San Francicso has a very special place in my heart. It is a town, a village of the most cosmopolitan energy to me. It is also as beautiful as any city I have ever been to. Then there is the underbelly of SF which is gritty and dark - that adds to the character of the city. It has Joyce Goldstein, the greatest gift of this city. What an honor to be able to call her a dear friend.
What it also has as association for me is the connection it gave me to my grandparents. Who lived the better part of two decades there. They lived in my Aunt's home in the Marina and the home afforded my grandma a garden and a life that brought endless joy to all who came visiting her.
My grandparents have since passed, but now I have new connections to SF. Chai and May Siriyarn from Marnee Thai restaurant, Meredith Brody (writer extraordinaire and a friend as loyal as they are made), Abhimanyu Katyal (classmate from MSVV, in New Delhi) and Joyce Goldstein (who has become my co-conspirator in all things culinary and otherwise). These connections keep Charlie and I feeling we have family in SF. Which we do anyways. Since I also have in the city my Aunt Aruna and my darling nephew Vikram Lakhwara. Two amazing relatives that make you proud of their relationship with you.
The last several days have been a whirlwind of eating and eating more and then some more eating again. It seemed our stomachs and every bit of space in our bodies had taken in all it could and stretched out as much as a body could. And so, we arrived at Joyce's home, hungry but also full. Trust Joyce to know exactly how to plan a menu. She knew what our lives would be like, and had planned what she considers to be a simple summer meal. Luckily for us, even though she went through a lot of trouble, she kept things as simple as she knows possible.
The evening began with the best-ever stuffed and fried squash blossoms. Mint was seducing the palate as the eyes were being romanced by the beauty of the crispy blossoms. The batter could not have been better, lighter, crisper and tastier. Joyce - you are amazing!!! But we always knew that. Next she served my favorite peppers ever, the padron peppers one finds in abundance in SF. I was in heaven.
The first seated course served to us was a bowl of the most compelling and certainly the tastiest Gazpacho we have ever eaten. Evan and Barbara (Joyce's son and his lovely wife) and their kids were just back from Spain and were hungry for Joyce's gazpacho. Exclaiming that none of the many versions Barbara and the kids ate in Spain were as good. Evan did not order or taste any, knowing none would match what Joyce makes. Well I was wondering what the hullabaloo about gazpacho was all about, and last night, I discovered it. A perfect balance between acidity, sweetness, freshness and lightness. Of course Joyce served it with sides of crusty-crisp and lightly garlicy bread, sweet peppers, onions and shrimp. Ooh la la! You can buy Mediterranean Fresh or Feedback to get the recipe. Joyce has written 27 cookbooks. Each one worthy of any and all cookbook collections worth anything.
Next Joyce was cooking a pasta as we were taking seconds of the Gazpacho. Tagliarini from the Pasta Shop in Oakland was lying in boxes. Fresh and ready to be cooked in a few minutes in boiling water. Perfectly matched baby potatoes, the smalles you could find, were cut in halves and boiled and roasted to perfection. Beans steamed just enough to make them al dente. Californian Olive Ranch olive oil, pesto made last morning, and parmigiano reggiano were part of the mis en place. As the pasta cooked for a few minutes, Joyce heated the oil and sauteed the potatoes for a few minutes. Added the beans to get them back to temperature and then threw in half of the grated fresh parmigiano. The pesto went in next. Heated some and then the pasta tossed in and more cheese sprinkled into the pan. Joyce and I served everyone pasta and ensured all got good portions of beans and potatoes. Heavenly at each bite. Reminder at each bite of the magic of the summer. A reminder too that simplicity does not mean simplistic. On the contrary, it can mean pleasure beyond description. The pasta did the trick. Gave us edible pleasure that did not fill us to a point of no return. We had room for dessert and we felt we had been deeply indulged. Possible? Only if Joyce is orchestrating a meal.
For dessert Joyce had made two flavors of ice-cream in two batches. Only Joyce will indulge family and friends with such a labor of love. Since she made 4 batches of ice cream, you can easily understand how much effort she made. But effort and desire are nothing new to Joyce. She has a deep rooted desire to please, indulge and be generous to those she loves. With that in play, she has boundless ability to put in any and all efforts needed to make any and everything happen in her kitchen and in her ability to create a special moment for her to share with all. Everywhere we saw produce in SF, the smells of peaches and strawberries were pervasive and simply present. Would Joyce ever not capture what is best of season? Nope! And so, she indulged us with two amazing flavors. Peach and Black Raspberry. Each simply sensational. I had two LARGE scoops of each flavor and was ready to go back for two more scoops (one of each). Joyce stopped me. Letting me know the ice cream is only in her freezer and available for me to come enjoy after lunch tomorrow (today that is, and that is just what we are planning to do).
Dinner with Joyce is not just about food. Dinner with Joyce Goldstein is about being in the company of one that has lived well, eaten well, traveled far and wide, and lived each day being present every minute of that day. Such is the brilliance of Joyce Goldstein. Such is the simple grandeur of her personality. That she also went to school at Smith and Yale, only adds to her wealth of knowledge and credentials. To know Joyce is a blessing. To be at her side the best gift one can ever get. To dine with Joyce is a heavenly lotto-victory that you keep pinching yourself about - wondering if it is really happening or if it is only your fantasy, a dream.
Mark Adams, the famed artist was also a fan of Joyce, and above you can see his portrait of hers.