Dining for Pride? Maybe it's just my frame of reference, but when I put gay together with food, you know what comes up? Lesbian potluck. Veggie dogs on the grill, hummus and baby carrots, gluten-free quinoa salad on the kitchen table, somebody's foil-covered tray of brownies and a couple pitchers of ginger-peach iced tea.
But there's a whole other world out there, beyond the mismatched Melmac of Oakland and Bernal bohemia. On Friday night, as happy gender revolutionaries were gathering in Dolores Park for the now-annual Trans March (much to the bemused entertainment of those dining at the sidewalk tables of nearby Pizzeria Delfina), a different sort of crowd was sipping rose champagne poured by a buffed and shirtless man with "Free Cocktails" scribbled in body paint across his back, nibbling smoked salmon piled on fat little blinis and chatting about the art that would be auctioned later by wine-country chef and cookbook author Joanne Weir to benefit both AMFAR and the James Beard Foundation in New York. This was the San Francisco Pride Soiree, held at new gallery/event space 12 Gallagher Lane.
The place was hard to find, located down a tiny alley off similarly under-the-radar Clementina Street, between Folsom and Howard Streets south of Market, but once there, hard to miss, thanks to the squadrons of valet parkers, black-suited greeters and the swath of royal-purple carpet pointing to the door. Inside, the show by Hunt Slonem large paintings of cheetahs (or perhaps leopards? Very large house cats with a fetish for fun fur?), butterflies, flowers, parrots, and bunnies--lots and lots of bunnies, a whole wall of frolicking rabbits obviously not yet informed that chef Traci des Jardins (Jardiniere, Mijita, Public House) would be serving fava-bean crostini topped with rabbit en escabeche right below their painted noses.
As you might imagine, being a high profile chef in the Bay Area means being asked nearly constantly to support this or that worthy cause. But, as des Jardins said early in the evening, "There are some things you can't turn down. The Beard Foundation has done a lot for us." Agreed Craig Stoll (Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina), "It's great, it's our opportunity to give back," since the Beard Foundation has long been a champion of up-and-coming chefs in the Bay Area, and AmFAR's decades-long dedication to funding AIDS research has made an immeasurable difference in so many lives.
Stoll says that he now sticks to things that benefit humans, meaning no whales, no rescue dogs. Even with that limit, his crew, like Traci's, is working some kind of benefit or charity event at least every few weeks.
Soon, the lucky philanthropists who've crossed the purple carpet are snapping up succulent, crispy-salty chunks of artichoke hot from the fryer. These are the famous carciofi alla giudia of Rome, paired with bite-sized saltimbocca, also a Roman dish, here made with nuggets of fried sweetbreads topped with sage and proscuitto. It's all preparation for Stoll's new Roman restaurant, coming to Valencia Street later this year in the old Ramblas space. There will be a full bar and a slightly more dressed-up air, with fewer t-shirts and tattoos, at least on the staff. The restaurant will share a wall with Bar Tartine, and Stoll hopes that Charles Phan will come back to the neighborhood and reignite his old Slanted Door space across the street.
Under the bunnies, des Jardins is finishing up plating her appetizers, nestling plump seared scallops into velvety pillows of truffled mashed potato, a two-bite dish perfect as a tiny pashmina snuggie. She's got a crew, of course, with one extra-special helper: her 10-year-old son Eli, properly dressed in a boy's-size chef's coat and taking his assistant duties quite seriously.
But the cell-phone cameras popping across the room aren't snapping pix of the food, heavenly as Gary Danko's hint-of-orange filet mignon slices over herbed gnocchi, porcini mushrooms, and cippolini onions is.
Gary Danko's Filet Mignon
No, the real beef is up on a pair of platforms at the center of the room. Three male models, shirtless in jeans, stand above the crowd radiating varying degrees of boredom, mild amusement, and awkwardness, their bare chests and backs daubed with squiggles and slogans in bright body paint while the ladies in the crowd clamber up in their heels to be snapped between them.
Me, I'll take my beef on a fork, thanks, especially when it's been fussed over by Gary Danko (Restaurant Gary Danko) himself. Spinach, tarragon, chervil and basil make the delicate spatzle sprightly and herbal, and the small, braised cippoline onions are marvels of slippery sweetness.
Upstairs, under paintings of parrots, were the nice folks from downtown dim sum palace Yank Sing, handing out plates of dumplings from a tall stack of steamers. The dumplings were warm rather than hot, but still quite tasty, from Shanghai soup dumplings topped with shredded ginger and red vinegar to the requisite har gow and shu mai, plus a green-wrapped spinach crescent and a plump pale dumpling filled with minced snow-pea greens.
For those who could stand the pumping house music pumping from the DJ setup atop a grand piano in the corner (manned by, of course, another painted, shirtless man), an array of desserts from pastry chefs Emily Luchetti (Farallon) and Yigit Pura (Taste Catering) was forthcoming.
And not any old chocolate truffles or lemon tarts; no, these were mascarpone panna cottas thickened with carageenan rather than gelatin, topped with candied fennel and cucumber-lemongrass gelee; lavender meringue pavlovas with macerated loganberries and candied rose petals; Meyer-lemon parfait pops; and housemade s'more stacks with tonka-bean ganache.
Mmm, s'mores and popsicles? Even my lesbian buddies' potlucks could be down with those.