Thursday, May 9, 2013

top ten california eats.

I've been away from work for over a week now and I now have a little bit of a sunkissed glow and seemingly look more alive.  (Or maybe it's that I just feel a little more alive).  We've driven down the coast from Napa to the City of Angles aka Los Angeles aka the City of the Scariest Drivers (I swear driving in Los Angeles should be an Olympic Sport and I question if anyone outside of LA would win the medal) and now I am sitting on the floor of LAX waiting for our flight back to reality to board.  I realize now as I think back to the past 12 days that it took a week for me to finally feel calm.  To be able to sit and enjoy a meal and not think about anything but how good the food tasted and good the company was.  It took me a week to feel content.  To feel utterly happy.  To realize that it's OK to savor my food and be disconnected from my e-mail.  To get lost and to lie in the grass for an hour just because the sun was shinning and the warmth felt wonderful.  I've thought a lot this past week - about what I want next and where I want to go and how the hell I am going to get there.  I've thought about what I really see myself doing for a career and where I see myself living and who I want by my side forever.  I've gotten perspective which is what I think a vacation is all about, to be reflective on things and to actually take the time to have random yet cohesive thoughts.

I've also thought a lot about the food I eat and the food I would like to eat.  Driving through California, I saw fields of vegetables grown in a very nontraditional and unnatural environment   It made me think about where I want my food to come from and I don't want it to come from farms where the food is grown with pesticides and the only goal is to get the food to market as soon as possible.  Food should be a labor of love and factory farms are not a labor of love.  I was lucky to eat a lot of dishes that were local and seasonal and were labors of love by the chefs and bakers that prepared them (these were not factory farmed dishes!).  I ate a lot of things that tasted like sunshine.  I ate a lot of things that made me rethink how ingredients get paired.  That dishes should be about different textures and flavors and the melding of all these random things into a single bite of food that is all encompassing.  I leave California thinking about when I can next make it back here.  When I can next sit at the beach starring out at the Pacific Ocean with not a care in the world.  I leave thinking about how I can break West Coast eating into my East Coast kitchen.

Below is a list of the top 10 things I ate while out here.  This is in no order of favorites (that would be far too difficult) but instead the list encompasses a lot of the food that left me thinking and wanting to return to the kitchen.  Expect to see my own twists on a lot of these dishes in the coming weeks.

1- Papalote (San Francisco, California) Roasted Tomato Salsa - There are salsa's in this world and then there is roasted tomato salsa and once you have that nothing else compares.  This is super flavorful, the kind of thing you would pour on just about anything to elevate it.  I am dreaming about it on a breakfast burrito.  

2 - Tartine Bakery (San Francisco, California) Walnut Bread - Basically this blog post says all there is to say about it.  It's the perfect loaf of bread and all others I eat will be compared to it.

3 - Craftsman and Wolves (San Francisco, California) Passionfruit Croissant - Buttery and tart and absolutely perfect.  It's the hip West Coast cousin to the almond croissant and it's the perfect accompaniment to iced coffee.  The kind of thing I would love to eat every Sunday morning.

4 - State Bird Provisions (San Francisco, California) Hamachi and Avocado - This restaurant just won the James Beard Awards for Best New Restaurant and it deserves it.  The dishes are inventive and American with an Asian twist.  We ate a lot of small plates while we were there but this was hands down the best.  A crispy piece of seaweed was topped with chunks of hamachi, avocado, slivered radish, sesame seeds and a spicy aioli.  It was deconstructed sushi or rather their own version of sushi and the intermingling of the flavors and textures was extraordinary.

5 - Kiji Sushi (San Francisco, California) Zuke Sashimi - Zuke is a traditional method of preparing sushi from the old days when refrigerators weren't around.  The sushi is soaked ahead of time in soy sauce to prevent it from spoiling.  The soaking causes the texture of the fish to change and it's really remarkable how different it tastes especially with the combination of wasabi and warm rice.  I ordered this twice because I was so in awe of it.  This was also the first sushi experience I had where someone actually let us know what was fresh and what the chef wanted to use.  A vastly different sushi experience then what you get on the east coast.  
6 - Ad Hoc (Yontville, California) Pennyroyal Farm Tomme Reserve - Ad Hoc is a Thomas Keller restaurant that has a different 4 course set menu every night.  The meal is always playful (homemade rootbeer floats!) and very seasonal.  While the meal was outstanding (I mean what Thomas Keller meal would be less then outstanding) it was the cheese that stole the show.  A locally made goats milk cheese was crumbly and nutty and absolute perfection under a drizzle of honey.  

7 - Baco Mercat (Los Angeles, California) Sugar Snap Pea and Grapefruit Dish - Like the Tartine Bread, I already discussed this beauty of a dish.  I've fallen hard for vegetable based dishes and this is one of the best.  

8 - Baco Mercat (Los Angeles, California) Yogurt Panna Cotta - The boy and I both swooned for this dish. A creamy, tangy panna cotta was topped with candied pecans and a wild blueberry compote.  It was tart and sweet and like a re-imagined blueberry pie. I'm already dreaming about making a version of this and serving it as a finale to a summer dinner party.  

9 - Animal (Los Angeles, California) Local Burrata with Baby Broccoli - This dish was pure perfection.  I literally have not stopped thinking about it.  Creamy burrata was topped with blanched baby broccoli.  A creamy green garlic and leek mixture was drizzled around the plate and then there were slices of the freshest pickled jalapenos to provide a little heat to the dish.  Crumbled on top was chicharones and garlic chips.  This dish was everything crunchy  spicy, creamy.  I don't know how they managed to do it but all I know is I want to eat it everyday.  

10 - Animal (Los Angeles, California) Barbeque Pork Belly Sandwiches with Slaw - This is the sandwich to end all sandwiches. Decadent pork belly is topped with a creamy, crunchy slaw.  This is a well balanced but very messy sandwich.  The kind of thing you should only eat with someone you know, but boy is it good.  

I will be returning to recipe posts tomorrow.  My first stop today was at the farmers market and there was some good stuff to be found!

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