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where it all came together

March 2, 2010

If there is one thing to remember in San Francisco it is this: Stop walking, and turn around.  For you are walking uphill, or will inevitably be walking uphill any minute now, and should really see what’s behind you.  The views are stunning.  Around any corner you might catch an unexpected glimpse of Coit Tower, The Golden Gate Bridge or its massive, under-appreciated sidekick The Bay Bridge, a vividly colorful series of bay windows guiding your eyes to tony homes, or of the entire city itself with San Francisco Bay in the background.  It’s a shame to all of us that Monet died nearly a century ago; he could have worked wonders just by perching himself in Nob Hill and looking down.

I spent five holy days last week in San Francisco and the Bay Area – a place I’ve been twice before, I should add, as these are not the observations of virgin eyes – and was dumbfounded from one uphill battle to the next by the natural beauty and strikingly simple vibe of the city.  I won’t play tourist here, even if I’m tempted to do so, but I will mention one singular highlight of this trip: I ate at Chez Panisse.

Anyone following Juxtaposition might have noticed the abundance of food-related thoughts, photos and quotes.  Indeed, food and its bounty of related topics is more responsible than any other theme for bringing together the ideas that form this space, and was one of the driving factors of my trip to SF.  If you read about how we became a gourmet nation, you will find that the tasty road chronicling the rise of fine food in America points west, to California as a whole but more specifically to the Bay Area.  Sure, New York City played a significant role in the whole story, but nowhere else were the varying diets of Europe and the world channeled so distinctly into an American cuisine than in Northern California.  Fifty years ago, a nice dinner at a banquet hall most likely consisted either of a piece of bland red meat or a country fried steak with a pineapple ring on top of it.  Think of the last event you went to or restaurant you ate at – the differences are profound.  And while there are many, many people and restaurants to thank for this metamorphosis, the modern American bistro cuisine dedicated to incredibly fresh, local ingredients free of heavy sauces that mask the true taste of the produce, meat, fish and poultry on your plate can be attributed to one restaurant more than any other – Chez Panisse.

Alice Waters‘ brain child has been around for nearly 40 years, with some periods providing better cooking than others.  In 2010, I feel safe to say that there was no disappointment by this author.  I’ve heard of people complaining about a meal at Chez Panisse, for its lack of powerful sauces and its modest portions (despite a 5-course meal); any meal that costs this much should certainly have more.  But that is not the point of Chez Panisse, for Alice Waters and crew do not believe that eating more and heavier and faster means eating better.  They will bring you a plate of the most freshly picked produce, recently caught fish, and well-fed meat or poultry that exists.  The vegetables will taste like vegetables in a way that most of us who did not grow up on a farm won’t understand.  The food will, to be as precise as possible, taste more like food than any food you’ve ever dined on before.  It’s a wonderful experience to eat well and drink well and talk for hours with friends, leaving the meal satiated but not stuffed and happier than you were before you sat down.  If you find yourself in Berkeley, Chez Panisse should not be missed.

Nos. 309: 2/28/2010

For me there’s still more material than 20 lifetimes that I can use up.

– Jerry Garcia

Nos. 310: 2/27/2010

Nos. 311: 2/26/2010

Food shouldn’t be fast.  And it shouldn’t be cheap.

– Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley (pictured above)

No. 312: 2/25/2010

Nos. 313: 2/24/2010

After a while we came out of the mountains, and there were trees
along both sides of the road, and a stream and ripe fields of grain,
and the road went on, very white and straight ahead, and then
lifted to a little rise, and off on the left was a hill with an old castle,
with buildings close around it and a field of grain going right up to
the walls and shifting in the wind.

– Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 2, 2010 4:06 pm

    Where to even begin…this is one of the very reasons I enjoy your blog is the food writing. Eating is a great time to slow down, enjoy…your description of what Alice stands for and your photographs are paired beautifully with quotes. I’m terribly excited for her new book next month titled “In the Green Kitchen.”

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