Sunday, August 19, 2012

From albacore to chicken hearts: Wining and dining in the Bay Area

Sloth has gotten the better of the MFWC for the last month, for which I can only plead that the misery of the July heat sapped my energy, while two weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area offered distractions with which sitting in front of a keyboard could not compete, (e.g., Cowgirl Creamery chevre and blueberry jam on an Acme roll at the Ferry Building) though they did provide gist for a blog post.

The epicenter of Bay Area cuisine is Chez Panisse, the ingredient-driven restaurant that Alice Waters opened in Berkeley in 1971 and that has trained and influenced generations of chefs. Numerous notable San Francisco restaurants still show her influence, and Chez Panisse itself remains an excellent restaurant. Critics claim that time has passed it by; perhaps they should sample the peach galette with a scoop of raspberry ice cream that I ate there a few weeks ago after a salad of shrimp, scallops and mussels dressed with a saffron mayonnaise followed by a perfectly roasted albacore. Waters and the wine importer Kermit Lynch have influenced one another since their early days in the food business, but the wine list at Chez Panisse wanders well beyond the realm of Lynch and has relatively low mark-ups. I enjoyed a glass of the 2008 Coenobium, a wine made by nuns in Lazio under the supervision of Paolo Bea, for something like $11.

But there's no need to stick to new American cuisine in the Bay Area, of course. La Ciccia in the Mission focuses on the cuisine of Sardinia, but its wine list ranges all over Italy, and I reached for the Occhipinti 2011 SP68 white, a blend of zibibbo, which is a form of muscat, Moscato di Alexandria, and grillo, which at $40 was a bargain. (It goes for $27 at Chamber St. Wines, for example.) The nose is floral with a touch of citrus but has a backbone of acidity that allowed it to stand up to a delicious octopus stew in a spicy tomato broth that was more than entree sized given that the broth was far too good to send back to the kitchen.

I didn't get to Nopalito in the Panhandle on this trip, a very reasonably priced Mexican restaurant that serves authentic food made with quality ingredients, but I did hit up Comal in Berkeley with a few friends. We could have used a few more mouths to work through the menu, which featured more fish than Nopalito but was of equivalent quality. But the revelations at Comal were the $8 wines on tap, one an Arnot-Roberts sauvignon blanc, the other a trousseau gris from Pax Mahle's Wind Gap, both respected California wineries whose bottles generally cost $25 and up and are oddly enough hard to find in Bay Area wine stores. (The Arnot-Roberts touriga nacional rose is a beautiful, delicate wine, by the way.) The Arnot-Roberts sauvignon blanc was very good, but I erred by not getting a glass of the trousseau gris, which is different from the version that Wind Gap sells by the bottle. That wine, a white, sees extended skin contact and needs a day to breathe; this one, I was told, does not, and it was delicious, subtle, reminiscent of chenin blanc. For $8, I repeat.

Wine did not feature at all in the most memorable meal I had on my west coast swing. Ippuku serves only Japanese spirits and prides itself on the quality of its chicken, which it even serves in a raw preparation. I had the salmonella surprise, as one of my friends called it, last year, but the dish that stuck in my mind was a skewer of grilled chicken hearts, which had the richness of good game with none of the fat. Once again, they were perfect, as were the sardines, both of which were grilled over the oak charcoal Ippuku imports from Japan and good enough to remind me of my trip to Etxebarri in the Basque Country. I began with raw albacore in a sesame mustard sauce that was at least equal in quality to the fish served at Chez Panisse. The only misstep was a slightly oversalted rice in squid ink. But at $53 with a glass of shochu, tax and tip, it would be churlish to complain and down right stupid not to return.          


No comments:

Post a Comment