December 2, 2008

Dining solo

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Let's face it: it sucks to have to eat alone in a restaurant. For years I have chosen to have either something really down-market or simply getting room service in my hotel room. Both are forms of torture for people who see themselves as foodies.

I'm flying solo for a few days in San Francisco. While I don't mind grabbing something simple like an In/Out Burger for lunch, dinners are completely different. Trying to find somewhere decent to eat alone (and not feel like Steve Martin in The Lonely Guy) is not easy.

Tonight I spent a good amount of time walking around Union Square, circling it a couple of times trying to find somewhere to go. I debated about going into Farallon, since I have passed by numerous times on previous visits. But nothing really struck me.

Finally I found myself in front of Kuleto's, Pat Kuleto's original restaurant. A quick look at the menu outside and I walked through the doors, requested "table for one" and found myself seated at the bar counter right in front of the open kitchen.

Sitting in front of this open kitchen was quite an experience. I immediately felt the heat coming from the open grills as well as the deep-fryer and open flames. It was also an opportunity to watch the head chef dispatch orders to all the line cooks, and see how the real cooking is done. And yes, the line cooks were all of Hispanic descent as Anthony Boudain would tell you in Kitchen Confidential.

I started with a glass of 2007 Cambíata Monterey County Albariño, as I wanted something that wasn't a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. The rather full glass delivered pleasant results - nose of tropical fruit, a hint of oak and minerals (even though the wine sees no oak). The wine was a bit flat (hence easy drinking) mid-palate, but it had a nice long finish...especially in the back of my throat!

I started with coppa di testa - head cheese again! This time there was a healthy chunk of it on my plate, along with some nice greens drenched in lots of olive oil and crispy melba toast. Yummy.

What followed was risotto allo zafferano, with gulf shrimps and day boat sea scallops. I complimented Chef Eric on the dish, and he promptly gave credit to his line cook Alex. The risotto wasn't as al dente as hardcore Italians would have it, but nevertheless I thought it achieved a fine balance and very much to my liking. The seafood was fresh and sweet, although curiously I always ended up with a grain or two of very fine sand (or something else hard) with my scallops. The saffron, basil and garlic combined to create something truly flavorful, and I lapped up the dish in no time. One side effect though - this was a bit heavy on the salt and I found my throat a little parched as I left the restaurant.

Perhaps it was because I was dining alone at the bar. Or because I was a little Asian furiously typing away on his Blackberry. But the staff was incredibly friendly and came by from time to time to make small talk. The captain had accidentally input the wrong order for my main course, and apologized several times for his error. I came out of the restaurant not only satiated, but felt convinced that I would return at a later date.

1 comment:

S said...

Yes, dining solo is not fun.

But since you're around the Union Square area, check out Canteen on Sutter St. It's a tiny little spot that probably seats no more than 25 at any one time. Weekend brunch there is divine, but I've read good reviews about dinner as well.


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