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But nothing could have been better than our creamed corn with marjoram and smoky paprika, the sweet kernels still crisp: I wonder now why I didn't order a second plate for dessert. Not that I didn't like my berry summer pudding, its bread casing stained a stunning dusky purple from the lightly stewed raspberries and blackberries within, but that creamed corn was spectacular. Darrick's mascarpone cheesecake, adorned with marble-sized fresh blueberries, managed to be rich and light at the same time. It was a perfect meal for a late-summer night. I ate with rising excitement, recognizing the confidence of a chef who knows what she likes to cook and how she likes to cook it. This was the kind of meal that I tell my friends about, that recurs in the memory for days.
I returned for lunch a couple of weeks later with Tommy and Matt. They sat us at a sunny window table, and I recklessly ordered a special cocktail, a French 75, champagne and cognac, served over crushed ice in a tumbler. It was not the martinilike drink I'd expected, and was a trifle watery, alas, to wash down slices of our two pizzas, which had crisp-edged tender crusts, barely capable of supporting their burdens from plate to mouth. I was feeling celebratory, with good reason. The margherita had milky young mozzarella, stewed garlic, fresh basil, and slices of yellow and orange heirloom tomato: lovely. But the fig pizza was even better, the ripe fruit in brilliant combination with sharp, creamy Gorgonzola, improved with roasted onion and rosemary.
San Francisco, CA 94107
Region: South of Market
English pea ravioli $11
Fig and Gorgonzola pizza $12
Pork cheek tartine $10
Grilled salmon $14
Creamed corn $5
Peach and blackberry shortcake $7.50
Open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday until 11 p.m., Saturday 5:30 to 11 p.m. Closed Sunday
Muni: 15, 30, 45, 47
Noise level: moderate to high
Tommy's plate of soft, soft house-made spaghetti, in a sweet sauce aptly called salsa rosa, with fragile, barely-holding-together meatballs made of ground lamb and ricotta, was like an elegant plate of baby food: delicate, subtle, easy to eat. Matt's COCOburger was its opposite, a massive construction, a big fat juicy patty on a big fat glossy bun; you can have grilled onions or Gruyère added, for a dollar extra each, and Matt wisely had both. "I've been yearning for a terrific cheeseburger," I said, "and this is it." The potato chips alongside were freshly made.
I tucked into another massive construction: a long toasted slice of baguette, slicked with garlicky aioli, covered with a generous layer of long-stewed pork cheeks and caramelized onions, and thatched with an entire field of lightly oiled watercress, which looked like too much but worked extremely well as a grassy foil for the rich, almost overpowering meat.
I could only consume about half of it, but I still couldn't resist a plate of fresh peach and blackberry shortcake; the split baking-powder biscuit was a little austere, even touched as it was with chantilly and stained with blackberry sauce. Tommy was happy with his crème brûlée scented with lemongrass and served with a rolled tuile cookie, also citrusy. The meal had induced in me a kind of Candide-like happiness (at least, Candide in his less cynical moments): Everything was for the best in this best of all possible worlds. The boys were fatigued from the relentless August fog, and not entirely willing to follow me down this primrose path. They were, however, willing to agree that we'd just had a swell meal, and that the sun was, just now, shining.
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