California is definitely growing on me!
We were fortunate enough to spend just over a week there again recently, and we skipped around from Los Angeles, to San Francisco to San Diego in that time. Whilst Mr G had business meetings most days, I searched out places to eat brunch and dinner. We revisited some of the favourites which I shared with you in California Eats and discovered some fine new places, as well as fulfilling a dream to eat at a pioneering 'farm to table' restaurant in Berkeley, California.
Our first meal after landing in the "land of opportunity" was at our favourite Venice Beach food destination Gjusta Bakery. After a long flight and a dance around a couple of servings of airline food, Gjusta's menu was a welcome site. Beginning with a carrot, orange and ginger juice kick starter, then Mr G tackled the Smoked Fish and Egg - labneh, cucumber and radish, herbs, tomato, soft egg, toast $14 while I savoured the Egg Sandwich - English muffin, collards (loose leaf greens), gruyere, bacon, hot sauce $7.50. This bakery has truly captured my heart and my taste buds - I simply love their food and their outdoor courtyard dining space! So much so, that we visited again four days later, on our return to the airport to fly to San Francisco. I had the Falafel Plate - sesame ficelle, tahini, fermented chili, pickled onion, radish, salted cucumber, sprouts $15. Mr G was feeling a little weary after a busy few days of work and opted for the nourishing Chicken Dumpling Soup with Grilled Sourdough Bread $10.
It's always a delight to me as we travel, when friends send recommendations of places to eat they think we'll enjoy. Both of these next two places were just that, discovered solely due a tip-off from kind, foodie friends. Bondi Harvest a cafe run by a pair of Australians in the back streets of Santa Monica, was a breath of fresh air. A casual dining destination, inspired by the Sydney Bondi beach lifestyle, it boasts a food philosophy focusing on locally-sourced produce, seasonal cooking and healthy eating. The Bondi Harvest menu offers elevated simplicity with fresh, flavoursome food and ingredients that shine. We ate outside in the Spring sunshine, in what could be described as the outdoor alley. We enjoyed a healthy bowl of goodness each for brunch; Rainbow Bowl - turmeric quinoa, fermented veg, avo, carrot, chimichurri cauliflower rice, wilted kale, soft boiled egg, sesame salt, nori $11 and Whirley's bowl - chimichurri dressed cauliflower rice, topped with grilled market fish, slaw, avocado, yogurt tartar and hand chopped pineapple salsa $14 and both were deliciously fresh.
Little Sister in Manhattan Beach is a cosy Vietnamese restaurant, one block from the beach, where apparently Chef Tin Vuong is out “to blow your mind” with pan-Asian small plates. The food was very good. We started with two small plates; balinese fried meatballs, cilantro-mint chutney, pickled okra and pork, shrimp, and crab dumplings, spicy black vin dressing, chives, spinach, peanuts both were fragrant and full of flavour, the dumplings being my favourite, I could easily have ordered seconds. We followed on with two mains; lamb randang, yams, herbs, pickled veg and onion pancake and red & black rice, mussels, shrimp, octopus, scallop, sausage, confit pork, lime leaf aioli & okra. The lamb randang was nothing but incredible, I happily mopped up the remnant curry juices with the last of the onion pancake, while Mr G gobbled up the last of the rice and seafood dish. This place will definitely be on our 'return to food destinations', next time we are in town.
Rustic Canyon was another delicious find in Santa Monica, offering a regularly changing menu of Farmers’ Market-inspired dishes with ingredients that come from local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen who practice sustainable agriculture. Seasonal and simple dishes are key at this buzzing restaurant and wine bar, resulting in a great neighbourhood dining experience. All of the food at Rustic Canyon is made and plated with sharing in mind. Our only disappointment with this place, was the restrictions of dining as a party of two, rather than with six to eight friendsallowing us the luxury to try many more of the shared dishes on offer.
Next stop was San Francisco where we were truly spoilt with two wonderful dinners, and in between a night out at the American baseball, with a 'eat on your lap' fried chicken and slaw burger with an organic lemonade for our dinner!
Nopa, described as a San Francisco gathering place, is a restaurant specialising in organic wood-fired cuisine, serving simple food created with seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors. This philosophy is shared by there sister restaurant, an organic Mexican kitchen, Nopalito. Funnily enough when I was making the reservation for our night at Nopa, I was a little double-minded about which of their two establishments we should dine at, on our only one available evening. Remarkably when we arrived at Nopa, unbeknown to us, they were celebrating their 15th birthday as a restaurant and the chef from Nopalito was also in house for the evening. There was a special menu, highlighting dishes from both kitchens for this one night only! Bingo!
The two storey dining room and bar at Nopa is a visual delight. We were seated at a table upstairs, enjoying panoramic views of the kitchen, bar and dining area below. It was like watching a live show going on, as we enjoyed our meal together from the gallery. We chose one dish from each chef from the combined menu to start; tostadas con ceviche verde de snapper y rojo de trucha $18 which were delicious crunchy corn tostadas with morsels of raw fish in either a green or red chilli salsa. Then something completely different to our first choice; bucatini, lamb sugo, puntarelle, mint and pecorino $17 a warm inviting pasta dish with a succulent lamb ragu. Finally, we shared the Moroccan vegetable tagine, toasted almonds and lemon yoghurt $23. It was such a fun night out and I left with a signed copy of the Mexican Chef Gonzalo Guzman's cookbook Nopalito - A Mexican Kitchen. Mr G looked at me curiously and somewhat surprised, commenting, "are you really going to carry a cookbook around with you for the next two weeks of travel!" - Yep!
On our last evening in San Francisco, a dream was realised for me when we dined at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Sometime ago now I wrote about chef Alice Waters, who came to Sydney to speak at Conversations in the House at the Sydney Opera House. Alice Waters is a chef, author, food activist, and the founder and owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant. She has been a champion of local sustainable agriculture for over four decades. In 1995 she founded the Edible Schoolyard Project, which advocates for a free school lunch for all children and a sustainable food curriculum in every public school. Alice is the author of fifteen books, including New York Times bestsellers The Art of Simple Food I & II and The Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea.
Chez Panisse opened its doors in 1971, founded by Alice Waters and a group of idealistic friends. A neighbourhood bistro where from the beginning, Alice and her partners tried to do things the way they would like them done at a dinner party at home, with generosity and attention to detail. The Restaurant, located downstairs, is open for dinner Monday through Saturday, by reservation only. The fixed dinner menu consists of three to four courses. The menu which changes every night is designed to be appropriate to the season and composed to feature the finest sustainably-sourced, organic, and seasonal ingredients including meat, fish, and poultry. When I found out we were going to be in San Francisco for three days, I chatted with Mr G about the possiblity of going to Berkeley and then promptly made a reservation to eat at Chez Panisse. I secured a table with a $50 deposit, a month before we even arrived in the US! It is needless to say how ridiculously excited I was, as we drove half an hour out of town along the freeway to Berkeley, to partake in the four course menu.
Baskets of citrus and fresh flowers adorned the entry foyer, along with some memorabilia of the history of Chez Panisse framed on the walls. We were seated in the front room, that housed four cosy tables. The last rays of afternoon sunshine, filtered through the coloured glass windows, causing the dining room to take on a golden glow. The service was both friendly and informative and the food was all i hoped it would be. It was Thursday April 13, 2017 - this was the menu:
- An Aperitivo
- Local halibut and yellow tail jack tartare with green coriander and ginger, snap pea salad, and nasturtiums
- Morel mushroom raviolini in brodo (broth) with green garlic and mint
- Sonoma Country duck breast grilled with orange zest and black pepper; with roasted asparagus, parsnip puree, and Scarlet Frills mustard greens
- Warm buckwheat crepe with cardamon ice cream, rhubarb, and candied kumquats
I literally enjoyed every mouthful and savoured every moment of this 'on my bucket list' dining occasion. (Unfortunately the dining room light was not suitable for photographing the food well, so sorry there is not much to see in that regard - you'll just have to use your imagination or hop on a plane to SFO and see for yourself!)
So that's my latest California Eats for this visit and like I said at the beginning, California and especially their food scene, is definitely growing on me more and more! x j