Friday, November 10, 2006

Garlic Galore in San Francisco

Work is completed in Oakdale, California and my colleague, Splint McCullough and I are in search of some good dining. We are joined by our associate Danbury, an impossibly tall Connecticut aristocrat. He’s trailing us in a rented blue Subaru station wagon.

Splint programs Gloria, our Neverlost GPS device and the Digital Dame of Directions points us towards “The Stinking Rose,” a garlic restaurant at 325 Columbus in San Francisco. The Stinking Rose ( is all garlic, all the time – a temple to the aromatic bulb, and homage to the annual gargantuan garlic crop of Gilroy, California.

Both Splint and Danbury have previously dined at the Stinking Rose, while I am a novice to this baptism by garlic. “You’re going to have to bathe after dinner,” recommends Danbury.

It sounds irresistible.

During the 86 mile journey, Gloria has a slight freak out and advises Splint to make a sharp left while we’re still on the peak of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Fortunately, Splint has a way with technology and coaxes Gloria back from the brink. She regains her senses, and guides us safely to the Stinking Rose in North Beach.

A rainbow-colored neon sign marks The Stinking Rose, and the unmistakable pungent aroma of garlic seeps from the front door. The décor is patterned after a Moroccan marketplace. Our booth is concealed within a red velvet cabana adorned with gold tassels. In fact, it’s a bit like the inside of Barbara Eden’s bottle on “I Dream of Jeannie.”

We order the signature appetizer, “Bagna Galda” which also goes by the very California name of “Garlic Soaking in a Hot Tub.” It’s basically a couple of dozen cloves of garlic submerged in warm olive oil, butter and anchovies. The garlic cloves are soft, succulent and taste rich and earthly, almost like sautéed mushrooms. We dab the garlic paste on chunks of focaccia bread and devour it.

For our entrees, Splint orders Halibut with Garlic Mashed Potatoes (when in Rome…), Danbury selects 40-Clove Garlic Roast Chicken, and I can’t resist the salute to Hannibal Lechtor, “Silence of the Lamb Shanks with Chianti Glaze & Fava Beans.” I suggest to Danbury that he count his garlic cloves to make sure his dish is authentic, and proceed to attack my lamb, which is so tender it falls from the bone. The red wine reduction has a long finish, and Splint and Danbury offer up their best imitations of Anthony Hopkins.

Danbury must shortly leave us for an overnight flight home to the east coast, but I have an inkling that desert may offer up a confection that could even manage to win over a vampire with a sweet tooth. I am proven correct. I request Gilroy Garlic Ice Cream with Hot Caramel and Mole Sauce. It arrives in a serving dish the size of a communion chalice. The boys watch with trepidation as I take my first spoonful. How do I describe the moment? It is perhaps a garlic epiphany. There is first a rush of sweetness, and a touch of spice from the caramel and mole sauce. Then, a sweet toasty tang of mellow garlic wraps several times around my tongue. As the heady flavor finally dissipates, there is the finish of rich, luxurious cream. My head feels like it’s in orbit.

Danbury departs for the airport, and Splint and I take a walk through the North Beach neighborhood, where former flower children and derelicts are in ample supply. Before heading for the car, we stop at a bodega and purchase the inevitable after-dinner chaser.

Splint gets a pack of Rolaids and I secure an industrial-sized roll of Certs.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

The Stinking Rose?? Ha! At first I was like, what a horrible name for a restaurant! Then I got the reference and thought it was so clever. :)

Ari (Baking and Books)

Veron said...

I agree that is an excellent name for the restaurant! :)

Kathy said...

I've wanted to visit this restaurant ever since I read about it here on your blog. I finally did...and wasn't disappointed. Thanks.