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Kitchen Work – Food writing’s quiet revolution

04.19.18 Posted in Food, Media by

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Kitchen Work is a delightful food journal because it turns all the food media standards on their head. You won’t find it on most magazine racks, in fact the only place I’ve seen it is where I discovered it on the shelf at Ritual on Valencia tucked away among the rest of the merch. A cluster of plain little booklets called out to me and what a find, it’s a culinary journal produced by Heirloom Cafe’s Matt Straus not 100 feet from my office here in San Francisco’s Mission district. Things like this make you believe in the Mission as an enduring cultural face despite the radical changes in the past two decades.

The journal embraces the form. There aren’t any photos, just a stray illustration or two. It’s almost entirely focused on text, the voices of its authors and their earnest stories of the culinary world. They range all over the place from encounters with wine makers to the stray recipe wrapped in memoir, and lots of memories of working in kitchens. There’s a delightful digression on the joys of eating in museum cafes because they’re great social meals, you look at art, stop to dine and discuss art which only enhances what you saw before and will experience later at the same museum. But also a very clear headed account of how a winery loses its identity when it sells to investors. That story, and much of the identity of Kitchen Work, is such a stark reminder of how we all say that we value individuality but don’t take the trouble to really engage with the messy nature of it. There’s a reason corporations run the world. They proceed on the illusion of consistency.

There is a simple nobility in focusing on food without making too much of a fuss about it. Eating and cooking really can be that simple. And the fact that the complete absence of all the trend driven writing feels slightly subversive is a clear clue that they’re on to something. Why focus on the avocado toast when there’s a more important story about cooking and politics? There’s much more of that sort of thing here and they don’t take themselves too seriously which makes it all the more readable.

Since it’s only in print, you’ll need to subscribe today to get a look.


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You shall know us by our billboards

04.18.18 Posted in Movies, San Francisco by

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Truth or Dare

Hopping out of the Bay Area bubble is always an experience but this past quick trip to LA was a keen reminder of just how dominant technology has become here because the billboards are all completely different in LA. Here everything is about Apple’s latest iPhone campaign, SAS services, Internet security, and start ups I’ve never heard of. LA is full of billboards promoting all the movies and TV shows that I’ve only read about. That saying about advertising to the people paying for the advertising has never rung truer.

 

 


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Next time you think of pitching something outrageous

03.13.18 Posted in Food by

I’m trying to imagine Jonathan Gold’s pitch to his editors; the one that got them to foot the bill for his trip to Copenhagen, a meal at the new Noma, and sundry other pursuits.

There were moments when my trip to Copenhagen last week seemed like a stroll through a panopticon, with a sense that everyone I ran into, from the customs agent in the airport to the barista who made my cortado in the morning knew exactly why I was in Denmark, and had both strong and conflicting ideas about it. If you drink in natural-wine bars, fancy hay-smoked mackerel with your ramen and gravitate toward the kind of taverns where the bar snacks might include cod’s tongues or mead-glazed cauliflower, Copenhagen can seem like a very small town.


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He eventually turned to running marathons.

03.13.18 Posted in Obituaries by

And many other pursuits including piano but especially brain surgery. Read Charles Wilson’s obituary to get a glimpse at one of those amazing polymaths that I’m always reading about but never seem to meet in person. Here’s a sample:

Dr. Wilson sometimes worked in three operating rooms simultaneously: Residents would surgically open and prepare patients for his arrival, and he would then enter to seal an aneurysm or remove a tumor before moving on to the next case.


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Obit du jour: Joe Frank

02.03.18 Posted in Obituaries by

Don’t know how I missed this one till now. I grew up listening Joe Frank on late night radio. It was  all about his dead pan intonation and minimalist sound design pulling you into these odd stories that just went and went. They still enthrall me.

Life, Mr. Frank once said in a monologue, is like being in a restaurant on a first date with a woman you’ve long admired. But “there is a waiting list and the names will be called in alphabetical order — and your name is Zarathustra.”


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Obit du jour: Patton’s driver

02.02.18 Posted in History, Obituaries by

Francis ‘Jeep’ Sanza, Patton’s driver in World War II, dies in Napa at 99

From the preparations for D-Day, in May 1944, right up through the landing at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and the final push into Germany, Sanza was at the wheel of an open air Willys-Overland with the four-star general in the passenger seat, tapping at the windshield with his riding crop.

“Everything he did I saw,” Sanza said during a video interview for Profiles in Valor produced by the American Veterans Center. “He was very good to me. He never scolded me when I was driving him.”


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San Francisco bar (non) memories

01.29.18 Posted in Food, San Francisco by

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At least, memories that I wish I had. After getting something of a glam turn for a few seconds of screen time in Fincher’s Zodiac the M&M also has its own web page. I was schooled about this place repeatedly at the other SF Chronicle bar, the Tempest. Sadly I never got to know it.


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Contramar still has it

01.26.18 Posted in Food by

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Their distinctive font leads the way.

After all of these years Contramar still has it all. Impeccable service by squads of waiters who are there in a second if you need anything. Mostly that’s not even necessary because they seem to intuit when you’ll want something and are already there as your head tilts up. The place is still packed so it’s not just my opinion, of course now that it’s safely printed up in all the travel guides tourists are definitely a presence, but so are all the Mexicans who are always dining to see and be seen.

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Licor 43 and espresso, shaken and strained. A kind of hippy speed ball to get you back to your desk.

This last trip I finally tasted their house cocktail, the 43 which is a shaken mix of Licor 43 and an espresso. At lunch this seems like the obligatory way to get you up and back to work or wherever you may be stumbling. Because the wine list has some wonderful things on it that highlight bottles coming out of the Valle de Guadalupe. They also have you covered on the mezcal front.

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Just another of the many famous fish dishes at Contramar.

But really you’re there to eat seafood, the famous tuna tostada still stands up but the wide variety of seafood cocktails, aguachiles, and the full fish aka Pescado alla Talla in style Contramar so that you can try both sauces.


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2017 in music

01.25.18 Posted in Music by

I’m almost a month late but here it is, my favorite songs of 2017 in a nice little mix that will take you in a few directions.

In contrast take a look at the bizarre assemblage of stuff that I listened to over the year. According to Spotify’s Wrapped feature, these are my ‘top songs of 2017’


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Cava goes upscale

01.24.18 Posted in Food by

A tasting by Codorníu of some of their more exclusive Gran Reservas.

I had a really fun time tasting through Codorníu’s line of cava over lunch yesterday. They poured their entry level Ann de Codorníu as we sat down but the highlights were the very high end Gran Reserva bottles. Each was very distinct, something to be savored outside of the normal ‘it’s a party, let’s have a cava’ environment. The three stand outs were the

Codorníu “Jaume Codorníu” Gran Reserva Brut 2013

I got some peach notes and a bit of that Sauvignon Blanc grassiness on the nose. This is a sparkler so the fact that my mouth was full of that sparkling sensation shouldn’t be a surprise but in comparison with the the following bottles it is remarkable.

Codorníu “Finca La Pleta” Gran Reserva Brut 2007

This one has a nose comparable to many Champagnes full of toasted notes but also something akin to a fresh oyster’s brininess. On the palate that toastiness continues but it’s amazing just how mellow the sparkling sensation is. Sure, there’s no denying this is a sparkling wine but it’s so full of flavor and the bubbles are so few that your attention swivels to the flavors that much more.

Codorníu “457” Gran Reserva Brut 2008

This one also favors toasty notes on the nose. And that continues over onto the palate but with a bit of  lemon zest. This bottle had the highest acid of the bunch which meant that it paired really well with our lunch and, most likely, would be a great food wine.

The contrasts between these bottles and the cavas I’ve tried before were categorical. These bottles belong in a different class and might be even doing a disservice to the brand exactly because they’re so distinctive and so far outside of the realm of the relatively simple sensations that the word cava now summons. Only the first really makes your mouth sparkle, the other two are very mellow so that you focus on the flavor rather than the sparkling sensation.  The vintage clearly matters; those latter two are ten year olds.

But this also raises the question of what this means for cava as a brand because they’ve worked incredibly hard to establish the idea of an inexpensive sparkling wine in all of our heads. So much so that no one expects too much from a cava because the price to sensation ratio is really clear. I bet most people have completely swallowed that idea that ‘sure these aren’t high end Champagnes but they’re perfect for a summer day’ or whatever marketing idea was originally designed for these wines. Now that Codorníu is intent on building a high end, high quality strata, what does that do for the entire category? Plenty of wines and spirits have made the transition, but standing right at the beginning of the process, it looks like an incredibly vertiginous climb.

Sadly, at least for the time being, my favorite of these bottles, the “Finca La Pleta” isn’t even available for sale. It’s part of a 300 bottle batch made in Codorníu’s “laboratory.” Clearly they’ve been working on this transition to quality and premium prices for some time so I’d expect more of these bottles to be available sometime soon. The market is seeded with events like this and I’m part of the process – maybe it really is a cava world and we all just live in it…

And that’s not such a terrible thing. Codorníu in particular makes for a better world. It’s a large, old, family owned winery which is carving out space for new viticultural expressions on a global market that thrives on novelty and great background stories. That “457” in the title for the third wine means, 457th bottling. That’s something to be proud of  as an independent company and augers much more to come.