Monday, November 15, 2010

Bold Commentaries: Memories of San Francisco in September 2010

This show was one I did remotely from San Francisco. That spurred Jane Butel to come up with some menu ideas inspired by the city and its romance. As it happens, her ideas dovetailed with what I experienced in San Francisco that week. Like minds, perhaps?

My wife and I were celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary, which was part of our reason for coming here. Little did we know it would be in the middle of a heat wave. We experienced record temperatures in a city known more for its fog and chilly all-seasons weather. Our suite is in an older Victorian on Nob Hill that doesn’t have A/C. I was almost tempted to put our mattress out of the fire escape, except I’m sure the cable cars that pass by on Powell below us would have gotten a regrettable eyeful.

Since we were in one of the fine culinary capitals of our country, Jane wanted to feature some of the famous recipes of San Francisco. She discussed a special Cioppino recipe that had its origins in Italy, but was honed and adapted to San Francisco seafood—Dungeness crab or King Crab legs, clams, lobster, mussels and shrimp in a hearty red wine sauce flavored with tomato, garlic, onion, lemon and lots of Mediterranean herbs. She adapted it for her Hotter Than Hell cookbook which I highly recommend.

Cioppino is certainly a popular SF treat. I almost selected it for our anniversary dinner. Obviously a number of Italian reds come to mind. The seafood takes on much of the flavors of the sauce so a red is best here. Sangiovese, Barbera and Dolcetto all work well. Even a well-aged Nebbiolo will sing with the fishes. Much better than swimming with them, I suppose.

New Mexico wineries excel at Dolcetto, and one of my favorites is the Vivac 2008 Dolcetto which display black fruit and tobacco on the nose, and blueberries and chocolate on the palate with good acidity. Dolcetto is generally light- to medium-bodied with bright fruit-forward flavors that harmonize with Cioppino. It originates in Piedmont, Italy, which is also famous for its Barbera and Nebbiolo wines.

To accompany this dish, Jane suggested a simple green salad with a creamy dressing, lots of crispy crusted Italian bread and a simple fruit dessert. If you can’t get crusty Italian bread in SF, you’re not looking very hard. For the dessert and an alternative for the entrée, I’d also recommend another Vivac favorite; the 2008 Barbera. This popular Piedmont grape is known for its mellow tannins and black cherry flavors to which the Vivac adds hints of orange and cranberry on the nose and a citrusy finish.

Next on Jane’s list was another Italian and personal favorite; Shrimp Scampi, an easy to prepare dish of juicy shrimp with lots of olive oil and garlic. I suggested the Graffigna Centenario 2009 Pinot Grigio Reserve which I’m enjoying as I write this. It provides inspiration, without too much inebriation. At $8.99, the same price as their reserve Malbec, these are Argentinean wines to seek out. Mind you I got mine at La Beau Nob Hill Market, albeit, one that has good wine prices. This is my go-to place for food and wine in the city. They never disappoint.

Next Jane went with a German favorite; Sauerbraten in a red wine with a mireproix –then sautéed in bacon fat and finished with a long simmer in consommé with mushrooms. The last time I had Sauerbraten I was nearly stabbed with a fork over the last piece. I always found it interesting that this is one meat dish that also works with German Gewürztraminer, but I’d go with a lighter red that had a touch of sweetness. A very dry red, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon is not at home here, but the Vivac Dolcetto or Barbera would do well.

Next Jane talked about San Francisco sourdough and seafood, two food groups that have gone together for me since my first experience when I was in the Navy and my Dad came to town on business and we dined at Fisherman’s Grotto #9. Jane mentioned that the water has a great deal to do with the flavor of the sourdough.

I think it’s the sea air and the fact it is San Francisco. The Pinot Grigio I mentioned above went great with the local seafood. However, when the seafood is Sushi, and I have a passion for SF Sushi, I usually go with cold sake. Sake is rather unique in that it is brewed and fermented. The Koji and yeast starter are part of what makes it special. Sake is very labor-intensive, which is one of the reasons premium sake is so expensive. However, for the traditionalist, Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc will probably work better.

Finally Jane recalled romantic desserts in San Francisco, such as flambe’s of cherries and other fruits, and wondered if they were still around. As it happens, our anniversary dinner at Sinbad in the Embarcadero district is a somewhat retro restaurant that time warped us back to the sixties. And what did we have for dessert; Cherries Jubilee. The remains of our Pinot Noir handled it as well as any wine can handle ice cream, and with black cherry on the palate, it married with the black cherries flambé? Seriously, did Jane and I Vulcan mind-meld here?

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