Monday, January 18, 2010

Notes From The West Coast, Part Two - Food

The second installment of my notes from a recent trip to the SF Bay Area and points north, in which The Selected Ballads tries his hand at food writing. The third and, mercifully, final installment will be stuff I drank.

Acme Bread - Berkeley, CA
I've been describing this place to people as looking like the photos in coffee table books about bread - everything about it is pure, archetypal artisan bakery. This location (the original?) is mostly a working bakery with only a small walk-in sales area, leading to a perpetual line out the door. I tried Acme a few times during my stay in the Bay Area, but on my first visit I was thrown off by the local convention of labeling non-sourdough breads as "sweet" (as in "sweet baguette" rather than just "baguette").

I've eaten a lot of bread in NYC, and I'd say that only Almondine and Sullivan Street are in Acme's league. Unfortunately, I didn't get to find out who else in the Bay Area is in Acme's league - maybe on my next West Coast trip.

Flour + Water - San Francisco, CA
Apparently, this place has had a lot of buzz in SF food circles over the past year, as evidenced by the crowd assembled outside the door 15 or 20 minutes before they opened for dinner. The menu is split evenly between pizza and pasta, with some ambitious appetizers and mains, but I seemed to be one of the few diners who ordered pizza. Maybe pizza as an upscale dinner option hasn't quite caught on in SF the way it has in NYC. In any case, the pizza (size and shape conforming to the lately en vogue Neapolitan style) was quite good, especially the crust, as might be expected from the restaurant's name. (Adam Kuban of Slice was not overly impressed, though he also noticed that most diners didn't seem to be there for the pies.)

What I tasted of my dining companion's pasta was also good - pastas made in-house from unusual ingredients (like beets) seem to be the focus. We also had a lamb's tongue and potato appetizer. I was initially thinking that lamb's tongue might be a green (turns out I was thinking of lamb's ear), but of course it turned out to be exactly what it said it was - the tongue of a lamb - and it was delicious.

Cafe Reyes - Point Reyes Station, CA
I had another good pizza at Cafe Reyes, near Tomales Bay, one of the major spots for oysters on the West Coast. I was slightly disappointed the cafe didn't offer the local specialty, BBQ oysters, but in the end I was happy I ate them raw. I'm not really a great oyster lover, but eating these was an intense sensory experience, tasting so strongly and purely of the ocean that they produced sense-memories of childhood beach vacations (seriously).

Returning to the pizza, I ordered it because it was clear that they took their pizza (a little too?) seriously - prominently displayed peels, wood-burning oven in full view, flour info on the menu. As with Flour + Water, the crust was the highlight, though I may have erred in ordering sausage - the overgenerous portion of crumbled topping caused severe "tip dip" and overwhelmed the sauce and cheese.

El Dorado Kitchen - Sonoma, CA
The trendy boutique hotel vibe of this restaurant was cause for trepidation, but it turned out to be a good experience, with some well thought-out food and old-fashioned good service. Cheese and charcuterie plates were the highlight, each meat and cheese successfully paired with some complimentary flavor (honey, sauerkraut, and prunes were involved, among other things) instead of just being sliced and arranged on a board.

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