If you’re wondering about my two-week hiatus, then you missed the news about my California road trip. Sorry for not cluing you in before I left! Follow me on Twitter (@carlysulli, check out sidebar on the right) to get more frequent updates about my eating endeavors 🙂 Those who do should have seen some on-the-road tweets of my favorite eats as I made my way down the coast of California to San Francisco with my mom. She refers to this as “Carly’s Weight-Gaining Trip”, and while I am loathe to think I gained even an ounce, all the pie, pastries, and ice cream had to go somewhere…
But I didn’t let such thoughts concern me on the road, though. I had a food-packed itinerary lined up for us and I intended to stick to it! Armed with a list of recommendations from friends, coworkers, and Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”, Mom and I set of on a whirlwind vacation to the city by the bay.
The scenery was beautiful, but the food was even better. Now I’m flummoxed about how best to describe all these culinary delights for you. Lists. I like those. Let’s give that a try.
(Warning: Do not proceed on an empty stomach. The following images will likely produce tummy grumbling and drooling.)
1. Bob’s Red Mill
Is it even necessary to say this place would be heaven for me? Bob’s produces every sort of specialty grain product imaginable, and then some. Bob is my go-to guy for tracking down rye flour, wheat germ, flaxseeds and the like. I’d been wanting to head to the factory store ever since I realized it was as close as Milkwaukie, OR. Finally I had my chance! We made it just in time for lunch/second breakfast. That’s right. They have a cafe serving food chock-full of their whole grain products. Cheesy corn grits with poached eggs and multigrain pancakes were noshed before we perused the expansive store. This place had everything from green pea flour to split red lentils to teff flakes to blanched almonds. It was a baker’s paradise.
2. Mom’s Apple Pie
Due to an unfortunate forest fire blocking our path down Route 1 south of Bodega Bay, we were forced to detour inland. I was grumpy because there was a bakery I was hoping to get to in Point Reyes and time was running short. I demanded that my mother look for signs for pie. The detour was taking us through small town farming country, so I knew pie had to be close at hand. Then a sign appeared. I shouted. I almost-violently turned the car into the parking lot. Mom’s Apple Pie could easily have been some sketchy roadside establishment where pie fillings came out of cans. But no. We were in apple orchard company and these folks were proud of it. The pies were simple perfection. Proof that you don’t have to make desserts complicated to make them good. Two crusts. A not-too-sweet filling. The fresh fruit flavor just singing through. Incredible.
3. Bovine Bakery
This was the place I was trying to reach the previous day when we were sidetracked. Luckily, we got up early the next day to have breakfast here before hiking through Point Reyes National Seashore. The place was small. The line was edging its was out the door. We took our places in it among the locals, eying the signboard with the daily specials written in chalk, trying to peer through the crowd at the display cases. Finally it was our turn. “Get the morning bun,” said a voice beside me. Done. And an almond croissant for Mom. Buttery, sugary, cinnamony heaven.
4. The House
Recommended to me by my boss who used to live on the same street as this place, The House is a tiny pan-asian restaurant tucked into a corner of the very Italian neighborhood of North Beach in San Francisco. While tourists may never think to wander into this place, the locals had it packed and I was glad we’d made reservations. A little plate of house-made pickles held me over as we waited for our food. The shrimp and chive dumplings were tender, the sauce sweet and slightly spicy. The fried salmon rolls were crisp on the outside, rare on the inside, garnished with fresh tobiko and served with nose-searing mustard sauce. My mom enjoyed her steak with wasabi noodles, but I think my dish stole the show. Perfectly grilled sea bass, dipped in syrupy ginger soy sauce, that literally melted in my mouth.
O Tartine. I would compose a symphony for you if I were so musically-inclined. Instead, my words will have to do. I hope they are sufficient.
I knew I had to have the double pain au chocolat. It had been featured on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and I’m a sucker for anything made from laminated doughs. Let’s be honest, who isn’t? My mom certainly is. We also partook of an almond croissant and a morning bun. If I’d had any reasonable excuse to order an entire cake, I would have. They were gorgeous. I proclaimed as I beheld the banana cream tart that I wanted to lay my head in it and take a nap. But the pastries. Oh the pastries! Baked fresh. Still warm. The chocolate melting onto my lips as I took generous bites through its crisp, flaky exterior. A sip of a latte to wash it down. On to the morning bun: crunchy, caramelized exterior, sugar sticking to my fingers, cinnamon and orange warming my tongue.
6. Humphry Slocombe
My poor lactose intolerant mother. She’s such a trooper. She diligently finished her nectarine sorbet, even after trying my ice cream and declaring she didn’t want hers anymore. This undoubtedly was the best ice cream I’d ever eaten. Humphry Slocombe has a rotating list of outrageous flavors (I’d decided to visit after hearing about their prosciutto flavor). After a day of pastries, pie and cupcakes, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to squeeze this into my stomach. Luckily, I told my mom, I have a reserved second stomach specifically for ice cream. We were fortunate to show up when there was no line, so the nice employee let me sample almost every flavor when he heard I was a first-timer. Malted dulce de leche, olive oil, brown butter. Wow. I ended up with a scoop of Chocolate Sea Salt and something called Secret Breakfast, which has bourbon and cornflakes in it. Sorry Molly Moons, these guys have you beat. Lucky for you, you’re a bit more accessible.
7. The Ferry Building Marketplace
Wide, lofty hallways, pristine floors, colorful logos beckoning you to visit each vendor. This was foodie nirvana. We began our day eating breakfast at Boulette’s Larder, where we ate 9-grain porridge served with sake boxes full of toppings such as walnuts and flaxseeds. We sat at the communal table with locals and fellow tourists and watched the action in the open kitchen. From there we browsed through the stalls of the outdoor farmers market, munched on a Pepples organic, vegan maple doughnut, and sampled countless treats from Boccalone Salumeria, Miette Patisserie, Acme Bread Co. and Cowgirl Creamery. Blue Bottle’s New Orleans style iced coffee tantalized our taste buds with its blend of freshly roasted coffee and chicory. After a scrumptious Dungeness crab melt at Ferry Plaza Seafood, I reluctantly left the dazzling display of specialty foods. If I lived in San Francisco, I’d come here every day.
8. Dottie’s True Blue Cafe
I saw the episode when Guy Fieri visited this place on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. He mentioned the line weaving out the door and the owner said it was like that every day of the week. I’m a sucker for diners with delicious breakfasts, so when I realized this place was literally around the corner from our hotel, I knew we had to go. “Mom, are you going to be a good sport about this tomorrow?” I asked the night before. “We’re going to have to get there right when it opens and there might be a line already.” Lucky for me, my mom is a morning person. There were already at least 8 people in line when we arrived outside Dottie’s nondescript door ten minutes before its 7:30am opening. Man, was this delicious. I knew from the show what I had to order: black bean cakes with eggs and a side of grilled cornbread with jalapeno jelly. Everything scratch made in house. Mom ordered their signature whole-wheat pancakes spiked with cinnamon and ginger. YUM! I’ll have to try recreating those at home. The owner cooks everything himself, flipping pancakes and potatoes on the grill while juggling several frying pans. Very impressive. I wonder when the man sleeps considering he also has a list of fresh-baked pastries on offer every morning.
9. Mustard’s Grill
Okay, Bobby Flay, sometimes I think you’re a little cocky, but I know you’ve earned your Iron Chef status and therefore I trust your food judgment. This is why I came to Mustard’s Grill in Napa. Bobby had claimed that the Mongolian Pork Chop on offer here was the best grilled item he’d ever eaten– and this from the grill master himself. I knew after a couple bites that he was right. The moist meat had fabulous char from the grill, a sweet and smoky marinade, served with mustard sauce and braised red cabbage. Sensational. And then came dessert. Oh man, mom and I didn’t know what we were in for. Lemon lime meringue tart sounds simple enough. The meringue on this pie though was made with brown sugar and was literally four inches high. And yet, somehow, it wasn’t overly sweet. It was in perfect harmony with the tart filling and the cookie-like crust. Mom bought be the cookbook just so I could make this for her again.
I was really torn for this last one as to whether or not to write about Bouchon, which seems like it has to have a spot on the list because of its acclaim. The truth is, I had a better meal at small, relatively unknown Amuse Restaurant in Ashland, OR. The lamb I had for my main course at Bouchon was well executed, but failed to excite me. On the other hand, the pork loin, served with grilled fennel sausage, swiss chard and beans at Amuse was incredible. They use a wood-fired grill that imparts so much flavor to the food and my pork loin was the juiciest I’ve ever had. The chocolate truffle cake that followed wasn’t too shabby either.
Crap. Now I’m hungry!