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London Calling


The Boulettes Larder of London

I'm in London for the week, staying with my friend Sona and her parents who live a couple blocks from Regents Park. I haven't been to London for a long time, but despite the fact that it's been 21 years since I was last here, when it comes to the fashion, it still feels very much like 1986 (just imagine every other woman wearing black leggings under everything—including shorts—plus bright colors, stripes, chunky plastic jewelry, tight jeans while sporting mullety hair).

The thing that doesn't feel at all like 1986 is that the food scene here now rivals SF—every other place advertises organic this, artisanal that, wild the other thing. The cheese, of course, puts us to shame, particularly at a place called La Fromagerie in Marylebone, which is kind of the Boulettes Larder of London in that it's both sells both gourmet pantry staples and serves food. I went there on my first day here and a gorgeous mid-day meal of chickpea-squid-and-oven-roasted tomato salad with a thick, custardy slice of quiche all washed down with a glass of crisp white wine. We consumed it all at a communal table shared with a sweet, old-fashioned elderly English woman wearing a tweed coat and a hat, along with a couple of fashionable, gay men consumed by their cell phone conversations. This is London 2007.

La Fromagerie also has a climate-controlled room full of beautiful ripening cheeses, as well as jams for sale, dried beans and pastas. But what makes it unlike anything back home—and so enticing—is one thing: the fact that all of the prepared foods are set out in the open, from the huge bowl of rustic chicken salad with potatoes and greens to the cookies and cakes. (Even more scandalous, the Ginger Pig, the celebrated butcher down the street from La Fromagerie, has its huge prime rib roasts sitting out.)

From what I understand about SF health codes, even in our European-wannabe-city, restaurants and shops can't display their food like this because of the city's stringent health laws. If you've ever noticed, most everything (even at Boulettes) is refrigerated or at the least behind a case. The result is that the food at home will always lack the tangibility that you find here—you can't touch it, you can't smell it. The sweeping laws that are in place to protect us in the US, seem to send the message that somehow food is something to be feared.

Fearlessly, however, I stepped into Le Fromagerie's chilly, stinky, humid cheese room and tasted a bunch of young, raw milk cheeses. I also lived to write this blog. Change: one bold step at a time.