Friday May 14th 2004, with F, and later H and K.
It was already 9pm when we decided to go to our regular Friday night haunt, Belden Alley in San Francisco. Belden is a little slice of Europe in America. Cafe tables from the collection of French, Italian and Spanish restaurants spill out onto the paved street attracting a lively bunch of customers hooked on eating outside even on chillier nights. (Hier soir sa caillait). Wall heaters and awnings always warm things up quand il fait froid, whilst strings of lights hanging across from the buildings on each side breathe magic into the atmosphere as the night draws darker.
As always, we started at Bastille for our aperitifs. A Kir Royal for moi and a regular Kir for the F homme. Half way through the glass I had one of those low blood sugar moments and I felt shaky and needed something a manger tout de suite. Luckily O, the owner of several restaurants in the street, appeared at that very moment with a complimentary plate of grilled toast with serrano ham and tomato for myself and F that he'd had delivered for us from B44 further up the street. I dived into the plateful as if I hadnt eaten for a week and soon felt well enough to finish the remaining half glass of my champagne avec cassis.
But tonight's mission was Plouf. Plouf is the French word for 'plop', when a pebble hits the water, makes a 'plouf' and causes a little ripple of rings. That same ripple is the restaurant's logo, in neon bleu and the restaurant specializes in seafood, especially les moules - for which it is famous. We arrived, kissed all the waiters as is de riguer with friends (bisous, bisous, bisous), and settled at the bar which tonight seemed a little livelier than outside. B the bartender started us off with a drink. F had another Kir whilst I settled for a glass of Bordeaux, St Emilion. Since discovering the delicousness of clams a couple of weeks ago, I just cant get enough of them, so ordered a bowlful flavoured with coconut and lemongrass avec une salad de polenta on the side. F ne mange pas seafood or fish so he settled for lamb chops instead from the limited carnivorous section of their menu.
When the food arrived, instead of clams, I was presented with a huge steaming bowl of mussels. "I didn't order those, I ordered clams". To which the waiter replied they had run out of clams. "Oi, B" (the bartenter who had taken our order), "You didn't tell me there were no clams". "Its ok, he said "the mussels are on me". He winked and refilled my glass without asking. The mussels were delicious, soaking in the same spicy thai-inspired coconut creamy sauce that the clams would also have drowned in. The polenta salad is one of my regular orders at plouf. I dont even care for polenta much but the Plouf version is something else. The creamiest hot centre, the perfect texture, not to sloppy, not too mealy, not too hard, brickette-shaped and surrounded by a perfectly crisp crust. The mixed green leaf salad accompanying is dressed with a smokey tomato sauce that tastes slightly unusual, but anything the polenta does more than makes up for anything the salad dressing doesnt.
H and K called, they were at an Orphanage wrap party for Day after Tomorrow and World of Tomorrow. They decided to whizz over to Belden and meet us as they hadnt had a proper meal. Joining us on the tall wobbly stools at the bar they quickly put in the orders before the kitchen closed for the night. H, the big guy, needed the full lamb entree but I recommended to K, who only wanted an appetizer, to try the tuna tartare which is excellent here. She ordered that and enjoyed the small cubes of tuna marinated in a dressing with sesame with a soupcon of citrus. H and K were served bad wine, the St Emilion was corked, so their glasses were swapped and a fresh bottle opened. Later B came to top up our glasses as way of an aplogy for the earlier corked one, but this bottle was corked too. He then opened a brand new bottle, four clean glasses and poured us the whole thing. This was our lucky night as far as complimentarys being served. So far a plate of jambon toast, a couple of glasses of wine and bowl of mussels. But there was still more to come. We moved on to finish the evening with a night cap at Voda, Belden's hip Vodka Bar run by T and D, ex waiters of Bastille. The other three had a shot each of Zubrowka, the Polish bison Grass vodka which is very difficult to buy in the States, while I had a shot of the Dutch Effen Cherry vodka which is strong, smooth and not too sweet. H and K left as F and I finished up the last drops of our spirits ready to go home and dodo (short for dormir, to sleep). But before we could get away from the bar, D had already poured us each another glass of the bison grass liquor which he knows we both particularly enjoy. It would have been rude not to accept his kind gift so stay we did, a while longer... Plouf on Belden Alley