First Night
September 20, 2003

Our first official night out in San Francisco was nothing short of complete magic. My Mac is slightly busted, but when Mathra brought it into the store in Palo Alto, they gave him ten bucks for participating in a survey. We thought it was time to party.

That afternoon, I had walked up and down Hayes Street -- the commercial district is just over Alamo Square Park from our apartment. I saw things, noted restaurants, shops, and salons, and then I hiked back home. I'm not kidding about the hike. If we make a practice of going over to Hayes Valley, I am going to have some beautiful calves. For now? I have shin splints and the weirdest looking blister sprouting from the tip of my big toe.

Mathra came home, I let him catch his breath, threw him a wool sweater, and we went out into the cooled-off night. The California night is burgeoning with new botanic scents that I can't yet place. At least, I can't be more specific than memories of my grandparents' place in Balboa with a little of their house in Friday Harbor mixed in. Don't worry, I'll get there.

After checking out Place Pigalle (delightfully divey), Absinthe (higher end, but reportedly worth every penny), Sage (empty, but we weren't in the mood for Asian), and the Blue Muse (old school), we decided on Hayes and Vine, a wine bar. Their menu presents a cold collation of foodstuffs that complement the wine of your choice. We decided on a plate of charcuterie, a breadbasket, and a dipping dish of McEvoy Ranch's Extra Virgin Olive Oil. They had a Tuscan olive oil, a Spanish and a French, but McEvoy is local, and I've been dying to try them. The two wine guys tending bar and tables were laid-back, nice, and did not rush or intimidate us. I'm slowly learning that it's the California way not to make your guests feel insulted or two inches high. Mathra settled on a glass of Sangiovese, and I went for a Saumur-Champigny -- a red from the Loire Valley that I've never before had the pleasure of tasting. The wine was served in beautifully simple, yet obviously very fine glasses with a notable feature. A tiny "HV" for "Hayes and Vine" was hand-etched on each glass, right about level with the wine inside. The Saumur-Champigny was incredible -- complex, balanced, and light, it was so much like inhaling a very fine perfume that it took me quite a while to recover from the first sip. Mathra's Sangiovese was also very fine, but I was too in love with the contents of my own glass to take much notice.

We cleaned up the plate of duck rillettes, smoked meats, and two kinds of pate maison (one which sang with nuggets of aromatic mushrooms) and ordered two more glasses of our respective wines. On a Tuesday, the place was pretty close to empty, so it was nice and quiet and allowed us newcomers to take a good look around. The décor is modern, chic, and cute. We sat at a table on low, poufy chairs that were surprisingly firm and supportive. Jazz swirled out from the stereo, and the customers who chose to sit at the blond wood bar got to chat with the amiable staff. I was dying to try a thirty-year-old tawny made by Offley, and Mathra agreed only if I pimped myself and my "talents" to the proprietors. We looked at the menu again, noted that their ports and other dessert wines are Britishly-named "Stickies," and I asked our waiter why they didn't have any ruby port (they had three tawnys and a Graham's vintage port from 1983 that Mathra and I could only pipe dream of tasting one day). The guy told us he preferred the complexity of a tawny but that their fare rotated, so if they found one that met their standards, they would add it. We talked a little bit about vintage port and he pointed us to Plumpjack Wines where you can buy a split of vintage port for around thirty bucks (a steal!) and drink it that night. I think that could definitely be in the cards for us on a special occasion. We ordered the Offley's, but when our guy brought back two filled glasses, I panicked a bit. I thought he misunderstood me and brought the Offley's tawny AND the twenty-three-dollars-a-glass-vintage port. Well, he did. But not because he'd misunderstood me. He brought us a taste of the vintage on him! Just because he wanted us to experience it! We were floored. We sipped the vintage port and it was pure purple perfection. It defies explanation, description, or anything other than to say it was like tasting port for the very first time all over again. Even that seems to damn it by faint praise. The Offley's tawny was nothing to turn our red noses up at either. That was very nice, very nutty and if you closed your eyes and took a sip, you could imagine you were in a barrel-packed room in the Duoro with those tawnys just sucking up the flavor of the wood all around you.

After we caught our breaths and profusely thanked our port Santa, I asked if they were hiring. Mathra and I took turns on this one: "See, I'm a chef -- a CCP," "She also writes and edits, she could do your menus or PR for you," "And I could make chocolate desserts to pair with the port, if you wanted," "She's got her own food web site," "Truffles, even, with a drop of port inside," "Her truffles are amazing," "So, if you're interested, I could bring down my resume," "I don't suppose a wine bar has much need for a Calc professor, do they?" The guy told me I should most definitely bring my resume down to them. I think I'll bring them truffles as well to illustrate how well they go with port, maybe I'll get another free glass out of it.

I love California!

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