Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hop to it! The Sweetwater Brewery awaits!

Welcome to Sweetwater Brewery
It is no secret that while I have disdained all alcoholic libations during my investigative career while domiciled at 221-B Baker St., London, preferring a nice cup of ....well never mind that, I HAVE begun to enjoy a sip or three of certain intoxicants in my retirement here in the States. The cases I have been involved in since arriving in the US have had me involved in all manner of spirits....all in the name of investigation of course! 

From fine and smoky Scotches, distinct Artisinal Whiskeys, and Bluegrass Bourbon's of Kentucky, to more festive traipses towards the clearer spirits of Vodka, Rum, and my own predisposition with the Gins of Devon, England. (Gin itself also piques a particular garboil of mine for any elixir derived from a poisonous berry - juniper in this case, is one that certainly commands respect and stirs the soul!)

There is also an adopted penchant towards the wide variety of Blue Agave Tequila's sometimes located within my brim, but the overwhelming favorite libation in my bailiwick remains to be that intoxicating Mesopotamian Mead.......Beer.

Beer, taken from the Latin 'bibere' or 'to drink', is commonly referred to as the third most popular beverage in the world behind water and tea yet I would certainly challenge that statistic during any World Cup Championship weekend! The earliest recorded versions (10,000 BC) moved from the Sumerian region of what is now Iran and Iraq and on into Europe traveling via English and Celtic tribes before ultimately finding their way to the America's with the founding of this fine republic mid-century. It was thought that beer was first 'discovered' with the fermentation of grains set aside to make bread but common wisdom also acknowledges the inherent desire to sit and do nothing once imbibed which begat the yeasty chicken and egg debate: Was it early 'laziness' in the making of bread that caused the sitting (wet) grains to ferment or once fermented (and tasted) laziness itself was invented as well! Regardless of the genesis of either, they have become intertwined for all of history since!

A Kayak trip down nearby Sweetwater Creek became the genesis for the name
Once this fine craft was brought to North America, rumored to have been on the Christopher Columbus vessel 'Le Pinta' (from where we get 'The Pint'), the continued experimentation of Eastern European recipes and stout English brews proliferated in the US on and well into the mid 20th century. It was thus that centuries later, in the mid-1900's, we found there to be roughly 45 breweries in the U.S. at that time, most regional in nature yet three of them, Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing, and Schlitz, representing 60% of all sales stateside.

Four deep at the bar for their Taste Testers
Of course, alongside these three behemoths of brewing sat smaller domestic brewers like Ballantine, Schmidts, Strohs, Genesee, Utica, Blatz, Ranier, Olympia, Coors, Pabst, Heileman's, Rolling Rock, Carling, Yuengling, Tivoli, and hundreds and hundreds of others. It was the natural progression of this liquid pastime that watching sports and drinking beer also achieved it's rightful nexus. One can easily reference the onset of 'the beer jingle' with samples such as the 'Official Beer of the New York Yankee's' (at the time - Shaeffer) ...Schaeffer/ is the/ one beer to have when you're/ having more than one, and their crosstown rivals the New York Mets (not to be outdone) with their pretzel twisting Rheingold (.....my beer is Rheingold the dry beer...) For added reference, Don Draper was not involved in either of these ditties.


However, with such sports team associations and the ribald accompanying increase in television and advertising exposure, the dynamic of 'The big get bigger and the small get smaller,' eventually saw the demise of many of the regional brewers thereby leaving in its wake mostly mass produced brews and bromides - with European origins for certain but also with their heavy marketing towards lighter lagers and pilsners. This was Darwinian brewmaster capitalism at it's very finest.....

Breathing room is found upstairs vs. downstairs
Thus we found in the late '70's and early '80's (the 1970's and 1980's that is.......) we were left with very little in the way of true variety save for perhaps that from Guinness Brewing of Ireland, a pint of which is in itself an acquired tho lifelong taste. To a beer aficionado however, it became apparent that if you wanted a brew with more specific and distinctive tastes and flavors you had to take matters into your own hands (or paddle up Schlitz Creek as it was oft opined at the time.)

Yet Anchor Brewing Company, brew-meisters in San Francisco with origins dating back to the Gold Rush of 1849, after bouts involving the San Francisco Eartquake in 1906, Prohibition from 1920-1933, and near-bankruptcy in 1965, began a mini-resurgence in the yet uncoined and nascent 'Craft Brewing' Industry. Bottling their Anchor Steam in 1971, Anchor Brewing almost single handedly began a slow but sure resurgence in this fine art and the resulting growth experienced from the ten craft brewers still in business in 1980 (Anchor Brewing, Albion,  Sierra Nevada, River City, Placer, and DeBakker, all in California, Boulder Beer in Colorado, Prinz Brau of Alaska, and Cartwright Brewing of Oregon), soon ballooned to the over 2400 brewers today - including one hugely popular Atlanta, Georgia delight: The Sweetwater Brewing Company.


Now, it is not my intent here to unearth and aerate within this particular investigative diatribe (the above historical perspective notwithstanding) the very beginnings of Sweetwater Brewing itself.....be it their Boulder, Colorado connections or their subsequent San Francisco sojourns. No, I shall leave that to beer archivists or the brewers themselves and their own website for it is a fine story told exceptionally well. 

No, the analysis herein will simply be a look at what has become a near ritual for lucky Atlantan's every week - as well as for Watson and myself one lucky Friday afternoon - The Sweetwater Brewery Tasting Tours!

The first challenge in this case is GETTING to the Sweetwater Brewery location, a task unto itself as our guide Prince Michael himself (perhaps not as well versed in the backcountry passages of Hot 'Lanta as he had let on), took one turn too early from Monroe to Ottley south of the highway and we found ourselves on Interstate 85 for a mile or so before having the joyous yet thirsty opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the immediate area and try again.

Upon arrival the parking situation also appeared a bit adventurous as we were situated on what appeared to be a service road or side road one block from the brewery and thus parked along this side road and gallivanted thru what appeared to be the lot for another business (beer drinkers themselves we would surely hope!) [Aside: a 'Service Road', as one might call it, is referred to by many different colloquiallisms and I might invite you to to take this 25 question dialect quiz which will not only introduce you to such regional phrases but will also likely (and confoundedly) pinpoint your own speech patterns to within a few miles of it's derivation. A truly astounding bit of sleuth work indeed and with a trained ear proves quite useful in our own casework!)

Positing ourselves on the fairly long and vibrant patron queue already in place, three to four deep mind you, had us slowly but assuredly advancing the 60-70 meters to find there were actually two queues at the front: CASH and CREDIT. Lucky for us that my vast experience always has me laden with bills of all denominations for just such episodes. Tip of the day - Bring the $10 cash fee and vault forward on the cash queue for the credit card queue was demonstrably 10x longer.

The Downstairs bar is quite a bit more popular
But OH what one receives for this $10! This is not simply the two free cup dispensary of (say) a Busch Gardens (with it's perfectly fine light pilsners and such) NO! The proffered $10 gains one six Willy Wonka-like 'red tickets' which avails you the opportunity to 'test' six of Sweetwater's finest.

With entry gained and the long upstairs bar and resident keep before us, your first choice is poured into nicely coifed Sweetwater pint glasses which you are free to take home as well. Fret not a wit when your pint is not filled fully for these are 'taste testers' and are only near-filled 2/3rds or so of the way to the glass rim. Ones initial disappointment at this test-level fullness and not getting (music queued here) 6 FULL PINTS of beer for $10, and a FREE Sweetwater Pint Glass, PLUS a tour of the premises AND Free Music from a live house band no less is oh-so-quickly dissipated when your first quaffs are taken.

Whiskey Kegs are used for One-Off Seasonal Brews and special runs
On this day we delightfully had 6 brews to choose from, these being: Sweetwater Georgia Brown - Smoother than a Bill Clinton Apology they say; 420 Extra Pale Ale - their most popular brew; Sweetwater Blue - with a slight blueberry lilt; Sweetwater IPA - a classic; Low-RYE-der IPA - a RYE based brew; and Road Trip- one of their 'Catch and Release' Seasonal Brews.

With the plan to 'taste-test' all six brews in their entirety, we began with their best-selling and multiple award winning Sweetwater 420, an Extra Pale Ale with an inherent crispness that lets you know immediately what you are in for with all of their resident choices. 

Upon a first taste the deliciousness was evident and the freshness palpable. However, despite that initial delight I also quickly learned that this Extra Pale Ale had an immediate effect on my faculties and seemingly vacuumed liters and liters of oxygen from my heat-oppressed brain thus rapidly causing a loss of my usually reliable logic inducing skills. 
Part of The Dank Tank Series

Reasoning that this particular bebiere might be the sole culprit I moved to a 'lighter' brew and chose the Sweetwater Blue, which gave me a welcomed yet brief respite while I re-oxygenated my brain cells. By the time I'd moved to the third taster I had deduced that 6 tickets might be too MANY tickets to hand out. Peering at Watson my hunch was confirmed as I was handed a fistful of the Dr's. unused tickets as well.

"Mr. Holmes, I seem to have reached my limit I'm afraid....", my friend exclaimed,  notwithstanding that the Doctors' pint was only half filled - and still from the first pour.

Glancing askew at Prince William and Lord Stanton, fine young emissaries of brew and the promulgators of today's festivities (along with the beauteous accompaniment of Lady Elizabeth and Lady Jessica) I was chagrined to find that no such ailment had befallen these young and vibrant souls, in fact they looked longingly at the unused tickets within my grasp.

Still unconvinced that my years and years of loving this luscious liquid would fail me at such a critical juncture, I returned to my friendly barkeep and tactfully demanded (pleaded) for something I could drink....uhm, responsibly, where I was lead to the 'Catch and Release' Seasonal Brew called 'Road Trip' with it's ale-like recipe. Yet this too I found to contain an altogether un-Holmesian level of hoppiness, a flavor that in many others might rightly bring happiness and frivolity but in me brings only ruin. With a strong reliance on Cascadian hops I found that my voluminous drinking history was easily cut short.



Kismet chanced upon me with the announcement of the last brewery tour downstairs which allowed me to make a graceful exit and occupy my focus with the inner workings of this fine enterprise! However imagine my surprise when our first exposure on this tour was to a seemingly deranged, sex-addled, bound and leather clad figure strapped to the brewers tower.......only to find this to be the inspiration for one of Sweetwater's Dank Tank Series, brews from the darkest parts of the brewMaster's soul (with seemingly no connection to a 'Chamber' of any sort either.)

All in all the entire operation was a fascinating expose of what started from the desire of a couple of University of Colorado roommates to their product now being available in markets all throughout the Southeast U.S. as well as on all flights of fellow Atlanta Plc Delta Airlines.
A Healthy Plethora at a local Publix Supermarket

The Tours themselves, 5:30-7:30 Wed-Fri and 2:30-4:30 Sat-Sun, top out at 1000 people which is a level sometimes attained very quickly, especially on a Friday afternoon like the one we had participated in. 

And as a final aside, the Sweetwater Gift Shoppe certainly has great schwag (their own term mind you) and my chapeau is duly tipped towards the vibrant and colorful designs of all the brewer's garb made available but the wares viewed this day were not fully stocked ..... or had been thoroughly and previously picked clean while I was  still regaining my investigative faculties upstairs. What was also apparent within said Shoppe was that the growing beer belly of America had caused a dirth of XL sizes on shelves everywhere while S and M (not to be confused with the Dank Tank S&M) remained in plentiful quantities. This likely a testament to the quantities of brew enjoyed by all.....as long as their wits are kept about them (and their Pale Ale levels held in check!)



Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pelagia Trattoria's Golden Spoon Award is well deserved!

Pelagia Trattoria on Urbanspoon
 Upon domiciling in Florida after an exceptionally long career of investigation and other capering in boggy London, Watson and I chanced upon a publication early on in our retirement geared towards those with an interest in all things 'Business' in this Sunshine State: Florida Trend Magazine.

As a monthly general business publication it ingratiates itself to the many who have come to rely on it's unique specificity into doing business in this disparate territory. Yet it was not the discussions of the citrus or sugar industry, tariffs or cruise ships, politics (hanging chads), exports (perhaps TO Chad), Who's Who, (or Who is Not) and the like that caught our keen eye, No! It was the yearly commitment to the innumerable and tireless perfectionists known as 'The Restauranteurs', that brethren either breaking new ground at the table or astounding year after year throughout this state as they hone their craft and offer up these gastronomic jewels for those lucky enough to partake. 

These Scrolls of Mastication started initially some 40 years ago and graciously catered most to the  traveling executives and ambassadors of Florida business, its focus on providing these Captains of Capital and Policy with a reliable source of professional comfort and consistency. With our own arrival stateside in the early '90's (1890 or 1990....my recall quite spotty at times) the tome sported a mere 100 Restaurants throughout the state. Yet with continued population growth, attributed to the many seeking those most sought after life qualities as forever sunshine (some 300 days per year), forever beaches (the longest coastline of any state in this union it would appear) as well as the remarkable absence of a state income tax, it became apparent that the corresponding growth of exquisite dining made it nearly impossible to fill out ONLY a Top 100 List.

Additionally, the devotion to excellence by so many of these enclaves in the Florida peninsula thusly dictated that the list expand to the Top 200 Restaurants (broken down by region of course - Florida being almost 7-8 different 'states' within itself..or at least states of mind), an added new category named 'Best NEW Restaurants', and saw the origination of the "Hall of Fame Awards", reserved for those recipients who have won their coveted Spoons 'many, many times' (a nebulous description but whose number appears to hover near 10......years that is, or more!)

Thusly, while Watson and I traverse the asphalt corridors in this region (or float gently thru it's skies), the 'Golden Spoon Award Winners' listing is kept in close proximity for whenever an opportunity posits to sit and study or ponder a case this list rightly proves indispensable AND shows the worthy provenance of the Golden Spoon recipients. 

And so it was that year after year these Golden Spoon Winners delivered unto us experience and extravagance extraordinaire (as was expected) and, very often, delivered much more than anticipated.
Delicious Sourdough and Kalamata Pate

And with above homage paid to 'The Golden Spoons', all justly deserved, Tampa's 2011-2014 Award Winning Pelagia Trattoria exhibits all the qualities worthy of such a list while being regrettably hidden on the lee side of Tampa's International Mall Food 'Pavillion'; that area on the west side with a plethora of ubiquitous branded offerings that while quite acceptable and even delicious at times, does not rise to the level of excellence exhibited by this Mediterranean find.

Located just inside Marriott's Renaissance Hotel (with a separate entrance as well) and almost appropriately adjacent to Neiman Marcus ('A chenille wrap m'lady?'), Watson and I squired ourselves into a window side table on a very early Saturday night with nary a soul in sight. We were both thankful for our luck as no wait was to be had and a bit forlorn at the lack of said activity for this surely was a treat sitting in plain sight!


Relishing the nearly isolated focus of our ebullient server, one Miss Katherine I noted, our libations were quickly proffered and with a glance at the 'Signature Bites' portion of the menu...the 'Charred Octopus with Chorizo Oil, Arugula, and Grapefruit' was also summoned - my desire to compare the Pelagia Octopus to those of Dodecanese Blvd. fame in Tarpon Springs, FL. - an cephalopod heaven if ever there was one!

The dance of flavors was admirable on this dish, the tart grapefruit and the slightly spicy chorizo oil offering quite the balance to the surprisingly meaty octopus...and despite Watson's hearty early  commitment to sampling the dish I swiftly assumed all manner of its completion - I do admit to a predisposition to any heartily grilled and marinated octopod tentacles of the Mediterranean or Greek variety.



Pelagia Trattoria, surely espousing the beliefs of gastronomic free-will and the consumptive self-determination of the misunderstood yet highly interpretive ascetic Pelagius, has a tight menu with enough of just about everything such that no one would ever walk away without feeling there was a choice made specifically with their delight in mind. And while on a normal occasion I might venture into the 'Signature Dish' category for the verbalized melange on this occasion was nearly intoxicating.... today was a day for their house made pasta.

It must be noted that once you grow accustomed to properly made fresh pasta any other kind becomes nearly inedible....or at least insufferable, and the wide variety of deliciously fresh and sumptuous pasta at Pelagia is enough nearly in itself to prompt many return visits...which we plan on doing from this date forward.

However, it is what is done with these homemade delights that sets Pelagia apart and surely earns it their place amongst the 'Golden Spoon' chosen.

To wit, a Blue Fin Tuna Pappardelle, Potato Gnocchi with Braised Short Ribs and House Made Ricotta, Cavatelli in Porcini and Black Truffle Cream Sauce. Very heady stuff these with only the prior Grilled Octopus satiation holding back a multiple entree order.
Squid Ink Linguini with Sea Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab ($26)

But it was the Lobster Fra-Diavolo with Saffron Tagliatelle and the Squid Ink Linguini with Seared Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab that commanded our attention (as well as the spelling of Diavolo as Diablo on the menu.....adding credence to it's 'Spicy' sauce and not to any misspelling, that's for certain!)

    

  


Lobster Fra-Diavolo with Saffron Tagliatelle ($26)

These two dishes were as close to perfectly done as one can imagine with Sea Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab found in plentitude along with the Ink Squid Linguini such that it neared becoming one of the finest pasta dishes eaten by my trusty partner. 

The Lobster Fra-Diavolo, with chunk lobster, spicy saffron tagliatelle, and cherry tomato sauce was simply mouth wateringly delicious and had me perfectly ensconced in comfort - full but not incommodious, and yet still yearning for more!

And more there was.......

Perhaps apropos for this city built on the fortunes of the Cuban cigar industry many eons ago, a coffee and cigar with delectable and heartwarmingly good cappuccino's were next on the agenda. Tho by 'Coffee and Cigar' Pelagia had us elated again for laid upon our cloth was a Bailey's Mousse in a chocolate tuile laid upon an espresso panna cotta produced a euphoric ending to a splendid evening.... and upon our retreat it was noted that many more were discovering Pelagia's charms.......well deserved and earned, that is for certain!





Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Case of the Wistful Assemblage: Wisteria of Atlanta

Wisteria on Urbanspoon
An ever increasing investigative caseload due to our consistently high level of granular specificity has Watson and I gourmandizing the Atlanta restaurant scene more often than in all the years past combined.  Our miscible observations to date are that 'Hot'Lanta' has as robust a gastronomic enterprise as any we have ever enjoyed anywhere with no shortage of fine banquet halls, excellent gastropubs, sterling bistros and cafes, exceptional steak and chophouses along with a very healthy plethora of those individually unique locations that hew closely to the locally grown and sourced integrants with their disparate eclectic dishes all served up in spectacular fashion.

Let it be here pronounced that Atlanta's Wisteria is just such a place!

Found in the curvilinear Inman Park area just east of downtown Atlanta, this evenings case again involved our amenable neo-Georgian's Prince M. William and Lady Elizabeth, our new confidants in this region with both now involved in the higher echelonic machinations of Emory University. And it is primarily due to their recent relocation here that we have quickly been drawn into over two dozen highly intriguing candidates for our espiance...and much to our delight I might add!

With its lush and rolling geography the Inman Park area was originally envisioned as an oasis for city-dwellers by landscape designer and city planner Joel Hurt in late 1880's, a time when Watson and I were working on our own thriving investigative practice at 221B Baker Street, London.  Named for his business associate and compatriot Samuel Inman, these twisty roads were designed to yield visitors a relaxed view of the expansive greenery and (after many changes in the last 100 years both economic and gastronomic) the region is again experiencing a vibrant resurgence with a very healthy quantity of top class eateries festooned throughout the region.


A Wonderful Mix of Old and New

While parking can be a tad vexing in the fairly tight Highland Corridor, the harried visitor (or soon-to-be satiated patron) can surely come up trumps with the free valet lot next to Wisteria. The tight streets belie the fact that the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, in the wide open and expansive Freedom Park greenway, is just some 1000 meters (yet an entire world) away to the west. 

Wisteria is housed in the end unit of a single story row of shoppes with brickwork more than 100 years old and the architectural use of said brick inside parlays this decor to its sure advantage. The pub wall is aptly backed by an expanse of this original brickwork .... and as justly, throughout the enclave one finds the contemporary touches of local artists adorning the walls as well. This clean, neat, sometimes classical interior proffers the proper mix of old world southern charms with a modern interpretation of style and grace and only begins to prepare you for the taste melange that awaits your palate.
Cornmeal Fried Calimari with sweet and sour
apricot sauce and wasabi creme fraiche (9)


Intriguingly, the menu is not just the beguiling twist put on southern staples like 'Shrimp and Grits' that begins to alter the provisional balance here in the New South, although that too is especially good here. No, it's more that 'Contemporary American Fare' is deftly served with a uniquely updated Southern flair and that these offerings from Chef-Owner Jason Hill are quantifiably on par with the finest available anywhere. To our great benefit!

Now, with every good dasher sporting a healthy and eclectic mix of slakes and libations these days, Wisteria is well represented herein as well for the Breckenridge Bourbon Old Fashioned I thusly summoned was among the best I have ever sampled and, with a semi-coherent belief that it MIGHT have been a mere distilled fluke, I had to have another for veracity!


A Most Delicious
Breckenridge Bourbon
Old Fashioned
Properly wetted, and to aid in our primary entree decision making, the Prince suggested we draw on an order of Fried Calamari appropriately dredged in cornmeal from the local Red Mule Mills (where said cornmeal is in fact ground locally by 'Luke', the eponymous 15 year old Red Mule himself). Served with a Sweet and Sour Apricot Sauce and a Wasabi Creme Fraiche, this delivery skillfully gives one the Southern Twist initially sought out while also delivering a delicious starter for our small cluster.

It was almost too much for us to order only one 'taster' as there were a number of others that looked especially appetizing: the Ancho Chili Rubbed Sea Scallop, Flash Fried Gulf Oysters in a Sherry Cream Sauce, the Beef Carpaccio along with a tantaric Salmon Tartare Flatbread. However, Watson is not much for these early invitationals and a grumbling belly soon pushed us to quickly know our onions.



Pan Fried North Carolina Flounder (27)
What initially appeared as a limited list of 12 main plates soon showed itself (upon finer inspection) as a very well balanced assortment of dishes with all bases seemingly covered: Six were water related in some way, two beef involved, one pasta friendly, one of fowl, one of foal (lamb), and one completely vegetarian... it was a poetic balance.

Almond Crusted Georgia Mountain Trout (21)
On this night it was the Pan Fried North Carolina Flounder ($27) with herb spaetzle, baby spinach, pink lady apples, and lemon butter pan sauce that caught the eye of both Watson and the Prince while Lady Elizabeth opted for the delightful Black Pepper Crusted Grilled Salmon ($26) with little gems lettuce, Asian pear, farm egg, curried candied pistachios, and filled creme mousse. The descriptions alone were more than our senses were prepared for but their gift was in the water generating aromas given at delivery. 
Sweet Potato Souffle with Candied Pecans (6)

As a self-avowed trout aficionado I chose the Almond Crusted Georgia Mountain Trout ($21) with green beans, corn, roasted tomatoes, fingerling and red potatoes, and bacon vinaigrette. It wasn't perhaps the most picturesque delivery but the succulence was palpable. And it should be noted that trout can be served in many ways yet this was a heretofore unique amalgam.


Braised Greens Mac N' Cheese (8)
Relying on our exemplary waitperson Rob(ert) to deliver us an additional two accompaniments to complement the orders received thus far - he did not disappoint. A simply scrumptious Sweet Potato Mash with Candied Pecans($6), which we certainly would not have ordered but were instantly astounded at with its nuanced pleasure, and the Braised Greens Mac n' Cheese ($8) which has now attained a perch in our collective side-dish hierarchy of Best Ever! Simply superb!




It should also be noted that a seemingly small matter to some but huge in our investigations is the presence of teamwork in any enterprise, where all are clearly rowing in the same direction to further the efforts of the whole. At Wisteria it was the subtle drink delivery by a previously unseen steward, a quiet whisking of plates by another that showed us ethereal web intricately woven beneath the surface aiding the entire operation. A well run endeavor indeed and certainly not one glossed over.

And once dining plates do disappear the timing of the desert introduction is also another sign of measured expertise; not rushed or dallied yet smoothly enveloped in like that far-off oboe singing during an intricate classical symphony. Heavier meals in other locales might call for a digestif along with a final plate yet the light fullness of these meals suggested something perhaps with a bit of frippery.

The Small Bites Desserts, which offered three of the eight full dessert parcels in more moderation (3/$10 or 6/$18), is the perfect communal table piece allowing social participation yet discreet restraint at gluttony.

Our chosen delightful trio consisted of the hand crafted Caramel and Sea Salt S'more, Chef Walker's Seasonal Granita - this one of Pink Grapefruit and Fresh Ginger(!), and Jakes Homemade Ice Cream - tonite a Mexican Chocolate-Salted Bourbon Pecan-Vanilla Bean melange that was cool, soothing, and yet had a bite to it that rightly startled!

Overall Wisteria sports one of the largest gluten-free menu's in the area, hosts a large array of locally ground and sourced raw ingredients, and is  constantly changing based on the availability of these fresh ingredients so that the listed menu rotation will be ongoing yet the excellence with which it is served will certainly be everlasting if our experience is any harbinger.

The unique nature of the evening was brought to a pointed when upon retrieving our coach outside we saw what appeared to be a Sunbeam Tiger, a 1964-67 production aided by Carroll Shelby who also designed and developed the quintessential AC-Cobra, an automotive gauntlet whose throttling reverberations are documented in auto auctions worldwide. This 'Tiger', witnessed for the first time, was unlike anything we'd seen ever before - just as Wisteria was a find like no other!


A Sunbeam Tiger

Sunday, March 23, 2014

State Bird Provisions - San Francisco, Ca.

State Bird Provisions on UrbanspoonAs we closed what had been quite an eventful year of cases with well over 120 fine establishments investigated in 2013 (with only a small handful of those opined on thus far here on these pages) I can attest that we have seen both the heights and the depths of the hospitality trade and have done so in locales all across these fine United States.

To be frank, many of our visits involved high levels of anticipation and (for the most part - per Newton's First Law) that anticipation has been met in equal force by the delivery of exemplary service, exquisite taste, welcoming comfort, and festive ambiance…not to mention the ubiquitous yet altogether necessary (and desperately appreciated) containment of costs in the end.
Quickly designed orders laid in wait -
before a street side window no less!


Rare has it been, thus far, where Watson and I have been utterly disappointed by any visit for it is my predilection to always try to see the good in most culinary efforts and to acknowledge the difficulty in assembling the many harmonious pieces needed to conduct a stellar epicurean operation. Not easy machinations these!

I say, show me the tremendous effort required and attention to detail to the last and I will  envision the Herculean struggle rendered and call it out forthwith - and will do so in spades!

When confronted periodically, however, with those merely mundane efforts, which may be quite satisfactory for that perfunctory outing (which we both attempt to avoid whenever possible-life is too short I say), as well as those visits ephemerally described as 'poor', reviews are simply squelched here altogether with a terse 'avoid' and we rightly move on - all the while continuing to maintain our generally good food disposition. 

[Tho let it not be said that we would  shirk our responsibilities in any way if an establishment represented a danger to those in the general populace with their offerings - a loquacious cease and desist would certainly be issued hence although I have only done so once!]
Hand Pulled Garlic Burratta - $8

Now rarest of all is that visit which immediately separates itself from all others, where the singular morsel placement into one's mouth transports that gifted recipient to a higher gastronomic plane of existence, where the ability to triangulate, cross-reference, and compare that experience is simply rendered moot as there IS no comparison to anything else ever auditioned…..it has simply not been done before and therefore no comparison exists! The flavors, the tastes, the simplicity of the dishes, the nuance, all working together - they quickly ameliorate a transcendental gap so large that it astonishes any participant at once to it's size.


Here make no mistake, State Bird Provisions is such a place.

It was way back in December of 2013, with a singular weeks' worth of travel taking me on grueling cases from Toronto, Rochester, Denver, and then finally San Francisco before a final stop in Sonoma, CA (on an undercover assignment at Infineon Racetrack), I knew that I would need to rely on some well placed and trusted associates for help in order to attempt a successful San Francisco sojourn. 

Calling on an old friend, The Esteemed High Princess Abigail, formerly of the Harbor of Palm, and her most resilient and trusted partner The Honorable Lady Ferris, the gambit at first appeared to be a simple one……... secure a reservation at State Bird Provisions two months in advance and allow us to reminisce with one another in glory and in peace. Given the time allotted, surely we would find our place. Oh, how foolish we were at first!

Initial attempts at securing reservations were for naught as the digital reply from the usual suspects of web reservations services was a terse: 
'There are no reservations available at this time'

which was immediately curious for the blatant fact of the matter was that we hadn't yet entered any dates or times at all! This was  tangentially very reminiscent of the late NY Mayor Ed Koch's street signs erected in NYC in yesteryear: 


'Don't even THINK of parking here!'

So imagine my surprise when day-of-visit reservations to State Bird Provisions were successfully secured by Lady Ferris tho only by physically arriving at the front door at 4 PM, 1 hour prior to opening, to secure one of the coveted and apparently clandestinely available 'open' tables on a first come first served basis. (And even at the 4:00 pm hour a line was already 30 minutes in the making.)

Lobster Salsa Salad $14
State Bird Provisions, SBP herewith, can be found at 1529 Fillmore St., and it seems only fitting then that this single most legendary dining experience of our professional purview would be in such close proximity to the legendary 'Fillmore West Music Hall' located not 50 meters away on the corner of Fillmore and Geary streets (a remnant of the great 'Fillmore West' of legend with such fantastical happenings as 'The Allman Brothers, Live at Fillmore West, as well as hundreds of shows produced by the musical legend Bill Graham whose historical musical effects can still be sorted, sifted, and ultimately purchased directly at www.wolfgangsvault.com.)

The Fillmore District (or the 'Western Addition' - that area 'West' of downtown San Francisco that was 'Added to' in the 1800's) is an area rife with history and ambiance and possesses an aura in local eutony of 'groovy feelings' - and is a spectacularly fine choice for the domicile of such an outstanding eclectic hashery.

SO it was that on a brisk and rainy Friday night I headed directly to  Fillmore and Geary from SFO where Her Highness, having already arrived, met me at the door and squired me to our table and the awaiting Lady Ferris. The throng of other prospective diners forlornly lining the foyer also caught my attention for they waited, standing with mouths agape, for the unheard of 'no-show' or the sudden availability of even a lone counter seat. 

Smoked Trout Creamed Beets, $7
Unlike some of my previous investigative reports, this one will not spend any time on the confines of the enclave itself - the layout and seating, the lighting, the wall decor, no none of that. For whatever benefits these areas bestow, and they were indeed intriguing, they are surely side shows to the grand festival that awaits you and for which you will need to keep your wits about you….the food experience itself!

With a nod towards my previous acknowledgement, remember that when comparing entire establishments and offerings it is sometimes only natural to take the benefactions of one and compare it's taste and execution to a similar minded serving from another, weighing the benefits and attributes of each and notching a mental vote on where one might stack up against another.

In a fine Italian restaurant for example, a fellow investigator I know from Scotland Yard has been known to compare the dessert of a well made tiramisu and render an entire opinion based on that single selection. Another constable uses Hungarian Goulash as a barometer on all Eastern European quarters….. and in each case what is thus attempted is the firm and verifiable establishment of a comparative baseline, a launching pad from which to offer a verdict.

Tastes that all arrived before our first order was delivered!
Yet it is this very attempt that makes SBP exemplary for it is unpretentiously beyond compare. There are no offerings in all my years that can be placed alongside those proffered here for balance and rendering. These dishes are seemingly concocted from the minds of a gastronomic Salvador Dali, one whose final product might conjure up the same fanciful and fantastic imaginings with equally outlandish and surrealistic taste results.

And as MOST of our adventures begin, yet particularly in this case, the call for adult beverages was immediately in order. My ordinarily robust thirst for mead was however quickly confronted with a mere triumvirate of draught beers! Three! With two of these choices being an Allagash Stout and a Port Brewing Wipeout IPA....both choices not ordinarily found in my bailiwick. So with an additional peripheral glance at the following verbiage on the menu: "All wines and beers are carefully chosen for their balance and versatility to accompany the ever-changing menu..." I threw myself into the final selection: The Linden Street, Urban People's Common Lager. Being more accustomed to the inner working minds and travails of the working man made this choice almost serendipitous.

Her Highness Abigail chose the clean and elegant Abbaye St. Hilaire, Le Prieur Rose which would surely allow for the enjoyment of the soon to ensue lengthy dialogue. Lady Ferris, perhaps maintaining her demure disposition opted for a Tascante Sparkling Wine with it's delightful and diminutive  effervescence.

Cucumber Tapioca with Red Trout Caviar-$??
The fairly small and  (initially!) limited menu is at first distracting with its 'Is this all there is?' wonderment. But no matter... it's pedigree allowed us to grant it the necessary space and we presumed to make do with what we have been given.

With our now properly sated thirst we thus turned our full attention to this folded, half page menu printed on a thick page of kraft-type papier which propounded only three small yet seemingly delectable categories and their brief observances (said observances listed here only for no descriptions are provided in print...)

Pancakes - those small starter dishes, either wrapped in or involving a dough of some kind, which can then be eaten by hand or cut and shared; 

Commandables - more substantial 'small' plates, with some served in both small and somewhat larger offerings, which I naively assumed were 'entrees' (the Common Lager beginning to work the magic of the Urban People no doubt) and then

Desserts - which I mistakenly examined only cursorily but upon closer review presented mixtures and textures described in a way that gave the appearance as to be from another solar system entirely!

With a seemingly thorough (and as it turns out naive) grasp of the menu and believing our orders of a Sourdough Pancake and an order of Pork Spare Ribs would allow for some mental breathing room and some much needed catchup time with my esteemed guests, it soon became apparent that this diminutive matrix of dishes falsely lulled us into a relaxed mental state for it was at this very moment that ALL of our faculties were most required!


Soon arriving table-side (completely unannounced mind you!) began a semi-frequent procession of hip, effusive, and attentive waitpersons introducing the much more difficult variable of special 'non-menu' dishes drummed up by the kitchen and brought dim sum style and sold then and there table side.

Pork Spare Ribs with shichimi togarashi
glazed in their own juices with sautéed kale and green onions - $10
It was in this way that a scrumptious looking Lobster Salsa Salad ($14) pronouncedly found it's way onto our table, followed fairly quickly by a bevy of Raw Oysters with Spicy Kohlrabi Kraut and Sesame ($3 ea), as well as an altogether unrecognizable dish of 'Smoked Trout Creamed Beets' ($7) long before our originally ordered Sourdough and Spare Ribs were anywhere near arriving. 

This, yes, THIS is where the challenge truly begins for with no printed guide to aid in our discovery, and a slowly relaxing memory due to both extensive travel and the welcome and steady intake of alcohol, the three of us were soon enraptured in the swirling tastes and aromas delivered.....and most happily so!

And it was with that first bite, that first delectable taste of the Lobster Salsa Salad, that a sudden bolt of lightning coursed thru the synapses of my culinary mind and upon turning to exclaim such an event to my beautiful guests I was confronted by the same mirror- like site in their eyes as if to say 'Am I truly tasting what I am tasting or am I just dreaming?'

These first few morsels, pulling us into another realm, were then deliciously savored over with a slowness that belied the extraordinary measure of frenzy taking place on the palate.

Charred Octopus w/ Tomato-Chickpea Salsa
and Pork Belly and Grape Salad w/ Mint Sprigs
The next dish to 'suddenly' arrive was taken as a lark, a bet on the come if you will based simply on the results of those first initial Lobster Salsa bites', imagining our conjoined mindset as "If the first dish was THIS astounding, what else do they have here and how quickly can we get it to this table"!

So irregardless that 'Cucumber Tapioca with Red Trout Caviar' was not precisely what one might have envisioned as an otherworldly second taste, there it was placed serenely before us awaiting our judgement.

But with one small yet beguiling tidbit it was as if the burning fuse to a gastronomic rocket had been lit. The visible orbs swirled, the mind melted, the taste buds began to dance and while maintaining one's sense the whole dish was quickly pushed across the table to my guests for corroboration of this heady indulgence...... with the resulting glances all but confirming that something indeed special was taking place - and one we would not soon forget!

Then finally(!) arriving table side (in under 10 minutes mind you) were our original two 'testing' choices. The 'burratta', as it was described upon delivery, was astounding in it's presentation as well as in its taste yet it was not listed on the menu as a 'burratta' but as 'Sourdough with sauerkraut, pecorino, and ricotta cheese with a light lemon drizzle and peppercorn'. So again, it is imperative to keep your faculties clear or definitively risk losing your way in this swirl of flavor!


Another surprise awaiting delivery
to the next unsuspecting guests!
And yet still the menagerie continued! Miss Abigail secured a delightfully diminutive Pork Belly and Grape Salad with Mint Sprigs that demonstrably soared in it's deliciousness,  with it's delivery accompanied by a crucible of Charred Octopus with a Tomato-Chickpea Salsa that, while not appealing to the palates of my delightful guests, was exceedingly well received by this investigator and deemed both scrumptious and worthy of a second helping!

The mirth of the evening was in high swing and our original pangs were pleasantly lessened with each subsequent and ultimately vanishing nibble and yet there was something viscerally amiss, something that had Lady Ferris nearly flummoxed into a twitter. 

What was it I wondered?

 After a careful study of the surroundings along with the nearly frantic twitching of The Lady it became apparent to me that the true desire of this nervous Nellie was the anticipation of the lusciously described desserts on the menu, for which she had apparently been pining for since she arrived at 4 PM!

Truth be told it was Princess Abigail, who no doubt had witnessed such a display before, who had tipped me off to the longing glances of her friend towards the sugary concoctions. Quickly looking to remedy this anxiety, we all agreed to 'share' our dessert choices (the Princess and myself already heady over the primary amalgamation of food sensations) leaving the choices to Lady Ferris - and she did not disappoint.

Soon bestowed to the table (and somewhat demurely ignored by myself and the Princess) Lady Ferris was soon in a swan song over a Bittersweet chocolate ganache tart with brown sugar-oat crust with olive oil and creme fraiche ($8), her glucosian pleasure evident by the joy on her face and slackening tension in her frame.



Perhaps it was the variety of tastes, the dizzying choices with even more bewildering deliveries, or perhaps the effervescence of reconnecting again with old friends after so much time. Whatever the cause, it was enough to keep a photo from being taken of the final dessert of spiced quince granita with ginger tapioca, grapes, and mint ($8), which, while regretful to not have captured such a delicacy was made an almost non-event by the visual explosion awaiting us in the parking garage.




This behemoth of a vehicle caused one to question whether the vertiginous aura felt was indeed factual or an image proceeding from an overwhelmed sense of satisfaction...... either way, there was no questioning the delight of both automotive and gastronomic for this was an event for the ages and one that should we look forward to again for the menu, as misleadingly small as it is, is updated thru the seasons and those items I've just described may already be semi-retired for newer more unbelievable tastings!

GO QUICKLY! This game is surely afoot and should be caught!