I have a love-hate relationship with San Diego. Maybe “hate” is too strong a word. I love the weather and natural beauty; I “regret” the lack of culture and good food. I have discussed this dilemma with many San Diegans—why is San Diego, the eighth largest city in the country, bigger than foodie playgrounds San Francisco and Seattle, so devoid of intellectual curiosity and an ambitious restaurant scene? The two go hand in hand, if you ask me. If you’re not curious about the outside world, and, let’s say, never travel to places other than Las Vegas (Disneyland for adults) or Hawaii (San Diego on steroids), how do you expect to compete as a cosmopolitan city if you don’t know what other cities have to offer? Hone your taste buds by eating a shrimp po’ boy on toasted buttery bread in New Orleans; or paper-thin egg pasta with Brussels sprouts and pancetta in North Beach, San Francisco; or Szechuan soup spiked with chili oil and scallions in Flushing, Queens; then tell me you don’t demand more from your chefs back home. I don’t blame it on the chefs either. Try making an inventive meal and having someone who thinks “Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade” is tops push it around on her plate.
My brother Oliver was supposed to deejay with renowned local DJ Day at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs last week. Unfortunately, the set got cancelled due to a party that was booked in its place, but we decided to hit up Palm Springs anyway and pay a visit to Joshua Tree, a favorite of Oliver’s. As always, I was on a quest for good food. Did I find it? Kind of.
After attending an Outstanding in the Field farm dinner in southern California two months earlier, I was interested to see how a Plate & Pitchfork farm dinner would stack up. OITF leads events throughout the United States and the crew travels in a large bus; Plate & Pitchfork is an Oregon-only series of dinners. Both pull local chefs and wineries to cook and pour at different farms, so each evening is its own unique experience. Plate & Pitchfork had me at “hello” with their informational email: “children, no matter how small and adorable, may not attend dinner.” First of all, apologies to my many friends with (indeed) adorable children, but you gotta love the blunt. Second, this must be in the best interests of the farm and hosts; there is enough chaos at these dinners that it would probably become some version of a food-loving wedding reception if children were allowed. (And no one needs little Jimmy falling in the pig mud.)
Looking at my photos now, I’m realizing I took a lot of landscape shots because I couldn’t get over the visual appeal of Willamette Valley. I have been to Napa Valley several times, which is also strikingly beautiful, but Oregon ups the ante with ominous clouds, skyscraping trees, and sweeping farmland that betrays its fierce rural character, despite being just 30 miles south of Portland. Tastings are often at the discretion of the winemakers—Patricia Green‘s website: “We do not have a tasting room nor regular tasting hours, but we try to be accommodating, especially for enthusiastic individuals.” I imagine Willamette Valley is what Napa was 20 years ago (winemakers joke that their “old vine” grapes are from the early 1980’s), and here’s hoping it stays that way, even if it’s a secret worth passing around.
This was my second visit to Portland, Oregon. The first time, I had been living in Seattle for two weeks to see if I wanted to move there. I decided a weekend in Portland to weigh my options was only fair. Back then, my limited research had us eating at some places that didn’t impress much, especially after hearing so much about this feisty food tradition (tattoos required). I decided I would need to put in the work for Round II.
Upon announcing I was going to Portland, several people told me to eat at Beast, a (wait for it) meat-worshipping eatery on a northeastern residential side street. Beast unapologetically offers a 6-course prix fixe dinner with two seatings per night at two communal tables, with “substitutions politely declined.” Vegetarians, you’re obviously out of luck. (Though someone at my table said Beast offers a vegetarian menu on certain days. Straying from its brand or giving the people what they want?) Overall, our menu—which changes weekly—was not overwhelmingly carnivorous and utilized an array of vegetables (though the charcuterie plate doesn’t mess around).
Truth be told, I avoid Los Angeles like the plague, and I only live 90 minutes away. First reason: the oppressive traffic (Seriously? Only two lanes on the I-5 with construction that hasn’t budged since the last time I passed through two years ago?) Second: There’s only one topic of conversation: “The Industry.” Third: The type of car you drive automatically dictates your social position. (Ten years ago I was openly mocked at a valet station for having a station wagon.) Nonetheless, a family get-together had me planning a weekend in L.A. and, naturally, I intended to eat my way through it!
Here I was on a mailing list for the last year for a farm dinner outside of Portland, Oregon, and I had neglected to look in my own backyard (don’t tell the locavore police). It was my Pilates teacher—between administering punishing sets of stretching (I am officially not flexible)—who told me about a farm dinner happening outside San Diego at Sage Mountain Farm, known for its sustainable and organic produce.
Let There Be Bite explored the beaches and forests of Point Reyes National Seashore park, north of San Francisco, and then traveled east for wine tastings in Napa Valley–with, naturally, good things to report by way of food the entire journey, including the French Laundry! Click here to see all photos.