For anyone who would love to have an intimate dinner in San Francisco, in a gorgeous Height-Ashbury setting, an evening with James Stolich is a “must do.”
My evening with James, Ria Bartsch, Steve Peterson, and my Jose began with a drive to San Francisco on a Wednesday night to follow-up with having met Setve (aka Stefano).
I met Steve at the Crushpad this past May 7. Steve asked if I’d go to a food event, if I were invited. The adventurous side of me said, “Sure, as long as I can bring Jose.” The rest happened very rapidly, as Jose and I headed south, not having a clue (except for reading James’s Website) where we were going, or how the evening would play out.
It was even more delightful than I would have imagined.
James’s story in his own words:
There is almost nothing I love more than throwing dinner parties for my friends and coming up with wonderful and creative dishes. The combination of the creative process, the planning and preparation of the dishes, and the act of giving to my friends is quite simply very rewarding. The intensity and focus that cooking requires is also extremely satisfying.
Nine years ago I only knew how to cook a few dishes. One day–shortly after 9/11 and the closure of internet company Quidnunc–I found myself watching FoodNetwork. Wolfgang Puck was preparing Chilean Sea Bass with braised escarole and cannelloni beans. I liked his personality and how he seemed so happy to be preparing the food. And so I thought that I should give it a try. What a wonderful way to channel one’s creativity! So I recorded the show and watched it several times to understand the preparation. That day I went out and bought some wonderful sea bass and put the dish together that night. It was my first major dish and it turned out very well (though my presentation skills have improved considerably over the years).
Just read his Website for the rest of this story, including what famous culinary people also live in his building… and it’s got the words Chez Painsse, Naples and Campania in the body of his paragraphs. It’s a great read.
Meanwhile, back to our night. It was a pizza making class, and although I’ve made a lot of pizza from scratch, Jose hasn’t. I knew I’d photograph and Jose would absorb, because he’s found his own love of food, from which I’m a direct beneficiary. (Since this trip to SF, Jose’s made pizza for me, and it rocked!)
I told James I’d bring the wine, and he could do his cooking thing. Wines that made the evening very special:
- 2008 Oak Grove Pinot Grigio (chilled for starters)
- 2007 Happy Camper Merlot (Perfect with Margarita Pizza)
- 2007 Happy Camper Cabernet Sauvignon (Amazing with the Napolitano pizza with crimini mushrooms)
- 2006 Vina Robles Petite Sirah (great with the cheese course at the end of our meal, which also included fresh strawberries drizzled with very old Balsamic vinegar)
- 2004 Foppiano Vineyard Petite Sirah (one for his library, as this one can lay down for 20 years, and still be a beautiful wine upon opening)
But… I’m ahead of myself…
James has spent time in both Spain and Italy, over a five year period. Anyone who’s traveled will tell you, there’s really no better way to learn anything than going directly to the source; and, James just seems to have absorbed as much as he possibly could in Florence, Rome, and Torre Annuziata. This culture immersion has given James some cooking advantages that make him a lot more well-rounded in his approach.
- If you’re living in San Francisco, this is a perfect place to have a private party with family and/or friends.
- If you’re planning a visit to SF, this is also a prefect place to dine in the Haight District in relatively private surroundings.
- I can also see this as a great place to impress a client… away from the madding crowds, where you can also get some private work accomplished, while having your private gathering in a warm and friendly dining room.
As the night began, James had prepped everything in advance, so starting with a Sparkling Portuguese Rose while he sauteed Crimini mushrooms in olive oil filled the air with delicious aromas of slow cooking in the best rated slow cooker James could find. He added a bit of sea salt and a specialty vinegar, which infused the crimini with delicious flavors, just at the end of his quick cooking of the mushrooms.
Our palates were activated.
James tried several different pizzas. He taught us all how to make his very popular flat bread pizza from scratch, without the use of a electric mixer. He made several different types of pizza, including a Margherita from Naples, and the evening also included a salad of escarole with orange segments & avocado. Another pizza that we enjoyed was a Napolitano pizza. James used Napoli Antimo Caputo, a very fine flour, for one set of the doughs that he used; and, he had another set of regular flour dough that he knew would cook well in his oven.
He was experimenting, because he had a new stove arriving the next day that would benefit from the fine flour dough… I had no problem being one of his guinea pigs for all of this. I loved both doughs, but the consensus was that the fine flour dough was going to do better in the next oven, because it would have high heat (700 degrees), and the pizza would cook in two minutes (without removing so much of the moisture)! Again, I like crackers, so the fact that the edges weren’t as moist as the center was just fine by me.
Whole mozzarella, almonds that had been earlier sauteed for munching as we waited for the pizza with a high end salami, basil waiting for a pizza to call home, rich and ripe olive oil… it was all coming together. Meanwhile it was interactive, informative, social, and all that you’d want a night to be… Feeling very familiar, like we had all known each other for a very long time, except we had really all come from so far away from our childhood separate lives… Ria from Prague, Jose from Puerto Rico and New York City, James had traveled all over Europe, Steve from the Bay Area – the only native, and me from New England… And, yet, we all fit, perhaps because we all had moved around so much with Steve anchoring us to his native San Francisco. Whatever it was that made it so special is also there for you, if you’ve got that adventurous soul that keeps me moving on and on.
Jose and I came away feeling like we had just ignited new friendships, while dining on absolutely delectable foods… That’s all I’m sure of.
Visit James Stolich’s site, and take a walk on the side of adventure. I can only imagine that you’ll be seriously delighted, too.