Adventures in Culinary San Francisco

I’m down in San Francisco for a couple of days, having a few meetings and seeing some friends. While here, I’ve had the pleasure of a couple of great meals, with more to come.

After arriving, I checked on Jardiniere, the French/Californian restaurant by Traci Des Jardins. Traci is probably familiar to fans of Iron Chef America, where she appeared in a battle this last season (and did some very interesting dishes). I’ve been going to Jardiniere since shortly after it opened, having experienced her cooking at a private dinner party and Chave Hermitage tasting back in 2000. I wasn’t disappointed – the food is still excellent at Jardiniere, and the wine list is superb: four separate Raveneau Chablis selections are available, for example. I was a little less thrilled by the signature short ribs, but I think this is mostly my issue: braised fatty meats, which can be incredibly tasty, are now the French equivalent of fugu for me — it may be a delicacy, but it can also kill me. So I tend to eat very small portions of it, and feel guilty the whole time. I suspect if I’d ordered the risotto I’d have been happier.

Tuesday I stayed with a friend up in Sonoma, who (despite a full-time career in the software industry) is one of the best Chinese cooks I know. He writes Soup Noodles, an occasional journal (with pictures) of his attempts to interpret and perfect various dishes. If you’re not hungry by the time you read his essay on Chicken with Red Pepper Shreds, there’s not much hope for you. His kitchen was recently remodeled to provide massive BTUs in the stove and dedicated wok burner, and to give him an excellent work flow. We relaxed a bit with the remainder of Monday’s 2003 Raveneau Butteaux from Jardiniere, and then he made a superb spicy halibut with ginger, garlic, hot peppers, and a simple soy/vinegar/rice wine mixture. Gorgeous despite its simplicity. He also marinated cornish game hens (knowing my weakness for small birds) in a big pot of “master sauce” (a topic about which I’ll be researching!), finished with some organic chicken livers to give the sauce body. We drank a 1971 spatlese with this (which regrettably I forgot to write down), and the dregs of the Raveneau.

Tonight, he and I, his wife and her mother are going to Chez Panisse for downstairs dinner, accompanied by a couple of wines I brought for the occasion: 1988 Raveneau Butteaux and a 1991 Henri Bonneau Marie Beurrier Chateauneuf. The latter is a weak (to say the least) vintage in CdP, but in the hands of Bonneau we’ve had great wines and more to the point, they’re actually ready to drink — unlike his 1989 and 1990. The official menu for tonight at Chez Panisse is as follows:

An apéritif

Antipasto of eggplant caponata, Parma prosciutto, and wild rocket

Raviolini with ricotta, pecorino, basil, and yellow tomato sauce

Grilled Paine Farm squab with squab liver toast and warm salad of curly endive

and porcini mushrooms

Peach leaf, boysenberry, and nectarine ice cream bombe

We’ll see what last-minute modifications arise but altogether it looks like a terrific evening.