Underground dining with the Wild Kitchen, a set on Flickr.
Part of the fun is the clandestine nature of it all. Sign up for a meal, get the location ‘day of’ in an email. Show up at a non descript location, staged for a one night only meal for 60 people.
Seated at one long communal table, you’ll have eight courses, each with a locally and sustainably foraged key ingredient. Founder Iso Rabins describes the adventure behind gathering each one. You’ll have a deeper understanding of how we’re all connected to, and with, our surroundings, and you’ll meet some fellow foodies, too!
Overheard: “if the United States had lost the war and become a Soviet Block country, this is the kind of food we’d be eating in the diners.”
And it’s true. This is horrible stuff. It’s where food goes to die. (Twice.)
As the door to the kitchen swings open, one can see the rows of plus-sized generic-label cans of vegetables that supply the diner. The lone waitress for the whole dining room comes and goes from the kitchen with her arms full of plates of bad food moving one way, and dirty dishes with half-eaten food the other. Your wait for her attention is time best spent deciding whether or not you’ll stay a minute longer.
For my main, I ordered a hot turkey sandwich because, well, I used to like those growing up. The one presented to me here was a nightmare. The slices of deli turkey were dried out. There was a greenish tinge to some of the edges. The slices of white bread were a little stale, too. The gravy was bland with a sort of film on the top, covering the sandwich and the mashed potatoes in a gelatinous goo. They were instant mashed, but by now that was expected. Ok, you can’t really mess those up; I added salt and
butter margarine. And pepper. Yes, you certainly do have a choice of sides here, and all of them have shelf-lives in the dozens of years. Copper penny carrots, grey-ish kernels of corn, mushy green beans- you might remember any or all of these from the school lunch program with which you grew up. Yuck. There’s a memory I didn’t want.
The service was awful. Not that the waitress was mean. She wasn’t. The part of her psyche that could get angry, sad, or be pluckily ironic, or ironically plucky, was probably long dead. She was just. . . blank.
Some restaurants harken back to the past with sort of nod to nostalgia. Not this place. No whimsical memorobilia on the shelves here. There’s nothing joyous in this dusty place. It’s just that old, and hasn’t been renovated in that long. The furniture has aged. The vinyl booths have torn and discolored. Try not to touch that vinyl with any exposed skin. And, don’t buy the open-faced hot turkey sandwich.
Could this be my new favorite mexican food place? I mean, if you’re greeted in French, by a Frenchman, does it still qualify?? Duck confit tacos??? Really???
• • •
Yes. Yes. Yes. YES.
I cannot think of a better word to describe this experience than enchanting. Picture it, two gay guys, positively wrapped around the finger of our gorgeous french waitress who guided us through our meal. She spun a web around us with her cursed chile-lime parmesan dust, having sprinkled it on buttery grilled cobs of corn. I think we ate more because of her. Or maybe it was the Huitlacoche (have you tried it? it’s a blue fungus that grows on corn. Also known by the names, ‘corn smut‘ and ‘raven’s excrement‘, it’s fabulous!) that she put in the mushroom quesadillas. We did whatever she wanted us to do. Duck confit tacos. Witch! We were willingly enchanted though, smiling, laughing and purring through the whole thing. (Churros and chocolate!)
Leaving the restaurant left me a little turned-around though. Having interacted with a greeter, the owner and the waitress, I left saying an ‘au revoir‘, which the owner promptly returned, but then quickly switched, to an ‘adios’ (delivered in a french accent), which I quickly returned and then switched to a ‘see ya later‘. Oh, yes. They will!
Charming Enchanting cafe, small(ish) and sunny. Parisian in look and feel.
The food. Purr-inducing. Unmistakably Mexican with a presentation, technique and quality that impresses. While accent is french, this is unmistakably mexican fare.
The verdict. I can’t wait to go back.
(between 18th St & 19th St)
San Francisco, CA 94107
Neighborhood: Potrero Hill
Papito in the Press:
best restaurant series; venezuelan is the new salvadoran, and Mr. Pollo becomes my favorite spot in the Mission
I’m afraid this is another case in which I have to weigh sharing the good news about this fabulous restaurant, with the possibility that with every bit of press owner Chef Manny Torres Gimenez gets, it will be that much harder to get in. “Mr. Pollo” is not a big restaurant. No matter, it’s worth the wait for Manny’s food. Everything is made to order, just for you, mere steps from the kitchen. It’s like eating IN his kitchen and he’s going to treat you with that kind of respect.
A dish popular in Venezuela, Mr. Pollo is known in particular for the arepas, thick fluffy cornmeal ‘pancakes’ in which you’ll find melted cheese, pulled meats, veg and melted butter. On my first visit I had the good fortune to have a good friend who is Venezuelan as my dining companion. I can assure you, he was impressed. He loved it. We’re already planning a return visit.
The tasting menu caught our eye, too. Though we didn’t order it, next time I will. The menu changes daily, at the whim of the chef. Four dishes for $15. . . a steal! The table next to us ordered this and the parade of dishes they received was elegant and sculptural.
So go check out Mr. Pollo as soon as you can. Tell Manny MUS-e-YUM sent you but don’t go on the same day that I do, please!
I’m reminded of one of the big reasons I love food so much. It’s the catalyst for bringing friends and family together, and the stage upon which so many lovely memories are made. I believe one of the highest ways we can show one other our appreciation, and affection, is by feeding them. And, breaking bread is always a great reason for a party!
Last night my partner and I joined two dear friends for dinner. As always, it was a fun excuse to try out a new recipe, and this time it was lemon posset, as found on Food52.com, by mrslarkin! This dessert was very easy to make and quite delicious, at once intensely lemony, silky and sweet. I’d been (quite generously) gifted with a heaping bag of Meyer Lemons the day before so, G-d forbid those go to waste;-)
Lemon Posset (via Food52.com)