Illustration by Daniel Strongwater
At the end of the summer, we took a trip to the great state of California. We started in San Francisco and ventured down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles. We drove from SF to Big Sur to San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, to Los Angeles. We even drove north to Napa Valley. We drove approximately 500 miles. And, along the way, we ate and we drank as much as the California Republic had to offer in 9 days. We ate dry farmed tomatoes, figs off the trees, pig ears and chops, cuban and japanese food, sandwiches, tacos and croissants. We drank plenty of coffee and wine; Anchor California Lager, and some of the world’s greatest cocktails. We embarked on a culinary road trip. We hope you will join us for the ride.
******************** NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: SAN FRANCISCO & NAPA ********************
Northern California is home to some of the world’s most fertile farming conditions. With continuous sun, the farmers’ market bounty is impressive all year round, reaching its pinnacle towards the end of the summer, at the time of our stay. Every weekend at the Embarcadero, which translates to “wharf” in Spanish, a mass of Northern California farmers and artisans build tents on a pier right next to the bay to sell and sample off their harvest. Local coffee roaster, Blue Bottle, sets up shop too, with an espresso machine and pour overs. On a brisk San Fran morning (like almost every day, the temperature rarely exceeds 70 degrees or drops below 50 due to the bay), we washed down the morning fog with a few cappuccinos. We walked around sampling “Early Girl” Tomatoes — these are dry farmed, meaning the farmers use no irrigation, so the tomatoes are bursting with concentrated flavors — mission figs, peaches, plums and cheeses. The market was vibrant, crowded, colorful, each stall presenting delicious goods.
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market 1 Ferry Building, Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
WK Recommends: Blue Bottle Coffee, Early Girl Tomatoes, Wild Hog Oysters
After spending the day traversing the hills, making our way from Soma to Knob Hill to Fort Mason we found ourselves sitting at one of SF’s greatest restaurants, eating an “Early Girl” tomato salad. By this point we had convened with Daniel Strongwater, our next host, who ran over to Nopa @ 5PM to put our names on the list. We had a table waiting for us at 8. Having opened almost a decade ago, Nopa, meaning “North of the Panhandle,” has strengthened the deep tradition of farm-to-table, which is now synonymous with Northern Californian cuisine. On their website, Nopa writes about each and every one of their purveyors. Our pork chop, on a bed of quinoa, bronx grapes and broccoli rabe, came to the table medium-rare, a practice made acceptable when the animal itself is a Berkshire breed, Antibiotic and hormone-free and farmed less than 30 miles away. Our King Salmon, baked in a wood fire oven with creamed corn came straight off the boat and is sold at the Monterey Fish Market, located at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The beans, greens and fruits were as fresh as can be and populated the plates in the form of baked butter beans, tomato salad and Moroccan vegetable tagine.
The cocktail program was hyper localized, highlighted by a section of the menu called “The Republic,” explained as follows: “Context is everything. To fully appreciate the Spiritual, is to understand the sum of its parts. All of the cocktails are made solely with California sourced ingredients. Everything from base spirits, liqueurs, sparkling wine, bitters and citrus are produced in California. An exercise in drinking local but also a celebration of the staggering bounty of our great State.” The Republic showcased St. George Spirits, a local distillery in Alemeda, California just north of the city. As the eccentric beverage director told us, their founder and master distiller, Jorg Rupf, is quite the character, an “evil genius” of sorts, tempting the world with quirky spirits and near-perfect distillates. We tasted the cocktails: one named “King Collins” a refreshing mix of St. George Basil Eau de Vie, lemon, honey and soda — and the other named “Summit Cocktail,” which put St. George Terroir Gin on display. The meal ended with a dessert that had me wondering whether there could be anything better than this this extraordinary thing… a Butterscotch Pudding with whiskey vanilla bean cream and chocolate wafer cookies. It was thick, creamy, cold like ice cream, and with a perfect texture.
Nopa “a san francisco gathering place” – 560 divisadero @ hayes – san francisco, ca 94117 – 415.864.8643
WK Recommends: Wood baked butter beans, Pork Chop, Moroccan Tagine, Butterscotch Pudding
Day 2: Sideways Through Napa
I. Wineries: Sinskey, Matthiasson, Frog’s Leap
Van Morrison–Into the Mystic
It started and ended with an eight seat Chevy Suburban and a rental car garage. In the middle were good friends, great food and even better wine. In the Napa Valley sun, we ripened as the grapes prepared for harvest. In an action packed day of tastings, we visited 3 wineries, all quite different experiences, known for their distinguished fermented juice. Our first stop was Robert Sinskey Winery, famous for its biodynamic farming practices. There, we ate a charcuterie board of meats killed and cured right at the vineyard and fruits picked off their trees and sweated down into jams. We drank one white and three reds, my favorites being the “Abraxas” a blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris & Gewürztraminer and their 2007 “Marcien” a Bordeaux Blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc. We drank the last dregs of our wine, bought jam, picked figs from the garden, piled back in the Suburban and drove off to our next stop: Matthiasson.
We parked on a dusty road in between two vines, walked to the Matthiasson’s house, met the winemakers, Steve & Jill, and talked about wine on a picnic table in their backyard. We ate grapes from their vines, learned about the process of grafting grape verietals and drank the final product as Jill told us about her son’s Bar Mitzvah. Mastering irregular grapes, such as Ribolla gialla, Co-founder and head vintner Steve Matthiasson has done an incredible job of finding a balance in the blends. Both their Napa Valley “White” and “Red” as they simply name them are layered with complexity and are incredibly versatile. I highly recommend seeking out these bottles if you can find them in NYC (the white can be spotted at Blue Smoke with a rack of baby back ribs.) We left with a few bottles of wine, and made our last stop at Frog’s Leap, an organic winery in the Rutherford region of the valley. As the sun began to drop, we tasted a final flight in their garden, with the picturesque backdrop of vine covered hills. Rutherford is world renowned for its big, juicy, grape growing potential, and Frog’s Leap does not disappoint with their Cabernet and Zinfandel. There is a subtle earthiness that makes these wines interesting, and worth all the hype.
Three wineries later, our tongues stained red, our minds drifting, and our eyes bleary, Van Morisson’s Caravan began the journey back south. We had one more stop in mind, this time for nourishment, a pick me up if you will. The Fremont Diner looked like nothing more than a roadside diner, but if you make the mistake of simply driving by you will miss out on a truly special experience. Populated with outdoor picnic tables, The Fremont serves the ultimate post wine-tasting comfort food & drink: delicious French Press coffee to warm you, brisket nachos, fried chicken, incredible milkshakes (we recommend the Horchata) and pies. This meal ended our magical, wine-tasting day in Napa Valley one that will not be forgotten for years and years to come.
Fremont Diner — 2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, California. 707.938.7370
WK Recommends: French press, brisket nachos, fried chicken, horchata milkshake
Day 3: On A Mission, Through The Mission
I. Coffee and Pastries
After a day saturated with wine and sun, we felt rather lethargic. Some of the best days begin this way, and this one was no exception, landing us in San Francisco’s Mission District just before noon. As the morning fog faded, we started our late morning with hot coffee and breakfast from (possibly) the world’s best bakery. The coffee, a Cortado to be exact, or a “Gibraltar” as it is called in SF was provided by Ritual Roasters, one of San Francisco’s three most critically acclaimed beans to cup coffee pourers (the others being Blue Bottle & Sightglass.) The espresso drink, meaning “cut” with milk in Spanish, was re-named by Blue Bottle baristas after the name of the glass it was contained in, the Gibraltar. It became a cult favorite, since the town’s best baristas would make it for themselves with the extra milk and espresso that usually went down the drain.
After a quick coffee and conversation, we walked over to Tartine Bakery, who’s acclaim reaches far beyond the bay. Flaky croissants and the city’s best sourdough keeps the line at a consistent 30 yards out the door and down Guerrero Street. The beautiful weather helps pass the time and soon enough you find yourself chatting with a cheery staff of lovely ladies wearing bold lipstick, headbands, and summer dresses. We chose the pain au chocolate and a market vegetable quiche, filled with zucchini, yellow squash and swiss chard. Though I have eaten croissants hailing from the streets of Paris and New York, nothing compares to these ones. The pastry dough, containing a chocolate spread, is crisp on the outside and buttery on the inside — a multi-textural experience. We sat outside, absorbed the day, and planned our next move.
II. Bi-Rite & Dolores Park
“The Mission” as it is called, is a neighborhood with the greatest concentration of food and beverage establishments in San Fran, both hip and old school, ethnic and Californian, market places, cafes, cocktail bars, beer & ice cream shops. The Mission is teeming with cool things, and Heath Ceramics is no exception, a San Francisco establishment producing handmade crafts since 1948, where we spent a good portion of our afternoon buying gifts and conjuring an appetite. Once we heard the growls, we walked back to the heart of the Mission, the culinary and cultural epicenters of the neighborhood: Bi-Rite Market & Dolores Park.
Bi-Rite is a supermarket injected with local, artisanal steroids, famous for their sandwiches and prepared foods. There we met a few friends, picked up a six pack of beer, a Banh Mi sandwich and two cold sides — an asian green bean/eggplant salad and an heirloom tomato/cucumber salad. With live music and the sun beating down on us, we sat on the grass in Dolores Park, along with a large portion of San Francisco’s Generation Y. We spoke about the start up culture, asking questions about its sustainability, as we drank Anchor’s California Lager, the defining beer of our trip. This beer, light in body and color pays homage to the original lager brewed in Cali by Boca Brewing in 1876 during the gold rush, using Cluster hops and 100% malted barley.
III. Cuban Music & A Nightcap
While I was perusing the shelves at Health Ceramics, one of their wonderful employees engaged me in conversation, which led me to our dinner destination: Radio Habana Social Club. This tiny hole in the wall on 22nd and Valencia is brimming with existential charm. Live acoustic latino music, sculptures hanging from the ceiling, and walls lined with cuban iconography created the ambiance. The accompanying cuban plates, tamales and ropa vieja brought it all together.
Our San Francisco stay ended with superbly crafted cocktails at Trick Dog. The menu itself was a booklet of 7 inch vinyl records, each one with a famous song inspired cocktail name and the ingredients posted to the inside of the record. At the end, there was a list of highballs — one spirit and one soda, the soda being homemade. All were good, but none better than the “Bad Girl” cocktail: St. George Botanivore Gine (yes, again), Sherry, Plum, Lime & Sencha Soda. This was the most balanced, interesting, flavorful cocktail I’ve ever tasted. In close second was “She’s Gone”: Atlantico White Rum, Pear Brandy, sirop Provencal, lemon & tonic and the highball of Talisker Scotch & Cream Soda. After a few, we sat on a porch overlooking city hall, and as the moon reached its peak we discussed our two day journey down to So Cal.
A Day in the Mission:
Ritual Roasters – 1026 Valencia St San Francisco, CA, 415.641.1011
WK Recommends: Gibraltar w/ House Blend Espresso
Tartine Bakery – 600 Guerrero Street San Francisco, CA, 415.487.2600
WK Recommends: Chocolate Croissant, Quiche
Bi-Rite Market — 550 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA, 415.551.7900
WK Recommends:All Sandwiches, Prepared Salads
Radio Habana Social Club 1109 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA, 415.824.7659
WK Recommends:Tamales, Ropa Vieja, Live Music
Trick Dog — 3010 20th St San Francisco, CA, 415.471.2999
WK Recommends: Can’t go wrong with cocktails, “Bad Girl”, “She’s Gone”
******************** HIGHWAY 1 ********************
Day 1: Pick Me Up Early, Put Em Down Late
M. Ward–Chinese Translation
With our necessary camping materials securely tucked into the car, we made a stop on the way to the highway for our last SF coffee. This time it would be Sightglass, named America’s best new coffee roaster by Imbibe magazine. Their flagship roastery/coffee bar is in a sprawling warehouse space in SOMA, complete with two pristine espresso machines, and a straightforward menu and staff. I ordered an Americano, for me, the tell tale sign of good coffee, no foamed milk, just espresso and hot water. Their “Owl’s Howl” blend which was extracted for my drink is a memorable cup of coffee, full of flavor and notes of berries and chocolate. I slid my coffee into the cup holder, turned the ignition, and began the drive South.
Sightglass — 270 Seventh Street San Francisco, CA 415-861-1313
WK Recommends:Owl’s Howl Americano, touch of whole milk
Fleet Foxes–Sun it Rises
There we were in the honda civic. It took us from San Francisco to Monterey to Carmel and all the way through the hills, curves, and cliffs of Big Sur. It transported us to our eventual camping ground in San Louis Obispo’s Montaña de Oro State Park. Along the way we listened to approximately 12 hours of music from Wilco to Washed Out, Fleet Foxes to Flying Lotus and everything in between (like the Serge Gainsbourg we listened to while building a fire.) We also stopped at the most scenic points, and once to eat and drink at a storied spot called Nepenthe, meaning “drug of forgetfulness” in Greek. There we sat on multi-colored cushions overlooking rainbow umbrellas and a Pacific Ocean so vast that not even the horizon could contain it. There, at 4:30 we drank another California Lager, this time on tap, ate hamburgers, and a whole lot of French Fries, until our hunger was quelled. For the entire night. As two born and raised New Yorkers, it only made sense that we were drastically under-prepared for a night of camping: no flashlight, no wood, no food, only a 6 pack of Budweiser. And, it is surprising how filling that can be. We did barter some wood from our neighbors and with our limited camp “education” built a fire. We finished our beers and took to bed early, rising after a night of fitful sleep at 7AM. We ate omelets for breakfast at a local joint and took to the road again with the City of Angels on our mind.
We made two more stops before reaching our final destination. The first was in the Santa Ynez valley at a winery called Dragonette Cellars. This was a truly unique experience, as we saw no vines, just barrels and fermenters. John Dragonette and half of the wine-making team with his brother Steve, allowed us to taste Sauvignon Blanc juice — just crushed, and before the influence of alcohol — and his entire line of Central Coast wines. Most notable were the Pinot Noir and Syrah. He answered all of our questions and we left feeling learned. Finally, we stopped in Santa Barbara for tacos, a real South Californian tradition. The Mexican influence in this area of the country is impossible to miss. The tiny, humble taqueria we ate at named Cuernavaca was by far our most delicious meal for the cheapest ticket. I spent $7 on two tacos, one Al Pastor and the other Shrimp & Queso Fresco. There is an extensive salsa bar, filled with any and every filling you may want for your taco. The tortillas were corn and handmade. The meat and fish were marinated for hours and topped with radishes, salsa verde and a touch of hot sauce, making these tacos the perfect compliment to an increasingly blazing sun. Milkshakes in hand, we walked to the water to catch our first glimpse of the sandy beach.
Dragonette Cellars 55 Los Padres Way, Buelton, CA 805.693.0077
WK Recommends: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache
Cuernavaca — 201 W Carrillo St Santa Barbara, CA 805.564.1414
WK Recommends: Al Pastor, Chicken & Shrimp Tacos. Mexican Soda.
******************** LOS ANGELES********************
Miles upon miles later, we parked the car on Crestmoore Place outside our friend’s apartment. I reflected on the last 5 days and the 4 left. We popped open some beers and made a mental plan of must do LA things. On that list was good food, beer, coffee, surf and company.
Laura Mvula–Green Garden
I. Intelligentsia & Gjelina Take Away
When you wake up in LA, the sun is usually shining, there is no fog to speak of unlike its Northern counterpart. Each day, the morning began with a short run through the canals, ending at the Intelligentsia Coffee Bar and a small breakfast at GTA. It was accompanied by the smooth sounds of Jason Bentley and his show on KCRW, Morning Becomes Eclectic, from 9AM-Noon showcasing old and new music. It is almost impossible to conceive of better mornings. Intelligentsia is located on the main strip of Venice, CA known as Abbot Kinney Blvd. I have never been to a better coffee shop, combining aesthetics with quality, interesting coffee, and if you can grab a seat on the patio, paramount people watching and relaxation. The line forms out the door next to the two tiered stadium seating on the patio. When you get to the front, you reach a fork in the road where the barista guides you to one of two multi-thousand dollar espresso machines. Their menu consists of all the regular drinks: cappuccinos, lattes, and so forth, and all of these can be made with their house blend or single origin roasts. The latter has changed the way I appreciate coffee — think terroir, but with beans, not grapes. They also serve single origin pour-over varieties, which come in a small glass carafe after being carefully steeped. If you head down the block, you reach a restaurant named Gjelina, one that focuses on the quality and freshness of everything they put on the table. Their take-out window, Gjelina Take-Away, or GTA for short, is no different, although faster and cheaper. In the morning you can grab a wide array of house baked pastries and breads topped with eggs, smoked salmon, and cheeses. In the afternoon, homemade meat sandwiches and incredibly delicious side salads, all made with market vegetables. It is almost like Brooklyn Larder (for those of you that know it) but just a bit better, and certainly more scenic.
Inteligentsia – 331 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice, CA 310.399.1233
WK Recommends: Black Cat or Single Origin Cappuccino
Gjelina Take Away – 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice, CA 310.450.1429
WK Recommends: BLT Sandwich, Market Sides, Buckwheat Loaf
One of the most hyped chefs in America, Roy Choi, paved his way with a simple fusion food truck in Los Angeles. A Korean, who immigrated to America at the age of 8, Choi takes roots from both sides of the Pacific Ocean, combining the Mexican food cultures of LA, and those of his native Seoul, South Korea, to create something truly unique. What started with one truck is now five, and a movement. Roy Choi has become a phenomenon, wielding his knives and creativity towards 3 full service restaurant concepts in LA: A-Track, Chego & Sunny Spot. All of which we wanted to visit, but none of which we had time to visit. So we settled for the original concept, Kogi. Checking their twitter feed minutes before closing we rushed over to the closest truck, and on a 100 degree day, we sat on a stoop and ate Korean BBQ inspired Mexican food. The short rib tacos were a highlight, braised for hours and topped with homemade Kimchi. Choi is LA’s David Chang equivalent, and any of his spots are worth a stop.
Kogi BBQ Multiple Locations, check website for details
WK Recommends: Short Rib Tacos, Spicy Pork Burrito, Kimchi
Day 2: It takes an animal to eat at ANIMAL
Kendrick Lamar–Hol’ Up
Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo opened Animal in 2008, a restaurant which put them on the national scene. This restaurant is no joke. Utilizing many off-centered animals, like rabbit, octopus and quail, and off-centered cuts, like heads, tongues, tails and brains, Shook & Dotolo make the expert look easy, the obscene, approachable. Nothing is off limits on this mercurial, playful menu. Fried Pig Ears came dressed with a chili-lime vinaigrette and a fried egg. Sweetbreads, tenderized, breaded and pan fried to perfection with a salsa verde. Chicken Fried Rabbit. Charred Octopus with an inky black Sriracha, that could have been ejected from the animal itself. A dessert, a sundae of sorts with blueberries, frozen brown butter crumble, and bay leaf ice cream, so intense in flavor that it could have been a savory course, and yet with an impeccable finishing touch of sweetness. Had we only eaten this meal, it would have been enough, but in celebration of a birthday, my boss called over a bottle of Champagne from across the country. It was the cherry on top.
ANIMAL – 435 n. fairfax ave. Los Angeles, CA 323.782.9225
WK Recommends: Sweetbreads, Chicken Fried Rabbit, Blueberries
I’ve been on many a bike lane, but never one as serene and easy riding as that on the beach from Venice to Santa Monica. On our 3rd day in LA, this path and a couple of cruisers transported us to Sugarfish, and a smattering of the country’s most wonderful sushi. Sugarfish, started by Sushi master Kazunori Nozawa shuns “American-style” extravagant rolls and fusion dishes. Instead he concentrates on the purity of his basic ingredients. With three options, “Trust Me”, “Trust Me Lite” and “Nozawa” the sushi chefs send out what is freshest, on perfected sushi rice, sometimes topped with a touch of sauce. What differentiates Sugarfish is the way in which the fish melts in your mouth. The fish is cold, the rice warm, and the contrast leads to a multi textural experience. Highlights included Tuna Belly, Halibut and the Blue Crab hand roll.
Sugarfish — Multiple Locations
WK Recommends: Depending how hungry you are: Trust Me/Lite, Trust Me, Nozawa in order from a little to a lot.
Nine days later, after many glasses of wine, breakfasts, lunches and dinners, we arrived to our final day in California. It began with the usual Venice morning ritual, and ended at the Blind Barber, a NY based bar/barber shop that recently opened an outpost in LA. Our friend Asher was djing. In the middle were sandwiches from GTA, eaten in the backyard of an animated LA casting director and dinner at a sprawling German Beer Garden, Wurstkuche. With up to 20 different sausages and beers to choose from, it put a recent German citizen and his friend in awe. Steins of Reissdorf Kolsch and Spaten Oktoberfest paired with classic Brats, Bocks and Fries speckled a long communal table lined with brown deli paper. I finished my meal with a small digestif, a shot of Cherry Eau de Vie, the only liquor they serve.
Wurstkuche – 625 Lincoln Blvd. Venice, LA 213.687.4444
WK Recommends: Bratwurst, Bockwurst, Fries & Kolsch