Chocolate croissant at Tartine

What I Ate in San Francisco

Chocolate croissant at Tartine
Chocolate croissant at Tartine

Hello! It’s been a minute — again, I know, I’ve been awful the past few months, and my latest excuse is that I’ve been out of town for a third of September…Sunday I got back from a long, much-needed vacation: The BF and I flew out to San Francisco to visit his dad and stepmom, who are amazing and spoiled us rotten with some of the best of the best food things in the Bay Area. (I also got to see a bunch of my cousins, which was extremely exciting.) Here are some of my favorite eats from the trip (gallery at the bottom):

Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival
Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival: Have you ever been in a place so mind-blowingly amazing that you legitimately can’t believe it’s real? That was me about five minutes into the Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival in Fulton. Banquet tables lined with a bazillion varieties of heirloom tomatoes, plus tomato-themed tastes from top-notch chefs and endless wine. Need I say more? And this was only the first full day of the trip. My two favorite dishes were tomato sushi (skinned and seasoned tomato on top of sushi rice, wrapped in seaweed) from JoAnne&Jimmy and a cracker with tomatoes and a scallop on top, finished with a shot of clear green zebra tomato gazpacho from Bistro Boudin; the gazpacho was clear, and I was told that making it is a 12-hour process. Another highlight: SANGRIA SLUSHIE.

Chirashi sushi at Morimoto
Chirashi sushi at Morimoto
Dinner at Morimoto in Napa:

We went here for David’s dad’s birthday, and this dinner was just hours after the tomato festival. I’m not sure how my stomach expanded enough to hold this meal after all the tomato-y things we stuffed in our faces all day, but, my stomach can do magical things when good food is involved. David started with the tempura calamari salad, which also had two types of quinoa and a miso dressing. The calamari was so light and buttery it melted in my mouth, and the dressing was refreshing. Also refreshing, and my favorite drink of the week (and there were lots of drinks): the zen tea cocktail, with green tea vodka, jasmine tea, citrus and mint. My entree was chirashi sushi, which is a ton of different types of fish piled on top of a bowl of sushi rice. And for dessert we shared the ice cream sandwiches: white chocolate green tea (my favorite), milk chocolate sesame, and banana dark chocolate cardamom. Everything was amazing.

Lunch at the Culinary Institute of America: New life plan: Live in the castle-looking building that is the Culinary Institute of America. I’m not sure that I want my future to involve working in the food industry, but I do know that I’d gladly live in that place just for the scenery. OK, OK, maybe I’d do it for the food, too. We all shared a corn soup with avocado froth and corn tortilla crumbles; I couldn’t really taste the avocado, but the rest of the flavor (very sweet and creamy) made up for it. My main dish was bouillabaise with spinach noodles and way more seafood than I could handle (especially after the previous night’s sushi-bowl fest).

Dinner at Greens: David’s stepmom had been telling me forever about this long-running veggie restaurant, and while I didn’t get anything incredibly adventurous (shared some really refreshing spring rolls with peanut sauce, and my entree was a curry), but it was still delicious. Most notably, though, it was where I had my first Pimm’s Cup (with cucumber gin), and decided we needed to recreate it for his parents’ “Cocktail Fridays” ritual, because it was so good. Also, the restaurant is gorgeous.

Bread pudding at Tartine
Bread pudding at Tartine
Breakfast at Tartine: This was one of my very few SF priorities and I’m glad we made it out there. I’ve been hearing about Tartine forever, especially their bread (which we, unfortunately, didn’t get to try this time around), but also their pastries. We got there early (about 8:30 a.m.), and it was quite crowded when we left. I had strawberry bread pudding, which was delicious but maybe a little bit too sweet, and David had a chocolate croissant, which was so light and flaky and buttery that I’m amazed he shared with me. We also took a few cookies with us, which served as a perfect treat during a three-mile walk that was 100 percent up- or downhill.

Dinner at Mamacita: No photos of this one (super low lighting), but we shared a really great meal at this spot in the Marina District, where we met up with a close friend from college: chips and guac, sweet corn tamales, salmon tacos and prawn tacos.

Deviled eggs with dungeness crab
Deviled eggs with dungeness crab
The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: This was one another of my priorities going into the trip, and my eyes went bonkers at my first glimpse of the market tents. We ate outside at MarketBar, where I shared deviled eggs with dungeness crab (whoa) and also shrimp & grits. I came home with fresh raisins, cherry heirloom tomatoes, marinated sesame-miso tofu skins, and Wisconsin-made sheep milk cheese from the amazing Cowgirl Creamery. We also picked up a sample pack of the SF-made TCHO chocolate, which was a nice treat on the plane ride home. And I am still, almost a week later, regretting not buying a ton of grapes to take with me.

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Polenta pie

Sunny Polenta Squash Pie (Inspired by Cat Power)

Polenta pie

THE DISH
Polenta squash pie

THE INSPIRATION
I went through a bit of a music drought this year, about a three-month period where I wasn’t blown away by much of anything, and Cat Power’s new album Sun is one that opened the floodgates and got me excited again. It’s emotional and, well, Cat Power-y, but not in the sad way longtime fans expect; and despite the less-depressing words and electronic-tinged music that’s on a different planet from the rest of her catalog, Chan Marshall actually sounds more like herself here. My good friend Amanda (who wrote a fascinating story about her for Pitchfork) said when she went back to listen to her 2006 album The Greatest, she found that Marshall’s voice sounded empty compared to this new one, because she wasn’t totally in it, and she’s right. That album is gorgeous and soulful, but it’s missing some of the “power” that exists on Sun.

It’s all too often that Chan Marshall’s breakdowns and emotional turmoil overshadow her music, but it sounds like she’s mostly in a healthier place here and looking forward; in the title track she sings, “We are free, you and me, we can finally run.” (It’s also worth noting that Sun is wrongfully being billed as a breakup album: The breakup — with actor Giovanni Ribisi — happened after the record was made). In “Real Life” she sings, “Real life is ordinary/ Sometimes you don’t want to live/ Sometimes you gotta do what you don’t want to/ To get away with an unordinary life” and in the 11-minute-long “Nothing But Time,” she sings to Ribisi’s teenage daughter about being young and wanting to be somebody (“I see you, kid, alone in your room/ You got the weight on your mind you’re just tryin’ to get by/ Your world is just beginning/ And I know this life seems neverending/ But you’ve got nothin’ but time/ And it ain’t got nothin’ on you”).

So, for the food — most of the reason for this pie (or quiche, or whatever you want to call it) is because it’s bright, yellow and looks like a sun (thanks to polenta, yellow summer squash, corn, tomatoes and baked eggs); but it’s also a healthy and well-balanced dish because Sun seems to find Marshall in a healthier place than in the past. And sort of on that same note, the onions in it start out spicy, but they mellow out and sweeten as they’re cooked. This is definitely a labor-intensive dish, but so was Sun, which Marshall wrote and recorded completely on her own (I didn’t do that much; I had a little bit of help in the kitchen!). The music has the perfect energy level for a lowkey Sunday morning; instead of wanting to hide under the covers and cry, Sun makes me want to get out of bed and start the day.

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