Beat the August Chill

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

It’s been chilly here for the past few days.  If we’re lucky, we get a few hours of sun in the morning, spilling over the hill to the East and into our dawn-facing windows and warming the whole flat.  Then the fog crests the hill to the West and seeps over the side, through the green belt forest, to smother us in a chilly blanket.  I swear the fog leaks through the gaps in the window frames.  It was like this on Saturday, when I started the day in a T-shirt but by noon had wrapped myself into a light sweater.  Despite it’s being August, the cool air encourages a snug and tasty lunch inside, which is how we ended up at The Alembic in the Haight in the early afternoon.

Between lunch and cocktail hour, the bar was quiet; dim with fog-filtered light from the skylight reflecting off the giant mirror at the back and onto the bar.  We chose a table and kept our jackets on while examining the cocktail menu.   It’s written as prose so it takes some time to weigh the options.  At length, I opted for the “Vieux Carré”.



I realize it was designed for hot weather, but cognac sounded warming and solid.  Besides, we were about to order some savoury  snacks that would warm the blood.  The menu here is, I think, perfectly matched to cocktails that are not shy on alcohol: salty, with lots of innards.   Organ meats are tastier, in my opinion, when chased with liquor, bringing out their dark flavours.   We started with a nibble of “Jerk spiced duck hearts with pickled pineapple and thyme salt”.  Marc’s theory is they take delivery of all the parts the other restaurants don’t want and make something creative with the discounted bits.  Perhaps-  though with at least ten little hearts skewered on our plate, how many whole ducks is the Bay Area using?


Scrumptious little bites, with a sweet tang from the pineapple.   This lit the fire and we ordered two more dishes from the daily specials board:  Sweetbreads with potato spuma topped with a quail egg, and Razor clams cooked á la plancha with parsley.



I had never before had razor clams – to what was the clam adapting that it had to become long and narrow? – and spuma was also new to me.  I ate it, so I know that it was a light, creamy, almost-bisque of potato; but now, having looked it up, I find that it is Italian for ‘foam’. I’m not sure if this is how it was done with potatoes, but the Food Dictionary on described a technique where uncooked meringue is folded into the mixture to give it a light and airy texture.   Topped with hot sweetbreads that were a little crunchy on the outside and bathed in egg yolk, this was my afternoon favourite.   Until we ordered dessert.


The caramelized brioche, with custard and peach-lavender chutney by its side, then became the favourite.  Well, maybe a tie with the sweetbreads.  It might become necessary for this foray into the Haight to become a weekly ritual, if only to keep up with the specials on the chalkboard.

Moved to Eat

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

“…some people get the impression that I don’t like where I live. Which is kind of strange, because I don’t understand why anyone would think that I’d live somewhere where there was a dearth of clothes dryers if I didn’t like it. And if you saw the paperwork that I have to fill out just to stay here, well, let’s just say that one really has to want to live here to plow through it all.”

I read this this morning on David Lebovitz’ blog and felt a spark of kinship.  Recently, we have both been through the yearly jaunt up to Canada and back only to cross the border so that we could each apply again to live the US.  It is hardly harrowing, but unnerving enough to answer official questions with a nagging kernel of doubt that one might not be allowed to enter the country.  Two years ago, we found jobs and moved to San Francisco specifically because of its food culture, but if I had known before we set out about the paperwork and hoops through which we would have to jump, I may not have been so keen to move.   That we were naive about the process of becoming American residents was a boon.   Like David, I do love living in my adopted home city, but one really has to want to live here.   (Every once in awhile, we’ll witness behaviour or see a news story – like people carrying loaded automatic weapons to public town hall meetings?! – that makes one of us turn to the other and say “Are we sure we want to live in America?”)


However, the work and expense involved in being allowed to legally live here fades dramatically as soon as we encounter any element of the food culture.   People talk about food here:  restaurant gems, the new ice cream place in the Mission, the grocery store that just opened, the place in Richmond that sells authentic Asian ingredients, and has anyone else tried the chilaquiles for brunch at that new Mexican place in Hayes Valley?  Everyone has a recommendation on where to eat, where to buy food and that’s why we love it here;  we belong. An existence that focuses on food, wine and cooking is not an aberration, ’tis the norm, so that our excursion to walk 30 blocks and back so as to try that new ice cream place, or our practice of driving to four different markets for the food we want to cook that week isn’t really unusual.


We’re cleared to stay for 3 years now, so we have until 2012 to focus as much as we can/want on food.  Perhaps, by then, we’ll be ready to move to Paris.


The Prison With The Prettiest Views

Saturday, October 18th, 2008