Foodie’s Farewell to San Francisco

August 2014

After seven and a half years in this fair city, my husband and I are moving back east.  We won’t miss the fog or the lack of a real summer, but we will miss the fresh fruits and vegetables and the abundance of wonderful restaurants that make this such a satisfying place to eat.  Just eat.

In our last two weeks as residents, we’ve been dining around at old and new favorites.  Top of the list is SPQR.  It’s superb—creative, always crowded, and challenging to the palate.  Their pasta dishes always tempt me and usually win out over any of the entrees. We will have our second dinner there in as many weeks.  My latest favorite is the lasagnette with the mini meatballs.

Enjoying SPQR
Enjoying SPQR

Newer on the scene and also a favorite for repeat visits be it lunch or dinner is Coqueta.  Located at Pier 5, a short walk from the Ferry Building, Michael Chiarello riffs on Spanish tapas in the most appealing way.  We love Padron peppers and his preparation with salt and slivers of prosciutto is addictive.  The menu changes frequently, but we also are fond of the chicken and pea croquetas (a   soothing counterpart to the peppers), the little lamb and duck meatballs, and the pinxtos (tiny bites on a skewer).  Recently we discovered the smoky homemade potato chips.  I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, sharing is the order of the day and the perfect way to sample a wide range of hot and cold dishes.  And there are plenty of wine, beer, and sangria choices.

We live just two blocks from Fillmore Street where you can find everything you need from supermarkets to trendy fashion boutiques, a proper bookstore, many coffee shops, and of course, a number of very good restaurants.  Besides SPQR, we have been regulars at Curbside Café, great for comfort food tinged with French ambiance (short ribs and the fish of the day always reliable and Olivier and his staff always welcoming) and also at Troya. Troya’s Turkish/Mediterranean menu offers a variety of vegetable dishes—we especially like the Brussels sprouts and cauliflower preparations—along with generous portions of kebabs and traditional Turkish manti, little meat-filled dumplings in a creamy yogurt sauce.

Another night we dined with friends at L’Ardoise in the Castro, a place we had frequented several times before.  This French bistro is cozy and a popular neighborhood spot with menu classics such as escargot, cassoulet, and steak frites—all delicious.

On our last night in the city, when we were staying on Nob Hill, we returned to Ala Romana on Russian Hill.  This is a friendly place—the host practically sweeps you off the corner with his enthusiastic greeting—and the service and food are both very good.  Continuing our pepper theme, we enjoyed their tempura pepper appetizer (which, by the way, we had indulged in the week before with friends) followed by their prosciutto and burrata plate, the tortellini pasta with a balsamic reduction and the roast chicken.  All tasty and filling.

Besides dinner, there is lunch, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my favorite lunch places in the Sunset.  They are Park Chow, for their smiling noodles with shrimp and chicken and their salads, especially the Thai chicken salad, and Sai Gow.  This attractive Thai spot is perfect if you are by yourself and I find their curries both comforting and addictive.  My personal favorite is the green curry with chicken.  Lastly, the arrival of La Boulange on 9th Street is an added plus and they offer a healthy salad nicoise.

Bon appetit!  We’re off to the other coast.

Julia Glass triumphs!

We have re-located in Maine for our last week (“different house” as my granddaughter would say) and are finding it all very peaceful. It is a serene spot with stunning views toward Squirrel Island punctuated only by lapping water sounds and the early morning squawks of a jay.  Random sailboats ply the blue waves and a yellow kayak provides a jolt of color.

i have been immersed in And the Dark Sacred Night and have just emerged after several days.  A fan of Julia Glass since Three Junes, I  think this is her best novel yet.  Now I must go back and re-read Junes since some of those characters, Mal, Lucinda, Fenno, and Walter figure prominently here.  Glass draws male characters exceedingly well—perhaps it’s because she has several sons and a male partner—and I was fully engaged with and charmed by crusty Jasper.  Likewise, she captures 40-something Kit’s diffidence, inertia, timidness and neediness as he reluctantly embarks on a search for his biological father.  His wife, Sandra, has thrown him out, in essence, and his first step is visiting Jasper, his sometime stepfather.

JGlassGlass captures the tensions, the hesitations, the undertones and the undercurrents in relationships—the what is not said which can be so much more than what actually is.  Several families here become entwined—Daphne and Kit, a single mother and son;  Jasper, a widower who was then divorced with two sons and a stepson; Zeke and Lucinda, an impaired senator and his aging wife and their daughter and sons; and Fenno and Walter, a couple who nurture through food and compassion and can also rise to the challenge of entertaining 9-year old twins.  These are lives that are separate, then entangled, and then untangled, and then finally entwined for the long haul.  I found this novel to be rich in substance, tinged with humor and humility and thoroughly engrossing.  I loved the writing as well as Glass’s depictions of our all too human foibles and frailties.

I heard Glass read from her previous novel at Book Passage in Marin several years ago and would also recommend that novel,  The Widower’s Tale.

Boat Trip on the Sheepscot River

I’m not a water person, not really. But I do like to look at the water and prefer a house with a water view.  And I go on boats, but quite selectively–on calm waters, with certain friends, not too long in duration, and you get the general idea. Given all of that, I can wholeheartedly recommend the one hour boat trip on the Sheepscot River which leaves from the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay.  First you have to pay to get into the gardens  (or be a member–well worth it and that’s a whole other story!) and then you leave from the new boat dock at the end of the Shoreline Trail.

The boat has an electric motor, seats seven plus the captain and has a canopy which provided some protection from the sun.  Sean Griffith, the captain, is a relaxed and very knowledgeable man who obviously enjoys what he does.  We went out in the afternoon about midway between low and high tides (he thinks low tide is better) and cruised by Sawyer Island, Pratt’s Island and several others on the Sheepscot River which flows up to Wiscasset about 5 miles away by water.  Since the motor is quiet, the captain can speak in a normal tone of voice.  He even cut the motor completely and we just idled every so often.

Bobbing lobster buoy
Bobbing lobster buoy

There were quite a number of seals bobbing their heads up, and we saw a couple of osprey nests, one with two fledglings on it.

These waters are some of the richest in the state for lobsters and besides the colorful lobster buoys, we cruised past the equivalent of a parking lot or garage for empty lobster traps.  A good catch is 500 pounds of lobster a day, a very good and more typical haul for Boothbay lobstermen is 1,000 pounds per day.

There was almost no other boat traffic and so the whole experience was peaceful. Cost of this excursion is $25 per person and well worth it!


The Great War

There is something positively delicious about indulging in a half hour of reading before getting out of bed in the morning.  At home, I treat myself to this on the occasional Saturday or Sunday; here in Maine, it’s a daily occurrence.  Today I finished reading the latest by Jacqueline WinspearThe Care and Management of Lies.  It’s a departure from her Maisie Dobbs series (which I love).

This is a quiet novel with the mostly pastoral setting of a small farm and village in the English countryside. Tom’s educated, somewhat sophisticated wife Kezia discovers a talent for cooking and prides herself on setting a proper table with tasty food. When Tom enlists in the war, Kezia is left to run the farm with only two farmhands and a neighboring girl for kitchen help.

Writing to him at the front, she describes in loving detail the dishes she is creating to serve him.  Her letters are sweet sustenance to him and his comrades in arms. Threaded through the tale of Tom and Kezia’s marriage is her strained friendship with his sister Thea. This is a novel that starts out slowly, but gains in intensity as the war goes on and on and on.

As might be expected, the centenary of  the start of WWI has resulted in a spate of new nonfiction books.  But these war years are also a time period of interest and appeal for mystery, novel and TV writers.  Think about Downton Abbey.  And there are the two engaging series, featuring nurse Bess Crawford and Inspector Ian Rutledge set during the war and post-war years.  The author is the mother son team known as Charles Todd.   And a WWI series of mystery/spy novels by Anne Perry, better known for her Victorian era mysteries.   I’ve not read these, but will add them to my list.