Thursday, March 7, 2013


The first “real” martini I ever had in America was at John’s Grill in San Francisco, a onetime hangout of Dashiell Hammett, which was mostly why I went there.  Of course I knew what a martini was, and I’d made some myself, but I’d never had one in a bar, because I lived in England at the time, and if you went into an English pub back then and asked for a martini you were most likely going to end up with a glass of warm vermouth.

And so, back in the day, in John’s Grill, I ordered a martini, and the waiter said, “Do you want that up?” and I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  I said yes, because obviously “up” was a way you could have a martini, and if I’d said I didn’t want it up then I knew he’d have asked me how I did want it, and I’d have had no idea what to say.  Still, when the drink came it was exactly the way I wanted it, and the way I’d been making and drinking them back in England, but I had no idea that I’d been drinking them “up.”

John’s Grill is still very much in business and I go there whenever I’m in San Francisco, as I was last week.  The menu now features a specialty house cocktail, the Bloody Bridget, named by the California historical society (go figure), consisting of sweet and sour, vodka and soda, served over ice rather than up. I didn’t order one because I didn’t think it sounded all that exciting, but an even better reason for not ordering - it came in a souvenir highball glass that you got to keep.   For one think I couldn’t see the glass surviving the flight home in my hand luggage, but in any case I didn’t want to look like the kind of rube who wants a souvenir glass.  I didn’t even have a martini; I had a glass of merlot instead.  But now I discover there actually is a souvenir martini glass too.  It's probably just as well I didn’t know about it at the time – it would have given me quite a dilemma.

San Francisco is a culinary center of heartfelt this, locally sourced that, and sustainable the other, which is all well and good but sometimes a bit humorless.  So when the Loved One and I saw that a French restaurant called La Bouche had Buddha’s hand on its menu, it seemed unmissable.  Buddha’s hand is a legendary citrus fruit that I’d  only ever seen in pictures, a fruit without flesh or juice, and in this case it was served as part of a starter with octopus and roasted garlic aioli, and it came in long shreds like a soft, delicate, lemony spaghetti. It was terrific.  I was too cool to take a picture of it: Bouche is a fairly sophisticated restaurant and again I didn’t want to seem like a rube.  But the thing itself looks like this:

On another night in SF we went to a Japanese restaurant called Maru Sushi, and it so happened that the Loved One and I had been saying to each other just a couple of days before, how come you never see monkfish on menus anymore? It used to be the coolest and most expensive fish around, now you never see it.  Well, Maru Sushi didn’t have the fish itself, but they did have monkfish liver – known in Japan as ankimo - which was rolled and compressed into a sausage shape and (I'm pretty sure) poached.  Again I didn’t photograph it, but it looked very much like this, seen here in a photograph by Craig Lee of the SF Chronicle, and again it was terrific.

         But now, having done a little research I discover that eating monkfish is bad and wrong. All the monkfish stocks are overfished, and the trawling method used to catch most monkfish damages the ocean floor. The seafood watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium has put monkfish in its “fish to avoid” category.  So now I feel guilty, but at least not like a rube.

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