Monday, May 21, 2007

Meals On Wheels Gala 2007

** WARNING ** This is for all you FOODIE readers of my blog (all three of you) This is one of my extensive NOVEL like posts. Just a warning, feel free to just skim the post, or just scroll down and look at at all my FOOD PORN pics. Then go eat a sandwich. Because it'll probably make you hungry.

A couple of weekends ago, AJ and I attended our annual Black Tie fund raiser. The Meals on Wheels Star Chef's and Vintner's Gala happens every spring, and let me tell you, this year was just as fabulous as years past.

This year, however, was the 20th year anniversary, and the sixth year in a row that I have created signage for the event. I was determined to document the event with my new digital camera (the one that all my family chipped in to get me - the Leica D-Lux3) and that made me very happy. I could finally show the world (or at least all four loyal readers of this blog) the fantastic food that AJ and I gorged ourselves in.

AJ had gone cycling earlier in the day - a multi-tasking event, as he is in training for the AIDS Lifecycle (it's still not to late to help him out by donating!) as well as finishing up his semester. He biked down to work to photocopy his final, and then biked back. This worked out well for him, as he was able to both work up an appetite for the event, as well as feel guilt-free about all the food we were soon to eat.

It's also nice to be able to put on our tuxedos. I purchased my tuxedo for a black tie wedding years ago in New York (at Syms - oh how I wish we had a Syms here in San Francisco) and I love any excuse to put it on. AJ got his four years ago, for our first chance at going to the Meals on Wheels fundraiser, and I have to say, he looks quite dashing in his - the minute he put it on, well, let's just say I wanted to rip it off of him again (but I didn't as we were running late).

Regardless, the event was fantastic. The way the event is set up, you arrive for appetizers, created by 25 different chefs and restaurants in the bay area. Each chef has a booth where they serve the appetizers, and you can pretty much fill up on them by themselves. We made that mistake the first time we went to this event.

I actually do freelance work for the Meals on Wheels, creating the giant signage for the event. After a couple of years of work, I was invited to just the appetizer portion of the event. As AJ and I were walking out, the coordinator of the event pulled us aside and told us she had a couple of spare seats at the main course as well. We had already filled up so much that we could barely fit dinner in. We haven't made that mistake again.

The food start before you even register, with two booths outside the event - Globe & Zuppa's Chef Joseph Manzare serving Panini Bollito on a Panne Pugliese with Salsa Verde (roast beef sandwich with green salsa), and Town Hall's Chef Eric Markoff serving Smoked Andouille Sausage with onion marmalade and zatarans mustard. As we walked in, our hands full of food, we were handed glasses of champagne from Veuve Clicquot as well. I was too dazzled with the food to take photos of any of this.

After registering, the first booth we hit when we arrived around 5:30pm was Yoshi's - a Japanese sushi restaurant over in Berkeley. I've actually never been to Yoshi's but I've always wanted to. They have live jazz there, and quite a reputation for excellent Japanese food. The food description of the booth was a Chef's Omakase "Tsukiji Sashimi" - a variety of fresh sashimi from the Tokyo Fish Market. Imagine all you can eat fresh sashimi - with amazing sauces created to go with each - we nearly didn't leave. And, of course, they were serving delicious sake along with it (just brewed and distilled earlier that day).

We tried not to gorge ourselves too much - though AJ had hard time limiting himself to six pieces of red tuna. I kept it at two, because I knew that there was much food to be had. I over heard a woman talking about how she loves the sashimi, but she really wanted to save her stomach for other dishes, because she already knew what good sashimi tasted like - she wanted to see what else awaited her. With this in mind, I turned down seconds, and ventured forward (AJ either didn't hear her, or chose to ignore her wisdom and went back for seconds).

I quickly snagged two spoons with a mini Dungeness Crab Cake on safron aioli from One Market Restaurant. Totally delish. This was quickly followed by a savory puff pastry stuffed with an anchovy and crab salad (a Spanish tapas, the fancy name for the appetizer was Boquerones & Crab Salad Profiteroles). After that, it was a Shrimp Cupcake (deep fried rice cake filled with shrimp, green onion, and lime chili fish sauce) from Bong Su Restaurant and Lounge. If this is any example of their food, I am so going to dinner there - think Slanted Door but a little more greasy. In a good way.

Speaking of Slanted Door, they were conspiciously absent from the appetizer section of the event (though we later found them serving an adequate but not amazing opera cake during the dessert section later on). However there was plenty of other Asian restaurants serving up delish bites and morsels. Asia de Cuba was serving a Tuna Pica - think of really good fancied up Tuna Poki, while Pres A Vi - Global Cuisine was serving up Hamachi Tartare with small tobiko and micro shiso, New Zealand King Salmon - Tataki Style, and Cha Soba Noodles, but our favorite was the Balinese inspired food from Poleng Lounge who was serving Walu Kinilaw (don't ask what this is, we didn't taste it as we were distracted by...) and Balinese Lemongrass Satay Sampi (an incredibly tasty meat blend of beef, pork and balinese spice paste on a stick). AJ loves his meat on a stick. We later found out that Ponzu was there serving Seared Day Boat Scallops as was Chaya Brassiere serving Tuna Tartare three ways, but alas we missed both of them.

We did, however, find our way over to Eureka and Chenery Park where they were serving Confit Quail (AJ had two), Two who had a bacon and egg ravioli with sage brown butter, and Scott Howard which had a beef short rib, orzo macaroni and cheese, king trumpet mushrooms and a tomato relish. Oh and nearly forgot the steamed mussels in Fino Sherry by Terzo. I love me some steamed mussels.

It was pretty much all meat and fish. There were a few exceptions like Millenium who was serving up fine vegan cuisine with their roasted beet tartar on a crisp papadum (scrumptious, if you like beets, but AJ hates beets), Greens was there serving empanadas with yams (we actually couldn't find them so I can't report if they were good or not, though know Greens, they were yum), and Americano which was serving Warm Date and Manchego Cheese croquettes (these even AJ, a complete carnivore, enjoyed). Navio Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton - Half Moon Bay had an Asparagus Flan (vegetarian-ish if you picked off the lobster sitting on top of it) - which I avoided, as I had something similar last time and it was *ahem* not to my palate, and I think I saw a chilled spring pea soup from Lark Creek Inn (which looked vegetarian friendly, until you tasted the bacon in it).

Not everything was fantastically amazing though. Hipster restaurant NOPA showed up with a lamb riblet that looked amazing, but tasted rather greasy, mealy and gamey (not in a good way). The Cosmopolitan had a great idea with their foie gras corndog on sweet hot mustard, but alas it tasted a little more like corn dog than foie gras (it was pretty though). And AJ nearly gagged on the watermelon gazpacho (I didn't mind it) that accompanied the prawn and bacon BLT sandwich (the bread was like stale melba toast but the fresh Louisiana Prawn with Bacon, Lettuce and Heirloom tomato was decent, if uninspiring) served by Taste Catering.

In between gorging ourselves and drinking ourselves silly (highlights of the wines being served were Artesa's 2003 Tempranillo, Chiarello Family Vineyards 2004 Zin and 2004 Old Vine Petite Sirah, and Duckhorn's 2006 Sauvignon Blanc and 2004 Paraduxx Napa Valley Red Wine), AJ found time to bid on two Diesel watches in the silent auction. He won them by waiting until they called out 30 SECONDS and then frantically scrawling his name down and then standing in front of the sheet blocking anyone else's chances of writing a competing bid. His technique worked, and I will certainly have to remember it next year - if we come across any other items worth bidding on (the best deal that I saw was a Sapphire Movado watch retailing for $1500 going for about half that price - not that I could have afforded a Movado watch, but still).

Like always though, we missed out on some of the booths. As we were sitting down for dinner I was going over the hors d'oeuvre menu and I saw that we had missed the Chaya Brassiere and Ponzu that I had mentioned above, as well as Frisson's Farmhouse terrine of foie gras, sweetbreads, spicy mustard and pickled vegs, and Cortez's baby eel salad. I was lamenting this fact, and AJ said I had time to probably run out and find them, but I refrained. I knew I had plenty of food awaiting me.

Once the appetizer section is over (along with the end of the silent auction), dinner is served, where they do a live auction. Three course, each created by three different master chefs, of different celebrated restaurants. Which restaurant you got depended on which part of the room you were sitting in.

While eating up a storm, we had great time just people watching the elite and society scene of San Francisco. This year seemed particular interesting, as AJ and I didn't feel like the absolutely youngest attendee (I spotted a much younger woman there, who had a faboo hot pink silk skirt on. She is SO my new fag hag).However, we still felt like we were on the younger end, particularly of the gay crowd (Donna Sachet was there, of course). It was definitely an older gay crowd by far - though much more gay than in past events. And though AJ and I did stand out a little bit, mostly by virtue of your youth, and the fact that we were unapologetically a gay couple, we didn't stand out as much as some of the other attendees.

When we found our table, there were two other couples, significantly older than us. I nudged AJ to sit next to the fabulous one with the glasses. Older her crazy colorful glasses matched the blouse she was wearing. Her fabulous husband reminded AJ of every single character that Eugene Levy has ever done in the movies rolled into one. He was from Fresno, and once I found that out I tried to (but couldn't) work that into the conversation the phrase FresNo? FresYES! to him. Alas the conversation turned to the more mundane topics like what you did for a living, and if we had attended this event before.

Once we sat, we were joined by two other couples, a gay couple (amazing! we've never sat with another gay couple before at this event!) and a couple that worked for Nestle, the corporate owner of Pellegrino and Aqua Panna, who were providing water for the event. The gay couple were remodeling their kitchen, the water couple did not get free chocolate, but did get a significant discount on water.

Our first course in our section of the room was by Chef Stuart Brioza at Rubicon. A lovely charred asparagus and baby leek with macerated strawberries, crescenza cheese, and walnuts. As much as I love asparagus, it's really hard to gussy it up into a fine dining experience. The appetizer was decent (and I loved the tiny little flowers that they sprinkled on the dish that tasted like onions) but I wasn't blown away by it. However the Rombauer Vineyards 2005 Chardonnay was quite good - better than I was expecting, as I am not big fan of Chardonnay.

Our second course created by Chef Mourad Lahlou from Aziza Restaurant was a seared longline caught Yellow Fin Tuna, fennel crusted with roasted tahini and tunisian salad. It looked so good I forgot to take a picture of it (actually I do have a photo, but it's of it half eaten dish). Both AJ and I agreed that the tuna was good, but not stellar, though we both enjoyed the roasted tahini flavor with the tuna medallion.

The final course was by Jardinere - a favorite restaurant of mine. AJ took me there once for my birthday, and it was the first time I had a taste of Tokay - a delicious dessert wine (that is mentioned in the Dark Materials book by Philip Pullman, for those who read that sort of thing). Chef Traci Des Jardins created for us a Colorado Lamb Loin with star route favas, nicoise olives, and breadcrumb salsa verde that was outstanding. The Silver Oak Cellars 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet was fantastic along with it. In fact AJ ended up drinking both his and mine and having a third glass of it.

At this point you would think we would be completely stuffed (which we were) but we had to stick around for dessert. I snagged some cupcakes for the table while we were watching the live auction take place (I wanted to bid on auction item #7, the Viking Kitchen Extraordinaire which would have included a Viking Range, Hood, Refrigerator, and Dishwasher, along with 25 hours of kitchen design consulting, a dinner cooked in the new kitchen by TV chef Joey Altman for 8 people and a magnum of '95 Chateau Lafite Rothchild, but then I thought about the tiny one bedroom apartment that AJ and I rent, and I refrained. Good thing too, as the item went for way above it's estimated value of $21,000). After the auction finished, we moved onto desserts, and watched the drunken socialite crowd dance up a storm.

We couldn't locate any dessert wine, but I had to taste as much of the the desserts that I could fit in. AJ looked like he was ready to explode, but he agreed to help me out. After eating all the cupcakes at the dinner table from DeLessio Market and Bakery, I wandered over to Taste Catering who had a huge selection of desserts, with one table as the "classics" such as Passion Fruit Chocolate Bombes, Milk Chocolate Ginger Tarts, and fancy schmancy macaroons (with lychee and rose petals). Taste's other table was "modern" with acai-blueberry-pomengranate shots (I loved the tartness, AJ nearly spewed when he tasted it), saffron chocolate tarts, and hazelnut dacquoise.

The Slanted Door had the above mentioned Opera Cake with Vietnamese Coffee Caramel, and the Presidio Social Club had Mini Banana Creme Pie and Chocolate Mouse Brownies. Bon Appetit catering had lemon and white chocolate tarts, almond pear cups, and some sort of double chocolate thing. There was also the requisite cheese table (which AJ dove right into, but I decided to skip) by Andante Dairy and Illy was there with coffee and espresso.

Boulevard was a crowd pleaser, as they were doing super sweet fresh strawberries wrapped in cotton candy - which they did on the fly (the chefs didn't quite know what they were doing with the cotton candy maker which made watching them all the more amusing). Salt House tried to serve more "sophisticated" desserts, like a Cherry Lemon Verbana Parfait (hmmm. tastes like grass)..But it was the Village Pub and Spruce Restaurant that had the most sophisticated display of desserts, including Salted Popcorn Chocolate Cups (which were surprisingly good, but could have used more salt), Buckwheat Yogurt Black Pepper, and Japanese Cucumber Ice, Coconut Sorbet, and Carmelized Pineapple skewers sitting on Dry Ice.

All in all, it was a fantastic time. The only and only time I have ever been to Hawaii, I learned that they have a saying that loosely translates to "eat until you are exhausted." AJ and I did just that.

If (for whatever reason) you want to see even MORE pictures of the event, including all the food I couldn't fit into this enormous blog entry, you can hit my flickr account and check out the Meals on Wheels Set.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cheap Chinese No More

It was with much dismay that I found my favorite cheap Chinese place that AJ and I used to go to, closed.

Granted we hadn't been there in a couple of years (okay, like four or five) but that didn't lessen the blow to me. The reality is, the place was never the same after we stop getting free food there.

Free food you ask? Why yes, AJ and I would get free food. Which appealed to my incredibly cheap ass (yes I am that Chinky - free food and I'm there), but also doubly functioned to me as a nice safety net, as I used to have a paranoid fear that I would be homeless and not have a place to stay or anything to eat.

It's an odd fear, something that I have since gotten over, but back when I first moved to San Francisco I used to figure out ways to eat on the cheap/free just in case I ever became homeless/jobless.

It was easy at first. After all, I moved here in 1998 the height of the dot-com boom. I probably could have had a free meal every single day if I wanted it, by going to dot com launch parties, dot com recruiting events, and the random party that friends of friends (at that point I only had three or four friends) were having. Digital wealth was everywhere, and people seemed to throw the money around as if it wasn't real (turns out it wasn't). I don't know how many theme parties I was invited to back then - 70's disco, wear a mask, dead celebrity, the fashion faux pas, if you want a theme party, let me know, I have a back catalog of ideas due to the fact that everyone and their roommate was having a theme party.

In the meanwhile, I took note of where and what I could eat, and how I could survive if for some reason I had no means to buy food.

Sadly the dot com boom went belly up bust, and there went my meal ticket. But soon I met AJ and we started to frequent this Cheap Chinese Place in the Castro, and I knew that I could survive if things got bad.

What made it so great? Well the food was actually decent - as decent as a Chinese place that had pre-made all the food and left it on a steam table can be. I knew to avoid the egg rolls (fried never really lasts all that well on a steam table) as well as the dim sum (dim sum really isn't all the good unless it's from a dim sum specialty place). But their pork ribs were delightfully sticky sweet, and AJ had a fondness for their chicken teriyaki.

But a funny thing happened as we went there more and more often. The young woman who worked there started to recognize us, and give us larger and larger portions of the food. We'd ask for a small carton, or a combo meal, and she would pack the carton until it could barely close. The sheer amount of food became so ridiculous that AJ and I took to ordering just one combo meal and splitting it between the two of us. Something that, if you know AJ's appetite, is saying a lot.

Soon, however, we noticed that she was starting to charge us less and less. A combo meal usually ran $7-8 (two items, plus a starch of your choice - all mounded so high, that the sucker need a small forklift to carry it home), but soon she was charging us $6. And then $5.

Soon it was $4, and then $3. And then Chinese New Year came around. I told AJ that it was Chinese New Year, and that he should tell her Happy Chinese New Year. It always sounds more impressive when a white person wishes someone Happy Chinese New Year. Well, either more impressive (that they know it's Chinese New Year) or creepy (ooh Creepy Rice Queen - stay away). He obliged and she started to jump up and down and wished him a Happy Chinese New Year back. Then she gave us our food. We went to pay with a $20 (not even asking how much we owed), and she went to the cash register. She returned with our change. As we left, I asked AJ what we paid. He looked down and counted our bills. She had given us back one $10 bill, and two $5 dollar bills. We had got our food for free.

Soon when we went, we would order the food, and she would serve us, and then look to us blankly when we tried to pay. She took to looking puzzled everytime we pulled out our wallet, and finally she would just tell us "oh... you already paid." No pretense there. She was giving us the food for free.

After about a year, AJ and I moved in together, to our current apartment, and it was about four blocks farther away from the Cheap Chinese place, so we frequented it less. In truth, as much as we loved getting free food, it always was slightly awkward, and I think we ended up going there much less because of that. We didn't want to take advantage of her generosity - though obviously she didn't care - but we just started to go less and less.

Finally one day, we noticed she wasn't working there anymore. Apparently she had given too much food away for free. Perhaps she went off to college, or finally graduated and moved away. Perhaps she was caught giving away the food. Or perhaps she just got sick of working at steam table at a Cheap Chinese Place and has a better job. Either way I'd like to think that she's having fun and enjoying life out there, with a better job, being generous to other gay couples.

Either way she wasn't there any more, we no longer got the free food, and we pretty much stopped going.

But now the Cheap Chinese Place is closed. I guess it's okay though. I can afford to buy my food now - and I no longer have that fear that I will be homeless or poverty stricken on the streets. But part of me is sad that the Cheap Chinese Place is out of business. I just hope that all the free food that we got wasn't the reason they closed. I just hope that whatever business the family who owned that shop opens up next does well. And they hire someone who doesn't give away the goods for free...

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Thursday, May 10, 2007


AJ is doing the AIDS LIFECYCLE ride again. I wrote about last year's ride when I first started this blog (I can't believe I actually have been blogging for a year - and have gained all of four loyal readers). Regardless I am writing this time to let everyone know BEFOREHAND so that they can help him out with donations.

He's in the midst of fundraising, and every little bit counts. You can donate money in one lump sum, or spread it out over a several payments. Keep in mind all money goes to the SAN FRANCISCO AIDS FOUNDATION or the LA GAY AND LESBIAN CENTER.

Also keep in mind that my boyfriend is going to be biking a whopping 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles.


545 miles. That's just crazy.

I've always been incredibly proud of him when he goes off on his ride. I have friends and coworkers who are HIV+ and the fact that AJ takes a week out of his life to ride through the state of California for them and others like them still amazes me.

In fact, all the Lifecycle bikers and roadies amaze me.

Every year he takes off, I realize how much I miss him. I do love that crazy guy.

This year is more bittersweet for me. Every year, I spend the entire week alone missing him. And then I take the Friday off at the end of the week, and drive down to meet him in Los Angeles as he rides in. This year, due to a scheduling conflict, I'll be in Atlanta for a design conference. AJ will be flying out to Atlanta to meet me, but I won't be able to experience the closing ceremony and AJ biking in. I won't see his biking friends, and I won't be able to first hand experience the love, friendship, and amazing finale of this year's AIDS LIFECYCLE.

If you are in LA and want to experience something amazing, you should check it out (the closing ceremonies are really moving and are open to the public - information is on their website).

This is AJ's 7th year doing the ride. He's raised over $25,000 alone over the course of the previous 6 years just by doing this ride. Please consider donating to his ride this year. His homepage over at the AIDS Lifecycle is here. His participation number is #4116. You can donate online, or download a PDF and snail mail it the address on the form. Just be sure to write in AJ's name and participation number (#4116).

Cheers. And thanks.

PS. The photo on the right is of AJ and his tentmate Ted. I feel very secure with AJ tenting with Ted. Ted was on security duty for Nixon (post-resignation) back in the 70's and 80's. He could kill you with his pinkie. I planning on bribing Ted into watching AJ's back by giving him a packet of dried cuttlefish (squid jerky) as a present. He requested it last year out of curiosity, but I forgot to buy some for him. AJ is not pleased about this arrangement, as he hates dried cuttlefish and thinks is stinks. I often trick him by eating some and then going for a long deep kiss with lots of tongue. AJ makes very amusing faces after I do that to him.

I don't expect much deep kissing between AJ and Ted though. I think that's something that will stay between AJ and I.

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