Aqua and The Sundays

November 17, 1997. Every month or so for the past eight, I've gone out for dinner and drinks with my rocker friends, Matt Easton and Mike Phillips. They're really just grade school chums, but I prefer to call them "my rocker friends" on account of it making me ultracool. (They're half of a East Bay based band called The Jenny Thing, so the moniker is more or less appropriate.)

One of my favorite groups, The Sundays, were playing in San Francisco on the 17th, which approximately coincided with our monthy fraternizing. Unfortunately, Mike's fondness for The Sundays was too tepid to pony up the cash for a ticket, so, alas, we were minus Mike. On the upside, we were plus John Kendall, Matt's roommate. (He's not in the band, but since he does play, he technically also counts as a "rocker friend.") Giddy with the imminent presence of Harriet Wheeler, and feeling a bit financially reckless, we decided to make it a night of wretched excess (and possible retched excess) by hitting Aqua, one of SF's top dollar grub joints. (For the record, it is often described in trade magazines as "one of SF's top dollar grub joints.")

I arrived first, and was admonished by the hostess for my shorts-based wardrobe. I suggested that they put us in the corner by the kitchen, out of sight, but they insisted it wasn't a problem. And that next time I should wear pants.

While waiting for the other two to show, I hung out at the bar with the social elite, and ordered a glass of Pinot for $9. And it kinda sucked.

They put us in the corner. By the kitchen. Out of sight. Suh-weet.

(Ratings added on 7/2/01. Recollection, and thus accuracy, arguably suspect.)

Curried Lentil Soup      +7
Roasted Baby Potato with Sweet Onion Puree, Creme Fraiche, Osetra Caviar, Dill Essence      +7
Dungeness Crab Cake with Tomato Confit and Basil Emulsion      +8
Black Mussel Souffle with Saffron Sauce      +10
Miso-Glazed Sea Bass with Prawn Egg Roll and Tempura Leek      +6
Medallions of Rare Ahi with Seared Foie Gras, Sauteed Spinach, Potato Shallot Cakes, Pinot Noir Sauce      +8
Orange Creme Caramel and Crispy Phyllo Napoleon      +9
Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Quince Sorbet      +8
Lady Apple Tartlets with Green Apple Sorbet      +8
Chocolate Taster (lots of stuff I can't remember)      +9
Old Fashioned Root Beer Float and Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies      +10
Coffee Cake, Molasses Tuile Cone, Vanilla Ice Cream      +10

This was one of the best tasting menus I've ever had, second only to Charlie Trotter's. The only weak spot was the prawn egg roll, as it seemed misplaced. But tastily so.

The best dinners are the ones that trick me into liking something I previously hadn't. Caviar, like golf, is a vice that for my wallet's sake that I never take up. But the little specks on the potato were perfect. It was used more like a seasoning, maybe the mature, refined older brother of nuoc mam (vietnamese fish sauce).

As usual, the foie gras did not disappoint. Ahi seems an odd pairing, but the combination turned out to be incredible, and something I would recommend to everyone.

Plopping sorbet atop the apple tartlet and the pumpkin cheesecake was also a new and perfect experience. And I am now convinced that no dessert plate is complete without a root beer-chocolate ice cream float.

The Sundays show, aside from being a religious event, was unremarkable.

After the show ended, the Fillmore exit was a mad crush of mashed bodies and flat tires. In the middle of all this, I realize I'd forgotten to buy a t-shirt from the show. (This is what happens when the agenda, and the brain, is too full.) I start working back upstream, much to the dismay of those involved. Halfway back I realize I don't have enough money for a t-shirt, because I burned through all of my cash at Aqua. Heh. If only I hadn't drunk that pinot swill.

Outside, I find John and Matt, we stand around a bit, consider smoking, hijacking the tour bus. I contemplate re-entry (with borrowed money). I move tentatively to the entrance/exit where there are people spilling out and stand to the side, trying to gauge the difficulty of a shirt acquisition.

"This'll never end," I say, of the exiting mass.

"Yeah, looks tricky," says Matt. "But you can't leave without a shirt."

"Might have to. John looks anxious to get out of here. Maybe I can get it mail order."

"Oh, but that's not cool. You have to get it at the show. If you want to be cool."

"Dammit. I have to be cool."

I peep around the corner again, squinting past the people coming down the stairs. With no warning, some burly guy in a very 80's muscle shirt turns to another guy and clocks him right in the side of the head. A mouthful of spit was knocked from his mouth, giving me a nice facial of man-fluid.

The muscle-shirt guy starts after the other guy saying, "You wanna grab my ass NOW, motherfucker? Huh? Step up, bitch!"

And the other guy stumbles off saying something like, "No pongo mi cabeza!"

Now, I'm all for a rousing episode of street violence, but there was something really unpleasant about that whole incident, starting with the fact that, the mexican guy really seemed to have had nothing to do with the ass-grabbing. I'm also disturbed that someone's reflexive action would be to resort to violence...which in itself isn't news to me, but for the reflex to also account for (or disregard) the aforementioned anonymous nature of the ass-grab, and for the violence to be incited in such an unabashedly random manner is frightening.

Given that I was standing right next to the assaultee when the violence erupted, I can finally say I've been one Mexican away from being punched in the head.

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