26 MAY 2007, Page 64

It’s a beautiful way

Rachel Johnson gets high on food in San Francisco Ihave just returned from San Francisco. I loved everything about it. I loved Castro, the men in leather vests and sex shops called everything from Does Your Father Know to Rock Hard. I loved Haight-Ashbury, with its Furry-Freak vibe and smell of pot. I loved the magnificent new De Young museum, with its cracked pavement leading from the road to the main entrance, to symbolise the area’s tectonic topography. I loved the red Golden Gate Bridge swooping across the water, with the lighthouse on Alcatraz a blinking eye in the bay. I loved driving north into the hills of Marin County with the windows down and smelling the eucalyptus.

But most of all, I loved the food. In San Francisco, they don’t just cook — they kook. So hi there, I’m Rachel. I am your server today. Come with me on my crazy Californian culinary journey and, like, enjoy?

On arrival I was starving, as I had missed breakfast in LA. So my escort, Amy (a lovely hippie-chick whose adjectives ranged from ‘beautiful’ to ‘just beautiful’), took me straight from the airport to One Ferry Building, where Clinton eats when he’s in town. A gastro-emporium where the farmers’ market is sited on Thursdays, here you can buy a tomato for $4, and choose from a million cheeses, handmade chocolates, artisanal breads, handroasted coffees, cupcakes and so on. But the farmers’ market was shut. So we went to Boulettes Larder.

As soon as we sat down a waiter came and poured us water. Inside the jug there were black things floating.

‘What are the black things floating?’ I asked Amy.

‘It’s charcoal. It helps purify the water, and restore the acid-alkali balance in your system,’ she said.

I looked at the menu. ‘The ingredients we source are grown with principles that are respectful of taste, the environment and social justice,’ it said. Despite that, I ordered the brodo, which sounded hearty enough on the menu (which detailed not just every ingredient in every dish, but the producer, so I know that the fava beans and peas came from Mariquita Farm, and the egg was an Heirloom Organic). Before it arrived I ate a whole basket of bread (Acme bread) and butter (Clover Organic dairy). After it arrived — it was a beautiful thing, a richly reduced golden broth, with a few peas and whatnot, and a poached duck egg — I ate another. Amy had the PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussel and fregola sarda soup. She ate very slowly, as if it was a mystical experience.

Then we went to Peet’s Coffee & Tea (a San Francisco company, now a chain) and I had the best cup of coffee ever, so roastytoasty strong and good that I vowed that I would never visit Starbucks again. That was my mystical experience. Then we bought brownies and scones, from Lulu Petite, to fuel ourselves for shopping.

And so it was that I went to possibly the most right-on supermarket in the history of the planet, the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, which, I should warn you, is closed for Gay Day (last Sunday in June). It maintains an ongoing commitment to making the store an inclusive environment that is welcoming to everyone. It does not sell meat. It creates a non-hierarchical workspace based on mutuality and respect. You have to take your own bags and containers. It is busy, busy. Its muesli section has to be seen to be believed. It is so crunchy granola, in fact, that I felt myself becoming a nicer person just by walking the aisles.

That evening Amy outlined two dining choices. ‘There’s Greens,’ she said, ‘in the Presidio. That’s beautiful. It’s vegetarian, and the produce is grown on a Zen farm. Or we could go to Gratitude,’ she said. ‘Oh yes?’ I asked. ‘It’s organic and vegan, and they serve mostly live foods.’ Amy explained that the dishes on the menu weren’t called ‘sprouted almond sesame hummus’ and ‘live chilli con queso nachos’ but ‘I am bountiful’ or ‘I am present’ or ‘I am honouring’, etc. ‘So when the waitress brings the order, she places each dish in front of everyone, according to what they’ve ordered, and says, “You are happy, you are powerful, you are bountiful.” It’s beautiful.’ Though I was tempted to try the Zen vegetables, I felt unworthy of them, and of Café Gratitude’s aboundingness. So I went back to my hotel, drank beer and ate twitchingly fresh sushi on my big smooth bed in front of a flat screen showing The Sopranos.

And that was good, too.

Photo: David Montgomery

RAINBOW GROCERY COOPERATIVE www.rainbow.coop GREENS Tel: +1 (415) 771 6330 BOULETTES LARDER www.bouletteslarder.com CAFÉ GRATITUDE Tel: +1 (415) 824 4652