Happy in My Soul: My First Farm to Table Dinner

Bloomfield Farms Inaugural Farm to Table Dinner

A little over six months ago I had the opportunity to cross an item off my bucket list and go to my first truly Farm to Table dinner. This experience was so amazing that it re-ignited a long time dream of mine and spurred me into action. Hence my last post about some changes ahead, so it only seemed appropriate that I tell you about this experience as my first post of the new SavoryGirl. The dinner was hosted at Bloomfield Farms in Petaluma, CA on a gorgeous summer evening in July.  It was the first one they've ever done, organized by a farm friend, sommelier and restauranteur David Lynch of St. Vincent Tavern and Wine Merchant here in San Francisco. So a few friends and I met at St. Vincent on a Sunday afternoon, piled into a chartered bus and sipped rose as we rode up to Petaluma with the sun starting to set over the hills of wine country. That gorgeous view out the window of the bus was enough to make me nostalgic for the summer I spent in Napa during my MBA internship and I found myself in an amazing mood as I stepped off the bus 90 minutes later.

Aesthetic

As we began to walk around Bloomfield Farms my mood skyrocketed...breathing in the fresh air, taking in the views and playing bocce while sipping wine with the very people who grew the grapes and made the wine from three vineyards all within miles of Bloomfield Farms. This all reminded me of an idea I had for a business years ago but had buried deep while I built my life and career here in San Francisco. As I though about this idea again while enjoying the wine and having fun with my friends I found myself saying over and over again that this experience was making me "happy in my soul".  And this was all before the food!

Namu Gaji – My New Favorite Restaurant

Uni

Wow.  Have I found a jewel here in this great food city of ours! Now, to be clear, I haven't really "found" it...Namu Gaji has been in existence for quite a while but somehow I've never been and I feel like you just don't hear about it all that often anymore.  But this place - Blows. Me. Away.  It's one of those places that makes me stop, pause and moan a little after the first bite of each dish. So much so that the staff notices and pays me lots of extra attention because they can tell just how much I'm enjoying their food.  And who doesn't love that kind of patron?! Did all of this melodrama and attention annoy my date?  Probably. But it was a bad date right from the start so I turned my focus to the food...which in turn helped the sous chef turn his attention to me since we were sitting with him at the Chef's Bar.  Way to turn a bad date into a fabulous experience!

Namu Gaji is family run by three brothers and they source many of their ingredients from their own Namu farm.  They classify themselves as New Korean American cuisine.  On their site they refer to themselves as "humble, innovative and personal" and I couldn't agree more  For a slightly more expensive restaurant that serves up some of the most beautiful platings I've seen it is also extremely unpretentious, warm and welcoming.  Even on my first visit I felt comfortable enough on a busy Saturday night to hold up staff for extended chats like they were old friends.  That is rare to find in this city that isn't exactly known for it's service. The people working here truly enjoy their craft and are in this business to bring pleasure to others through their food...so much so that I got a surprise freebie, special dish made for me on both visits simply because they could see my raw appreciation of their work.  I'm not saying to expect that, but wow.  Making me feel that they love me as much as I love them?  Good move and amazing customer service.

Now, I'm going to walk you through each dish...and there are a lot of them! But that's because I've been waxing on so much about this place that my friend decided to bring me back for a belated birthday dinner about a week after my first dinner here. And even still I'm missing a few dishes (like the delish real Korean taco they have at happy hour and the amuse bouche from each visit) that we forgot to snap pictures of before devouring!

So first up...the photo that starts this blog post. Uni. Buckwheat lavash, kumquat, mustard seed, egg white, pistou and of course, uni. This is the dish that made the sous chef and I buddies.  Why?  Because after my first bite and food orgasm sounds, I stopped and said, "Wow.  THIS is sex on a plate."  And I continued to repeat that to every staff member who asked how I liked it.  Little did I know the sous chef responsible for this dish, Mark Zawiski, was right in front of me and overheard this lavish compliment.  This works out in my favor later!

OysterThis next dish is Oyster.  Oysters with uni and panko breadcrumbs.  I got this on my second visit...but only because they had temporarily taken my Uni dish off the menu.  What?!  That's the dish I couldn't stop talking about! I teased the chef..."Wait, I call it sex on a plate and you take it OFF the menu?  I think you should have renamed it on the menu!"  He loved that and apologized and said it would be back on the menu tomorrow.  I pouted as big as I could and ordered the oyster dish since it at least had some uni in it.  While this was nowhere near as good as the true Uni dish, it was delightful and would be divine on a good first date.  Some of the oysters were a bit too big so they overtook the delicate uni flavor but on the ones where the ratio was right it was delicious.

But wait!  As I'm pouting about Uni being off the menu that crafty sous chef Zawiski is sneaking around right in front of me and making it up special for Katherine and I.  Imagine my delight and surprise when it gets brought over to us! Seriously, this is only my second visit here and I feel like a regular and special guest all at the same time. That's hard to pull off and so rare.  Man I love this Uni dish and Katherine did too!

Tú Lan – A San Francisco Institution!

Menu Cover at Tu Lan

First, let me say that I am a failure of a foodie...it has taken me 8 years to try this San Francisco institution and now that I have I am kicking myself for the 8 years wasted not eating this amazing (and affordable!) Vietnamese food.  And truly, I'm not just saying that...just because others rave about a restaurant does not mean I agree (take the famed Boulevard for example).  This spot is truly worth a try...here's a quick rundown why:

Tú Lan has been in one of the sleazier parts of San Francisco, 6th right off Market, since 1977 which is a feat unto itself.  They've recently renovated but honestly it's still a dive so I can't imagine what it was like before...I almost gave my out of town friend a heart attach walking the two blocks on 6th to get here and there wasn't much solace once inside.  But for me, that's part of the charm...I've lately been feeling kind of tired out on all of the fancy eating San Francisco has to offer and am really enjoying the many dives and bargain bite spots with character and sometimes surprisingly delicious food, like Tú Lan. The other part of the charm is that Julia Child loved this place, particularly the lemon beef salad.  Just the sheer thought of Julia Child in this neighborhood,  hunkered down and truly appreciating this simple but great food is enough to make me smile.  But the real reason to come check this place out is, of course, the food itself...

Imperial Rolls

First up, #1 CHẢ GIÒ...better known as Imperial Rolls.  I've had my share of Imperial Rolls over the years but these are to die for...and that's coming from someone who typically avoids fried food.  Perfectly crispy and crunchy on the outside and bursting with peppery, pork on the inside. I kept telling myself to not finish these, but we certainly didn't bring any home...oops!

Lemon Beef Salad

SavoryGirl Video: Off the Grid Fort Mason

After this amazingly beautiful weekend in the Bay Area it is clear that summer is here...and that means Food Truck season is in its prime! So I'm re-posting this May 2012 video and post to inspire you to get out there and start sampling all of the amazing Food Trucks that the Bay Area has to offer!

May 3, 2012

Street food is one of my absolute favorite things about traveling abroad.  It's the fabric of a culture...what ties communities and generations together while allowing locals to make a living and share their authentic food with those who come to visit.  Eating street food is like drinking locally grown wine...it allows you to taste and get a sense of place.  Terroir, if you will.

The relatively recent swell of food trucks in our own country brings this glorious tradition to our own backyard...but even a die-hard foodie like me found it hard to keep up with all of the different trucks and be where they happened to be just at the right time.  So for the first couple of years when food trucks were all the rage, I kind of missed out which was frustrating!  But who has time to chase trucks all over town just to show up right when they're running out?  So when Matt Cohen founded Off the Grid, which brings food trucks from all over the Bay Area together into centralized locations I was thrilled!  Finally, an efficient way to sample from many food trucks and support my local food scene.  It's like I'm traveling & eating all around the world right in here in San Francisco.

This short video takes you on a tour of the Fort Mason Off the Grid market...take a quick look and then swing by on a Friday and check it out yourself!

M.Y. China – Yan Really Can Cook!

Chef Martin Yan...renowned chef, cookbook author and cooking show personality extraordinaire has recently opened a new restaurant in the Dome Collection at the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Center. I know, mall restaurant doesn't typically scream fabulous food and atmosphere, but trust me, M.Y. China is an exception.  The atmosphere is fun, lively and entertaining and the food is to die for. Seriously...To. Die. For. Eating at M.Y. China makes you feel like you are eating from an authentic stall in the streets of China.  And for a gastronomic traveler like me, that's a real compliment.  No Americanized Chinese food here...fresh flavors, beautiful colors and authentic spices and ingredients. Hungry yet?  All right then...let's take a little i-Phone enabled photo journey through M.Y. China!

First up, house-made spicy green papaya pickles! We love green papaya salad that is so common in Thai food, but this was a nice tangy twist on green papaya as we know it.  Perfect to snack on throughout the entire meal to add a bit of acidity between courses.

Next, Wild Boar Juicy Dumplings. Served piping hot...so the hardest part is letting them cool down a bit before popping them into your mouth. If you've never had juicy dumplings before, it's important that you eat the whole thing in one big bite so when the delicious juicy filling squirts out you capture it in your mouth instead of all over your face! Gingery, garlicky goodness.  Delish.

We followed our juicy dumplings with Dan Dan Noodles.  An amazing, traditional Chinese dish that has chilled noodles flavored with a delicious mix of vegetables,  pork, peanuts, Szechuan pepper and chili-garlic oil. Makes your lips all tingly and your fork keep digging back in for more.  I could eat this every day of the week.

Foodie Itinerary: Wine Country…beyond Napa & Sonoma

So you've explored Napa and Sonoma and fancy yourself a CA Wine Country enthusiast.  Not so fast...there's a whole lot more exploring to do!  When you first move to the Bay Area, you spend a lot of time in Napa and Sonoma and bring all of your visitors there...but after a while you branch out a bit, and fall in love with the California wine country all over again.  So when we don't have Wine Country virgins in town (who really should be first introduced through Napa in my opinion) our preference is actually some of these lesser known regions.  We prefer them for the more laid-back, humble feel and because they make wine (and sometimes food) just as good as the more famous and expensive regions.  So here are my favorite regions beyond Napa and Sonoma and a few recommendations for where to taste, eat and stay for each...photos to help inspire can be found here:
Foodie Itinerary: Sonoma, California

Ah, Sonoma.  This is a different experience than Napa...a bit slower paced and gives you a glimpse into what Napa maybe used to be like before it got so popular.  Don't get me wrong...there are still plenty of tourists, but there's just a different vibe.  The people working at the winery linger to talk to you longer and there's a sense of simplicity that is both welcome and comforting.   You do have to drive a bit more in between wineries if you follow my list below, so as with all wine tasting please be careful and make sure you have a designated driver.  Sonoma's a bit harder to do in a day and get the full experience so I suggest a weekend to truly enjoy it at the leisurely pace you should adopt while visiting this unique and tasty region.

My recommendations for what to do, where to eat and of course where to taste are below...and to see some pictures of many of the wineries and surrounding valley check out my Sonoma Photo Album.
Foodie Itinerary: Napa!

Summer is right around the corner; the grapevines are starting to fill out and soon will be heavy with grapes and lush foliage.  It's a wonderful time of year in wine country.  Living in the Bay Area and being passionate about food and wine means I often get asked for wine country suggestions, particularly since I actually used to live in Napa and worked at a winery for a summer.  I love wine country and boy do I have lots of recommendations!  So consider this the first of a three part series on Wine Country....Napa, Sonoma, and Beyond. First up, Napa!  If you've never been to wine country before, Napa should be first on your list. Yes, it's touristy and at times a bit cliche but it's Napa!  You should experience all Napa has to offer first and then move onto the smaller and more quaint wine regions like Sonoma, Russian River and Alexander Valley.  Exploring and understanding Napa will allow you to appreciate the others even more.  Trust me. If you can, try to go during the week since the weekends are more hectic. My recommendations for what to do, where to eat and of course where to taste are below...and to see some pictures of many of the wineries and surrounding valley check out my Napa Valley Album.  It will inspire you to start planning your trip right away!
Video: Off the Grid with SavoryGirl

Street food is one of our absolute favorite things about traveling abroad.  It's the fabric of a culture...what ties communities and generations together while allowing locals to make a living and share their authentic food with those who come to visit.  Eating street food is like drinking locally grown wine...it allows you to taste and get a sense of place.  Terroir, if you will.



The relatively recent swell of food trucks in our own country brings this glorious tradition to our own backyard...but even a die-hard foodie like me found it hard to keep up with all of the different trucks and be where they happened to be just at the right time.  So for the first couple of years when food trucks were all the rage, I kind of missed out which was frustrating!  But who has time to chase trucks all over town just to show up right when they're running out?  So when Matt Cohen founded Off the Grid, which brings food trucks from all over the Bay Area together into centralized locations I was thrilled!  Finally, an efficient way to sample from many food trucks and support my local food scene.  It's like I'm traveling & eating all around the world right in here in San Francisco.



This short video takes you on a tour of the Fort Mason Off the Grid market...take a quick look and then swing by this Friday and check it out yourself!

Postcards: Northern California Coast

This, my friends, is why we live in California.  I mean really does it get more serene and beautiful than this?  The day of this photo was an interesting one...near the start of a true life experience.  It was Day Two of the Brita California Climate Ride, a ~350 mile ride from Eureka to San Francisco. Since Brita was the title sponsor and I worked at our headquarters out here in the Bay Area, a co-worker and I came up with the idea of forming a team and doing it.  The twist? Christian and I didn't even own bikes at the time of this brilliant idea.