Having lived on the East Coast for six years and in the Bay Area for only three, I am still constantly, happily amazed at the quality of service you can find here.
For one thing, on my first visit to our neighborhood Albertsons I was picked up some cream cheese and canned pumpkin to make a Cook’s Illustrated Bourbon Spiced Cheesecake. I was used grocery checkouts being silent, surly affairs but not this one. The checkout lady started chatting with me about cheesecakes and how she didn’t understand why both the cream cheese and canned pumpkin weren’t yet on special and it was just all so very pleasant.
One of our first Bay Area restaurant experiences was likewise transcendent. We sallied forth to Alamo Square Seafood
Grill for the first time and as we left, the owner said, “See you next week!” as though we had been dining there for years. Back in Boston, we lived above a wonderful Cuban-French restaurant where we supped on the matchless pressed Cubanos, mojitos, and conch fritters at least once a week. Did they ever do anything to recognize our devotion? Not a nod, not a “welcome back,” nothing. (Of course it didn’t stop us going, those Cubanos were thick and crazy.)
On my first visit to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, I was happily browsing through the mushrooms at Far West Fungi’s booth (this was before they were installed inside). I went to pay for my paper bag of Lobster Mushrooms, and Ian threw in a particularly hulking Matsutake. “This is my favorite,” he told me, “Just throw it in a pot of rice and see how it flavors the rice.” I nearly bronzed that mushroom with a plaque reading, “I Love San Francisco.” But I didn’t. I ate it. It was delicious. Then there was the complimentary twenty-three-dollar glass of vintage port that the guys at the now sadly dufunct Hayes & Vine presented to us, saying, “Welcome to San Francisco.” My jaw couldn’t have dropped more if it was a snowman’s thermometer.
As the months passed, I started to notice this Bay Area Attitude more and more. I noticed my attitude as well. It changed. No longer did I stalk down teeming streets, eyes to the ground; ready to glare, ready to growl. I looked up, I smiled, I got smiles back. And then I got complacent. Sure people in San Francisco could be generally friendlier than people back east, but so? It became the norm.
We picked up a take-out order from Abacus. Szechuan eggplant, garlicky peashoots, flakey fish and black bean sauce, and steamed ri — wait, where was the rice? Where was the rice to soak up all that sweet stickiness from the eggplant? It was a bummer, but we didn’t feel like driving back to get it. We were hungry and crabby and wanted to eat immediately. So what happens? Abacus calls, tells us we forgot our rice, and then DRIVES IT OVER TO US. Let me make this clear, Abacus doesn’t do deliveries. You can eat in the soothingly lovely boôte of a Cal-Chinese restaurant or you can pick up your food. They don’t deliver. But that night? For us? They did. The driver wouldn’t accept a tip, but we pressed a few cold bottles of New Belgium Trippel on him and he promised to drink it back at the restaurant.
I think I told that story to anyone who would listen for an entire week. Some were surprised, others shrugged, complacent that service like that was nothing new out here. I, for one, am happy to be shaken out of my complacency to remember what a truly fine city San Francisco is.