The trip west was exactly what Ben and I were hoping for; the drive up the coast was entertaining, the redwoods were as surreal as expected, and we had some memorable meals.
1. Stink beans, Berkeley
On the first night the organization that had invited Ben to give a lecture took us out for dinner to a Malaysian restaurant. I couldn’t resist ordering the sauteed stink beans for the table. The waiter was shocked. “They are eaten for kidney health, but otherwise you’ll smell like them for 3 days.” They were worse than I expected. Imagine a roll of pennies wrapped in spinach leaves, boiled, left to ferment, eaten and farted back out. And then you have the odor of stink beans.
2. Zuni Cafe, San Francisco
I have been coveting the cookbook from Zuni Cafe by Judy Rodgers for many years. Simple, elegant, Mediterranean style dishes, featuring the best of local produce. We split Marin Miyagi and Hog Island Kumamoto oysters, each wildly different than our much brinier east coast oysters, these were sweeter and more aromatic. The Balsamic Bloody Marys were spicy enough, sweetened with the vinegar, and brunoise red onion added some spark. My dish of garganelli with a squab sugo was gamey and rich, but not too heavy. We finished with espresso granita layered with whipped cream, which was just sweet enough and strong on the coffee. When in SF, definitely stop here.
3. Chez Panisse, Berkeley
The much discussed, often lauded, sometimes criticized for overcharging, Chez Panisse was a must-see for my culinary education (as I argue when the cost gets too high). Every table seems to be celebrating something; Ben and I pretend to be celebrating the year-anniversary of our engagement. The meal was Moroccan inspired – First course of Seared tuna with roasted peppers was an ideal beginning, the tuna slightly warmer than room temp, melted in your mouth, leaving a faint hint of North African spices. A fresh sheel bean harrisa soup was the peak – perfectly balanced between the meatiness of the beans, acidity, and sweetness. The wine pairing was a 2007 Pinot d’Aunis from the Loire valley – it is unfiltered and has a vegetal quality not unlike the dryness and effect of an English cider. The main course was grilled lamb chops, overdone in my opinion, with a merguez sausage that both of us found plain and uninteresting. Dessert improved with mood with an apple and quince feuitteté which was tender and light, served along side a ras al hanout ice cream that was explosively good. Sweet of course, but a savory and spicy edge from the spice (ras al hanout = cardamom, clove, cinnamon, paprika, coriander, cumin, mace, nutmeg, pepper, tumeric). Here you’re not looking for the most impressive array of food you’ve ever seen, just the best preparations of the best ingredients.
4. Osteria Stellina, Point Reyes Station
We read about this restaurant in the NYTimes. Located in Point Reyes Station, a one-road, 200 person town just outside the national seashore park where Ben was giving his second lecture. The highlight was dessert – Absinthe and Chocolate flake ice cream sandwiches with homemade peppermint patties. The patties turn out to be pretty easy to make, so we plan to make many of our own soon.
5. Ping, Portland
Well-designed, close quarters, asian-style small-plates. Sitting at the bar we watched the kitchen turn out our grilled, spicy, baby octopus skewers, and guail eggs wrapped in bacon skewers. We lucked out and had the last smoked duck breast special, which was rare, juicy, tea infused magret, which we dipped in salt and then bragged to our neighbors who didn’t get any.
6. Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland
After Ping we walked to Voodoo so Ben could relive a doughnut experience he had there before – Maple syrup icing, topped with bacon slices. It was like eating pancakes.
7. Salumi, Seattle
House-made salami, fresh ciabatta, olive tapenade, or peppers and onions with fennel-cured salami – this place has a line out the door every day for a reason. I love pig.
7. Waterfront Seafood Grill, Seattle
My mother’s cousin, Peter Levine, is the Chef at Waterfront Seafood Grill, one of the most upscale restaurants in Seattle, and certainly one of the best to get fish. Chef Peter gave us a tour of the kitchen before accepting the responsibilty of just sending out food for us. A quartet of bites started, the hamachi sashimi always welcome. Seared scallop with pinapple, ham, and arugula; Roasted Opah with a lobster curry sauce; Seared tuna with black and white sesame seeds and cabbage slaw; dessert of bread pudding and peach cobbler. The food was light, perfectly cooked, the best preparations of fish I’ve had anywhere. We were treated like royalty, our servers attentive but not intrusive, informative but not snobby, charming and approachable. Peter joined us for a glass of wine at the end. “Get ready to bust your ass, Scott, and work harder than you ever have in your life.” Sound advice.