Momofuku came to town a few weeks ago and the New York presence made for a real San Francisco moment. At quarter to noon on a Wednesday, a certain young gentleman and I pulled up to the loading entrance behind a certain building. We stalled at a cautious distance and I slouched in my seat to avoid being seen by anyone who used to employ me. Moments later, E, MG, and L emerged from the back of the building wearing dark sunglasses. They filed into the backseat and we zoomed out of the alley and down Mission. We zipped across Market at Ninth Street. The young gentleman dropped us off at the northeast corner of Hayes and Gough, where a line already snaked toward the corner. Marching purposefully, we plunged in.
Sane patrons lunched in the windows of Absinthe as though it were any other day, sensibly ignoring the spectacle growing outside. Noon came and went but nobody minded, at least not enough to abandon their place in line. Most tantalizingly, the door to the restaurant’s annex opened and a lovely, 20-something woman emerged. She wore a rugged American heritage sweater, skinny toast-colored Marc Jacobs pants and complicated booties I cannot begin to describe. The crowd looked at her expectantly but she merely flicked back her Botticelli-esque hair and whipped out her iPhone to take pictures of a tiny pot-bellied pig tethered to an immaculate new Pavement to Parks public space. The same public space, I might add, that was occupying two precious parking spots on Hayes (the young gentleman had finally joined us, divested of vehicle and huffing a little, after we’d been in line over ten minutes).
Another lovely 20-something woman emerged to join in the pig-adoration, this one with honey-tinted hair braided on her head in a milkmaid crown, matte lipstick, and vintage turquoise jewelry. I am not one for pot-bellied pigs, gadgetry, or waiting in line, so I fidgeted while my companions duly whipped out their own iPhones and the young gentleman went over to scratch the pig’s bristly little head.
Finally, the first comers were welcomed inside and we inched and edged toward the restaurant’s cozy, pink-velvet interior. Ages later, happy-looking enthusiasts began walking away with their arms full of whole pies, stopping to chat and have large, flashy cookbooks signed by a rather slim, rather young and rather cute woman.
The stylish beauties we’d seen outside were now manning the L-shaped tables from which pieces of pie and handsome cookies were rapidly disappearing. People craned necks to gaze upon the pastry from New York which was not quite like any pastry here in our own gourmet town. I, on the other hand, was craning my neck to look at the modish young women who were not quite like the most stylish women on this coast. “L,” I whispered to my friend, who happens to be blonde, well-dressed, and lovely, “I think they must have imported these women from New York just to sell the crack pie. They’re all so blonde and stylish.” L agreed that it was unreasonable to expect just anyone to be special enough to hock Momofuku wares. I cast a doubtful glance at my crumpled menswear shirt, my red Toms. I was starting to feel something — provincial! — for the first time in my smug urban life.
The lovely young women from New York looked genteelly puzzled by the pushy crowd and zealous hands grabbing at pie. One of them smiled at us. “We had no idea it was going to be like this!” she said, rueful and sweet at the same time. L and I exchanged an “Aha! This confirms everything” glance — she certainly couldn’t be from around here or she would know exactly what San Franciscans will do to get their teeth around something called crack pie which is available only in New York and made entirely of butter. We may be New Yorkers’ less skinny, less stylish cousins, but we do know what we want to eat. And we will wait for ungodly lengths of time to eat it, because this is how people in San Francisco do.
E meanwhile thumbed through the large Milk Bar cookbook. More than anything, it resembled a high school yearbook with its neon title, hard cover and no dust jacket. He paused at a photo of a cookie being pulled in two, lush strands of marshmallow and oozy chocolate indicating it was barely out of the oven. “Those are my hands,” said one of the beautiful girls from New York, shyly gesturing to the photo. We noted that she was wearing the same vintage ring as in the picture. Then she gently admonished us for trying to take more than two slices of crack pie.
There couldn’t have been more than 30 people in front of us, but we were lucky to snag some of the last bits of pie, the last blueberries and cream cookie, the last cornflake-marshmallow cookie. The corn cookies were still in abundance and I smiled at E. Not that I understood why our favorite Milk Bar item wasn’t a bigger draw, but it was yet another warm reminder that he and I agree on most things about 95% of the time.
E, at least, was rewarded for agreeing with the rest of the world only 5% of the time. “The corn is my favorite, too!” Ms. Milk Bar herself told him when he went over to get his cookbook signed. She started writing in his book. And kept on writing, a whole paragraph, chatting and looking all the while like a high school girl writing in the yearbook of a senior she has a crush on. In Christina Tosi’s case, it was probably the momentary glow of recognizing a kindred who appreciates something that isn’t easy or obvious, but richly rewarding if you dig for gold. E definitely has a quality that makes people confide. At the very least, E has some sort of strange cookie fortune that has led him, on several occasions, to finesse a free Oreo cookies-and-cream cookie from the grumpy cashier at Mixt Greens who doesn’t like the rest of us.
“Real aficionados know the power and wonder that is the corn cookie.” These words are inscribed in E’s cookbook for posterity, along with a tip to check out Momofuku’s new quarterly, Lucky Peach, which features a grilled cheese sandwich using the corn cookie instead of bread. Perhaps we are a little provincial here in a city that prizes ingredients over technique, slow food over fast living, but at least now we know what we’re going to eat next.