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Like most tales of obsession, mine is fraught with tragedy, loss, and great heaping ladlefuls of disappointment. It began years ago with Rivera ravioli in a can -- 16 ounces of meaty goodness that got me in the comfort zone faster than a hot bath, a foot rub, and a Seinfeldmarathon. Then one day, inexplicably, it was gone. Notes dropped into the supermarket suggestion box went unheeded (when pressed, the store manager had the nerve to suggest -- jamais! -- Chef Boyardee), so I wrote to Nally Foods. I was informed that the company had stopped making it, and thank you for your interest in the Nally Foods Corp. Naturally I was devastated, but I moved on to bigger, better, less-canned food fixations.
606 Folsom St.
San Francisco, CA 94107-1305
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There was creamed spinach and hard-boiled eggs at the Orchard-In, a dreamy concoction made by a little Dutch lady at the cafe that used to be across from Macy's. To the relief of my officemates, I arrived one day to find the windows shuttered. Then I took solace in avgolemono soup at the late, great Stoyanof's, only to have my heart broken when the owners retired. Next it was the sweet-and-sour walnuts at Red Crane (closed), and after that, the savory cheddar and onion scones at, yes, Starbucks (the company stopped carrying them because, frankly, they were too foodlike).
Given this run of bad luck, perhaps you can understand my reluctance to share my private passion for liver and onions at the Fly Trap, especially considering that the 14-year-old SOMA restaurant (the original Fly Trap dates to 1898) was recently sold. New owners Irena and Valentina Frolova (a mother-daughter team) took over from Glen Meyer (of Firewood fame) with the stipulation that they would not mess with the concept or the menu, but still, with my track record, it was hard not to be nervous.
The restaurant is famous for its interpretations of classic San Francisco dishes such as Chicken Jerusalem and Hangtown Fry, but to my mind the liver and onions has always been the showstopper. It's a dish so aromatically endowed that when it wafts by, diners have been compelled to yell to the waiter who has just taken their order, "Wait, I changed my mind!" (Or, conversely, to pull him aside and whisper, "For God's sake, couldn't you have seated her by the open window?")
If you're in the second camp, you're probably one of those people who whine that their chardonnay isn't buttery enough and their Caesar salad has funny fishy things in it, and why don't you just head down to the Wharf for some oversauced whitefish and be done with it?
If you're in the first camp, congratulations: You have successfully crossed over into organ-meat country, and won't likely be deterred by the fact that the Fly Trap's L&O begins with large, tender pieces of veal liver (free range, I'm sure). Grilled and sauced in a dark, rich, shallot-infused demi-glace, they come to your table surrounded by piles of grilled onions, purple cabbage, red pepper, and eggplant, and topped with two hefty strips of soul-satisfying applewood-smoked slab bacon. (My only quibble with the new regime: I prefer my liver in smaller, thinner pieces; luckily, the chef takes requests.)
Over the years, people have come from far and wide for the Fly Trap's L&O. Irena reports that a member of the 49ers executive staff orders it almost daily, prepared raw (!) -- one more reason she vows it will never leave the menu. I'm inclined to believe her, but I've been burned before, so my advice is: Eat it while you can -- and make sure to get a forwarding address.
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