this weekend was quite possibly one of the best of my life. the decadence, gluttony and whatnot seems to have been to much for my body, and i'm now sick at home in bed. oh yes! and so i bring you, my weekend(photos provided by ms. cynthia):
cindy, laura and lacey. laura on her way to connecticut, cindy possibly leaving soon, lacey staying in san fran. although i have other dear friends in the bay area, this was a weekend dedicated to those i was with so, sigh, i called no one else. but not because i don't love them. rather, because i was committed to spending every waking second eating and drinking with my dedicated foodie friends.
laura generously picked me up from san jose airport (an hour from berkeley--oops!) and drove me to a lovely dive bar whose name i cannot remember. all i remember are the two jack and sodas and the very happenin' scene. laura claims that it had never been so busy, but, whatver, she's a total scenester.
after a fabulously luxurious night spent in garett's bed (mind you, it was without garett), i was retrieved by laura and taken to Cafe Fanny, named either after the "diva daughter" of a certain famous berkeley chef whose fingers are in every berkeley foodie pot, or after a Marcel Pagnol movie of the same name, whose posters dot the walls. my double americano and prosciutto with garlic toast was amazingly almost worth the $10 i forked out for it. it went ever so nicely with laura's poached eggs with herbs and vinegar. but, as i'm learning, what doesn't go well with vinegar? poached eggs, drizzled with vinegar, dusted with herbs, sitting on a bed of prosciutto di parma atop a toasted piece of garlic bread? yes, yes, yes! from there we ventured to cindy's cute little studio in fairfax, where cindy and laura, who i believe may be soulmates, finally met for the first time! having talked them both up to each other considerably, i was actually nervous about the meeting, but they hit it off swimmingly and have already both offered, at least once, to be the others love slave. if that's not an immediate friendship, i don't know what is.
laura left to do various non-food and therefore terribly uninteresting things, while cindy and i hopped into her sporty little vehicle (after a conversation with her self-identified "travel slut" landlord about italy or something) and headed out to napa. i would stop here to explain how wonderful it is to use the phrase "headed out to napa" in describing my activities, but we must stay focused on the food...no digressions! except to say that the drive thru napa was beautiful, spotted with vineyards, full of promise, etc. how exciting to think that every side-of-the-road diner may hold unknown culinary bliss.
We exited at Yountville, home to the French laundry and its sister restaurant bouchon. “I hear,” explained cindy, “that you can get a seat without reservations in the late afternoon at bouchon. We could go and just get some appetizers and have a fairly reasonable lunch there!” easy to get a table? Yes. Reasonable lunch? Only if you have the self-control of a zen master. It was the most expensive lunch I have ever had, at a whopping $105 (total, not per person). But the server clearly got a kick out of us, snapping shots of every dish, asking him if we could keep the menus, etc. we had:
• Petit Plateau: ½ lobster, 8 oysters, 4 shrimp, 4 clams (raw), 6 mussels
• Salade de Poireaux Frais: chilled leeks vinaigrette with egg mimosa
• Beignets de brandade de Morue: cod brandade (cindy’s favorite!) with tomato confit and fried sage
• Tarte au Citron
• Sancerre of some kind, which was lovely with the petit plateau
I blame myself…the petit plateau was my idea. But it was a vacation! Besides, how often to you get to see a waiter at one of the finest restaurants (or affiliated with one of the finest restaurants) in the u.s., take a quick look around to see if anyone is watching, lean over and whisper that the green bit of the lobster is, “well, it’s the lobster’s crap!” anyways, I’ll say that I enjoyed the leek salad, despite the sliminess and cindy preferred the brandade, which was a bit too deep-fried for my taste. “egg mimosa,” as it turns out, is grated hard-boiled egg yolk. I liked that part. Raw clams, though. No thank you. Overall, I’d say that the food was disappointing for what it cost, but the experience was wonderful.
After a rather hearty lunch, we headed across the courtyard to the Bouchon Bakery, where cindy, being the hostess extraordinaire that she is, treated us to a macaroon, two gummy fruits with fancy names I can’t remember, a little “chocolate bouchon,” and a giant homemade oreo. After sitting in the courtyard, dining on our second round of desserts (less we forget the very tasty lemon tart), we hopped back into the sporty vehicle and headed to Calistoga for mud baths, stopping briefly at the Niebaum-Coppola Winery, which I found to be almost comically majestic. You’d, uh, never guess that a filmmaker put this place together. Har! At any rate, we signed up for mud baths at Golden Haven Spa, and, with 45 minutes to kill before our turn, set out to explore the three blocks of downtown that Calistoga had to offer. We stumbled upon a cute boutique where they were serving wine, champagne and various snacks in celebration of Friday. Not the kind to rudely decline a free beverage, cindy and I each had a glass of champagne.
I won’t detail the mudbath experience, except to say that being entirely submerged in a mixture of mud and peet moss feels, despite being naked, like wearing pants. And is one of the funniest things I’ve ever done. Here’s a photo from the website:
ridiculous, non? But it felt nice and I think that all that naked time was a good bonding experience.
After the mudbath, we drove back to Fairfax for dinner at the vegetarian and mostly raw food Lydia’s Lovin’ Foods (“healing the world one tummy at a time”). Cindy had “curry” with “rice;” I had the tapas plate with ocean friendly nori (tasted like salmon mousse), pesto pizzaz (raw “pizza”), spring roll, stuffed zucchini, “crackers” and “cheez.” How can you not love a restaurant that puts half of its menu in quotations. Also, without going into detail, I’ll say that the cleansing properties of my Lydia’s dinner were, uh, immense.
I woke up early on Saturday, energized and ready to go. Eventually, my knocking about the apartment woke cindy up, and she got out of bed. We were to meet lacey and her cute new boyfriend for breakfast, but I insisted that we stop and get coffee first, so we arrived late to Miss Millie’s, a fabulous breakfast joint in Noe Valley. It was my fault…like the petite plateau. We started with an amazing breakfast appetizer of prosciutto-wrapped figs, gorgonzola and poached pears, which was fantastic! For my main breakfast entrée, I had a large baked pile of eggs, cheese, ham and bread. Cindy got the gingerbread waffles; lacy and her cute new boyfriend both got omelette-type dishes. I don’t think a linebacker could’ve polished off my dish, but, wow, was it good! Thumbs up to Miss Millie and her artery-clogging masterpiece!
After breakfast, we, sans Zak, headed to Ferry Building Marketplace to meet up with laura. Because lacey had only had oysters only three times previous, we felt it our moral obligation to get one and a half dozen oysters, wine and a cowgirl creamery grilled cheese sandwich at Hog Island. We all preferred the sweetwater oysters. I won’t detail the rest of the Ferry Building Marketplace, except to say that it is a foodie’s dream come true! Chocolate! Cheese! A farmers market! Oysters! Wine! Restaurants with strange spice offerings (including mastic tears. Huh.)! And produce stands with “mandatory sampling.” Heavenly! We dined on a variety of foods including plum yogurt, more macaroons (so much better than the shaved coconut clumps I am forced to eat every Passover), chocolate from a store that had multiple “varietals,” dried kiwi and more. Having in-part justified our gluttony with talks of a long walk thru town, we sadly left Ferry Building Marketplace, split from laura and tromped across town to Hayes Valley where we looked at designer clothing and furniture, and ate nothing. which was all fine, since we were on our way to Millenium, an upscale vegetarian restaurant “dedicated to supporting the essential earthly concepts of organic food production, small farms, sustainable agriculture, recycling and composting.”
Lest you think that we dined on tofu and broccoli scramble, let me assure you that Millenium offered one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed. Yes, upscale dining with friends rather than parents is still something of a novelty and, certainly, that everyone was eager to order and split five appetizers and four entrees, had something to do with its charm, but, also, the food was just spectacular. I will say, though, that the cocktails need work. That said, we had:
- Pickled vegetables
- Kombu noodle and avocado salad
- Butternut squash raw-violi
- Tandoori spice glazed tofu skewers
- Black bean mole torte
- Cornmeal crusted oyster mushrooms
- Blue hubbard squash risotto
- Pecan crusted Portobello
- Masa verde cake (two orders, which I considered protesting, but was a smart move)
- Roasted beets
Another early breakfast but this time we were on time. Cindy and I met Andy and Laura for breakfast at La Note, a charming French bistro in Berkeley that takes no reservations and usually has an hour long line. Our 9:30am arrival allowed us to avoid the crowds, and we were quickly seated by the adorable French hostess. Laura and I both had the Cote Nord, scrambled eggs and goat cheese served on toast with grilled tomato and home fries. Andy ordered the risotto pancakes which he declared one of the best things he’s ever eaten, and cindy had the orange-cardamom brioche French toast. The creamy perfection of the goat cheese eggs, with a bit of tomato all but brought tears to my eyes, it was so good. Apparently Berkeley, with its vinegar eggs and goat cheese eggs, has conquered the world of egg dishes.
After breakfast, andy left for work, and laura took us to Berkeley Bowl, a massive grocery store and any hippy/yuppie/recovered co-oper/foodie’s dream. The produce section alone is about the size of my local grocery store. Sadly, being the most amazing grocery store ever, most of Berkeley was shopping there, and the cashiers’ line wove through the aisles. They’re hoping to open another bigger Berkeley bowl nearby, but the entire population of Berkeley is up in arms about the crowds this will bring in. geez.
We left Berkeley Bowl and met up with Rachel, a college friend I hadn’t seen in five years. They took me to a cute Oakland bakery for a morning bun and then we spent some time wandering about the Tilden park farm. After our brief Oakland/Berkeley tour, we met back up with Andy, Lacey and Zak for lunch at Vik’s Chaat Corner, where we got heaps and heaps and heaps of delicious Indian food. And I got a Fanta, which despite being both orange flavored and sickly sweet (two ordinary food no-no’s for me), I adore. From Vik’s, we dragged ourselves to the Takara Sake factory to learn about the sake-making process and, more importantly, to sample sake and plum wine. I know that I had preferences, but at that point, everything was getting a little hazy, so I just bought a random bottle and hoped for the best.
When we left Takara’s, we all realized that something horrible had happened—we were no longer hungry. And thus, we had no idea what to do. After loitering outside the sake place, we finally decided that we might as well go to a bar and get some drinks. We headed to the Albatros, a cute, dark and smokey bar with free boardgames and popcorn. A few hours and a few drinks later, our numbers had dwindled and our group had shifted. Lacey, Rachel and Zak left; Garett and Steve arrived. We decided to leave and Cindy took off for Fairfax. Garett, Steve, Andy, Laura and I rallied for one last meal and headed to Cesar, Cindy’s cousin’s restaurant that she recently dined at with her parents. It was next to Chez Panisse, which had listed for its January 19th menu, the most divine combination of food, none of which I can remember. Cesar was also rather tasty, but after a sake tasting, drinks at the bar and a bottle of wine with dinner, I couldn’t really say what it included. I’m sure I’d go back, though.
And with that, we retired home to Laura and Andy’s, where I slept like a baby – a very very overfed baby. I hope that we do this again. It is such fun to bring together folks who derive such pleasure from eating and are interested in devoting so much time to trolling about exploring all this food stuff. I was taken by this throughout the weekend. And I feel so blessed to have these wonderful friends who I love and who all get along so well. It’s a nice thing to be sitting with a group of good friends, surrounded by fantastic food and realize that you are experiencing total bliss. Honest. It’s the best.
And now, we rest. (except, of course, we went straight from here to get more.