Food with Friends

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I met the sous-chef when I was 22… literally, the ink on my college degree was barely dry. Which means, I don’t have a ton of experience with blind dates. That’s a rite of passage that most folks in their 20s go through, that I simply never… passed.

What, in god’s name, does this have to do with food with friends? Lemme tell you. Move to a city of transplants and people are more than happy to set you up on blind dates with other friends that have just moved there.

Not having experienced the romantic side of this, I am conjecturing a bit, but I think it’s pretty much the same thing. There’s the pre-date nerves. Will we have enough to talk about? Will I recognize them when I get to the restaurant? There’s the first impressions. Wow, they’re taller than they look on Facebook. Oh, she’s awfully fashionable. There’s the sometimes awkward, sometimes seamless dinner conversation. We love all the same things! Um, I’ll ask a question about our mutual friend to move things along. Finally, there’s the assessment. That was so fun! It felt like we knew them forever. We are totally asking them out again.

The good news is that  – often – these blind friend dates (much like blind date-dates) happen over a meal. And food is an amazing equalizer. It gives you something to talk about. Have you been here? Oh, what did you eat? It gives you something to gush/commiserate over. Mine was delicious! Yours? Yeah, this was only ok. And it gives you a peek into how they manage relationships. We’ll pick up the tab. We insist! I had the cup of soup and the chicken, so I owe $27.50. A dinner together will teach you a lot about your new-found friends. And, if you happen to all be foodies, so much the better!

Just a few nights ago, the sous-chef and I met new friends. We were all connected by a dear pal in Boston. We courted for several weeks by email. Like most busy professionals, our crazy schedules delayed our actual get-together by several weeks. But, we could already see in our written correspondence that the possibilities were there.

We finally made it work over some soul food on a Sunday night. All new-ish to San Francisco, we chose a place that’s a bit of a local institution. The fried chicken was delicious. The laughter and conversation were better. The food did what food did… it created a platform for connection. Food is, ultimately, essential to the foundation of most relationships. What a remarkable thing.

Oh, and future plans were made to cook each other our favorite meals as soon as the holiday dust settles. Continuing to let food guide the path to creating more love and life in this world.

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How farm to table has become generic and lost some of its charm

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You know how in The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell talks about the Hush Puppy shoes and how a handful of NYC hipsters started wearing them when they were all but out of business and then they became a huge national fad?

Hush Puppies are now food. Um, wait. As in, the Hush Puppy shoe. Not the delicious fried ball of cornbread. Which is, and always had been, food.

What I mean is, food has jumped the trendy shark. And I kinda hate when things I love jump the trendy shark. I have a deep fondness for the weird, the odd, the unique. (Am I stating the obvious? I did just move to SF.) So when something goes from quirky to mainstream, it absolutely loses its charm – at least for me.

The requester of this post inquired specifically about “farm to table” food. What’s absolutely gorgeous farm to table is its authenticity. It feels like a wholesome, approachable experience. A nice old-fashion way of dining (for which you’ll lay down a mortgage payment for the privilege).

Farm to Table

You know where the food came from and you feel confident that it’s fresh and good for you. It may even be organic (but never assume, especially in a restaurant – they are notorious for offering a grey truth about the percent of what they serve that’s truly organic).

The meal is generally beautifully laid out on simple, distressed wood tables, decked with mason jars filled with lemonade and rustic country loaves with golden crusts. Don’t get me wrong; it is usually delicious. But it’s also pretty formulaic and it’s become a little… boring. I have to admit, I’m already seeking the next food fad – something that challenges me and is still low on the radar.

I still really enjoy farm to table, I’ve just become a lot more selective about which opportunities I pursue. We belong to a fabulous winery called Scribe, and they host a quarterly pick-up party. It’s got a lot of the elements that I just poo-poo’ed, but the thing is, it’s totally legit. If you show up on a random Wednesday, they’ll show you the same hospitality – it’s just how they live. When you go there, it just feels warm and casual and inclusive, like you’re part of the family. My demands for these experiences have become pretty strict, and Scribe delivers.

Scribe Pick-Up Party

Scribe Pick-Up Party

Scribe Pick-Up Party

Scribe Pick-Up Party

Scribe Pick-Up Party

Scribe Pick-Up Party

I hope you find a farm to table experience that remains special and cool. And when you do, please let me know – I promise to keep the secret between us.

Local Trips for Good Food

Burgers and cider in Alameda
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I travel constantly. As in, my suitcase never makes it back in the closet / I am on a first name basis with flight crews on certain routes. I commute back and forth to Boston at least monthly for work and often have the odd trip to other destinations for my job. And, as though I was not flying on a plane or driving in a car enough, I somehow still manage to believe that I love to travel for pleasure – be that a far-flung destination, or just a short weekend trip away.

I’m sure it goes without saying, but food plays a key role in any trip that I make. NOTHING bums me out more than paying for bad food. If I make a meal that’s less than stellar, I chock it up to experimentation or building my cooking skills. Eat out and have a crappy meal? Tragic. Naturally, making sure you are always eating well in destinations that are unknown to you is kind of a challenge.

So, per request as always, here are my tips on how to successfully make local (or, really, even far) trips for good food.

1)   Do some research before you go. I know this one seems pretty obvious – and it is – but it’s truly the best thing you can do to ensure tasty meals away from home. Bookmark or pin articles with suggested restaurants, ask around to friends who’ve been there before, check out what’s trending on Yelp. You know the drill.

I also highly recommend that you also look up where places are on Google Maps. You might read about a place that the travel mag loves, but if it turns out that it’s 20 miles from where you’re staying, I don’t care how scrumptious the bread basket is, the reality is you’re probably not going to haul your butt over there.

Lastly, if you’re going to a big city or to a popular destination for a holiday or special event, make reservations. There are great online tools available (I’m an OpenTable addict) and having a confirmed spot will totally save you from getting turned away from the place you’ve been dying to go or from eating dinner at 11:30 at night (Unless you’re in Madrid. Then, good luck getting a rez before 11 pm.).

French macarons in LA

French macarons in LA

2)   Look for a crowd or a full parking lot. Sometimes your research fails. This happened to me and the sous-chef just recently. We were in Tahoe for a long weekend and tried to grab lunch at a lakeside restaurant that was highly recommended by a friend. Turned out, the place had closed for the season. Needing to make a quick decision, we got back on the road with eyes pealed for a decent place. We only had to go a few blocks before seeing a little roadside café with so many cars in the lot, there was overflow parking on the street. Felt like a good bet and it was.

Skillet garlic mussels in Sausalito

Skillet garlic mussels in Sausalito

3)   Sort your sh*t out before you are starving. Trust me on this one. This is the a-number-one way to end up eating a craptastic dinner while traveling, which is not only a bummer but is only going to add to the pissy mood you put yourself in by letting yourself get that hungry. We’ve all done it. You go too long without eating and you make a restaurant choice based on desperation. You go wherever is close or has no wait (hi, there’s a reason there’s no one there) and the food is rarely (ok, never) good. Do yourself a favor and plan ahead, or for a worst-case scenario, keep a granola bar stashed in your bag.

Burgers and cider in Alameda

Burgers and cider in Alameda

4)   Don’t ask locals for advice. And, god-forbid, don’t ask at your hotel. I know that this flies in the faced of every clichéd travel article you’ve ever read. I acknowledge that it makes sense on the surface – they live there, of course they know the great places to eat. But my general experience has been that locals (and, absolutely, your concierge) will tend to direct you to the touristy places. They’re sort of the first thing that pops to mind for locals and, also, they feel like safe, “that’s a good place for a visitor” choices. They’re not. Do the work on your own and you’ll be better off.

Divine cheese and fig plate in Sonoma

Divine cheese and fig plate in Sonoma

Above all, just hit the road, keep your iPhone handy, and eat some awesome stuff. If you ask me, life is all about the cool stuff you find the minute you step out your front door.

Brunch and Bloody Marys

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I like breakfast a lot. Well, I like weekend breakfast a lot. Well, I specifically like eggs a lot. And usually you get to eat eggs at weekend breakfast (FTW!).

I actually didn’t really realize the egg deal until I got a Pinterest account and I noticed that I pinned an inordinate number of pictures with eggs in them. I have a whole theory about the things Pinterest will teach you about yourself, but that will have to be a whole separate post that someone requests.

Ok, back to the topic at hand. One of the reasons that I dig weekend breakfast is that it’s symbolic of the coziness of a Saturday or Sunday morning. You usually aren’t in rush and you can putter around your house with a coffee mug in hand and (in my case) the soft pitter-patter of feline feet following you from room to room.

Eventually, your tummy starts to grumble and you poke around the fridge. I pretty much always have eggs on hand… and then I just invent from there, turning some potatoes into hash browns, toasting some French bread from the night before, using up some odds and ends of cheese and vegetables. The whole thing is pretty carefree.

But in San Francisco, you do not make breakfast at home. You go to brunch. This city is obsessed with brunch. Even the really high-end places offer brunch menus and, no matter where you go, you better have made a reso a few days in advance or best be prepared to wait. A three-hour wait is not unheard of. Obsessed, I tell you.

Brunchville

Now, I am a dining out champion. I easily eat at restaurants three or four nights a week. But going out for brunch just adds a stress element to breakfast that I can take or leave. See also: I never quite got over some of the less-than-savory details about brunch revealed by Anthony Bourdain in his book, Kitchen Confidential.

There is a critical caveat to this whole “I’d rather make breakfast at home” philosophy. At brunch in a restaurant, they serve you booze. Yeah, sure, I have a liquor cabinet at home that I could dive into, but, even by my standards, mixing yourself a cocktail at 11 am feels a bit alcoholic. HOWEVER, ordering a cocktail from a waiter at that hour on a Saturday or Sunday feels totally legit. The way I see it, if I’ve been forced out of my jammies anyway, I might as well be drinking one.

My brunch drink of choice? A Bloody Mary, of course. (Is there any other?). I prefer mine nice and spicy. And for extra credit, load that thing up with every imaginable garnish. It’s just enough to make me enjoy brunch out (a little).

Bloody Mary with Crab

If, like me, you’re into making an awesome breakfast creation on your own this weekend, here are a few great options:

  • Kale and prosciutto breakfast pizza, topped with a baked egg and parmesan
  • Chilaquiles with scrambled eggs, black beans, and salsa
  • Braided pastry baked around eggs scrambled with sausage, jack cheese, and jalapeños
  • Ricotta herb soufflé