At the sign of the Z

Yesterday, lunch at Gordon Biersch with visiting friends Max and Ned (down from San Francisco to cheer me up and keep me company). Ned ordered the half turkey sandwich with a cup of soup, and this is how the sandwich and lobster bisque looked when they arrived:

Yes, the Sign of the Z (a crossed Z, even). More specifically, as Ned said, Zwicky Bisque. Or possibly, as Rod Williams suggested on Facebook, the mark of … Zorro! Maybe not as impressive as the Baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary on a tortilla, but surely it means something, right?

As for the soup:

Bisque is a smooth, creamy, highly-seasoned soup of French origin, classically based on a strained broth (coulis) of crustaceans. It can be made from lobster, crab, shrimp or crayfish. (link)

(The etymology is unclear, though perhaps it has to do with the Bay of Biscay.)

These shellfish can also be used to make salads, and sometimes one shellfish passes for another — notably, crayfish/crawfish for the more expensive lobster: recall the fuss last year when Zabar’s was found to be selling “lobster salad” made from crayfish, and eventually renamed it zabster zalad (here). And so another kind of Z food came into being.

Now, as a Z person, I’m primed to notice words with Z in them, especially words beginning with Z, For instance, foods, not just zabster zalad, but also:

zabaglione (a custard dessert), Zinfandel wine, zito (a pasta), the Zombie cocktail, zucchini (the vegetable), zuppa inglese (a trifle-like dessert), zwieback (a toasted cracker)

And other Z people, including the cartoon character Zippy the Pinhead, as himself or as the caped psychopath Z-Man in a Zippy cartoon, here. And, as Rod Williams noted, Zorro, who makes his signature, the sign of Zorro, with three flicks of his rapier.

Zorro first came up on this blog in connection with the fantasies of the character Jeremy in the cartoon Zits, who’s an adolescent

searching for positive images of masculinity to aspire to, to compose an adult persona from … he looks to Westerns and war stories and to cops, gangsters, spies, adventure heroes (from Robin Hood and Zorro on to James Bond and Indiana Jones and beyond), and cartoon(ish) (super)heroes, from Superman and Batman through Wolverine. (link)

The pop-culture figure of Zorro is just under a hundred years old; he’s

a fictional character created in 1919 by New York–based pulp writer Johnston McCulley. The character has been featured in numerous books, films, television series, and other media.

Zorro (Spanish for “fox”) is the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega, a Californio nobleman and master living in the Spanish colonial era. The character has undergone changes through the years, but the typical image of him is a dashing black-clad masked outlaw who defends the people of the land against tyrannical officials and other villains. Not only is he much too cunning and foxlike for the bumbling authorities to catch, but he delights in publicly humiliating those same foes.

… His favored weapon is a rapier, which he often uses to leave his distinctive mark, a Z cut with three quick strokes. (link)

As Don Diego, Zorro presents himself as disengaged from public life, often ineffectual (even effete), and so on, thus concealing his swashbuckling secret identity. From the many screen versions of the story, three that I especially enjoy:

(1) The Mark of Zorro is a 1940 American adventure film directed by Rouben Mamoulian and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck for 20th Century Fox. The action movie stars Tyrone Power as Don Diego Vega (Zorro), Linda Darnell as his love interest, and Basil Rathbone as the villain. (link)

(This is the Zorro of my childhood. Note parallels to the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and, yes, Basil Rathbone as the villain.)

(2) Zorro, The Gay Blade is a 1981 feature film. This comedy features George Hamilton in a Golden Globe-nominated dual role as both Don Diego de la Vega (Zorro) and his gay twin brother Bunny Wigglesworth, né Ramon De La Vega. (link)

(Ramon, as the outrageous Bunny, takes over the Zorro franchise temporarily from Diego when Diego is laid up. Bunny’s Zorro uses a whip instead of a rapier.)

(3)The Mask of Zorro is a 1998 American swashbuckler film based on the Zorro character created by Johnston McCulley. It was directed by Martin Campbell and stars Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Stuart Wilson. (link)

(Captures something of the swashbuckling spirit of 1930s and 1940s adventure films. Note the slashed Z, which brings us back to Ned’s lobster bisque.)

[Addendum: a Zappuccino whipped up by Matt Adams this morning:

Catching some more Zs?]


12 Responses to “At the sign of the Z”

  1. maxvasilatos Says:

    you win one antonio banderas and one catherine zeta jones

  2. Robert Says:

    “Zwar zwangen mich zweiundzwanzig zwickenden Zwerge zwischen Zorn und Zweifel zum Zweck.” (Indeed, twenty-two pinching dwarves forced me between anger and doubt to the goal.) — How Mime could have explained the making of the Tarnhelm in more detail.

    • h.s. gudnason Says:

      “zwickende”, oder?

      • Robert Says:

        Yeah, I wasn’t sure about that — my college German is a long time in my past, and the inflection rules for adjectives in that construction got a little hazy.

      • Ned Deily Says:


      • h.s. gudnason Says:

        Robert, I’m sorry, that was rather thoughtless of me, and I’ve been nursing a guilty conscience since I posted. That was actually a very clever tongue twister, and I should have praised it instead of niggling.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        No harm done. I’m happy to be confident of getting it right in future.

  3. Licia Says:

    A few additional Italian food words beginning with Z: zucchero (sugar), zuccherino (a type of pastry), zafferano (saffron), zibibbo (a Muscat grape), zizzola (a variation on giuggiola, jujube), zola (local name for gorgonzola), zuccotto (a semi-frozen dessert), zuppa (similar to soup) and zucca (pumpkin).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I’d known a number of these, but not zizzola, which is wonderful. Palo Alto has a restaurant named Zibibbo, after the grape, I’m guessing.

      • Licia Says:

        Incidentally, in some areas zizza is the local equivalent of tetta, “tit”, and it is mainly used in its plural form, zizze.
        And I am sure you already know the Italian word for mosquito, zanzara, clearly onomatopoeic.

  4. Licia Says:

    …and zenzero, ginger.

  5. Seneca Burr Says:

    Once worked in a restaurant serving a “seafood opera” they billed as Zarzuela

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