Friday, August 24, 2007

Baseball and Boulette's

A DAY AT THE BALL PARK, even if your team loses, is better than a day away from the park; only a day of tramping in the countryside can beat it; books are for rainy days. (So's blogging.) And so it was that we went, this week, to AT&T Park, as it's called this month, to see our beloved Cubs pick up two out of three from the cellar-lodging Giants.

Baseball and eating. I can think of no better way of spending a day than by strolling down to the Ferry Building to have a leisurely breakfast at Boulette's Larder, then stroll on further to the ball park to catch batting practice and the game, lunching on whatever you find—the food's really not at all bad. And then, after the game, which preferably your team has won (though that was alas not the case), to have a Martini, a hamburger, and a Caesar salad at Zuni.

What should we find at Boulette's yesterday but a reprint of a cartoon that appeared nearly twenty years ago, in 1989, after someone broke into our house (we lived then in Berkeley) and stole Lindsey's purse, which contained among other things her working recipe book.

But let me tell you about Boulette's. It's in the southwest corner of the Ferry Building, open to the east where it looks out on the Bay toward Yerba Buena Island. There are a few tables for two and four outside, and also in the hall of the Ferry Building outside the shop's own door; but the best place to sit, I think, is at the big table, perhaps five people at each side with plenty of room so that you don't at all mind eating with strangers.

I like this kind of communal table: it's more civilized than eating at a bar; gives a solitary diner company; and lets a couple entertain themselves with sly observations of the others, or by striking up a conversation that will likely never be continued.

And Boulette's kitchen, which is where you're eating, is light and airy, clean and visually interesting, full of detail and, of course, the busy staff at stoves and counters, fixing tea and coffee, baking, cooking eggs—all those things that are so fascinating to contemplate. Not to mention the scents, of course: a wonderful potpourri.

We just bought a copy of Patty Unterman's San Francisco Food Lover's Pocket Guide (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2007), a very convenient 200-page compilation of notices and reviews of bakeries, bars, butchers, delis, markets, cafés, cheese shops, confectoners, food stands, cookware and cookbook shops, wine shops, and of course restaurants in San Francisco and environs. A quick look confirms its usefulness: it's small enough to fit in purse or pocket (just over 5x7 and a half inch thick); and cross-indexed by location, expense, cuisine, features, and so on. Stick with its general index, though: Boulette's does not show up among restaurants, though that's what I think it is; instead it's listed as a delicatessen/takeout—which is what it also is.

I'll let you look at Boulette's website rather than try to reproduce the menu here. It's daunting to try to describe it in a few words: the menu—"list" is a better word, because so much is available to take home with you—is varied and thoughtful, ranging from confit to canalé—salads, main courses, desserts, jams and whatnot. Hell: let Patty describe it: I'm sure she won't mind my quoting
Using only organic ingredients, Amaryll Schwertner, one of the Bay Area's most original and principled cooks, and her crew prepare building blocks for fine, home-cooked meals. If you don't want to cook yourself, each day brings a new menu of take-home dinners, such as a crab pudding soufflé—or, you can eat there at one fantastic wooden communal table. The breakfast is divine.
What I had, in fact, was a French-press pot of Blue Bottle coffee and a bowl of barley with a poached egg and shiitake mushrooms; Lindsey had a plate of delicious toast with three jams (apricot, blackberry, fig); and we had an amazing soy-and-melon-and-melonseed beverage, a sort of smoothie.

And then we took home a box of cookies—beautifully boxed and wrapped; the cookies themselves covered with a sheet of fine paper; and the cookies absolutely perfect: variously crunchy, creamy, evanescently powdery, leading up to a couple of splendid salt-chocolate brownieish cookies as good as any I've tasted.

Oh. And the canalé? Lindsey knows these pastries, of course; Jean-Pierre always talked about them, two scant inches across and three high, crisp and dark on the outside, soft and creamy inside, a little like a popover, but really nothing but themselves. I suppose they're channelled—canalisé—or extruded, almost, from their baking molds. They're labor-intensive. I only know two places to get them, Ken's in Portland (Oregon) and Boulette's. But Portland doesn't have big-league baseball.

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