Monday, January 21, 2008

Food that Makes a City Great

I've never been one to sprint to the latest trendy restaurant in this city. I live in a region so diverse and food-obsessed that its a constant, pleasurable process trying to figure out what you want to eat for lunch or dinner. Low $? High $$$? Chinese, fusion, Latin, European, American, pizza, shawerma, pozole or soup dumplings? By the time you've narrowed down your choices, your blood insulin levels go off the chart, you become delirious and head for the nearest Rite-Aid for a bag of chips and the rack with the latest edition of the SF Bay Guardian and its food review section.

It can stress you out.

UPDATED: I am grateful that I live in a region where its a veritable genie's lamp as far as food choices. And I have my preferences: tapas on Valencia Street (Ramblas is great for that), the Los Compadres taco truck at the Civic Center parking lot for their Lengua Super Tacos, perfect chicken congee and fresh-fried Chinese donuts at Hung Ling on Broadway, or the $9 worth of dim sum that you can pick up at the place near 6th and Clement that can easily feed a family of four. The fresh warm hand-made tamales by the women who manufacture their food products at La Cocina in the Mission District. The incredibly soft pan dulce at the Mexican panaderia run by Chinese bakers on Mission between 24th and 25th.

The entire list can read like the first chapters of a gustatory Genesis.

I love that my city does not mess around when it comes to food. Evidence the farmer's markets that occur weekly throughout the city. Now I am not going into which restaurant serves the best gnocchi, or who has the most unctuous uni, or whose pizza crust is the best (a topic of considerable controversy). And I don't care about who serves the best martini, fried olives or roast duck. That isn't my point. There are tons of writers who DO research and investigate that. I'm talking about MY San Francisco, and its a personal journey de cuisine.

I prefer the braised chicken feet at City View over everyone else's, but that doesn't mean I don't love Ton Kiang's scallion dumplings. Its just that there's a difference in approach to each at each site to merit frequenting both. And I always go to Mara's Italian Bakery on Columbus because on a cold rainy day, a latte and a slice of their almond cake makes you ache with pleasure from the soul. Hayes Street Grill's creme brulee is the absolute, while the hamburger with a crisp cold martini at Zuni Cafe provides an experience in pure satisfaction. And I happen to love the shaken beef at Sunflower (Vietnamese) Restaurant on Valencia Street, and willing to stand in line after an evening of theater to get my fix, along with a Vietnamese crepe and a Singha. A perfect Saturday night. And then there's the ritual weekday lunchtime trek to the Tenderloin where a perfect chicken biryani awaits.

There are thousands of personal journeys undertaken each day in this culinary hub. Its a small city, yes, with less than a million people. But it stands pretty well-balanced on its shaky seismic legs, has managed to re-build and transcend itself many times over, and still has room for the traditional and experimental.

When you're in a city at the very edge of your continent, there's nowhere to go but everywhere.

No comments: