06 November 2010

Five Days of Gastronomy, California Style (Day 3)

Back to San Francisco

I hated saying goodbye to Ann and Chris so soon, but the great thing about family - like true old friends - is that you always know you can pick up your connection, the next time you get together, as if no time has passed at all.

We drove North following the same route we had driven South the day before. We had intended to visit Big Sur, and see the incredible coastal views along Route 1, but decided to get right back to San Francisco, so Drake could finish his homework assignments for school - getting them printed out and officially signed by staffers at Farallon. His finished book is very impressive, with pictures of food he helped prepare, recipes and lots of other descriptions of day-to-day operations at the restaurant, including several special banquets and the cooking "line", which Drake worked on, in addition to the raw bar.

On the road, we stopped for lunch at a little restaurant owned by a young woman and staffed by her sister-in-law and mother. We were delighted by their fresh, organic preparations - all with a Mexican accent. I had a salad with black beans, fresh vegetables and steak. Jack and Drake had heavier meat dishes, with rice and sauces. Although they offered wine tastings, we were in need of caffeine, so washed our meals down with homemade, iced organic black tea, served in mason jars.

Back in San Francisco, Jack and I visited art galleries while Drake completed his homework and met up with his darling friend, Tara. She was totally engrossed in the Giants game (lead-up to the World Series, which they eventually won!) so she decided to meet us a for dinner after the game. On the advice of the concierge at our hotel, we walked to a little alley filled with outdoor street cafes. Belden Place, also called Belden Alley, in the financial district, was just like a little side street plucked out of Europe and dropped into the middle of San Francisco. We perused all of the menus before deciding on Plouf, a French restaurant offering traditional French seafood plates and good French wines.

Plouf is one of several French and Italian restaurants on Belden Place

For starters, I had the Savory Tarte Tatin, an herb-roasted Roma tomato pie, on light pate brise, and layered with herbed goat cheese mousse and mixed baby greens. It was delicate, sweet and tangy - my favorite combination for a salad.

Above, a picture of Plouf's Mussels Mariniere

The guys both ordered the Mussels Pastis, which were out of this world - and very reminiscent of Provence. Steamed with shallots, garlic, heavy cream, pastis (a traditional Provencal anise flavored liqueur), chili flakes and fine herbes, we literally mopped up the rest of the juices after the mussels were gone, with slices of crusty French baguette.

During our first course, Tara joined us, elated that the Giants had won their game. Needless to say, we were already in the mood to celebrate. Our charming waiter, "Jim" (the English version of his name) kept us in stitches with his humorous commentary and inimitable French style. when I asked him to take a photo of us, he said sure, then immediately held the camera at arm's length and snapped a picture of himself - his tradition, he said, so that we would remember him. I am so glad he did, as he really was part of what we loved about this restaurant - and the trip overall!
Our fabulously funny - and very good - French waiter, Gibouille (a nickname for Jimmy Boy)

For a main course,  Drake ordered the whole roasted fish of the day, which was Branzino, with sauce noisette (a browned butter sauce). Cooked perfectly, it was flaky and light. The mixed veggies were just slightly crunchy. As an extra side, he chose the crab mashed potatoes, which ended up being a bit bland.
Drake's Pan Roasted Whole Mediterranean Branzino

I ordered the Oriental Lamb Shank - citrus/honey braised, with raisin and cashew couscous and fresh herbs. Jack got the Grilled Sea Bass with Provencal cherry tomatoes, haricots verts, hazelnut and cauliflower puree and fresh arugula pesto. Everything was delicious! I think the best part of the meal though, was the feeling that we were at a bona fide French outdoor cafe - the ambiance totally brought to life and guaranteed by the great Gibouille.

We all split the Banana Profiteroles with Warm Chocolate Sauce for dessert.

Dinner at Plouf, with Drake's friend, Tara Gallegos
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