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Rest in Strange Times

Wandered out for an afternoon walk, where I tried not to do too many things at once. The Mission continues to be a sun-touched, diverse place. It makes me deeply happy to be outside in a place where every other couple I see is mixed, to look at those jewel-coloured murals, one almost on every corner. When we moved here three years ago, the gentrifying creep had just kind of hit the Valencia corridor. It's spread out since then, but it's almost as if a new, hip concept store opens every month. 24th is starting to see more of these skinny-legged tendrils -- there's at least two more unassuming bookstores that've showed up since the start of the year, I think, apart from Modern Times, which I'm still grateful is now only two blocks away, even if they have lost their delightfully glass-paned storefront as a result. Had a vanilla rose latte at Bello Cafe, which was advertising this and a lavender white mocha in their window. I gleefully picked out a cinnamon twist from their perspex pastry box to go with. The cinnamon twist was the best darn cinnamon twist I've had in years. Soft, buttery, cinnamony and not too sweet. The vanilla rose latte was kind of horrifying. I'd forgotten how strong rose water can be in anything. It's a pervasive flavour of my childhood, since Malay cakes and drinks have a slightly misguided love for dark pink rose essences, but I do occasionally have a fond thought or three about it. Anyway, the latte was perfectly frothy and creamy, but tasted like a molten Turkish delight. This is great if you like Turkish delights. I can have all of one Turkish delight at a time, and then my entire being rebels against the sugar-coated sugariness of it all. This is why I am not a plump, couch-hogging odalisque even though I like to eat.

Poked my head into Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, freshly opened at 24th & Shotwell. Well, I peered through the glass. It's been open... today... I think, the line was trailing out the door. Will be back later in the evening to grab out dinner. I wonder if they'll let me pack their chopped liver and rye bread? Their hours are kind of mysterious, but I've come to expect that with places around the Mission. Apparently, there is weekend brunch and breakfast. There was also all kinds of stuff about challah slathered in butters and honey, but I think my attention span went blurry around that point. All of this will be an adventure to me. For obvious reasons, Jewish food isn't seen back home in Malaysia, and I have only heard of some of the things being advertised here.

Most of my only restful periods over the past week have been odd, almost stolen. We went to see Seth's gastroenterologist last week for the first time, and that became a small holiday for both of us. We walked to a hillside park to look at cherry trees in bloom, had lunch at Woodhouse Fish Co., which was a deeply pleasurable experience. Both of us managed to resist the urge of the chalkboard specials -- whole fishes baked in cornmeal crusts and such wonders -- because there was crab on the regular menu. Seth had a salad with a small hillock of crab on top, and I had stuffed artichokes with crab (and nice shrimp). The artichokes were slathered in crab butter. It was like crab for vegetarians with real crab on top. Then we walked to Japantown and I coerced him to get a Necron unit to paint, and we got a succulent to fill the empty spot in one of our windowboxes.

Valentine's Day night, I had to put my foot down for an evening off work. The two places we wanted to go to were fully booked by the time we tried making reservations, but there was Nombe, and we don't turn down Nombe. It was actually really awesome to walk in and see the place full of couples. Remembering what happened the last time we had their kaiseki set and had individual sake pairings, we tried to err on the side of caution and get one sake pairing, which we would share. This, while smart in theory, didn't entirely work out, but more on that later. The first course was a Thai-flavoured scallop served in shell, surrounded by a moat of coconut-milk and perched on top of slightly soured cucumber shavings. The sauce was very similar to Thai minced chicken in coconut milk, the kind served on puffed rice crackers. It was mild and a bit zingy. The second course was sashimi topped with what I think were slivers of cherry tomatoes, in a citrus dressing. It was good, but we've had their sashimi before, so it wasn't a surprise either. The third course, by which I was getting slightly cheerful from the courtesy champagne and a deliciously sharp sake that came with this round, was a rather phenomenal and unexpected terrine of eel and foie gras. The eel was everything I liked about grilled eel, caramelised, tender and sweet. It blended into a creamy heavenliness with the rich foie gras. We were both quite impressed. By the fourth course, we were much more cheered, realising that the creative stuff we liked about Nombe was coming up. This course was another delicious comfort -- Nombe's sublime braised pork belly served on octopus. Neither the spouse nor myself are fans of the tentacled seafoods, but this was octopus unlike anything we've had before. It was tender to the bite, infused with roasting juices and went like pennies of cream with the always, again, sublime pork belly.

Now, of course, I am very cheerful, the place was hopping, and me and the spouse were discussing historical misconceptions about Crusade-era Caliphs and possibly various MMOs. These two subjects are not related. The fifth course was my favourite. Some genius in the kitchen decided to grill ocean trout - my favourite fish behind cod, and vastly more sustainable but wihout the pervasive fishiness of salmon -- then top it liberally with shaved radish and ikura, then serve it with a tempura shiso leaf. I tell you, the guy who thought this up is genius. Combining three of my favourite ingredients together, one of them subtly deep-fried, is GENIUS. I vaguely remember being drunk enough to still have my chopstick skills but being slightly under on hand-eye coordination and picking up every last pearl of ikura off Seth's plate. That's how much I like the fish egg.

Course Six was more of a blur, literally and figuratively. I think we were thankful that it was nearing the end because we were both kind of full. Delicious mini donburi with just-seared Kobe beef slices on top. Seth was in heaven, since that's one of his favourite meat items. It was deeply tasty, but the beef was a bit chewy on my weak jaws. Not the fault of the beef -- I just have bad jaw power. Seth was more than happy to take my last slice of beef. The sixth course was served simultaneously with the seventh, a palate-cleansing savoury soup we both thoroughly enjoyed. It had hints of ginger and what I suspect is a light umami consomme, but I don't have the entire details. I ordered a pot of sencha around this point, something I could have had the good sense to order about four courses earlier, realising that I was starting to feel dangerously lightheaded. Mostly, I was scared to stand up.

Dessert was chocolate souffle. I had been looking forward to this all night. Chocolate souffle is my favourite dessert, somewhere on par with creme brulees but trailing behind black forest gateaux. Their chocolate souffle was warm, but not nearly as molten as I would have liked, edging on a teensy bit dry. This was served with a 26-year-old mirin topped with cream. When I read this on the menu, I honestly expected some kind of sake-based White Russian. The effect was actually a creamy mouthful (and mouthfeel) with "a hint of balsamic", as our waiter explained. It was an honestly enjoyable night, and we really liked being there. Folks were friendly and cool, as they always are. The only really weird things that happened all evening was first, a guy in a horse head mask rattling on the glass window up front about halfway through dinner, and a man who walked up to the couple in front of us -- the male partner at the table had shaved a face into the back of his head -- and the man who went up to him did so explicitly to declare in a loud voice that a friend of his had died in 9/11 and it was utterly offensive to have Osama bin Laden shaved into one's head. This perplexed the people who were sitting elsewhere in the restaurant, since they couldn't see the back of this man's head, and kind of offended everyone else who could, since this altercation was not something we expected with our dinner. I did admit that I was confused by the picture on the man's head all night. I got that it was a man's face shaved on, but didn't even realize there was a turban until this was pointed out to me. People, eh?

We paid, I remember being lucid enough to thank the sommelier for the delicious meal, and walked out, when I immediately felt awful. Somewhere between the richest courses and the sake I had, I must've gotten alcohol-poisoned. It had been a few months since I last drank anything. The walk home was a careful, tottering affair. Seth held my hand, let me lean on the occasional parking meter. When I got home, I crashed out on the couch, a little miffed neither cat wanted to be companionable. I had a splitting headache, my chest felt really tight.

This does not make me want to visit Nomble any less, just so you know. I mean, they're having Beer Pairing Week right now, with a choice between Magnolia and Coedo beers -- both very fine ranges both of us quite thoroughly enjoy, with special plates and I'm frankly wondering if I can perhaps lure the spouse out on Sunday. Hrm. Also, three new beefy ramens officially join their dinner menu alongside their already divine ramens. I believe one of the toppings is the oxtail, which, while not meaty (c'mon, it's an oxtail) is nonetheless all molten collagen and maddeningly soft strands of beef.

Today, and this weekend, I am not working an 18-hour shift. I am looking forward to snipping more of that jasmine infestation in the backyard, setting up my EarthBoxes to plant things, making us nice dinners, possibly getting to making a carrot cake. I tried my hand at bittergourd champuru, but wasn't terribly happy with the results. I felt the bittergourd was bitter with not enough offsetting flavours. I did make a much more delicious bittergourd pickle though. Left overnight to steep in a dash of good sake and a tablespoonful of sushi vinegar, I had slightly chewy slices of green-edged gourds, sweet from sugar and sake, just sour enough to balance the bitter. I would totally make this again, and hey, look, I have a weekend.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 18th, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
I love your food posts!
Feb. 19th, 2012 03:46 am (UTC)
I agree with this comment!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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