Saturday, August 12, 2006

Slow Food

Slow Food is an international organization that stands for “banishing the degrading efforts of Fast Food”.

We are proud owners of The Slow Food guide to San Francisco and the Bay area and have tried several restaurants described in its pages (three of them in the past two weeks, others in the past several years.)

Here are some restaurants featured in the book that I’d recommend:

Kabul (Mountain View) - I heard that Kabul was one of the best Afghan restaurants in the country, so checked if that was really the case by asking my friend Suraya what she thought. I also got from her a few suggestions so I’d know what to order. Go with a lot of people so you can all get different things and share (and order firnee for dessert).

Chez Panisse (Berkeley)– I heard so much about this place that I didn’t go for the first six years I lived here. It just couldn’t possibly be that good. Let me tell you, it is. If you are in the Bay Area for a day, or can only afford one restaurant a month, this is it. The salad is cut from the garden seconds before it’s set on your plate.

Greens (San Francisco) – A perfect place to take visitors. First, because it has fantastic views of the San Francisco Bay, and second because it is completely vegetarian and you wouldn’t know it (and therefore, a San Francisco experience.) I usually order a tofu dish because I’m fascinated by its uses. The pizzas, Luca’s preference, are very good too. By the way, it’s vegetarian, not vegan. They’re not shy about their use of cream and cheese (and I’m not complaining.)

Hawthorne Lane (San Francisco) – this is one of the restaurants we discovered just this week. We walk in front of it every day and I’d never noticed it. I loved it because it’s quiet and unstuffy, perfect if you want to go somewhere to talk. I had melon gazpacho with crab, and figs stuffed with cheese and wrapped in prosciutto. I also ate one of Paul’s French fries, more of an unpeeled potato wedge, crunchy on the outside and soft inside.

By now it’s probably time to confess I’ve never been to Gary Danko’s. I like “middle of the way” restaurants (bistros and trattorias) much more than I like ultra expensive ones, so have been putting it off. In one of my father’s recent visits, we read in a guidebook (Zagat) something to the effect of the chef being a God. For reasons I no longer remember, my father and Carmen went without us. The next day, eyes gleaming, he concurred God played an active role in that kitchen.

Speaking of bistros, another restaurant I found myself at recently was Fringale. Luca ordered the halibut and I had a fantastic tuna burger (Jim ordered the tuna burger too so I’m afraid I can’t report on many other dishes.)

Because I’m married to an Italian, we generally avoid Italian restaurants. We do love Albona, where I recommend going if you’re craving home made but don’t cook. Order the minestrone. Antica Trattoria, on Russian Hill, is delicious too. I like the blood orange, fennel and red onion salad and ravioli. (There are other Italian restaurants we like but they’re not in our Slow Food book. More on those at a later date.)

Another recent discovery is Brindisi (the one on 88 Belden Place in San Francisco), where I went twice this week. The first time because it’s right around the corner from where I work and in our new book. I ordered halibut on a bed of spicy broccoli. It was so delicious that I had to go a second time. I arrived, anxious, expectant, two days later, and the menu was completely different. Good that they change the menu every day, tragic that I will dream about that broccoli for months. The first time I went was with Luca, who ordered ravioli (spectacular) the second with Michael who ordered a steak sandwich I debated taking a bite from and in the end decided against it. Taking a bite of what someone else is having is not for everyone (and a concession you must put up with if you take me anywhere) but biting into someone else’s sandwich, is, I think, too much to ask. He said it was “tender and light” while I stared and sat on my hands.

I go to great lengths to avoid Mexican restaurants outside of Mexico. I cook Mexican food at home and am always dismayed by the definition of Mexican food outside my country’s borders. Mijita, at Embarcadero in the Ferry Building, is where I go when I need a taco place that doesn’t sell rice and bean Burritos. The jicama salad and salsas are fantastic, and the tortillas are made fresh right there behind the counter.

Speaking of the Ferry Building, you can’t go wrong in there. Get ice cream at Ciao Bella Gelato and stare at the drop dead gorgeous flower stall, Oak Hill Farm, while you stand in line. Slanted Door is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, though I often prefer Out the Door, their take out, get-a-quick-bite at the counter place on the side of the restaurant. Don’t try Slanted Door without a reservation.

Duarte’s in Pescadero is the first restaurant we ever went to on the Coast. It’s famous for the artichoke soup and its pies (most notably, Olallieberry Pie). Plus you can walk off a late lunch at Butano State Park and look at pelicans on Pescadero Beach.

Also on the Coast is Cetrella, a restaurant that cultivates relationships with local produce farmers and supports a Saturday farmers’ market in the summer. Pasta Moon, one of my father’s favorite places to eat “in the world”, is right at the entrance of Main Street in Half Moon Bay, and serves food supplied by local farmers and fishermen.

After flipping through the rest of the book we’ve determined to be more systematic in our restaurant choices. There is so little time, and so much food to try – and, you certainly don’t want to rush it.

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