The Summit's Short-Rib Sandwich
By John Birdsall
Desi Danganan's week-old all-day hangout on Valencia aims to be, well, whatever you want it to be: morning coffee, daytime port for Facebook updates, dinner place, dessert salon. On a recent afternoon, the crowd skewed Mission professional, guyheavy, all cardigans and plastic rims, baldness mitigated by close cuts and flaring sideburns.
Walk to the loo, and you can sense Danganan's dream of an essential neighborhood hub (the not-yet-open game room, the private dining/conference room used as kitchen storage spillover). And there's i/o ventures, the tech-business consultants who share the loft here, the ultimate geeky flatmates. There's an overarching impression of important work being negotiated on laptops, fueled by Blue Bottle drips and fed, of course, by Eddie Lau's cooking.
Lau's "28-hour" short rib sandwich ($8.50) kept its meat to a minimum, unselfconsciously fatty cubes with a springy texture and meaty breath. Two slices of yellow-marbled, green-seeded tomatoes dominated the sandwich, but not as much as Jared Nash's house-baked roll (tagged "weck"), thick and densely textured as a good bialy. I got the roasted beet salad ($7), too, baby ones, with cubes of ricotta salata and marinated green beans in pluot vinaigrette that walked a sweet-tart line. The geeks and style freaks could do worse than caf food like this, though, a week in, neither dish would make me log off and pay full attention to the plate. Maybe that's the point.
The Summit: 780 Valencia (at 19th St.), 861-5330.
Real Apple Cider
By Jonathan Kauffman
Fall in Indiana began with the start of school. Then came the heavy jackets, the leaf mounds and rake-blistered hands, and the weekly trips to the orchard to fill up our jugs with fresh-pressed cider. For two or three months, we drank our fill: Movies were always accompanied by popcorn and cider, parties with Crock Pots of mulled cider that filled the house with cinnamon and cloves. I'd drink the stuff until my stomach hurt, then wait until the next day, and be at the jug again. By the time winter came, the Kauffmans would be so sick of cider that the jugs would sit in the fridge until they got fizzy and sour, not alcoholic enough to get us buzzed but well on the way to becoming vinegar.
The cider days disappeared when I left Indiana — any unfiltered apple juice I found in the store was pasteurized, which stripped out the flavor, rendering it innocuously sweet. For a spell, jugs of unfiltered cider would occasionally appear at Rainbow Grocery in the fall, but the 1996 Odwalla E. coli outbreak seemed to end that.
But recently, at the Inner Sunset farmers' market, I stopped by the Rainbow Orchards stand and found jugs of murky brown cider. Yes, it was unpasteurized and unfiltered. Yes, it tasted like the real thing — with a honeylike, almost floral sweetness and enough spice to prickle my tongue.
As San Francisco's neighborhood farmers' markets have proliferated, Rainbow Orchards, based in Camino, has become a real player. Its stands show up at close to two dozen Bay Area farmers' markets. The jugs it sells range from Odwalla-size to gallons, and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks before starting to go hard.
According to Betty, the woman I spoke to at the orchard's bakeshop in Camino, Rainbow Orchards presses apples three to four times a week during peak apple season; after the bakeshop closes in December, the farmers' market stands continue to sell cider pressed from cellared apples all the way through April. The orchard follows FDA guidelines for maintaining a still room and disinfecting its equipment. (The FDA still permits small orchards and juice bars to sell unpasteurized cider directly to consumers.) Right now, Betty surmised, the apples in the cider would include Jonagolds, Galas, and Goldens, plus whatever else they have on hand. Granny Smiths will soon be added to the mix, which may tart it up — not a bad thing.
So: a fall ritual, restored after all these years. Until I called the orchard, I had no idea the cider season would last so long, so I parsed out the quart into dainty glasses. Come Sunday, I plan to lug home twice as much — one quart for chugging now, one to store in the back of the fridge for a couple of weeks. Just to see what might happen.
Mission Chinese Food Wants To Buy a Dragon
By John Birdsall
Say what you want about Lung Shan, pretty it's not. Still, the home, first of Mission Street Food, now of Mission Chinese Food, has pretty much defined the scuffed-up urban Chinese cafe: acoustic ceiling panels, steel-frame chairs that don't look nearly as cool as that sounds, and walls papered in ripply posters.
All that's changing — sort of. Mission Chinese Food's Anthony Myint has been busy giving Lung Shan a makeover that aims to brighten up the place without going totally Betelnut. Lung Shan's walls wear a new veneer of blond wood-grain wallpaper, and the posters, which Myint says owners Sue and Liang Zhou put up in part to mask water damage to the walls, are staying, though they're now framed with reclaimed wood. The room's focal point: a nearly 60-foot-long Chinese dragon New Year's costume, snaking along the ceiling, to serve as chandelier. To pay for it, Myint is turning to a familiar resource: the community microlending site Kickstarter.com: He wants to raise $2,750 by Oct. 19.
Is it frivolous to seek community funds for restaurant decor? "We've run some numbers and we believe that if we can acquire this piece of decor, we can attract more customers and make more money for charity," MCF's Kickstarter page reads. "Since July we've already raised over $6,000 for the SF Food Bank."
On his blog, Myint rationalized about urban improvement. "Like Christo's The Gates in Central Park, this dragon can be a memorable gesture that enriches the texure of a city. Well okay a city block, but without using 10 million pounds of steel, 1 million square feet of nylon and 900 workers. As we approach the goal, I can't help but feel a sense of excitement for the tangible evidence of community building — sort of an urban barn-raising in the age of Twitter." Besides, he wrote, "how often do you get a chance to buy a dragon?"
Unprocessed Food Challenge A Way to Make You Feel Bad?
By Jonathan Kauffman
On the New York Times' food blog, Pete Wells wrote about Eating Rules' Andrew Wilder, who has launched a monthlong food challenge called "October: Unprocessed." This one asks participants to commit to eating unprocessed foods for 30 days:
Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients. ... If you pick up something with a label (and if it doesn't have a label, it's probably not processed), and find an ingredient you'd never use in your kitchen, it's processed.
So far, Wilder reports on his blog, a few dozen food bloggers have joined him. In publicity terms, the challenge counts as a success: Heck, the New York Freakin Times picked up on the challenge, so it will be echoed in hundreds of blog posts and retweets. I foresee more press for Wilder's cause, and am sure the challenge will produce some good recipes and great food photographs. I don't doubt that the participating bloggers will lose weight and eat better.
And the effect of all their efforts? To make cooking unprocessed foods appear even more elitist and out of range of most people.
Look at the 100-mile diet, another monthlong challenge that brought eating local to the forefront of the food media and introduced the word "locavore" into the common lexicon. Thing is, the monthlong challenge was always meant to be an intellectual exercise. As one of the locavore-challenge founders told me last year when I interviewed her for an essay I wrote in the Seattle Weekly, "I don't think only eating local food is ever going to be a sensible option for most people." Her point was to make a point and then work toward large, long-term systems change.
But five years after the first locavore challenge, when you use that word, most people think it involves 100-mile radii or radical privation. It doesn't help us find a balance between local and "imported" ingredients in our pantries, or to feel good about less radical choices that we make.
Americans have been linking, for better and worse, health and moral rectitude since Puritan days, and the taint of morality expresses itself most strongly in purity challenges like "Unprocessed: October." Rather than inspire people to eat better, a 30-day effort makes eating unprocessed food appear to be an all-or-nothing, saint-or-sinner effort. A lot of us read the rhetoric surrounding such a challenge, backlit as it is by the glow of righteousness, and decide that if we don't have the time to commit to that diet, then screw the saints.
I'm sure the intent of "Unprocessed: October" is to inspire people to make more modest changes in their diets. So why not start there?
It's so much easier to get attention for a 30-day, radical effort than it is a campaign advocating for small, incremental changes. Why, you might have to endorse ethical compromises. You might sound half-hearted.
That's not to say these campaigns can't successfully be waged. Meatless Mondays is a great campaign to get people to eat less meat and more vegetables, starting with one meal a week. So is the USDA's Five a Day, which itself goes against the agency's own recommendations that adults eat nine to 12 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
This summer, the Ethicurean bloggers introduced a "Cooking Outside the Comfort Zone" challenge, aimed at getting people to buy a vegetable they've never cooked before (preferably at the farmers' market) and figure out how to cook it. The challenge had many of the same objectives as "Unprocessed: October," but it was modest, memorable, and easy to do. Hell, it sounded fun. Who knows where it could lead?