24 August 2006

Things I loved about our trip to San Francisco, Part 2: Dinner at the Most Pretentious Restaurant Ever

It turns out we have a slender thread of a connection to a touristy-trendy dinner spot at the Ferry Building, which is that the person who started it used to work with a group of mutual friends and catered the wedding of two of them. But I didn't know this when we went to dinner, and I'm afraid that it would have only made me perceive the cool and distance of it all more acutely. But the connection does bear out my theory that there are only two, maybe three degrees of separation between you and anyone you would really want to meet or know or work with. (And yes, I do believe in ending sentences with prepositions.)

I loved the decor, especially the bar backdrop, a curved wall of stacked glass that glowed a gentle pool turquoise, allowing light from the kitchen behind it to bleed through. I was equally wowed by some of the bronzed, Pilates-fit women in trendy jeans and strappy tops who were gathering for parties. (There were several groups.) Then I made myself look around at more of the people and saw them, too: the earthy Bay Area liberal, aging but gracefully -- nay, even forcefully at times, draped in solid colors of linen and hemp and cotton and wearing comfortable, durable shoes. I saw fellow tourists in ill-fitting khakis and Lands End polo shirts. I saw well-heeled people from all over, and watched people snap pictures of their plates (for their memories? for their food blogs?).

Our waiter had clearly decided we were just tourists: when he asked, "Have you been here before?" which I realize in retrospect is an irritating question that implies there's some kind of special code to dining there, Two of us said no and two said yes. He treated us with professional distance, which amounted to what felt like disdain at times. From behind his thick, squared dark frames ("aggressively trendy" was a phrase that popped into my head more than one time that night), our waiter (who never once overstepped a boundary by telling us anything so common as his name) peered at us, brought us intensely delicious and not oversweet cocktails, and when quizzed about the fish choices, leaned in toward our group making it clear he was making a special one-time-only effort to educate us, and said earnestly, "The caramelized prawns are the dish that epitomize the flavor intention of the restaurant." I almost burst out laughing then and there but was distracted by my kaffir-lime and ginger drink. I've never heard anything so pretentious in my life. (And not one of us ordered the dish.)

Our drinks were memorable (and at $9 a pop I was expecting nothing less). The ginger limeade was tart and not very sweet, the kaffir lime vodka adding a lovely twist. But I was wowed by my second drink, the Daiquiri No. 3 (Barbancourt 15 yr. rum, lime, maraschino liqueur [which is not the syrup that comes in the cherry jar], and fresh grapefruit juice, from the recipe from La Floridita, in Havana). Some would argue that using a sipping rum in a mixed drink is all wrong, but here it's fantastic. My husband and I discovered the North Beach restaurant Enrico's in the couple of years before we moved out of San Francisco and they made Hemingway daiquiris that were good but could only dream of being this good. My husband's mojito was good, strong and straightforward. My friend had two Phantasms, which are lemongrass-infused vodka with falernum, which she was assured was not sweetened with sugar. Indeed the drink was not sweet but it was smooth and luscious.

The food was very good but I wasn't quite as knocked out as I expected to be. As I studied the menu, I agonized over my choices more because these flavors and ingredients remind me of my own cooking at times and I wanted to find something I would not be able to do at home. So I had the jicama and grapefruit salad, which really should be billed as the cabbage, jicama, and grapefruit salad. Delicious and fresh in a way that was cleansing but not filling. In contrast, I had a rich Niman Ranch ribeye steak, cooked to perfectly medium rare and caramelized on the outside with a wonderful salty-sweet spiced marinade. Fortunately, everything comes out ready for sharing family-style, and everyone got to try the ribeye, the stir-fried Alaskan black cod, and the lovely cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab. We loved the "spicy Dirty Girl Farm haricot verts with honshimeji mushrooms," and I swooned over the dessert, the rice cake with coconut cream and mango.

I was pleased that the quality of the food eclipsed the too-cool waiter experience. It was a delicious evening, and our company was excellent, of course. But what I will never forget is the waiter telling me what dish best "epitomizes the flavor intention." There's another good foodie blog name: Flavor Intention. (And with that, we bid adieu to the former winner of this dubious honor, the Library at Chaminade Whitney, with its textbook-lined walls and cognac cart.)

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