MSG. All for only $11.

And no, i did not seek out the HP Pavilion for its food but rather because the 2013 SAP Open marked the end of a tournament that had run for 125 years, the second oldest in the nation. See the last post at the end of Lobs and Volleys.

On the other hand, talk about good enough to eat, a delectation provided by my landlord to brighten up the front of the house:

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Food Blogs

Some exciting food blogs are out there, and here are four of my favorites, in the order in which i discovered them:

No Salad as a Meal – He’s been slowing down on additions, but this site is still a valuable resource for foodies, especially Bay Areans.  I find the restaurant reviews almost always spot on, the food tales are highly entertaining, and the site design is great.

Mus E Yum – The new primary focus here seems to be on environmental issues, but he continues to make food entries, and you can’t go wrong digging into the sizable menu of reviews on new bakeries and small restaurants.  Some fascinating reading here, and  excellent ice cream coverage.  What is it about butterfat?

Cook and Destroy – A recipe blog, this one by a southern California surfer.  Who says surfers can’t cook?

Elmwood Eats – This one also focuses on recipes, all scrupulously step-by-step and mouth watering.  And what is it about food writers and photography?  All of these sites have good photos, and Elmwood’s are fabulous.  My food photos rarely turn out, and often i’m reduced to posting pics that veer into the grotesque.  One the other hand, her photos here make my little heart pound in its chest, sometimes in pure envy rather than gracious admiration.  I mean! She makes spent eggshells beautiful!  (See the Lemon Bar recipe.)

wedding cakeMeanwhile, since i don’t have any spare eggshells, here’s a wedding cake closeup:

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More Feasting

Couple more recent feasts.
First, Mark treated me last Thursday night to Kronnerburger, a new and trending pop-up in the side section of Bruno’s on Mission Street. Wow. The menu says “Rare” and “Salty”, and it sure is both. We ordered the same thing, the kronnerburger with beef marrow and a side of fries, washed down with bottles of Green Flash IPA. The hamburger and fries were both delicious, and we needed every last drop of those IPA’s to get through the heaviest, saltiest meal i’ve had in ages. The place is worth going to for dedicated carnivores, and in principle i love eating at pop-ups, but to be fair the burger at Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers on Market at 6th is every bit as good and cheaper.

The other recent feast was a polar opposite. I joined my dear ex-colleagues Sharon, Sue, Rachael, and Sharon at the Slanted Door for one of the periodic lunches we’ve been having since 1998, bringing us full circle because one of our first lunches was at the Slanted Door in its original incarnation on Valencia Street.

This time we had the crispy imperial rolls, the Vietnamese vegetarian crepe, the glass noodles with Dungeness crab, the caramelized catfish claypot, and another dish i’m not remembering even though all of it was delicious. And a bottle of Grüner Veltliner that complimented the dishes perfectly. The great joy of the Slanted Door is that the quality of the food has been held to the original high standard. What a wonderful restaurant, and a communal restroom that’s a worthwhile experience in itself. Alas, i keep forgetting to photograph it. Excuse me, ma’am, you’re not done yet?

The occasion was all the more delightful since we did this last Saturday so i got to browse through the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market before lunch. The down side was that i got a bit carried away with the browsing, quelle surprise, and when the bill came and i looked in my billfold i discovered a shortage. Luckily, i had my credit card and everyone agreed to let me put the meal on my card. Not a problem although when i looked at this huge pile of money on the table something seemed somehow wrong. But knowing that the most obvious signal of my incipient Alzheimer’s is a lessened ability to handle numbers, i ignored the warning buzzer. At home i looked again at the bill and the pile of money and realized, to my horror, that the others had put in too much money because i ended up paying nothing for my own meal. The salt in the wound, grrrrr, is that when i did the math at home i discovered that i had had enough money in my billfold in the first place. Sigh. Now to try to make amends.

front porch treatmentAnd since there’s no pic of that restroom, here’s an interesting front porch treatment on 14th Street.

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Feasting With Friends

Sometime last year Tangerine, at the corner of 16th and Sanchez, closed and was replaced by Kitchen Story, but it took me until this week to get around to trying it. Shoulda done so earlier. Jeff took me there last Wednesday, and we were both impressed.

In the first place, they’ve spruced the interior up quite a lot, so the appearance is greatly improved. More importantly, so has the food, as the only thing i found memorable at Tangerine was their exquisite cream of mushroom soup, the best of its sort i ever ate. Unfortunately, cream of mushroom soup all by itself is not enough of a draw to sustain a restauant.

Kitchen Story calls itself “California Cuisine”, but the menu is really California/Asian Fusion, with the emphasis on Asian.

For appetizers we had the Free Range Chicken Saté, which was merely good and thus the low point of the evening, and the Ahi Scoops, which were not only a delightful and handsome presentation, but also utterly delicious flavor bombs accompanied by wonderfully spicy cucumber slices.

For entrees, it was the Big Hug, perhaps a little cutesy in name but a gorgeous presentation. Bacon-wrapped scallops with grilled eggplant in a puddle of spicy cilantro sauce with garlic egg noodles. The “bacon” was really more like roasted pork belly, the cilantro sauce was an excellent version of that traditional Indian sauce, and the noodles were lusciously creamy. The other entree was the East Feeds West. a slow cooked, five spice pork shank with grilled broccolini and cucumber salad that were so good i could push off on Jeff my half of the uninteresting lotus-wrapped yellow curry rice. And to be fair, Jeff somehow managed to choke down every last grain of the rice.

The wait staff were relaxed, friendly, and totally competent. I’ll go back soon.

David came into town for lunch last Thursday, and we tried the new Farina pizza outpost at the corner of 18th and Valencia. David had the gnocci, which was much better than my rather ordinary pizza, not as good as Mozzeria’s and twice the price.







Afterwards, we walked into the next block to 740 Valencia so i could show him Dandelion’s factory and chocolate store and so i could give their newly opened cafe a try.

Oh my goodness. They offer coffee from Four Barrel, but we were both more tempted by the hot chocolates. Yes, plural. Three offerings. I had the one called Mission, which was as expected flavored with a bit of cinnamon and more than a bit of chile, but oh was it ever delicious. I’ve got to go back and try the others.

Not to mention their confections. This time i had the chocolate caramel tart, and it was impossibly rich but somehow lightened by precisely seven crystals of fleur de sel.

Go to Dandelion, folks, and do it on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday since that’s when the production line is running and that’s part of the joy.


Meanwhile, here’s some local fauna:


Local Fauna

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Feasting With Panthers

The first reviews are in, and the pickled herring is one of my greatest successes. I handed off a jar of it to Ellyn, who hadn’t eaten it in years but had loved it as a child back east, and she reported opening the jar that evening to share a taste with her partner before dinner. Turned out that dinner was put on hold while she and the partner sat there and ate the entire jar, scrupulously taking turns, of course. Mark took his jar to work, where it was set upon and devoured in a couple of minutes.

I was introduced to pickled herring when i was stationed in Heidelberg in the mid-sixties and took to the German custom of stopping at the Messplatz on the way home after an evening of drinking. See, at the Messplatz there were two local items for sale: hookers and Bismarck herring, the herring being of much higher quality and reputed to be a hangover preventative.

I was a little nervous about this since i’d been warned that “Bismarck” was the German word for “raw”. Emboldened by drunkenness, but sober enough to understand that raw herring presented a far lesser health hazard than those sleazy hookers, i took a taste. It was love at first bite.

Half a century later i’m pickling my own.

Then, after getting those good reviews i went browsing around looking for alternative recipes and made an unsettling discovery: the herring worm. Yes, i’ve been feasting on panthers…and passing the feast on to friends. Well, unless my purveyor of fresh herring (or his supplier) has been giving them a really hard freeze before selling them, a likelihood i considered vanishingly small and then confirmed to be absent with a call to San Francisco Fish Company. “No, they’re fresh from the Bay”.

So then the research started and i discovered that in the entire United States about ten people a year are diagnosed with herring worms, but there are no recorded fatalities. Zero. They don’t kill you. Hmmm, so i’m two and a half times as likely to be killed by lightening and three thousand times as likely to be shot to death or die in a motor vehicle accident than i am to be merely made sick by herring worms. And wait, this is the same risk i take every time i eat ceviche, sushi, or raw oysters.

So why do i still feel like i’m feasting with panthers?

Going fast, but a few jars left, so get your order in quickly.

And yeah, Wilde wrote in De Profundis: “It was like feasting with panthers, the danger was half the excitement.” So as to continue the feasting, i bought five more pounds and pickled them using Mexican limes and yellow onion. And continued my efforts as the official lab rat by eating an entire jar of each batch all by myself. Got away with it, too.

Update: As of 11 February i’ve eaten two jars from the first batch and one jar from the second with no ill effects, and considering the state of my immune system, i’m more of a mine canary than a lab rat.

LeucospermumHere’s a recent flower shot, a Leucospermum, not in somebody’s front flowerbed but rather on the sidewalk at a Church Street florist:

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