Up and down Grand Avenue

Last night we had plans. Grand plans. We were off to my favorite place in the world. I go to the Alley for steaks and Manhattans, for the old men and the old songs, for the patina of a place that’s been around since 1938. I was excited to introduce Max to Bernice behind the bar and to see Paul and the other guys at the piano and to take my turn with a Cole Porter tune. We’d get the steaks and manhattans and make the mistake a nightcap we’d regret in the morning.

But no dice. We got to the Alley and it was shuttered until 1.11.

So we made other plans. Grand plans. From some blog or other, I’d heard of the Grand Tavern and cursory research and vetting on yelp seemed to support the idea. So we headed up Grand Ave.

But we got there, and something felt off. The open sign was oddly hand-made and inexplicably wrapped in saran wrap. The front steps of the craftsman-style house were a little dark. The only thing that indicated this was really a restaurant was the clamor coming from down the front hall. I thought, “We’ll check out the menu, and then we’ll see.” But soon we were sitting in something of a living room, surrounded by the cacophony that can only come from forty-odd people packed into a wood-paneled room with nothing but an area rug to dampen the sound. Plus, our server advised us, someone had just proposed, so everyone was feeling, well, festive. And loud.

Looking over the menu, our hesitation continued unabated. There was something off both in layout and content. There seemed to be a lot of “sour cream sauces” and they offered something called “social skin fries,” that sounded more like something you should see a dermatologist for than order as an appetizer. I ordered a Ward 8 from the cocktail list, M got a beer, and as our waiter walked away, I thought, “we still have time to cancel it. Where else can we go?”

But we pressed on and every instinct I had to turn back was validated by the next step in the meal. We were going to start with the “fresh carrot mash,” the first thing on the menu, but were immediately advised by our server that it was “very sweet,” seemingly steering us away from it as an app option. Then why was it first on the menu? We skipped the course entirely and ordered mains. Steak for me, the Onion Lamb Shank for M. We hoped the entrée could overcome its name and deliver something better than it sounded.

It didn’t. My rib-eye was rife with sinew and the Onion Lamb Shank was confused by battling sauces and flavors. Two bites in, I was trying to figure out where we could head for dessert to rescue the evening. Adesso on Piedmont has dessert. We’d go there. As quickly as we could, we paid cash and left.

But heading down Grand we stopped short. There was something new, and just as those cues coming from the Grand Tavern told us to go away, this place was beckoning us to come in. Boot and Shoe service, was the name. From the votive-lit bar to the typewriter-reminiscent menu to the menu itself. Monterey bay sardines from the wood oven,mixed plate of cured meats, , margherita pizza, chocolate pot de crème. This is where we wanted to be.

My suggestion to go in was met with an enthusiastic yes, and soon we were in the back bar, and M came up with an even better suggestion. Let’s split a pizza, get a couple glasses of wine and save the truffles we picked up at Michael Micher for dessert. Done.

And where Grand Tavern had failed us at every turn , Boot and Shoe Service did us just right. From the service to the people, to the perfect pours of wine and the killer char on a marghertia pizza. This is where we wanted to be, and where we wanted to come back as soon as possible. They’d only been open a week, and from the crowd on a Thursday night, it’s clear they were doing something right.

So what did we learn? Trust your instincts over anything. When you’re right, you’re right, and by and large, well Yelp is very, very wrong.


the luxury of luxury.

Here’s the scene: it’s the mid-eighties, and I’m out to dinner with the family at 72 Market Street, where Gary and my mom were investors. We were regulars, and we knew just about everyone by name- from Steve the piano player to Julie the hostess, and of course, Leonard, the chef. The entire place was redundant muted shades of white with recessed lighting off-set by high ceilings and an infinitely dark floor. The entry was grand in that 80’s way, with a lot of slate stone and worn metal. There were oysters on the half shell (which I’m proud to say I enjoyed, even only being in elementary school), there were warm rolls with butter (though it being the 80’s, no one actually ate the butter), there was the first (and best) Caeser salad I ever had and there was ostensibly a lot of grilled chicken.

It was comfortable and it was luxurious at the same time, though I didn’t know how much it all cost at the time. We ate high-end often and I didn’t really know the difference. It was the 80’s. Everyone was flush, or seemed to be.

And no moment was this more true then when about halfway through entrees, Gary would ask for a bite of my food, and knowing that a so-called “Gary Bite” could easily consume a third of a serving at a time, I’d take a moment before reluctantly relinquishing my plate. “Come on,“ he’d say. “You can always order more.”

While yes, we could always order more, but no one ever did. It was the 80’s and while luxury was in, gastronomic indulgence was out, and no one would concede to a pat of butter, let alone a second plate.

Those times are long gone, in a lot of ways. Dietary restrictions were slowly replaced by financial ones, and even if 72 Market Street hadn’t closed, we wouldn’t be going much anymore.

Being on my own, it took a pretty long time to shake off the habits I’d grown up with, and detailing them here is nothing new. But while I discovered I could indulge in anything I wanted without the burden of guilt, being a college student and then a jr. copywriter, I couldn’t afford it. Caloric guilt was replaced by monetary guilt, and even though I was totally comfortable with ordering a second serving of whatever I wanted, my budget wasn’t.

But now, things are a little different. I’m a lot more responsible than I once was, which means, more than anything, I can be really irresponsible when I want to be.

A few weeks ago, Max and I were out at Alembic. We opted to keep things simple- an order of roasted peppers and just one pork belly slider, plus a salad. We thought we’d split the hangar steak entrée in the interest of underindulgence. But after a sazarac and a southern exposure, an old-fashioned and a pisco sour, we were well past the point of understated by the time the steak came. And two bites in, something happened. The taste was too good- perfectly cooked steak settled in a port chantrelle reduction, sweet balanced with savory and considering how much we were falling for the dish, not enough to go around.

Gary’s phrase rang in my ears, “You could always order more,” and finally, for the first time it was really true. And just as I suggested getting another round of steak, Max said, “I was just thinking the same thing. “ It felt insanely luxurious to off-handedly say to the waitress when she came back to check on us, “The hangar steak? Yeah, we want another one of those.”

And it was great. The second serving of steak was just as incredible as the first, and the pure indulgence of the whole thing made it taste even better. I can’t think of another time, another perfect storm where desire met possibility mixed with just the right co-conspirator. And the best thing about everything? There wasn’t a trace of guilt at the table