San Francisco

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The coldest winter of my life was the summer I spent in San Francisco – Mark Twain

Isn’t it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there? – Herb Caen

Is there anyone who doesn’t love San Francisco?

Yes, but most of them live in Los Angeles.

Los Angelenos hate ‘Frisco because San Franciscans have spent the last 150 years looking down the state and their noses at them.

San Franciscans see their bigger, richer, more politically powerful younger sibling the way a Boston Brahmin sees a Jewish mobster: tacky and money-grubbing, bereft of class.

Angelenos think of their northern relatives as a bunch of cloistered snobs.

Both have a point.

I’ve spent so much time in each city that I feel a kinship with these two Californios with nothing in common. Next to New York City, they  are where most of my urban education has taken place, and after dozens of trips to both (for business and pleasure), I feel comfortable walking or driving the streets like a native. (Driving in ‘Frisco is not for the faint of heart; driving in L.A. causes afflictions still being catalogued by mental health professionals.)

(BTW: I call it ‘Frisco, especially when I’m in ‘Frisco, because San Franciscans are a bunch of insufferable elitists who hate their precious city being referred to with a slang term.)

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My memories of San Fran go back to 1960, when we froze our asses off on Fisherman’s Wharf ….in July. We ate Dungeness crabs out of little paper cups and went to DiMaggio’s (when Joe DiMaggio was still a big deal) and screamed as our dad navigated the steep hills in our three-seat Ford station wagon — like the one above, only in red. It had a seat in the way, way back that pointed backwards.

With every incline, we were sure our car was going to tip over backwards. To this day, it takes a bit of trust in the laws of physics to point the nose of your sedan straight up Hyde and gun it…when the only thing(s) you can see is blue sky and the nose of your car.

Then, there was the walking, up and down Powell, Mason, and Taylor streets: trekking so angled it felt like we could touch our noses to the pavement while standing up. I have no idea how many precipitous hikes we took that first day, but I’ve taken many since, and these elevations still fascinate me. The only other city I’ve seen with such abrupt ascensions is Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Food Gal® and I will be taking off for San Francisco this morning. We’re going there for a day trip to celebrate our birthdays. (It’s a big one for her, just another in a long march towards oblivion for moi.)

It will be 12 hours of walking in the fog and rain and straining our calves and trying to touch our noses to the pavement, and no doubt freezing our asses off the whole time.

We’re going to love every minute of it.

A Random List of Favorite ‘Frisco Food Memories

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That crab meat in 1960.

DiMaggio’s – sadly Joe was nowhere to be seen. Like Joltin’ Joe, it’s long gone.

Fournou’s Ovens – shuttered in 2008, it was way ahead of its time in 1981.

The Mandarin – Celia Chiang’s seminal restaurant taught America there was more to Chinese food than chop suey and egg foo yung.

Fleur de Lys – being wined and dined by Hubert and Chantal Keller – when this place was at the top of its game – is a food memory I will never forget. Closed in 2014.

StarsJeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent. What a crock of shit.

Chez Panisse – the first time (in 1983), it was a study in simplified perfection; by meal #3 (two decades later) the place bored me to death. Alice Waters is still boring me to death.

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Tadich Grill – Calvin Trillin sent me here in the late 70s; I’ve been a dozen times since. “The Original Cold Day Restaurant,” serving the best sand dabs and tartare sauce on the planet.

Jack’s – best sourdough ever. The place made you feel like a Barbary Coast freebooter.

Aqua – where the world, and yours truly, first discovered a young Egyptian-American chef named Michael Mina.

Michael Mina – where that not-so-young Egyptian chef still rules the waves.

Le Centralcassoulet to die for; it’s been bubbling since 1974.

Postrio – my very nice, very good, very not-heterosexual waiter tried to pick me up here. Not many men have tried to pick me up, but when it’s happened (the attempt, not the pick-up) it’s happened in San Francisco. Closed in 2009.

Sam’s Seafood Grill – like Tadich, a classic. Get the petrale sole.

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Trader Vic’s (above) – long before anyone had heard of Asian fusion, Vic Bergeron was mixing and matching his food metaphors.

Mike’s Cantonese Cuisine – back in the day, New York and San Fran were the only places in America where you could find anything approaching real Chinese food.

Campton Place HotelBradley Ogden single-handedly rejuvenated hotel dining back in the 80s with his destination restaurant here.

Masa’s – ruled the roost of San Francisco dining in the 80s and early 90s. The founding chef —  Masa Kobayashi — was murdered. I’m not sure the crime was ever solved. Julian Serrano took over the kitchen and was considered San Fran’s best chef until he was lured to Sin City by Steve Wynn in 1997. The restaurant adjoined the Vintage Court hotel. It was way better than the hotel.

Nob Hill Restaurant – the first place I ever had nouvelle cuisine. In the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Salmon with vanilla sauce anyone? Anyone?

Cafe Mozart – tiny and exquisite. Sadly, gone.

Caffé Sport and Trattoria – loud and colorful….and apparently still in business serving food I fear I have long outgrown.

JardinièreTraci Des Jardins blew me away, back in the day. Two lesbians (at the adjoining table) wanted me to go home with them. I was either too drunk or too sober to go along with the plan.

Greens at Fort Mason – America’s first famous vegetarian restaurant, staffed by real cooks, not people with fear of food.

Boulevard – I’ve never had a bad meal here, and I’ve had lots of meals here.

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Pabu – Mina does Japanese! And does it extremely well.

Acquerello – Italian food the way its supposed to taste. Fabulous wine list.

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State Bird Provisions (above) – an early acolyte of the small plates revolution.

Tartine Manufactory – good, but, like a lot of things these days, not as special as it thinks it is.

The Slanted Door – made Vietnamese food safe for white people. Which means it’s a lot more impressed with itself than it ought to be. They have threatened to come to Las Vegas. They were supposed to open 6 months ago. Yawn.

The Ferry Building – we were there when it first opened as a foodie mecca (in 2003), and have returned many times since. The last time (a couple of years ago) it was mobbed and filthy. I liked it a lot better when every tourist in the world didn’t want to be a food expert.

Swan Oyster Depot – no frills west coast seafood worth waiting in line for.

Farallon – stunning undersea fantasy decor; designed by Pat Kuleto; was there when it first opened (a client dinner if memory serves), haven’t been back since.

Kuleto’s – right off Union Square. Closed two years ago. Like all Pat Kuleto restaurants, it never disappointed.

John’s Grill – when I want to feel like Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon.

The Cliff House (below) – stunning views, lots of tourists, surprisingly good food. Literally perched at the far western tip of the United States. How cool is that?

And those are just some of my faves, pulled off the top of my head, after 5 decades of eating everything in sight. There are scores of bistros, bars, destinations and dives that have faded from memory. There’s one bachelor party in the early 80s I wish I didn’t remember, and birthday parties, a wedding or two, and multiple business meals forever suspended in the recesses of my taste memories, waiting to be revived as soon as I see those beautiful hills.

I love San Francisco the way some people love Las Vegas: as a playground, full of sights and sounds and tastes and smells no other city in America can match.

I love all of those taste memories, but what endears San Francisco to me most is what set it apart from other western cities a hundred years ago, and what sets it apart today: it is civilized. Existing in a very special sphere of its own sophistication that other western cities can only dream of.

‘Frisco may have a world of problems, and be filled with snobs and terrifying streets, but San Franciscans know how to live.

And they know how to eat.

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P.S. When we get off the plane tomorrow morning, we’re heading straight to Swan Oyster Depot. Happy Birthday Food Gal!
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A Teachable Moment

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My Facebook friends are usually a pretty brainy bunch.

Most of the people who follow me on social media are a cut above in the smarts departments.

A lot of them are in the hospitality industry, too, which gives my feeds (on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) a distinctly foodie feel, with comments that are invariably insightful and entertaining.

Just like those who read this website.

I generally do not seek out people to “friend” on Facebook, and I try to leave room (inside the allotted 5,000 friends limit) so that people curious about the Vegas food/restaurant scene can hop on board and enjoy the ride.

Occasionally, I will make an exception, and send someone a “friend request” if I know them and think it would be fun to hear their input — pro and con — on things I post about.  (I enjoy a good, spirited argument on all kinds of things, as long as some degree of respect and attention to logic and facts are invoked.)

In 9 years on FB, I’ve never refused to add a “friend,” and I’ve only un-friended one person: a local food blogger who holds a doctorate in unpleasantness, with post-graduate honors in practical assholiness.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in almost a decade of social media activity, it is that people love to weaponize taking offense at something they’ve read. It is no longer enough to simply disagree with someone, you must now personalize that disagreement, and turn your disaffection into something that diminishes them and makes you feel better about yourself.

So it was with a “friend request” I sent to a friend of a friend recently.

I had met this person more that once, and know our mutual friend rather well in a professional capacity.

Adding this person to my list of contacts seemed logical since we had run into each other, and no doubt would again.

So, I sent a “friend request.”

This is what I received in return:

Hi Mr. Curtis. I see you have thousands of FB friends, and perhaps weren’t expecting a dissertation on the matter of friend request etiquette, but, I won’t be adding you at this time. In a previous pic that (our mutual friend) had posted, you commented with a meme/gif that I found to be offensive and derogatory. While my initial inclination was to “go along with the joke” or simply ignore, seeing your friend request caused me to view this as a teachable moment. Even if a woman displays cleavage and/or sexy garments in photographs, it is not an open invitation for her body to be mocked and trivialized into an anime gif of a bouncing woman with large breasts. Thank you for taking the time to read. Have a nice day.

My response:

I have no idea what you’re talking about….but I will say this: any person (man or woman) who intentionally draws attention to a body part…such as cleavage, musculature, booty, whatever…is fair game for whatever reaction comes their way. And anyone in this day and age who gets offended by the trivialization of body parts is not living in the same century I am…….and for the record: I have no memory of posting any gifs of bouncing breasts…so if you know of any, please advise.

Their response:

Sad that even in a more enlightened time in history, the “you asked for it” mentality still prevails for you. Take care.

My response:

I still don’t know what you’re talking about…but yes, if you flash your ass at someone…you forfeit the right to complain about their reaction to said ass-flashing. I’m sorry you see things differently, but again, I have no idea what you’re talking about, vis a vis whatever “meme” or gif offended you.

And that was it. No further response.

Just to remind you: I’m the same guy who was accused of condoning sexual assault because I advised holding off on judging Mario Batali until all the facts were in. Fat slobs hate me because I have the temerity to call them such; and all kinds of people accused me of having horns and a pitchfork because I pointed out the impropriety of scantily-clad women who pass out drunk in shopping malls.

Now, I’m a bad guy if I post a gif of some woman’s bouncing breasts, as a bemused, humorous reaction to a FB posts. (FWIW: our mutual friend’s sense of humor often strays into Rabelaisian territory.)

This whole idea of, “I don’t like your reaction to something you saw on the internet and I’m going to use it as an excuse to (dislike, berate, condemn) you,” is actually quite comical.

It is also the mother’s milk of social media.

It’s at least understandable to despise someone for outright saying something that you didn’t like  — but are we now going to judge people based upon the gifs they post in response to other’s comments?

When did we get so far afield from normal behavior? When did the smallest pin prick of impropriety (as defined by others) give people license to chastise you?

If the above is true, we may have gone so off-the-rails that there is no turning back, as far as productive human discourse is concerned,

As with our political institutions, once this mindset takes hold, instead of hammering out differences like adults, everyone just runs back to their tiny mental comfort bungalows where nothing is challenged, and everyone agrees with you. Especially yourself.

I actually felt a little sorry for my almost-friend. The world has to be a tough place for anyone that sensitive.

But the encounter taught me a lesson. Social media is riven with individuals who are just looking to be affronted about something. And those somethings can be far more trivial than your social mores and political beliefs. Outrage can even be directed at the merest slight or hint of vulgarity. Which is pretty rich since, next to taking false umbrage, bad taste is the Internet’s stock in trade.)

Yes, in some people’s worlds, even something as innocuous and juvenile as this:

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…can cause one to clutch one’s pearls and think harshly of the person posting it.

Remember this lesson the next time you decide to show off your girlfriend’s tits on Facebook….or make fun of someone else who does.

 

The Best Burger in Town

America’s obsession with juvenile food is subsiding.

Press your ear (or stomach) to the ground (as we do) and you’ll find the food media paying scant attention to tacos, pizzas and burgers these days.

People aren’t going apeshit over ramen like they were five years ago, cupcakes have been consigned to the corner (where they belong), small plates are sooo 2014, and Brobdingnagian milk shakes have been marginalized.

With any luck, perhaps one of these days the New York Times will end its decade-long love affair with David Chang.

In the meantime, Chang and his bao buns notwithstanding, grown up dining has returned. Classics are back.

If you require evidence, just look at what’s opened here in the past few months. Cipriani, Vetri and NoMad are nothing if not throwback dining experiences. Look past the modern industrial look of Factory Kitchen and what you’ll find is a classic Italian meal. The only thing modern about Mott 32 is the decor and the cocktail program.

Heck, some of these places even offer cheese at the end of your meal. How fin de siecle is that?

But some things never go out of style, and a great burger is one of them.

Amidst all the Eataly anticipation at the end of the year, a sizeable (300 seat) meat emporium quietly opened in the Palace Station hotel. Called BBD’s (Beers, Burgers, Desserts) it brought forth a gargantuan menu of everything from burgers and steaks to amazing bowls of duck ramen ($18) to never-seen-before dishes like Buffalo burnt chicken wings ($13):

On top of those, it also features probably the best beer selection in town (notice I said “best” not “biggest”), fried pickles and hot chicken. There’s a Philly cheese steak served with smoked onions ($15 and excellent) , a one-pound Bavarian pretzel, and even lamb gyros for those so inclined.

But the real stars of the show are the burgers. Three are offered: the dry-aged prime steakhouse burger ($19), a griddle burger ($10 single, $14 double) that seeks (and succeeds) at elevating the In-N-Out burger template, and a steamed burger ($8 single, $12 double) mimicking the chopped onion, grey meat magnificence of a White Castle slider.

They offer 20(!) different sauces (all made in-house), potatoes a number of ways (the classic french fries above, are potato perfection), three salads (who gives a fuck?), and the usual frivolous fat-filled fried stuff (onion rings, poppers, cheese sticks and such).

But your attention is drawn to the meat from the moment you walk past the butcher shop at the entrance, and that’s where your gaze should stay.

Those burgers are each superb. Made with in-house ground beef, juicy and packed with the kind of dense, mineral-rich beefiness that is but a wisp of memory in the hamburgers most people consume. I’ve said for years: the best burgers are always found in good steakhouses, because good steakhouses use the best beef and treat it right.

The beef here tastes like it could’ve come straight from Delmonico or CUT. The grind is coarse and the packing is just firm enough to hold together and sear properly, the better to retain the juiciness essential for proper burger apotheosis. I can’t remember when I’ve tasted better.

Seasonings are on-point, too, telling you that someone in the kitchen is paying close attention to the details.

As much as well love all of the cheeseburgers here, I have to admit the steamed mini-burgers (above) are my favorite. They taste like what White Castles would be if they were 3xs thicker, used great meat sandwiched in a superior bun and satisfied your cravings without laying in your stomach like a cheap, greasy brick. (The latter is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’ve been parking booze in your gut all night.)

Those minis are not to be missed, but neither are any of these meat patty sandwiches. The beef in the dry-aged prime burger (above) is aged for 40-50 days and achieves that tinge of umami-laden gaminess true beef aficionados look for. The grilled beauties (not pictured) are next-level delicious as well — one bite and you might forswear In-N-Out forever.

Put them all together and you have a hamburger hamlet of unbridled greatness, the likes of which Vegas has never seen under one roof.

All of this is the handiwork of one Ralph Perrazzo — a Long Island chef (and Bradley Ogden alum) who won some burger battle on some food network show, paving the way for his expansion to Vegas. Sorry Ralph, but I don’t take those shows very seriously anymore, but your food is the real deal, and whether it’s juvenile or fashionable or not, I intend to eat many more of your burgers, and take them very very seriously while doing so.

(A burger lunch or dinner for two, without booze, should run between $25-$50, depending on how many sides or appetizers you tackle. The beer selection is for serious suds lovers.)

BBD’s

Palace Station Hotel and Casino

2411 West Sahara Ave.

Las Vegas, NV 89102

702.221.6513

https://eatbbds.com/experience/