Saturday, September 4, 2010

Joelly's Visit

Joe arrived to SF last Tuesday, sparking a little vacation (for him, Julia, & myself) that ended up revolving, inevitably, around food. Prior to his arrival my special lady and I had back-and-forthed about where to take Joe on his first visit to the city, indeed his first visit to the West Coast. I have to admit that my original agendas (Twin Peaks, the sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf, Ocean Beach) were soon 86ed in favor of Julia's ideas of simply following our appetites around Northern California. The following is a chronicle of every bite we took: from Joe's arrival at SFO to his return to the same, no finger-lickin' mouthful goes unmentioned.

Tuesday, August 31st, Lunch: Joe's plane landed ten minutes early at 10:25 AM. Naturally he was hungry, and we spent the drive from the airport debating the ideal lunch spot. Joe expressed a craving for Mexican, and wouldn't you know it, our exit off the highway dropped us in the Mission. Without a second thought, we made our way up Mission St. to 24th. El Farolito. Joe got a Carne Asada Super Suiza, Julia a Torta al Pastor, me a Carne Asada Super Burrito. As we peeled back the foil in our living room and sank our teeth into our respective meals, grunts and groans of pleasure and disbelief were audible over the decadent chomping and chewing of avocado, steak, cheese, pork, tortilla, torta, sour scream, rice, beans, caramelized onions, and pico de gallo, a bright palette of Mexican flavor smeared together and wrapped and grilled. Glorious. Joe declared it the best quesadilla he'd ever eaten.

Tuesday, August 31st, Dinner: Joe made it to Waterbar just before the kitchen closed in time to grab some snacks. I sent him the Yellowtail sashimi with pickled nectarine, watermelon, and mint; he ordered a steaming, glistening, juicy plate of Asian-style barbecue short ribs with a fresh horseradish slaw. Tasty. The deep burgundy of the rib glaze pools around the tender, fatty meat with honey sweetness and a hint of kick. Plus, Joelly is quite the rib enthusiast so I knew it would be a home run. He waited for me to finish my shift and we went to an industry spot with a few of the other Waterbar cooks. After a few rounds we headed back to our spot with a small group to kick it in the garden with herb & beers. Julia came through clutch around 3 AM with munchies: homemade asiago garlic bread on a loaf of Acme ciabatta. Great cap on the nite.

Wednesday, September 1st, Lunch: We awoke mildly hungover and were compensated with absolutely gorgeous weather. Donning sunglasses, we bounded into the 80 degree sunshine headed for Ike's Sandwiches at 16th & Sanchez. Ike's is to sandwiches what a Tyrannosaurus is to lizards. The sandwiches are enormous, overwhelming, incredible, dripping, golden, absolutely crammed with goodness. Julia had the Napoleon Complex: turkey, honey poppy seed dressing, avocado, & havarti. It was sweet and moist and smooth and you kind of wanted to kiss it softly but passionately. I had the Menage-a-Trois: chicken breast, honey, honey mustard, bbq, pepperjack, swiss, & smoked gouda. Holy mother of God, this thing was succulent. The various sauces and condiments swam together and united in creamy, tangy, harmony. The three cheeses were in perfect ratio. It was a thing of art. Joe opted for the most outrageous of the three, The King Koopa: all-beef meatballs, mozzarella sticks, stuffed jalapeno poppers, and marinara. Are you serious? Yes, I'm serious. And believe it or not, of the over 200 sandwiches they have on the menu, this is not the most ridiculous. Suffice it to say we ate until we literally could not eat any more. We passed in and out of food comas in Dolores Park, people-watching and basking in the sunshine and the sandwich buzz.

Somehow we found room for Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream on our way out of the Mission. Joe got a scoop of Ricanelas, which is cinnamon ice cream with Snickerdoodle cookie dough swirled into every bite. Unreal, and for my taste, hands-down the best ice cream I've ever had. Julia got a scoop of balsamic strawberry and I got a cooling scoop of mint-chip... and a scoop of chocolate. We spooned and slurped and dripped our way home, where we would part ways for dinner. Julia was meeting her best friend Kaitlin for Kaitlin's birthday dinner at Aziza, a fantastic Moroccan restaurant in the Inner Richmond.

Wednesday, September 1st, Dinner: Joe and I had reservations at a San Francisco landmark, The House of Prime Rib. It was my first time dining there and I had high expectations; I was not disappointed. We arrived early so we could grab a martini at the bar, fully embracing the whole steakhouse experience, then scored a spacious yet cozy booth and let the games begin. The meal began with the house salad, crisp iceberg and their creamy house secret dressing contrasting to make every bite delicious. The hot sourdough loaf brought to our table was as soft and steamy on the inside as it was crusty and golden on the outside. Then arrived the prime rib, sliced tableside and jaw-droppingly succulent. Juicy like a summer peach, tender, and fatty, surrounded by mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed spinach, and accompanied by a Yorkshire Pudding. It was like trying to eat an entire delicious circus. It's funny; my former vegetarianism seems more ironic every day. I attacked that steak like a jungle cat, and when it was over I had to stop myself from gnawing the bone. Espresso was a necessary finish on the meal, dessert an impossibility. So, so good.

Thursday, September 2nd, Lunch: Sonoma bound, we met Kaitlin for lunch at Sol Food in San Rafael, home of the best Puerto Rican food you will ever taste. Seriously. The four of us joined forces and ordered aggressively: 2 bistec flatbread sandwiches and a steak salad, 3 pieces of oregano roast chicken, 2 orders of garlic tostones, 1 order of sweet plantains, four limeades and a mess of rice and pink beans. We ate until the buttons flew off our clothes so hard that they embedded themselves in the plaster on the wall. We poured their secret recipe hot sauce copiously and slurped the bubbly, fizzy limeade until our satiated burps punctuated the conversation regularly. Completely stuffed and glowing satisfaction, we said goodbye to Kaitlin and drove north.

We made it to five wineries: Sebastiani, Ravenwood, Nicholson Ranch, Roche, and Charles Creek. Highlights of the tastings included everything from dry Roses to heavy Cabs. Blends, sweets, tannins, chocolate, cinnamon, citrus, blackberries, scents and tastes and notes swirled together and separated delicately, each touching your tongue and cheeks in a different spot, lighting up your mouth and dancing with your tastebuds. We tasted a Port infused with chocolate so fantastic and different that Joe had to buy a bottle for Mom & Dad. All said and done, we ended up buying five bottles between the three of us: a Cab, a Merlot, a Syrah, a Gewurtztraminer, and a Cab/Grenache blend.

Thursday, September 2nd, Dinner: There's nothing as decadent, relaxing, and delicious as going through good bottles of wine with good friends and good food. Julia went all out at the grocery store, appeasing Joe's demands for fish tacos and adding shrimp and calamari to the menu. When we got to the incredible and impeccably decorated house where we were fortunate enough to be staying, we fired up the charcoal bbq with some mesquite and gots to cookin'. There was a beautiful, tangy, vinegary purple cabbage slaw, grilled tomatillo salsa, summer squash, corn on the cob with chili and lime, and gorgeous red snapper for the tacos. I marinated the calimari with chili, paprika, lime, garlic, and cilantro, and the shrimp with pineapple, brown sugar, lime, and jalapeno for some sweet-spicy-tangy. The mesquite gave everything a gorgeous punch of smokiness and we descended on the food like lions to the kill, faces caked with sauce and plastered with huge smiles. Drunk with vacation relaxation and really excellent wine, manners and poise were thrown to wind and we reveled in the bacchanalian summer seafood feast before us. At one point Joe had to inquire whether Julia and I had plans to eat him, and was this the reason we were fattening him up. I have to admit, the way we'd been feeding him, it wasn't an unreasonable question.

Friday, September 3rd, Lunch: We woke up around noon and cleaned up some of the damage from the nite before, then headed into Sonoma Town Square for lunch at The Girl & The Fig. We had heard great things, and how can you go wrong with a French bistro in the heart of wine country? While we waited for our table on the patio, I enjoyed a lavender mojito, Julia a lemon verbana iced tea, and Joe a California IPA. The patio ended up being beautiful, with fresh flowers all around giving off a myriad of delicious smells rivaled only by the tasty looking plates coming out of the kitchen. We started off with salads. My heirloom tomato, watermelon, and feta was completely refreshing and perfect for the hot, summer day. The tomatoes were plump and perfect in their yellows and reds, probably one of the last times this year they would be as such. Julia ordered the arugula, goat cheese, and fig salad with candied pecans and crispy pancetta. The ratio of sweet to salty to creamy to tangy to peppery couldn't have been more balanced, so that in every forkful you got the perfect bite without even trying. Joe's weddge salad had a nice mellow green goddess dressing beneath it, the tarragon tickling your taste buds in every crunch. Entrees stepped it up even further: mine was a Croque Monsieur done to perfection on a brioche that I swear I could have slept on. Julia had one of her favorite summer lunches, Moules Frites. The broth of the mussels was a buttery, garlicky surprise you wanted to float around in all day, and the matchstick fries were just crispy enough to be perfect. Joe decided on the simple but delicious salami and brie sandwich on baguette; the fig jam on the sandwich was just what it needed to rise to the challenge of competing with everything else, and its sweetness paired nicely with the creamy brie and spicy salami. It was our last bite in Sonoma and a hell of a way to say goodbye.

Friday, September 3rd, Dinner: For our final meal together in California, we decided on the Catalan tapas restaurant Contigo in Noe Valley. Julia and I had been there together once before, and Julia had returned on multiple occasions with others, so we knew we could trust it to be a fitting send-off for Joe. Plus, his obsession with croquetas and the search for the perfect one made Contigo a fitting spot to bring him. We managed to get a late reservation and, once seated, began scanning the menu and discussing options as if it were a United Nations meeting. We decided on roughly ten plates and sat back, ready for the parade of tapas to begin. Unfortunately, we were soon informed that the lobster mushroom stuffed calamari we had ordered was 86ed... so were the croquetas. As Joe cursed his luck, we decided on some alternatives and comforted ourselves in the free glasses of Cava and Muscat that the waiter offered as consolation. Soon the first plate arrived, and the party was started. Naturally we started with Pan con Tomate, a Catalan staple; this is actually the first time I had tried this dish during tomato season and holy moly, was it great. The simplicity of crushed summer tomatoes on garlic toast is a beautiful thing. Next we had lamb and beef albondigas, juicy and textured and wonderfully tender. There were toasts with avocado, pickled onion, and wood oven roasted sardine that was so fresh you'd swear they had a tank in the kitchen. Joe "doesn't like sardines" (mostly because he only knows them as the salty, oily, canned fish from the supermarket), but we got him to try one and he didn't object. The olive oil fried Soul Food Farm chicken breast was truly cooked to perfection, breaded crispy golden brown on the outside and unbelievably juicy on the inside, really letting the chicken speak for itself. And the accompanying salad of cucumber, tomato, grape, and cumin was refreshing and different. Next came a flatbread with corn, shaved summer squash, caramelized onions, and Manchego... and our additions of farm egg and fatted calf bacon. It was deliciously crispy and melty and fresh; the corn gave sweetness, the bacon added saltiness, the Manchego and egg, together, as creamy as can be. It was like a summer fiesta in Spain on a plate. Naturally we had a side of patatas bravas, dependable and scrumptious as always, and a side of chard with almonds, garlic, and golden raisins, thanks to Julia. Buttery, sweet, and garlicky, it made eating your vegetables something anyone would want to do. We finished with dessert: an apple flan that was like no flan I had ever tasted, with wedges of caramelized apple on top that could have been right out of Mom's homemade pie. The Blue Bottle Coffee ice cream wasn't anything mind-blowing, but being able to really taste that exquisite coffee made for a nice cap on the meal. We pushed back our chairs and waddled out of the restaurant as satiated and smiling as we had after every meal prior. If there's one thing Julia and I can do in SF, it's get you fed. I think Joe understands that now better than ever before.

Saturday we stopped by the In & Out in Daly City on our way to the airport, determined to cram one last authentic California snack into Joe's visit. His departure went off almost without a hitch: he forgetfully packed the Chocolate Port in his carry-on and had it confiscated going through security. Oops.

A small price to pay for to the Gods of gluttonfest that had blessed us for the past four days, no doubt.

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