Spring on SE Flavel heralds a plethora of buds, birds, an occasional warm breeze and lots and lots of out-of-town company. Whereas the hardy Minnesotan relatives are happy to visit in winter (and find keggers in the snow a perfectly natural past-time, see left), the Californians are all mysteriously busy until April. But then the spring flood hits, and continues in a steady stream through summer. When SF’s chill, gray blanket of fog uncoils its damp grip, no less fierce for its cottony softness, the deluge slows back to a trickle. Coincidence?
This isn’t a post complaining about houseguests. We love every one of them (mostly) and can’t wait for them to come (usually) and are sad to seem them leave (…). It’s just that when the doorbell rings before we’ve had time to put the previous occupant’s sheets into the dryer, dry out our bloodstreams, and replenish our bank balance, we know the clusters have hit critical mass. The recent onslaught of visitors and birthdays has made us put one-pot chicken dishes aside and head into the land of excess. One non-profit arts administrator’s salary? Recession? 11% unemployment? 20 pounds overweight? Never mind all that, we’re goin’ out!
After a few months of the austerity program, I gotta admit it’s been fun. And in the spirit of a neverending party I wasn’t exactly my usual critical, note-taking self. But here are a few highlights.
Toro Bravo two Sundays in a row? That says a lot…both about our shameless excess and how solid their food is. We went at 5:30 and 9:15, and got in both times without a wait, though there was enough buzz in the room to not have it feel deadly. The fact that KML (who views tapas / small plates as the enemy of all self-respecting men who have a god-given right to: 1. know exactly how much they’ll get to eat in any given sitting 2. own their personal property, and 3. defend such property by any means necessary) was willing…nay, happy…to go, speaks volumes about how generous and tasty the food is. Will he go with more than four people? No way. Memories of $100 group tapas meals that netted him one potato brava and a half an olive will take time to exorcise. And since he obviously spent a past life in prison or as one of those starving waifs we all heard about growing up (or both), who am I to push, when those freakishly delicious light / chewy / crispy / creamy / salty cod fritters await?
A few of their other standouts were the green salad with boiled egg (what do we say to eggs on salad, bb? Hell yes!), hazelnuts and roasted asparagus (didn’t even need the asparagus with such perfectly dressed greens), the brussel sprouts, succulent drunken pork, the scallops, and some roast beef with polenta dish that I never would have ordered, so kudos to K for that! Missteps were shrimp that tasted predominantly of asian sweet chile sauce and heavy, gummy squash “fritters” that accompanied the pepper lamb, but out of 14 dishes or so, who’s tracking?
Another dining standout was a party for 18 at Alexis Greek restaurant downtown. So it can get deafening, and sometimes smells of bathroom cleaner. So their moussaka topping is more akin to plastering paste (though their meat spicing is dead-on)…that just makes it like 90% of the tavernas in Greece. If you order their lamb chops (lamb pops as they’re fondly known to the fam), lemony roasted potatoes, kalamarakia and tiropita (though I love spanakopita, try their cheese triangles instead; they’re special), it’s an instant party. Even their tzatziki is the best in town imho, though why so skimpy with the cheapest dish on the menu is a mystery. Like properly made Thai food or dim sum, it’s easy to overlook the genius of great food when it’s inexpensive and not served in a fancy-pants setting. Not that $25 pp plus tip and drinks (opa! ouch…) ended up being a bargain, but Jerry and the one knowledgeable waitress (got to get her name one of these days, for now I’ll call her Monica…patron saint of patience) didn’t even consider charging a cake fee when we used their plates and utensils. Now that’s old-school I can get behind.
Then there were the cocktails of the past few hazy weeks. Ouzo, retsina, tasty cab flights at Vino aside, we had some slamming drinks. Andina’s happy hour (sad the prices went up but it’s still a deal) yielded pisco sours, caipirinhas with acai to tart things up (literally and figuratively), and a ginger-lime-grapefruit thing called a Ron Iki On that I liked but was too gingery for its original owner. Toro Bravo served up a respectable array of sazeracs, a slightly too-sweet cocktail that the server warned me may be too medicinal…it wasn’t…and a Papa Doble (rum, grapefruit, lime). And then there was the Teardrop Lounge. Why oh why didn’t anyone ask us when they were naming the place? “Tincture Bar” suits these mad mixers with their eye droppers, spritzers, sprayers, potions and poisons so much better. “Teardrop” jibes with what I find to be a very mid-90’s decor, though the deep U of the bar is beautifully convivial, as are the boys behind the bar. G-man had his first fling with gin, which proceeded into a long-term relationship of three Last Word cocktails. Nearly as good as the ones Mr. Eat. Drink. Think. mixes up. I also tasted my first genuine Singapore Sling, which was a revelation, sipped a splendid Burro Punsch (reposado, ginger beer, sweet vermouth), KML loved his rye “My Druthers” and regretted straying, though not terribly, and I have no clear recollection of the drink I swore would be my new go-to Teardrop drink except for the fact that it was a perfect balance of acid, sweet, alcohol and bitter. Perhaps a Leite, since I remember Lillet and lime, but “leche de pina”…really?
In an effort to recount, this has turned into a mere laundry list, and really, how interesting is that not? Rather than a stagger, it reads like a march. A merciless march complete with mind-numbing drum-beats leading us towards destruction…destruction of brain cells, good sense and future financial security.
We get one more week to dry out before another visitor hits. By that time I’ll once again have to decide between bites at Evoe and Toro, burgers at Slow Bar or Castagna, or lowkey at Apizza or Nicholas’. Times are rough, but I’m up to the challenge.