My stepmom makes the best jam ever. I love it and everyone who tastes it loves it. I look forward to breakfasts at their house when I can spoon out giant dollops, drowning my toast in fruity bliss. For years and years I’ve eagerly awaited every taste I could get of this magical jam. This morning, however, at my father’s breakfast table, there was a revolution. Somehow, with a bit of inspiration from a salted caramel I ate recently, after generously smearing my toast with strawberry heaven, I sprinkled a little salt on top. My father was horrified. He turned his head away, ashamed to have such a daughter. But let me tell you, this was the best thing I have ever eaten in my life. The flavor got deep and wonderful in a way I never imagined possible. I made my stepmother’s jam better. I improved perfection.
It is in that spirit that I am announcing to you that we will be making some changes to the rooms at the Grand Hotel. Even as I write this, fluffy down comforters, flat screen HD TVs, iHomes and more are being delivered. Maybe the next time you are here the shifting will have already begun. Those of you who have been coming here for years might get scared when you hear about this, as my father was scared of me this morning. I can understand that. When you really love something, it’s hard to watch someone mess around with it. This morning, though, I took a chance and the result was outrageously delicious. And if salted jam offends you, don’t worry, I’m not in charge of anything to do with these room remodels. I’m only here to remind you that even the best things in the world can get a little better.
One day, a few years ago, a San Francisco native took me to what he said was the real crooked-est road in the world. Having been taken to down Lombard Street a few times as a little girl, with its perpetual line of rental cars tiptoeing their way down, I was surprised to be shown a street that was at least equally curvaceous, but completely devoid of tourists. We screeched down at a speed he seemed to have been working up to since high school and, in addition to feeling thankful for the continuation of my life, I left wondering how it was possible for this street to stay hidden.
Last week I found another of these guide book gaps, the Glen Park Canyon. Golden Gate Park is, of course, a magical place. Ocean Beach, Baker Beach. San Francisco’s natural offerings are spectacular for sure, and I never thought that I was missing out on anything. But, still, this canyon deserves attention. At the very least because of how well it’s camouflaged.
Glen Park, on the south side of the city, is very hilly and almost entirely residential. Driving to San Francisco from this hotel, you pass through the pastel forest of its houses. Last week I discovered a little gap between two of those hills that has been left almost completely wild. There is a creek, there are huge rocks, the kind that people like to climb. There are a couple of paths. And there are many, many shades of green. Here, for the first time, I felt at peace with San Francisco’s gloomy climate. In the urban version of this city, its ever-present fog and perpetual cold breeze feel like a pointless assault on the senses. In the overgrown wilderness of this canyon, however, a person can really get the idea that a constant cloud cover makes things grow. And grow and grow and grow. If I ever truly make peace with San Francisco, this park will have played a role. Go see for yourself.
We are a first name kind of a business as a rule and, for the most part, this rule is only broken when someone has a nickname that is funnier than his or her first name. Pee Wee, for example. The one exception to all of this is Mr. Chan, the graveyard front deskman. He is our international man of mystery, and no one would dare call him anything but Mr. Chan. It’s widely discussed when he’s not around, people always wonder how it came to be and why it continues, but then, suddenly, when he is there, you just know that he’s Mr. Chan and would never disrespect him by questioning it.
The international part is a given. He was born in rural China, grew up in Hong Kong and then moved to the Bay Area suburbs with his father when he was in high school. That’s three countries, and three very different environments, before he was a legal adult.
Now, let me tell you, another fact about Mr. Chan is that he works the graveyard shift because he likes it. Sure, he’ll give you a shy smile and try to get you to believe it’s because he’s a timid introvert. But I have a question: Would James Bond ever work 9-5? No, he would not. Sure, 10 years would be a really long time to keep a cover-up job, and that is how long Mr. Chan has worked here, but Austin Powers was frozen for decades before he was needed again to help save the world. Just keep that in mind the next time you run into Mr. Chan, though he’s not someone people run into so often around here.
Some time ago I wrote to you about a Persian restaurant that I really liked to go to. This was, for a long time, the place that I would go when I wanted to have Persian food and I told you nice things about it because there are nice things to say about it. But last weekend they made a big mistake and if you’ve noticed that I’m not naming my former favorite Persian restaurant, it’s because I probably won’t be going back there. No, I didn’t get food poisoning or bad service. There were no stray hairs or roaches in my food. The thing is, I went there on a night when they were booked out for a private party. Disappointed, I asked the hostess to recommend another Persian restaurant and she told me about Yas. I think that she should probably stop telling her customers about Yas.
Before I went to Yas I think I didn’t understand how soft rice could be. It’s light and pillowy there and I instantly knew that this was the way rice was always meant to be. Plus mine had sour cherries in it. It tasted the way donuts smell, to me. I don’t know that my experience of feeling like donuts don’t taste as good as they smell is universal, but, again for me, this was the taste I’ve been looking for in vain in donut shops for all these years. And all this is just about the rice! My chicken was excellent too, my stepmother’s lamb was perfect and my father’s vegetarian kebabs were, he said, the best he had ever had. Plus the waitress was above average nice. And also the restaurant itself is cozy, comfortable and full of sunlight. This is a place to go back to over and over again. A new favorite, and though I’m sorry to lose the old one, now that I know more about what Persian food can be, I just don’t see myself going backward.
I heard, recently, a story about Ernest Hemingway. It’s a famous story, so probably a lot of you have heard it already, but for those of you who haven’t, it’s worth boring the rest. He was drinking in a bar as, it seems, he kind of liked to do, and someone challenged him to write an entire novel in six words. On a cocktail napkin he wrote: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”
It’s said that Hemingway struggled his whole life to look like a manly man, always recovering from having been dressed up like a girl as a child. The terse, brutal writing style he developed, even, was part of the attempt to be cool and masculine, or so I was taught in college. I think that if Hemingway were to pick a wine from our bar it would be Turnbull’s Old Bull red. There’s the very obvious bull reference to start, plus the story behind the name of the winery, a man saving a king by causing a stampeding bull to turn. Then that their motto is Audaci Favet Fortuna, or fortune favors the brave. Plus that the name of the wine itself is just Old Bull. This is a strong wine, a man’s wine. This isn’t wine to sip slowly, picking through flavor references. This is wine to drink by the bottle, perhaps even from the bottle, though we won’t let you do that in our bar.
This wine, it seems to me, could make a man look rugged and hard. I’m sure that all of our guests are above such considerations, but, anyway, we always keep Old Bull behind our bar.