19 September 2009

No reservations? Maybe some...

I was just biking around town this afternoon, and the memory came flashing into mind, of the time, a few months back, when we saw Anthony Bourdain at Bender's bar, around the corner. Much of the usual Thursday crowd were there for a Sunday afternoon, effecting a masculine contrapunto to the Guerrera-Malenfant baby shower. From our table in a back corner, we spotted Bourdain, at the bar, up by the door. I don't have any faith in my capacity to recognize faces, so I was struck first merely by having recognized his. Then, I was struck by how blue his hair is. They must work hard to keep all yellow wavelengths out of gray TV hair.

I went up and offered, on the table's behalf, to buy him a drink, in such a way that he didn't even need to respond in order to politely decline.

What I wish I'd said was something along the lines of...

"Hi! Welcome to our humble abode! I'm Damon."
(wait for response)
"I'm with that table of drunks back there in the corner, and I'm sure we'd love to buy you a round. More than that, I really wish I could bring you some hot, only-in-S.F. food tip to tantalize your taste buds, but I got nothing! I mean, I'm sure you've already had a burrito--and probably from a truck... Julia Childs has already unearthed the treasures of Tu Lan... Conan O'Brien's already exploited Sam Wo's... I guess there's nothing especially San Franciscan about Burma Superstar... I mean, I don't imagine you're gonna do a show from Rangoon anytime soon--ooh! That reminds me! I've spent a lot of time in Laos, and that show you did there? Thank you! That was excellent. You really elucidated a lot of the feelings that place brings up for me when I'm lucky enough to be there. That was good television!"
(wait for response)
"But really, for tips? I got nothing. Help? You had any treats here we should know about if we don't already?"
I haven't seen the show he did here yet, although it has already aired at least once (and now that I've sought out a YouTube link, maybe I'll watch it tonight). I remember a commercial, or a local news segment, or something, when it aired, highlighting some kind of ridiculous sandwich he got at "That's It--The Center of the Mile", a corner store down on 22nd, I think, and Mission. It looked something like the pizza crêpe taco pancake chili bag, of SNL fame, with something like fried hot dogs, inside of something else, inside of something else: maybe a unique foodstuff, in and of itself, but not, seemingly, indicative of anything notable in the San Franciscan foodscape. I heard someone saying recently that Bourdain had posted something on his show's blog about having been disappointed in his experience here, that no one had come forward to him with anything befitting San Francisco's place in the culinary pantheon, a place I might presume is characterized by joints like Chez Panisse and Zuni Cafe, which, themselves, certainly aren't clamoring for the Bourdain imprimatur (and probably lack an adequately hedonistic edge to receive it, anyway). No--instead, he gets over-stuffed hot dog stunt sandwiches--are people designing their menus around Fear Factor these days? Of course, as I've just demonstrated, even in my daydreams after the fact, I couldn't come up with any San Francisco treat, either.

Of course, what I wrote up there isn't what I said anyway. It never occurred to me to make, or request, any food suggestions; and despite this, I think I referred to my party as a "table of foodies", in some sorely misbegotten bid for respectability. It's so embarrassing a thing to have said, that now, it's all I can remember having said. I know I offered to buy a drink, but who can blame anyone for turning down the offer of a drink from a "table of foodies".

What the hell is a foodie? Is it something I wish I was? Is it something I imagine other people see me as? Certainly, no one else I was there with would wish it for themselves.

This is the sort of thing that highlights, to me, the difference in the levels of success people experience in their lives. Unequivocally successful people are not at a loss for the right words to engender deeper relationships with their successful brethren, when such opportunities present themselves. Less successful people are devoured by their own uncertainties, and say words that don't mean anything to themselves or anyone else, when the chance to present something real and meaningful arises.

Having now watched the show, I can say he did in fact eat at a taco truck, although it was over in Oakland. And early on in the show, he shares a sushi meal, at Sebo, with Chris Cosentino. So, my foodie senses tingling, I knew, before it was over, he'd be eating offal at Cosentino's joint, Incanto--the one fancy place I imagined might appeal to the persona he projects through the show (which may, in fact, be authentic, for all I know). I wanna eat at both those places myself. I'd never even heard of Sebo. In fact, I'm more than a little intrigued by the prospects for offal sushi.... My friend, Jen--the one person I know, who is an unabashed, dyed-in-the-wool foodie--had a, ahem, hot dog party last month (co-ed), asking everyone to bring toppings that would create an assortment of regional wiener dishes from around the world. I brought sushi fixins, to make either hotdoggomaki, or, if the mood struck, hottu doggy nigiri. I stuck with the maki. It wasn't too good, but that's not to say it couldn't have been. The umeboshi plum paste, matched well in color, but not it taste, and the nori wrapper had an unpleasant bitterness. But anyway, I can totally imagine roasted kidney on a finger of rice, with a teriyaki glaze and sesame seeds....

Blurry cell phone shot of hotdoggomaki,
with whole wheat bun, umeboshi, wasabi, and sesame seeds.

Also, I read Bourdain's S.F. blog post, and it doesn't say anything of the sort that I reported above. He mainly just revels in the fact that you can get servings thick with grease and blood, in a town popularly associated with veganism and animal welfare, and highlights what he sees as the hypocrisy of Alice Waters, "burning up a few cords of firewood (in Berkeley no less!) to cook two eggs for an unusually credulous Lesley Stahl". He also name checks Brian Jonestown Massacre. On the other hand, I read a columnist in Metroactive, Stett Holbrook, who points out a conflict within the rebellious image Bourdain has constructed:
I share your disdain for sanctimoniousness and gastro-dogma. But where is your scorn for the other side of the coin? For petroleum-intensive industrial agriculture? For a pork industry that pollutes the groundwater of poor communities and contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant staph infections? For a chemical-dependent, climate-changing food system that claims to feed the world but doesn't? Why don't you pick on them instead of Alice Waters?
Bourdain's faux Frisco-trepidation was an entertaining plot device I was willing to accept. What I'm not willing to accept is that his derision of all things organic, sustainable and humane somehow make him a culinary rebel. In fact, the opposite is true. Gastronomically speaking, Bourdain is as conservative as Dick Cheney. He'd have you believe that he's the Lou Reed of food, but he's more like Clay Aiken—safe and predictable.

[...] Is it punk rock to cheer the products of cruel factory farms that treat workers almost as poorly as the animals they warehouse? A true rebel would challenge the powers that be and seek to bring down an unfeeling industrial food machine. To be really rebellious would be to expose the lies and greed behind agribusiness and look for alternatives that celebrate sensually pleasing food that happens to be produced in an environmentally sound way. The two aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, they generally go hand-in-hand. Bourdain is ultimately a great defender of the status quo[...] He offers conformity cloaked in a leather jacket. And that's not cool.
On the other other hand, I understand Johnny Ramone's politics were well to the right of center, and there was plenty about his band that was focused on "traditional values", of a sort (something we S.F. liberals might prefer to describe as "retro"). You've got to really parse out your definition of "cool", in order to exclude the Ramones. But no, I concede: there's nothing cool about big agribusiness.

Finally, I really want one of those That's It cubano sandwiches.

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