WORDS BY LIZ & LJ, ILLUSTRATION BY JEN
Welcome to our new (-ish!) column wherein LJ (who lives in London) and Liz (who lives in Los Angeles) will go out to eat and order the same foods and report back on those foods, from their respective continents. Here we are with bao, hot dogs, and berry-themed desserts. (You can read Vol. 1: French Onion Soup, Spaghetti, & Doughnuts HERE)
1st COURSE: BAO
LJ: To celebrate our "one year of living in London" anniversary, Mark and I gave in to the foody bloggy Instagram publicity machine that had spent the past couple months brainwashing us into believing that our lives were valueless and would remain so until we ate dinner at London’s hottest bao hotspot, Bao, by eating dinner at London’s hottest bao hotspot, Bao. Bao was the talk of the Instagram town for most of the beginning of summer, until it was knocked off its pedestal by the jiggly magenta pork fat rectangle immersed in a puddle of different kind of fat dessert from the restaurant everyone calls “Nuno Mendes’ new place” like “Nuno” is a friend of ours who we all know personally and hang out with on the regs. In fact he is sitting across the table from me as I write these words.
I arrived at Bao a little before Mark and had expected to see a queue around the block but there was no queue! Or so I thought. It turned out that the Bao queue was positioned across the street instead of out the door, which is a deceptive place to put your queue since it tricks people who don’t initially see the queue into thinking they don’t have to queue outside a restaurant that you infamously have to queue for and that gets you extra-stoked to dine there THAT SECOND but then you’re hit with the harsh blow of realizing that you actually DO have to queue, but you’ve just gotten yourself so revved up for it you’ll do ANYTHING… I don’t know, maybe it just relates to zoning laws and I am reading too deep into things.
Anyway, the queue was not too long since it was mad early. A nice young Irish or Scottish (I forget- don't worry, I know the diff between the 2 accents) gent was tasked with keeping the queue-peoples' morale up and frequently came by to take our drink orders. He was peppy and upbeat in a really waitery way that I didn’t love but respected. I ordered a Diet Coke and he was distracted so said “Sorry, Coke, or Diet Coke?” and then I changed my order to a cider because that was obviously the Universe’s way of telling me not to get a soft drink, you know? Very cute cider, nice hefty glass bottle with the little apple-tag, the natural kind of cider that tastes like you chucked a bunch of apples into a vat of brown vinegar and then blended them up and ran the results through a Sodastream. It sounds like I am trying to describe something very disgusting but I like that taste. I love a vinegarious cider.
Mark arrived and ordered a queue beer. About fifteen minutes later, our table was ready, and the Irish/Scottish guy led us inside. The restaurant was tiny, but not unpleasantly so, and paneled in pale wood— teak? I don’t know the names of all the woods but I’ve been calling it teak in my head. Bao is aesthetically neutral in a way that a dyed-in-the-wool maximalist like myself can’t help but respond to with a resounding "eh" (I WANT A STAINED GLASS YIN YANG! I WANT AN AQUA EAMES CHAIR! BE ROCOCO! BE BY DAVID SALLE!)— but I’m not too proud to admit that it’s a decent-enough space to have spent forty-five minutes of my life dining inside. Although, as an extension of the Spartan décor, the poor waitstaff are forced to wear offensively drab labcoat-style jackets as a uniform: they’re white, buttoned up the front, with Nehru-style collars and Bao logos emblazoned on the chest. They would make anyone who wasn’t a one hundred-and-thirty pound dude look like a lump of something. Fabric, marshmallows, laundry, cake. Etc.
We ordered a bunch of little bits and bobs, as one does, in London in 2015. Bao is one of those places that gives you a little notepad and you tick off which dishes you’d like to eat, which I guess is meant to be "authentic"— but the font, and the little graphics of all the different bao flavs, were unabashedly “hipstery little bits and bobs London in 2015 place”/inauthentically the thing I think they were trying to be ("like actual Taiwan"), which I found a bit confusing. But authenticity is a pretty confusing concept, "authentic" a word that begs to be confined by a set of quotation marks and accompanied by an eye-roll and a shrug. But hipsteriness is pretty straightforward, pretty point-blank.
On the one hand, I wish Bao would pick one avenue and then go with it, but on the other, I don’t care. Bao can do whatever it wants. It's not really my prob. Bao was good enough that I would eat at it constantly if I worked across the street, but I don’t. It's majorly out of the way for me, and everything we ate there was only kind of good. Or maybe it was properly Good, but I’d been led to believe that it was going to be… not just excellent, but MIND-BLOWING, and that too confused me— were all the Instagram food blog corporate machine bloggers who claimed that these pouchy little dough-wiches changed their lives lying? Do they not love Bao as much as they say love Bao, or do they just have lower standards than I do? Or am I wrong? Was my palate off that day? Is Bao paying them money? Can Bao pay me some money?
Of all the dishes we ate that day, only three were actual bao. My least favorite bao was the fried chicken bao, which I can only describe as being “forgettable,” because I forget it, and my favorite was the classic bao, which has peanut powder on top. The bun was perfectly glutinous— a chilled-out, manageable level of wet— in a way that reminded me of either sushi rice or congealed white cheese on, say, a day-old baked pasta dish, eaten cold. Another thing that sounds revolting that I mean as a compliment. The peanut powder was cool because it tastes like peanuts and peanuts are delicious but I would have liked it better if it were just, you know… peanut butter. Or like a decadent peanut butter-oriented dessert or something more in that vein.
I think that if I could have reinvented Bao to suit my exact Laura Jane needs, I would have nixed every single bell and/or whistle, and ordered two plain buns: both served hot with a generous pat of melted butter. And I wouldn’t have queued for them; I would have eaten them standing up, problematically drunk, in my kitchen at three in the morning. I probably would have said, or hummed, “Mmmm” aloud. The butter would have dribbled down my chin, and I’d’ve thought I was going to puke before I ate them, but then I wouldn’t puke. They would have cured me.
LIZ: My bao day was two Saturdays ago, during the last gasp of L.A.'s disgusting mid-August heat wave. My friends and I had tickets to see Straight Outta Compton in the dome at Arclight early in the afternoon, so at some weird hour of the morning I drove down to Long's Family Pastry, which is a bakery in Chinatown I found by googling "best bao in los angeles." On the way I stopped at Guisado's and got a horchata spiked with cold brew and it made me feel like I could live forever.
Chinatown was a ghost town. L.A. was hot and asleep. The only other people in the bakery were a bunch of old men drinking coffee, hanging out in the ugly plastic booths. But I'm sure at some point in the day things really get hopping at Long's Family Pastry, since everything seriously costs about a dollar and it was all so yum-looking. While I was there I decided I'd go back every Saturday for the rest of my life, which is a promise I've already broken - though this past Saturday I did go to Big Sugar in Studio City and got the most beautifully gooey/salty oatmeal cookie in the world, oh my god.
So here's the part where I tell you I messed it all up: I thought I was getting black bean bao at Long's Family Pastry, but really what I ordered was black bean cake. And I have no regrets; my black bean cake was perfect. I don't even know if they have bao at Long's Family Pastry, so who knows what those weirdos on chowhound.com were going on about. Along with the black bean cake I got a pineapple bun and this crazy little can of iced coffee:
I brought the black bean cake home and ate it on the deck. On the ride there I'd listened to "Where Are Ü Now" and I had Justin Bieber's cute sad baby voice stuck in my head, which really enhanced the whole experience. My black bean cake was so fat and heavy and thick; each time I bit into it, my teeth sank so slowly through the nice gummy mochi and then the sweet crumbly black-beany paste. It was floppy and powdery and I held it with two hands and, after a few bites, peeled the top layer off: I like deconstructing my foods; sometimes when I'm eating sushi I take my chopsticks and pluck out the center of the roll, especially if it's an avocado chunk. I liked the textural experience of eating the top layer of mochi on its own, but then I missed the fatness of the intact cake and wished I could go back. I also had a few bites of the pineapple bun, which wasn't what I'd hoped for. I wanted it to be this insane thing where you crack it open and there's a whole world of pineapple inside: like, pineapple that's been smashed up and thrown into the oven until the sugar's crystallized, and now it's all sticky and sticks to your sticky fingers. Instead it was some plain old fluffy bun vaguely flavored with essence of pineapple. Whatever. This is my black bean cake btw:
After about half the black bean cake I felt full of mochi, so I wrapped the cake back up and stuck it in the fridge, then went to meet my people at the Arclight "Cineramadome." My review of Straight Outta Compton is I loved it and I mostly don't care that it's all sweetened up and sanitized. Like Eazy says to Cube: I like after-school specials. It gave me goosebumps at least half a dozen times and I cried a little and was completely unbored for the whole two and a half hours, and that all constitutes a successful movie-going experience for me.
That night my pals went to see Hannibal Buress at the Bootleg but I skipped it, since I just saw Hannibal Buress like a month ago and really I just wanted to stay home and go swimming and listen to my currently fave band, Spoon. Before getting into the pool I stood at my kitchen counter and ate the rest of the black bean cake and read the pieces about clams and vermouth from the previous Sunday's New York Times, listening to "Holiday in Waikiki" by the Kinks and "When You Dance I Can Really Love" by Neil Young and "Super Stupid" by Funkadelic and "The Bed's Too Big Without You" by the Police and "Pressure Drop" by the Clash. Then I made myself a white wine spritzer with riesling and Le Croix pineapple-strawberry, went down to the pool and put Spoon on, swam and swam and swam and swam. I thought a lot about how every swimming-pool movie scene shot from underwater is beautiful, and also about when Betty Draper says "Night swimming: it's divine" to Roger Sterling in season one. And I thought about how the shimmery-quivery thing that happens on the floor of the pool from the reflection of our Christmas lights matched up really nicely with the synth on They Want My Soul, and how I value and admire Spoon because they're so elegant about being immoderately romantic. I can't remember which Spoon songs I listened to but I'm sure I played "Anything You Want," which is my seventh or eighth favorite Spoon song right now, and maybe of all time:
LJ: When I first moved to London and found out that Bubbledogs was a place that existed, I got really excited; it sounded like the coolest place in the world to me! A restaurant that only serves champagne and different flav hot dogs that sound decadent and interesting whose logo is a line drawing of a dachschund who sails across the front page of the Bubbledogs website hugging a champagne cork? What about that concept isn’t cool? It never would have even crossed my mind to think it wasn’t the coolest sounding restaurant ever!
But then I realized that it’s actually really gauche to think Bubbledogs is cool. Everybody hates it! They are all irritated— really irritated— by the concept. (In fact, I asked TWO entire pals of mine if they wanted to accompany me to Bubbledogs for the sake of my writing this piece, and they both said NO! They straight-up REJECTED me! That’s how terrible they think it is!) I mean, yeah, I guess the pairing's arbitrary, but it sounded good to me, and there seemed to be enough variation on the wine and food menus that it’s not just the same thing over and over again. But, as a timid new Londoner, I chalked my initial impression of Bubbledogs not sucking up to my being a country bumpkin in the big city, and succumbed to the allure of groupthink. “How annoying!” I griped about Bubbledogs, “I hate that shithole.” Another gimmicky shithole, Chick’n Sours in Dalston (which only serves fried chicken and cocktails that end with the word Sour) opened up a few months ago, and I went through the same weird thought process of loving the sound of it but then losing touch with the adult human skill of having an opinion of my own and starting to either think it was stupid or behave like I thought it was stupid. When, in reality, the only one thing about Chick’n Sours that I know for sure is stupid is the apostrophe in the word “Chick’n”- it’s horrible! Worst apostrophe of 2015. I literally think that spelling the word chicken like “Chickyn” would even be preferable to “Chick’n.” At least that way you could tell people it was in homage to Caitlyn Jenner.
I decided to reclaim Bubbledogs about a month and a half ago, but then was really poor all July so couldn’t go until today: August 12th, 2015. A day, like every day, when the thought of eating a hot dog and drinking a glass of champagne at the same time, even in a moderately douchey environment, sounded like a decently good thing to do.
I took the tube instead of the bus to Bubbledogs, which was out of character for me, and then I had to do that horrible thing where you walk to the place from the tube stop watching the little blue dot that is you traverse the streets on the map in the Citymapper and then turn your phone upside down and cock your head weirdly when you need to figure out whether you’re supposed to turn left or right because the dot-you is coming at the cross street from a different angle than life-you. I got to Bubbledogs and kind of strutted in the front door with a mildly sweaty/”I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment” kind of energy to me. Everyone in the restaurant was like “There she is.” Just kidding. The only person who noticed me walk in was a way young blonde lady with way broad shoulders. She became my waitress.
The restaurant was lopsided. It was top-heavy. Someone had pumped a ton of money into making the bar area look like someone had pumped a ton of money into it, and behind it hung a chalkboard with the hot dog menu written out in funky penmanship in multicolor. Crystalline light fixtures clearly meant to resemble bubbles were suspended from the ceiling. Playful cartoons of the cute weiner dog adorned the walls. I liked the weiner dogs, and the light fixtures, but I was indifferent to everything else. I would definitely describe my general life vibe as being “neutral” at that moment.
My waitress asked me if I wanted to sit at the end of the bar, or at what she called “the ledge.” At the end of the bar, I would have been jammed between two pairs of basic blonde ladies whose champagne was pink and a group of rah-brah businessmen. “Rah-brah” is a new term I just made up to combine the English pejorative “rah” with the North American “brah.” It is a genius innovation.
I chose “the ledge.” I had the entire ledge to myself. I sat on the far righthand side, and wrote a Tweet on my phone, and then read my book for a little bit. My book is “How To Be Both,” by Ali Smith. I’m a little less than halfway through, and so far, love it less than everybody else does. In fact, I don’t love it. I barely even like it.
The Ukrainian chick came back to my table— my ledge, I mean— and asked me if I’d eaten at Bubbledogs before. I said that I had, to spare myself the painstaking task of sitting there listening to her explain what a glass of champagne and a hot dog is— obviously, I know everything in the world about what a glass of champagne and a hot dog is. I ordered myself 125 mL of the most expensive champagne they sold by the glass and a “BLT” hot dog, feat. bacon, caramelized lettuce, and truffle mayo, according to the menu. “Beef, pork, or veggie?” asked the waitress, about my frank or whatever. I was caught off guard by the question, and said “Beef,” though maybe I should have said “Pork”? What are hot dogs traditionally made out of? Like, snouts and hooves and snails and whatever, right? Beef? Are they ever beef? Probably sometimes, yeah, in higher-quality scenarios. I guess there’s no right answer. I just really hate having to say the word “pork” out loud.
My champagne was great, because it was champagne, and all champagne is great. It had everything going on that it possibly could have had going on. It tasted like fruit and bones and earth and water and bread. The waitress brought out my hot dog about forty-five seconds after I’d ordered it, which never bodes well. Cook the fucking thing and then garnish it to perfection! It should take you five minutes minimum! It was served in a cute little basket, and the basket was lined with a piece of waxed paper printed with pictures of the Bubbledog. It tasted like crap. Here is what was good about my hot dog:
1) The weiner had a bit of a snap to it
2) It was a meat and a carb
3) The texture of mayonnaise
Here is what was bad about my hot dog:
1) The weiner was eh
2) The bun was eh
3) The lettuce wasn’t “caramelized,” it was just cooked, and limp, and every bite of the entire hot dog experienced tasted more like cooked limp lettuce than anything else. Cooked limp lettuce flavoured bread, cooked limp lettuce flavoured meat, cooked limp lettuce flavoured truffle mayonnaise, etc..
4) The truffle mayo barely tasted like truffle. The word “truffle” was 80% of why I ordered that hot dog at all! It tasted like worst-case scenario Caesar salad dressing, really salty and sharp
5) The word “bacon” was the other 20% of why I’d ordered that hot dog, but it wasn’t bacon, it was bacon bits. Stop not delivering on your promises, Bubbledogs! When you write the word “bacon” on your menu, it gives your customer the expectation that they are going to be eating a piece of bacon. A meager sprinkling of bacon BITS is NOT a piece of bacon. This was the bacon equivalent of ordering a glass of champagne and then getting a plastic cup of supermarket-brand Prosecco
6) Some manager-y guy who was obviously really bored during service was standing around the till located about three feet away from me from me the entire time I was eating my hot dog. I’m not trying to imply that he was a shit manager, I’m sure he was doing everything there was for him to do; at one point he even refilled my already-full water glass, and in my head I was like “Whoa you poor guy, you’re so desperate to be doing work right now,” but it’s just a really shit feeling to be taking a bite out of a hot dog and at the same time know that a man is watching you do it
7) The champagne didn’t really pair well with the gross anchovy-y mayo, which is NOT the champagne’s fault
8) Nothing is EVER the champagne’s fault
9) The champagne is perfect.
I spent about twenty minutes of my life sitting at the Bubbledogs “ledge” and my meal cost me £20. I spent more on the champagne than I did on the food, which is generally how I like to roll. I walked away wondering if maybe I’d just ordered The Wrong Thing, which was so stupidly martyr-y of me. It’s not my fault that my hot dog was crap! I’m like champagne; I’m perfect. Everybody was right about Bubbledogs, and I was wrong about Bubbledogs, but if my hot dog hadn’t’ve sucked, I would have been right about Bubbledogs, so no matter what, I’m perfect. In conclusion: Champagne and I are both perfect, champagne and hot dogs as a restaurant concept is arbitrary but so is more or less everything, and there is no apostrophe in chicken. Q.E.D.
LIZ: At the end of July my brother Mike and I took the Coast Starlight train from L.A. to San Francisco, then flew to Portland, then took the train from Portland to Seattle. We stayed in each city a few days and I ate my hot dog in Seattle, our last afternoon in town, at a bar called Unicorn. It was mega-hot that day and a couple hours earlier I'd made my brother walk with me up a big hill to go see the apartment building from Singles, stand in front of the building for about 30 seconds, Instagram it, and then walk back down the big hill again. By the time we got to Unicorn I felt fairly disgusting and my Unicorn hot dog made me even more disgusting, because look at it for god's sake: it's a corn dog buried in onion rings with barbecue sauce all over it, and I drank it with some excessively sweet tequila drink made with blood orange liqueur. It's making my stomach ache again just thinking about it. What I really needed at that point was maybe a tiny wooden bowl of seaweed-and-sesame salad and a clean cold slab of tofu, served with a cup of miso and cup of iced green tea. But oh well. The decor was way cute, anyway. The 22-year-old version of myself felt very much indulged by those stripes and horse heads.
I just checked the "Notes" app on my phone to see if I had any notes about my Unicorn hot dog but apparently all I wrote down is "So hot," "Grossly full," "Basic BBQ," and "Clash." The Clash thing is that the bar was playing all Bob Marley songs, which I took as an opportunity to tell my brother the story of how Bob Marley had initially written the Slits into "Punky Reggae Party" (the part where he says "The Damned, The Jam, The Clash," I think?) - but then cut the Slits out when he found out they were girls. And right after I told my totally fascinating story the bartender changed the song to "Punky Reggae Party," which freaked me out. "Do you think he put on 'Punky Reggae Party' because he heard me talking about 'Punky Reggae Party'?" I asked Mike. And Mike was like, "Probably, yeah." For some reason I felt like it meant the bartender hated me. I was Punky Reggae Paranoid. I blame the hot dog and its weird aggressive vibes.
To make up for my hot-dog experience being kind of a bust, I'll tell you my three favorite things I ate in Seattle: (1) the Pat Schmear burger at the Redwood, (2) the peanut butter pie from the takeout window at Pie Bar, and (3) a bite of the blueberry French toast that my brother got for breakfast at Glo's, mostly because some cute/psychic member of the Glo's staff put on #1 Record by Big Star right after we sat down and then played the album in its entirety. I have zero memory of what I ate at Glo's, but I'm sure it was great. Here is Mike's Big Star French Toast. I think it looks like a castle.
3rd COURSE: A BERRY-THEMED DESSERT
LJ: I championed “berry-themed dessert” as being one of our SFWISC dishes for this round because at the end of May I went to Paris and ate a tarte aux framboises which, despite being one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, turned out to make absolutely no lasting impression on me. I can’t remember if I remembered something about it when I initially decided I wanted to write about it, or if I was just being an idiot and kind of knew in my heart of hearts that I had nothing to say about it but was hoping I’d think of something cool in the future. The only thing I remember about the tarte aux framboises that I guess is somewhat worth documenting is that it came served on a purple napkin, and the napkin got a little bit wet from the moisture of the fruit, and a piece of it broke off of itself and came along with the bite of tarte for the journey on my fork, and then when I noticed it I got really scared and shivered because there is nothing worse in the world to me than the thought of biting down on a piece of paper napkin or paper towel. It is like fingernails on a chalkboard only ten billion times worse.
I’ve been sort of stressed about what berry-themed dessert I was going to eat in place of my tarte aux framboises. I did things like Google “best strawberry dessert London” but nobody really writes blog posts called The Ten Best Strawberry-Themed Desserts In London- maybe I should. One day. But right now, in August of 2015, I’m weirdly less excited about eating sweet food than I ever have been, which I think is because sugar is an addiction and I’ve accidentally un-addicted myself to it and then the un-addiction just builds and builds and builds until you find yourself so thoroughly disinterested in eating a sweet that “I can’t think of a single dessert I want to eat!” becomes a legitimate source of stress in your life.
I thought about texting Barker to suggest replacing the berry-themed dessert with something that appealed to me more, i.e. something with bone marrow or garlic butter or a Prohibition-era cocktail or kind of wine, but that felt like a failure to me. And I was afraid that it would haunt me, that every berry-themed dessert I ever encountered, from that day forward, would be sullied by it.
In the end, all of this berry-themed dessert bullshit I was putting myself through ended up coinciding with me having the extremely cool life realization that I’m never going to let myself get stressed out by anything again, I’m just not, so I decided to stop making a mountain out of human history’s most obvious molehill, calm the fuck down and have my berry-themed dessert be a slice of either blueberry or raspberry (whichever one they happened to have on whichever day I happened to eat it) vegan cheesecake from Harvest E8, a place where I go pretty much every day anyway.
Harvest E8 is an organic food store with a little coffee shop attached to it. The bus stop where I catch my bus to go to work is directly in front of it. Almost every single day of my life, I stop into that coffee shop and get an iced Americano and a slice of vegan pear & pecan loaf. Every once in a while, when the pear & pecan loaf looks dry, I get myself a slice of vegan banana bread instead. Once I tried the vegan apricot muffin, and once I had slice of vegan fruitcake, but those were both mistakes. Oh! And once I had a vegan brownie, which was great, but not really a functional choice for pre-work snack. I think a brownie could keep a person sated for best case scenario a half an hour. A slice of loaf can keep you going for up to three!
It would be safe to say that the little coffee shop attached to Harvest E8— I just realized, I’m not sure if it’s also called Harvest E8, or if it has a name of its own that I’ve never bothered to know— has some of the worst service I’ve ever encountered in my life. Everyone who works there is an airhead who can’t do their job properly, except for one guy, who wears horn-rimmed glasses and an army jacket and looks like the comedian Tim Meadows. I think he is the manager. Sometimes he comes off as being very overtly frustrated with his idiotic staff, he’ll roll his eyes and sigh a lot, and I sort of feel him but also, like, hey dude, you are the manager (probably), so the responsibility ultimately falls on you to stop hiring idiots! Or at least do a better job of training the idiots up to be regular-quality cashier/baristas who aren’t constantly shocked and confused by the most basic aspects of what their jobs are.
I procrastinated eating vegan cheesecake for all of last week because part of the appeal of the pear & pecan loaf is that you can casually eat it on the bus and it doesn’t smell like anything or require the use of a knife and fork. You can’t just eat a slice of vegan cheesecake out of a paper bag with your fingers while sitting next to some middle-aged guy who is a stranger. Today is a Sunday, it’s my day off, and I finally ate the vegan cheesecake this morning.
It was fine. My hair was really dirty. I worked out and then I took a shower but I decided not to wash my hair. I didn’t think it was that dirty, but then when I emerged from the shower it seemed like it had gotten way dirtier over the course of my shower, somehow. Part of the reasoning behind my not washing my hair was because I didn’t wanted to waste time having to blow-dry it, I wanted to get this m-f-ing show on the road and go eat some berry-themed vegan cheesecake!!! But then I ended up spending more time trying to get my disgustingly filthy hair to look reasonably normally okay enough to be seen in public being physically attached to than I would have just washing it and drying it like a normal person would have after working a fifteen-hour-day and not bathing the day before and then sweating all over it while doing squats and lunges that morning. I finally got it to look moderately alright pulled into an ugly high ponytail that flops over to one side like a Dalmatian or beagle’s silky ear or dolphin’s flipper. I left the house and made up a scenario of running into a person that I know and having them be like “What’s up?” and me being like “My hair is so dirty!” since the dirtiness of my hair was so obviously the number one most noticeable thing about me, even in a world where nobody ever gives one one hundredth as much of a shit about you as you imagine they do. But, if you had seen me today, I’m confident that that one one hundredth of a shit would have been devoted to noticing how bad my hair looked.
I walked to Harvest E8. They were out of the raspberry vegan cheesecake, the one that I actually wanted, so I ordered an iced Americano and the blueberry. I knew one of the girls working to be an idiot already, the other I’d never seen before but I had low expectations. There was no Tim Meadows to be seen.
The new one made me a hot Americano instead of an iced Americano. Normally when people make those kinds of mistakes I let them go because life’s too short and who actually gives a shit, but I really hate hot coffee. I only drink hot coffee when it’s cold outside, and it’s not because I enjoy it, it’s because I’m addicted to caffeine. It’s disgusting. It’s a hardship. It’s something I should probably address at some point, but in the summertime I’m just so hype on drinking delicious iced coffees all the time that I perpetuate my addiction but also am unmotivated to do anything about it because I like iced coffee so much. It’s a real catch-22.
“I ordered an iced Americano,” I told the new one.
“A white Americano?” she asked.
“No, iced,” I said.
She sighed and made a disgusted face like I’d just made an uncalled for sex joke about her personally. I wondered if she hated me instinctively because my hair was so dirty and I came off like I didn’t respect myself. She made my iced Americano, then said: “That’s going to be seventy pounds more.” I knew she meant seventy pence, and that English wasn’t her first language, but I still decided to be a dick and say, “Seventy pounds? I owe you seventy pounds?"
It was one of the rudest things I’ve ever said— to a service employee, that is. I’ve said way ruder things to my loved ones.
“Yes,” she said.
“I think you mean seventy p,” I said, which was even ruder than the last rude thing I’d said, and then gave her seventy p. In my head I thought, “This is insane, Laura! You are being such a giant asshole right now!” but then I sat down and thought harder about it: “What the fuck? I wasn’t assholey enough! Why did I let them con me into paying seventy p for their mistake? You need to march up to the counter right now and demand to speak to a manager!” But I knew that the manager, Tim Meadows, wasn’t there, and that it would be pointless to create bad blood with the staff of a coffee shop attached to an organic food store that I frequent five to seven times per week, and that life’s too short and who actually gives a shit. I made a vow to write it down, knowing full well that I’d get worked up about it again while I was writing it down, which I did, and then to fully move on and never think about it again in my life.
The vegan cheesecake was fine. It was a smaller slice than I’d hoped for, and took me about thirty-five seconds to eat. The crust tasted like nothing, the bulk of it was nice and creamy and tasted like Tofutti cream cheese with agave syrup or some other natural sweetener mixed in, probably because it was that, and then the top layer, the blueberry part, was not-unpleasantly gelatinous and tasted more like sugar than any discernible berry flavour. Overall, it was about twenty percent worse than a slice of pear & pecan loaf, and only slightly more forgettable than the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
LIZ: My berry dessert was strawberry shortcake and it happened at the bar of some semi-classy restaurant one of the piers in San Francisco. I can't remember the restaurant's name and it doesn't matter at all, as there was nothing even remotely remarkable about it. Mike and I were waiting to take a ferry ride around Alcatraz, and we stopped there for lunch. I got a beer and a cup of clam chowder and an order of fries, aka my all-time favorite meal to eat at the bar of a restaurant at lunch time by the water in summer. I doused the fries in vinegar and ketchup and salt and pepper and they were perfect. I also feel like telling you that my breakfast that morning was a cone of the bourbon-and-cornflake ice cream from the Humphry Slocombe in the Ferry Building: A++.
BUT UNFORTUNATELY MY STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE WAS TOTALLY UNDERWHELMING. It was trying so hard, which is the last thing strawberry shortcake should ever do. Strawberry shortcake should be a sweet little lazy brat that never tries at all. Strawberry shortcake should barely get out of bed in the morning. Also, look at that goddamned mint leaf. Who on god's green earth wants a mint leaf on top of their strawberry shortcake? People who are bad at life, that's who.
I mean of course it was delicious. Even a ridiculously try-hard strawberry shortcake can't try its way into tasting bad. The whipped cream was basic and made me get Cool Whip-account-era Megan Draper saying "Just taste it!" stuck in my head, there was some dumb moat of strawberry goop around the biscuit, and the biscuit itself was overly firm and not the least bit overtaken by the whipped cream or strawberries - but I liked it just fine. I had it with champagne and we went on the boat around Alcatraz and I listened to Mountains by Mary Timony to align myself with the theme of "imprisonment" - though of course in Mountains' case it's a psychic imprisonment rather than a literal one.
So yeah, that night we had dinner at Emmy Spaghetti's Shack, which turned out to be my #1 food experience of the entire trip, followed semi-distantly by the black pepper & honey omelette at Juniors in Portland. Emmy's was recommended to me by my buddy Justin, who we'd had drinks with the night before at a bar where I got a gorgeous tequila drink with carrot juice in it. Emmy's is in the Mission and right now I can't think of any restaurant I've ever loved more: it's loud and crowded and chaotic in a happy way that you'd call "bustling," there's a pinball machine and a bar you can eat your spaghetti at (my best thing), they played Salt-N-Pepa and the Clash and the menu looks so much like the cover art for The Magic City by Helium:
Justin had told me, "Just get the spaghetti and meatballs," and so that's what I did, because Justin knows what he's talking about. I also got a glass of chianti and we had garlic bread which I hardly remember but I'm sure it was from heaven. Everything was from heaven. Including our waitress, who looked like Julie Delpy in 1997 and had half-up-half-down hair and high-waisted short-shorts that showed off a tattoo on her right thigh - a cool move, she wasn't some wispy little thing. I wanted every guy I love to fall in love with her. I wanted to stay there forever. I've done the math and decided it's 1,000 percent worth the money/time/everything to fly up to San Francisco from L.A. for the sole purpose of eating dinner at Emmy's and then just fly back home again. That'd be a killer fifth date, I feel. Here's a picture of me eating my Emmy's spaghetti supper and being in heaven:
My point with all this is I'd love to see what Emmy's could do with a strawberry shortcake. I'd bet they'd make it so sloppy but effortlessly elegant, as strawberry shortcake is meant to be. The strawberries'd be overly ripe, mashed up with sugar, maybe mashed with a mallet. They'd ooze juice and stain the whipped cream and biscuit but there'd be none of that goopy soup going on: no moats. And the whipped cream would be homemade and not too sugared and the biscuit would be fresh outta the oven, all hot and crumbly. Julie Delpy would throw it down on the table and it'd be already falling apart, a total mess, totally shambolic. I'd eat it with champagne served in a fat little clear-plastic cup, or maybe a goddamn jar, and at the first bite something perfect would start up on the stereo, the most perfect strawberry-shortcake-eating song there could ever be, like maybe the Iggy and Debbie version of that song "Well Did You Evah":