Stanford, an old college buddy, emailed me while I was in Europe. My intrepid friend was about to launch his new company, a car-sharing network called Wheelz, based in Palo Alto. He wanted to know if I’d fly out to California to help him celebrate his new start.
This was the guy with whom I almost died on a mountain, with whom I shared that life-changing, first meal at Manresa in 2006 to fête my graduation from law school. Honduras, France, Switzerland, Italy; Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago – we had lived a lot of life together over the years. Of course I’d go.
So, barely a week back from Germany, I hopped on a plane for San Francisco.
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The first few days were spent in the hot valley, circling Campus Drive in Palo Alto and navigating the maze of Atherton, where I stayed.
When the weekend arrived, Stanford and I drove up to the city. We had dinner at Sons & Daughters, and then crashed the night at his pad in Pac Heights. We went for a run the next morning along Chrissy Field to the base of the Golden Gate, my first encounter with aerobic exercise in over a month. And then I promptly ate it all back in an orange-pistachio muffin from the bakery at Baker & Banker, the successors to the space formerly occupied by Quince, where I discovered pasta primacy years ago.
Then, it was back down the peninsula into the hot valley again. The Bruins had moved up the coast to challenge the Cardinal, and so a-tailgating we went in that huge, dusty field at the foot of Stanford stadium. I stayed long enough to toss a few rounds at the cornhole and hear the kickoff whistle sound before high-tailing it up to St. Helena, a two-hour tear up the coast into wine country.
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When I arrived at the secluded Meadowood Resort late that night, the restaurant sitting atop its hill was one of the nine Michelin 3-starred restaurants in America, and the only one I hadn’t visited.* Its chef, Christopher Kostow, also happened to be the only chef I invited to come cook at the Friends of James Beard Foundation dinner that I’m helping to organize on November 6 in Kansas City, whose food I hadn’t eaten (*Shameless Plug*). After a few days of excitement on the road, it was lovely to dine alone, late into the night, reading Kostow’s stories on plates almost too beautiful to eat.
I spent the night in Napa, and brunched the next day at ubuntu with Fried Dough Ho (not surprisingly, she arrived with a box of fried dough in her hands, all the way from San Jose), before wheeling myself back into the city to meet up with chuckeats.
We had pasta and pizza that night at La Ciccia, a cozy Sicilian restaurant in the outer Mission. Afterward, we lined up outside of Bi-Rite for a scoop of their amazing burnt and salted caramel ice cream. Unknowingly, I was carb-loading for an impromptu half-marathon the next morning: Bay Bridge to Golden Gate Bridge and back, and then some more.
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The next few days were filled with bluebottle coffee and canelés from Boulette’s Larder.
My friend Tomo flew in from Los Angeles to celebrate her birthday. And so we toured the city together, raiding Fog City News for chocolate and crawling through the Mission for ice cream: a frothy “Coke and Bourbon Float” at Humphry Slocombe, and more of that burnt caramel wonder at Bi-Rite Creamery.
At chuckeats’s recommendation and introduction, Tomo and I had dinner in the kitchen at saison with my friends Winter Jade and Quasistoic, where chef Josh Skenes pulled out of his sleeves 38-day aged bluefin toro and 32 and 70-day dry-aged pigeon, among other fantastic edibles. Afterward, Tomo and I caught up with chuckeats at his place for a midnight kettlebell session with ’61 Armagnac and ’75 Scotch; a dangerous combination not to be imitated at home, kids.
I revisited Quince, now in a fancier (actually, I’d describe it as stunning) space in North Beach with my friend Périphérique, in search of pasta primacy once again. Across the street, I lunched at its upwardly trending sister restaurant, Cotogna.
I finally made it to The Slanted Door for Vietnamese crêpes and vermicelli flecked with dungeness crab and scallions. And there was a lunch at One Market, where I sat alone amidst a sea of suits, perhaps the only tourist in a room full of businessfolk.
All of these meals and more, I hope to write about in the coming weeks. Until then, I add to my overgrown list the following restaurants:
Cotogna (San Francisco)
Howie’s Artisan Pizza (Palo Alto)
La Ciccia (San Francisco)
Meadowood, The (St. Helena)
One Market (San Francisco)
Quince (San Francisco)
saison (San Francisco)
Slanted Door, The (San Francisco)
Sons & Daughters (San Francisco)
Congratulations, Stanford and Team Wheelz! And thanks, chuckeats, Miss O.M.G., Tomo, Winter Jade, Quasistoic, Fried Dough Ho, and Périphérique, for making my stay in the Bay Area such a fun and delicious one.
* The last time I had eaten at all of the Michelin 3-starred restaurants in the U.S. was in 2009, when there were only six: Joel Robuchon at The Mansion (now, no longer starred), The French Laundry, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, masa, and per se. Daniel, was promoted a year later, along with The Meadowood. And, in 2010, both alinea and L20 were awarded three stars when Michelin debuted its guide in Chicago. Not a week after my dinner at The Meadowood, the 2012 New York Michelin Guide Rouge promoted Eleven Madison Park (from one star) and Brooklyn Fare (from two stars) to the 3-starred level, bringing the total number of 3-starreds in the U.S. to eleven. At the time this post publishes, Brooklyn Fare remains the only Michelin 3-starred restaurant in America I have not visited. And, given Brooklyn Fare’s chef Cesar Ramirez’s no photo policy, it’s doubtful that I ever will eat there.
Photos: “Cupid’s Span” by by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Rincon Park, San Francisco; a tailgate for one, Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto; Bi-Rite Creamery at night, San Francisco; the Bay Bridge, San Francisco.