Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dinner in the rotunda

DINNER IN THE CITY HALL ROTUNDA, San Francisco — a celebratory fund-raising dinner to mark the opening next week of Slow Food Nation. We began with a reception in the Victory Garden, a one-season vegetable garden (and herbs, and wildflowers) filling what used to be a large rectangular pool in the Civic Center Plaza.
P1040028.jpgIt's a remarkable achievement: first, that permission was granted (and enthusiastically, by all accounts); second, that the garden has succeeded so beautifully. The beds are mostly circular, borderd by sacks of rice hulls, mounded high with clean-looking loam, and crowded with beautifully placed and tended vegetables: beds of the "Three Sisters" (corn, beans, squash); of salad greens; of cole crops like beautiful cabbages, kales, and broccoli; of glorious chards; of leeks and onions. There's not a bug or a scale to be seen — it's typical, I'm told, that any garden's at its best its first season, before the enemies learn about it.

Then we moved into the rotunda, filled with long tables. A violinist stood on the marble stairs which still inescapably remind me of the 1960 demonstration, when protestors were washed down those steps by police wielding fire hoses. A lot has changed since then (and perhaps partly because of such demonstrations): tonight's dinner was peaceful, optimistic, sensuous, and intelligent. The politics of Alice's "Delicious Revolution" are more nourishing than those of Senator McCarthy's Un-American Activities Committee.

We began with fine local almonds with Sally Jackson sheep's-milk cheese and membrillo, then moved to gazpacho, an amazingly alert soup featuring deep tomato and complex smoky pepper flavors.P1040031.jpg

We then moved on to an amazingly tender yet full-flavored beef filet — grass fed, perfectly grilled, accompanied by little potatoes and sautéed peppers; afterward, a tossed salad. P1040033.jpg
For dessert, raspberry and fior di latte ice creams in a bombe — take that, rotunda! — on a thin layer of subtle sponge-cake.

The wines on our table were a Corbières rosé from last year and a Medlock Ames Cabernet from 2003: I know the former well and like it a great deal; I'd never heard of the latter and would happily have a case delivered tomorrow.

Peter Coyote gave the short introduction to the evening, followed by remarks by Thomas Keller and Alice Waters. They spoke easily and to the point. I was particularly struck by Peter's description of Alice's "revolution," which has had much to do with the return to gardens in the schools, to sustainability in the kitchen, to a sense of proportion I personally am not certain is always the concern of Thomas Keller's restaurants.

Culture trumps politics, Peter said, alluding to the more immediate success of Alice's Delicious Revolution than the less engaging but still necessary improvements still waiting to be achieved in electoral politics. As Bertolt Brecht pointed out more than once, here in a translation used a few decades ago in a Threepenny Opera Off Broadway:

first feed the face and then talk right and wrong

No comments: