Oh, the rough life of a restaurant reviewer. The calorie binges, the sneaking into restaurants hoping your dining companions don't give you away, the strain on your friendships ("Free dinner again? Honey, we need to have a little talk.") It's enough to drive any writer into therapy. Or the gym.
Last weekend was particularly grueling. After visit number one of two at Sophie's on Park Boulevard in Oakland, I returned to find a note on the door announcing that the restaurant, which has been open for a year and a half, would be closing for good on July 14. Quick change of plans: my companion and I jump to the next restaurant on my schedule, I plead for a deadline extension from my editor, and put in a call to the restaurateur. Chef-owner Alexander Baccarat is closing up shop due to "a number of factors -- the economy probably has something to do with it." Baccarat, who worked at such restaurants as the Lakeview Club and Terra before opening Sophie's, plans to stay in the Bay Area. The space will reopen under new owners as the Purple Plum in a month or two. Check back here for details.
If that wasn't enough, I left our editorial assistant close to tears the day before. When I called in to check for messages, she excitedly reported that the owners of Tango Gelato, a new Argentinean gelato shop on Fruitvale near MacArthur, invited me to stop by--"and they want to send a few pints of ice cream over to the office!" I had to explain our policy of never accepting bribes -- I mean free food -- from restaurants who want to get our attention. The sadness in her voice as she acquiesced was heartbreaking.
A couple days later I took a quick jaunt over to see what Argentinean gelato tastes like. Argentina has a large community of Italian descent, so the concept isn't as improbable as it sounds. Tango makes its gelato and sorbets from scratch -- but uses milk instead of cream. It sells about twenty flavors, most American favorites such as rum raisin, strawberry, coffee, and vanilla. The sorbets tasted of fresh fruit but were too watery to vibrate with flavor. I preferred the denser, creamy gelatos -- especially the sambayon, flavored with marsala wine. As my friend Rob remarked, "It's not the gelato you get in Italy, but it's the best damn ice milk I've ever had." At least it didn't send me, whining and guilt-ridden, to the Stairmaster. Again.