Monday, November 10, 2008

What's a Burrata?

My wife and I were sitting in Vicoletto’s, a newish Italian restaurant in the North Beach area of San Francisco, on Saturday night. The décor was Euro modern, the waiters all had thick Italian accents (the real kind), and the prices in general looked reasonable. Since we were celebrating our anniversary either that or I forgot to bring my reading glasses again, I did my usual thing of ordering an item on the menu that I didn’t recognize. The “burrata” came with lettuce and sliced cherry tomatoes, so I assumed it was some sort of salad. The menu mentioned that they fly the stuff over from Italy once a week and this was the best that could be found. My wife gave me her “Oh not again” glance.

I took the precaution of ordering fried calamari along with the mystery dish. A few minutes later the waiter returned with a big white pouch of a cheese-like substance decoratively presented between a bunch of cherry tomatoes and some lettuce in a very good dressing. Two young Italian women were sitting at the bar speaking Italian to the bartenders and I noticed that they too had ordered the burrata. My wife and I poked at the cheese which had some sort of creamy substance pushing out from the middle and ate an occasional spoonful while we played “So, what do you think this is?”

The two Italian women seemed very happy with their burrata. In the meantime, the maitre-de dropped by to talk to us about the creamy white blob. He re-explained the bit from the menu about how it has to be very fresh and this is the best in the world. His wife had come in a few minutes earlier and brought along his maybe three year old son who didn’t like being trapped at the restaurant (I hated it too when I was a kid stuck at my dad’s restaurant for several hours). Every few minutes, the kid would scream at the top of his lungs. In between screams, we had a chance to ask what it was and he explained that burrata is a cousin of the mozzarella only way more expensive. I turned to my wife and told her “But it was only eight dollars.”

She shook her head at me. The maitre-de's son then started crying again.

The rest of the meal was incredible. Pasta was made from scratch and my wife kept praising the fact that they included spring potatoes in her pesto along with baby string beans. My tagliatelle in Bolognese sauce (spaghetti in meat sauce last I checked) was equally wonderful as was our desert. We maybe made it half way through the damn burrata. It was good, but how much mozzarella-like substance can you eat at one sitting? So, the thing sits at our table the rest of the meal until my wife asks the waiter to put it in a box so we can savor it at home.

I also ordered the mystery dessert, which turns out to be white and cylindrical or more or less like the burrata, though this time it’s dressed with a mint leaf, raspberries, and blueberries. The waiter tries to describe it in English and the best he can come up with is that it’s a kind of whipped cream or like their version of crème brulee which also happens to be on the dessert menu. We love the dessert. The poor burrata sits in a bag next to my wife.

The bill comes, it’s seventy two dollars for the two of us. It’s not that bad for two people out in the city, but it’s more than we expected. My wife, who has her reading glasses, looks it over and discovers that the burrata was eighteen dollars not eight dollars. “Dear, you’ve got to either bring your glasses or stop ordering things at random.”

“Seriously, I thought it was eight dollars, the same price as the calamari," I don’t tell her that I originally thought I’d ordered some Italian version of a burrito.”

Eventually, I go home and look up burrata on the wikipedia. I learn that it’s a cheese made from water buffalo (which came to Italy from China) and that it’s wrapped in leaves because it’s so delicate. Okay, I’m used to chevre, not quite ready for water buffalo.

I try to tell my wife we were having a burrata weekend. Even though we live within an hour and a half of San Francisco, we rarely go there. In fact, we were debating whether or not our youngest daughter had ever been to Fisherman’s Wharf. We spent the morning walking from Fort Mason to Pier 39 and back and even bought the crab cocktail from the street vendor next to Alioto’s. We had Thai food for lunch- spent the afternoon at the Asian Arts museum- stayed at the hotel Boheme in a room dedicated to Alan Ginsberg (I kept worrying that we’d find used needles in the bathroom) – bought lemon and hazelnut truffles from some tiny French specialty shop two blocks from the hotel – hung out at City Lights – bought dim sum the next morning. Bottom line, we decided to take a chance on doing different stuff now that we're free of volleyball tournaments. After all, America had done the same thing just a few days before by electing Obama.

I should say something about the Afghan exhibit at the Asian Art Museum which is built into what was the old main library for the city. Years ago, I used to attend the San Francisco Writer’s Workshop every Tuesday night there. The Holmes room where we met got turned into an administrative area. With all the talk lately about Afghanistan as a war zone, I’d forgotten that as a central part of the silk road it’s one of these places where Buddhism, Islam, Greco-Roman culture, and China all met. I guess with all the war, a lot of the artifacts had been looted. Depressing stuff, but also fascinating.

I guess this will always be our burrata weekend, one which we’ve sworn to repeat only maybe without the exotic-exorbitantly expensive-mysterious cheese. If we do though, it might not be the same somehow.



At 11/10/2008 04:23:00 PM, Blogger Marianne said...

You talked about a "creamy white blog" !!! I thought that was so funny.


At 11/10/2008 05:14:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

meant to write "blob", but it came out "blog"....I think I'll probably leave it that way :}

So were we the only people who had never heard of burrata?

At 11/10/2008 06:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Pusteno and I haven't heard of burrata, but (per Wikipedia) it's made of mozzarella di bufala - which is wonderful (but imported and expensive). Happy anniversary!

At 11/10/2008 06:15:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Pusteno,

yeah, it's mozzarella made from water buffalo rather than cow. Who knew?

Mrs. Chancelucky wont' let me order birria or menudo either in Mexican restaurants.

At 11/10/2008 08:16:00 PM, Blogger benny06 said...

Happy anniversary, CL and Mrs. CL.

Last Thursday, I had to fly into St Louis, and Mr. Benny took me to "The Hill" section. It is the Italian section, and luckily, it was just for lunch. The bill was $26, but the 2-course portions pp were more ample, and I got a good glass of Chianti for $5. The restaurant owner gave us some information about the neighborhood, thus, we went to a wonderful bakery a block down. It had the best freshly made cookies. We bought a pound of them, many varieties, and they allowed samples for anything we wished to try. It reminded me of being in the North End of Boston, but this was less congested and friendly.

The owner also suggested the St. Louis Zoo as a tourist stop. It took awhile to get there, but the price of admission (free) was worth it in 10 MPH or less winds, 70 degrees, less traffic, and a good walk.

Back to the theme, I probably would have enjoyed the appetizer as well.

At 11/11/2008 08:58:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Benny,

One of the nice things about North Beach is that it too is filled with old style Italian bakeries. Vicoletto's was a bit more modern in style than most of the Italian restaurants there.

St. Louis is one of those cities that I've never spent much time in other than to see the arch and some hold Sullivan designed buildings.

At 11/11/2008 10:07:00 AM, Blogger MagicBunnySlippers said...

Sounds like a lovely anniversary dinner, though I'm personally not a fan of strange cheeses.

At 11/12/2008 06:34:00 AM, Blogger Sunny said...

We'll have to go check out this restaurant next time we're in SFO. Never heard of a burrata before, so now know what we don't need to order - we have a tendency to experiment when we dine out as well. ;)

At 11/12/2008 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

It was a lovely dinner and we aren't fans of strange cheeses either. I thought I was ordering a salad. Actually, burrata is a very bland cheese so it's not exotic at all except for the water buffalo part.

I do recommend Vicolleto's though San Francisco is one of these places where there are a lot of very good choices for Italian food. In the US, I still like New York for Italian, but I know some people insist that Baltimore's better.

These are always weird arguments though. I've even seen people who insist that the best pizza is in Youngstown, Ohio. Though that seems reasonable to me...the best cheesesteak I had was in Reading, Pennsylvania not Philadelphia.

At 11/12/2008 02:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must check if we have a Philippine version. I mean, we have LOTS of water buffalo, after all -- :-)

At 11/30/2008 08:14:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

It all sounds tasty and worth it, blog or blob! The dessert sounds like panna cotta? Happy Anniversary you daredevil you!

At 12/01/2008 02:35:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Wow! I'm pretty sure you're right that it was Panna Cotta, way better than water buffalo cheese :}

At 12/14/2008 03:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm devoted to strange cheezes.

You'll always have the burrata story and otherwise this particular anniversary might fade into Anniversary Blur?

You're done with volleyball tournaments leaving more time. I'm done with political phoning finally for awhile. Am recovering from exhaustion & happy with the result -- especially with Hillary as SoS. I think they'll be a good team. I should go find some burrata to celebrate tho I'm more a a Morbier girl. Smelly cheezes are my gig. (Morbier/More-bee-yay)

At 12/15/2008 06:16:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

the Burrata didn't seem to have any smell, so it's not a great choice for smelly cheese types. I don't drink so, I suppose ordering the 18 dollar cheese made up for not ordering wine.


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