Food

Burgers+Pasta

Saturday, January 14th, 2012 | Food | No Comments

Umami Burger is the burger joint that I’ve dreamed about, a chain restaurant that’s not necessarily reinvented the burger, but wrapped it in a new sensory experience. I departed still licking the truffle oil dribbling down my cheek and my fingers that were caked with the cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top of the crispy sweet potato fries. Chrissy and I shared their namesake burger, a thick juicy puck of beef, cooked rare and embellished with shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, a parmesan crisp, and umami ketchup; and the Truffle Burger, the beef garbed in truffle cheese and a truffle oil-brushed bun. Everything is house-made, house-pickled, house-ground, and house-processed. I know I’ll never love this way again.

The staff at Umami Burger are so welcoming, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable that you want to ask them to sit down and have a burger with you. Quite unlike my experience the other night at Flour+Water, where the staff, except for the über helpful sommelier who gently informed me that the wine I was asking about was actually a beer, were just plain unpleasant. One of my dinner companions was 10 minutes late, and they wouldn’t seat us, despite having reservations, until she arrived. We stood and waited, hovering on the periphery of the half-empty room. No, internet, I don’t want to hear your justification for this psychotic policy, there is none. What, you’d rather not have us sit down and order drinks and appetizers while we’re waiting 10 minutes for our dinner companion, a Chinese woman driver, to park in this notoriously difficult to park in neighborhood? It set an awkward tone to the evening, like we were intruding. The food, though, was pretty spectacular, really some of the best pasta I’ve ever had: radiatore with roasted hen, speck and parsnip; squid ink spaghetti with clams, watermelon radish and chili oil. We had their funghi pizza, with chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms, nettles, fior di latte and sage cream… each ingredient delectable, the combination exquisite. Clone the staff from Umami Burger and Flour+Water would be a perfect restaurant.

The Chilly Apple

Monday, January 9th, 2012 | Art, Food, Friends, Travel | No Comments

Chrissy and I went to New York last week, for legitimate theater and really super-crowded art shows. We saw Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett in The Mountaintop, a fantasy about Dr. King’s last night in the Lorraine Motel. Jackson played MLK doing a Samuel Jackson impression, and Angela Bassett a foxy maid at the motel sent to tempt and comfort him on his last night. The next night we saw Relatively Speaking—three one-act plays by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen—a rollicking delight, Woody Allen’s farce snowballing to epically outrageous hilariousness; then we saw the powerful family drama Other Desert Cities with Rachel Griffiths, whom I can’t believe isn’t from southern California, Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, and a radiantly burned-out Judith Light; and our final play, Seminar, with a crusty Alan Rickman sexually and verbally amusing and abusing himself and his students.

MoMA is like a zoo, with kids snapping photos of their buddies next to Starry Night and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I spent much of the afternoon arguing with my dear old buddy Michelle about whether de Kooning was misogynist or not. As someone who slices up photos of hairy butts and makes flowers out of them, I thought the notion preposterous. He adored women, and that’s why they’re all exploded, slashed and fragmented, the center of the canvas, like he wanted to dive into them and be surrounded by those big balloon boobs. It’s the way that someone engaged with paint and expressionism would inhabit and represent beauty and desire. Where she saw rape, I saw love.

And I just love Michelle.

Brancusi dust

Nemr Poochie and Inna joined us for a foot-fatiguing day-long march through the Met. We saw a fabulous Renaissance portrait show, with countless Boticellis, well okay, like 5, and delightful portraits by Bellini, Dontello, Masaccio(!), and a portrait bust of baggy-eyed and full-chinned sex bomb Niccolò di Leonardo Strozzi by Mino da Fiesole.

The Guggenheim has a retrospective of just about all of the work ever made by Maurizio Cattelan, called “All.” The pieces are hung from the central rotunda of the museum by ropes, a dizzy assemblage of witty fabulosity experienced as your spiral up and down the ramp. He says he’s not going to be making sculpture anymore, and I am going to really miss this guy.

Nemr’s living in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, right across the street from Thighs ‘n Pies. Or Pies ‘n Thighs. It’s classic southern food the way you rarely get it in the south, fresh, inventively prepared, not cooked to death. I snarfed everything that came close to the table.

Big Chrissy warming himself by the fire

New Years Ramblings and Rumblings

Sunday, January 8th, 2012 | Family, Film, Food, Friends | No Comments

Turning 46 has been a little strange. Actually, turning 39. Then 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45 and now 46. It seemed for the longest time that so much was to happen in the future: having a gallery in New York; getting my MFA; lunch at el Bulli. Prior to 39, failure hadn’t mattered that much to me, there was always time…

Last month I dined with a group of delightful, erudite, charming, and, thankfully, mostly older A-gays. (You can read an older post here for details about this particular society.) I sat next to the real life inspiration for the Tales of the City character played in the television series by Bob Mackie, “Rick Hampton.” His manner was the perfect combination of bitchy and clever—engrossingly intimate and effervescently droll. Nestled in the comforting fine wine and witty banter of the previous generation, I was temporarily relieved to feel not yet old guard myself.

Bud, 2011

I understand that the mid-life crisis is supposed to peak around this time, and that for most of us, mediocrity suddenly becomes fun. I’m kind of stuck in wanting all this specific stuff to still happen, but am getting really nervous about it not happening now. Do I shift my expectations and just continue what I’m doing, or do I do something entirely different with more realistic and actually achievable goals?

On the left is a photo of one of my new pieces, hanging in my studio—Bud. It’s of my Foreign Correspondent’s head, the day he bleached it blonde and ran off to the Folsom St. Fair in leather chaps and a rash.

deKooning’s first New York show was at age 44 Raymond Chandler started writing at 45. This is my “nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” my soothing mantra. In a few years, I’ll be chanting something about Grandma Moses…

A few weeks ago my bears and I took a drive up the coast for a hike and lunch in Guerneville at Boon. Boon is a gem of a restaurant, a foodie oasis in a desert of hamburgers and iceberg lettuce. The ingredients are from local farms, and are integrated into dishes that vibrantly highlight individual flavors. We had brussels sprouts deep fried in olive oil; a salad of calamari, white beans and arugula; macaroni and cheese with wild mushrooms; truffled french fries; a pork belly panino; and a chocolate brownie wading in a little balsamic reduction puddle and topped with sea salt and whipped cream.

My family came to visit for Thanksgiving. I jammed 24 of them into my living room for a sit-down dinner. My nephew Nathan slaughtered the turkeys a few days before, two free-range moderately buxom beauties who, during their eventless lives, enjoyed the Sonoma County air and grass in blissful gobble-gobble obliviousness to their digestive fate.

I saw Le Quattro Volte the other night. What a satisfying film, probably my favorite of the year, after Wong Dong-Li’s Poetry. It’s about the transmutation of a goat herder into a goat, a tree, and ultimately charcoal. Each stage is so attentively and patiently observed. A scene of the townsfolk presenting a Passion play in the streets focuses on a dog poking around, aware of absolutely every person, animal and thing, the goats looking on as if viewing a theatrical production with the dog the absolute center of attention. A lot of critical attention has been directed towards The Artist, another film that uses no dialogue, but I feel like this film brings to mind the true essence of silent cinema, where the narrative unfolds visually and the audience reads by observation. An understanding that people are—or can be—intelligent guides the film’s narrative, kind of like what the Republicans don’t do.

My niece and nephew had a baby. It’s one of those perfect little babies that squeaks and smiles and gets everybody talking about poop and breasts and flexibility.

My Foreign Correspondent moved. He got a job in New York and sold his possessions and moved within a week. His ability to shift gears so radically and decisively left me dizzy. And a little angry. Like, why couldn’t he do that with our relationship? Sigh.

Commonwealth

Monday, July 25th, 2011 | Food, Friends | No Comments

BC, Hong-Xi and I had dinner at Commonwealth last night. The interior is white, the wall facing the street all windows, half frosted to eliminate the outside distractions of passing autos and hipsters. There’s not much to distract from the food, which is fresh, flavorful and inventively prepared and presented. We had the fixed price menu, 6 courses, plus an amuse-bouche of corn and basil that amused our bouches, and set the tone of the meal to come: a delicate melange of vibrant flavors. Our first course was salmon tartare with beets and sorrel, presented under a frozen dome of horseradish. You break the frozen dome and mix the pieces into the tartare, chilling the salmon with a breath of chilly horseradish. It was stunning, visually and sensually. The whole meal was like that, dish after dish of colors and flavors and textures that delighted the tummy and the eye. Molecular gastronomy intruded only a little bit, with a few foamed and frozen things, including yummy frozen popcorn flavored nuggets served with the peanut butter semifreddo, but this restaurant is where you go to experience food transported, not transformed, transported into the realm of extraordinary.

A Wedding in the Midwest

Sunday, July 17th, 2011 | Art, Food, Friends, Gay, Travel | 2 Comments

I spent a week in Moline and Chicago recently to attend the wedding of BC’s niece. And to help with the flowers, table settings, and then emergency wilted flower resuscitation. Everything came off splendidly—except the chicken, which I’ll get to in a bit—the bride swaddled in white, the groom surrounded by sexy 20-somethings, everybody dancing. I adore BC’s family, and their extended network of ex-husbands, childhood friends, and very sexually active octogenarian neighbors. It’s like stepping into a sitcom, every moment so filled with jolly repartee, bright bubbly guests, and hushed musings on So-n-so’s investment in African gold, brother What’s-his-face’s wife who hasn’t spoken to her husband in years yet still shares a bed with him, What’s-his-name’s squandering of his wife’s inheritance on the riverboat casino, the love child, the father who’s now a woman, the son without a father…

The chicken at the wedding was without a doubt the most challenging thing I’ve ever encountered in edible form. Overcooked, sauceless, characterless, flavorless and cold, accompanied by… what, I can’t even remember. Please, let me forget, but not without giving thanks to the brave chickens who gave of their breasts to our festive group mastication.

BC and I went out a few days before to dinner at the local steakhouse, accompanied by the bride’s mother and her current beau. The midwest is where you should always order steak. Mine was impossibly tender, like butter. I didn’t even need a knife. I completely ignored my dinner companions and made love to my New York strip, right there on the table, the juicy object of my ravenous appetite, slicing it into tinier and tinier mouth-watering morsels, hoping it wouldn’t end, licking my plate and knife as it disappeared forever.

Everybody in this area either works for, or has worked for, or their children will soon work for John Deere. Including BC’s stepdad, now retired, who took us on a private tour of the combine factory. We got to climb into a giant combine and were then driven through the plant in a golf cart and through the process of the combine’s creation. Most of the workers calmly pushed buttons that controlled machines that did the work that I had imagined the workers would be doing. The John Deere Company, with headquarters and factories and facilities all over the area, is hardly noticed, except that every other business is “John Deere” something or other. They’ve minimized their visual presence by integrating their buildings seamlessly, sensitively, and beautifully into the urban and rural landscape, as much a part of the community as the community is of it.

We got to see a wonderful show of chairs at the Figge Museum, “The Art of Seating,” including some of my faves—the Lavernes’ Lily Chair, Herbert Von Thaden’s Adjustable Lounge Chair, George Nelson’s Medium Arm Fiberglass Chair… I got in trouble for taking pictures. An attendant ran up three flights of stairs—perhaps she viewed me on some monitor somewhere, or someone alerted her to my violation via walkie-talkie—to breathlessly request that I please stop photographing the chairs.

After the wedding, we drove to Chicago to visit BC’s dad, who lives right around the corner from where the big Gay Pride parade was going on. We walked on over just as the parade was ending, wading through the one-foot deep mound of bottles and cups, and bumping into the drunken stumbling hooting half-naked proud homosexualists. I have never felt so old, so consciously not naked, or so far removed from anything resembling pride.

Dresses and Wild Dinners

Monday, June 6th, 2011 | Art, Food, Friends | 1 Comment

BC and I headed over to the Legion of Honor with Dean this weekend to see Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave. What is it with San Francisco and dresses? A few weeks ago we went to the Balenciaga show at the deYoung. Cristóbal Balenciaga created dresses inspired by Spanish culture and history, elegantly reducing the trills and elaborations into simple beautifully flowing lines and curves. Using only paper, Borchgrave recreates dresses made by famous designers or found in historical and allegorical paintings. While Balenciaga mined the rich history of Spanish couture to create something new and elegant, for me Borchgrave’s creations fall short of being transformed into something really new, just time-consuming reproductions that make me long for the real thing.

ForageSF is a local group attempting to connect San Franciscans with the wild food around them. Saturday night they sponsored a dinner for about 80 of us, structured around the theme of the morel mushroom. The menu contained a beautiful etching of morels, erroneously identified as “le morilles,” improper in gender and quantity, which pretty much set the tone of the meal. While most dishes were carefully crafted, and did contain many interesting ingredients, the foraged components functioned more or less as garnishes, sometimes completely lost. There were 8 courses. The first course was a crostino brushed with fresh bay laurel leaf infused butter, a really wonderfully vibrant flavor. The last course was a serving of perfectly ripe strawberries, dusted with fennel pollen, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and garnished with crème fraiche, each ingredient vivid and distinct. The dishes in between included: a galette of nettles on soggy puff pastry; a wild onion soup with not enough morel flavor to register on my palate; fried smelt; musty duck and mushy risotto; a salad of delicate wild flowers completely obliterated by delicious vinegared beets and a tangy champagne vinaigrette; and yet another rice dish, but this one quite good, with mackerel, sea beans, a quail egg and ponzu. I applaud the ambitiousness of their venture, and it was amazing that they were able to feed us all in a South-of-Market warehouse space, but I think the dishes would have been more successful if the subtle flavors of the foraged ingredients were allowed to shine through.

Last night I dined at La Ciccia with Big Chris, Su-Chen, Emily and Dean, a Sardinian restaurant on 30th Street, spending about half what I spent with the foragers, and for a meal that was twice as good, simply perfection.  Every dish was loaded with flavor, the stewed octopus and calamari impossibly tender, the clams tasting of garlic and the sea, the different textures in the gnocchetti and pork ragu a delight on the tongue. Foragers, take note: let the ingredients do the talking.

A Birthday for Emily

Friday, May 27th, 2011 | Food, Friends | No Comments

Every year I look forward to Emily’s birthday. We almost always go to some fabulous new restaurant, and this year she chose Saison, a New American restaurant in the Mission. Big Chrissy, Emily and I were joined by buddies Scott and David. Scott and David are an adorable couple, together so long that they talk, dress and look alike, with only slightly discernible differences in demeanor. The meal lasted nearly 4 hours, with more than 10 courses, each course a handcrafted work of edible art. All of the ingredients are foraged or grown locally. We ate flowers, oysters, rabbit, a custard infused with smoked salmon roe, sea urchin, abalone, prawns, foams of every sort, fried lettuces, a pecorino brioche… so many flavors and textures, and for our final course, popcorn ice cream. It was certainly one of the most memorable meals of my life.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Friday, May 27th, 2011 | Food, Friends, Gay, Travel | 2 Comments

Last week I visited my parents and childhood chums in Alabama. I spent one of my first nights with my high school buddy James, sipping cocktails and munching on really the best fried green tomatoes of my life at The Club, atop Red Mountain, a swanky private club where Frank and Sammy probably would have hung out if the Rat Pack ever swung through Dixie. Built in the early 1950s, the streamlined curvilinear architecture provides panoramic views of the city, and several dancing, drinking, and dining opportunities, depending on what you’re wearing. We were the guests of James’ friends Barbara and Anneta, two really fun midwestern transplants who share a home with 5 lady dogs. James and his boyfriend have 6 dogs of their own. They all share such a strong bond, I foresee some sort of Brady Bunch union in their future, the 11 dogs and 4 parents cohabitating in a zany suburban household and exploring contemporary issues of gender and cross-breeding.

My mom and Dad took me to the Birmingham Museum of Art the next day, for a stunning display of quilts, and another fantastic show of African pottery and iron work. We stopped by the Aldridge Botanical Gardens afterwards to see the snowflake hydrangeas, discovered and patented by the former owner of the estate, Eddie Aldridge. It’s not often that you get to see snow in Alabama, and these blooms were like an early summer blizzard. My junior high buddy Susan swept me away that night to the Irondale Cafe, the real-life inspiration for Fannie Flagg’s Whistle Stop Cafe. I don’t think I’ve ever so thoroughly enjoyed such thoroughly fattening fare. Susan drove me through the devastation caused by the recent tornadoes that swept through the area. A giant tree fell smack dab in the middle of her daughter’s trailer, who fortunately had earlier sought shelter elsewhere with her husband and newborn. Enormous trees, snapped like twigs.

Saturday James and I took a drive down the Alabama Wine Trail. We visited only three wineries, but there seemed to be a consistent theme of sweetness running through the wines. Not cloying or subtle, but syrupy, lip-puckeringly sweet. The first place we stopped at, Vizzini Farms Winery, in North Calera, featured several “dry style” wines. I asked if the iron-rich southern soil and hot humid climate imparted any particular flavor into their wines. Asking each successive winemaker the same question, I received only blank stares. Terroir doesn’t seem to be much of a concern. Ozan Winery in Calera was the most beautiful, the tasting room atop a hill overlooking the vineyards, with grapes that are actually used in their wines, which we sampled in plastic cups. They make wines with not only the southeast native muscadine and scuppermong grapes, but also with local peaches and other fruit. By the time we got to Morgan Creek vineyards in Harpersville, I gave up on seeking out the essence of place and climate contained in the grapes, and slurped down their undated treacly concoctions, which seemed just the right thing in that hot Alabama sun.

While on the Wine Trail, we stopped for lunch at Pa Paw’s Restaurant, a meat-n-3 in Columbiana. I had the finger-lickingly delicious fried chicken with sides of field peas, mac-n-cheese, turnip greens and corn bread. After the wineries, we headed to deSoto Caverns. Outside, the cicadas chirped hysterically. The cicadas of the southeast materialize only every 13 years, emerging from the earth in the millions. After their 13 year adolescence underground, they shed their shells, and then enjoy six weeks of adulthood, screeching and mating and laying eggs. The cave had been a speakeasy briefly in the 20s, and a former indian burial site. After turning off the lights at one point, and leaving us in absolute and scary darkness, we were dazzled by a laser and spurting water display about the creation of the universe—the 7 day theory—ending with this broadway marquis style glittering crucifix glowing on the wall. A sacred indian burial chamber named after the destroyer of their culture, now a Christian propaganda theme park. Only in Alabama.

Lunch with the Shepherds

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011 | Food, Friends, Travel | No Comments

If you’re driving to Los Angeles from San Francisco and want to stop somewhere along the way for lunch, there is no more tummy-pleasing a destination than the Wool Grower’s Hotel Restaurant in Los Baños. Big Chrissy and I undertook a recent lunch expedition to this comforting Basque bastion of gustatory gratification. You go in, sit down, and they start bringing all this food to you, plate after plate. And a half-bottle of their housemade wine. A simple and crisp tossed green salad, white beans, vegetable soup, lamb stew… these are all just set in front of you. You do have to decide what kind of animal you’d like as your main course: beef, chicken, pork or lamb. A ridiculously huge portion, then rice, fries… and a little dollop of ice cream to finish it off. Everybody pays the same price, everybody goes away happy and unbuttoning that bottom button and loosening the belt a notch or two. It’s not just about the quantity and variety of plates, it really feels homey, real food, just like what maman used to make.

New York: Lunch at del Posto

Monday, January 3rd, 2011 | Food, Travel | No Comments

So the only reservation we could get for lunch on Monday at del Posto was at 11:30. We hiked through the snow-capped peaks of the West Village and arrived on time for our freshly-demoted-to-one-Michelin-star lunch. The restaurant was virtually empty, due to the blizzard the day before and the mounds of snow still in the streets, the entire staff devoted to crafting a most memorable lunch for just the two of us. It was an amazing feast, the tasting menu inspired by the season and featuring a (to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas) panko-encrusted partridge with a poached pear and foie gras mousse; lobster with ice lettuce and cauliflower; a shaved-truffle topped cod swimming in a beef broth…

I don’t know what they could have possibly done to lose that star, or what else they’re going to have to do to get it back. The waiter did mispronounce the name of my wine—I didn’t correct him—but still, a one-star demotion? Were the Michelin tasters deprived of something as children? What more do they want? I couldn’t imagine a more pleasurable, delightful, and tasty experience. Thank you del Posto.

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