We just got back from an amazing trip to San Francisco. It was different from most of our trips to San Fran, where we run around the city, looking for tacos in the Mission or stuffing ourselves with dim sum in the Richmond District. We would be staying in Mill Valley with Laurent’s brother, Scott. Other family would be joining us later for our niece’s graduation. Scott was taking two days off work and had planned some day trips to Sonoma and the Coast. Hmmm…could I survive not heading straight into the city to shop and eat until I dropped? Could I handle the mellow pace of life outside the city? I decided to open my mind to it and just “go with the flow”, not so easy for me, who usually takes control and plans the entire vacation’s worth of eating and then some.
When we arrived on Thursday it was off the plane and then hit the ground running…or should I say eating? So much for that mellow pace. I was gonna like this. After dropping off our luggage we headed over to Fish in Sausalito. Talk about California Cuisine, this was it. Fish is known for its commitment to sustainable fish. Scott, and his girlfriend, Kit, gave us the scoop on Fish’s very simple, but do not read inexpensive, menu. There are about five fish of the day. You just pick one and the preparation you want. We followed Scott and Kit’s lead and chose one of the five fish, grilled and served over a salad. I chose calamari and Laurent chose fresh sardines.
I didn’t think I liked sardines, but these were great; a stronger flavored fish, but not fishy by any means, just a little bony, actually a lot of little bones. We also ordered tempura baby fava beans served with an aioli. I have never had anything fried that tasted so fresh and spring like. These baby fava beans SCREAMED fresh…as did our entire lunch.
Your food is brought out to picnic tables in the marina. It was a sunny beautiful day…it seemed that all the customers were regulars as all the ladies had their big floppy, yet fashionable, hats to shade themselves from the sun. We just soaked it all in and enjoyed. Great food, great company, great conversation, great atmosphere. What a fabulous welcome to California.
Ok, bellies comfortably full, we headed out to Sonoma, where Scott’s office is. If I had an office in Sonoma, don’t think I would mind going to work every day. It’s right next door to a winery. That seems like it would make for a very dangerous lunch hour! Yes, we were smack dab in the middle of wine country, but we went straight for the beer. I tend to be a little rebellious. There are actually quite a few breweries in this area of California, hence lots of amazing beer, which we preceded to drink at Mondo where we met some of Scott’s employees for happy hour. Oh boy was this something to be happy about, for hours! There were $3.oo drafts offered and we are not talking Budweiser here. Scott ordered a Lagunitas IPA, Laurent a Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA and I ordered a Russian River Brewing Company Double Imperial “Pliny the Elder” IPA. (Yes, we are bitter hoppy IPA fans!)Here are my reason on why we were so happy this hour; #1, all these beers were made in Sonoma County, # 2, all these local beers were all $3.00, #3, all these local $3.00 beers were amazing. My new favorite is the Russian River brew. Hoppy and bitter, yes, but floral, citrusy and piney, also. It was amazingly smooth and well-balanced, unlike me, after we left hours and many beers later.
But not before we ate some damn good bar food, that I did not even think to take a picture of, as I didn’t expect it to be this tasty, and once we found out it was this tasty, we inhaled it. But I can tell you about it. These objects of my affection were simply called Jambalaya Fritters. They were basically rice balls mixed with chicken and andouille sausage, spiced with Cajun spices, breaded and deep-fried. How could they be bad, you ask? They couldn’t, really. But how could they be this good? Spicy, moist, crunchy, flavorful, served with mustardy remoulade with a Creole kick. When we raved about them, the owner told us that they came about by pure accident, as a lot of good things do. They had made tons of jambalaya for a Mardi Gras party and the next day, they still had tons left, the next day also. They had to figure out what to do with it (admitting defeat and throwing it out would not be good for food costs!) Someone in the kitchen decided to fry some up and wah-lah…an amazing appetizer is born. He assured us that this was not from that same Mardi Gras batch of jambalaya!
We had a great time talking with our new friends, Alex and Laura. This night was what life is all about to me; hanging out, with new friends, or old, laughing, talking, eating, drinking, nothing earth shattering, just REAL.
Earth shattering. That was what my head was the next day! This was all too real! I swear I only had two beers. Oh ya, and “tastes” of two others we just had to try. Oh well, it was worth it. After picking up some coffee and tea, Laurent, Scott, Kit and I headed to the coast. On the agenda was Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes. The drive from Mill Valley to Pt. Reyes was beautiful. Rolling hills, mountains, redwoods, cows, goats, tons of farmland. Nice and calming. Just what vacation should be all about. Point Reyes is a great little town, mellow, but not sleepy. I could have stayed there forever. It’s funny how small towns in California are so much more progressive than small towns in the Midwest. Not a chain in sight, just great local businesses, beautiful produce, fresh food, and active people. No wonder it’s so expensive, everyone wants to live here.
Well, we didn’t make it up early enough to see cheese being made, but we managed to buy a ton of it for a picnic on the lawn behind the creamery. We chose St. Pats, their seasonal springtime cheese wrapped in stinging nettles leaves, Inverness, a tangy creamy cheese, and Wagon Wheel, a harder mild cheese that was a nice contrast to the two soft cheeses. We also picked up some blue cheese from Point Reyes Creamery, which was nice and mild and creamy.
We, of course, got a bottle of wine, some chewy sourdough, local honey, and the most amazing grassy olive oil from Toby’s Feed Barn. Toby’s was an incredible market with local produce, healthy foods, nursery, an art gallery and coffee shop. It seemed like the local hangout. The sun was shining. We had great company, easy conversation and good food, yet again. What else could you ask for? Nada.
Even though we were full, we continued our local food tour! We continued up the coast with oysters right out of the bay on our mind. I was so excited to see the oyster beds, we couldn’t even make it to Hog Island, which is famous for its oysters. We pulled over and stopped at Tomales Bay. How to describe it. This was so not my reality. It was basically a big parking lot on the beach with picnic tables , grills, some portable hand sinks (good thing!), and a place to buy oysters, hot sauce, and limes! That’s it. Talk about a genius low overhead business. This was it. Oysters are sold by the dozen, by size, for about $13 a dozen. Yes, I said, $13 a dozen! Ok, I will admit, I am was not a huge oyster fan, but I was game to eat a few, or eight! This is the ONLY way to eat oysters, right out of the bay. We got a dozen small oysters to start and then moved on to the extra smalls, which we all preferred.
I was a little nervous, since I usually drown my oysters in cocktail sauce pumped up with tons of horseradish. Oh boy, had I been going about this all the wrong way. These oysters tasted of nothing but the bay. Sweet, briny, clean and delicious. All I needed was a squeeze of lime. People brought entire picnics, wine, beer, and chicken to grill, etc, etc. We showed up with a towel, for shucking, and that’s it!
I will say, I am usually a planner. This was so liberating, though. So much better than stressing over making sure we had a cooler full of ice, did we have enough food, who brought the silverware. What else did we need? Nothing…again, great company, good simple food, great environment, you can’t get any better than this. We were on the bay eating fresh oysters with a squeeze of lime. This was life!
How can this day get even better? A trip to Lagunitas Brewery is how! My favorite beer is Lagunitas IPA. When I saw the signs for Petaluma-18 miles, a detour was in order. We were going straight to the source. Lagunitas was not at all what I would have imagined. It is off the highway, in a sort of strip mall industrial park in a larger not so quaint city. That’s ok. Just a wakeup from the bucolic bay we had just come from. They had a huge beer garden with a band playing and tons of kids running around. What did I get us into? A very enjoyable few hours, that’s what. Somehow the kids were not annoying, maybe the IPA took the edge off. The band was very pleasant, rockin’, but in a mellow California kind of way. The sun was shining, there was good company and great conversation and a few Lagunitas beer samplers. All this and our bill was only $20 for two samplers and two pints. Who knew a great afternoon in California could be so cheap!
Our day was not over yet. We met up with Kit, back in Sausalito at a little Italian Bistro where Scott’s friend was playing jazz. This set up is not usually in our repertoire, jazz, tourist town, Italian food. Hmm….this was gonna be interesting. Would our idyllic day end on a sour note? Nope. The restaurant, Davino, was very quaint in a modern, but not too modern type of way. The glass pours were gigantic, the waitress charming and the food amazing, text-book examples of great Italian food with that fresh California flair. The jazz was not too jazzy and the older, tanned, slightly tipsy, wealthy Marin County clientele dancing on the nonexistent dance floor were entertaining!
This was the perfect ending to an amazing two days of family, friends, fresh food and fun.
Thanks Scott and Kit for taking time out of your busy schedules to enjoy life with us!