Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Waiting in line with Carrie Brownstein, and other vacation adventures

So this ended up being a bit of a food tour of San Francisco. This fact may be not unrelated to the time spent prior to the trip - lots of not getting out of the house-and-dog-walking-surroundings in NJ, lots of running. This left me in shape enough to walk up ridiculous hills, and prepared to find just about any restaurant meal the best I'd ever eaten. Lunch on the plane had been a bag of pretzels. (Newark's finest.) I was ready!

Below is Part I of an overview. While overall my impression was whoa vacation big city OMG OMG fantastic, in the interest of providing information to the information-seekers out there, I will try to make this post less about my immense gratitude for having gotten out of the house, and more about the pros and cons of various establishments, with the disclaimer that I went to each of these just once. This means erring on the side of seeming more blasé about all this than I really was.

Sightglass Coffee: Am I suggestible? Yes. Gorgeous space. Similar experience to Rojo's in Lambertville or Colombe in New York. A big barn with above-average hipster coffee. Worth it more for the space, but good coffee all the same.

Ino Sushi: We were staying in Japantown, because that's where there was a centrally-located, reasonably-priced hotel, but reading up on the area, it seemed like maybe it's better not to go to a random place. As in, Japanese restaurants popular with the online food-obsessed community are mostly in other neighborhoods. Searching around, I ended up finding what I thought would be the San Francisco version of the place in Princeton that has - not sure how it's possible, but there it is - better sushi than I'd ever had in New York. A place with only sushi and lots of rules, evoking for customers that soup "Seinfeld."

And... while there were rules, including a complicated one regarding minimums, the food itself was ordinary. A tuna sashimi entree arrived and seemed like some kind of joke, for someone who might imagine that $19 worth of raw fish would be an ounce of the stuff. (Why does such an experience happen when traveling? I remember once ordering what turned out to be the world's most expensive cube of feta in DC.) And all the pieces of sushi were minute - a brave stand against American jumbo-fication of all foods, or a ripoff that few will dare call out because who (in a city like San Francisco, at least) wants to be that American?

But that seemed to be the place's gimmick - dealing with naive Americans for whom sushi is an exotic new arrival, and not something that's been readily available since, what, the 1980s, and long since made it to small towns far from the coasts. When the server/proprietor came over to me and explained what I could and couldn't put soy sauce on, the tone of the encounter was more patronizing than helpful. And while the tininess of the portions gave the impression of quality, the taste of the fish, not so much.

Mifune - commenter Aaron's recommendation - which we also ate at was probably the better deal, although I may have ordered wrong. (Long and uninteresting story involving two different kinds of fried tofu.)

Ferry Building Farmers Market: The main takeaway there was that people who live in California and can afford nice vegetables (a stop by a Safeway confirmed that this isn't all of California) are exactly as lucky as one might imagine. I looked at the array and thought of the Union Square Greenmarket, and how it's as good as it can be for not being located in a magical land of tomatoes, strawberries, arugula, etc., all of which look like they come from professional food photography.

But this was also an introduction to the lines. Blue Bottle Coffee, which also has outposts in New York, tempted me away from my no-food-I-can-get-at-home ("home" loosely defined) rule with the promise of a caramelized waffle. Soon enough, after my husband had already waited for a pastry at a different stall and returned, it became clear that this was not a line like any I'd ever encountered, except for airport security or Shakespeare in the Park. It brought to mind nothing more than the "Portlandia" brunch sketch. And then I glanced behind me on this line and saw none other than Carrie Brownstein, in line like the rest of us. (So pretty! So chic! So the reason I'm now going to buy dark-red lipstick.) She, however, gave up. I waited because I'm an idiot. The coffee was good, as was the waffle, but neither would seem worth that kind of a line. I also had a $3 wedge of local cheese, because vacation, and because I basically hadn't eaten dinner, so cheese and a waffle seemed reasonable.

I will now continue to ignore chronology and stick to the question of these lines. The next one, easily longer, was for Tartine Bakery. It had sounded good, and in an apparently (this was later confirmed) interesting neighborhood, so an impressively hilly bus ride later, we found ourselves on line on an otherwise residential block for the next... 45 minutes? It wasn't clear if this was the line for takeout or to sit, or indeed what was on the other end.

When my husband and I discussed the situation - definitely more amused than annoyed, discussing what leads to these far-beyond-what-one-ever-sees-in-NYC lines (the superior weather? the greater commitment to hipsters-make-your-food cuisine?) - we gave one of the two young women in front of us on the line an opportunity first to tell us some helpful things about how the place works (you can get your food to stay, but are not guaranteed seating), then to kind of generally roll her eyes at our rustic ignorance of how it goes in civilization. The lines, we learned, are how it goes in San Francisco. But it's OK because this bakery really is, she explained, that good. Better croissants than Paris, this woman assured us, and she, she made it clear, has been to Paris. I didn't get into the fact that I'm ABD in where to get the best croissants in Paris and elsewhere (Tucson being the Stateside winner thus far, and I say this having extensively croissant-toured New York), but had to agree that these smelled amazing.

The thing with spending a year waiting for a pastry after 10am when you've been up with jet-lag since 6:30 is that once you do reach the front of the line, you're seriously considering whole layer cakes. So there may have been some over-ordering, some subsequent schlepping of the remaining third croissant around San Francisco. But the pain au chocolat was quite good, as well as enormous. It was also oddly similar to (although a better version of) the ones I've made from scratch, which was a kind of vindication. The coffee (Four Barrel?) was fine. Did the line make the food taste better, or just make us order more? Unclear.

Later the same day, though, came the true line extravaganza, this for Bi Rite's ice cream shop. There were four different lines - one for soft serve, it seemed, but an additional three (technically three legs of one line) for the rest. This establishment doesn't get put in bold, because I never tasted the stuff. A long weekend away is only ever so line-compatible.

But just to conclude the main point here, which would be the lines. I've said before that I think faux-scarcity works as a marketing technique, which, well, it does. But does it actually make the food taste better? Once you reach the end of the line, do you just feel obligated to tell your friends that this is the best food of this kind you've ever eaten? Does the line end up making you more cynical, or is that my East Coast-ness talking?

But there was so much more food! Part II to follow.


fourtinefork said...

OK, this is a food post, but I'm going to comment on your desire for dark-red lipstick. Nars Terre de Feu. Buy it. It looks dull and muddy in tube. It is freaking gorgeous. I think we have somewhat similar coloring, and I first tried it because of some dark-haired, pale-skinned woman on Into the Gloss. Best color ever.*

* OK, fine, I wear it more in fall & winter. Red Square is more my thing right now, but I'm predictable with the bright lip in the summertime.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

This is an incredibly helpful comment, because believe it or not, that was the very lipstick I had in mind! You were right about which concealer to get, whenever that was, so your word plus Emily Weiss's and I'm convinced. I've ordered it and everything. I'd realized I didn't own a single red lipstick, and sometimes it's just a red-lipstick kind of day/evening.

I also like the bright-lip look, and got Mac Candy Yum Yum a while back for that purpose. Mostly, though, I focus on the eyeliner, which means nothing too interesting can happen on the lipstick front. But my vision for the dark red in summer is maybe a kind of all-black outfit, with the lipstick making the look more 1990s than goth, not that the two are mutually exclusive.

fourtinefork said...

That is awesome! I hope you like it. What I really like about Terre de Feu is that it is surprisingly versatile. If you just dab it on, it gives a nice berry stain (richer than Clinique Black Honey, which I never really liked all that much). If you go full force, with a brush or even out of the tube, it is fantastically glamorous. I feel grown up when I wear it, like-- get ready to groan-- some elegant French woman who does not have crumbs all over her unironed dress.

It is also the only lipstick that I've purchased a second time. I thought I lost the first tube, waited for a while to buy it again-- because I have lots of other lipsticks, and did I really need to spend that much money, etc etc-- and decided that yes, I did need it, because it's the best color I've ever owned. Of course, one week after buying the second tube, I found the first tube in a suitcase from a previous trip. Oops.

I was goth in the 90s. Most of my lipsticks back then were, of course, of that muddy brown-red so beloved in that decade.

fourtinefork said...

PS, This is the link that got me on the Terre de Feu train.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

So many thoughts on lipstick, as happens on dissertation-formatting-day (well, Day 1). My 90s lipstick - and I wasn't goth - was definitely brown, definitely a good bit cheaper than this Nars stuff. I think my impression was that brown hair and brown eyes meant brown lipstick, but in retrospect, I was very 1990s in the 1990s after all.

With this particular one, I did see that ITG photo, but the color seemed a bit more purple than what I was looking for, which is apparently the "vamp" look. But my guess is, that's how it looks kind of lightly applied.