40th Birthday

40th Birthday Dinner #7: Philip Calls it Chez

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006 | 40th Birthday, Food, Friends | No Comments

Philip and I had dinner at Chez Panisse last night. He’s buddies with one of the cooks, so we ate in the kitchen at the “chef’s table.” After sticking our noses in the fridge to see all the little piggies hanging from hooks, and being seated, everyone, one at a time, came up to us and greeted us and chatted as they shuffled about to prepare their dishes. They were all calm, having fun, no sweat. There seemed to be no exertion at all in preparing what was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had.

We started off with a salad of heirloom tomatoes served with a grilled sardine and couscous. The couscous, we both agreed, didn’t make much sense, other than as a diverting texture, but actually, come to think of it, the other flavors, which were bright and fresh, were made in a way more brilliant by the couscous, and it served as the perfect medium to carry the juices and olive oil from plate to mouth, so never mind what I just said about it not making sense. A lamb course followed, marinated lamb served with okra, wild greens, beans and a hint of coriander. The sauce was light and infused with soft lambiness. The wine that was paired with it was a dynamite Spanish wine, a 2000 Rotllan Torra priorat reserva. It smelled of earth, a soft sulfuric volcanic nose that led to blissful cherriness and soft fruit, like rolling around in a dusty field while kissing a spanish youth and slowly unbuttoning his shirt while eating an apple. Sue, the pastry chef, really knocked my socks off, transforming the ordinary with such little gestures into the extraordinary. She served us deep fried mission figs served with a ginger-infused cream, raspberries, and drizzled with honey. Simply amazing. Every taste bud sang a song of love. Thank you Philip! Do you have any buddies at The French Laundry??

40th Birthday Dinner #6: Peter and Luis

Sunday, November 20th, 2005 | 40th Birthday, Food, Friends | No Comments

Peter and Luis are my dream buddies, like Auntie Mame on steroids x2. They’re not only well-read, brilliant conversationalists, pop culture vultures, and fabulous cooks, their interests extend to all levels of human experience, but most passionately towards the decorative arts. They’re currently focused on mid-Century modern, with a Southern Song twist. Every time I go to their house, there’s some fabulous new piece of furniture, pottery, or pepper mill that is the most rare and exquisite example of its type. Tonight I was swept into their living room for a viewing of not one but two pristine vintage Hans Wegner Pappa Bear chairs. My envy was easily suppressed by the knowledge that I will get first dibs at their hand-me-downs when they move on to another era. They’ve been together for 100 years, my best friends for half my life. They decided on Range, another new American cuisine restaurant in the Mission, for the setting of my sixth intimate 40th birthday dinner. It was a pretty wonderful meal. I started out with the chicken liver pate, served with crispy toasts and an arugula salad. Lord bless the many chickens who gave their livers to treat my palette to such a divine sensation. For my main course I had the lamb shank served with Israeli cous cous that was cooked with chard and chevre, almost a risotto. The lamb just fell off the bone, tender and moist and flavorful, but the intense sauce overwhelmed the lamb-iness a bit. By the time we got to desert, which included a chocolate cake, a souffle, and a waffle of sorts, and a wonderful bubbling muscat that the staff treated us to, I was pretty overwhelmed by the many delightful flavors and sensations, and quite ready to drop dead. Which I’m going to do now.

Next chapter: the Last Supper, with Philip.

Birthday Suit #6
Luis Peter

40th Birthday Dinner #5: Big Chrissy

Thursday, November 17th, 2005 | 40th Birthday, Food, Friends | No Comments

There’s something fun about calling a big cuddly guy “Big Chrissy.” It’s deliciously close to “Big Sissy.” He’s also my Big Bunny Warmer and BC, for the past year my official paramour, but rarely “Chris.” BC decided on Azie, an Asian-inspired French restaurant as the destination of my fifth intimate 40th birthday dinner. Azie is a part of the LuLu restaurant conglomerate on Folsom Street, and like LuLu, everything comes served family style, which means that I don’t have to eat off of my companion’s plate, as I often do, and often to poor Big Chrissy’s dismay. We shared two small plates to begin: dungeness crap spring rolls, served in butter lettuce cups and with a pomegranate and cilantro dipping sauce; and stir-fried romaine lettuce and spinach with pear, wood ear mushrooms, and prosciutto. Both were brilliant, and accompanied by a French Viognier. We shared the duck breast and confit–really the best that I’ve ever had, crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth inside–and the steak for our main courses, accompanied by a Russian River Pinot Noir, and for dessert chocolate cake served with jasmine tea ice cream, and cheesecake with sauteed figs, lots of caramel oozing across each dish. We nearly licked every plate clean. It was just a perfect meal, the subtle flavors of Asia woven seamlessly into French tradition.

Chrissy and I have known each other since 2000, when I responded to his WoofWatch profile, asking him if he’d be interested in modeling for me, and we became fast friends and soon thereafter lovers after I left Bob the first time. We then settled somewhat uncomfortably into friendship again after I went back to Bob, and alternately lovers and friends after I left Bob for good and during the rocky transition to independence, and for the past year we’ve enjoyed relative stability as a relatively exclusive item. Chrissy can be a pain, but he’s an ache I’ve grown to adore.

Only two more dinners to go!

Birthday Suit #5 Big Chris

40th Birthday Dinner #4: D

Thursday, November 10th, 2005 | 40th Birthday, Food, Friends | No Comments

D, my first Hairy Supermodel and muse, my former lover temporarily taking up residence in my tiny studio downstairs, my–Norma Desmond’s–Max, decided on Malacca as the destination of my fourth intimate 40th birthday dinner. It’s a new restaurant on 18th, where Hot N’ Hunky used to be, named after a major port along the old Spice Route. The cuisine is a clever and tasty fusion of Asian and European cuisines and flavors. We shared a mixed plate of appetizers, all with interesting tangy dipping sauces and fruity marinades; a salad of mixed greens, shrimp and mango; pork loin served with a sweet potato puree, broccoli, and something else; “Portuguese Noodles” served with potatoes, pearl onions, veggies and a dreamy peanut mango sauce; a pyramid-shaped cheesecake for desert, and blood orange sorbet. Tal-ky tal-ky talky happy talk, talk about food you like to eat.

There’s just too much to say about Dean. Our relationship is an After-School Special at least, a Jackie Collins epic, or a 16 hour Fassbinder flick. He alternately frustrates and delights me, providing me with the highest and lowest extremes of pleasure and pain, and, despite putting a curse on me and clogging my pipes with his fur, will always be a cherished part of me, my irrational and emotional super id über bear.

Enough with the “woofs” already!

Birthday Suit #4 D

40th Birthday Dinner #3: Emily + BONUS Surprise Birthday Lunch

Thursday, November 10th, 2005 | 40th Birthday, Food, Friends | No Comments

You’ve all heard me talk about Emily. We first met a few years ago when we were invited to participate in the Knowing You, Knowing Me show. We were among four Bay Area artists and three European artists who spent time getting to know each other and each other’s art and then created an exhibition out of the interaction and influence we had on each other. Emily selected Firefly, a cozy neighborhood restaurant with elegant seasonal comfort food, for my third intimate 40th birthday dinner. We shared the shrimp and scallop potstickers, which were like the potstickers of my dreams, crispy outside and creamy inside, with a tangy ginger dipping sauce; and a salad of mache, pear, fuyu persimmon, and anise vinaigrette; then I moved on to the duck, again, but this time served with a chestnut bread pudding, winter vegetables, and madera reduction; and for dessert we split the amazing goat cheese (!) cheesecake with fig and port sauce, and a chocolate truffle cake that oozed into a vanilla ice cream when cut into. We were very abstemious about the wine, and each had a single glass of the Calera pinot noir. It was a brilliantly comforting meal.

Emily reminds me a lot of Jean Seberg, or some glamorous nouvelle vague starlet. She has a slight hearing problem in one ear, so she talks a little loudly in restaurants. It’s totally like being with a movie star whose fame eclipses the need for propriety. I could see the ears of our neighbors turning towards her trying to pick up clues to which movie they saw her in recently but couldn’t remember, and then turn away quickly as they caught words like “structuralist” and “blowjob” in the same sentence. We both agreed that I was lucky to be born in the fall, as we both love the long nights and foods of autumn.

Bob Flynt flew into town for Bill Jacobson’s book-signing at Camerwork, which I had to miss because of my prior arrangement with Emily, so we met for gallery-going yesterday afternoon. He surprised me by treating me to a birthday lunch at Cafe Claude. Anticipating the big dinner ahead, I had the salade niçoise, and when thinking about desert, the waiter walked up and said, “From one scorpio to another, you must get the liquid chocolate cake, mon ami.” So I did, and it was amazing; a simple dense chocolate cake with a warm liquid interior that was like sex on a dish.

I am having such a great time with all these restaurants. Perhaps tonight I’ll get something other than duck. Stay tuned for Dinner #4 with Dean #2…

Birthday Suit #3 Emily

40th Birthday Dinner #2: Hong Xi

Sunday, November 6th, 2005 | 40th Birthday, Food, Friends | No Comments

Hong Xi picked me up at 5:28 and swept me away to the Ferry Building and my second intimate 40th birthday dinner. Hong Xi chose The Slanted Door as the site of our celebration, one of the loudest, and thus most difficult places to be intimate in, but home of some of the best nouveau Vietnamese victuals to be had in the city. Hong Xi, the artist known as Su-Chen Hung, and I screamed at each other affectionately all night over our many courses. We started with a salad of greens, seared beef, and orange; then on to a vermicelli dish topped with halibut and a pineapple anchovy sauce; pan-seared scallops with spinach and a spicy black bean sauce; peppery duck with mushrooms and persimmon; and for dessert a pear tartlet served with pear sorbet and caramel. Given the many flavors and critters that composed our meal, and Hong Xi’s preference for reds, we chose a spicy young aromatic and lightly fruity but deep purpley wine, a mondeuse from the Bugey region of France to accompany our meal.

Su-Chen only recently changed her name, and her close friends and family are now calling her Hong Xi. I continually address her as “Su-Chen I mean Hong Xi.” We met in 1986 in Tokyo, and discovered that we went to the same school and had all the same friends, and quickly became close buddies and frequent collaborators back in SF. After nearly 20 years I finally discovered what her family business is, but it’s been such a mystery for so long that I’m reluctant to discuss it publicly, although it’s certainly not anything to not discuss. Her love life is still a mystery, though. Maybe at my 50th I’ll find out about that. Is it an Eastern thing to compartmentalize so efficiently?

We decided to start up our Dinner Club again. We used to meet once a month, she and some friends, for a unique epicurean adventure, but first Denny and his lover broke up, then Bob and I, and then Nick moved to Taiwan, so our club sort of fizzled out.

She’s working on a project now that involves threading 30,000 needles, by hand, each with 100 feet of red thread. Her work is ephemeral and process oriented, but also sculptural and graphic. And always captivating. It’s just for me and the few people who get to experience it while it’s around. I’m so lucky to have such a friend who has created so much for me to enjoy and ponder for such a long time, and to leave me ever eager for more.

Dinner #3 coming up Wednesday…

Birthday Suit #2 Su-Chen/Hong Xi

40th Birthday Dinner #1: Dean and Doug

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005 | 40th Birthday, Food, Friends | No Comments

Dean and Doug arrived promptly at 7:00 and swept me away to the Mission and my first intimate 40th birthday dinner. They chose Maverick, one of the “new American” restaurants popping up in the neighborhood. Maverick is on 17th Street, where Limon used to be before moving around the corner, and Panchita’s before that–2 of my former favorites haunts. We started with a bottle of Prosecco, from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region instead of the Veneto, and thus a new experience for me. It was bubbly and dry, with just the right amount of fruit. The sommelier is a young guy, but with a very sophisticated palette favoring brash and bold flavors. But not in the way that the French scoff at—brash and bold, but restrained. The prosecco was paired with a salad of greens, figs, and pomegranate, beautifully presented and just as tasty. For my main course I had a duck breast served with wild rice and mushrooms, paired with a completely marvelous Sonoma pinot called Duckbill (? not Duckhorn or Duck Pond, I’ll find out…) that knocked my socks off with its smokey herby cherry lightness. For dessert I had the Apple Crisp with a late-harvest Viognier from Sonoma that was okay, but was overshadowed by the sample of an “Ice” Wine that our waitress, excited by our enthusiasm for the wines, brought for us to try. It was made of grapes that were left on the vine until after the first frost, harvested, and then pressed while still frozen. The result is a wine that has very highly concentrated fruit and aroma, but that is balanced by a high alcohol content. I want to marry that sommelier, or at least force myself upon his wine cellar.

A most enjoyable and delightful beginning to the birthday season and the new decade: excellent food, stimulating conversation, hearty laughs, dynamite wines, and dear sweet friends.

Birthday Suit #1 Dean & Doug

Two Score and Seven Dinners: Plan A

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005 | 40th Birthday, Food, Friends | 6 Comments

I would imagine that you are all a bit weary reading of natural disasters, but prepare yourselves for the greatest natural disaster of the year–my turning 40 in November.

Since everyone has received my letter, I thought I’d share with the rest of you the Grand 40th Birthday Scheme PLAN A, as most of you have had to listen to all of my many plans for the past year now, and are probably wondering what I finally decided to do. You DO remember that I’m turning 40 in November, don’t you? Remember the Rome apartment plan? Well, Peter and Luis bailed, and Big Chrissy’s out of a job, so my Roman Orgy is now PLAN B, and will take place next year, after my triumph or failure in New York. So on to PLAN A. Here is a copy of the letter that I sent out to my best buddies:

September 15, 2005

Dear Big Chrissy, D, Dean & Doug, Emily, Peter & Luis, Philip, and Su-Chen/Hong Xi,

I’ve spent much time planning grand ways to celebrate my 40th birthday in November. Each discarded plan has given way to even grander schemes. I’ve decided to abandon them all in favor of several more intimate vignettes.

The New Plan:

During birthday parties or dinners of yore, I found it frustrating trying to relate to everyone at once. In looking at my past few decades, the few things that haven’t changed are my hunger for intimacy, my love of food, and my indecisiveness. I propose to celebrate all three in a marathon orgy of caloric consumption with my dear friends, but stretched over a few weeks, and with one (person or couple) of you at a time.

So here’s what I would like to do: I would like to take you out to dinner, so we can celebrate my entrance into this decade together, just you and me, at a restaurant of your choice. I don’t want to decide, or even make the reservations. But it’s my treat. Anywhere you’d like to go. Dollar signs aren’t an issue, although I’m just as drawn to dives as I am to Michelin stars. The main thing is that it is an experience that you’d like to share with me, either a restaurant that you’ve been curious about, or your all-time favorite, or one that you save for special occasions, or maybe just because it makes you happy to go there, or you think I’d like it.

Just give me a call so that we can set up a date for sometime in the first two weeks of November, or whenever it’s convenient for you–but I don’t want to know anything else. Just tell me what to wear and when you’re going to pick me up. (That is, if you could pick me up, too, that’d be great!) And remember, it’s my treat.

Thanks for making my 30’s so special, and for listening to all my woes, grand schemes, and for tolerating the challenges of my decision-making process. I can’t wait to celebrate with you the onset of the new wisdom, body aches, and distractions, that surely await in the next exciting chapter of The Book of Coco.


Of course, I will report on all dinners in November. Stay tuned!

Plan 1

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004 | 40th Birthday, Art, Friends, Travel | No Comments

I’ve decided on a tentative plan: For my 40th birthday (November, 2005), I’m going to start off with a few weeks in Rome. My last few trips there were about Caravaggio and Bellini, so I’d like to visit my old friends, but this time I’m thinking of following the della Francesca and Perugino trails, which will take me to Urbino, Arezzo, Perugia, Monterchi, Sansepolcro, Citta del Pieve, Spello and Panicale. Caravaggio and Bellini were big inspirations to me in my 30’s: Bellini with his exquisitely painted depictions of other-worldliness, and Caravaggio for his images so rooted in reality. The artists shocked me into an awareness of how art can structure experience and spirituality in such completely different ways. I’m drawn to Perugino and della Francesca for their serenity and simplicity. This is how I want to enter my 40’s–I want tranquility. There’s also a painting in a tiny convent in Florence that I’d love to revisit, by Perugino. It’s a crucifiction scene, but almost conceptual art. The cross is positioned in the center of 3 arches, with saints depicted under the flanking arches. The beams of the cross touch the edge of the arch, both on the sides and on the bottom, bringing the crucifix into our world, touching the frame of our space, but having nothing to do with where it should be accurately positioned visually. So perhaps a few weeks in Rome, and then spend a week working my way up to Florence and Arrezo, and then back to Rome for the final bacchanalia.

40 is a big deal for me. So excuse my ruminating on the subject of what to do for it so much and so far in advance.

Food Poisoning

Wednesday, October 6th, 2004 | 40th Birthday, Friends | No Comments

Philip treated me to a light pasta and copious amounts of wine last night. He’s great, and you should all get to know him better. One of my first husband fantasies involved me busily working in the studio all day and then my French or Italian baker husband returning from work all covered in pastry flour, exhausted from filling cream pufffs all day, but with just enough energy to tear off my clothes and make love to me right there on the studio floor, a cloud of flour forming around us, and then we’d share one perfect cream-filled something or other that he’d carried home from work, our bodies stuck together in a sweat and flour and hair paste.

Philip is SO that guy!

No flour clouds, but we spent most of the evening dissecting, well, harpooning, our various loves, and talking about food and where I’m going to throw my 40th bash next year. I want to rent a place in some fabulous and foreign city, and have everyone come visit and see fabulous art and eat fantastic food with me. I’m thinking of either the Trastevere in Rome, or the Place des Vosges in Paris, or even a farmhouse in the Marches or Umbria. So start saving those Frequent Flyer miles and come celebrate with me next November. So I’m going to be older than everybody on Thirtysomething? What a thought. I haven’t stopped feeling 18 since turning 18. When does one feel grown up?

Off to the Maya show at the Legion today, with Dean Dean the Dancing Machine.

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