Last week I visited the West Coast, spending time in San Francisco, Napa Valley and Portland, Ore., and while I knew all three places deserved a place on any foodie’s map, I wasn’t prepared for the breadth of offerings. Food carts, coffee stands and bakeries deserve just as many accolades as Thomas Keller’s temples of cuisine. Cookbook fans and armchair travelers, take note.
The trip began in San Francisco, where I enjoyed chilaquiles at Primavera, a food stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. Eating a plate of the fried corn tortillas simmered in salsa with scrambled eggs, black beans and avocado, and sipping a raspberry lemonade, helped solidify me for a walk through the amazing market, which was the subject of Chronicle’s 2006 San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Impeccable Produce Plus Seasonal Recipes. That night, I ate at B Restaurant in Oakland, an offshoot of the San Francisco lunch and dinner spot. Highlights from that meal include truffled French fries; roasted pork belly with butter beans, poached egg and rapini; and pappardelle with braised duck, pink pearl apples and red Russian kale. Back in San Francisco the next day, I hit House of Nanking, a Chinese food institution that served food unlike any I’ve had in New York—or Beijing, for that matter: postickers with peanut sauce, crispy tofu with blistered string beans, and mu shu pork made with thick rounds of meat and fresh vegetables.
After the Bay Area, it was north to Napa, where I ate two wonderful lunches in Yountville, the first at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. The ricotta gnocchi and the marinated olives—from a tree in Chiarello’s front yard—were terrific. Bottega is cleverly situated adjacent to Napa Style, a store that functions as a sort of Chiarello shrine, selling his favorite olive oils, spice rubs, salts and—of course—his cookbooks, Michael Chiarello’s Flavored Oils and Vinegars (Chronicle, 2006), At Home with Michael Chiarello: Easy Entertaining (Chronicle, 2005) and Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking (Chronicle, 2002). The next day, following my interview with Thomas Keller to talk about his new book, Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan), and a tour of the kitchen at the French Laundry, I had lunch at Bouchon, subject of Keller’s 2004 cookbook. Bouchon’s fabulous charcuterie (pictured), croque madame, steamed mussels, and profiteroles completed my culinary tour of the valley.
It’s worth noting that most Napa wineries carry books. The fancy tasting room at Darioush offers art books by Jonathan Adler and high-end wine books like From Persia to Napa; Turnbull proffers titles by Andrea Immer; and almost all of them sell the Workman classic The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil.
Finally, I headed to Portland, Ore., home of Stumptown coffee, food carts and Powell’s (a shelf from their cookbook section pictured at left). Dinner at Meriwether’s was fantastic (when is chef Earl Hook going to write a cookbook?); the restaurant operates its own five-acre vegetable farm right in the city and bases its menu on its bi-weekly harvests. When I was there, it included octopus with charmoula potatoes, tomato and an olive and red onion relish; pickled dill cucumbers; and braised pork shoulder with tomato jam, coleslaw and corona beans. Portland has some fantastic bakeries, including Pearl Bakery (where the gibassier, a sweet bread made with anise and orange flower water, is divine) and Grand Central Bakery (which inspired The Grand Central Baking Book: Breakfast Pastries, Cookies, Pies, and Satisfying Savories from the Pacific Northwest's Celebrated Bakery, just out from Ten Speed). But all these delicacies are trumped by one of Portland’s most humble offerings: the Schnitzelwich (pictured, right), served at a food cart parked amid about a dozen others on SW 5th St. called Tábor. The breaded pork loin on ciabatta with lettuce, paprika spread, sautéed onion and horseradish has received plenty of praise, every bit of it well-deserved.
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.