I recently attended a continuing education seminar at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular
Diseases at UCSF on the management of hypercholesterolemia. Since this sojourn requires the
same planning as a vacation to the Bay Area, I decided to spend an extra day trying several
restaurants in the area. Wait a minute! Wasn’t the trip primarily to learn about the treatment
of hypercholesterolemia? And in my spare time I would what?!? Partake in cuisine that may
contribute to hypercholesterolemia! Then I thought about it. For the best of criminal profilers
to be effective, they must not only think like a criminal but become the criminal. That’s it! I’ll
go beyond simply learning textbook treatment of hypercholesterolemia. I’ll become the patient
with hypercholesterolemia and eat like they would. All in the name of science.

Absinthe Brasserie and Bar

I started with lunch at Absinthe Brasserie and Bar at Hayes and Gough. It’s conveniently located
about a block from a public parking structure on Grove Street. Absinthe – named after that
libation concocted from wormwood with supposed hallucinogenic properties that was
subsequently banned from most of Europe and the US (its mind altering properties probably
stemmed from its high alcohol content) – serves traditional French brasserie or bistro faire. I
passed on any wormwood concoction but tried their signature L’Opera – gin, sweet vermouth
and orange liquor shaken to perfection. I started lunch with the Chicken Liver Pate served with
Levain toast points and cornichons (small tart pickles). For starters, chicken liver isn’t anywhere
as fat laden as duck or goose liver though cream or schmaltz (chicken fat) was probably added
to make up for the abnormal fatty accumulation found in force fed ducks or geese. It was the
BEST chicken liver dish I’ve ever tried! As smooth as the best foie gras with no chicken odor
whatsoever. And the toast points were perfectly grilled on both sides with a perfect crunch that
didn’t scar your upper palate. I also tried their Local Ohlone Smoked Salmon with fried capers
and crème fraiche. Five thicker slices of cold smoked salmon served with crostini (think thin
adult Zwieback toast) and I also indulged in their French Fries – thin strips of perfectly fried
potatoes. They were slightly thicker than canned Pik-Nik sticks but amazingly tender on the
inside with the perfect crunch on the outside. Absinthe lets you choose one of four dips for
your fries, an aioli, ketchup, malt vinegar or mustard. I choose the aioli or garlicky mayonnaise
since I’ve always felt a perfect mayo marries best with great fried potatoes. Absinthe was the
perfect start to an, ahem, scientific experiment.

Restaurant LuLu

Next up was Restaurant LuLu located on Folsom between 4th and 5th streets. Though parking
here is a little more cumbersome due to the recently installed parking meters (valet service is
available after 5pm for $11), LuLu is also well worth the culinary trip. They feature Provencal
cuisine with a wood burning oven, rotisserie and grill. LuLu is a very attractive restaurant with a
sunken main dining area, a large bar and a cathedral ceiling reminiscent of a large wine barrel. I
started the evening with a Negroni – the perfect blend of equal parts of gin, Campari and sweet
vermouth shaken to perfection with that nice ice line near the rim of the glass. LuLu offers a
starter antipasti course for $14.50 – the diner gets to choose three different antipasti out of a
total selection of ten items. I had the Salt Cod Brandade – a slightly salty rehydrated cod paste
on crostini, Duck Liver Mousse with mustard and cornichons and the Cured Salmon Crostini
with fennel. I paired my antipasti with their house flight of Pinot Noirs (they offered four
different flights of wines that night). The 2 California Pinot Noirs paired nicely with the salmon
while the French Burgundy highlighted the Duck Liver Mousse. I originally intended on ordering
the Fritto Misto of lightly fried artichokes, fennel and lemon but my server thought valor the
better part of discretion and advised that I stick to the antipasti and entrée lest I need assistance
being “rolled” out of the restaurant. If you’ve never tried thinly sliced lemon slices, I highly
encourage it. The acidity of the lemon along with the slight bitterness of the pith and peel
perfectly complement the light crispy batter! I decided on the cappelini (very thin pasta) with
Dungeness crab served with a lemon olive oil. I paired this with both a tasting portion of an
Italian Pinot Grigio and a Central Coast Chardonnay. The lemony quality of the Pinot Grigio
matched the lemon olive oil but the richness of the Chardonnay perfectly complemented the
rich Dungeness crab. As it turns out, I probably could have polished off that plate of Fritto
Misto so I ordered their trio of sorbets to finish my meal. The cranberry, lemon and pumpkin
sorbets were as refreshing as they were flavorful.
If you like to pair various wines with different dishes, LuLu is the restaurant for you since they
offer multiple tasting flights (2 ounce portions) and at least a dozen other wines are available in
tasting portions, full glass or mini carafe (half bottle) servings. Science is tough job but
someone’s gotta do it!

Poggio Trattoria

I did make a brief stop to the Hog Island Oyster Company for two dozen of their finest bivalves
and a glass or two of champagne before heading just north of the Golden Gate for an early
dinner at Poggio Trattoria at the base of the Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa in Sausalito. I started
my meal with the Crostini Misti Della Casa which included a Tuscan Chicken Liver spread, an
Artichoke Spread and a Red Pepper Caponata on Crostini along with a mini Polenta cake with
Tomato and Montasio Cheese. I paired these antipasti with Poggio’s Italian red varietal tasting
sampler which included a Nero D’Avola, a Rubrato Aglianico and a Lacrima di Morro. The first
two wines were the most food friendly wines but the Lacrima had an interesting, intense
bouquet of roses and violets. I’m not sure exactly what food would pair with that aroma…
maybe a Lacrima based sorbetto! I then had their Carpaccio (very thin slices of lean raw beef).
It was served with baby spinach, fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano and drizzled with aioli. It was one
the better versions of Carpaccio that I’ve tasted. For my main course I had soup. Soup! Isn’t
that more of an appetizer? Not this soup. Their Ribolitta is one of their house specialties.
Ribolitta is basically a vegetable soup thickened with bread to the point where you can actually
pan fry it! Therefore it’s a twice cooked “soup” that drizzled with extra virgin olive oil before
serving. In essence, a Ribolitta is more of a crusted stew than it is a soup but Mama Mia, is it
delicious! I paired the Ribolitta with an Umbrian Sangiovese/Cabernet blend and while the wine
was very good, it was a little too powerful for the Ribolitta. The wine would have been better
served with a grilled Tuscan steak. Because it was still early (and because it was my last evening
in the Bay Area) I once again had dessert. I ordered the special Gianduja gelato – rich chocolate
and hazelnut frozen delight! It was served as 5 thick slices and I could only manage to finish two
of those slices. Along with a perfect espresso, I was ready for dreamland. However, as convivial as
the wait staff was at Poggio, I don’t think they would have tolerated a diner tucking himself in
for the night in the middle of the dining room.

Was My “Research” a Success?

For starters, I actually lost 2 pounds while in the Bay Area. My guess is that the long walks in
crisp 60 degree weather had something to do with it (especially when you’re accustomed to 85
degrees). Fancy restaurant sized servings also limit the amount of food you can consume since
these restaurants don’t super size their portions and while the food seemed rich, my choices
were either lower fat (chicken liver versus goose liver or milk based gelato versus cream based ice
cream) or vegetable based (ribolitta and several crostini spreads). In that sense, I guess I failed
my mission. But like that old saying goes, when you fall off of the horse, get back on and try
again. All in the name of science.
A Mini Bay Area Restaurant Guide