A short-form San Francisco travelogue; part 2
by Thor Iverson
10 April – San Francisco, California
Slanted Door – As is typical in its Ferry Building location, the restaurant is already packed to the metaphorical gills by 11:30 a.m., and the lunch rush hasn’t really abated much by our mid-afternoon departure. The kind of business they’re doing here is crazy – all the time, every day – and it is this, more than anything else, to which I attribute the general decline in quality I and others have noticed. This time, however, the food is…if not quite back to normal, then at least nodding at its former glories; more shockingly, and in a first for this restaurant at any location, there’s a service glitch: Theresa orders tea and they forget to bring it. Through all the vagaries of locale and cuisine, on thing that has always remained beyond excellent at The Slanted Door is the service, and while this minor infraction may have gone unnoticed at most other restaurants, here it stands out. Hopefully, it’s not indicative of a trend.
Plus, I still loathe the new design, which is both coldly stark and reflective of every single noise in the room.
Joining us are Bill Futornick (who we haven’t seen in ages), Stuart Yaniger (who we haven’t seen in a while), and Larry Stein (who we haven’t seen since last night). In our usual fashion, we limit the BYO and order from the restaurant’s always-stupendous wine list (again, with the bonus inclusion of the quote of the day).
Christoffel 2002 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett (002 03) (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Tarragon, sweet papaya, and mango mixed with big stones, good acidity, and a drying finish. Still awfully primary, it seems, and certainly way, way past “true kabinett.” But…mmmmmm.
Schmitges 2003 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett “No. 7” (12 04) (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – The leftovers from last night; not an intentional comparison, but a fortuitous one. Today, it’s showing ripe pear skin and a little more petroleum, and while it seems better-balanced than the previous evening, it’s still quite sweet. Good, but the same cautions still apply: ware the overt sugar.
Umanthum/Peck “Zantho” 2002 Zweigelt (Burgenland) – To the many reasons to despise the vagaries of natural cork, let’s add another: the uncertainly it causes among careful wine drinkers. Upon first opening, Bill and I both declare this wine corked (by virtue of absent nose and dead finish), Larry agrees that something’s wrong but isn’t willing to vote for TCA, and Stuart (who should know) insists that it’s definitely not corked, but allows that it’s off. We sip and sniff away at it, and eventually Bill and I change our minds: not corked, just closed tighter than a…well, all the analogies that spring to mind are disgusting, so this one is left as an exercise for the reader…and not really all that much fun until the very last sips, over an hour later. What it does show: dense dark plum, dried Brazil nut, stale licorice, and blackberry liqueur, but all is muted, short and angry. Later in the afternoon, wine stud and SD list guru Mark Ellenbogen stops by the table and agrees that it’s not corked, but also says that it’s never shown particularly closed before. If I owned any, I’d be wary of a repeat performance, and think about holding it until it wakes up again.
“I’m just gonna leave that one alone” – Stuart Yaniger, a sure nominee for the most uncharacteristic things people have ever said
C&P Breton 2002 Bourgueil Les Galichets (Loire) – This gorgeous wine is as aromatically open as the zweigelt is closed, showing brightly herbed red cherries, a little mint, lithe tannin and a delicate, slowly swirling finish that wraps itself ‘round the tongue in cool, spring-like tones. To quote another writer (in a different context): if you don’t like this, you don’t like wine.
Aziza – We’re here with friends outside wine geek circles (though they’re hardly non-foodies), and so in for a slightly quieter night. Or so we think. Ivan picks us up in his shiny new black BMW (a present to himself for years of hard work in the tech industry), and he and his girlfriend Cristen (a long-ago coworker of Theresa’s who we’ve kept in touch with ever since) drive us down the long streets of San Francisco into the Richmond District. Though it’s on a corner, Aziza presents a very restrained, almost hidden aspect to the street…very different from the lush, richly-colored interior of this Moroccan paradise.
From the beginning, they treat us extremely well; at one point, I begin to wonder if they’ve been encouraged to do so. Mark Ellenbogen (see above) also does the wine list here, so when free food arrives (the signature basteeya, a mélange of savory ingredient and sweet spices in a phyllo pie that shows incredible aromatic and palate delicacy for such a dense-looking dish), we wonder if there’s been a phone call. Or maybe they just recognize that we’re enjoying their food, which is across-the-board terrific; my appetizer-sized wild mushroom phyllo “ravioli” (with just the right accent of manouri cheese) redefines the potential of the local fungi, while couscous “Aziza” is a perfectly-scented blend of round morsels of starchy pleasure and rich, earthy meats and prawns. And the tea at the end of the night – Moroccan mint, and from a special recipe developed by the chef and learned by some of the staff (including our waiter) – is beyond extraordinary. With beautiful décor, great food, flawless service, and an Ellenbogen wine list, what’s not to love?
More on that in a moment…
Merkelbach 2002 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese (14 03) (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Diesel and slate with flecks of dried pineapple and a resinous quality, this shows very light sweetness battled-back by huge acidity. The finish is long and drying, and I think this wine will be better in its middle-late years than it is right now; the acid is starting to trample all else.
Daurat-Fort “Château de Nouvelles” 1999 Fitou “Cuvée Augusta” (Roussillon) – Appropriate, I guess, that we’re drinking this the weekend of the Masters. Smooth, ripe and rustic red cherry and light clay-dominated earth and loam with roasted leaves; the nose is rather “pretty” for something from this corner of southern France, and it’s already showing some nicely mature notes. Quite a find.
So here’s what’s not to love: moments after the arrival of our main courses, the waiter stoops next to Ivan. “Did you valet your car, sir?”
“Could I see the ticket, please?”
Ivan produces the ticket.
“I’m very sorry to tell you this, sir, but there’s been an accident…”
The gist is that there’s been some sort of road-rage incident on busy Geary Boulevard – the details are convoluted, but involve a baseball bat, a rather messed-up young man with three knocked-out teeth and a lot of blood, and an attempt to escape from said beating – that has crushed our friend’s no-longer-so-shiny new black BMW and the cars next to it into each other and up onto the curb. Luckily, bystanders have gotten the plate number of the primary offenders (who have fled the scene), but all the chaos, police reports, and the noisy minuet of tow trucks obviously puts quite the damper on dinner.
And how does Aziza handle this potential disaster? They cook another main course for our friend, so that it’s hot when he finally re-enters the restaurant about a half-hour later, box up the previous version and the leftovers of the current one for him to take home, and comp the entire meal (for us and the other affected parties). We protest that it’s not their fault and they shouldn’t have to suffer the loss, but they insist. So as not to bring down the wrath of the IRS on our wonderful server, I ask him to at least charge us for the tea so I can leave him an appropriately huge gratuity. It’s a textbook lesson in disaster-management and customer service, and achieves its intended effect of leaving us with nothing but affectionate feelings towards the restaurant. We will definitely be back.
Well done, Aziza.
Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.