Monday, March 10, 2008

Food Notes from San Francisco

I'd like to say that it's hard to have a bad meal in San Francisco. But in fact it's incredibly easy in a city jammed with tourists. So my advice is to plan ahead and do a little research if you don't already know your way around.

My hotel, the Villa Florence, is in the Union Square area. The cable car stops outside the door on Powell if you are a total hoser. The restuarant downstairs is Kuleto's...I'll come back to that soon.

But not being much of a big breakfast guy I fortunately remembered that Emporio Rulli has a location in Union Square serving the best pastries in the city (small c). A short stroll for me for a delicious sfoglia di ricotta and coffee. Perfect. Oh, and the Villa Florence will deliver your choice of newspapers to your door. I took the New York Times. You would think that a city that basks in its own "sophistication" would actually have a real, grown up newspaper. You would be wrong.

My favorite restaurant in the Bay Area has been, for twenty years, Oliveto in Oakland. Easy to reach by BART because the Rockridge Station is right outside its front door. I met up with some old friends and can report that although many notable chefs have passed through, the food is as good as ever. My dinner was a wild nettle pappardelle with rabbit and mushrooms. The nettles gave the pasta a rich forest green color. I can't remember what my friends ordered because negronis were involved.

Back in the city one of my most favorite food meccas is the Ferry Building. It's beautiful beyond reason with outlets for cheeses, mushrooms, olive oils etc. The F street car will drop you right outside the effing door. It is also home to The Slanted Door, serving an innovative, harmonious blending of Vietnamese and French cooking (try the crepes sometime). On this visit I dashed for an open seat at the bar for lunch---that's an extreme sport in itself. This time I tucked into lemongrass grilled pork with rice and imperial rolls. That's a French 75 in the background (a cocktail not a firearm). I need to learn how to make those.
Another good place for SE Asian food in the Union Square area is E&O Trading Company. I chose that because on Sundays many of the better restaurants over in the financial district are closed. There I had still more duck imperial rolls and some sizzling hot, spicy, wok fried spinach which I loved.
Back to Kuleto's. Kuleto's is good. Twenty years ago it was very good. When I arrived at my hotel it was the obvious place to lunch. From their specials I ordered the duck ravioli---which turned out to be tortelli, but never mind. The house made pasta dough was tough--- it could have used another pass through the rollers. But not bad.
On the evening of my departure I went back downstairs to Kuleto's for dinner and ordered the penne with lamb sausage, chard, spicy tomato sauce and fresh ricotta. This time the penne came out of a box (not a bad thing). This dish has been on their menu for years and I do recommend it.
One more thing about Kuleto's; twenty odd years ago this was the first place---in my dining experience---that presented a plate of olive oil to our table and instructed us that, "this is for your bread." Like it was a sacrament or something. I don't know where this custom originated, but I can assure you that it wasn't Italy. You can still have butter in Milano. There is also that odd little drop of balsamic vinegar in the oil. I mean, this is bread not a salad. So I was glad to see that Saveur devoted the cover of its current issue to BUTTER! YES! As much as I love olive oil, maybe we can now get over our twenty year, national nightmare of the bread basket.

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