Monday, October 30, 2006

Saucy

I understand now why some restaurant owners do not let their employees hang out at the bar of the restaurant when they get off work. Friday night, after seeing Tom Petty at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, we stopped in at Sauce for a bite after pushing bikes up out of the Civic Center BART station and realizing all of the rock n' roll had made us a little peckish. I hadn't been to Sauce before but kept hearing reviews by co-workers and friends. It's one of the few late-night dining spots that serves decent food and wine until 1am and so it naturally draws an industry crowd.

We ordered two Starbucks martinis (good, although a little sweet), the tomato bisque, and fried calamari. The food was very good (we went with our bartender's recommendation for everything), especially the truffled-white-cheddar-on-foccacia sandwich sticks that came with the bisque. The calamari tubules and tentacles were lightly fried and then the bodies were stuffed with sausage and served in a tomato sauce. We accompanied the soup and squid with a glass of South African syrah (me) and a Santa Barbara pinot noir (him). Both wines were absolutely outstanding.

The problem was that we felt like we were invading a private party. Although the bartender was only about three feet away from us the whole evening, every time we wanted something we had to flag him down, and I felt rude pulling him away from his co-workers that were finishing up the shift and coming to sit down at the bar and have a drink. When we finished our meal, the bartender came over and said, "So, I guess you guys are all set then?" and dropped the check. I'm not normally a dessert person, but I wouldn't have minded looking at the menu and perhaps having a glass of dessert wine. We meekly paid and went along our way, the jovial shouts of the rapidly-loosening employees and their friends following us into the balmy late-night.

Most of the restaurants I've worked at have a no-tolerance policy for employees on the floor the same night of their shift, and I thought they were just mean. Seeing it from a customer's perspective changed my mind.

**

In other news, I've now been privy to a boar roast. I stopped by the forge Saturday to interview Jeff for a story I'm writing about him, and found out that Angelo had decided to go whole hog and skewer one of the little boar he'd hunted last week up in Healdsburg. The other is for a fundraiser on November 2nd, which I will not be privy to as I'm going to Buenos Aires for a week, for my birthday (leaving this Wednesday, which, coincidentally is the Tablehopper's birthday). The boar's feet were sawed off (it had already been cleaned) and it was stuffed with fennel from the garden plot on Potrero Hill, then wired shut and put on the spit where it rotated for two hours and made the whole forge, and our clothes, smell yummy. We served it with a salsa verde (just lots of parsley, garlic, olive oil, lemon, and capers--I was allowed to make the salsa, under Angelo's strict instruction) on braided rolls from the Acme bakery. People started showing up and we managed to eat almost the whole thing, washed down with copious amounts of red wine. I love my life.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Food Writers Who Blog

It looks like more famous food writers are taking the cue from Michael Bauer's popular foodie blog. Cooking With Amy highlighted some of the newest ones here.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Making Money, Spending Money

My roommate was right. When I came home from South America, I was so unsettled. I felt like I had too many possessions, led a spoiled lifestyle, and had my priorities skewed (favoring designer jeans and champagne-fueled evenings over seeing the world and connecting with myself). Her response to my bitching about accompanying her to mani-pedis and sample sales in the Marina, "You'll get used to San Francisco soon enough again."

It's true. Working 4-5 nights at the New Restaurant, I'm pulling in enough cash to have paid off my credit card and I'm working enough hours to begin the cycle of thinking, "Oh, but I deserve this.."
1) expensive dinner out
2) gratuitous fashion accessory
3) other expensive dinner out
4) new sneakers
5) expensive haircut, shampoo, and over-tip

So many servers I know get caught up in that cycle of working their ASSES off all week and not doing anything during the days besides having coffee and reading the Times, maybe a walk in the park or some other sort of exercise if they're truly motivated individuals. Because I'd been so broke since returning from South America, I'd virtuously scorned all of the excesses that servers tend to indulge in on their days off. It's like we try to spend all of the cash we made during the week on our weekends; which, amazingly enough for me this week was Friday, Saturday, and Sunday--unheard of! I've actually been able to hang out with non-server friends.

Here's the low-down on all of the money I wasted, happily, this weekend:

Friday: thought about going shopping at H&M but was still feeling virtuous about not spending money (it was only Friday, after all), so I rode my townie bike down Market Street past One Post (the BART station where all of the bike messengers hang out) and had some messenger minutes with friends I don't often see. The day was glorious (as has been the whole weekend) and I pedaled around the Ferry Building (walking my bike through until I got thrown out by the security guard) and drank some juice on the dock overlooking the bay (the one not behind the Slanted Door, but one further north). 4pm, massage at the Mindful Body. I'd been a-hurtin' for weeks and hadn't had a massage in months, so I indulged. Beginning of my spending downward spiral.

After the massage, I hopped a cab (indulgence #2) to Edo, where the fantastic Roxy had squeezed me in for a cut (indulgences #3,4,5: cut, shampoo, styling products). My friend Emiley (the bartender at Treat Street, where I spent last Saturday night) had gotten a haircut there and highly recommended Roxy. Roxy worked magic on my unruly in-between length not-curly-not-straight hair (which one of the servers at the New Restaurant recently likened to a wig), and I strolled down to Mecca to catch the last of happy hour oysters (indulgences #6-20). A dozen oysters, a martini, and a glass of champagne later, I was busily texting everyone I knew to come down and join me. A friend arrived, and we tasted through several of Mecca's appetizers, opting out of the expensive entrees and saving our money for a bottle of Flowers red table wine. It wasn't the best choice to go from drinking a gin martini (me) and a glass of Syrah (him) to drinking a red wine blend that was mainly pinot noir--my error. I should have gone with my instinct and gotten the Red Car Syrah (friend of a friend Carroll Kemp just won a Food & Wine award for "Best Wine under $20" for that wine; funnily enough it was $35 on Mecca's wine list!) but I wanted to see what Flowers could do with their mixin'. A sweet, pretty, feminine wine (indulgence #21).

After dinner (where we had excellent service, even by Restaurant Girl's scrupulous standards) we headed up to North Beach for a Fernet and Cola (a disgusting drink that is popular in Argentina, and I don't know why I ordered it. Fernet should be sipped straight or shot directly after work, and after work only).

Saturday was a leisurely stroll through the park to the Upper Haight for breakfast at Squat & Gobble. Upper Haight street always makes me want to shop and yesterday was no exception. Over the course of the day (which included drinking tall beers on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park and a matinee of The Triplets of Belleville, one of my all-time favorite movies that was playing at the Red Vic) I accumulated some feminine undergarments, a skirt from the Adidas flagship store, a super-80s pair of sunglasses, and some leggings from American Apparel, cementing my status as scenester fashion victim (indulgences #22-30)

I managed to stay away from spending too much money Saturday night but it was only because I passed out and slept 12 hours...brought on by working 5 nights last week and the beer in the park. It's amazing what a difference that fifth night of restaurant work makes. It's the breaking point for me--give me a fifth night in a week and I'll refrain from all exercise (too tired; just trying to recover) and spend hundreds of dollars "treating myself" because I work so hard.

*Sigh.* The fun news is that wearing leggings makes me feel like I'm 13 years old again and I enjoy how awkward that is.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Impromptu Bourbon

I think I have an excess amount of energy. Saturday, after driving up to Carneros to pick grapes all day with the group of bohemian food-lovers I was lucky enough to fall in with a few weeks back, we crushed and de-stemmed nine 30-gallon barrells of pinot noir and feasted on a spread that Angelo had been making all day. It was the last day of the harvest and the big group of 12 or so of us was HUNGRY.

Angelo, his nephew Gaetano, and Angelo's friend Sandro (all lovely, warm, Sicilian men) had been cooking since 2pm. The feast included wild boar (that Angelo had hunted--he still has one more and he's going to roast the whole thing sometime in January), polenta, quartered fennel bulbs, eggplant done several ways, turnips, roasted peppers, lots of bread... a lot of things that I can't really remember right now but it was one of the most delicious meals I've ever had.

I'm used to "family meal" being a tedious affair in which the kitchen of a restaurant uses the waiters as walking garbage disposals--we're hungry enough at the beginning of the shift (because we don't have anything in our home fridges except for beer and Perrier) or at the end of the shift (because we've been sprinting from table to table all night) to put away whatever the kitchen throws at us. Family meal at Angelo's forge is another thing entirely. Bottles and bottles of wine were opened (from the pinot bottling we did last Wendesday) and the platters of food that piled over the table emptied out after just a half an hour, hungry grape pickers from all walks of life completely satisfied after a day of hard manual labor that they welcome as a respite from their fancy indoor city lives.

So after all of this (and I worked HARD crushing and de-stemming. It's my favorite part, I think because it happens so fast it reminds me of restaurant service, or catering) I decided to go to the Mission with a couple of the group who weren't falling asleep in their plates. We were going to check out the Litquake finale at 12 Galaxies but it was over by the time we got there so we headed over to Treat Street, a super divey bike messenger bar where my friend Emiley works. I'd never been there (I never get as far out as 24th and Treat!) and I wanted to see her. The bar was PACKED from all of the Litquake overflow, and after about a half an hour Em asked me to hop behind the bar and help her. She was alone and I was happy to collect and wash glassware.

The fun and dangerous part about having bartender friends is that you drink way too much and way too long--drinks are free and you're allowed to hang after hours (I was helping clean up). So there were a lot of bourbon shots taken, probably not the best idea after a whole evening of drinking home wine. I had some steam to blow off, though, but Sunday morning I had one of those mornings where I swore I'd never ingest anything alcoholic again.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Fancy Art Event

Last night I went to a fancy-pants art auction, which was a fundraiser for the Larkin Street Youth Services. The Youth Service Organization, which has been a model of excellence in San Francisco and nationwide for more than 20 years, gives youth on the streets the tools they need through housing, medical care, education, and job training, to permanently reclaim their lives.


There were over 200 pieces of really cool art at the event. I especially liked the pieces by Ariel Dunitz-Johnson, Felix Macnee, and Jeff Burwell. The event, which cost $100 a head, was hosted at 21 Buena Vista East, 5-stories of excellent taste overlooking the entire city. I wanted to drink sake in the bathroom all night, because the bathroom (one of the twelve or so in the house) had the most exceptional views from the Diet Coke billboard (my personal favorite billboard in the city because it glitters) by the Bay Bridge all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

I wound up hanging out at the bar (naturally) for a large part of the evening because a friend of mine was tending bar. The first thing he asked when he saw me was "How on earth did you weasel your way in here?" I assured him that I had a bona-fide invitation from the curator (I had even put on a cocktail dress and faux-shmina for the occasion) and proceeded to swap dirty jokes with him like he was behind the bar at the Restaurant where we worked together.

The food was excellent, but I didn't eat much of it because I was still recovering from the lunchtime dim sum feast I'd had with the Tablehopper at Golden River Seafood & Dim Sum Restaurant, all the way out on 22nd and Geary, a spot so far out in the Richmond I wasn't sure I was in Kansas any more. It was my first time eating Dim Sum and I think I overdid it.

I enjoyed myself at the Fancy Art Event (I always like to get dressed up and look at pretty things and drink free alcohol) but was assured by all involved that tonight is really the night to come. It's $45 and all of the artists will be there. Just my luck, I've got to work on the night of the tawdry fun.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Waiter Nightmares


In one dream, my college roommate told me she'd be walking down a peaceful tropical beach, when she'd suddenly come upon ten tables that all needed service right then.

A friend of mine who worked the insane schedule of the lunch shift at Boulevard followed by the dinner shift at Jardiniere told me he had a recurring dream in which he'd be working at both restaurants at the same time, and somehow had to take all of his orders and put them in the computer at Boulevard, then manage to get across town on the Muni to deliver all of the food that must have come up on the line by then at Jardiniere. Ouch!

My waiter nightmares are usually a simple re-hash of the stress of the shift I've just finished. It's usually pretty bad when I start a new job (and they never went away for the entire four months that I worked at one of San Francisco's top restaurants this spring) but then taper off after a couple of weeks. I haven't had any since starting work at the New Restaurant, which is a good sign.

I think that because a restaurant shift is so fast-paced, there isn't much time to process the stress of the job during the shift. It's wham, bam, thank-you ma'am (especially in a busy lunch place, where 200 covers are crammed into three hours), and you're off work with a shot of Fernet in hand. It's not until your body has time to relax and de-compress during sleep that your mind can think about the stuff it's gone through that evening. I sometimes wake up with a start, remembering in my sleep some small error I'd made--did I give that to-go box back to the table? did I adjust the tip properly or did I short myself again? why was the GM giving me the hairy eyeball at 9:23pm?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Get Out of the Way

Remind me to never, ever, own a restaurant. I've been working 5-6 shifts a week at the New Restaurant, and while the bloom is still on the rose enough so that it's not too much of a big deal to spend nearly every waking moment working, I just can't understand how anyone would want to actually own a restaurant and willingly spend all of their time there!!

I will ideally work 2-3 nights a week in a restaurant where I make a gajillion dollars a night so I can afford my San Francisco rent, cocktails, yoga membership, and designer-jeans habit. When I was working doubles all week this spring, I lasted about three months before I quit all of my jobs and disappeared deep into South America. I'm determined to be more of an adult in 2007, like maybe keep the same job for more than a few months and save up some money for longer than it takes to buy a plane ticket to somewhere exotic.

**

Last night after bumping into yet another drunk chick buying a cocktail from the side of the bar that's right next to the kitchen, the chef looked at me, rolled his eyes, and asked, "Now why don't you blog about that?"

Tight spaces in restaurants are such a funny integral part of the way the dining-room floor and the kitchen work. There's something that develops, I call it the Restaurant Ballet, and it's the way people working very very quickly in a very small space move around each other; spinning about it rapid, graceful pirouettes, trays filled with martinis held perfectly aloft. Cooks slam knives down in precision, throwing pork chops on the grill as they reach through each others' arms in an octopus-like Tetris move to shake a frying pan as it's just starting to smoke.

When someone who is not in tuned with this dance comes into the space, it throws a wrench into the works. That's why there are metal bars to separate the service well from the rest of the bar, and why chefs give the hairy eyeball when a server steps over the invisible boundary between the side of the line where the food comes up and the side of the line where the food is cooked.

Sometimes customers unwittingly (or knowingly, which is worse) cross this line, and insert themselves into the spaces where we are trying to work. Everyone has their own tricks to get these people out of there without asking "Could you please move?" which would be a complete non-non in the fancy food world where the customer is always right. My tactic is to bump a purse every single time I walk by. Even if the purse's owner is not in my way, she will be soon. If I actually bumped someone on purpose, I'd feel guilty (I'm of Nordic descent and I'm extremely tall and sturdy) because I'd probably take them out, so a gentle purse bump every six seconds does the trick pretty quick.

One of my coworkers has no compunction about throwing an elbow, but only to guys. He lets the girls stand wherever they want. One waiter tells a story about passing a plate of hot food very, very close to a customer's ear; not so close that it touches them, but close enough that they realize something bad might happen if they don't get out of the way--although what the in-the-way-person doesn't know is that the waiter, an absolute master of balancing, will never let a drink spill or a plate drop, no matter how much drunken gesticulating goes on at the table by the people who are about to eat and drink the goods we deliver.

Restaurant Ballet keeps you in shape, but I think it's also the main cause of Waiter Nightmares, a topic which deserves its own post. More on Waiter Nightmares tomorrow...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Restaurant Girl Reviewed





Restaurant Girl is in San Francisco magazine this month!

An anonymous veteran wait­ress and freelance journalist offers readers "an inside slice of restaurant life" with her lively blog at Restaurant­GirISpeaks.blogspot.com, a mix of gossipy accounts of restaurant drama; philosophi­cal musings on her life as a waitress; and detailed, food snobbish reviews of local restaurants. Anyone who's ever worked in the restaurant business will chuckle know­ingly at her insights, but even if you haven't spent any time as a server or host you'll enjoy her confessional, perky prose, The site perfectly conveys the ups and downs of work in the food-service industry, bemoaning the stinginess of a transvestite Barbara Walters look-alike one day, rejoicing that her new hairdo got her some extra-good tips the next.

One post mischievously describes a particularly slow and unlucrative evening that she and a co'worker spent sneaking across the street

to a dive bar to pound drinks. Restaurant Girl never names the places she's worked, so part of the fun is guessing which restaurants she's writing about. So far I've gleaned that what she calls "The Bistro" is a little place somewhere in Pacific Heights and that "The Res' taurant" is near Market and Church. As she posts more, maybe we can figure out exactly which places she'o giving us the dish cn.

BYRON PERRY

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rain Has Come

And thus begins my year of never-ending winter. It was so lovely to have a month of sunshine upon my return to San Francisco from South America, but today the rain has arrived, reminding me that I missed summer entirely this year and am now in for two more months of winter. Sigh. Last night I went to Angelo Garro's forge in SoMa and helped Angelo and Jeff bottle wine. Helping to make wine is fun! Although I worked at wineries for years (Roshambo, Iron Horse Vineyards, and Michel-Schlumberger), it was always as a tastron, an events coordinator, or a tour guide--never in the cellars.

We bottled 50 cases of the 2005 Pinot Noir, drinking plenty of it as we went along, and finished the evening with a lovely dinner of homemade Penne (Angelo's nephew, Giatano, was cranking it out of an ancient machine as I arrived) with a sauce Angelo made with tomatoes from Jeff's parents' house in Healdsburg and sausage made by a friend of theirs whose name I've forgotten but is supposedly a famous sausage-maker. We also had a tomato salad (just fresh heirlooms with olive oil and vinegar and dried oregano that was hanging from the ceiling in bunches, from Angelo and Jeff's plot in one of the city's community gardens), and lots of songs (Hope from the Lincart gallery pulled out a guitar and proved she's got a set of pipes as soulful as Gillian Welch) and laughter. It amazes me how Angelo can have such a slow-food, Sicilian lifestyle right in the middle of San Francisco. Having been introduced to a group of people to whom simplicity and friendship is so important to is inspiring.

After bottling the pinot (two barrels), we punched down the grapes we'd picked last Wednesday. My hands are completely stained purple (although I managed to escape with my clothing free of wine-stains), and I have to wait tables tonight. I'll just wear them like a badge of honor, shrugging casually and saying, "Oh, you know how it goes during crush! I haven't had a day off in weeks and everything's covered in various stages of wine. But, you gotta do what you gotta do!" like a seasoned pro.

Blogger of the Week #54

Restaurant Girl is Becks & Posh's Bay Area blogger of the week, aw shucks! Thanks for the honor!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Michelin Stars Showered

The Michelin stars have been released! The influential guide, which has expanded into San Francisco and the Bay Area for their 2007 edition, doesn't hand out ratings easily (something like one empty sugar packet left on the table will ensure that no stars are given). I ran into Boulevard's chef de cuisine tonight at Nopa, my new favorite after-hours, industry-friendly dining spot (click here for Amanda Berne's great article in the Chronicle's Sunday magazine this week about late-night dining spots). Glowing and a little dazed, Nancy Oakes' right-hand man was celebrating his star with a sushi-chef friend of his over white wine, roasted sardines, and goat cheese. With food, service, and wine, Boulevard has consistently been one of San Francisco's finest restaurants for thirteen years. Congratulations!!

Here's the rest of the results:
3 STARS
- The French Laundry

2 STARS
- Aqua
- Cyrus
- Manresa
- Michael Mina

1 STAR
- Gary Danko
- Fleur de Lys
- Rubicon
- Bushi-Tei
- Quince
- Range
- Acquerello
- La Folie
- Masa’s
- Ritz-Carlton Dining Room
- Boulevard
- Fifth Floor
- Chez Panisse
- Sushi-Ran
- Chez TJ
- Auberge du Soleil
- Bistro Jeanty
- Bouchon
- La Toque
- Terra
- Dry Creek Kitchen
- Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
- K & L Bistro - Sebastopol

For more info, see the official release.

**

On another note, last night after I got off of work (very late) and had a couple of Chimays with my co-workers, our competitive edges came out. Four of us (two girls, two boys), instigated a game of pick-up basketball in Duboce Park and whooped the bejeezus out of Jack Falstaff's management team. The final score was 11 to 3, and we won twenty dollars. We played until the cops threw us out at 4am (the group was about fifteen people with two full teams and hangers-on) and have decided to instigate a Sunday night basketball league. If any restaurant staff thinks they can take us on, let me know!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Travesties

Today I went to the matinee of Tom Stoppard's Travesties: a comedy revolution with Grandma, who was in town for a couple of days. The comic mixture of literature, love, and dadaism reminds me of my own life, and I hearkened back to Lukka's sniggering taunts last week when upon my exit from the Barn Diva I ran into an old "friend" at the bar, white-shirted and fresh off a lunch shift at the Very Prestigious Restaurant where the two of us worked together.

This boy trained me as a waiter there (he's a great server, charming and slippery and smart like a waiter should be), and I wound up hooking up with him a week into my employment at the Very Prestigious Restaurant. I have no interest in blogging about my love life (except when it intersects with a restaurant, and I have sworn to not let that happen any more), but I think restaurant flings are interesting. It's best when they happen between two sides of the house that don't have too much contact.

A fling between a cook and a waitress is all good until it goes all bad--the waitress has got to pick up her food from the kitchen 100 times a night. A fling between two waiters is common (after all, they're cut from the same oversexed, money-loving, snakeskin) and better when it goes bad because they can ignore each other on the floor (they've got their own sections to worry about, after all) but the communal drinking that goes on after work between waiters can be sort of awkward when two of them have just finished with each other. A fling between a waiter and a bartender is relatively uncommon--bartenders are usually too busy scoring with the drunk girls sitting in front of them to bother with the waiters. Besides, bartenders see it all, and probably don't want to hook up with a waiter who's already been passed around town.

Hooking up with this boy at the Very Prestigious Restaurant was a catalyst for a lot of reasons. I'd never gotten together with a coworker before; but more importantly, I'd never had a one-night stand before. Call me naive, but having someone seem so interested in my every thought and action, only to completely ignore me the next day was absolutely shocking. This slap in the face produced a lot of bad behavior on my part, and I moved to San Francisco shortly thereafter.

Seeing this boy at the bar wasn't the dramatic scene that I know Lukka was hoping for, but we were cold to each other. I guess I was pretty cruel to this boy after he spurned me, but although I didn't want a relationship with him, I was hurt by his absolute disregard for everything about me after he'd gotten what he was after.

I know plenty of girls who agonize over, "Why hasn't he called????" when the truth is he just doesn't respect her after she immediately falls into the sack. I won't rail on about the antifeminist double-standards that exist in our culture here, I'll just quietly sit back and have a Scotch (that's the manliest drink I can think of) and realize that all the drama's in our heads, anyway.