In honor of Jeff Cranmer, my friend who has taught me the magic of hyperbole, I am going to very briefly stray from my usual stance of not recommending restaurants on this blog and say that Ozone in San Francisco serves the best Thai food I have had in the United States.
I'm doing that because America needs it. Because I'm tired of mentioning Ozone to people and having them shrug and look at me like I just offered them a plate of ram testicles preserved in sour whey.
"Never heard of it," they say. I don't care if you've never heard of it. I don't care if Citysearch comments on it describe the fast delivery and friendly staff. They've missed the point. Ozone has obscure northern sausages like sai-ooa that taste like you could be eating them in Chiang Mai. They have roasted pork neck and fluffy catfish salad. They serve foods with flavors that we don't think of as being part of the Thai culinary palate -- earthy, rich dishes meant to counterbalance the hot-sour stuff that have won the hearts of American diners.
Jeff and I met in Bangkok, where the first thing he said to me was that he should give me five dollars for a particular restaurant review that I wrote (I was a critic at the time). That left me utterly confused and irrationally irritated, but I soon learned to appreciate Jeff's poetic use of language. His need to declare a good plate of khao man gai to be the best thing on the planet, to address his friends as King. It's just his way, and it's a way that glories in life's simple pleasures, that rejoices in a pleasant song or a tasty glass of scotch in the way that such things should be rejoiced in.
We met at Hemlock, a bar near Ozone, for beer before heading to Ozone, where we had more beer and I started ordering food like a crazy person.
"I think two appetizers is enough," he said.
Thai food in New York cannot compare to Thai food on the West Coast, you see, so I get carried away.
We had the sai-ooa and roasted pork neck. Jeff, who spent time in the Northern city of Chiang Mai, told the waitress in northern Thai dialect that the sai-ooa was delicious, but I guess she's from the central plains, because she didn't know what he was talking about.
Then things got blurry because of the gung chae nam pla. I don't remember what it was called on the menu, but it's shrimp marinated in fish sauce and then dressed up to be sour and spicy. Our waitress asked how spicy we wanted it, and not realizing that they would take me seriously, I said "very spicy."
So they served it very spicy by Thai standards and I might have lost consciousness. I know I babbled incoherently for awhile, trying to tell amusing anecdotes to Jeff while drinking beer and water and eating rice to kill the pain.
Still, I enjoyed the honey-roasted duck and the chicken in roasted chile sauce that followed.
"Are you all right?" Jeff asked.
I was exhilarated