Zhadi's Den

Random essays on wine, writing, moving to San Francisco, surfing, cats (exotic and otherwise) and zombies...depending on my mood.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Solo Lunch

I like having lunch by myself. Not all the time, but on those occasions where a: I actually take a lunch (I have a bad habit of grabbing something small and eating it at my desk), and b: don't have anyone to accompany me, I make the most of it. Today I went to Kokkari, a Greek restaurant in the Financial District of San Francisco.

To quote their website: Kokkari (pronounced Ko-kar-ee) is a small fishing village located on the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea, whose name is derived from the small onions that were once produced in nearby fields. Its fertile soil and Mediterranean climate translated into an abundance of fresh produce as well as treasured seafood and game. Legend tells thatKokkari is the site where Orion, a mighty hunter and a young man of gigantic stature and great beauty, fell in lovewith the daughter of the King of Chios. For the love of her, Orion foraged the island for wild game and seafood toprepare elaborate banquets in celebration of their love. Today we hope you will enjoy your own celebration as you dine at Kokkari Estiatorio on food "fit for the Gods" prepared with an Aegean palate and the style of innovative California fare.

I've been to Kokkari twice before: once for drinks, once for lunch. It’s large, but cozy, with a huge stone fireplace dominating one wall in the front room. The wine selection, especially by the bottle, is good if somewhat pricey. Their food...well, I've only had two things off of the menu: the Saghanaki - pan fried Kefalograviera cheese with lemon & oregano; and the Grilled Calamari - stuffed with feta, fennel & orange with black olives on a bed of watercress.

This afternoon I had a craving for the calamari, a rich and tasty dish filled with various flavors and filling all on its own. I wanted a glass of Cristalino Cava to accompany it; I'd had the combination before and it was perfect. The slightly sweet sparkling wine complimented the light saltiness of the calamari and feta. It was a combo that had lived on in my gastronomic memory banks and nothing else would satisfy me. Imagine my disappointment when the waiter told me that they were out of the Cava.


Okay, I didn't actually vocalize the 'wahhhh', but I'm sure it was pretty easy to read by my expression. The very nice waiter suggested another wine with the same hurried desperation that I’ve seen people give squalling babies pacifiers. He recommended a Dr. Unger Grüner Veltliner, a white wine from Austria. “It’s slightly sweet with a nice mineral character to it,” he said.

I thought about passing on the wine altogether because I’d had my heart and taste buds set on the Cava, which was yummy and very cheap. Also, while I enjoy tasting white wines, if I’m going to spend money on a bottle or even a glass, I definitely fall heavily into the red camp. On the other hand, I was all set to treat myself to the rare pleasure of a glass of wine with lunch and wasn’t ready to give that up yet. Besides, the grüner grape was an unfamiliar varietal and I wanted to expand my horizons.

The waiter, smart man that he was, brought me a taste. It was a generous sample, at least two ounces, served in good sized wine glass, not one of those clunky little Mini-me wine glasses that a lot of places use. You know, the kind where four ounces fills it to the brim and any attempt to swirl your wine to sample the nose is just asking for disaster? Yeah, we’ve all tried it...and worn part of our wine home as a result.

I swirled, sniffed and sipped. The nose was fragrant, citrus and floral. Yup, slightly sweet. Definitely an underlying mineral characteristic, giving a nice crispness to the flavors, which included pineapple and citrus. It also had a lovely smooth mouthfeel, with just a teensy bit of ‘sparkle’ on the tongue. It was light, refreshing, and (to use my favorite wine tasting term) yummy. I ordered a glass and waited for my calamari to arrive, happily nibbling on bread dipped in olive oil and finishing my sample while reading The Emperor of Wine, The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste. I’d gotten the book for Christmas, btw, and had just started reading it on my Muni rides to and from work, but I hadn’t thought of how pretentious it’d look to be reading it while doing the whole wine tasting ritual. I kept the title of the book hidden so I wouldn’t look like a total poser.

The calamari arrived and it tasted as rich and decadent (yet still “good for you,” as the owner of the restaurant informed me) as I remembered. I savored the small appetizer for a good 20 minutes, cutting each individual calamari into several pieces. I ate one at a time, took a sip of wine, had another little bit of bread soaked in olive oil and the juices from the appetizer. Little slices of blood orange brought out the citrus tang of the grüner, which in turn balanced out the salt and richness of the feta cheese.

When I was finished, I didn’t need dessert or coffee. I was sated and happy. Sure I’d spent a couple dollars more than I’d originally planned, but after a couple days of protein bars and almonds for lunch, I felt that I’d earned it. I gave the waiter a 25% tip and wandered contentedly back to work.


  • At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I get some of the sensation you mentioned with good old Fetzer Gewurtz!

  • At 9:21 AM, Blogger zhadi said…

    Ah....fetzer gewurtz...R.L. Balzer's favorite!

    I went to lunch at Kokkari yesterday too, it was yummy!

  • At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Karen said…

    Happy Birthday! (better late than never, eh?)

    Mmm...calamari...that sounds SO GOOD right now. I don't know how you can live in SF and NOT go out every day. Come on, really torture me and tell me about the great Mexican food. (I live near Wash DC and around here they think Chipotle is great Mexican...)

  • At 6:20 PM, Blogger zhadi said…

    If I went out every day, I'd be a: fat and b: broke! But there choices are endless...and I made my own grilled, feta stuffed calamari last night...not bad!

    Ah, good Mexican food. There are burrito places on every corner that make amazing food (not just burritos). Orly Orly is yummy - it's in the financial district and has all sorts of speciality dishes.

    I like chipotle too...

  • At 5:53 PM, Blogger Esereth said…

    If you're going to eat alone, choosing a place with food worth your concentration is a good idea.

    God I love Greek food.


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