Monday, October 4, 2010

The Uma Issue

Fork Fest Review
The Uma Issue

March 2010

Can you believe it, we of the fork, of the fest, have met for dinner, dialogue and drinks, twenty times and finally, we feature, as the key element (as long as I’ve got the pen in my hand) the darling, Uma.

I was actually thinking of boycotting this last event if Karl and Karin had carted her off to Grandma’s… but then I thought of Sam’s short ribs and well, decided that I could somehow suffer through an evening without Uma, if I had too.

Starting off the evening, this last 27th of February 2010, we had Uma at the door, trailed by Theo, the barking (who had his moment in the Forkfest limelight, I think) machine and of course, Dad, purveyor of space and spirits.

As soon as I’d said hello to Uma, I headed for the fridge and traded out my six-pack of something, for one of Karl’s Hairy Eyeball Ales, which gave me the needed energy and ability to take on the Uma vocabulary––but what I really needed was just a dictionary and a tune-up on my hearing-aid, as the girl knows how to spin a sentence or two.

I might have fared better if I’d gassed up on the evening’s signature drink, concocted by the spirit masters (no, I am the spirit master. No, I am the spirit master, no…) Saana and Matt––it was something like an eye of the tiger, or tiger’s blood or tiger essence… undoubtedly tasty, no doubt illegal and subject to seizure by customs, but I am sure we got a few down the hatch.

I almost forgot––this is supposed to be about the food, sort of.

For starters, as Uma ambled about with her new piggy flashlight, we nibbled on Hideo and Carmine’s tasty homemade pickled vegetables.

These delectables reminded me of my dear (step) Grandma Sakai, who spent hours during Thanksgiving and all those other ho-hum turkey days, filling us up, not with turkey, but with wonderful Japanese dishes. I’m sure that had she thought of turkey and its sleep-inducing qualities, she might have thought to wrangle in our running about and screaming by just stuffing us with the bird. But no.

As for Uma, she made it through the starters with hardly a peep, preferring instead to occupy herself with dark corners and her new light source––boogie men beware, Uma knows you’re
not there.

Bo was there though, along with Monique and Read––all new guests to the table and if they make it back a second time, they’ll of course receive the ultimate FF honor, the searing hot cross-forked branding (Skull & Bones, bah!) across the tummy.

Somewhere between the prep and the dining table we had some very yummy, sort of “DIY” steamed dumplings, filled with pork and shrimp and dipped, (unless you were me and food in hand meant it must proceed directly to maw, hold the secret sauce) in Sandra’s special dipping sauce… I tried to get the list of ingredients but met only a cold stare from Ms. Huang… “You want the secret to my sauce, never. Go ask Sam for his short rib recipe.”

With the drinks poured, the entrĂ©es prepped and the table set, the guests, old and new, gathered round, with dog under foot and Uma at the undeniable head of the table––wherever she sat, it was the head of the table. Got it––we began.

Oh yes, gung hay fat choy, or dig in, as I like to say.

Since this was a pot-luck, all the dishes appeared at once, passing from hand to hand, plate to palate and under the table, and except for my favorite––Sam’s delicious short (right, the dog never got the rib that would be mine?) ribs—I can barely remember the parade of delights that came my way.

I do remember the white rice though. However humble, the white rice must be taken seriously as it is the true backbone of any kinda sorta asian-themed dinner, that just happens to have short ribs in attendance. I’m sure they were invented in China and not really over some Texas spit. Long live white rice!

There was also Carole’s white-cut chicken with ginger and scallion sauce and sticky (formerly, white) rice from Sandra (of the secret sauce society) and a sublime (I was gonna call it, daffy) roast duck on a bed of watercress, from our ever dazzling hostess…

…Karin, I remember the duck, but I can’t find that bed of watercress in my memory. Too much Hairy Eyeball Ale, perhaps––or it just reminds me of my job and having to say to a guest for the millionth time when s/he exclaims, “ooooh, what’s that?” as their big fingers smash into the delicate hors d’oeuvre, and my reluctant tongue wraps around the flavor-sighed syllables, once again––“it’s roasted duck breast on a bed of watercress.”

Did I forget to mention that Uma was right there, for all of this. I thought she’d fade off to sleepy town, but no, the girl held her own at the table, amongst adults, like me. Ha.

Every damn American worth his multi-cultural something or other knows how to say gung hay fat choy, and he also knows what bok choy is, which we had a bit of, and the ubiquitous, shitake mushroom, but what about this “kohlrabi” which came around, dancing with the shitake mushrooms. We had some, but I will, no doubt, never learn to fully understand or appreciate kohlrabi.

Dessert was a delicious variety of fresh apple pears and pomelos, from the delightful Bo, and  mouth-watering ice cream mochi from Monique, along with Carole’s “gung hay fat choy” cookies and of course, red velvet fortune cookies, stuffed with things I couldn’t make up.

Well, that was #20, and it was a delight to spend it with Uma and, okay, the rest of you.


As a bonus feature, here is my review of BAR BAMBINO, here in San Francisco. Where do I start?

How about $110 plus change for this!  In its defense, I actually liked the food, in spite of its being somewhat late and cold.

We had a reservation for five p.m. and maybe that was the wrong way to dine at Bar Bambino––maybe they thought we were not serious, like the others who seemed to converge on the place, just as we were leaving, two hours later.

Perhaps the slow service was in answer to our perceived rush, as though we had to be somewhere soon, but Bar Bambino was going to show us how service and the dining experience is done, slow and with great relish, as you wait and wait for the next, not to mention, the first course, to arrive. Maybe they function better in a mad rush, but being that we were almost the sole diners, at that point––maybe they just forgot we were out there, watching the passing traffic on 16th Street.

To start, sort of, we had the cured meats platter, which took a while, but I can understand, with all those delicate, tasty, and finely sliced bits of meats. Tasty, gotta say. The fennel salad was already cold, as a salad should be, so I can’t blame it for being late and while I am not a fennel fan, it was tasty. I would have loved some bread to go with the meats, but there wasn’t any. Did I miss it on the menu?

Carole had the “Papardelle Sugo di Coniglio,” lovely wide pasta pieces, sauced with braised rabbit. I could have eaten the entire thing in two or three “Bob bites” but around the same time––a long time––as her rabbit found the table, my “Lamb” also arrived.

You could almost guess at the amount of time both dishes probably sat on the prep table once they’d been hot and plated by the chef––long enough for whomever served them to go out and have a cigarette, come back in, memorize the night’s specials and then notice the two dishes, still hanging onto a bit of heat, deep in the meat.

If you’ve ever seen a movie and there’s a kitchen involved, there’s usually a rush to get it out the door, fresh and hot. Usually.

And I don’t mind if my dinner shows up hot, smelling of all its ingredients, its juices. I can sit there a few minutes and gobble more bread while my lamb cools down, and I warm up to it.

Again though, in spite of my lamb shanks being not too fresh and hot out of the kitchen, I did enjoy them, right down to my greasy fingers and choice slivers of meat, tethered in the bones.Carole liked her rabbit pasta also, even though it looked to have attained that flat cold state, that pasta, sitting naked in the open air, gets after, oh, long enough to smoke a cigarette and memorize the daily specials.

We also had two sides, to round things out––the potatoes and the asparagus. Both of them seemed not to be tarnished by time. The potato dish came with six small, tasty orbs, butter and spiced just right and my favorite part was that there was an even amount, so we didn’t have to play, “No, you can have it.” I didn’t count the asparagus, but it was delicious, sprinkled with cheese.

“Affogato” is either my favorite dessert, or something which I can never remember. It was a strong espresso with just a dollop of vanilla ice cream and happily came in at a sweetly low $4.00 on my “You paid that much for that?” scale. I’d gladly get it again, if I don’t forget.

So yeah, I kinda felt like I was there in a dream––their dream––and they really had no recollection of serving us, even though we got the bill.

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