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Sex and the single oyster

A 2004 Sonoma/San Francisco travelogue; part 13

by Thor Iverson

[Ferry Plaza Marketplace]

Hi, ceiling!
19 August 2004 – San Francisco, California

Ferry Building Marketplace – The reconstructed interior of this San Francisco landmark would be worth seeing all on its own; soft beige light serenely bathes a pedestrian walkway that echoes softly with the gentle footfalls of a few hundred gawking amblers. But what’s inside the Ferry Plaza is something else entirely. This long-promised mecca of things culinary has indeed arrived; one could spend a week eating only from the merchants featured herein and be a long, long way from exhausting the options. No, it’s not the cheapest place in the universe, but by San Francisco standards the prices aren’t actually too far out of line, and in some cases seem rather cheap. There’s takeout, there’s eat-in, and there’s cook-it-yourself raw materials here to satisfy the most demanding palate. A mission accomplished, I’d say.

Hog Island Oyster Company(Note: I actually ate here a few days ago, but in the interests of efficiency thought I’d move the report here.) A small space, busy for lunch, but despite some quirks in service (they could probably use one more person; there’s a pair of waiters that work the tables, but those sitting at the bar – like me – sometimes lack for attention). That aside, the oysters here are phenomenal, though there are plenty of alternative dishes for those not into chilly plates of briny lusciousness. I order two dozen mixed oysters (Hog Island’s Sweetwater and Atlantic varieties, Kumamotos, and some flown-in Clevedons from New Zealand), settle down with a few glasses of some crisp, clean, but soon forgotten Muscadet, and slurp until I just can’t slurp no more. Celebrity sighting: Cynthia Nixon plops down next to me early in my repast, and comments amusedly on the proliferation of oysters in front of me. I threaten to order another two dozen, she laughs, that’s the end of it. The oysters are terrific (with the exception of the Clevedons, which are interesting in their uniqueness – as they were a few years ago in the source country – but don’t really measure up to the others, especially the zippy little Kumamotos. There’s a short wine and microbrew list that’s well-matched to the cuisine, and overall this is a place I’m glad isn’t anywhere near my home, because I’d be eating here every other day.

I muse about a next-day stop at Taylor’s Refresher, but the lunch line – 340-people strong (I counted) – dissuades me.

So, back to the present. Theresa and I are going to spend a few hours strolling sunny Sausalito, and we need comestibles. Nice of them to put all this foodie goodness right next to the ferry, isn’t it? DELICA rf1 provides a selection of unique “Japanese deli” items, which we round out with some deliciously stinky cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery’s Artisan Cheese Shop and a quarter-loaf from Acme Bread Company, plus a half-bottle of wine from the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. The weather is flawless on the other side of the Bay, and as fog creeps over the Golden Gate and blankets the city, we’re glad to be in full sun.

Huet 2001 Vouvray Le Haut Lieu “Sec” (Loire) – From 375 ml. Very dry, showing pure ripe chalkiness and gentle white stone fruit. Long, elegant, and light, but still way too young. Even from half-bottle.

Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant – This wine shop, at ground zero of the Marketplace’s main intersection, has a surprisingly diverse and interesting selection on the shelves, but it also has a cordoned-off little wine bar that does a decent post-work business. We meet a few friends here for a glass of wine, talking about old times and whiling away the hours until our dinner engagement.

Berridge 2002 Pinot Noir Drystone (Central Otago) – Orange rind, bitter plum liqueur and slightly dried cherry, concentrated but still medium-bodied. There’s good acidity and a little more structure on the ripe cherry, chocolate, and rhubarb finish, but that finish is a bit short, and dulls to a thin veneer of tar. This is characterful pinot noir, but not all the characters are equally well-drawn.

[Golden Gate Bridge & city fog]

Hey! Where’d San Francisco go?
The Slanted Door – In swanky new digs on one corner of the Marketplace, this longtime favorite is done up in blacks and metals and laden with the noisily-echoing din of faux-Manhattan power chords. I hate it. No, scratch that, I despise the décor. But we’re not here for the ambiance, we’re here for the food and wine, and those (along with the always-excellent service, though our waiter does disappear for a while at meal’s end) haven’t slipped…much. It’s hard to say if the food lacks its previous excitement simply because I’m now used to it, but there’s a variable lack of verve that sometimes creeps into the old standards. Other dishes, however, are full of life. We’re here with Christian Miller and Bryan Loofbourrow, the latter of whom is perpetually dubious about Phan’s fusiony cuisine, and we’re also here late (the restaurant’s choice, not ours), which means our non-city dwellers have to cut their evenings a bit shorter than normal in order to not miss their late-night trains. All that caveated, we have a very nice time with a diverse selection of dishes and a somewhat less diverse selections of wines. As to the latter, that’s not a complaint. It’s just that we know what we like...

Spreitzer 2002 Oestricher Lenchen Riesling Kabinett (Rheingau) – 8.5% alcohol. Keen-eyed readers will notice that something’s missing here: the AP number. Well, there isn’t one. We search the bottle’s nooks and crannies, and the four of us come up completely empty. Isn’t this illegal? Well, anyway, the wine: a piercing quality (“ginger,” opines Christian, and he’s right) with lightly sweet melon, then drying and smoothing into a long, lovely finish. Balanced and quite enticing.

J&HA Strub 2002 Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Spätlese #06 03 (Rheinhessen) – 10% alcohol. Dry, dusty chalkboard and wet grass, apple and green grape, with a very light sweetness stomped to hell by big acidity. Things are fine, they’re just happening too early; let this wine rest, because it’s not in the mood to play nicely with others at the moment.

Foreau “Clos Naudin” 1989 Vouvray “Demi-Sec” (Loire) – Spiced and roasted hazelnut with lightly toasted chalk and corn starch dust. Big and somewhat creamy, and maturing a bit faster than one would perhaps have predicted. Still, it’s a very nice wine.

Karsmühle 2002 Riesling Auslese LGK (Rheinhessen) – Here, I noted no AP# because I ordered it by the glass. Even I’m not anal enough to ask the waiter to check. But note the designation. Anyway, this shows lime leaves and tangerine in a thick texture cut up by great acidity. Nonetheless, it’s fairly simple and straightforward, for an auslese.



Copyright © Thor Iverson

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