Twilight at the Presidio

Tonight the LAST NIGHT for Off The Grid’s amazing Twilight at the Presidio event. Come out for cocktails, cabanas, campfires and [food truck] cuisine (didn’t think I’d get the complete alliteration, did you?). It’s really one of the unique SF events that makes this place so great.

Presidio Main Post Lawn, 5pm-9pm.

Click here for more details

Twilight-620x390-550x345

Photo courtesy of FunCheapSF

Banana Pudding

THIS IS A GUEST POST FROM MY DEAR FRIEND STUART SHELDON. IT’S DESTINED TO BECOME A CLASSIC. ENJOY AND COMMENT, PLEASE.

BananaPudding

Food is magic.

We all have that special dish, the one that instantly activates the way-back machine and jumpstarts a potent emotion. What is yours? For me, it’s banana pudding.

Whenever we visited my grandparents mobile home on the other side of Florida, my younger brother and I beelined it to the fridge the moment we arrived. There, bathed in cool light on the second shelf, stood neatly arranged cups and cups of pudding. Banana and chocolate. Smooth as velvet and dolloped into small glasses the size of an open palm.

My mother’s parents loved each other with a rare intensity that started as handsome high school kids in Queens, New York. They never went with anyone but each other, and when he asked for her hand, my grandfather bestowed upon his beloved a simple elegant diamond solitaire which cost all his money and which she cherished and wore always … until a three-pack-a-day habit killed her at fifty five. That was July 1970, a month before I turned seven.

Lovebirds, 1931

My mom was crushed to lose her anchor so young. To watch her mother succumb to the brutality of lung cancer. See her lithe body dwindle. Hear her gasps.

Me? I saw none of that. I ate pudding.

My specific memories of my grandmother are scant. A squinty smile dusted with a marvelous hint of naughtiness. A nonchalant way of standing with her hip cocked. She was not girly but certainly feminine. She favored pants to dresses. Camping out West to fancy hotels.

One memory, however, burns bright yellow. Standing before the glowing fridge, I’d seize a cup of banana and begin my ritual with the big cold door still open. The tip of my teaspoon cut a fingernail-sized crescent into the unwrinkled, neon-lemon-colored skin. I dabbed the tip of my tongue, shut my eyes and absorbed. The next bite got slightly larger, half a spoon’s worth, eaten slowly to savor. Those that followed increased in size and vigor until I scooped like a gravedigger, occasionally pushing pudding through my missing front tooth hole to make my brother laugh. Lastly, I scraped and clinked and licked that glass clean of every trace.

Unbeknownst to my grandmother, her pudding was the magic potion she conjured to make her eternal in my heart.

My beautiful mom's beautiful mom

Last night, my wife and I attended a dinner party, where a guest brought banana pudding made with love from a recipe gleaned from an upscale Manhattan bakery. The color resembled French vanilla ice-cream, not the too-bright synthetic “banana color” in the stuff my grandmother made. Instead of little glass cups, my friend scooped her pudding into ceramic dishes from a large glass bowl that featured crushed Nilla Wafers across the top. The surface was lumpy with chunks of banana, not flawlessly smooth like my grandma’s little servings.

BUT … that first bite was all Marian Saltzman.

Flooding back through 50-year-old lips came the selfless love of a woman who knew how much two little imps cherished her simple treats. Who made trays and trays of the stuff so we could finish one and grab another. And even a third. Whose whole face laughed when she did, her joy ironically amplified by laugh lines deepened by cigarettes.

Today, Marian Saltzman lives in the rich, squinty smiles of my sons. My mom still speaks with her out loud. And my wife proudly wears her engagement ring, a daily reminder of what a marriage is supposed to look like.

Spoonful of pudding

And, for me, my grandma lives forever in the tip of my spoon.

Be. Still.

Not much time to delve into things here, as I’ve got a team to rally and meatballs to make. But I wanted to connected with my people to share some thoughts in preparation for this new venture.

As I mentioned in the Liftoff post, I’m excited to be making this plunge. I never THOUGHT I’d return to the world of food, but it seems everyone else KNEW it. Sometimes in life you need to look into the mirror of your community to reflect back your authentic self. Sometimes in life what we think we WANT to be isn’t what we’re MEANT to be.

I came off a rough few years, selling Entertaining Spaces and seeking to try new things – never hitting the stride for which I am known. Never feeling like I was able to put both feet in. I thought I wanted to be in tech. It was rewarding and I believe I proved to myself that I could have gone far if my heart was in it. But ultimately I realized my heart was elsewhere.

Red Sauce Meatballs is the first step in a bigger vision. Meatballs are just a part of my Red Sauce vision. You have to try my Ceasar salad, pasta, Veal Parm, etc. This city is ready for the full menu. We’re looking hard for the right location. It will happen soon.

But in the meantime, join us this weekend. Tonight we’re opening at the Homestead Bar at 2301 Folsom. It’s gonna be a chaotic shit show, but I cannot think of a better family to launch with. Thanks Raub and Deb! We plan to be there every Thursday night. Over the weekend we’ll be at the SOMA StrEat Food Park, Friday lunch and dinner – Saturday lunch and dinner and Sunday brunch.

The ongoing schedule will live in all of the social media. Here’s how to keep in touch with Red Sauce. I will be living on the truck for the near future, until I feel comfortable that the team can run things so I can focus on the restaurant:

Twitter: @redsauceballs
Instagram: @redsauceballs
Facebook: /RedSauceMeatballs
Web: redsaucemeatballs.com

Lastly, I’ve found something amazing over the past few months, as I’ve been building this dream. I’ve learned to listen to your heart, as it possesses wisdom your head cannot access. I’ve learned to love ourselves unconditionally and let go of dependencies on external forces to find happiness. I’ve learned to “be still”, in the sense that we can find perfection in the present moment – and also to “be. still.” as your true authentic self, always and eternally. I’ve learned that when we do these things the universe gives us exactly what we need.

And you people need some meatballs!

Liftoff

There is a moment that defies comparison to most other regular moments in life (let’s exclude the birth of a child or a first kiss or other such extremities). It’s the collision of our most fantastic expectations and dreams, culminating in the reality of our actions and successes. It’s the point where we first step into the unknown and submit ourselves to a journey beyond the total means of our control (our two feet or the operation of a vehicle, most notably). Where consuming experience becomes a state of mind and we submit to changing ourselves, merely by seeking and being. There is also a physical sensation that accompanies this moment, where our hearts subtly leap in our chests – familiar, yet never fully comfortable with the unnatural state of our inertia.

That moment is take-off.  Airborne. Seat-backs in their upright position, tray tables stowed. Wheels up. Liftoff.

airplane-taking-off

Leaving the earth never fails to actually ground me and bring me back to my familiar and most comfortable place. In the chaos of life, for the adventurer, taking off is our solace. All of the planning and dreaming, excitement and anxiousness around our great adventures in life, point towards this moment. It’s the time when we fully submit to what lies ahead.

In life, as in flight, any journey begins with such first steps.

I am fortunate to have lived a life full of travels, amounting to experiences so numbered that my head swims with recollections. I have made this a priority ever since I became conscious of my ability to direct the course of my life and that travel was my destiny. Given, I was raised with a solid family infrastructure and middle-class means which provided opportunity to establish a perspective that would influence my future ambitions. But, after the age of fourteen, when the family dissolved and I was now responsible for that destiny, I took ownership. It became my choice to embrace and facilitate this great fortune of experiences through travel. When people tell me that they don’t have the time or money to travel, I have to restrain myself. I am proof there’s almost always a way. In my mind, I can only think that they don’t have the inclination and have not made the choice.

Similarly, when it came time to make career decisions, I chose the path of the entrepreneur. Any success or failure that I’ve experienced in business comes at the hands of my decisions. As with travel, the course I follow is in my hands and the outcome, while always rewarding toward the greater goal of evolution, requires a surrender of some control.

Today I am flying to New York City. It’s a research trip.  I’ve been planning it for many months. I’m flush with similar excitement as with journeys past. But moreover, today, I am also taking liftoff in life. I’ve been dreaming, planning, working tirelessly to realize a vision, to create the next experience… Today, I am officially changing my hat. I am, and will be from this point forward, a restaurateur.

Seinfelds_Restaurant

It’s in my blood. My family is three generations deep of restaurant people. The grandparents started in the early years of Atlantic City, NJ tourism. They had rooming houses, coffee shops, diners and restaurants. If you’re looking for an exciting read on the era, try The Last Good Time: Skinny D’Amato, the Notorious 500 Club, & the Rise and Fall of Atlantic City. Anyone who’s seen Boardwalk Empire will find pleasure in understanding the years that followed in this well-written tome. I didn’t realize the important role AC played in the history of vacation resorts in this country. Knowing my kin were part of that culture is fascinating.

When they came of age, my parents took over the family business and started / operated their own eateries. My mom spent forty years hovered over a flattop in a short-order kitchen. The gene also passed to my Aunt and Uncle, now restaurant owners in Colorado, and my cousins, one who has just discovered the calling and the other who has taken a temporary respite from his inevitable destiny in food and drink (the kid is a serious cocktail talent). I look forward to the day he rejoins us (and together we shall rule the galaxy…)

As I’ve mentioned in my bio, I grew up in such places. I consciously avoided the business most of my adult life. I wanted something different. I chose the travel, I chose technology. Yet, being a restaurant man is in my blood and has pulled me for years. This blog is from that same blood. So is Taste of Potrero. This is one of those truest of life’s callings that I resisted. Everyone else knew this about me. I’m not resisting any longer.

While I’m bursting to tell about my concept, I’m under embargo so that the appropriate outlets will get to scoop the launch. Those who know me, already know. Anyone with a modicum of sleuthing skills could figure it out. Being the maven I am on the SF restaurant scene I have no doubt of the appropriateness of this venture. It’s also so dear to my heart and deep in my blood. Timing couldn’t be more perfect. The team we’ve assemble couldn’t be more up to the task. We’ve got a winner.

You’ll first see the concept debut in a few weeks as a food truck. Literally, a marketing vehicle for the restaurant-to-be. The plan is to open the restaurant in the late fall, early winter (you never know how that will go). We’ve been patient, so you’ll just have to also. My blog will continue and I hope to provide an inside voice into the world of restaurant operations.

The moment of no turning back. The culmination of our greatest plans. The transition from dream to experience. We’ve been here before, it’s familiar. Yet, it’s always exhilarating and we’re never the same from that point forward. Liftoff.

It’s Tricky

I’ve decided to like hipsters. It’s not because I particularly have much in common with hipsters. I don’t possess industrial-ultra-slim clothing, ironic facial hair, youth, tattoos. I don’t live in the Mission, slackline or hula hoop in Dolores Park, drink trendy coffee or date girls with thick-framed eyewear and colorful tights.

Photo Courtesy of FogandFoundry.com

Photo Courtesy of FogandFoundry.com

In fact, for the past couple of years I’ve been known to ridicule hipsters. Not necessarily because I had anything against them, but more so that I bought into a covert trend unto itself. The anti-hipster club (kinda like the he-man woman hater’s club of Lil’ Rascals) is a prodigious movement that can be traced to it’s origins in the darkest corners of places like 25 Lusk, RN74 and Delarosa. I often think that nobody actually believes themselves to be a hipster. I’ve never met a person that has self-identified in this way.

Yet, there is no doubt that there is a citywide class war being waged between Mission hipsters and Marina types. Cute and fuzzy bunnies (points for the knowing the reference) and professionals of the North gaze somewhat scornfully at hipsters.  I secretly think they desire or envy the hipster indifference, while at the same time loathing their fashion sense. Whereas the hipster looks towards those from the Marina with decided scorn.  I don’t believe there’s anything about the Northern life that appeals much to the hipster, except maybe said cute and fuzzy bunnies.

Photo Courtest of Sf.FunCheap.com

Photo Courtest of Sf.FunCheap.com

I’m between worlds. I run with all crowds. I can hang with the cutest and fuzziest of them, doing my Mayurasanas, Adho Mukha Vrksasana and Koundinyasana B (don’t press me on hip-openers tho). But also spend most of my time Southside, with the exception of the essential Nopa late-nights (neutral territory), and SPQR, who equals my beloved F+W for pasta supremacy. Plus, I live in the Dogpatch where I prefer the sunshine and the shipyard views – and is also the neighborhood where aged hipsters go to nest.

To the point: One thing the hipsters and I do share is Trick Dog. The brainchild of the Bon Vivants (and decidedly hip) Scott Baird and Josh Harris, Trick Dog is a Gastropub that appeals to my sensibilities for Gastro-ing and Pub-ing (really, you went there?). And apparently it also appeals to those of the Mission-hipster species, because it’s teeming with them.

Photo Courtesy of SFGate

Photo Courtesy of SFGate

The aesthetics of Trick Dog are lean and modern with elements of Prohibition-era charm, mixed with some steam-punk accents. It feels very hip without being ironic or cliché. Scott and Josh themselves have formed a design business based upon the work they’ve done at the bar. There’s a cutting edge European sensibility to the layout, that reminds me of some of my favorite places in Madrid, Barcelona, Rome and Paris. You could easily find this bar tucked away in the Marais, The Born or the Chueca (yes they are all the gay neighborhoods – problem?).

But moreover, it’s about the food, the drinks and the intangible in the atmosphere that keep me coming. The crowd never gets too dense, and always feels upbeat with lots of engaged groups split between the upstairs in the downstairs. The upstairs being a compact sit-down dining space – the downstairs bar stacked a few deep with some open floor area to stand around. Flow is well considered. Noise is manageable.

Photo Courtesy of SFChonicle

Photo Courtesy of SFChonicle

The cocktails are exactly what you would expect from the Bon Vivants. Everything has been very, very well-considered. The drinks are incredibly balanced, often surprising in their subtleties: never sweet, never heavy. They go down easily, too easily. I love me some Baby Turtle, a concoction with Ocho tequila, campari, grapefruit, cinnamon, lime, egg white. And the bartenders themselves could be the most affable lot I’ve encountered in any trendy establishment in town. Just plain good-folk.

But it’s the food that really stands out to me. Not what you’d expect from a bar’s bar. The menu is not extensive – it’s very accessible. Yet, there are enough options, and it changes regularly, so that you could go a few times and still find surprises. Most things are functional for sharing – and share we do.

Some of the standouts are the Salt Cod Scotch Egg, which has a gooey yolk to balance the fishy crust and a lovely shredded beet salad underneath. The Fried Green Tomatoes they’re serving right now are outstanding – crispy, yet light with an al dente tomato center. The Radishes with Campari Butter and Smoke Se Salt are incredibly surprising in their simplicity, yet thrilling in their complexity.

Almost everything is good here but the real standout to me are the French Fries. They have an option of Manimal Style which emulates In-N-Out Burger with a tangy sauce and fried onions. And these could be the best french fries I’ve had in San Francisco and beyond. In fact, I was recently in Belgium and I’d put them up against the best I had there. They’re listed as thrice-cooked, which I assume means they’ve been boiled and then fried a couple of times. No matter, they got it right and they’re the most crispy delicious flavorful little piles of spuds you’ll find anywhere.

It took a few visits to slide into the vibe at Trick Dog and frankly, in the early weeks they were still cutting their teeth. After The Bauer gave them three-stars for food, the crowd settled in and the bar hit its stride. It’s too easy to pop in on a weeknight after some Tittibhasanas and Tolasana through to Vinyasa. I’m even thinking about getting a few tattoos and maybe reconsider my stance on dates with thick-framed eyewear – so that I can move freely amongst the hipsters as a regular.