Saturday, September 5, 2009

San Francisco, day 1. Lalime's.

We arrive in San Francisco in the afternoon, making our way to the hotel with just enough time to settle in before taking the BART up to Berkeley for dinner. The train is crowded with football fans, getting off a few stops before ours in a flood of purple sweatshirts and caps that say "CAL" in swirly writing. Then we are at our destination, and C. is waiting for us. C. teaches Chinese at Berkeley and used to make beautiful pottery; now arthritis makes it hard to throw pots and build sculptures. We drive to our destination - a restaurant called Lalime's - and wait for the rest of our party. In all, there are eight women, including my mother and myself.

We agree to share appetizers and main courses - none of the others are big eaters - and chatter away, catching up as people do when they live in different cities and different countries and only meet once in a while. Our appetizers arrive - Caesar salad and another mixed salad, pizza with housemade sausage, mussels in a delicious, tomato-y broth, which we mop up with bread. It is simple, good food; the menu prides itself on locally, seasonally sourced ingredients. I wonder if Alice Waters knew how Chez Panisse would change the world, or at least the American culinary landscape, if we could have the kind of food we have now without her. Then our main courses arrive, and I can only think about food.

We pass plates around, Chinese-style, sea bass and an eggplant dish, slightly less successful than the lobster pasta, in a light tomato sauce. The best dishes are the smoked Duroc pork chop and the New York strip steak, the meat wonderfully marbled and rich-tasting, perhaps cooked a little more than I would choose (others at the table are not fans of rare, or even medium-rare meat), but still excellently done. Actually, it is just the right amount of food, and while usually I think sharing dishes muddles the mind and confuses the palate, I am grateful for the chance to try as much as possible at a restaurant I may never visit again.

There is just room for dessert; we order four, and my favorites are the strawberry mousse cake (Why does no one ever serve strawberry mousse? It is delightful), and the Berliner, a custard-filled doughnut served with a chocolate cup filled with coffee mousse on the side. I eat more than my fair share, hoping no one notices. But they are too polite to comment, even if they see me sneaking a few last spoonfuls of cream. I wish I could come back, soon.

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