North Beach Journal

Gourmets, gourmands, voluptuaries, jazz, and my doctor

Well, here it is February, and I’m still grappling with Christmas — Christmas presents that is. I received a lot of gifts this year. The older you get, the more presents you receive. Along with the wool sweaters, I received olive oil made by the Dominican Sisters of San Jose, a fine Moleskine notebook in which to record random thoughts for my columns, and a bunch of books. I love receiving and giving books as gifts.

Most of the books I received this past Christmas were cookbooks or books about gourmands and voluptuaries — it would appear I am both, as my gift-givers pointed out. They know their man. But about those books …


A great book by Justin Spring, who selected six important American gourmands and traced their culinary influence. So far, I’ve learned A. J. Liebling (who wrote for The New Yorker) was a self-described glutton and suffered from gout. M. F. K. Fisher, that incomparable prose stylist who wrote glowingly about food, couldn’t cook. James Beard, the major American food celebrity of our time, couldn’t write, and had someone else compose his landmark cookery books. And Julia Child — who could cook and write, too — really was something of a klutz and dropped food in her TV kitchen after getting into the cooking wine. But we loved her anyway. Or maybe that’s why we loved her.


This is a good history of Chinese restaurants in America, written by the Chinese scholar Haiming Liu. Do you know where the oldest Chinese restaurant in the United States was? San Francisco, of course. It was the Canton Restaurant, which opened in 1849 and seated 300. That’s a lot of chop suey.


My friend John Mariani, an international food expert, has written a loving tribute to the iconic New York restaurant, the Four Seasons. Alas, there is no more Four Seasons. The owner of the Seagram Building where it was located closed it down. An ersatz Four Seasons-like establishment has opened on the site. Mariani’s book has glowing tributes from famous Four Seasons diners and a lot of great photos.


And speaking of books, I just finished writing another one. It’s a travel memoir called “Stops Along the Royal Road: Adventures from a Lifetime of Travel.” It comes out this spring.

Meanwhile, I’m working on yet another book. That’s what I do when I’m not writing these columns. This one is tentatively titled “In the Gastronomic TrenchesProfiles of Heroes and Heroines Who Have Been Important in the Culinary World.” A few will surprise you, some not: Alice B. Toklas, Calvin Trillin, Toots Shor, Sophia Loren, James Beard, and Julia Child.

I also give the nod to several North Beach locals — Mary Etta Moose (spouse of Ed Moose, the Washington Square Bar & Grill major domo), Gigi Fiorucci (who founded Sotto Mare and turned it into one of the most exciting restaurants in the city), Franco Montarello (creator of the much-missed Little Joe’s), and Liliano Salvetti (chef at the long-gone La Felce).


My doctor has retired. That’s what happens when you live a good, clean life and don’t fall into bad company. I’ve had a lot of doctors because I outlive them or they get tired of hearing about my maladies — real or imagined — and retire. And now, my all-time best doctor, Stephen Pardys, has retired.

Stephen was a solo practitioner. He had a small office near Laurel Village, and I liked to visit him regardless of whether I had an ache or a pain. What I really liked about seeing Dr. Pardys was to talk with him about jazz.

Here’s how I met Stephen. Several years ago, I had a fine doctor who died. (I trusted him, and he didn’t constantly ask me how many alcoholic beverages I downed each day.) I didn’t like the new doctor who inherited the practice. It seemed he was always too busy to B.S. with me. And in my view, good doctoring takes a certain amount of B.S.-ing.

So I dropped him, and through recommendations, selected Dr. Pardys. I wore an SFJAZZ baseball cap to my first appointment.

“You like jazz?” he asked as he was filling out my history.

It seems my doctor had also been the doctor for my best friend, Jimmy Lyons, founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival. And it went from there. At every appointment after we discussed my health, we got on with the real business — jazz. I always felt better after leaving his office.

And now my doctor has retired. But, there is a positive side to this. We have already set up our first lunch in what promises to be a long-running series. And, of course, you know what we’re going to talk about, don’t you?


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