February 12, 2003

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Without Reservations
By Paul Reidinger

V.D. the bay way

THE RESTAURANT FORMERLY known as Paisley's (the restaurant formerly known as Carta) has morphed again. In its latest reincarnation the place has assumed the identity of a Spanish tapas bar and has taken the name La Tasca ("the pub"). It all seems a bit dizzying, but on the other hand the recasting is a logical, or quasi-logical, extension of Carta itself, which was a monthly merry-go-round of world cuisines – a kind of United Nations of food. Owner Michael Harrity has apparently decided that if you're going to rotate your cuisines regularly, you might as well change the name of your restaurant, too, the better to advise the fickle dining public that something fresh is afoot.

Of course, no marketing strategy is without risks, and here the principal risk is seeming to have developed the restaurant equivalent of multiple personality disorder. The fax announcing the birth of La Tasca still bears the Carta header. And the Carta Web site (www.cartasf.com) still offers Paisley's menu. It's as if all three places still occupy the same metaphysical space. But there is one clear trend: the drop in prices. Small plates at Paisley's were mainly in the $8-to-$9 range, with large plates in the mid-to-upper teens. La Tasca's small plates, by comparison, all cost less than $5, while the large plates run roughly from $7 to $10.

So that's a bit of good news for budget Valentine diners, who presumably are more legion than usual this year. One benefit of budget crises is that they do force us to "adjust" (as bureaucrats are fond of saying) our patterns of spending and consumption. Valentine's Day is too sappy to be a genuinely lovable holiday, but it does have the virtue of being food-centered and only slightly corrupted by the gift-giving imperative.

Since the best gifts are homemade ones, and Valentine's Day is a foodish holiday, the answer is plain: make your sweetie something. Bake a cake, some brownies, some cookies, or if you're preternaturally ambitious, a batch of truffles.

Or, if you're not preternaturally ambitious, perhaps you can whip up a batch of bay rum, the magically fragrant concoction from the Caribbean that we know as aftershave lotion but that also has medicinal and disinfectant properties. The formula is simple: fill a quart mason jar with dried, split bay leaves (two to four cups' worth), pour in rum to cover (I use light Guatemalan rum), and – the kicker – let it sit for a month or two. If you like, you can doctor it with rosemary, ginger, and cloves in any pleasing combination.

Too late for this year, of course, but not too soon to start planning for next. Meantime, tapas!

Paul Reidinger

paulr@sfbg.com