By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Anna Roth
By Anna Roth
By Anna Roth
It started out as kind of a gag, after I stumbled across exactly the book I was looking for as a gift for my baby nephew: First Book of Sushi, a sweetly illustrated board book by Amy Wilson Sanger (Tricycle, $6.95) designed to instruct a tot in the wonders of raw fish and rice ("Miso in my sippy cup, tofu in my bowl/ Crab and avocado fill my California roll"). I found another equally seductive volume by the same writer, ¡Hola! Jalapeño (Tricycle, $6.95), a paean to the joys of Mexican food ("Gracias, tamales, for your masa dough surprise/ Wrapped up tight in leaves of corn -- a present in disguise"), and I bought that one, too. I wondered if Ms. Sanger was working on more volumes in the series -- I especially wanted a dim sum primer, because Ben, not much more than a year old, already had a routine we delighted in performing for friends: "What's your favorite food?" we'd ask. "Chinese food!" he'd reply. "What kind of Chinese food?" "Dim sum!" "What kind of dim sum?" "Bao!" This always brought the house down (though I thought to myself that he really liked har gow better, but said "bao" because it was easier to say).
But in another bookstore I ran across the wonderful Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin (Dragonfly, $6.99), not a board book but a winsome little paperback, and sophisticated enough that it would be useful for dim sum novices of any age, though written for children. I've found that the three volumes, bundled together, make an excellent baby-shower gift -- but I didn't stop there. Oh, I've bought plenty of kid's tomes both classic (Goodnight Moon) and un- (anything with Toy Story in the title) for Ben, but I can't resist any book with a food theme, from Curious George Makes Pancakes to Pinky's Sweet Tooth.
His food library now numbers some 20 titles (and I haven't even started giving him the kiddie cookbooks I'm collecting, such as Marion Cunningham's Cooking With Children). But he has a couple of favorites, based as much on their subject matter as on their delightful illustrations and text: Pete's a Pizza (HarperCollins, $15.99), the last children's book written and illustrated by William Steig (when he was 90!), and The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza), by Philemon Sturges and Amy Walrod (Dutton, $15.99). In the Steig book (based on a game he played with his daughter Maggie), Pete is kneaded, tossed, rolled out, dusted with flour (talcum powder), and covered with mozzarella (paper scraps) and sliced tomatoes (checkers). In the retold Little Red Hen fable, the hen makes the pizza (pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, onions, garlic, anchovies!) all by herself (the duck, dog, and cat being otherwise engaged), but when it's done, it's so big that she happily shares it with them. And, big surprise, they're so grateful they do the dishes afterwards, while the Little Red Hen relaxes with a cup of chickweed tea.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Region: North Beach/ Chinatown
Vegetarian antipasto $13
Pizza w/mushrooms and sausage $20.50/large
Pizza w/pancetta and leeks $17/small
Open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:45 p.m., Sunday from 4 to 9:45 p.m. Closed Monday
Not wheelchair accessible
Muni: 12, 15, 41
Noise level: moderate to high
Ben likes his pizza books, of course, because he likes pizza. (My sister says that at first when he wanted her to read Pete's a Pizza to him, she thought he was asking for a snack, which is, of course, why Steig didn't write Maggie's a Pizza.) I like pizza, too, though some of its glamour and usefulness came to me relatively late. When I was a child, we lived outside the range of pizza delivery, and it took a boyfriend whose favorite TV-watching food was pizza and whose favorite breakfast was cold pizza to reveal its perfect-food status to me. Waking up and realizing that there are several pieces of pepperoni-and-onion, heavy on the onion, in the refrigerator -- that's happiness.
So, when Robert suggests dinner at his favorite pizzeria, I am there. (Well, actually I am in the car with Robert, Gail, and our young friend Sam, confessing that I have a weakness for the California Pizza Kitchen's BLT pizza. It has bacon and tomatoes, of course, and comes crowned with chopped iceberg lettuce mixed with mayo, added after it emerges from the oven; Gail is kind enough to say that it sounds good, but Robert impugns my taste, suggesting that I would eat ham and pineapple on a pizza.) We are headed to Tommaso's, a place in North Beach of which I have vague childhood memories. When we step down into the slightly subterranean space, the memories snap into (bright) focus: It is essentially unchanged, though surprisingly clean and white (white tablecloths, white-painted wood booths). Despite the charming murals of Italy painted on the walls, my impression is more of a '30s tearoom, especially because of the adorable carved woodwork trimming the booths, one of which we're led to after a few minutes' wait.
We order a cold broccoli salad to start, and two large pizzas (when I originally suggest small -- Tommaso's only has two sizes, 12-inch and 15- -- Robert says, "You obviously haven't seen me eat pizza"). We hesitate over ordering pasta -- Robert and Gail, in decades of visits, never felt the need; in fact, Robert says, on the strength of several years in Rome, "Pizzerias are not the place to order pasta." But Sam seems intrigued by the special, gnocchi al pesto, so we throw it in.