Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Rioja to the Max

The Restaurant was pretty slow on Monday night, what with the freezing weather and the rain and all, so three out of seven waiters finished relatively early and cabbed across town with one of the bartenders to Tsunami, an ueber-hip sushi joint in the Western Addition with a sake god-in-residence called JoJo. We lucked out and got the biggest table in the house (it was nearly 11pm and they were probably almost closed) and devoured Stellas, sushi, and sake until fishily happy. The waitress was someone I knew from junior college up north in the wine country, and although I'd seen her around town a lot this last year, I could never place her. She nailed it as soon as she saw my face, exclaiming, "Restaurant Girl! The only other non-sorority type from the swim team! Man, they sure thought we were freaks back then, didn't they?"

After settling up (and how is it that I always wind up paying fifty bucks for sushi when I just have a couple of pieces? I'll leave it at that, though, because there's nothing worse than a bill-haggler, especially with a group of waiters) and tipping Lydia enough to have made staying late worth her while, we took our requisite mixed-sake shots with her. It's trouble in paradise when a group of waiters go out--they're most likely all bound to know at least one person in the restaurant they dine in (which is why they went there in the first place), if they don't know someone already, they are bound to be friends with their waiter/chef/bartender by the time they leave, and restaurant people express their affection for one another by knocking back free alcohol together.


We were collected by an off-duty hostess from The Restaurant, and made our way to the Hotel Biron, an amazing little wine bar on Rose Alley, just behind the Zuni Cafe on Market Street. I'd found out last week due to a tip from chef de cuisine Ravi of Boulevard that the Hotel Biron celebrates industry night on Mondays; all bottles of wine are thirty percent off! With the help of a dear friend of mine (another waitress/writer type; there are more of us than we'd care to admit in this fine city) we went through a bottle of Dr. Loosen's Riesling and three bottles of a Rioja who's name escapes me. The Hotel Biron is great for a number of reasons, numbers three, four, and five of them are goat cheese, sheep cheese, and cow cheese (reasons #1 and #2 are, of course, red and white wine), on which I nibbled as I sucked down the temperanillo blend. Hotel Biron also has an extensive by-the-glass list, and the wine-geeky bartenders have often let me try each one of the type I wanted (explaining in-depth along the way) until I found a wine that I liked, then gone from there to discuss the different bottles, selecting one that was perfect.

We shut the place down and trundled back to one waitresses' house with a final bottle of Rioja, showing each other our dance moves until 3:30am. I don't go out with the staff of The Restaurant very much; hours are long and we all have our own lives (and aren't waestrels like so many other waiters--including myself at other points of my life--are), so when we get together for an Outing like the sushi/wine night, it seems really special, and I feel lucky to be working with a group of really smart, really interesting folks.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Greasy Breakfast

In need of a greasy fix? Check out my highly subjective roundup of Sonoma, Marin, and Napa County breakfasts here, or here.

Bourbon and Branch

I recently, and belatedly, checked out the new speakeasy everyone's been talking about, Bourbon and Branch. Visiting the bar at 10pm with my roomie and a dapper bartender friend who's newly remodeled Luau has just reopened under the name Mercury (with the owners of Zebulon), we were escorted through the heavy wooden door and into the red-wallpapered room for our reserved seats at the bar. (FYI, the bar can't usually be reserved but Restaurant Girl has friends behind many bars in the city, and it was a pretty slow night in the Trender-loin). (photo unwitting courtesy of SFGate)

Bourbon and Branch is like a bartender's wet dream. First, guests can't just walk right in the door. They're viewed through the eye of a camera, which immediately makes them more docile (according to our bartender). If the potential quaffers look like a bunch of jerks, they aren't necessarily let in. A reservation is a must (even if the place is empty), so there's no bar-hopping.

Second, the bar features all kinds of esoteric bourbon, which for some reason is always a bartender's favorite drink (barkeeps, please weigh in here: tell Restaurant Girl why y'all love the mash so much!).

Third, on the back page of the hefty menu (for sale: $500) are listed The House Rules, two of which include, "Do not order a Cosmo," and "The bartender is always right." More of a rule follower than a rule breaker, Restaurant Girl felt inherently comfortable in this purposefully clandestine setting (a speakeasy) at which the parameters are defined, and immediately ordered the Rouge #10. A delicious concoction of house-infused pepper gin (Tanqueray number 10) muddled with fresh strawberries and lime juice and decorated with a few drops of Pastis on the surface of the drink (served up in a martini glass), it was probably the best cocktail I've ever had, hands down (and I don't throw around superlatives like that on a regular basis).

Brandon drank an old-fashioned (he's a bartender, so he likes bourbon, of course!) and although I egged my roommate on mercilessly to order a cosmo (she really does drink them sometimes, but she's not in the industry any more so we'll forgive her that), she followed the rules and ordered some sort of orangey-vodka drink also in a martini glass.

Another round followed, and was a little blurry, as second rounds are wont to be. I allowed the impeccable Neyah to choose my drink (actually, he offered, which was a huge weight off of my mind, and he's such a good bartender that I trusted him to pick something that would be the logical progression), and it was a salad-flavored martini, which is a lot better than it sounds. Probably something like Hendricks gin and very thin cucumber slices, with a tincture droppered over the top (they take their mixology very seriously at Bourbon and Branch; drops are dripped, alcohols are painstakingly stirred until they achieve just the right temperature from the ice cubes that drop down, impurity-free, out of the special ice machine that delivers them nine degrees colder than regular ice), and perfection is achieved.

After gentleman Brandon hailed roomie a cab and put her in it, he and I headed over for a late night snack to Farmer Brown, on our bartender's recommendation. DUD! Our bartender had told us it could be give or take, and this night it was definitely take. The joint was empty at 12:15, the bartender energetically sucking face with an off-duty waitress on the patron side of the bar. He grudgingly threw menus at us and sullenly made his way to his side of the bar, staring us aggressively down until I timidly asked what was better: the fried catfish or the chicken. Without an apology, he announced the kitchen stopped serving at midnight and B and I rushed out the door to Globe, which although not the oh-so-hot-spot it was a few years back (so I hear, this was actually my first time dining at Globe), was an oasis of good food and impeccable service in the middle of a foggy San Francisco night.

We had martinis (Stoli for him, Tanqueray for me; sadly, Globe does not have a sassy cocktail menu, nor esoteric alcohols) and some delicious snacks. The macaroni and cheese was bechemel-y and delicious, the salad lardon with just the right amount of bacon grease to wilt the frisee (and two little poached eggs, perfect for sharing), and the white-truffle mushroom pizza gave off heavenly odors. B let me take charge of the menu and discourse with the waiter and order whatever I wanted (what a guy), and the waiter was knowledgeable and friendly, something that's not so easy to find to find at 1am.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A not-so-cynical Thanksgiving

Until yesterday, I hadn't any plans for Thanksgiving. I was going to stay in San Francisco and not go on a bike ride and wallow in the misery of being an orphan in my home town (my family does not "do" holidays, so to speak of) and refresh every thirty seconds, but I was invited last minute to celebrate Thanksgiving at the Burwells' up in Healdsburg, from where I now sit as the high-powered men play pool and smoke cigars and the ladies sit on comfortable ottomans and sip juicy zinfandel.

I arrived around 3pm after taking a scenic route through the horribly constructed new downtown Windsor and past the old family farm, which Grandma sold three or so years ago to finance her retirement and her move to Oregon. Visiting Healdsburg is always bittersweet for me. It's strange to suddenly be a celebrity of sorts for being a fifth-generation Healdsburger; when grandma was growing up Healdsburg was barely a town, and when I was growing up it was not the groovy land of Diesel jeans and fine zinfandel it is now. I can't even afford to live here now but my status as built-in hick lends me a street cred that people bring up at dinner parties for an entertaining conversation tidbit.

There were twenty some-odd folks here; friends, family, and orphans like me. None of my family lives in town any more, and I don't know that my mediocre salary as a freelance writer and Restaurant Girl will ever afford me the luxury of the beautiful surroundings I'm in right now. That's okay, though, because the paths that I am following in my late twenties seem to be taking me in a direction I never thought I'd see, and I'm thankful for that. Greetings, all, and count your blessings be they large or small.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Creepy Babies

This is what happens when I stop by the bar, alone, on the way home from work. Instead of writing about something amusing, I surf the internet and find truly strange videos like this.

Just when I thought my biological clock had started ticking! I'll watch this video if I start getting too wistful about how cute babies are.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What do you think?

About the new blog layout? Please leave your comments.

Ruthless Insouciance

As so often is the case, my day off was filled with big plans yesterday that disappeared into the stratosphere as I slept through calls from my friends urging me out of bed and on the bike (it was a gorgeous morning, and in my previous life I was a mediocre bike racer)and groggily picked up the cell only at 11am when a writer friend called to say he'd be in the city doing research for his first feature in Details magazine (congratulations!).

I rolled out of bed (only about an inch as I sleep on a mattress on the floor)and washed my face (something that I never let slide no matter how drunk/hungover I am, thanks to my mother's semi-rigorous upbringing) while boiling water for a gourdful of yerba mate. As usual, I f*****d around for way too long on, a ridiculous website that I've been obsessed with for over a year. I don't have television and rarely watch movies, but some cruel friends of mine who know how shallow I can be plied me with trashy celebrity tabloid magazines last year until my addiction was firm and now I feel like Hollywood is my own personal comic book. I couldn't name Kate Bosworth's last movie (or any of them, for that matter) and I couldn't tell you what Nicolette Sheridan's voice sounds like, but I breathlessly follow their love lives and weight losses.

I finally made it out of the house by 1pm but only up the street for a much needed mani-pedi (where I enriched my brain with Ready Made magazine as opposed to my beloved US Weekly) and afterward lazed around the house doing god-knows-what. I know I sent some emails that must have meant something, because I have more stories assigned (for national magazines as well as San Francisco publications, hurrah!) but didn't write a word. I want to feel like I'm this very deep person but the truth is I adore my bourgeois-bohemian (boo-bo?) lifestyle, and although waiting tables is starting to take its toll on my body, the luxuries it affords me (like coming home last night and bidding on a T-Mobile Sidekick II on ebay although it doesn't even match my wireless carrier) are important to me and that makes me feel shallow as hell.

Laundry called around 5pm, and then I went to yoga until 9pm; the class size was me, another student who'd been practicing exactly as long as I have (off and on for a couple of years, more heavily in the last two months) and was at the same skill level, and the teacher. It was excellent, Wendy gave us lots of personal attention and I felt like I really improved. I left tranquilly and filled with love. In short, ready for cocktails.

I went down to The Restaurant all by my lonesome, sat at the bar, and put down a gorgeous hamburger and a serving of bread pudding with caramel ice cream. And three cocktails. I thoroughly enjoyed the (mile-long) walk home, which is absolutely unbearable after my eight-hour shifts (twice as long as a normal Restaurant shift) but after a 5,000 calorie meal felt invigorating. Nick Cave is still singing directly to me through my headphones, and I'm struck by how after almost two years of living here (which have passed by literally in the time it takes to say ""), I am still struck dumb by the littlest things like a theater poster in the window of a locksmith's shop, the way the air smells at 12:13am in the fall, and the fact that you can never stop discovering little bits of beauty at least every other hour when you live in San Francisco.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Don't You Wish You Were a Waiter?

Because if you were, you could do fun stuff like this when you got off of work.

Tonight we rented every single lane at the bowling alley in the Presidio, drank Smirnoff Ice malt beverages, and ate nachos with warm processed cheese-food that came out of a machine. The entire staff of The Restaurant, from bussers to bartenders to cooks to the owners. While most of the balls rolled made it into the gutters more often than not, we had style, as proved by one waiter's BAD-ASS moves while bowling. Yeah-yuh!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Acid Tango

There´s something truly amazing about a 10-piece tango band made up of dreadlocked Argentineans all in their 20s. Last night a group of us went to see underground acid-tango group Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro play a show to release their new CD ¨Mucha Mierda.¨ There were four accordionists, four violinists, a cellist, a bassist, a pianist, and a vocalist. The accoridonists sat on plastic chairs in the front of the stage with the violinists standing behind them. To go along with the ¨A lot of shit¨ theme, the accordionists´plastic chairs had toilet seats zip-tied to them, and the playlists were written on rolls of toilet paper that hung from the low microphones.

The group was shaggy and the smell of hashish wafted through the air. The muisc was wild, untamed. I don´t know where accordions got the reputation for being dorky, but after hearing these instruments play the same notes in semi-perfect time, watching the cute boys passionately stomp the floor and coax, and slam, and shove, the tango notes from the accordions, close enough to hear the bellows slap together, was a bold realization: this is the silent soundtrack that´s playing whenever I have really, really good sex.

I´d seen a tango show before, at the famous Cafe Tortoni, when I was in Buenos Aires this summer. It was lovely, a small venue with slick, gorgeous music and glittery dancers. Last night was piano pounding, accordions shrieking in minor-note disharmony, the music teetering just on the edge of out-of-control, and sometimes the drunk singer would growl in the microphone while wearing a motorcycle helmet perched on the back of his head.

The place that tango has had in my life so far has been relegated to movies, stereotypical sultry women with roses in their hair, flingling fishneted legs about with controlled passion. Later tango, mixed with groovy electronic lounge music, graced my stereo when it was chillout time and I had friends over I wanted to impress with my hip, worldly, tastes in music. Tango in Buenos Aires is a normal part of life, a type of folkloric music that has never gone away and had a resurgence (like bluegrass in America). The passion in both in the music and in its playing, is in-your-face without boundaries like the passion for living, and loving, is here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Now THAT'S Fusion!

I didn't think I would be posting from Buenos Aires but I have been to so many restaurants here in just two days that I had to dish some out for the rest of the world. I arrived Thursday morning after an exceptionally long coach flight, with which the details of I shall not bore you. It was hot and sunny here in Argentina's gorgeous capital, and after resting at the pad in San Telmo (the ancient, bohemian neighborhood where tango was born and where the freelance food and fashion photographer I'm visiting lives) for a couple of hours we went just round the corner for goat cheese sandwiches.

My friend "Che" (the international nickname for all Argentineans, hence the moniker Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Argentineans are so named because they say, "che" like North Americans say "hey.") is vegetarian, even though his homeland is home to the best steaks on the planet, and as I was raised vegetarian for most of my life and only started eating meat once I became Restaurant Girl, it's nice to take a break from the heaviness San Franciscan restaurant food and find a different side of Argentinean cuisine. The sandwiches were excellent and it was lovely to sit outside in the sun and watch the street.

There aren't many great sidewalk cafes I can think of in San Francisco (and if you can think of any besides the Cafe du Soleil, where I already spend a LOT of time, please let me know!) so when I get to a city that's got a sidewalk-cafe culture, I happily plop my ass down in the sun and drink coffee or wine, or both, and watch the world go by.

Yesterday Che and I had lunch at an Asian-themed restaurant in Palermo, the ritzy neighborhood right on the river with beautiful ancient trees waving over the cobbled sidewalks. Palermo reminds me of Hayes Valley or downtown San Luis Obispo with the gorgeous weather, shady trees, and cute little boutiques--there was even a Kid Robot store with some great dresses that I refrained from buying (I'm too tall for most clothes here, unfortunately). The food was great, and what I love about restaurants here is that you can get a "Menu del Dia" for something like 15 pesos (or $5) with a main course, a dessert, and a beverage (wine, water, or coffee) and it's good.

The hip-factor of the restaurants here reminds me of the San Francisco dining scene but more relaxed (and everyone's speaking Spanish). For dinner last night, Che took me to Olson, a Northern-European-themed restaurant. He had a baked goat-cheese appetizer (I think vegetarians here must eat a lot of goat cheese) and I had some little fishes (I think it might have been pickled herring) with arugula, caviar, and blanched potatoes on brioche. We both had the pumpkin-Gruyere-mandarin-mushroom risotto for our main course and an apple bread-pudding for dessert.

The bottle of Malbec Che chose do accompany dinner was a little overwhelming but I have made it a policy to always drink Malbec while in South America and he remembered that. The waiter, who had an ueber-hip mini-mullets and a hot body packed into a tight brown-and-white t-shirts like all of the waiters, brought us each a shot of vodka as a present after dinner; Che knew the hostess at the restaurant, so we had a great table, and everyone made much of the fact that it was my birthday. One vodka was infused with chiles and the other with honey.

I love how the restaurants I've been to so far feature foods from different cultures but with a decidedly Argentinean flair. Also I dig how the waiters here wear leather fanny-packs (like some hairdressers do) with all of the tools of their trade in them; there's a pocket for a notebook, a wine-key, and pens. I'd get one here except impressionable me no longer wants to work as a San Francisco waiter--now I want to move to Buenos Aires and be a starving writer. All in all, it was a great birthday.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Celebrating in Style

Hello world...I'm leaving in just a few hours to celebrate my birthday in style--in Buenos Aires. Will return with more snarky restaurant reviews and work complaints November 10!