Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

TRAVEL: San Francisco Weekender - Friday

It's just a simple fact that I have to go to San Francisco at least once a year. Bad things happen if I don't. So .... while normally I am not ultra-enthused to have a husband in a cult, a few weekends ago, it actually came in handy.

In a cult, you say? Yes, it is a sad truth. My husband is a cult member and there is nothing I can do about it. He was indoctrinated long ago under the guise of academia by a zealous and dogmatic group that call themselves "The USC Trojans." As alluring as I am, I still must come in second to the cult meetings that take place in local sports arenas. Even when the cult meetings are held in other cities or even states, they are televised and so cult members must stay glued to the sofa, because if they turn their eyes away from the cult rituals for even one second; if they forget to chant/yell the magic words at the television; if they forget to call each other every two seconds during the game to curse the evil referees that seek to stifle the cult's peformance--if they forget to do any of that, then the cult will be doomed.

But sometimes there are perks! In this case, the cult was holding a ritual at the University of California, Berkeley and all cult members were summoned to lend their support in person at this very important ritual. I decided not to go to that, but I thought it was only fair that I should have a trip to San Francisco anyway.

I'm afraid my foodventures were limited this time by inclement weather. The normally peaceful St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of gentle animals and San Francisco got really really pissed about the cults and made it rain all day Saturday. This meant my afternoon of exploration turned into an afternoon of reading a book in the hotel room, chatting online, and foraging a picnic lunch from the market across the street. I also didn't get a chance to take a lot of pictures, so you're just going to have to work with my elegantly descriptive prose for most of it.


It was lovely afternoon the day we arrived, and after getting all checked in, we headed out for some shopping. Friday afternoon was all about J. as we went two places I would never have picked on my own. Blondie's Pizza, which J. got a craving for as we walked up Powell St. to our hotel, and H&M, the site of much shopping trauma in my past.

Blondie's never fails to underwhelm me, despite the fact that pizza is something that can almost never be ruined for me. It's bland and reminiscent of cardboard covered in hot melted plastic. It's underground seating area is less than charming. Yet, somehow, someone always needs to go there.

After an interlude at our hotel's wine reception, where we sampled new released from ZD Wines, we were about refreshed to start our food and drink extravaganza.

We started out at Cantina, a cozy little bar with a carefully crafted cocktail menu full of homemade ingredients and little touches like "juice of a hand-picked Meyer lemon." The drink I chose isn't listed on the online menu, so I can't recall exactly what it was. I do remember that stomach was quietly protesting the gross pizza still, so I ordered something with cucumber and ginger to calm it down. It was delicious, light and refreshing and I want more of it.

J. ordered the Pomegranate Manhattan: woodford reserve ‘cantina barrel’ bourbon, pomegranate molasses, cynar, casablanca bitters. It was a beautiful dark ruby color and and was an amazingly exotic and creative twist on a classic drink.

For dinner, we proceeded up to the street to Cortez. Cortez in the Adagio Hotel, and serves organic seasonal food. Our meal was elegant and delicious. The portion size was good, and the service was good. Our waiter was very friendly, although he lost track of us a little at the end and we ended up being there much longer than we had planned. But they get bonus points for service when, at one point, I stood and merely had to look questioning for a nanosecond an attentive waiter swooped in on my and discreetly got me headed to the loo. Very classy!

We had:
*Chef's Crudo: Tuna and smoked tuna with buddha's hand and vanilla salt: This is what J. ordered, but I tried a bit and it was really good. I do not normally eat raw fish, but I really liked this. The texture of the tuna was good and with the vanilla salt it had a really nice flavor. The smoked tuna was like tuna bacon, and I love bacon, so I approve.

*Salad: Tender mustard greens, mild lettuces, hosiu pear, pickled mustard seeds, walnut vinaigrette and mint: I was still feeling grody from the Blondie's pizza, so I started out with a salad, hoping that chewing on some greens would settle things down. My dog always does it, so why not me? This salad was great. Salads can be pretty boring, so I appreciated the uniqueness of this salad. The mustard greens were exactly what I wanted - strong and spicy, while the pear and mint contributed contrasting flavors. The pickled mustard seeds were really fun. They added texture in the same way that caviar or roe might, but with a complementing flavor instead of a clashing flavor.

*Main Course: Citrus-baked black cod with wilted rapini, confit of royal trumpet mushrooms, sweet onion soubise, and ginger-bonito froth: This was my main dish and I loved it. It was a baked cod on a bed of steamed rapini (a bitter green) with the mushrooms I assume cooked in some kind of fat (confit), and an onion sauce (soubise), and then a foam of ginger-bonito. This basically looks like a bunch of suds on the top of the food, if you've never had it.

The bitterness of the rapini was exactly what I wanted to combat the evil effects of the pizza, the onion soubise contributed a brothy richness, along with the confit of mushrooms, which was addictive and decadent. Then the froth was refreshing although I wished there were more ginger ... I didn't get much of that flavor. I ate the whole thing, which is always a sign of two thumbs up. I am a picky eater with a small stomach, so 90% of the time I am leaving something on the plate. Not this time! Actually, I left the skin of the fish, but that's it.

*Main Course: Caramelized japanese octopus with fresh shelling beans, guanciale, chanterelles, parsley, barigoule, and spicy gremolata: This was J.'s main course, consisting of small pieces of charred octopus with the other stuff. Guanciale is pig jowl, which, if you're me, will give you a comical image in your mind every time. I can't remember the barigoule, but it's generally artichokes cooked in a particular way, usually with mushrooms. Gremolata is similar to a pesto, but is made with parsley, garlic, and lemon. Not sure what made it "spicy" in this instance.

I had a bite and I loved the octopus. Octopus is something that totally works for me, despite the fact that many people have a hard time with it. I love the texture if done right and you can do a lot with the flavor, which is not too "fishy." Caramelizing it so it was charred a bit on the outside made it delicious, kind of like a barbecued octopus.

*Dessert: Sugar and spice beignets with Venezuelan chocolate fondue: We kept seeing these go by all night, and we could not resist them in the end. These were little pillowy donuts, New Orleans-style, with warm chocolate for dipping, similar to Spanish churros. Do I even have to tell you that this was good? You already know it was.

*Drink: The Industry - Fernet Branca, fresh mint, ginger, lemon juice, finished with lemon juice and served up: I had a weird disconnect moment when I ordered this drink, and my waiter asked "Oh, are you in the industry?" It was such an L.A. moment and I was thoroughly confused until he explained that he meant the restaurant industry. The drink was named because it is a favorite with chefs. I love that "the industry" there has nothing to do with entertainment.

This is not a beginner's drink. I have had 11 years of drinking experience now (officially) and I will say that this is not a drink you should try lightly. However, if you are in San Francisco, I urge to get a Fernet at least once. It is the drink of this city, which consumes more Fernet per capita than anywhere else and you should look on it as a cultural experience. They will give you ginger ale to chase it, too, so you can ease into the experience. I think Fernet is awesome, but if you don't like it ... well ... you never have to drink it again!

After dinner, we had to hurry over to Bourbon and Branch to make our 10:30 reservation. Because it was 11:00. Oops. We were at first told we could only have our table for 1/2 an hours, which was disappointing, but it quickly became clear that the people were leaving, so only a minute after we were seated we were told we could stay as long as we liked.

Bourbon and Branch is a speak-easy, which I have written about before. This night, our password was "baloney." Tee hee! This time, as we perused the menu, they actually brought as a tiny cocktail amuse-bouche! It made me laugh, but I thought it was a nice touch and reflected the idea that they are trying to offer a little more than the standard bar-going experience.

For my drinks, I ordered an Aviation. I have two favorite cocktails. Gimlets are my "everyday" cocktails. I order a gimlet 96% of the time. Aviations are my "fancy cocktail." I order them on special occasions. Aviations are the perfect drink. They are pretty and delicious - a pale pink and tasting not just of cherries, but also peppery and nutty like the tree they came from. In fact, it is a drink like me - very sweet and delicate looking, but much more complex than you first thought once you get involved. As you experience both myself and the drink you may find that we are not really sweet, but in fact a little astringent, a little acidic, with a hidden fire. But the combination makes us devastatingly elegant.

At least, that's what I think. I never said anything about "modest."

I finished with "The Journalist," in honor of the classes I am taking, to make me an official journalist. Now that's a drink to end the night with. Sharp and to the point, as you would wish any good journalist to be.

Noting the length of this post, maybe I should heed the advice of my cocktail and wrap it up for now. I have one more day to talk about - coming soon .......


sounds fun. cult and all included.

I found a new restaurant tonight with pretty friggin' good pizza -- Pauline's. Ever been? I'll submit it's the #3 pizza in S.F. (with Delfina and Little Star as a very close #1 and 2); top three separated by very small margins to boot.

said by Jeremy at 11:22 PM Delete

I've been to Cantina! Sounds like a fabulous night. And the octopus - I'm totally jealous of that.

said by jessica at 9:39 AM Delete

That is TOO funny. I always call USC a cult.

said by Rachael at 4:32 PM Delete

Hmmm... There's only one response I can make out of familial obligation.

Bruins 4 Life!

said by Chubbypanda at 11:08 AM Delete

Yay! Go Bruins!

Too bad about yesterday, though. :(

said by KT at 12:06 PM Delete

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