01 August 2012
I. Brenda’s French Soul Food, San Francisco
II. Sutter Pub, San Francisco
III. Nob Hill Grill, San Francisco
Let me know which is your favorite.
A memorable puzzle piece of a traveler’s mind map is the culinary fare that marks the journey. Stunning cuisine can bring a myriad of flashbacks that recall the flavors of a particular locale: its ambience and culture and history and people.
We definitely explored the variety of tabletop offerings in the golden city. San Francisco really has the gamut of possibilities. During our travels my teenage grandchildren and I filled our appetites and culinary leanings with savory foods from California cuisine and world’s beyond its borders.
Californian-style (influenced by its proximity to Mexico and recipes of Old California) and Californian-infusion (combines flavors from Spain, Mexico and California) food represents the popularity of ethnic cooking that is sweeping the country. But the city also offers culinary delights from each continent with top-quality bistros, cafés and restaurants aplenty.
What we ate: We savored lots and lots of seafood (including fish tacos, Dungeness crabs, fish and chips, mussels, squid ink pasta, squid ink sauce, sea urchin, tuna), arugula- and avocado-topped salads, and sumptuous desserts (including double chocolate cake and Italian gelato). In the Lens section are samples of dishes that we savored as we explored the Bay area’s cityscapes. We tried New American, Californian, Chinese, French Soul Food, Mexican, and Spanish. The single most impressive aspect of the food is its superior ingredients. A close second is the inclination for the restaurants to buy local and encourage sustainable farming techniques. When the freshest of ingredients are used, flavors coalesce; the customer is rewarded. Oh sure, a chef’s creativity and culinary skills are essential, but poach an egg handpicked that morning and the yolk bursts with rich enthusiasm.
What we saw. From appetizers to desserts we were entranced with eloquently plated dishes, which made it hard to take the first bite. The attention to aesthetics and pleasing the customer is memorable.
What my teenage grandchildren discovered and loved: Jones natural sodas, squid, sea urchin, beignets, and chocolate chip pancakes. Oh, and those truffle fries–yummmmmmy.
What we hope upon return to the East Coast? Can we duplicate truffle fries? Can we find Jones soda? Can we replicate the flavors in fish tacos? Can we make such an airy fluffy and light chocolate chip pancake? Side note: We’ve come close on the truffle fries. And I had to travel an hour into Pennsylvania to stock the pantry shelves with Jones sodas. Try to make lemon and cucumber infused water, so refreshing.
Where we ate: Some of the highlights include Brenda’s French Soul Food (Creole diner, Polk Street near Civic Center), A-16 (Italy’s Campania cuisine, Marina area, Chestnut Street), Calzone’s (Italian, North Beach, Columbus Avenue), Nob Hill Grill (New American, Hyde Street, Nob Hill), Sutter Pub (gastropub, Sutter Street near Union Square), B44 (Catalan, Belden Place), Capurro’s (seafood, Fisherman’s Wharf), Pier 23 (Seafood, Fisherman’s Wharf), de Young Museum Café (New American and California Infusion, Golden Gate Park), California Pizza Kitchen (wood-fired pizzas, near SFMOMA), and Fish. (seafood, marina, Sausalito).
Food Photography is a huge commercial business, but also it has become the purview of all of us. We pick up a Smartphone and shoot away. But what is the etiquette and protocol for using a cell phone during a meal?
Since the camera was created, food photography has been part of its rise to ubiquity. The first food photograph was taken (circa 1820s-1830s) by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce , who was a French inventor, and orchestrated a tabletop setting with a bowl, flowers, a goblet and a portion of bread. But it wasn’t until color photography’s popularity in the second half of the twentieth century that food photography became synonymous with print materials (advertising and cookbooks).
One of the hardest subjects to photograph is food. Even professionals must kowtow to the ingredients’ boisterous or shy ways in front of the lens and light. The rest of us give it our best, which takes patience and perseverance. Inside a restaurant or on a sidewalk café the setting requires some skills to get a decent likeness of that trendy appetizer or imaginative entrée or tantalizing dessert in front of you?
In that split second when you decide to grab your iPhone, immediately certain factors play into the success or not of the image. It’s a delicate situation. What would Miss Manners say?
The difficulties are numerous and provide a cautionary tale for the results. Here are a few items to consider: 1. ideally you want natural light; good luck with artificial lighting and lack of it too 2. underexposed or overexposed image 3. camera shake with smartphones 4. untrue colors due to lighting 5. which angle to shoot: top, side, tilted… 6. issues with shadows 8. building contrast 9. the camera is too close or too far away from subject 10. problems with focusing camera 11. isolating subject or not: crowded tabletops and crowded seating 12. the pressure of simply taking the item without annoying others and embarrassing yourself.
Each dish has its own challenge: what angle to use, can I position the dish to take advantage of back lighting, is taking a portion of the dish better than the totality, should I isolate the dish or keep it where it was placed, the challenge of solid vs. liquid foods…?
In a split second all these decision need to be made. After all, there is a meal to enjoy. And there are companions to consider.
Needless to say, distractions prevail. So my approach is to be as discreet as possible. Since we were on a trip 3,000 miles from home, chances of a return were not in the near future. I wanted to document the extraordinary culinary journey that we were experiencing. I certainly was not going to take my large camera into a restaurant. Enter my iPhone 4s, which surprisingly performed with a taste for the subject. Mostly, my grandchildren were right there with their own iPhones documenting their experiences.
In advertising, the image of a plate of food has a precise purpose: to sell an ingredient, a product, a venue. My food photographs are intended to frame the food, and create a way return to that stilled moment and sensation when a morsel or forkful turned into sheer gastronomic bliss.
Culinary San Francisco is equal to visiting multiple cultures. Literally, we felt inside the USA and at the same time dining in far away lands. Truly, we spent our holiday in culinary heaven, and we are left with the residual desire to re-create just one meal. Or have just one more of Brenda’s beignets.
Note: As always I welcome any comment about this post or any part of my blog. For a post about the art of food, read my commentary from 11 November 2011. Click here.