Friday, November 27, 2009

Expectations: Reliving Some, Fulfilling Others

Bobo's The Steak, Lombard Street, San Francisco

It ended up that yesterday, Thursday, was just about all about eating. Now, given the fact that yesterday was Thanksgiving, anyone reading this might nod his or her head knowingly, thinking, "Well of course, it was Thanksgiving." But no, yesterday wasn't my Thanksgiving; that will be tomorrow, Saturday, which ends up fitting everybody's schedule better. Is it incorrect to celebrate Thanksgiving on a day other than Thanksgiving Thursday? I am sure that when we do celebrate it, I will be thinking that it is about getting together with family and friends and being thankful for our many blessings...and THEN eating.

I started the day yesterday with breakfast at Cafe Lombard, after making sure that they were open (which they weren't the night before). This is the delicious little Italian restaurant that is owned by a Chinese woman who does all the great cooking; she serves regular American breakfasts and lunches. When she saw me, she said, "Welcome home!" after recognizing me from when I was here at this time last year. I loved that "home" (as opposed to, say, "nice to see you back again"). I asked her what she was going to be doing for Thanksgiving, open for Thanksgiving, or cooking at home for family and friends, but she said she was invited to a friend's house so she was able to escape the kitchen. I said, "Ah ha, this time it is for somebody to be treating YOU."

For some reason, this year I am being thankful of all the time off that I get to have in my job and am more keenly aware than ever of all those who are working to make the holidays work for those who are off. I've been leaving larger tips on such occasions, and also making mention of my noticing that they ARE working whenever that seems appropriate. I think it must be hard to be working when everybody else is playing, but a little extra recognition might make it better.

I got to sit in "my" seat in the restaurant's window (which will now be the fourth time I have sat in that one and only spot there). Kind of behind me were the only other diners in the restaurant, a man and a woman, whom I never really got a good look at because to do so would involve a very obvious and pointed turn-around-and-look. Whenever I am dining out alone (which is about 99% of the time), I am keenly aware of how easily I can hear every single thing that is said by others nearby, which I assume is a general principle with all lone diners unless they are utterly insensitive to whatever surrounds them. But I make a big point of acting like I am paying absolutely no attention whatsoever (and sometimes whatever they are talking about is of no possible interest to me), but my ears are not turned off so people's conversation are similar to a radio that is on in the car. I just want people to understand that if you are talking in a restaurant and there is a lone diner nearby, every thing you are saying is being heard by that diner. Does this now make you paranoid? Well, it shouldn't...but I thought you would like to know.

What makes it hard is if one of the speakers is outrageously funny, or perhaps extremely fascinating; I want so much to laugh, or to join in, but either response would spoil the carefully created illusion that people have some measure of privacy when out in public.

Based on their conversational style, I happened to like both of these diners sitting behind me at Cafe Lombard, even though the man had a very whiny voice. I wondered deeply about that whine; it wasn't that he was complaining about anything or was even demonstrating very much of a negative nature, but it seemed that this voice might be a carry-over from a childhood raised in a household where the culture was one of extreme disappointment and while he had absorbed that affect, he counteracted it by having an attitude of "the silver lining." Another description of this might a Pollyanna-ish "glad game," which is a perception of always turning around the bad things that happen to see what good is really inside there. I find that unfortunately people are more commonly the opposite of that, keenly aware of or carefully seeking out the negative that is lying in wait inside of the good things that happen. So, in some peculiar way, I realized that despite what might ultimately become screamingly tiresome to others, this voice could be described as the "sincere voice of Thanksgiving," saying in its tone, "I may have been hurt all my life, but there is always something good to be thankful for." So his was the perfect soundtrack for Thanksgiving morning.

The woman, on the other hand, was quite free-spirited, taking whatever in life came her way, and often made a clever joke of her companion's "glad game". For example, the man was quite complementary about various things about the restaurant...he loved the light classical music that was playing in the background, he loved the crispness of the home fried potatoes, his eggs, though a little runny for his taste, were nevertheless quite delicious in a way that he wouldn't have expected. He said to her, "So I had thought you might like to eat here instead of the coffee shop in our hotel, even though it was an eight block walk, I hope that was okay." She said, "It was fortunate that I had put on my walking shoes."

When the owner came to bring the man some more coffee, he said, "Oh yes, PLEASE, this coffee is just SO good!" Then he leaned over to his companion and said, "But you are drinking tea." And she said, "They have the best hot water here." I nearly burst out laughing when she made that comment, but he took her humor in stride and said, "You know, you are in so much trouble!" which, when spoken in his Eeyore-like voice, also nearly made me burst out laughing.

After breakfast, my mission was to cross over the bay via the Golden Gate Bridge and drive around in Tiburon and Belvedere, two of the more famously appealing across-the-bay waterside communities that I used to love when I lived in the area. Both of them, along with the better-known Sausalito, and well, anything water-side in the bay area, is utterly out my reach, I who couldn't even afford a falling-down tract house in a gang-infested area of L.A. But for some reason that I cannot quite yet explain, it was important for me to reconnect with this kind of thing, as if they represented some life-line that I could grab onto to pull me up out of the mire that I felt stuck in.

After marveling at those fairy-tale communities (and SOME people actually commute via ferry-boat from those lovely Marin County docks to San Francisco's downtown financial center skyscrapers,
so I could just as easily refer to them as "ferry-tale" communities), I crossed back over the bridge and headed south into San Mateo County to go look at the restored Carolands Chateau in Hillsborough:

Carolands, the 65,000 square foot home of Harriet Pullman Caroland, heiress of the Pullman railroad car fortune, once sat at the top of a major peninsular estate in what is now the Town of Hillsborough, which I loved to go look at from time to when when I lived in the area, but as people died and various heirs took over and money became tight, the place fell into disrepair. It used to be you could actually drive right up to the house and, if you were brave, walk around on the property, but now I see that it is fully landscaped again, gated and closed, and all but-invisible from the road.

Hillsborough, and another similar town in the Peninsula, Atherton (where my parents lived from when I was in sixth grade all the way through to when I was in my mid-thirties), are as equally out of reach for me and 99.9% of all the other Californians as are the fabled bayside cities, but I have fond memories of these communities having lived there during my "prime" years, so they are in my blood. This makes me kind of the opposite of the whiny-voiced man having breakfast at Cafe Lombard. I did not grow up in an atmosphere of disappointment, but in one filled with nearly impossible expectation.

I hadn't slept well the night before and felt exhausted with doing even more driving the day after having made the long drive up here, so I decided to drive back to San Francisco to take a nap and then relax until time for my dinner reservation at Bobo's, which really ends up being the day's main event.

I found Bobo's (Boboquivari's) to be everything it was touted to be. The restaurant, itself, was a melange of different rooms on different levels all in a fun, dark, romantic atmosphere. I was seated at a table in a room that was partitioned into intimate areas by heavy velvet curtains. There was an array of various-sized heavily-framed artwork on the walls, all in a hodgepodge of DISarray, as if the joyful energy of the various diners over the years had knocked them hopelessly off-kilter. I thought that was decorating genius. The colors and patterns of the Harlequin, the Italian comedic/operatic clown (such the rows of diamonds, or black and white stripes), was also a decorative theme of the restaurant, and a little research on the subject revealed that harlequins, while gluttonous, were also acrobatic, given to flips and cartwheels. Well, I will surely agree with the GLUTTONOUS part, but if after eating there I even attempted a cartwheel, that would have been the last act of my sixty-one years of life.

The waitress wished me a happy Thanksgiving and I said, "So, what about YOU?" and she told me that the restaurant had provided a Thanksgiving party for all of them earlier that day, which I thought was a wonderful touch. "But how are you going to be working stuffed and sleepy?" I asked her, and she laughed, saying that she had had time for a nap and now was subsisting on gallons of espresso. But we both agreed that sometimes your co-workers are more of a family than your own family, so a Thanksgiving with them can make sense.

My exposition here wouldn't be complete without a summary of the other diners who were in this room whose conversations, of course, I was privy to. Next to me were two men, a young college-age man with a phenomenally deep and sexy voice, and an older man. Naturally I wondered about why those two would happen to be together on Thanksgiving night, but I ended up figuring out that they were father and son, and surmised that the father had divorced his son's mother long ago and really doesn't know his son all that well. One was visiting the other, but I couldn't quite figure out which one lived there and which one didn't, but if I had to guess, I would have said that it was the father who was from out of town. The son seemed more secure whereas the father was unsure of himself. They discussed the ISSUE of religion, God, and what happens after you die (but not any of the specifics), which I guess came up because the father is an atheist whereas the boy was raised by his mother to be a church-goer. However, once the boy reached college-age, he determined that Christian behavior was hypocritical and therefore he lost faith in the faith. It was kind of a peculiar conversation, actually, in that the father never had had a thing to provide on this subject and now that his son was questioning, the father couldn't add anything to it, since to him there is nothing there to even ask about. For his part, the son wondered how a person actually went about answering these questions, realizing that most people never really do seek, but simply accept whatever they were taught.

At the other table in the room were three drunk middle-aged men and one fat middle-aged woman. They were simply having a good time eating and spent their whole meal discussing the relative merits of various steakhouses and how steaks are best cooked. It was their conclusion that Bobos' was consistently the best steakhouse they knew, and that Ruth Chris's was often a disappointment and ALWAYS snobby (and horribly expensive). After their dinner, they were going to further add to their fun by bar-hopping for the rest of the evening.

As for me, I really treated myself to the full nine yards--mixed drink, the bread that they automatically brought, salad, steak, side, dessert, and coffee. In retrospect, I would have been perfectly happy with just a steak and maybe a simple dinner salad.

Regarding drinks, the menu offered a variety of clever creations, most of which seemed to involve margarita-like salt around the rim (which, if I get a margarita, I always ask the bartender to skip) except here there were various combinations of salt and pepper, or various other spices, or even ground chocolate. I ordered a blueberry margarita that various restaurant reviewers recommended except that the only blueberry I managed to taste wee the actual blueberries that they had placed IN the drink. This margarita had nothing around the rim. Well, it was unusual and refreshing, but I didn't need to have it.

The bread they brought was practically a whole LOAF of olive bread that was heavily infused with olive oil so that one did not need to, say, put on butter (besides, there was going to be BUTTER to come elsewhere in the meal....). The bread was the only thing I was unable to finish, so I "brought the rest of it home" to the hotel and actually, I have yet to finish it. It's very good and also very filling, but somehow I sense that it is very healthy. It has pieces of both green and black olives in it.

The salad was a wedge of baby romaine lettuce with sliced apples, seasoned walnuts, and raspberry dressing. I told the waitress that I could get addicted to those seasoned walnuts. She told me that they also serve them as snacks at the bar and she, herself, always finds herself reaching for them.

Then came the steak, a bone-in filet mignon cooked medium rare, sitting in the middle of a large square plate, and the "side," which was sauteed portofino mushrooms. Here was where the butter came in, since both the steak and the mushrooms had been cooked in butter.

I could very well say that this was the most delicious steak I had ever had. I, for sure, could say that it was the most TENDER steak I had ever had. In fact, upon alternating between a bite of steak and a bite of some portofino mushrooms, they both were as equally tender. Since for me steak is often a chew-chew-chew ordeal, I just can't imagine how they managed to cook it so deliciously and so tenderly. For sure it has to do with the cut of meat, but it is more than just that. Anyway, that was utterly wonderful and would bring anyone to his knees, I am sure.

For dessert I had blood orange sorbet in a waffle basket and this was actually a dessert that did not taste sweet; the blood orange is almost bitter like a grapefruit. I kind of enjoyed having a dessert that did not make me feel like I had to immediately brush my teeth after. And, in all honesty, I am getting so that I hate chocolate, so it was nice to have a dessert choice that didn't have anything to do with chocolate.

The coffee was, of course, also delicious, but what I liked about it was the sculpture of the coffee cup in which the porcelain rectangle that was brought around to make the round sides of the cup had one end of it that was also extended out to form a handle. And they didn't just bring you a cup of coffee, but it came in a stainless steel carafe for the table that held three or four cups.

So, after this meal (which, before the tip cost $108), I had no further ambition than going back across the street to the hotel and lying down for the rest of the evening, which is exactly what I did.

But finally I could fully understand the suggested diet of one of my doctors. His trick, as he so proudly reveals, is "soup for lunch, salad for dinner, and steak once a week". That "steak once a week" makes him wink at you, as if THIS is the key to dieting success. But that secret hadn't communicated to me until my dinner yesterday at Bobo's. NOW I understand the reward that is implied by the "you can suffer anything all week just so long as you get a steak" steak.

And a diet is for sure something I need to go on again.

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