I doubt the younger generations remain familiar with the old term "dining out on"; it means having an experience so strange or awful, you'll be telling your friends about it over dinner for months to come.
My friend and I sat down at Blueacre Seafood and discussed the wine list with the woman who appeared to be in charge of that area, if not, perhaps, a sommelier(e). We'd already been told the placemat menu was printed twice daily. Soon she returned to tell us the wine we'd ordered was unavailable--back to the drawing board, and a more expensive choice.
Long experience had taught us that it's always safer to ask than to have to send food back, so even though the word did not appear in the list of ingredients in any of the three items being considered as appetizers, I asked if perchance there might be cilantro--indigestible to one of us, disliked by the other --in any of them. Assured there wasn't, the waiter took the order, only to return a while later to say, apologetically, indeed there was. One by one, the same thing happened (tater tots with shrimp and Dungeness crab, crab cakes, and the sauce with the fried smelts, if memory serves). We decided to share smelts and steamed clams, ordered salmon and swordfish for our main courses and sides of cauliflower and collards.
The clams--not particularly tasty Manillas--arrived with only one plate, one discard bowl, and one seafood fork. The smelts hid their flavor under their batter and salt, rather than a bushel basket.
I had asked that the beurre noisette be served on the side of my salmon but instead the entire garnish was: Port-soaked Chuker cherries and marconas. The fish--something the menu called "feeder" and the server described as fish caught just before they entered the river--was lovely and cooked as I'd requested. But very dear!
The swordfish was topped by some odd-flavored pieces of crab leg--perhaps I'm prejudiced, but I find anything that conceals the subtle but unique taste of this delicacy is a minus. I suspect something the crab was kept in to keep it "fresh."
After we were halfway through our main courses, I waved my hand around till someone came by--I said our side orders of vegetables had never arrived. Soon the waiter came back and said something in restaurant computer jargon that seemed to mean he'd written it down but never submitted it. He said they'd be "on him." As was the pleasant but unmemorable berry sorbet for dessert.
Despite the comps, the bill, with a $7 Lillet and a disappointing Efeste Feral SB, was $162 with tax, before tip.
We were probably crazy to choose another place owned by the same folks, but we dined at Steelhead Diner the following evening. After offering the same reassurances there was no cilantro in any appetizers, the somewhat chastened server returned to say there was.
In the place of apps, we wallowed in a rich, generous side of German style, bacony Warm Olsen Farms Heirloom Potato Salad. This time my wild king salmon was called "Washington troll" and came with those same cherries and white hominy polenta while my companion feasted on pan-roasted Alaskan halibut with an olive oil sprinkle, a watercress-radish garnish, and an English pea "nage," a term that, when used culinarily, usually refers to a flavored seafood poaching liquid. With some pan-roasted jumbo asparagus--garnished with the cherries and almonds of the previous evening's salmon--we had no complaints.
For those of you who might complain we ate too touristlike, I can only reply that I hadn't had a piece of wild king salmon in many months, our season had not yet begun, and I thought that would be a greater treat than the more gourmetlike spots, most of which we try once and don't return to in SF.
There was a wonderful-seeming bread place across from PP Market; we never got to bring any back. I was also pleased to see my own preferences--whole wheat, reduced fat, if not organic--at a cinnamon roll bakery in the same area. Alas, unlike at a similar spot we visited last month in the Pismo Beach area, which seemed to have heated display cases, these, to their detriment, were served cold. We also had hoped to get to try a piroshki down there, but our lunch plans changed at the last minute and we ended up in a sort of suburban Jewish-style deli best forgotten.
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