Friday, April 4, 2008
Living it up, San Francisco-style
When I told my friends I was coming to San Francisco, Erin suggested that we cook a big dinner together and invite the rest of my San Francisco friends. She and her roommate, who I will continue to call "Zizou" out of politeness to her and fantasy for me, share a beautiful apartment with the kind of kitchen only rich New Yorkers can dream of. It's filled with light, equipped with an island and even a prep sink, and the stove has some gaseous power that I can't even grasp, something about BTUs. All I know is that it boils up water like you wouldn't believe.
We started our shopping at Alemany Market, my favorite farmers' market in San Francisco. Unlike the famed and rather bourgeois Ferry Building, Alemany doesn't truck in artisanal chocolate sprinkled with grey sea salt. So there are few tourists, and instead plenty of resident yuppies, Chinese bargain-hunters, and those who really want a live chicken, which probably overlaps more with the Chinese bargain-hunters than the yuppies. While Erin and I bought meyer lemons, strawberries, asparagus, and lilacs, Zizou took it upon herself to buy a few dozen Kumamoto oysters. She doesn't cook, but she sure knows how to eat.
The rest of the meal we picked up here and there, from the prosciutto I bought at the Cafe Rouge meat counter (not so exciting) to the walnut bread Lika picked up from Tartine (unbelievable, made me feel slightly less annoyed at Tartine).
And Diane brought the wine from Sonoma. She had called me the night before, telling me she was packing and wanting to know what I was serving for dinner. I momentarily forgot she makes wine for a living and asked, "Does the food you're going to eat affect what you're going to wear?
But what really amazed me is how relaxed I was planning and cooking the dinner. Partly it was that Erin was there. I don't normally cook well with others, but I trust her cooking judgment, especially when it comes to risotto. It's nice working with someone when you don't have to worry that she'll "dice" carrots into uneven chunks. And partly it was that after we baked our anise-almond biscotti, we took off to go eat sausages at Rosamunde's and then went for a walk at Crissy Field, where it was unusually sunny and characteristically gorgeous. I've never done that before, go somewhere in the middle of cooking an elaborate dinner for anything other than a missing ingredient.
So when we ended up being late getting home, and Anne had to stir the citrus risotto for another hour after all the guests arrived, I didn't really care. I did care how good the Zuni pistachio "aillade" was on the roasted asparagus, which required Lika to pound away at 2 ounces of pistachios for a good 20 minutes, pulverizing them to a dust that I could bind up with a couple of tablespoonfuls of olive oil, a mashed garlic clove, a splash of grappa, orange zest and salt and pepper. If you have a friend with a powerful arm, I can't recommend this enough. The flavors blend together as you let it sit, and it's so much more complex and delicious than you could have imagined. We were torturing Elena, who's allergic to raw nuts, with our oohing and ahhing. The citrus risotto, also a Zuni recipe involving sections of grapefruit and lime, was also surprising and tasty, the tartness cutting the usual heft of risotto in my stomach. It eased the pain when it turned out the scallops were pretty low-grade.
But I think the star of the show was the meyer lemon ice cream we served with anise-almond biscotti and early strawberries. Happy birthday to me!