Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pilgrims & Oysters

Call it a pilgrimage.  On the way back from a Lake Tahoe ski trip last week, I convinced my car mates to make a slight detour to see Thomas Keller's The French Laundry. We didn't have the time, nor did we have the cash to actually make it inside for dinner (4 people for dinner would have cost over $1,000), but it was a fun detour through Napa, Yountville, and then on to Sonoma. While we were there I ran into Culinary Gardener, Tucker Taylor tending to the garden with vegetables grown specifically for The French Laundry's kitchen.  Pretty sweet deal.  Tucker was at one time based in Atlanta at Woodland Gardens.  His stall at the Morningside Farmer's Market every Saturday was always packed, often with a line of 10 people or more waiting to buy some prized tomatoes.  Tucker was nice enough to let us walk through the garden and see the sights.

The Napa Valley scenery was really nice. To be honest it's really all I care to see in Napa.  I've been on one wine tour in my life and from what I've heard, I've seen it all.  Usually you're shown the vineyards (we saw them) then you're shown the storage tanks/barrels (didn't see them), and then you're shown to the buy-some-room, I mean tasting room.  We can get Napa wines here in Atlanta for what is likely the same price if not cheaper when you add in shipping costs.  So what did we miss out on by not touring any vineyards?  We didn't see any wine barrels.  OK I take that back, I saw a tractor-trailer full of new oak barrels driving down the road.  So there you have it: the fastest, and cheapest visit to Napa Valley of anyone I've ever met.  Here's a pretty picture from the car.

From there we drove west through Sonoma (just about the same as Napa) towards Point Reyes National Seashore.  Culinarily speaking, I think Point Reyes is most famous for it's Point Reyes Blue Cheese but our immediate goal was to see the picturesque California coast.  We certainly saw it and it's monster waves.  The picture below doesn't do justice because there is no scale, but these were some pretty big waves.  After wave watching we stopped for lunch at Priscilla's Pizzeria & Cafe in Inverness, California. Despite the name of the place I had some really good oysters from Drakes Bay Oyster Farm - just up the road by about 2 or 3 miles.  6 raw and 6 BBQ oysters is what I ordered and they were really fantastic.  These oysters were monsters with a deep bottom cup shape to hold all that liquor.  Fantastic.

When we arrived in San Francisco we were about pooped, but dinner was still to be had at Zuni Cafe: a well established standard for Californian cuisine in the city.  Dinner was great but I think the Ferry Building Farmers Market the next morning was more exciting.  From cheese, to meats, to bread, to an incredible spread of vegetables, it was a fantastic market.  I had a breakfast of Blue Bottle Coffee, sourdough bread from Acme Bread Company, and oysters from Hog Island Oyster Company.  The beauties below are Kusshi (smaller, on the right) and Chelsea Gems (larger, on the left).  I haven't had oysters like these in probably 10 years.  Cold, crisp, and sweet is the best way that I can describe them.  If you don't like raw oysters after trying these, you're a sissy.

Ferry Building Marketplace
Overall, the trip was great.  From the snowy slopes at Heavenly and Squaw Valley, to the West Coast cuisine with it's great looking produce and pristine oysters, it is a great area of the country.