In San Francisco, last week, I had the worst burrito of my life.
And, the best risotto of my life.
It’s like that sometimes. I never know what’s going to happen in San Francisco. Kind of like the weather, hot one minute, bone-chilling the next. You just never know.
It took a long time to get to San Francisco from Santa Barbara, longer than it should. There was a terrifyingly casual, slow bus to L.A. airport, with a driver who loved for us to have bathroom breaks and little rousing speeches – from her. So there wasn’t time to grab at sandwich at LAX, and all there was on the plane were pretzels. It’s OK, I thought to myself: I’m going to the land of burritos.
I finally ended up at an eccentric, Victorian bed and breakfast in my small, overstuffed, girly lace curtained room on the third floor. I had seen a Mexican restaurant on the corner, from the shuttle bus window. Burrito time! I got there just as they were closing. First they didn’t want to serve me, then they did. A take-out burrito arrived in front of me with alarming speed. I headed back to my room.
Reader, that burrito was stone-cold. It was over-salted. It was burrito hell.
But I was in San Francisco. I poured myself a glass of California wine and headed to the hot tub in the garden.
I was tired, in San Francisco. Maybe even burnt out. The astringent, competitive atmosphere of an American conference, enlightening though it was, not to mention the 7:30 a.m. shuttle buses to the conference site, had taken every last spark I had.
So San Francisco became about the sweet company of friends, rather than efficient and highly-organized tourism. It was the friends, rather than the sights or even the food, that got me going again. On my first day there, Gay Ukrainian Boy dragged me to the DeYoung Museum for a fantastic Gibert & George retrospective, in his high-speed chatty, gossipy style. We grabbed some food at Dellisio along the way, and it wasn’t great – some oversweet salads, a pretty good red snapper po’ boy, mediocre desserts, but it was all charming and different.
Queer Baker came over to hang in the garden of my b&b, and somehow we ended up drinking Moet champagne with a lonely woman celebrating her 50th birthday while hubby recovered from food poisoning. Somehow, Lonely Woman ended up coming along with us to Medjool, where, again, the food did not overwhelm, but the low banquettes, the originality of the different flavour combinations, and even the kooky conversation (What. L Word. Character. Are. You) with a straight woman who knew more about L Word than we did, took me out of that tired, dry place.
Queer Baker and I ended up in the hot tub that night, wondering about this strange woman, who she was, what she was trying to escape for a night, what she was hiding and what she’d never reveal.
I saw the Lesbian Film Producer too, over amazing Thai food at Osha, the kind you can’t find in Toronto. And Academic Activist introduced me to the best chilled sake ever, in an obscure bar somewhere off of Divisidaro. Sadly, Queer Pastry Chef and I never managed to cross paths (my bad), and I wondered about the spicy conversation we might have had, or the dessert we might have sampled.
The best meal I had was perhaps the simplest: scallops with lemon risotto and greens at Aziza. Queer Baker had been wanting to take me there for months. Gay Ukrainian Boy met me in the Mission, sat me down in a loungey bar for cocktails and a lovely cheese plate, and then forced me onto the Bart (San Francisco’s funny little subway system). She. Needs. To. Get. Out, Of. The. Mission. he said to Queer Baker on his cellphone, in his slightly bossy way. Forty-five minutes later we were there. 9 p.m., a cold wind sweeping the streets: I was skeptical, on the edge of grumpy. But we walked into a warm, softly-lit room with kindly staff and a menu full of wonders. Comfortable, playful conversation connected us, and food got passed around the table.
The strong, salty, sweet, and restorative flavours of food and friends: that’s haute cuisine to me.