Tuesday, November 08, 2005
For Spacious Skies
My parent's have been in town visiting over the weekend, which meant lots of exploring and recreational eating, two of my favorite things. Friday night I took them to Los Jarritos on 20th and South Van Ness, a Mexican restaurant owned by the Reyes family. It's a step up from many of the Mission District spots, both in decor and in food. Their Friday night special of posole (a brothy tomato based soup studded with bits of roasted pork shoulder and tender hominy) and the housemade flour tortillas are particularly worthy of note, though they make a fine chile rellenos and the service is kind and efficient.
Saturday morning the road trip began, with a quick stop at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market so my folks could marvel at California's bounty and we could load up on provisions. An hour later, laden with Acme's ham and cheese turnovers, a crostata from Frog Hollow, strip steaks from Niman Ranch, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses (a gruyere and a local goat), mushrooms, greens and just-picked carrots, we returned to the car and the road ahead.
Our destination was the wilds of Yosemite, a place I had never been and was anxious to see. It was, in a word, breathtaking. The road rose to the sky and every turn afforded vistas, granite monoliths and giant sequoias. We greeted the cool evening with wood stoves cranked and steaks off the grill, topped with sauteed mushrooms and roasted potatoes. As the sky darkened the stars appeared in earnest, brighter and closer than back here on earth. I can't wait to return.
Still, it felt like a shock to leave the park and, some 4-odd hours later, be sitting in the swank bar area of The Slanted Door. A day of hiking left us sleepy but hungry, and the bright, clean flavors of chef Phan's food--a mix of Vietnamese, French, and California ingredients and technique--were just the thing to perk us up. I have to admit I was hesitant to eat there, having heard reports of overpriced, not as good as when it was on Valencia Street, too large to serve good food, etc. It was an excellent meal. Standouts included the green papaya salad, a brilliantly balanced combination of ingredients, the manila clams with crispy pork belly (which I wasn't sure I would like but found myself lapping the bowl) and yellowtail with a soy-chili dipping sauce. They also offer an addictive japanese eggplant dish, with the rich flavor of coconut milk and green chiles. I was pleased to see that the dessert menu didn't offer too many gimmicks of the lychee, green tea or mango variety so commonly seen in "Asian" restaurants. Rather, it was an edited assortment of fine flavors--a pumpkin bread pudding with apples and chestnuts, a pear tart with pear sorbet, a fine creme brulee and Chinese cinnamon ice cream.
The whirlwind California tour now complete (my parent's are, as I write, winging their way back to Vermont), we'll have to return to our former routine. I began the day, as I always do when there isn't anything better around, with a bowl of yogurt sprinkled with grape nuts. It's back to the grind, I suppose. Sure is nice to know, though, that 4 hours away there's a little piece of paradise waiting.