May 17, 2014

San Francisco (last post) --- Neighborhood eatery

We discussed this before, the Riverside Café in two of its emanations,

(1) as a proper river-side café and
(2) as a hill-top café in Phuket town in Thailand,

"river-side" here being code for the hex value #00703C == Dartmouth Green == upmarket conversations in clipped voices at neighboring tables about Muffy who did not make partner at Overy & Allen == Chardonnay as default wine == chicken breast fillets served with sauce Hollandaise == checks that do or do not carry remarks to the effect that a 17% tip would be obligatory == and so on.

Now we're on our last day in San Francisco, we have a writer's blog after a productive morning, we hit the Castro District where old-fashioned in-your-face homosexuality is still en vogue, HIV and all, and we are on our way back home. The idea is to have dinner at the Chinese restaurant we've frequented so frequently during the last 2 months. But yesterday, on the way back to our apartment on Potrero Hill we walked past an outfit with a wooden sign saying "Neighborhood Eatery"---we were on 24th Street, between Mission an Potrero (street), a peek through the window convinced Michael that this is, in fact, a neighborhood café, and there's a person outside smoking and interrupting his cell-phone conversation and assuring us that the place is "great."


Neighborhood Eatery, interior

So, today, now, we walk along 24th Street again and I raise the subject of this "eatery" as an alternative to the Chinese restaurant. Chang, still mellow after my birthday yesterday doesn't really object but insists on studying the menu first. There's no menu outside to study, we have to enter the place---bistro layout, open kitchen, glasses, bottles, international semi-upmarket---to have a look at the menu.
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"I would venture, folks, practically everywhere else in the world you eat better than in France."
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The menu is incomprehensible to anybody living in France where dishes come in six or seven varieties (Steak frites, Magret de canard, Loup grillé, and so on), and (where dishes) are always accompanied by rice/potatoes/aïoli (don't ask). While we are at it: It's a well know fact that the French are the best cooks in the world, so they cook well BY DEFINITION, which means they have to make no-effort-what-so-ever-to-serve-drab-and-overpriced-fare-through-jaded-garçons-or-garçonettes who have more important things on their minds than to help their customers. I would venture, folks, practically everywhere else in the world you eat better than in France. It's Obama's fault, of course, because he's not only from Kenya, he's also French, as has been recently shown in a lengthy study from the Heritage Foundation.

So, the menu is incomprehensible (we're at this eatery), and the naming of the specials even more so, especially when pronounced in American. Some helpful red-haired young man is reading his crib sheet which I take out of his hands because I can read myself (he's not taking this lightly). Something about salmon. Two salmon dishes. Different ones. Chang is in a bind now, he can't really run away even though this is not his camping ground café. We are seated at one of the Bistro tables (nobody seems to know this, but the concept of "Bistro" originated in Paris, where in meant "fast food" (or just "fast") in Russian, because the Russian troops that occupied Paris after Napoleon's defeat in 1814 were kind of impatient).


Waitress, Chang

We're served by a girl because the red-haired man is sulking. One of the reasons why we never dared to go to a serious restaurant here during the last two month, the main reason, in fact, is---terrible sentence---is that we don't understand the menu(s). Here's an example from the highly recommended Zuni Café on Market Street:
Bucatini with summer squash, squash blossoms, onions, garlic, hot pepper, and ricotta salata 15.50 
Grilled King salmon with Japanese eggplant, tomatoes, Rond de Nice squash, and preserved lemon-freekeh salsa 29.00
Watson Ranch leg of lamb and Merguez sausage with couscous, green beans, roasted fresh shallots, harissa, almonds, cilantro, and lime 28.00

What is Bucatini? Rond de Nice? We live 40 km from Nice, for heaven's sake, what is it? Lemon-Freekeh? Harissa? Cilantro? Next to us somebody has arranged himself in a lotus position as if he knows the answers, but he speaks French to his cell-phone and looks like a mix of Homer Simpson and some Doonsbury character. The girl who served us a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in the meantime (okayish, the wine, cheapest bottle on the list), plus a glass of Pilsner (the beer), makes another ill-fated attempt (the girl) to explain the special. We order both (specials) (salmon, in both cases), and explicate our intention to share. Then the girl speaks to the lotus man, also in French. They have a funny accent. I ask. No, they are not from Québec. They are from Biarritz (where Nabokov vacationed a lot as a child with his parents).

Le service est un peu trop rapide (typical for the US), and two small plates arrive, one with a salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon slices on a bed of nano-green-peppers, nano-peas, and other greenery nobody has ever heard of. The taste is exquisite, the caloric value is negative. The other dish features an oddly-shaped piece of cooked salmon (shoulder, we are informed), served on a bed of nano artichokes and more nano stuff nobody has ever heard of. The taste is exquisite. I never, ever, ate in France this well. The caloric value is slightly above zero Kelvin.

Great, folks, great. There's minimal connubial bliss (the caloric values), plus, of course, this is not your camping ground café nor your street market, but Michael takes pictures and talks to the chef. Do you develop these recipes yourself? To some extent. How would you call your cuisine? He hesitates. Californian? Yes, he says, although he admits he's from NY.

The chef from NY

Cool folks. Chang, in the meantime, has suggested to have an additional meal at Chez le Chinèse.

Not our best SF post, but the last one. We're back to France tomorrow. Tjüs.

(Here's the previous SF post, also not so great. So, here's another one, which is a bit better.)


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