10
Aug

SAN FRANCISCO WEEKEND

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SAN FRANCISCO WEEKEND

WE SPENT MY BIRTHDAY WEEKEND IN SAN FRANCISCO AT THE PALACE HOTEL, WHICH WAS FIRST BUILT IN 1875, THEN RE-CONSTRUCTED AFTER THE DEVASTATING EARTHQUAKE AND FIRE.  (I HAD A GREAT AUNT EMILY WHO WAS LIVING THERE AT THE TIME.)  THE PALACE RETAINS ITS GOLDEN AGE GRANDEUR WITH A GLASS-TOPPED CENTRAL DINING ROOM THAT IS THREE FLOORS HIGH.  OUR ROOM WAS SPACIOUS AND HIGH-CEILINGED AND A BATHROBE-CLAD WALK TO THE ROOFTOP POOL, PROTECTED FROM THE ELEMENTS BY A GLASS ROOF.

SAN FRANCISCO IS A REAL FOOD TOWN.  L.A IS JUST BEGINNING TO CATCH UP.  I’D HEARD A LOT ABOUT QUINCE, WHICH SUPPOSEDLY SERVES REFINED BUT EXCITING FOOD.   THE ROOM ITSELF IS MODERN BUT SEDATE, WITH WELL-SPACED TABLES AND NO MUSIC.  SERVICE IS ATTENTIVE AND FRIENDLY.  WE WERE GREETED WITH COUPES OF LOUIS ROEDERER CHAMPAGNE.  AFTER THAT THINGS WENT STEADILY DOWNHILL.  WE OPTED FOR THE LESS EXPENSIVE OF THE TASTING MENUS AND SKIPPED THE WINE PAIRINGS SINCE LYNN GETS DRUNK LOOKING AT THE LABEL.  BUT STARTING WITH A GLASS PLINTH OF AMUSES BOUCHES, WHICH RESEMBLED ANTIQUE JEWELRY, EACH BITE TASTING PRETTY MUCH ALIKE, THE FOOD WAS LUSTERLESS.  A LOBSTER SALAD (FOR AN EXTRA $15) WAS PRETTY TO LOOK AT BUT WITHOUT ANY DEPTH OR ZING.  LYNN’S CUCUMBER MEDLEY WAS BAFFLING.  THE TASTE OF STURGEON IN A PRICEY ($20 MORE) PASTA WAS UNDETECTABLE.  WHEN WE EXPRESSED OUR DISAPPOINTMENT, THE KITCHEN SENT OUT AN EXCELLENT ZUCCHINI FLOWER AGNOLETTI.  THINGS IMPROVED MARGINALLY WITH MY SQUAB AND LYNN’S PORK MEDLEY.  BUT OUR MEAL CONTAINED NOT ONE MEMORABLE DISH, AND, IN FACT, I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT WE HAD FOR DESSERT, EXCEPT THEY’D WRITTEN “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” IN CHOCOLATE ON THE PLATE.

SUNDAY NIGHT WE MET OUR FRIENDS SQUEAK AND GARY AT A RESTAURANT THEY’D NEVER HEARD OF CALLED AZIZA, WHICH IS OUT NEAR LINCOLN PARK AND LOOKS INSIDE LIKE A CHEESY MOROCCAN DIVE, COMPLETE WITH KEYHOLE ARCHES AND RED AND BLUE MOOD LIGHTING.  FOR SIX YEARS CHEF MOURAD LAHLOU COOKED RATHER STRAIGHTFORWARD MOROCCAN FARE.  THEN HE DECIDED TO EXPERIMENT.  IT’S NOT FOR NOTHING AZIZA EARNED A MICHELIN STAR.  OUR PARADE OF 12 MINI-COURSES WAS A SUCCESSION OF SURPRISES AND DELIGHTS.  A RUTABAGA CUSTARD WITH A TINY WHITE TURNIP; EGG, SMOKED POTATO AND CHICKEN CRACKLING; A PAIRING OF QUAIL AND SHRIMP; A DUCK CONFIT BASTEEYA WHICH LOOKED LIKE AN EGG ROLL; BEEF WITH FIG AND BITTER CHOCOLATE; CHAMOMILE CREAM WITH ELDERFLOWER FRITTER.  THE DISHES WERE VARIED IN TASTE AND TEXTURE WITH A UNIFYING UNDERCURRENT OF MIDDLE EASTERN SPICES.  THE HELPFUL WAITER/SOMMELIER ORDERED THREE EXCELLENT BOTTLES OF WINE, WHITES FROM HUNGARY AND PIEMONTE AND A PORTUGESE RED.   $100 LESS PER PERSON THAN QUINCE AND TWICE AS GOOD.

MONDAY WE WALKED TO THE FERRY BUILDING TO MEET OUR FRIEND POLLY FOR LUNCH AT THE SLANTED DOOR.  FABULOUS, UPSCALE VIETNAMESE FOOD.  A PARTY OF UFC STARS WAS BEING FILMED AS THEY CHOWED DOWN ON SPARERIBS AND GLASS NOODLES.

 

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