We wanted a seafood dish, but the catch of the day was swordfish. At best, I find it dry, but this time of year, for some reason internet “fish sites” warn it’s carrying heavy loads of mercury in its flesh. Grazie, no. Pork-eschewing little piggies can choose gamberoni, large, tender prawns with a touch of brandy-caper cream sauce, served with a modest amount of simple, clean-tasting spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and oil) with a sprinkle of fresh herbs.
Dessert was a small delight: we ordered the Sicilian-style cannoli, which arrived as four miniature rolls of crisp, pock-marked cannoli cookie-pastry with a dreamy orange-scented, orange-colored filling of creamed ricotta, flashed with candied cherries and a few pistachios and dark chocolate chips. They were some of the most soulful cannoli I’ve tasted since leaving New York’s Little Italy. Even in this modernized, miniaturized version, they respected the ancient truths of the dessert. And not only did my espresso (and M.E.’s cappuccino) arrive with dessert as requested, but the espresso was perfect, with crema on top, deep mellow flavor, dark but not bitter. The bill was pretty reasonable, too, for a pig-out review dinner (about $50 each for three courses and two bottles of wine). After all that rewarding food, this little piggy went “Whee! Whee! Whee!” all the way home.
Hospital Food, and What to Do About It
A dear colleague at the Reader who passed away last week recently posed the issue: What do foodies do about hospital food? And since I haven’t totally used up my allotted space, here are some ideas.
“First of all,” wrote my colleague, “you will never eat as well in a hospital as you do outside. That said, realize that you are in the hospital to get well, and getting well is work. So is eating hospital food. When they serve it, steel yourself, and get it inside your body where it will do some good.
“The first thing to remember is to bring your own condiments. My own survival kit contains a box of Equal packets (for cereal, oatmeal, whatever), a bottle of…my favorite hot sauce, and random packets of ketchup, salad dressing, and parmesan cheese. The only way to get through hospital scrambled eggs is with some ketchup and hot sauce.” (I’d add to the condiments list some soy sauce packets from Chinese restaurants and a tiny bottle of balsamic.)
You gotta have friends. When they say, “What can I do for you?” say, “No flowers, no candy — bring dinner.” They can get takeout from restaurants you like, but choose carefully: the burger you love when healthy may seem unbearably greasy when you’re sick. Consider Asian comfort foods like Vietnamese pho bo and pho ga (noodle soups, beef or chicken-based), or good Chinese jook (aka congee, rice soup), if you can find it, or Mexican chicken-based soups. As you recover, look to Mexican seafood cauldrons like siete mares and vuelva a la vida. If you don’t cook but have advance notice that you’re going to be hospitalized, consider buying large takeout portions of not-too-spoilable soups to bring to the hospital in a plastic container. (See #4, below).
If you have a phone in your room, you can get delivery on your own from nearby pizzerias, etc. My colleague said they’ll often deliver right to your room. If you know you’re about to be hospitalized, before you go, check out which restaurants in the hospital neighborhood will do this.
Most hospital wards have a fridge and a microwave. The one time I was hospitalized for several days at Kaiser SF (at the time, home of some the worst hospital food in America), I spent a few hours a couple of days ahead making from scratch a gallon of low-salt chicken soup with matzoh balls (Jewish dumplings). And, of course, I made friends with the head nurse so I could use the ward kitchenette. When I was well enough to walk, I was well enough to nuke myself some wholesome home-made soup, as opposed to the horrifying sodium-bombs the hospital was serving.
Conspire in advance with your doctor to get onto the low-sodium (or “heart-healthy”) diet plan, even if you don’t need it. At least at Kaiser, this substitutes sweet flavors like fruit purées for their usual chokingly salty stuff. Generally, the food is lighter, and you don’t want heavy meaty stuff when bed-bound.
If you can, choose your hospital. My colleague reported that Sharp Grossmont is the pits for food. (Sharp Coronado is a little better, or maybe it just has better vibes.) Kaiser Northern California has reputedly improved, but I don’t know about the SoCal version. Cedars-Sinai in L.A. has a varied menu that even includes chicken soup with matzoh balls. Probably not as good as D.Z. Akin’s or homemade, but any chicken soup is better than none. (Although it doesn’t do us much good down here, the best hospital food in California is at French Hospital in San Francisco. The food is actually French, and unless medically forbidden, includes a glass of wine with dinner. A very non-foodie acquaintance was in there for ten days, and when she came out she said it was “the best food I’ve ever eaten.”)
Suggestions are welcome, from what to eat to what hospital to wrangle yourself into. Let’s hear it. ■
★★★ (Very Good)
1417 University Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-294-9201; treporcellini.net
HOURS: Sunday–Thursday 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; weekends until 11:00 p.m.
PRICES: Appetizers and salads $5–$13.50; pastas and entrées $12–$24; sides $4–7; desserts $7; three-course weeknight prix-fixe dinner $30.
CUISINE & BEVERAGES: Modern Italian with Sicilian roots, all pasta made in-house. Global choice of over 50 wines, 20 by the glass, most bottles under $35.
PICK HITS: Polenta al Cinghiale (soft polenta with wild boar ragu); truffled polenta fries; Burrata; Ravioli con l’Osso; Trio Porcellini (pork plate); Gamberoni; Cannoli.
NEED TO KNOW: Street parking (in Hillcrest — ha ha!). Rugless room with hard chairs gets very loud when even half full. Sufficient choices for lacto-vegetarians; scant vegan choices but some dishes adaptable to “hold the cheese, please.” Casual atmosphere, but reserve, as crowds are already gathering.