Monday, April 14, 2008

Beauty and the Beet: The Brilliant Impression

Bejewelled: beets, berries, chopped eggs, white onions, minced parsley + chives......light drizzling of honey dressing crosses the threshold.....

This is a smattering of a post.....so I decided to condense this to Part One of Two à la Beauty and the Beet.

Part Two will be posted shortly this week.

My love affair with root vegetables began with the beet.

Perhaps not in the dark earthen crevices below where the dirt is so gravenly wet underground it seeps through your nail beds, but rather off the beaten trek years back when my father took us to dinner at the original historic Cafe Du Nord near San Francisco's Castro District.

Back when it was an inviting supper house complete with its Basque inspired dinner menu served family style. A repast with a set menu that created the tone nightly with six courses and amply served alongside with some obscure chilled rosé strewn in labeless oddly shaped and colored wine bottles.

The tinge of pink through my mother's rosé glass, the beet salad with chopped hard boiled eggs and the red stain from the beet juice soaking through the last shred of my baguette has simmered in my taste memory for so many years.....



i *heart* beets: entranced by a living breathing bleeding geode....

The concept of food + memory has been a frequent haunt of mine and it's only as of recent that I decided to let go of myself, get of out of my freakin' way and excavate through that back logged mind mine beginning with my family stories.

Which in turn has led to finding this space and place to shed light on someone that left with me a brilliant impression.

My father.

My father passed away 6 years ago and his final days came rather abruptly. I will just touch on this briefly about his passing because I don't want this to be an angst post but rather a living tribute to someone that had a profound effect on the development of my person. What I have written is a recollection of just a glimpse his journey that I met along the way of my own.

When I was a little girl my parent's owned and operated a delicatessen in the Mission District in San Francisco during the height of the Bay Area's food revolution. This was an incredible time for me. My curious palate was introduced to the diverse range of cultural cuisines from the neighborhood. There were immigrants from all over the world settling in San Francisco and my parent's deli thrived in the midst of foods from Mexico, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Russia, Italy....even Japanese home style cooking and of course regional Chinese cooking.

The food at the deli was a reflection of the melting pot of San Francisco as well as traditional delicatessen style fare of sandwiches made with the freshest of San Francisco style French bread and produce.

The sandwiches were made in crusty bread that fought back with slight resistance into a dense yet pillow-like threshold of savory meats, lined with fresh crunchy slivers of lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and whatever else desired. The options of meats included salamis, fresh oven roasted roast beef, pastrami, corned beef, head cheese, Louisiana style hot links (just to name a few). Also on the menu were the new wave of organic and farm fresh inspired sandwiches that payed homage to whole grain sprouted breads, alfalfa sprouts, avocados and for the faint of heart.......bacon.

sourdough for noshing....not from my beloved city ~ but it will do.....at least for now

After a long day at the deli, my father would often take us out to 'dine' for dinner as a family. A restaurant we frequented was Cafe Du Nord located in the Upper Market-Castro district leaning toward the slightly seedy, prior the 'emerging' neighborhood it later became. Now this is the original Cafe Du Nord which was a sort of a quasi-French Basque bistro at the time. Today, Cafe Du Nord is a trendy nightclub, restaurant and live music venue.

After my dad parked the family car, which was either the Chrysler wood paneled station wagon or the obnoxious yacht of a vehicle.....the highly coveted Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham with its own 8-track tape player that was factory installed(this was all top of the line stuff btw even the station wagon which eventually met its demise after one of the wood panels finally faded and fell off); we would take a flight of steep stairs downward into the basement of a storefront which was the perfect cave like setting for the literal 'underground' Cafe Du Nord.

The historic cafe was built in 1907 and at one time was a notorious speakeasy during prohibition. It was pretty much what you would imagine it to look like; dimly lit with odd sized and handsome antique dining tables throughout the main dining room with an evocative yet bucolic ambiance. Many locals frequented this eatery which had enough of slight upscale vibe with a familiar ease to call it their favorite neighborhood bistro.

speakeasy to me......is that you beaujolais?

On the walls were series of oil paintings that thematically reminded me of the revolutionary romantic period of Theodore Géricault, Ingres and even the idyllic American painter Turner......oh my art history days, which should be a completely other blog.....sorry. Anyways, these were not the canny paintings you've seen at your gas station corner and those blow out events at your nearest convention center in need of rental fees in between major events, but rather the restaurateur's quite exquisite and most likely personal collection of paintings. The collections were complete with fruit & wine still life, formal portraits, battle scenes, courtship and even tall ships in turbulent waters. Each painting was also lovingly installed with its own spotlight to feature its beauty. I know the subject matter may sound canny but I do recall these paintings to be quite impressive.

The owner was a short bald gentleman with an extremely thick mustache that twisted ever so slightly upward at each end (yes, seriously!). He was the exact reflection of what the proprietor might look like in such an establishment.

There was a painting in the main dining room of a man in a old fashioned military uniform; perhaps he was a general as he wore many decorated medals upon his uniform and he was painted with great distinction. He had the same facial features and the mustache as the proprietor, which led my parents to joke with a sense of seriousness that it must be a relative of his.

Upon arrival, we would often find him sitting at the hand carved mahogany bar near the baby grand piano reading a paper. He always gave a familiar nod to my father. I’m not surprised he recognized us as we frequented there often and I am positive we were the only Asian family and definitely Koreans that dined there.

As I am rummaging through my thoughts, I cannot seem to recover some of the conversations my family had over dinner at Cafe Du Nord. It actually saddens me that I am drawing a blank on specific words that were exchanged with my dad, my mom and my little brother during these special times out. It seems as if it were another lifetime ago and the words have been erased from my memory.

What I do recall are certain 'moments' as we sat around the bistro table. The dining room always had a tranquility that I was instantly drawn to upon arrival. The lighting was warm and dim.....a glow emanated throughout. My dad's stress level would ease as soon as we arrived, and it's only today that I realize how much stress effected his life.

Since we arrived after closing the deli, it must have been around 7:30 in the evening before we settled in for dinner.

They offered only a prix fixe menu was set each night with about seven courses that was served family style.

Upon arrival, I was always.....famished.

An evening meal remembered began with the first course of a salad of bibb lettuce, celery, white onions with a aïoli based dressing with a hint of mustard and fresh tarragon that seeped through each bite.

herb pot in early spring: this is what survived the harsh winters :) of the south.....gathered a handful of parsley and chives to topple over the chopped eggs for the beet salad. the cactus type plant on the far right corner reminds me of SoCal. Don't know what it's called....I know it's a succulant, no wait...succotash? or isn't that lima beans + corn? maybe succulant....

I was little girl back then, yet so hungry and intrigued by the setting that I didn't have time to complain about white onions, aïoli based dressing, mustard or the fresh sprigs of licorice intent tarragon.

The salad was refreshing and I enjoyed the tang and retreat of the mustard and tarragon that played upon my developing palate.

Baskets of chewy baked french bread was served alongside and refilled without asking.

Soon after, the second course arrived. Soup of the day ladled into white bowls that reminded me of wading pools just deep enough were filled with a hearty yet translucent tomato based potage of bite size morsels of tender vegetables and beef. Upon finishing the bowl of soup, I always sensed it whispered to me.......welcome my lady.

The third course was a salad of chilled marinated red beets with chopped hard boiled eggs and onions. A recourse to cleanse the palate.

Again, I didn't have the urgency to say anything about my opinion on beets.

I do remember my father encouraging us to try different foods. His ways encouraged me to step into unfamiliar territory......actually constantly! Many times, I saw perhaps how he saw the beauty of the unacquainted.

In so many of his words, if you don't try......how would you ever know?

So with distinct recollection, I do remember the sweet floral taste of the beets combined with the earth tones of the chopped eggs and onions as an amusing play on my senses. Crusty french bread combines perfectly with cooked beets and by this time I recall my mother telling me not to eat too much bread since more was to come.

berries & beets making merry....

I used my last shred of baguette to bring up the ruby red juice with crumblings of eggs and sweet onions before taking my pause.

Next......the most delightful sweetbreads served over a crisp pastry puff......but I'll save that for next time.

Part Two of Beauty and the Beet will be posted this week.......

Thank you for reading ;-)

23 comments:

Nina's Kitchen (Nina Timm) said...

You are so right beets - if I have cooked beets in the fridge, my daughter has a permanent red ring around the mouth from sneaking some.

How are things going with the juicing and healthy way of life...

myfrenchkitchen said...

One of my "delicacies" is having a baguette the next day with beet(like we had it in our childhood) and then like you say: "having those beet juices dripping all over"! A lovely memory recall!
ronell

taste memory said...

nina ~ that is cute; I can imagine that ring about her mouth. once you mentioned that it made me think of a beet relish made with apples soaked in beet juice & sugar my aunt of Austrian descent used to make at Christmas time. Instead of the American cranberry sauce she made that to go with the slow roasted goose.

Yes - i am still going forward with my juicing and health kick. I am transitioning into it and not planning on going freaking all the way raw....I am 75% raw the first part of the day then I eat a healthy cooked meal with tons of vegetables for dinner. I have lost 10 lbs. in 2 months doing this and going past 3 months now with the weight scaling down. I'll be posting about this too - I'm still trying to figure it out as I am so passionate about ALL foods that I am not planning on cutting anything out.

thanks for asking....

my french kitchen ~ I love your website btw....esp. the header photo of dining in the vineyards. Your photography, words and recipe responses make me feel like I am there. Thank you for visiting my blog and your insight similar about beet juice + baguettes....

Carolyn gail said...

Beets are the one vegetable I could never bring myself to eat after the first taste. I grew them in my vegetable garden when I was young but other family members and friends ate them.

Elle said...

My mom and dad always ate pickled beets when I was a kid. I wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole! Until, as an adult, I realized you could oven roast them. Perfection.

Jessica said...

Taste Memory, I'm using you as inspiration to leaning on the healthy side. It's not easy when you LOVE food.

Nicole said...

Gorgeous photo! Love the red. I am with Carolyn though... I don't like beets that well. I don't pick them out of a salad or anything. But it isn't my first choice.

taste memory said...

carolyn gail ~ I read about your family garden, how incredible to have that....yes, beets for me have been acquired over the years, now I can't get enough of them. I am still developing a taste for uni though.

elle ~ yes! roasted beets are awesome. Actually everything tastes better roasted. Olive oil + sea salt does wonders to a plain carrot & even parsnips....

jessica ~ glad to hear that....I still love to eat decadently but my body doesn't like it! Just trying to find a balance and live the passionate life....and you are the passionate life; love the posts on gourmande eating!

nicole ~ glad you like the pix....well at least you eat them! I like the color of ruby red beets as well; I actually have a rouge by TARTE that I love because it's the same color as raw red beets ;-)

Thanks for stopping by everyone. I wanted you to know I had to split this post in half because it was a tad too long (hah) and will continue with the rest this week. My apologies if I caught some readers in the middle of it....

Happy foraging, dining + keeping bod healthy all,
~ tm girl

Deborah said...

I never liked beets growing up. I really need to try them again, as I'm sure I'd love them now!

foodhoe said...

I agree the pictures are beautiful and I love the comparison of the beet to a geode, so true! Wow, while I was growing up my engineer father was a ground breaking fast/convenience food eater who insisted on silence at the dinner table, so that he could watch the news on TV while we ate heated tv dinners. Your Cafe du Nord dinners sound so lovely...

jd said...

I have to tell you - all of your photography is absolutely beautiful!

It's amazing that I can be so mesmerized by a picture of bread, or lemons, or even one of herbs! It's really lovely how you capture the beauty in every-day things...

Thanks for brightening my otherwise dreary day with your great pictures/posts :)

Mochachocolata Rita said...

havent tried beets before...but this look so gorgeous i gotta try soon :)

taste memory said...

deborah ~ hi there....maybe it's because we always have the worst version of it the first time around. I used to hate brussel sprouts because as a child I was forced to eat them all cooked to death and mushy. Now I love them cooked just al dente grilled w. balsamic vinegar & sea salt...

jd ~ hello and good to hear from you. Thanks so much - your words are encouraging and hope the sun is heading over your side of the world soon!

mochachoc ~ hello & welcome!

Nicole said...

Your photos are making me REALLY want to try to like beets. Maybe if I buy and prepare them myself....

You are right about getting the worst version the first time around. I thought I hated parmesan cheese because when I was a kid we had the stuff in the green can. But I rarely ever am without fresh parmesan in my refrigerator now!!!

taste memory said...

foodhoe ~ hello & thanks for stopping by....i appreciate your words about the photos esp. coming from you! also, i love amethyst geodes and these beets reminded me of them.

yes; I've had my share of swanson's tv dinner - my fav was the fried chicken w. pastey mashed potatoes....my mom used to make fried spam n' rice too....lovely memories we have don't we?!

nicole ~ you might want to try them just fresh and not cooked to experience their natural flavor. peel the outer skin and slice into matchsticks....real sweet n' crunchy. Toss the fresh matchstix w. greens in a light honey vinegrette....you like cheese? Lightly top w. grated emmenthaler or of your choice + crusty bread w. chilled rose....happy start to dinner!

I remember chicken gizzard soup as a child....I don't know if I want to go there....

Nicole said...

Okay, I will just have to try it.

By the way... Your blog is one of my top reads and I have given you an award. Check it out: http://artandaioli.blogspot.com/2008/04/blogging-with-purpose-award.html

Stieber said...

Very good blog!!

Medena said...

Wow! I can't wait for more; I love your writing. I was there while reading; very moving, very descriptive.

Sorry to hear about your father...

I love beet. I mean I don't use it much, just pickled, but I do like it, and that salad looks yummy!

I have been busy lately for new posts, but I shall be back over the w/e. I have been enjoying spring with my kids in the free time. It’s finally here!

Gwen said...

Great blog, love the photography and text.

Zen Chef said...

Taste + Memory. That says it all. Great story. I used to go to a Cafe du Nord too when i was in school in Paris. The atmosphere in these kind of places stays with you forever.

Mochachocolata Rita said...

i love the vintage photograph! :)

taste memory said...

nicole ~ again mucho thanks for thinking of me! I do accept and plan to post about shortly. wow ~very awesome and am honored!

stiber ~ hey thanks and welcome....

medena ~ good to hear you are enjoying the spring. I am the same here, have been totally emerged in the sunshine and being outdoors...can't seem to break away, fav time of the year!

hi gwen ~ welcome and likewise to you....

zen chef ~ yeah, fixated on that concept as of late. you must have incredible stories of culinary school; enjoyed the read on Basque country....

mocha ~ thanks for reading....yes the photos bring back memories as if another lifetime ago.

JTalpesh said...

This looks amazing! I am a beet fan myself. I am hoping to post some recipes on my blog. I would love to hear your input!
-Janeofalltrades-jtalpesh.