October 22, 2004

Even Mercedes Batteries Fail, and a little French Lesson

Gentle Readers, for the second week in a row, I must sadly admit that I did not properly lunch today. I had anticipated eating lunch with my friend Angelee Field, who is last week's birthday girl. We were planning on eating at one of my favorite South Berkeley greasy spoons, Sconehenge. After work last night, Angelee evidently left her car's lights on until this morning. Sadly, her automobile would not start, which has prevented us from enjoying what I consider to be one of the best straightforward club sandwiches available. My treatise on club sandwiches and comfort food will have to wait, alas. Instead, I will talk briefly about her birthday, where we all ate like Rockefellers.

As I reported last week, we went to San Francisco's House of Prime Rib, a landmark since 1949. I'll give you a hint as to what I had. It came with a fresh salad, tossed tableside with a sherry vinaigrette, bacon-studded creamed spinach, potatoes (I had mashed), Yorkshire pudding, and was not the fish of the day.

Obviously, one goes to the HOPR for the prime rib. It comes in four different cuts. Nobody at the table had the largest one, the Henry VIII cut. I had the "medium-sized" HOPR cut, medium-rare. Jon "Screech" Levinson, with whom I had lunch at Mitami, had the same sized but more thinly sliced English cut. All the girls at the table ordered City cuts which, despite the fact that Henry VII (man-sized) was smaller than the city (SF is 49 sq. mi.), are the smallest cut available. If you finish your HOPR or Henry VIII, you can get another slice (a thin, English one) of prime rib. Ben Goeke ordered a second slice, which went to Daniel "Spanky" Lewis, the latecomer to our party.

The HOPR serves its prime rib au jus-not with au jus, in au jus, nor with au jus sauce, all of which are bastardizations of French. That would be like having apple pie with à la mode, which you cannot do. You can have your apple pie à la mode, or you can have it with ice cream. Similary, you can have prime rib either au jus, or with gravy (or with jus, but that just sounds weird). Of course, roasting prime ribs of beef is rather an English tradition. The English, Gentle Readers, like Americans, have a tradition of bastardizing the French language.

On a funny side note, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote that he once stole the jus from a joint of mutton that 3 Englishmen were having roasted at an inn in France, "leaving nothing to [his] English friends but the bother of chewing its worthless residue" (The Physiology of Taste, 350). English language bastardization of French terms probably stemmed from that instance.

HOPR cuts tend to have a bone in them, which yields supremely decadent, marbled, juicy meat, which I accentuated with the judicious application of a delightfully tangy and caustic horseradish sauce. In fact, I must admit, the best bite of meat I had was actually a bite of salty fat from near the bone, with the barest dot of horseradish. The knives they provide are exceedingly sharp and hefty but also superfluous because the meat is probably tender enough to cut with a spoon.

HOPR is a throwback, not just because of its old-fashioned, men's club-like interior with dark wood panelling and fireplaces, but also because it features table-side service. The black-tied waitstaff prepares everyone's salad at the table in a chilled bowl, then serves it onto your chilled salad plate whereupon you eat it with a chillled fork. They also garnish baked potatoes at the table, filling them with sour cream, shredded cheese, chives, and bacon.

For the record, our group's meal efforts were bolstered by 2 bottles of Grgich Hills Zinfandel and 2 bottles of Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

All in all, it was a memorable meal to celebrate the 23rd birthday of one of my very close friends.

Action shot of Daniel "Spanky" Lewis, a late arrival from LA, finishing off what the rest of us could not. Posted by Hello


At 10/25/2004 08:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmm! That looks delicious!


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