May 14, 2020 § 2 Comments
I’ve been going back and forth about whether to post about my first—and what has turned out to be only—visit to Nam Vietnamese Brasserie in Redwood City. Initially, I had planned to write a short post about the restaurant’s February 25 opening-night dinner service—not the usual deep dive, just a quick look at the opening-night experience of this new and much-anticipated, fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant from Anne Le Ziblatt, former owner of Tamarine in Palo Alto and Bong Su in San Francisco.
Generally, I prefer to visit a restaurant a couple of times before writing about it. You never know when a server or the kitchen might have an off night, so I think it’s only fair to average the experiences. And opening night, while exciting, can be rife with kinks that need to be worked out. Nam’s opening night was frenetic but appeared successful: a line out the door, a packed house, and runners doing their best to drop dishes at the right tables. The noise level was crazy. Things got so busy that runners stopped delivering a special amuse-bouche an hour or so after service started.
The space, formerly occupied by The Striped Pig, is small—seating about 40 people—and at the center are two communal dining tables that seat 14 people each. A dining bar fronts the kitchen, separated by glass, so that diners can watch the action. Two-tops along the front window and adjacent wall round out the seating. I arrived 45 minutes into service, and diners ahead of me were hanging out, waiting for space to open up.
In its incarnation as The Striped Pig, this space on Main Street was dark and cozy, with a linger-awhile vibe. Nam’s decor is bright and modern, blending elements of clean-lined mid-century modern with Southeast Asian touches, such as the woven-basket light fixtures above the communal tables. Eye-catching murals fill wall space in the dining area and near the restrooms.
My friend Kye, who joined me for dinner that night, and I each ordered a dish from the three menu categories—Soup, Grill, Sides—so that we could try as many dishes as possible. At the time, the menu offered five soups in two sizes; most of the soups on the menu were gluten-free, and one was also vegetarian. The small size was a substantial bowl, especially if you’re ordering other dishes.
My soup choice was South (Nam Noodle), which had a pork and chicken bone broth with rice noodles, prawns, and slices of pork.
Kye opted for the Udon, which had the same broth, but with rock crab and nicely chewy tapioca noodles. Additional condiments customized the flavor of each soup, giving the Udon a spicier, richer flavor and the South a lighter, slightly saltier flavor. Both were memorable, and each would be a satisfying standalone meal.
The Grill section of the menu had four options (tofu, chicken, pork, beef) which could be paired with one of three bases: rice, vermicelli, or greens. The tofu and pork options were gluten-free. We ordered the crispy chili-lemongrass tofu over greens and the Hanoi pork with rice. Portion sizes were main-course sized and could be shared family-style.
We rounded out our tastings with the Spring Rolls and Imperial Rolls from the Sides section of the menu. Both contain pork and shrimp, but could be made vegetarian on request. Only the fresh spring roll is gluten-free.
At the end of the meal, I decided to hold the post until I could make a visit in March to take additional photos and try a couple of dishes again. I was curious about how the menu and clientele would settle out in the coming weeks. I think you know what happened next. We were starting to see the effects of COVID19 at the end of February, and during the next couple of weeks, things changed rapidly. I wasn’t able to get back to Nam before the Bay Area’s Shelter-in-Place (SIP) order came down.
With the uncertainty that followed, it didn’t make sense to post about the dine-in experience at a restaurant that could be closed indefinitely. I backburned the post. Also, like a lot of people, I was just trying to find my groove with the SIP. There were adjustments to make to life as we knew it, and the first couple of weeks were a bit of a daze. Since then, like a number of other Bay Area restaurants, Nam moved to a delivery/pickup model. The online menu has evolved from the opening-night menu I saw back in February, and dining in isn’t an option (obviously).
As I was reviewing my notes and photos from that night in February, I was struck by what we’ll likely now refer to as “the old normal”—sitting elbow-to-elbow at a community dining table, standing in line without being six feet apart, sharing tastes with friends without hesitation. No masks or gloves. Employees and diners alike, leaning in close to hear each other talk above the din.
Yesterday, I was working on a Spanish assignment with a classmate on Zoom. We were practicing a new verb tense by asking each other questions and coming up with answers. Her question to me: what I would do right now if COVID19 didn’t exist? I didn’t really need to think about it. I told her I would go to a restaurant and have dinner with a friend. For her, it would be having a coffee with a friend—at a coffeeshop. Almost nine weeks into sheltering, the Bay Area is slowly moving into Phase 2 of reopening, but dining in restaurants is not yet an option. At this point, it’s hard to imagine getting back to that place. In the meantime, we might just have to rely on memories.
What: Nam Vietnamese Brasserie
Where: 917 Main Street, Redwood City, CA 94062
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 4:30–8:30 p.m.
December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
I don’t know about you, but I am freezing this winter! (And here’s a sobering thought: we’re only 10 days into the season, which means El Nino likely has more extremes in store for us.) I keep telling my friends and family on the East Coast that they need to send our weather back. Hard to believe that just a few short months ago, we were having 100-degree days in the 650.
Back on August 15, a friend and I made the drive down Highway 1 to Pescadero for Fifth Crow Farm’s Field Day — a day of berry picking, farm touring, and meeting the folks who run the farm. It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day (temperatures topped 90 degrees, and yes, I got a sunburn). The event was open to CSA subscribers and gave us an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the farmers and the food they grow. (For more about how Fifth Crow Farm manages sustainability and food waste on the farm, read Wasteless Wednesday: Down on the Farm.)
If you have an opportunity for a local farm tour, I highly recommend it. There’s no better way to understand where your food comes from and how it’s produced. Here’s the photo tour of my day out on the farm — and reminder of what we have to look forward to when summer comes back around.
We too late to join the first farm tour, but that left us time for berry picking before lunch! I opted for blackberries, with a plan to make jam, while my friend Allen went for a mix of strawberries and blackberries.
Despite my intense picking efforts, I ended up with just enough to make four quarter-pint jars of blackberry jam… which I am hoarding until spring.
Lunch consisted of a buffet line of dishes produced using produce and beans from the farm, as well as chicken and beef from Fifth Crow’s partners, Root Down Farm and Markegard Family Grass-Fed. Talk about eating local!
Partner-farmer Teresa Kurtak welcomed us and made a few announcements while we all enjoyed our lunches.
After finishing lunch and bussing our dishes, we were ready for the walking farm tour with farmer-partner, John Vars.
John led us from the flower fields, to the plant-start tables for organic greens, past the strawberry and blackberry fields, and on to the chicken area. During the tour he discussed the history of now seven-year-old Fifth Crow Farm from its creation, while answering questions about crops and food waste.
As 2015 draws to a close, I look back and realize that it’s been a year of abundance, and my pleasure to share local food experiences with you. It’s no secret that this little corner of the world where I live is pretty special and has an amazing food system that flourishes with the support of the community. Here’s to more food adventures in 2016!
November 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
This is the final of a three-part series covering my food adventures during a roadtrip to California’s Central Coast this past summer. Need to catch up? Check out #TBT: Central Coast Food Tour, Going SLO and #TBT: A Walking Food Tour of San Luis Obispo.
Generally I don’t like to bring my personal stuff to the blog, but hey, this is a food blog and that means writing about food issues. So, true confession time: what I’ve been a bit cagey about in these trip reports is the fact that prior to hitting the road back in July, I was retooling my personal diet to deal with a slew of moderate food allergies and sensitivities.
By “moderate,” I mean that none of my food allergies are of the must-carry-Epi-Pen kind (although I do own one), but they’re enough to be uncomfortable, and in some cases, require a Benadryl stat. Dealing with this sort of thing as a culinary professional and someone who loves food has been, well, a pain in the ass. I’m fortunate, though, in that my reactions are manageable and not life-threatening (so far).
This past summer I decided to see what life was like when I 86-ed the biggest offenders: nuts, uncooked stone fruit, avocados, as well as wheat, barley, and rye-based products. Of course, how to manage those choices on the road became an interesting project, but I like a good food challenge. I’m always keeping an eye out for dietary options that extend beyond the basic meat-and-potatoes or fast-food approach.
San Luis Obispo had been a sweet surprise in terms of food options — from the meatiest of meat options for omnivores to the variety of alterna-diet-conscious restaurants for pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks. I’d had a couple of big days out food-wise, already, and as I left SLO and headed to the coast, I was looking for more casual, walk-in fresh food options. Here’s what I found along the way. (Important to know for gluten-free diets: I didn’t ask these restaurants how they’re managing potential gluten cross-contamination, so if you have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten, be sure to contact them directly for more information.)
Mon Ami Creperie Cafe, Pismo Beach
Through some interwebs searching, I found this small cafe, which offers savory and dessert crepes, as well as paninis, smoothies, and coffee drinks. The space has a casual, coffee-shop hangout feel, and the staff is super friendly and accommodating. Crepes and sandwiches are made fresh to order, and there are gluten-free options!
I went with the gluten-free crepes filled with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese (a variation of the vegetarian panini filling).
The crepe was cooked perfectly, and while I was concerned that a gluten-free crepe might have a gummy texture, this was absolutely not the case. The crepe itself was thin and light. The filling had an equal balance of sauteed vegetables and melty mozzarella cheese. The dish was light, yet filling, so I had no room to try the dessert crepes (wom wom), but that’s just another reason to plan a future visit.
Duckie’s Chowder House, Cayucos
For a small town, Cayucos has a good variety of food choices, from upscale dining to gas-station tacos. I spent two nights in Cayucos, which wasn’t nearly enough to try all the places I discovered in town. Sticking to my plan for budget-oriented, casual meals, Duckie’s Chowder House was my first stop.
Duckies is a family-friendly seafood-focused spot where you line up to place your order and staff members deliver it to your table. Touristy? Yep, a bit, but it’s also a solid seafood-based restaurant located across from Cayucos Beach. If you’re looking for a beach-town experience, this is it. The restaurant packs out during warm summer evenings, so if you can’t find a spot to sit, or don’t want to wait for a table, you can always take your order to go.
The menu is broad, American-style and has options for most diets: salads, fried or grilled seafood options, as well as sandwiches. Vegetarian and vegan options include salads and the ubiquitous Gardenburger, as well most of the sides. If you’re a DIY type, you could easily assemble a gluten-free, vegetarian dinner by ordering sides of rice, black beans, steamed veggies, and corn tortillas.
Of course, if you’re pescetarian, Duckie’s is a no-brainer. There are plenty of fried seafood options, but if you’re eating clean or gluten-free, choose the shrimp cocktail, fish tacos, or Duckie’s Bowl. Duckie’s Bowl includes your choice of protein — shrimp or blackened, sautéed or grilled fish — served over rice pilaf and steamed vegetables.
Sebastian’s Store, San Simeon
If you’re visiting Hearst Castle, you’re a captive market when it comes to dining choices, and my primary recommendation is to take your own food and picnic in the parking lot. However, if you’re feeling peckish after touring the castle and didn’t BYO, skip the high-priced options at the visitor center and head down to Sebastian’s Store on Highway 1.
The historic building sits in a quiet, pastoral spot on the ocean side of Highway 1, about a mile north of the Hearst Castle Road entrance. (Note that Sebastian’s cafe also shares space with the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting bar, so you can always opt for the liquid snack, if nothing on the food menu suits you.)
The blackboard cafe menu includes an assortment of sandwiches and salads, and is definitely meat-heavy, with a focus on burgers made with Hearst Ranch beef. Vegetarian options include the Greek salad, Black Bean Veggie Cheeseburger, and possibly a special request to make one of the sandwiches (turkey, perhaps) vegetarian style.
Pescetarian options are limited to the Swordfish Sandwich and Grilled Fish Tacos. I went with the fish tacos, which are served on corn tortillas with a slaw and creamy sauce. Everything is made to order and tastes fresh. The staff is friendly and service is brisk, and this cafe comes with a good serving of history, not to mention a lovely view.
Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Cayucos
There’s no lack of fish tacos in Cayucos, but Ruddell’s Smokehouse serves some of the best on the Central Coast. This tiny, lunch-only place serves sandwiches, salads, and soft tacos. The kicker? They do their own in-house hot smoking of the meat and fish used in their dishes.
Meat and fish lovers will be happy with the variety of deliciousness, with the taco category providing the largest range of options: choose from shrimp, albacore, ahi, salmon, pork, or chicken (yes, all smoked in-house) for your tacos. Vegetarians get an option in each category, too: taco, sandwich, and salad. Pickin’s are slimmer for gluten-free folks and vegans, as you’re limited to a salad. However, if fish is part of your diet, you must try the house-smoked salmon in some form or another — it’s that good.
I went with the Smoked Salmon Tacos. They’re dressed with a creamy sauce and a “salad” of apple, carrot, celery, lettuce and tomatoes that provides crunch, sweetness, and a bit of acidity that offsets the complex, rich flavor of the smoked salmon. As I mentioned, Ruddell’s is tiny, with only a couple of tables out front for seating, so most people take their food to go. I found a nice spot across the street at Cayucos Beach where I could people watch and enjoy the warm sunny day along my new favorite fish tacos.
All in all, my roadtrip to the Central Coast and back was a great getaway: perfect weather, a good dose of California history and landmarks, and some memorable food. A couple of towns in particular have captured my heart, and I’m looking forward to future visits (and more fish tacos!).
Have you visited California’s Central Coast? Share your food experiences in the comments below.
October 1, 2015 § 4 Comments
The tiny town of Pescadero (pop. 643, as of 2010) in southern San Mateo county is probably best known for Duarte’s Tavern, a long-standing institution established in 1894 and lauded in Sunset Magazine for its now-famous artichoke soup. But there’s so much more to experience in Pescadero, as I learned this past summer.
Historically important in San Mateo county’s development, Pescadero was part of the original stage-coach road system, taking travelers south from San Francisco to the coast.
Equally important for the 650 is that Pescadero has been a fertile area for farming and ranching in San Mateo county since the 1860’s. Today we’re lucky to have sustainably raised food from Fifth Crow Farm, Root Down Farm, Pie Ranch, and Harley Farms Goat Dairy, to name a few. Some of these farms are supplying San Mateo county’s best restaurants, while also selling their products directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, farm stands, and CSA programs.
When the Bay Area’s first round of super-hot weather descended in early June, I took that as a sign to head down the coast. A trip down Highway 1 is often a crapshoot. Microclimates being what they are here, a 30-minute drive across Highway 92 and over to the coast can take you from a siesta-inducing, 95 degrees on the mid-peninsula to a better-bundle-up, foggy 63 degrees on the coast. You just don’t know for sure until you get there (and it’s all part of the adventure, so bring extra clothes)! Fortunately, the day I headed south for a Food Day in Pescadero (the first of two), I lucked out with comfortable 70-something-degree temperatures that were enough to burn off the fog and expose the rugged beauty of the San Mateo county coast. My destination? Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero.
Harley Farms Goat Dairy is a restored 1910 property located just about a mile west (inland) from Downtown Pescadero, right before the intersection of North Street and Pescadero Creek Road. The scenic route takes you through Downtown Pescadero, a cute don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it town with a surprising array of places to indulge in food and beverages. Stop and explore, if you have time. If you decide to bypass downtown and keep going west on Pescadero Creek Road, just know that the only entrance to the farm is on North Road (you’ll be able to see the back of the property), so you’ll have to take a sharp left there and backtrack a bit.
Keep an eye out for the cream-colored buildings and goat sign hanging outside the shop.
Park along the road, near the shop, or look for the Parking sign just past the metal tanks (near the large eucalyptus tree).
The scenic nine-acre farm is primarily a working dairy that houses 200 alpine goats for milk and cheese production. The property also includes a barn, orchard, colorful garden, and shop where visitors can taste and purchase the farm’s products. The enchanting hayloft above the shop is the site of farm dinners and parties and offers a stunning view of the property and surrounding hills.
The farm is open year-round for private and public tours, retreats, and events. Guided tours, which must be booked in advance, take visitors around the property to view the farm in action, visit with the goats, and learn about the cheese-making process. The farm offers public tours on weekends, and you can easily book through the website. There are options for family tours (with kids) or adults-only tours (no kids). A word of advice: book early because tours and events book up quickly, especially May-October. Harley Farms will also work with you to create your own private tour or event. Corporate retreat? Birthday dinner in the hayloft? A farm tour with your extended family? Contact the farm directly for more information and availability.
Even if you roll up without a tour booking (as I did on a random weekday), you can still enjoy the public spaces, view the gardens, watch the goats in their pens, and taste the farm’s award-winning products in the Cheese Shop.
The farm produces feta, ricotta, fromage blanc, and of course, chèvre. The fromage blanc, which has the texture of a soft, light cream cheese, is available plain or with flavor accents such as garlic and herb or tomato and basil. Pro tip: the tomato-basil fromage blanc pairs perfectly with the freshly baked artichoke bread from Arcangeli’s Market in town.
Harley Farms chèvre is a classic goat cheese with a firm, but creamy consistency. It crumbles when chilled and spreads like cream cheese at room temperature. The Cheese Shop offers several sizes of chèvre, from cute “buttons,” perfect for tasting, to must-share rounds and logs. Flavor-wise, you can choose plain chèvre or dressed-up options topped with chopped apricots and pistachios; cranberries and walnuts; or pretty, edible flowers from Harley Farms gardens (aka, the award-winning Monet Cheese).
I tried them all, but my hands-down favorite, however, is the Honey Lavender Chèvre. The sweet-herbal combination is well-balanced and complements the earthy goat cheese flavor. While it’s delish on a cracker, I found that the complex flavor combo is a perfect addition to a pretty summer salad of fruits, greens, and edible flowers. It was so good, I had to make a second trip to Harley Farms later in the summer for more Honey Lavender Chèvre.
The shop also sells assorted sweet treats (handmade truffles and goat-cheese cheesecakes), bath and body products, and gifts.
A small and vibrant part of the San Mateo farming community, Harley Farms is a worth a visit. Book yourself a tour, bring along some picnic supplies (or stop into Arcangeli’s Market for that artichoke bread), and make a day of it.
Have you visited Harley Farms Goat Dairy? Or a goat dairy in your local food system? Share your experiences in the comments below.
What: Harley Farms Goat Dairy
Where: 205 North Street, Pescadero, CA 94060
Farm & Shop Hours:
January-February: Mon-Thu 11am-3pm; Fri-Sun 10am-4pm
March-December: 10am-5pm, every day
Closed Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day
Parking: Street or lot
September 24, 2015 § 8 Comments
We’re back — and throwin’ it back for #TBT! Betcha thought 650Food had drifted away to the Land of Forgotten Blogs, but not so my friends! Way back in June I made the decision to take the summer off for a much-needed and long-overdue creative and lifestyle reboot. (On the blogging front, it’s hard to know how/when to announce this sort of thing. So rather than hang a virtual “Gone Fishing” sign on the blog, I thought it better to just leave things open in the event that I ended my hiatus sooner than, well, now.)
As a solopreneur and long-time Boss of Me, I’ve been notoriously bad at taking time off, regrouping, and recharging. For years “time off” has really meant working double-time before or after, just to make up for the time off. So, if you do the math on that, there’s no actual time off. And the guilt — oh, the guilt! It’s a Greek chorus of “You should be…” following me everywhere I go. Yeah. Over time, that sort of thing takes its toll on your health and your creativity. Especially here in the Bay Area, we’re so worked up about, er, work, and being busy that we don’t make time to take vacations, see friends, or even sit down to a slow, comfortable dinner at home.
It occurred to me that all of our “busy” and “not enough time” is self-inflicted. (And I’m not pointing fingers here. I’m the first to ‘fess up that my overworking and overscheduling is down to me and no one else.) It’s the choices we make about how we spend our time, coupled with a sense of obligation that leads to this feeling of being overwhelmed. I’ve been there enough times to know. And I’ve seen it affect the physical and mental health of friends and family — more and more as the years go by. I don’t think this is the way we’re meant to live. Taking a break allows you to breathe, get perspective, and hopefully regain the experience of enjoying your days, not rushing through them.
My “what I did this summer” story isn’t some epic Eat, Pray, Love experience; I didn’t eat my way through a Grand Tour of Europe or run off to a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. In fact, most of my exploring happened close to home, and the farthest I ventured out of the 650 was to my parents’ place in rural Ohio. Mostly, I sought to savor every day — whether that meant researching a food-related topic for an article or blog post, spending time catching up with friends, or finally visiting local landmarks (Filoli Mansion & Gardens: check!). Of course, local food played a big part in how I spent my summer off. Following are some of the highlights of my summer; I’ll be writing about some of these experiences as part of #TBT in the coming weeks.
Jam making is one of those sweet-kitchen skills that wasn’t covered in my culinary school program. It’s something I’ve wanted to learn for years, but was afraid to try for fear of (1) screwing it up and (2) botulizing myself or someone else. This summer I dug in, did my research, and turned about 50 pounds of fruit (booyah!) into jam. Really good jam. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas this year?
Harley Farms Goat Dairy Visit
Early in the summer I took a day trip down the coast to Pescadero to check out their local food scene. The folks at Harley Farms Goat Dairy make some delicious, award-winning goat-milk cheese: ricotta, fromage blanc, and (my favorite) chevre with honey and lavender. Located just past downtown Pescadero, it’s worth a visit. The gardens are beautiful, and the goats are adorable. You can buy the farm’s products on site and picnic nearby.
Central Coast Food Tour
When I initially started thinking about a California road trip, I was focused on visiting historical sites — Hearst Castle, the missions, and so on. And yet, somehow my Central Coast trip became all about the food. From the Thursday night Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market to Ruddell’s Smoked Salmon Tacos in Cayucos, I pretty much ate my way through San Luis Obispo county.
There’s something really indulgent about a leisurely weekday lunch, especially if there’s wine involved. With its fresh, made-to-order food, sangria, and friendly service, Mama Coco Cucina Mexicana in Menlo Park became one of my go-to spots.
CSA Open House at Fifth Crow Farm
If you’ve been following the blog for the past (eep!) almost two years, you know that I’m a strong advocate of knowing the source of your food. Know what you’re buying, where it was grown — and better yet, meet the person who made that food. This past spring I switched my CSA from a larger organization, to the 650’s own Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero. What better way to support the local food system and a growing small business? When the Fifth Crow folks announced the CSA-subscriber open house, lunch, and farm tour in August, there was no way I was missing it.
That’s my summer summary. What about you? Share your “what I did this summer” stories and food memories in the comments below.