Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting to Know You

by Jesse Hirsch
Mon, Oct 10, 2011 at 9:56 AM

Hello. I’m taking over food coverage for the Express from my colleague and friend, John Birdsall. I’ve been writing about food for years, but I’d rather skip the yawn-y details of my resume. I’ll just tell a story.

Three years ago, I was living in the culinary mecca of Brooklyn. I had just relocated from a stint in the Midwest (think: deep-fried everything), and I felt immensely blessed for my newfound playground. I loved a good urban escapade, especially when there was a beach taco, a Korean stuffed chicken wing, or a perfect pastrami waiting at the other end.

One night, my friends and I had clam pizza in our sights. It’s a white, thin-crust pizza, topped with plump littleneck clams, olive oil, oregano, garlic, and a handful of grated cheese. We had read a lengthy article exploring the origins of this regional treat (pleasure reading for food nerds), tracing it back almost 80 years.

We tracked down Franny’s, a joint legendary for clam pizza wizardry. Franny’s put some tweaks on the traditional clam pie, foregoing cheese, lacing the crust with white wine and heavy cream, adding a bit of chili pepper fire. Maybe non-conventional but still, a revelation. After a couple of slices, I felt beholden to (and smitten with) our chef. We ordered more pizzas, including one with a baked duck egg in the center.

And damn, was that a fine egg. Rich, unctuous, almost aggressive, its memory has eclipsed anything else on the pizza (figs? offal? cheese?) We were seated near the controlled chaos of the open kitchen, and I yelled to the chef: “That egg was the best thing I ever…” He stopped me short. “Duck is good and all, but you know what lays the perfect egg? Goose. It’s totally overpowering, makes a fucking incredible omelet.”

After that night’s brilliant dinner, I trusted the chef implicitly. If he said goose eggs were the best, then that they must be. I had a new grail.

Clam pizza had proven to be a straightforward quest, but I would spend countless man-hours scouring food message boards, calling poultry farms, and trolling off-brand ethnic markets in search of the elusive goose egg. Duck eggs were easy to find in Chinatown, and I saw goose carcass hanging in the Greek butcher's window every day. But goose eggs? I got a lot of shrugged shoulders and shaking heads.

A couple of years went by, and I moved to the Bay Area. I had all but given up on my quest. Until, at a farmers’ market this summer, on the counter of an unremarkable chicken egg booth, there were two goose eggs, each big as a grapefruit. By week's end, I had scrambled one, poached the other, and closed the book on another food adventure.*

Goose eggs were just the beginning of my Bay Area culinary wish fulfillment. Abundant, year-round produce; fresh-caught Pacific seafood; carnitas burritos...honestly, you're probably sick of hearing East Coast transplants rhapsodize about your food. But I can't help it. I feel very fortunate to write on something I'm so passionate about, in a place so rich with material. I hope I can convey that.

For a bit more background, visit jessehirsch.com. Comments? Tips? Stay in touch via Jesse (dot) Hirsch (at) EastBayExpress (dot) com.

*How was it? I’ll let you have your own adventure.

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