The other day I was invited to my friend’s birthday dinner in the godforsaken cesspool known as Chilis. Despite me being somewhat of a food snob, I had put on my good friend hat and I showed up.
As I peered down at the glossy finished menu with dish after dish of faux Mexican cuisine, I asked everyone around me “what are you guys ordering?” One of the guys said something that I will never forget. Something [with a smile] that will haunt me for all of eternity:
“I don’t know, man. I’ve ordered pretty much everything on this menu!”
OH! MY HEART! MY BLEEDING, ACHING HEART! How the fuck is this possible? What kind of world do we live in where people spend more money on chain food than on the good stuff? But then again, I’m kind of guilty myself. Lately I’ve been falling for the cheap pick up lines whispered by the oh-so-tempting dollar menu. It’s official, I’m a dollar menu millionaire/loser.
But today, in order to rejuvinate my rotting soul laced with big mac sauce, I decided to shell out a couple of extra bucks to buy some of the better stuff (not the good stuff, but the “this will do” stuff). Prosciutto, crackers, and goat cheese. Simple, effortless, yet fulfilling. And just then, my memories of all the greatest food that I’ve had, came crashing down on me like a burning piano. Bottoms up, bitches.
It is my sincere belief that every [real] Man and [real] Woman should have a few restaurants/food spots that really do the job. A place so magical that no matter how shitty of a day you’ve had, you can come here, relax, and eat the pain away. A place where the food and ambiance are so harmonious that you don’t care how much it costs, or how far you have to travel, you just do it. It’s like a good therapy session. I have about four of five of these [restaurants, not therapists]. But among those places is the Polish Deli which is…well…a polish deli.
Tucked away in the corners of Palo Alto California lies a small shop the size of a normal men’s restroom. The white lettering on the windows reads “Polish Deli” which arcs over the two tables in front. It’s quiet and very peaceful, yet it hides a demonic man who makes delicious food.
I open the door as a haze of white light floods my vision then disappears, revealing the immaculately clean store *Ching-a-ling*
Owner: Hallo. Are Ju Ready to horder?
Me: One hunter sausage, please
Him: Iz zat ole?
Him: Seven Feefteey. Spicy mustard and Sauerkraut?
Me: Yes please, everything.
He turns away and puts on these clear gloves, opens a fridge door, grabs a hunk of sausage and sets it on a white cutting board opposite of the cashiers table. *HUNK!* Wh..what the fuck?! HOW DENSE IS THAT SAUSAGE?! It’s BIG! It’s…PORNO big! You can get arrested for having that thing in your car! Jesus Christ you can probably rob a BANK with that mother fucker! I WANT IT IN MY MOUTH RIGHT NOW!
After gently slicing a portion of the woolly mammoth on the cutting board, he slowly drags his poorly postured back towards the back of the room, gloves on, sausage in hand, opens a screen door, and hunks the piece of meat onto a grill. Now, we wait.
Like an anxious nerd waiting for his porn to finish downloading, I sat down, got up, and sat back down, checking up on Mr. Meat. “How you doin buddy? Ya miss me? Aww, it’s okay, we’ll be together soon enough!” The room is very clean, and very white. A huge rack of Polish snacks runs along one wall. There’s chocolate, drinks, weird polish snacks, and several jars of pickled god-knows-what.
Waiting in this clean white room makes me feel like I’m a nervous father, waiting for his baby to be born. Which is quite fitting seeing as how dense that mother fucker is. AHA! IT’S HERE! In a very professor Snape like voice he lurks his four eyes over the counter and says “Ehnjjooyy”. And oh, I will. Here we go. First bite in one, two, three..
*Snap* *Chomp* Crunch* Oh fuck. A rush of meaty goodness makes my eyes turn bloodshot red. Juicy, succulent pork the density of four Costco hot dogs, glazed with a nice oil that smears all over your virgin lips. Instead of a regular hot dog bun, they use a slice of baguette, which makes your teeth work just to tear it off and get to the good stuff. But it balances out nicely with the spicy mustard, and the crisp sauerkraut. Ahh…free at last.
The Main Course
After watching the San Francisco episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, I wanted to hit up every goddamn place he went to. First stop: Sebo, located in Hayes Valley, San Francisco. A modern yet high quality sushi restaurant, this ain’t your white washed sushi joint. There are no chefs in kimonos saying “ARIGATO!” everytime you walk inside. This isn’t childproof and it’s not for beginners. In fact, I myself wasn’t even qualified to be here.
After searching for the place, which didn’t even have a sign above the restaurant, I stepped inside a very dimly lit restaurant. At first I was scared, because there was a couple in front of me who said “table for two” and got a response of “the wait time will be an hour and a half”. Knees shaking and balls breaking, I walked my lonely ass up to the [pretty hot] hostess and said “one, please”. “Right this way”.
The entire restaurant had a very earthy feel. Everything was dimly lit but the instant you walked towards the back on the sushi chef’s table, you notice the skylight which sends a heavenly ray upon the fish. I park my ass on the expensive looking wooden table and admire the chefs who are literally 3 feet across from me. One of them is cutting up a silver piece of fish, which I’ve never seen before. The other is heating up a piece of fish with his mini blow torch.
From the instant I walked in to the moment my eyes glanced at the menu, I realized how different it was from the other sushi joints I’ve been to. For starters, there’s no miso soup, no salmon, no regular tuna, and no unagi – all of which appear on menus from cheaper restaurants like Ariake’s or Sushi Boat. And just then, seeing the absence of those items made me realize that this place was on a totally different league.
I ordered 5 pieces of fish: Uni (sea urchin), giant clam (geoduck), a high grade tuna, and something else that I forgot. Unlike bad sushi, which is very very fishy, this tasted very subtle. I really had to sit down, and think about what I was eating, in order to taste it. Although some of you may find that a bit annoying, I found it interesting. What does this mean? Does this mean that this is good sushi?
A bit frustrated that I couldn’t taste BIG flavors, I finished off the night by eating uni. I have always heard good things about uni from Chef Superstar, Eric Ripert (owner of 3 Michelin star restaurant, Le Bernadin), but I never understood why. I tried uni at a restaurant in Campbell, but it SUCKED ASS! It tasted like shit. No seriously, it did. But I thought to myself “does Uni taste that bad? Or was THAT piece of uni bad?” In order to debunk this myth, I ordered a couple pieces at Sebo.
And just like Eric Ripert said, “It tastes like Ocean water”. Which to most of you, sounds kinda nasty, but believe me, it ain’t. The instant you place this sack of heaven in your mouth, you’ll notice the almost buttery texture of the fish. It’s smooth, and it melts in your mouth. But the main attraction is the fact that it tastes like the Ocean – literally. Eating that one piece of fish (and I swear to god) brought back memories of swimming on the beach. Food can be very powerful, and expensive. For 5 pieces of fish, I payed $50.
For our dessert I have chosen a restaurant very dear to me. Years and years ago, when I was 16, I would take the train alone and visit my brother in San Francisco. Within the span of 24 hours he would take me places that I’ve never dreamed of. Places with amazing food, amazing art, and amazing ambiance. But of all the places we went to, one has stayed in my mind for ever and ever: Chez Maman.
Chez Maman is a small fucking restaurant. And when I say small, I mean it. They only seat about 15 people. When you sit at the bar, which puts you 3 feet away from the kitchen/grill, you’re almost sitting elbow to elbow. But it’s pure magic. On a cold and windy night, the kitchen fires serve as a heater which brings good food and a nice warmth among the place.
On one of my San Francisco trips, I parked my car across the street and waited minute-by-minute for the place to open up. As the sun began to set my stomach began to growl, crying for their juicy steaks. The door opened, I walked in, and took a seat.
The orange glow of the restaurant puts you at ease. Many restaurants try to transport you somewhere: France, China, Japan, but this place does the opposite: it gives you the opportunity to really do some soul searching. You can sit here, and think of everything that’s on your mind. Nothing gets in the way. It’s gorgeous. But the food is another thing.
After ordering up, you watch right in front of you as multi tasking master chefs navigate through their tight work space, bumping into each other, trying to get orders done. And through the fire and flames they still manage to shell out perfectly cooked meals. I order the flat iron steak. The chef grabs a slab of meat, seasons it, and slaps it onto the grill.
When it’s done, you get the PERFECTLY cooked, medium rare steak. It’s just too fucking delicious. It has a nice char, a great season, and a nice hint of blood. Juicy, tender, and perfectly executed. You basically can die eating this thing. And with their thinly cut, lightly cooked french fries and aoili sauce, everything in the world seems right.
Somehow, now matter how much food I’ve had throughout the day, after eating this meal, I always feel satisfied, and wanting more. So I order a plate of Crepe Suzettes. The chef spoons a heap of batter onto the circular griddle, rakes it with a wooden device, and I watch it bubble. A dash of butter is laced over, which makes it turn golden brown, and he plops a few candied orange peels on top. And just as he’s about to serve it to me, he takes a laddle, fills it up with orange liquor, sets it on fire, and pours it over my crepe. Voila.