West Coast Cool: Eating the Best of California in Three Days

Travel is hard on the body. Travel is necessary for the soul. I spent the last week in San Francisco, Sonoma Valley and Vancouver, and within the next 24 hours I will hop back across the coast to Portland, Oregon for another week of workshops. No rest for the wicked.

San Francisco is nothing like I expected. Travel has a way of springing such surprises upon you; you expect a gentrified pocket of beautiful design and intellectuality, and you get a city that is filled with drunken, stoned vagrants with anger and mental disorders. Do not misunderstand me – I enjoyed the adventure – but it was not what I had planned for. Perhaps the soft weather and hippy mystique draw the weirdos, or maybe it is just where California is at these days. Hard to say. For my part, I simply needed to watch the dealers count their money on the streets [constantly] and make sure to avoid the winos on the corners drinking their nightly fix.

Food was killer. From the first coffee at Ghiradelli and cream puff at Beard Papa to the insane Kryptonite at Ike’s Place to the refined bistro fare of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon to the simplicity of a picnic foraged from Napa’s Dean and Deluca, I was stuffed to the gills with the finest flavours possible. My favourite of the trip? The Kryptonite…by a long shot.

Ike’s Place is a sub shop in the Castro area that V. had noticed on Man Versus Food. From the get-go, I knew that a pilgrimage was required even though it was far from anything else we wanted to experience. The walk on Market failed due to distance and krunk-afficionado street-walkers, so I suggest taking the tram out to Castro from the main core.

The shop is a production kitchen with a board of possible sandwiches. The Kryptonite and its sister sub, The Doomsday, are not on the menu, but are the most brilliant combinations of flavours for the foodie. Imagine roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, salami, turkey, bacon, ham, mozzarella sticks, stuffed jalapeno poppers, beer battered onion rings, avocado, pesto, extra pepper jack and dirty sauce crammed into a large loaf of buttered bread. The thing must have weighed four pounds, I swear. I ate one half at 3pm, and ate the other for a late-night snack [no food in between]. Best sandwich EVER.

Le Bouchon Thomas Keller

Second on my food experiences from the area, was Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville. Yes, they messed up my reservation. Yes, they almost did not let us in, despite my having corrected the error the night before. Yes, I used my best “jedi mind trick” phrase: “But surely you mean to let us in…you would not stop me from entering.” The manager was, actually, quite good about it, and I was seated with the caveat that we could not linger due to a corporate dinner that evening. Fair enough.

I went for the simple: a fruit de mer platter that rang in at $110. V. and I had shared a cooked platter in Capetown, South Africa that was similar, but the West Coast raw bar seemed too key to miss. Brilliant. Fresh lobster, clams, oysters, mussels and shrimp all came together on two levels of ice and zinc platters. Matched with the Abraxas Vins de Terroir from Robert Sinsky Vineyards [we visited this vineyard on our second day], it was heavenly and light enough to leave anyone not feeling ill.

And then there was dessert…

Bouchon at Yountville

I went with the trio of chocolate bouchons with a strawberry ice cream, and then went with the classic tart au citron. Both were flawless. Both were better renditions of the classics than I have ever tasted.

It is important to mention that one reason for me to visit the food meccas across the world is to gain knowledge for the food photography part of my business. I need to see the platings, experience the table settings and the restaurant lighting to ensure that my stylings never look dated. I also go so that I can emulate the best ideas and executions at home. With Keller, especially, I have taken away a strong understanding of the bistro ideal. A few years back, I eagerly read his Bouchon cookbook, and perfected my roast chicken, roast beets, and rillettes. Now, I think that I can swing the platter when I am on PEI, and I know that I can replicate a few of the other dishes just having seen and tasted his other food. Never underestimate the power of one great meal at an iconic restaurant; it can change your life if you are paying attention to the details.

Finally…I stopped at Dean & Deluca while lost on our way to Frog’s Leap Vineyard in Rutherford. I could have spent thousands of dollars on wines, cheeses and utensils there. Instead, I grabbed a Bouchon baguette, a rabbit terrine and two fresh, local cheeses to picnic later in the night. The bread board was also a necessary purchase – the pig was too cute, and I can never have too many presentation boards for photography. As you can see it is a perfect size for the 50mm lens; at f.1.2 only the foreground remains in focus. I should also mention that I picked up a Miyabi Morimoto 600D Santoku knife at Sur le Table for a mere $78. The Damascus steel is nice to look at, but really it is the perfect balance that draws me to this series. They may be getting phased out, but if you come across any of these, then check them out. A chef’s knives are everything – I can lose my job, my home and my other stuff, but as long as I have my knives then I can always, always find a floor to crash on.

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