Thursday, December 08, 2005

Who was that Masked Man? Part One.

Brendan hit town for a quicky. Surprise visit. One week, all expenses paid visit to: Land of Your Fore-fathers, Dear Old Carmel.

As resident conquering hero of the culinary world this ranked as a state occasion beyond the normal prodigal son-type visit. In fact, we were all laughing because it was not so much a prodigal son-type visit but a prodigal Dad-type thing: "Ohmigod! My parents just called and they are coming back two days early from the cruise! We have to clean this place up! Help!"

So, we threw out magazines. We scrubbed floors. We painted the scrubbed floors. We scrubbed the hood over the stove. We sort of scrubbed the stove....ahh, fuckit. We charged into the walk-in and tossed and scrubbed.

I mean, the kid had been working in a Michelin two-star joint with 31 chefs with virtually nothing to do but talk shit and scrub things. And he liked things just so before he even got there.....

Struggling to find some meaning in his month plus servitude at Mugaritz, I had financed a meal at Zuberoa, a Michelin two-star across the street from Brendan's dormitory in Oitzarzun. "Not bad, but kind of Old School....." was the verdict. (I ate there alone in January and actually shed a tear at the simple magnificance of the food). He ate at Akelaré in San Sebastian, also a two star. ''One good dish. Nice view.'' So, what to do as a welcome back in San Francisco? We all agreed that our family touchstone, the Zuni Café, would not really cut it.

The Zuni is a tradition. We have learned to not enter with credit cards. They have the best champagne by the glass, and far and away the best oysters on the planet. Tiny little bays scattered through Oregon, Washington, and BC are represented on their daily list. Billecart-Salmon is the pour. Also, great tiny potato fries. Bring $100 or so per person, spend it and get the fuck out. The other draw is The Golf Club Bum. Eschew the valet parkers. Just cruise up the block and look for The Golf Club Bum...a slender black man with a 3 wood. Roma-style, he organizes the available parking spots in the neighborhood. He will even stop traffic on Gough so that you can sneak the half-block the wrong way up the one-way to hit the parking lot 100m from Zuni. Not your average valet, not your average bum. And don't mention Tiger.

Still, the Zuni is definitely Old School. For dinner, lots of wood roasted stuff, fried stuff, and normal old salades. Meticulously prepared from exquisitely selected ingredients from a woman chef who has committed the last twenty years or so to the spot......but, still. It is comfort food. We needed un-comfortable to welcome our hero.

Hit or Myth:

To find a spot I flailed at Slanted Door (8:45 earliest rezzie); Quince (one month out, easy); Gary Danko (please dress elegantly...right. I was with a Banana Slug and a cage fighter from Humboldt.....) I called Ted from Passion Fish while having the Jag detailed for the airport run. He suggested Myth, but like me, he never gets out from behind the stove. He had heard something something. Amanda discovered that the Myth chef was an ex-Gary we bit. No mention of elegant attire. And a table!

Myth is a nice spot near the financial district. Big bar...good sign. Old warehouse building, nicely fixed up. Faux-cloth paper towels in the gents won over the Banana Slug. Mis-matched chefs in random tractor hats scared me. Even a Bosox fan!

It turned out to be Near-Past Post-Old School: salades pressed from ABS rounds. Everything cooked to a fair-thee-well. In fact, the menu looked a lot like Cachagua Store: Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Confit of Duck.....!! Pumpkin Risotto!! Someone was reading my lines.

Or not. The soup was watery. The Risotto was like a giant fandango...a cheesy, greasy mass fit mostly for a frozen alcoholic golfer just off the links, something to offset his martini olives. Like nachos. Nick the cagefighter and I had Beef Cheeks.....cooked to death, then pan fried to try to bring back some flavor with acrylomides, accompanied with basmati rice so clean and flavorless that I suspected ''The San Francisco Treat". Brendan's skate was also deeply denatured.

The good news was the waiter noticed our quiet dismay. He brought dishes HE liked. Which were also greasy, overcooked and pushed from ABS tubes......but it was nice to be noticed. The china was beautiful, and the presentations solid. Good waiter. Good doggy. And he brought us the best Malbec ever made. (California, too). Hey, what do you want for $350? For four. In San Francisco.

On the way out......a table of six female twenty to thirty-somethings. Googoo eyes at Brendan and Nick. "Uh, Dad......Maybe I'll stay in The City tonight, and catch a ride in the morning?"

Welcome home, Son.....


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