On this day 23 years ago, we went to City Hall. It was a Wednesday. Did we take the day off from work? I don't remember, but we must have. It was a different time. There was no Uber or…
When you walk a dog every day for over five years, you're prone to getting to know all the nooks and crannies of your neighborhood. At this point, there's nary an inch of Noe Valley, or for that matter neighboring…
While we technically live in a valley, we are in a relatively elevated area of the city. Consequently, our dog walks routinely take us up to a number of parks, gardens and open spaces that have marvelous views of the…
Although we live in baby-centric Noe Valley now, DPaul and I lived right on Dolores Park for 11 years. During this time, we watched the neighborhood evolve from a depressed, drug-ridden extension of the gritty Mission to one of the…
I've had something of a fascination lately with the idea of San Francisco food. I mean, everyone knows our fair city to be a major foodie destination, and most people can rattle off a list of restaurant names of varying degrees of prestige in the current-day food scene. But what of the classics, the dishes that emerged from restaurants past and present that have made it into the American culinary vernacular?
Many of these dishes have appeared on menus for so long, they've been fallen out of fashion and are now associated with lunching matrons in chi-chi hotel restaurants: Crab Louie, Celery Victor and the grandmother of all creamy salad dressings, Green Goddess.
It's small wonder these dishes have become culinary dinosaurs. In the monotony of preparing them on so many menus over so many years, they've surely slid into mediocrity or worse at the hands of indifferent chefs. Just recently, I dined locally at an otherwise perfectly good establishment (that shall remain nameless). I was actually excited to see a salad with Green Goddess on the menu, and ordered it with glee. Sadly, I was presented a lackluster pile of greens thickly coated with what as far as I could tell was just straight-up mayonnaise. No green, and far from godly.
But I maintain that when prepared with love and integrity, these foods must be excellent in their own right. How else could they have become such culinary icons?
And the goddess is an icon indeed. It was created at the Palace Hotel in 1923 by Executive Chef Phillip Roemer at an event to honor actor George Arliss, who was then the lead in the play "The Green Goddess" by William Archer. Cool, creamy and fresh with herbs, it must have struck quite a chord with the diners that evening, for it went on to become one of the most popular dressings in the West for decades, eventually dethroned by ranch dressing (with which it has a more than passing resemblance.)
Its fame peaked in the 1970s when Seven Seas sold a bottled version of it, and today Annie's Naturals produces a version as well, but for the last three decades or so, the goddess has largely lost her followers.
Well, consider me a member of the Cult of the Green Goddess, then. And I aim to convert you, too.
You see, Green Goddess is much more than a dressing. Since I've started making it, it's made its way into a variety of applications. It makes a fantastic dip for just about anything on its own, but toss it into a blender with some white beans and you've got something rather special indeed. Our friend Jim's mother used to use it as a dressing for cold pasta, and served with grilled jumbo shrimp; I think scallops would be at least as delightful.
In researching the dressing, I came across a lot of different recipes with a surprising amount of variation: Different proportions of mayonnaise, sour cream and vinegar; with or without anchovy; and while nearly all call for parsley and chives, others called for basil, tarragon and even chervil. Despite Martha's greatest efforts to market it, however, chervil remains an elusive ingredient for most of us.
The Palace Hotel thoughtfully has published the original, and that is what I used. Well, sort of. While they call for parsley and chives, the original evidently did not include tarragon; this will not stand. For reasons I cannot justify, in my mind Green Goddess must have tarragon. Must. So I added it. And I stand by that decision. Fact is, you could tweak this recipe ten times till Tuesday, and you'd still end up with a delicious, refreshing dressing, so have at it.
What other San Francisco classics do you love? And what current dishes do you think will stand the test of time?
Sometimes, you just have to get your hands dirty.
For me, that mostly means finding strata of food under my nails after a sweaty day in the kitchen. But on a chilly morning in December, my hands got dirty with real, actual, honest-to-god dirt. As in, from the earth.
Me and dirt are like oil and water. Gardening is not something I have an innate passion for, but there is one garden I have a soft spot for. Tucked between modern apartment buildings on a dead-end street on the slopes of Eureka Valley, the Corwin Street Community Garden is more than a patch of pretty flowers.
As a tour guide in the neighborhood, I often drag my more ambitious groups up the steep incline to the garden and to the Seward Mini-park below. Here, deep in the residential tracts and close to the geographic heart of the city, they offer surprising morsels of our city's history.
Oh, the kerfuffle over a couple of high-profile New York chefs dragging out that tiresome trope: Bashing on San Francisco’s food scene. Back in October, at the New York Food & Wine Festival, media darling David Chang and media whore Anthony Bourdain had an affable banter, calling bull**** on various aspects of their industry, including themselves. One of Chang’s salvos was that, “there’s only a handful of restaurants that are manipulating food … ****ing every restaurant in San Francisco is serving figs on a plate
with nothing on it.” Later, Bourdain referred to Alice Waters as “Pol Pot in a muumuu,” since she evidently killed off a couple million people in her Berkeley kitchen.
First of all, ha ha! Funny! No, really! And any San Francisco foodie types who got their panties in a bunch over this need to grow a sense of humor. But it’s funny like pull-my-finger kind of funny. It’s a joke we’ve heard a million times before, from that corny old uncle who still thinks it’s as fresh and high-larious as the first time he told it decades ago.
Anyway, the whole point of our cuisine of unmanipulated food is that we have access to some of the best, freshest and most flavorful ingredients available anywhere. Why manipulate perfection?
We have a new favorite restaurant.
Full disclosure: Chef-owner Brett Emerson is a personal friend and fellow blogger. And his restaurant is two blocks from our home, in an area where there is a relative dearth of good restaurants. So, we have a vested interest in seeing Contigo succeed. But I can say, having grazed our way through the ever-changing menu four times in as many weeks, that we would be enamored of this restaurant under any circumstances.
Loyal readers and friends know that DPaul and I spent a month in Spain back in 2001. We began our journey in Catalonia, first with a few days in Sitges to cleanse our palates, and then on to five days in the magnificent city of Barcelona. We had little experience with Spanish food, much less Catalan, and happily delved into it expecting it would be much like our trips through Italy.
While Spain and Italy may face each other across a vast sea and have shared roots going back millennia, their similarities, certainly on the culinary front, are few. We adapted quickly to this new diet of oily fishes, crispy fried croquetas and, above all else, pork pork porkity pork pork pork. But by the end of our month were desperate to eat anything other than Spanish food.
In our first week home, we indulged in all the pleasures endemic to San Francisco. Burritos! Sushi! We traipsed through our regular haunts, reacquainting ourselves with the food addictions we had established here.
And then, on the fifth day or so, the craving struck. Evening came, and the tapas, they were not there. Has anyone noticed my glass has no sherry in it? Where, for the love of all that is good and beautiful in the world, is my jamòn? We were faced with a void that needed to be filled, and would not be satisfactorily for a long time to come.
It's that time again, friends. Loyal readers will know that I am a volunteer walking tour guide through City Guides, and that May and October are months wherein we lead special tours, such as new tour debuts, or just less…