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You could have fearlessly bet money, a lot of it, that I'd love this new book, Everything I Ate: A Year in the Life of My Mouth, by Tucker Shaw (Chronicle Books, $14.95). It combines a lot of my favorite things: food, pictures of food, restaurants, home cooking, New York, Las Vegas, Italy, obsessiveness, lists, holiday celebrations, rituals, and so on. Mr. Shaw, a New York writer of young adult novels with snappy titles (Confessions of a Backup Dancer, Flavor of the Week), as well as a book of sex advice for teens with a snappy title (This Book Is About Sex), photographed everything he ate in 2004, from oatmeal in the morning to cold cereal late at night (he must have a cereal collection rivaling Jerry Seinfeld's), often traversing fancy restaurants and takeout shops during the day. Chronicle published the photographs, in, alas, a bizarrely small format: a paperback of about 5 by 7 inches, with a day's eating arranged across a page (or two if necessary), in images about the size of a commemorative stamp. I was so disappointed with the picture size after rifling through its pages in Cody's Books that when I idly picked up another intriguing book stacked near it, Plates + Dishes: The Food and Faces of the Roadside Diner (Stephan Schacher, Princeton Architectural Press, $16.95), and found a full-page 8-by-10-inch picture of sunny side up eggs, sausage, and potatoes, well, reader, I bought it. Too.
3321 Steiner St.
San Francisco, CA 94123-2706
Region: Marina/ Cow Hollow
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Grilled calamari salad $10
Grilled whole sea bass $20
Adana kebab $14
Firni sutlac rice pudding $7
Kunefe pastry $7
Open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.
Muni: 28, 43
Noise level: moderate to high
Shaw's eating diary (some may say, acutely, that this is less a book than a blog) isn't critical: His photographs are accompanied by the most minimal "who, what, when, where" data (in tiny type, of course). His judgments are withheld, save for a few cryptic comments in the handwritten introduction -- "There are meals I loved (May 10), meals I hated (July 11)" -- and the two-line blurb under the author photo, in which he states he "firmly believes that heaven is a steakhouse."
I think he's achieved heaven on Earth: creating a work of art with minimal pain on his part. "I wish I'd thought of that," says more than one friend of mine, including Joyce, a girl as fascinated with food as I am (if not more so), who cheerfully accompanies me to restaurants high and low. (One of the delights of Everything I Ate is the juxtaposition of high and low: After consuming a Hostess Cherry Pie, purchased at a gas station on the road in Montana -- at 1:43 p.m. on July 16 -- Shaw dines on rack of lamb roasted with cherries at 8:53 p.m. in a fancy restaurant in Bigfork. Conscious or unconscious echo?)
Recently Joyce joined me for a ladies' lunch with her well-behaved, stylishly dressed baby, Violet, and our friend Jane at Newroz, a self-styled "Mediterranean" restaurant in the Marina, a prettily decorated storefront that has made the most of its tight space, installing mirrors and a banquette topped with plush velvet pillows down one creamy yellow wall, with a few tables along the other. A brief glance at the menu reveals many Middle Eastern dishes, beginning with hummus and falafel and ending with iskender, a version of which I last shared with Joyce at A La Turca, and shish kebab. Indeed, the to-go menu mentions the chef's 15-year experience cooking in Turkey and Greece, resulting in the "mostly Kurdish-inspired" food he prepares here. (What was considered Kurdistan encompasses parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria.)
It's not on the lunch menu, but we'd spied a sampler plate of appetizers on the dinner menu posted outside, and the kitchen agreed to put one together for us: a platter covered with hummus, two flattened discs of falafel, ezme (a salad of charcoal-grilled eggplant), vegetarian dolmas, and more of the tasty, tangy thickened yogurt dip called haydari that had earlier come to the table with Newroz's excellent grilled, hot, rustic Kurdish bread. The chunky ezme, bright with lemon and heady with garlic, had onions, tomatoes, and roasted bell peppers, as well as eggplant. I liked the crunchy falafel, too. But the grainy hummus was disappointing, a rare experience; I could barely detect any of its essential tahini or garlic. We did love the calamari salad we also tried, tender, smoky, grill-marked slices combined with Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, red onion, roasted bell pepper, and cucumber in a sprightly lemon vinaigrette.
I had a light, appealing plate of grilled Atlantic salmon, its pink set off by a bed of orzo pasta mixed with grilled red onions, sautéed yellow squash, and roasted peppers, garnished with olives and capers, glistening with more of the lemon vinaigrette. Jane's simply grilled whole sea bass, with still-moist white flaky flesh under its silvery skin, was earthier; it could have been served to us at a seaside cafe in Greece. Joyce eagerly dug into her heap of iskender, slices of gyro (pressed lamb and beef) over cubes of the homemade pide bread, with tomato sauce and yogurt. She loved it, but I preferred the earlier version we'd shared.
We went on to dessert. We tried firni sutlac, a sturdy rice pudding in its own little casserole, creamy under its wrinkled skin, and not well served by the menu's probably literal translation: "oven-baked jasmine rice pudding with the resin of a small evergreen tree, garnished with hazelnuts," from which we expected a resinous smack like that of retsina, but I detected little if any resin flavor. The traditional baklava was properly nutty, properly drenched with honey.
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