I’m lucky to have a cousin who lets Laura and me stay at her house in San Francisco. This, and reasonable airfares from Salt Lake City, make regular food trips to that city possible. Over the years, like dogs returning to where they have buried bones, we visit Delfina, Tartine Bakery, the Slanted Door, and Rainbow Grocery. About Rainbow Grocery: where else can I find (in small quantities, without shipping costs) light teff flour, purple barley, and scarlet runner beans?
On our last trip in November, we walked up Valencia street bemoaning the fact that I had missed the window to make a dinner reservation at Flour + Water, a restaurant in the Mission. So we headed to Delfina for a pizza, salad, and maybe arancini. Just before turning onto 18th street, I noticed a new Flour + Water pizzeria on the corner! Fifteen minutes later as we tucked into a Marguerita pizza and salad, we ruminated about why this pizza was not only leagues better than anything available in Salt Lake City (sorry, Settebello and From Scratch), but also even better than Delfina. A chewy, charred, perfectly crisp cooked crust (yeah, gluten!) full of wheaty flavor, a sauce that was the essence of summer tomatoes. A few basil leaves and some mozzarella. Attention to detail and purity of ingredients. Flour + Water bakes its pizza at 600 degrees; Settebello in SLC advertises a Neapolitan pizza cooked for just one minute in a 900 degree oven—but often I’ve had soggy, not just foldable, pizza.
At Flour + Water we noticed also the camaraderie and joy of the workers; during shift change, one baker walked out the door with three boxes of pizza, while another stood at the corner of the oven in his leather jacket and bantered with the people coming in for the new shift. Producing perfect food requires not only the best ingredients but a consistent attention to detail, to which every worker signs on.
Also on that weekend, before lunch at the Slanted Door, we walked through the farmer’s market outside the Ferry Building. We admired organic red gem heads of lettuce for $2, five different kinds of Asian pears, and at the stall run by June Taylor, jams, candied and jellied fruit, and one pound loaves of Christmas cake. Since I, too, make these things, I talked to June about her ingredients and process. She stressed the necessity of pure ingredients and attention to detail, time that she acknowledges not everyone may have, costly time. She sun dries different grapes for her fruit cake, sources unusual citrus (yuzu, heritage grapefruits, mandarins, lemons, and limes) from local and organic growers (varieties we never see in the grocery because they are either hard to grow or otherwise not moneymakers) and candies the peel herself, using organic sugar. She dyes and block prints paper to wraps the $75 cakes. Years ago, when I first acquired a dehydrator, I decided to make my own raisins. In went four pounds, laboriously washed and stemmed. Four days and who knows how many kilowatts of electricity later, I had a handful of lovely, juicy raisins. They were unlike anything commercially produced—so full of flavor. Maybe this fall I’ll try sun-drying another batch—if the weather cooperates.
In any case, I came home from this San Francisco trip committed to seeking out more pure ingredients—switching from white cane to organic sugar, for example. And paying more attention to detail.