travel: meet-ups and eat-ups…
Aaron and Chrissy are getting married! In Tahoe!
I didn’t have time to go home between the Bocuse d’Or training session and the wedding, so I headed straight from The Greenbrier to San Francisco. It should have been an uneventful ride.
Unfortunately, there followed an unscheduled, overnight layover in Detroit due to a faulty flight deck computer (there are few things less reassuring than hearing the pilot say that he’s “rebooting” the plane), which meant that my friend Stanford and I had to haul some tush to the lake when I arrived at SFO, stopping only for burgers and pie (the blueberries were flavorless and the filling had way too much nutmeg, but the Dutch apple was decent) at Ikeda’s, a roadside “gourmet” fruit and burger stand in Auburn.
Then, there was an accident outside of Truckee, which left us sitting, engine off, for two hours on I-80 with cars snaking for miles in both directions. It was Friday afternoon, so I can only imagine how far back towards the city the weekend lake traffic piled.
I arrived at the resort with only enough time for one or the other: take a shower, or show up at the rehearsal dinner looking like I’ve been wadded up in a suitcase for thirty-six hours. Pictures don’t show how gross you feel on the inside. So, I ordered a steamer and ironed my shirt.
The rehearsal dinner, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, was lovely. And the wedding and dinner the next day were even lovelier, with the mountains rising all around us. The setting was absolutely stunning. The weather was beautiful.
There was cake. There were cookies. And, apparently, there was a lot of drink too. We danced late into the night.
Congratulations, Aaron and Chrissy!
Back in San Francisco, it was a quick succession of meet-ups and eat-ups. I barely had time to sleep.
In a neighborhood called Richmond, I found a stretch of Geary Street that was indistinguishable from Asia. Not surprisingly, that’s where I found Josh Skenes, chef of saison, holding court with friends at Mayflower, an old-school Chinese restaurant. We had crab and fish, pork and shrimp. There was duck too, and some pretty great wines that his sommelier, Mark Bright, had brought.
I’ve raided chef Amaryll Schwertner’s canelé counter at Boulette’s Larder many times (She only makes a dozen a day, setting them out around 9:30 in the morning. They’re often sold out within a couple of hours, if not sooner. No canelé I’ve had anywhere this side of the Atlantic compares.*) But I had never sat down at her spacious, communal table (there’s only one) to eat her food. So I was glad when Skenes suggested I meet him there for lunch.
Schwertner’s cooking is confident and thoughtful – much like the way she and her staff move about their open kitchen – a meeting of excellent ingredients and dedication. It’s simple, and comforting. I loved her food so much that I returned for a lunch a few days later with an old college friend, whom I hadn’t seen in years.
Working towards our goal of visiting all of the chefs who will be cooking at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood, host chef Christopher Kostow and I met for dinner at Stuart Brioza’s State Bird Provisions. We were joined by a fun crew, including James Syhabout, chef of commis, who will also be one of this year’s guest chefs.
Brioza’s cooking is eclectic. And it’s presented in way that marries East and West with a quirky sense of humor. There’s a roving “dim sum” cart full of off-menu options, for example. There are little, vegetarian dishes – like plum-marinated beets with goat cheese, and “Calabrian” spiced tofu – that recall Korean banchan. And there are fun mash-ups, like cumin lamb with grapes, and curried beef cheeks with crêpes.
But, Brioza’s showpiece is quail – California’s state bird and the restaurant’s namesake – always on the menu, always changing. The night we were there, Brioza breaded and fried the birds and topped them with shaved Parmesan and vinegary gravy.
Among the many sweets his wife and pastry chef, Nicole Krasinski, deployed to our table was a platoon of cocoa nib-almond ice cream sandwiches. They were mini – two bites apiece. I loved that about them.
I look forward to seeing more from Brioza and Syhabout in December.
Debbie Gold, chef of The American Restaurant, with whom I’ve organized a few dinners in Kansas City, flew out to San Francisco for a couple of days to eat with me.
We went first to Dominique Crenn‘s eponymous atelier, then to saison (not in the same night).
My first meal at saison was one of the best meals I had last year. This one was much better.
In the time in between, Josh Skenes – who will be one of six chefs coming to Kansas City to cook at Gold’s restaurant in November – has refined his cooking noticeably. Still centered around the hearth, his food now achieves a beautiful delicacy and balance that I didn’t see before. Flavors are more subtle and clean, more thoughtfully combined. Like the restaurant’s space, it’s calming, and unspeakably romantic. Saison is, in many ways, the most exciting restaurant that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in recent memory. (It’s doubly exciting that Shawn Gawle, whom I consider one of the most talented pastry chefs in the U.S., is joining Skenes, having recently left Corton in New York for saison.) I’ll share more thoughts about it under separate cover.
I spent a lot of time in The Mission District on this trip.
I went to Bi-Rite Creamy twice. Both times to have their salted caramel ice cream. Gosh, it’s good.
Though I’ve walked by it many times, deterred by the lines, I had never stopped to eat at Tartine Bakery. And I had never been to Bar Tartine either. On this trip, I hit both. And I loved them equally.
I didn’t care for the banana cream pie at Mission Pie. It jiggled a little too unnaturally. But the slice of plum tart I had there was great.
Kostow mentioned a new, Jewish deli he found in The Mission. He recommended it. So, Gold and I went to Wise Sons Delicatessen to meet my friend Tomo, up from L.A. for the week, for bialys and babka. I’d recommend it too.
And while I was in the neighborhood, I swung by the new headquarters of Wheelz, my friends’ car sharing start-up. It’s a lofty space, with Big-Ass Fans and plenty of room for growth. Congratulations, fellas. I’m sure you’ll fill the space quickly.
From California, I headed home for an eight-hour layover. It was just long enough to run a load of laundry and a take a nap.
My story continues back on the East Coast, in New England.
Below, you’ll find a list of places in San Francisco where I ate. Until I find time to write about them, each is hyperlinked to its photo set on my Flickr account.
* Shawn Gawle sent out fairly impressive canelés when I grabbed a drink with some friends at Corton on my latest trip to New York. And, on this trip to San Francisco, Josh Skenes served a couple of very good ones at saison. Now that Shawn has left Corton to work at saison with Josh, I can only imagine that they’ll be producing some pretty great canelés together soon.
Photos: Lake Tahoe at night; The Resort at Squaw Creek, Squaw Creek, California; Canelés from Boulette’s Larder, San Francisco, California ; Stuart Brioza, James Syhabout, and Christopher Kostow at State Bird Provisions, San Francisco, California; brassicas drying out in the hearth at saison, San Francisco, California; lentil croquettes at Bar Tartine in San Francisco, California; Wheelz headquarters in The Mission, San Francisco, California.