On my last trip to San Francisco, I met up with Pip and Sheldon, two New York friends who are self-proclaimed “foodies.” They are both thin as a rail, so this should have been my tip off that things were not quite what they seemed. They had reservations at a restaurant in the Potrero district. When I left San Francisco in 1997, the only food you could find in the Potrero district was expired cans of Chef Boyardee at the twice-robbed liquor store. Much has changed.
They told me they made the reservations two months ago when they bought their plane tickets, and the only time available was 9:15 pm. We arrived at 6:30 per their instructions. Pip reassured me that if we check in obscenely early they will “see what they can do” and then seat us at 8:00, before they run out of food.
This restaurant, let’s call it “Angel,” is notorious for running out of food. We were seated at 8:30, and indeed they were out of several tasty sounding dishes. This was my first time at an American (new) Restaurant, so I was a little taken aback by the menu, which sounded more like a shopping list at the local witchcraft store than a selection of food. For appetizers, we ordered spoiled turnips wrapped in pork belly with a monkfish liver reduction. They were out of hamburgers and bread, so I was forced to order the seaweed-wrapped lamb trotters served on a bed of nettles and instant coffee. For dessert, I had fig soaked in kerosene and vanilla with a melted gelato syrup. Dinner for four was 400.00.
It struck me that this food was designed to assault the senses rather than delight them. My first bright idea was that if this was the food they served in prison, there would not be so many repeat offenders. This led me to my next logical bright idea.
I want to open up a restaurant in the genre American (primitive) called “Spreads.” The menu would be simple, based on traditional rogue jail house cooking. Each dish would start with a base of ramen noodles and corn chips. The food is served much as it is currently prepared, inside a $1.39 sized fritos bag. The foil lining keeps the heat in and allows the ramen to cook using only hot tap water. To each spread, you can add additional canteen food to fill out the spread. Mayonnaise, spray cheese, and tuna fish are popular choices. Pair your spread with a glass or paper cup full of Pruno (aka Jailhouse Hooch) and finish it off with glazed honey buns with jelly packet frosting, and you have just experienced American cuisine at its most visceral.
Prices should be prohibitively expensive. A plastic bag of Pruno for the table should cost 150.00. Each spread is 65.00 for the base and additional ingredients are 13.75 each. Honey buns with jelly run a cool 15.00.
Maybe we should start at a lower price point in a food truck to raise capital for the venture.