Our trek to Northern California started out rather badly, since we persist in believing that a plane won't leave until the time it says it's going to leave. Little did we know that, if all passengers are aboard, a plane can leave any time it darn well likes, unless one of the passengers is enjoying a wedge salad and LaFrieda-burger in one of the in-terminal (and really great) restaurants at JFK's Terminal 5. In that case, one of the flight crew is left in the boarding area so that when the wedge-swilling passenger comes waddling up, he can give her the hairy eyeball and demand that she produce a boarding pass. Which we had left back at the steak joint with the bun from the LaFrieda-burger. The plane was half an hour late departing and, although the nice stewardess told us it was headwinds, the other passengers knew what was what and made their babies cry at us.
If we go on complaining like this there will be no time for complaining about everything else, so let us proceed--pausing to add that if anyone knows why a coast-to-coast flight so frequently makes us feel as if we are running a fever, we wish they would write and tell us.
When we landed in California we were met by Psychotronic Paul and went immediately to bed. (Those of you with long-distance sweeties will understand). The next morning, Paul trotted off to his screening room in Millbrae and we went in search of our Zip Car which, because we rarely listen to the news, was a spanking new Toyota Prius. Was our face red when we found we had to take a group of white-coated physicists with us to pick up La Skolnique in Santa Cruz! No, actually, it wasn't that bad, because Zip Cars assures us that every Toyota in the fleet has been checked out and has a working gas and brake pedal. And the fact is that the Prius is wonderful to drive, although our friend Toby in Pasadena is having some trouble getting parts for his. But Toby is a mere, although award-winning, Hollywood writer, and we think he probably screwed something up. (Give him work if you have any).
Our first meal on California soil was a cheeseburger at In-n-Out, plus the fries and shake of which the chain is so proud. As with most of our InO meals, we loved the burger, worshipped the shake, and wondered what all the fuss was about the fries; we personally think Five Guys are the best and McD's even better than that. (Psychotronic Paul says that Joe's of Westlake in beautiful Daly City is great too, but Paul has retired from competitive tasting since the advent of diabetes, so it may all be a lustful dream.)
We picked up La Skolnique and drove her back to Niles, where Psychotronic P. was running his famous Pre-Code Follies at the Essanay Silent Film Museum. On the way La Skol and I indulged in the fabulous Tandoori restaurant at Los Gatos--a place which looks like a formica-table hole-in-the-wall but will make you feel like Indira Ghandi, although don't put a bindi on your forehead for fun because it's rude. The rest of the evening was taken up by Psychotronic Paul's wonderful show, the immortal pitter-patterings of Kitten on the Keys, and a long, although unamusing, debate on the merits of La Skolnique's GPS system.
Dinner at Tandoori...a small snack, light on the carbs.
Next day found Paul sleeping deservedly late and La Skolnique and ourself treading a measure down Market Street to the Ferry Building and its famous Saturday Farmer's Market. No one has to tell La Skol and us about good food; although our youth was filled with pecan waffles and chocolate fudge sauce, not to mention Kitchen Sink sundaes at Jahn's ice cream parlor and frequent whole-chicken roasts catered by the United Aunts of La Skolnique, we have learned with age that good foods are much better for us. Therefore we loaded ourselves down with smoked fish sandwiches from Cap'n Mike's...
...and the true jewel of the Ferry Building as far as we are concerned: the crystalline, pure, explosively trafe oysters (like a smack in the mouth from a wave at Miami Beach).
Two dozen sweets at Hog Island!
"And all this," we explained to La Skolnique, "Is like 200 calories" but she demurred and said that maybe, if we also swallowed a shell or two as a probiotic chaser, it might be around there, but probably not. I reminded her that it was a huge load of phosphorus, which would either make us smarter or enhance our night vision, we didn't remember which. She explained that if it really worked like that we would probably be smarter by this time and we could not help but agree.
Dinner that night was at Canton restaurant, an elegant and just slightly seedy room in which Cantonese-American food is served in a manner which will remind you of your youth (if you are over 35). The spring rolls are crisp and a little greasy, with fresh vegetables insde; the House Special Won Ton soup is a mild but flavorful chicken and pork broth with plenty of wontons, veggies and a prawn or two. We personally enjoyed Crystal Prawns with Walnuts, which were, again, fresh (sometimes the walnuts get positively humid waiting around in th kitchen long enough, but this was much better). Canton doesn't have a very high reach, but almost all of their dishes are well-executed and even imaginative. It's also quite cheap.
On Sunday we moved to Harmony's apartment in the Mission. The Mission is a very old neighborhood in which people apparently eat very, very well and have very little money, but the two events are not connected for the same reasons they are in our life. Every now and again someone will be so happy about the food or so depressed about the money that they will rush out and paint a mural on a building. In New York, you would get shot for this (especially in The Giuliani Years) but in San Francisco you can do this at any time and be discovered by the New York Times.
La Skolnique and I went out to 18th Street, which is known as the "Gourmet Ghetto" of the Mission, containing as it does a powerhouse restaurant (Delfina), an extraordinary bakery (Le Tartine), and the ephemeral Buy-Rite Grocery Store and Creamery.
Buy-Rite is a very small store, not much large than the drinks-and-microwave area of a large gas station, but it is filled with bins and shelves and cases of wonderful food. There is produce, in- and out-of-season, which exists on the Tiffany level--i.e., each piece of fruit or vegetable is perfect, and you don't have to buy a pound to get one really good piece. The wines, cheeses, processed foods (not many of these) and beverages are all curated; someone, or a committe of someones, has tasted everything available on the market, and has chosen not the most popular or the most shelf-stable or the most environmentally clean product, but simply the best. There is Mexican Coke in bottles, for example, and there is Truffle Tremor goat cheese; there are cippoline onions, fresh and sweet, but there are no soggy canned cippolines nor "Coca Cola Family of Products" nor cheeses which might have met a goat in passing at one point in their lives but now only have a dopy-looking goat on the wrapper to comemorate this relationship.
There are salumi and charcuterie and appetizing, all made in-house, and there are lovely baked goods made from real eggs and dairy products and good flour. And there is the entire line of Straus Dairy products, which to me evoke both Ronnybrook and Milk Thistle back home but do not make me miss them. There are fresh herbs and dried spices. Most important, there are a crew of lithe young people who somehow manage to dress a bin of yams, pardon themselves for being under your feet, and discuss with you the true meaning of the term "buttermilk".
These youngsters are the real gem of NorCal foodieism, if you ask us, because they seem to believe that food is to be respected, celebrated and shared, and they have not heard that in New York, anything that is hoarded grows more and more precious--so why should we tell you about our new favorite restaurant?
To finish up this day, we ended by having a very late breakfast indeed at Craig's Place, and we went out to an extremely late dinner at Ton Liang, possibly the best dim sum house in town. To symbolize the day in food we feature this picture of Fish Ball Soup with Spinach. There will be more to come after we digest a bit.