If you have ever wondered where, in this city of hipsters and hippies, are the WASPs, look no further. They're at the Presidio Social Club, a new(ish) restaurant in the beautifully renovated former officers' club in the Presidio. Enter the dining room and behold! You're at the country club. Men in blue button downs neatly tucked into pressed khakis, women wearing pearl earrings and headbands, blonde children still dressed in their school uniforms. Never in San Francisco have I seen so many East Coast-style WASPs in one place. It comes as no surprise that gin is featured prominently on the cocktail menu. While their affinity for gin is well documented (see Cheever, John), WASPs are not known for their culinary sense of adventure, and the dinner menu focuses on updated comfort food—a sloppy joe made from Kobe beef brisket, white cheddar mac and cheese, chicken pot pie on Tuesdays. The food at Presidio Social Club isn't bad. It's not especially great, either. The fried okra, a hard dish to pull off above the Mason-Dixon line, is perfect, but it feels a little exotic on a menu so fixated on American classics. The night I went we were running late for an event at the Palace of Fine Arts and so didn't get to try what looked like the best thing on the menu: cupcakes made to order, brought to your table with a side of frosting for you to apply yourself. The next time I feel the need to observe the endangered WASP in its restored native habitat, I'll go back to Presidio Social Club and try the cupcakes.
The T‑line may have brought Muni to a crashing halt, but it's done a lot for Dogpatch, and not just its real estate values. Restaurants, cafes, and garden stores have popped up along the Third Street corridor in anticipation of Muni-enabled consumers flocking to the neighborhood. Basing one's business plan on the viability of Muni moving anyone anywhere seems unwise. Basing one's business plan on serving thin crust pizza in a tiny space on an unlikely street corner, however, is a tried-and-true formula in San Francisco (see: Pizzetta 211). The aptly-named Piccino occupies such a corner at 22nd Street and Tennessee. Piccino is little. It has a small menu. It serves small plates of nibbles between lunch and dinner. In the morning you can find Blue Bottle coffee and fresh-baked pastries; at lunch pizza and panini take precedence; dinner (only on select nights) builds on the lunch menu. I haven't experienced breakfast and lunch, but at dinner recently I sampled three of the five pizzas on offer, plus dessert. By sampled I mean split with one other person. Like everything else at Piccino, the pizzas aren't big. Which isn't bad, because it means you can easily order three for two people and not feel too gluttonish or stuffed. The crust is right-on—a perfect combination of crisp and chewy. The toppings are a little less exciting. The night I was there, they had a margherita, napoletano, pepperone, bianco, and a special involving lemon zest and pine nuts. The tomato sauce on the pepperone was a little too acidic for me, and the bianco was a little bland. The real stand-out flavors were on the special, particularly the lemon zest. The pizza is good; we didn't leave any leftovers. Piccino is a great neighborhood restaurant. If I lived in Dogpatch, I would be their most loyal customer. Too bad I live in Cole Valley. This is the Golden Age of Pizza in the Bay Area. With the likes of Pizzette, Pizzeria Delfina, Little Star, and Pizzaiolo around, it's not enough to be good if you want to pull people in from out of the neighborhood. While I'm willing to brave the Bay Bridge for Pizzaiolo, or the Richmond fog for Pizzette, Piccino isn't quite compelling enough for the trek to Dogpatch.
The Andante Dairy goat cheese pyramid is a little like that rare woodpecker in Arkansas that some people say they have seen and others say is extinct. If you can get up early enough, you might catch a fleeting glimpse of the pyramid at the Andante stand at the Ferry Plaza Saturday Farmers Market. I have been lucky enough to catch it twice; all other times I have either been too late (and I would argue that 9:00 a.m. shouldn't be considered late for a weekend morning unless you happen to have a baby in the house) or the person at the stand has denied all knowledge of even the existence of the pyramid. The pyramid is an aged goat cheese, firm and creamy, yet a little crumbly, the perfect consistency for eating on a cracker. The first time I bought one, I served it to dinner guests, ladies with petite appetites who only ate half of it and I spent a glorious week eating goat cheese pyramid on starr ridge crackers for dinner. The second time I bought one, I served it to dinner guests, ravenous gluttons who devoured the whole thing in the time it took me to prep a leg of lamb for the grill. My recommendation: put the pyramid on your life list while maintaining to others that it is only a myth.
Recently at a dinner party I met an eligible, attractive sort, not really my type but enticing nonetheless. Cowgirl Creamery's seasonal Pierce Pt. is a cheese perfect for a fling: it's creamy and complex, and it's only around for a short time so you don't have to worry about making a long-term commitment. It's a whole milk cheese bathed in moscato and rolled in dried herbs (something I often wish would happen to me); it shows up in fall and winter and is gone by spring, inspiring a gather-ye-cheese-rounds-while-ye-may approach when you find it on a cheese plate.
this is a pleasant little aged cow's milk cheese from a Northern California cheesemaker whose name I cannot recall. Rest assured, though, that if you're trying to eat as locally as possible, blondie's best can safely be on your grocery list. It's somewhat like an aged jack, or an aged hippie, with that kind of mellow nuttiness, cut with a little tang. It's good on a cracker but also works well in a salad with some dried cherries and toasted almonds.
with a wedge of appleby's cheshire in the house, one is always eating good in the neighborhood. It's a Neal's Yard cheese, and so far in San Francisco I've only found it at Whole Foods. There are other cheshires to be had in the city, and according to the grumpy proprietor of the cheese shop in my neighborhood Neal's Yard cheeses are overpriced, but to me Appleby's is the best tasting. It is the cheddar of my dreams. I know you shouldn't keep hard cheeses in the refrigerator, but I've always found that when left out, they take on a kind of oily sheen that I don't find very appetizing. The cheshire, on the other hand, gets better and better the longer it is left out. Fresh from the fridge it has a kind of firm but creamy texture; when left out it takes on a delectable crumbliness that intensifies the flavor. A piece of cheshire on a starr ridge cracker is a meal for kings. The only problem with leaving it out is that it can become a meal for dogs. Biscuit has to date swiped four blocks of cheshire carelessly left within swiping distance on the counter. She always does such a complete job, leaving nary a crumb, that I often don't realize until a day later. The dog is not known for her refined palate, but she makes an extra effort for the cheshire.
Quark (when it's not a subatomic particle) is a byproduct of curds and whey that results in what some describe as "a German-style cream cheese," others describe as "a cross between yogurt and cottage cheese," and still others describe as "yummy." This Saturday we bought some lemon quark at the Spring Hill Jersey Farm. This can best be described as tasting like the filling of a lemon cheesecake. You can eat it with a spoon, spread it on toast, or just use your finger to scoop out delicious lemony creamy pleasantly tangy milk fats in a semi-solid state. My friend Reed recalls that in Holland, they sell quark in something like yogurt-containers, and that there it is mostly like pudding. I like it best spread on toast and drizzled with some 420 Honey.
If i could only give one piece of advice in regard to camping cheese, it would be this: avoid cheddar. the worst is the cheap, generic cheddar, which turns to moist, crumbly shag carpeting after about 18 hours. when i was camping in washington this summer, i brought a pound of fancy wisconsin three-year cheddar because i thought it would be dry enough to withstand three or four days of hiking. wrong! the cheese experienced a major malfunction sometime during the morning of day 2, and i miserably choked and gagged on it for the next week. the best camping cheeses are the parmesans and dry goudas. why didn't i bring them? who knows? it maybe had something to do with the fact that i was wickedly hungover when i was shopping. there are some within the backpacking community who believe that the cheese argument has been moot since the creation of individually wrapped mozzerella sticks. i would like to point out that (a) i can't find any documentation proving that those sticks are actually cheese and not some partially hydrogenated facsimilie, and (b) they have this nasty, flaccid, rubbery quality that is un-food-like and frankly repulsive. as far as the best camping cheeses: argentine parmesan is cheap and not too crumbly like its sister the reggiano. old amsterdam is clearly packed with the sweet sweet sodium that i crave on the trail. any of the asiago family are reasonable; i'm 'bout em, even if they're not as tangy or tasty as the others. remember, avoid cheddar. avoid it!
Flor di capra is an organic, aged goat cheese from Italy. I bought it at the Rainbow the other week in part because I had some Capricious (organic, aged goat cheese from California) at home and wanted to compare how they taste. Leslie participated in a similar tasting last week at Buffy. Flor di Capra is very tasty, but it smells and tastes amazingly like grass. It literally taste how lying in a field of grass smells. And at the rind it tastes like dirt, the way grass at the root tastes of dirt. And the Capricious, as noted here elsewhere, tastes like salty sea air. This made me think a lot about the concept of terroir, and how I wish there was a word for this in English, both because saying something in French always makes it sound pretentious and stuck-up, as opposed to a sound and true principle, and also because the fact that there's no word for it in English points to the fact that we don't think it's important. And it is. Isn't it a piece of basic common sense that things taste like where they are grown, or made? If goats live by the ocean and eat grass that grows in salt air, and then their milk is made into a cheese that is then aged in a cave by that ocean, doesn't it make sense that it tastes like the salty sea in a creamy milk-based form?
Now, I know that this is a forum for talking about cheese, but I want to take a minute and talk about cheese's great friend, bacon. Bacon's role in the downfall of many a vegetarian regime has been well-documented elsewhere, and that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the recent article in Food and Wine about Captain Bacon, which features a tour of artisan smokehouses with the man who owns the Grateful Palate, which features more than one kind of Bacon of the Month Club. Instead of having a book club, why don't we have our own Bacon of the Month club, where we eat bacon and discuss its subtleties of flavor?