Archives for category: Food Commentary

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From time to time, it takes a smarting slap to my fleshy cheek to wake me up.

Now, we all do it. Each of us falls into our patterns. It seems like when our heads know we are headed to the grocery store, the car seemingly automatically takes us there. It’s just a short drive. I don’t know about you, but often I don’t really even remember getting there. It just happens.

In the opposite direction — but within the same distance from my home — is a lovely, locally owned grocery: Local Harvest. I know the folks who own and operate it. I believe in what they do. I support the local farmers and purveyors they champion. Other than to cover Local Harvest for FEAST Magazine, however, I’d never shopped there independently. It just wasn’t part of my usual, automated route.

Recently, Local Harvest made a public plea. They asked for the community’s help to keep them going. They published a lengthy and detailed business plan; I kicked in my $50. So did a lot of other people, and they stayed open. Now, my friends, is when the rubber hits the road. What is it going to take to compel each of us to follow through to take the next step and SHOP at Local Harvest?

For me, Whole30 got me in motion. This diet protocol is Paleo-based, which means it focuses on clean protein, vegetables, fruits, and specific fats, while ditching all of the processed junk, sugar, soy, dairy, and booze. This is one of those protocols that has challenged what I think and what I think I know.

When my husband, Mark, and I committed to Whole 30, I began to think about where to source my meat. Based on what I read in It Starts with Food, I knew my shopping habits were going to have to change. I was going to have to think about what I was going to buy, and by extension where I was going to buy what we needed.

It Starts with Food authors, Dallas & Melissa Hartwig, offer up this idea: You are what you eat what they eat. Long story short: When cows and chicken and pigs eat grain-based, antibiotic-steriod-growth-hormone-influenced food, so will you when you have that steak, or breast, or chop, or loin. Get it? Yeah … that’s kind of powerful stuff. So, to engage fully with Whole30, I knew I would need to source proteins that are grass-fed and organic (beef, lamb, bison, etc.); pastured and organic (poultry, pork, rabbit, etc.); are grass-fed/pastured and organic (processed meats, like bacon); and are not factory-farmed and do not have added sugar, MSG, sulfites, or carrageenan.

More often than not, it is your local rancher who raises livestock that is fed a little bit differently. In St. Louis, that means you’ll find it available in grocery stores that approach things a little bit differently; like Local Harvest.

Maddie Earnest, the bright-eyed sprite who is one-half of the dynamic duo who owns and operates the grocery, has a real passion for responsible meat production. She has visited the farms. Maddie’s seen the cows, and the pigs, and chickens, and she’s selected the best our region has to offer. The following is a sampling of what you’ll find at Local Harvest*:

Missouri Grass Fed Beef: Cattle from Missouri Grass Fed Beef is grass fed and grass finished. The cows do not eat a diet that is bolstered with corn or grain. Additionally, the animals do not receive any antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones.

Kingsdale Farm: A very small producer in Franklin County, the Kingsdale herd is kept to a maximum of 20 cows. Their herd grazes on pastures that have not been treated with chemicals or pesticides, and the animals never receive antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones.

Buttonwood Farms: Located in California, Missouri, Buttonwood Farms raises chickens and turkeys that are raised on pasture and all-natural feed. The birds do not receive antibiotics.

Geisert Farms: The pigs on this farm are raised on pasture and are allowed to root around in the dirt and eat what’s left over from the other crops – like pumpkins – raised on Geisert Farms. The pigs are never given antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones.

Naked Bacon: Dry cured in St. Genevieve, Missouri, Naked Bacon offers real flavor with no nitrates, nitrites, phosphates, or chemicals. For people like me who are engaging with the Whole30, be sure to look for the packaging that says, “No Added Sugar.” Yes, that flavorful stuff is for us!

In short, Local Harvest is the only grocery in my neighborhood that offers us the protein options Mark and I will need to succeed with the Whole30. In turn, I’m thrilled to shop the little grocery store in which I believe. It’s a relationship that has been a long time coming.

One final thought: While it was good to donate to the cause to keep Local Harvest going, that’s not the end. Everyone who donated – and I start with myself – should take the next step and shop the business that motivated such a strong sense of community stewardship.

The sting of the slap has brought me out of my fog. I’m really thinking about both my shopping and nutritional habits. Now that I’ve put my money where my mouth is, it’s time for me  to Eat It, St. Louis!

Local Harvest
3108 Morganford
St. Louis, MO 63116
314-865-5260

*Local Harvest works with many local producers and purveyors, including other meat suppliers. Go in, be open, and let yourself be surprised by what you find!

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Recently, I received an intriguing invitation to have dinner on the Eighth Floor of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Four past winners of Budweiser Taste of St. Louis Chef Battle Royal would be making dinner for me. A brewmaster would be pairing my courses with interesting beer.

Really? Moi? Hanging out with the “fooderati”* and beer barons of St. Louis? But of course! I was tickled pink and happily accepted.

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The Farm-to-Brewery Chef Battle Royale Champions’ Event was a wonderful way for Budweiser to celebrate its commitment to Taste of St. Louis** as the event’s lead sponsor; to bring together past Chef Battle Royale winners; and to illuminate what’s great about our region’s culinary scene.  Our hosts for the evening were Anheuser-Busch Executive Chef Sam Niemann and Brewmaster George Reisch. Together they created four beautiful courses paired with four styles of beer. What’s more, each of the courses featured deluxe ingredients from some of our region’s genius craft producers.

Vito Racanelli, chef-owner of Mad Tomato and executive chef of the Budweiser Taste of St. Louis for the past five years, and Chef Neimann conceived and presented the evening’s first course: Ravioli tossed with shiitake mushrooms and walnuts. The shiitakes were sourced from Ozark Forest Mushrooms, where Nicola MacPherson lovingly grows her meaty, heirloom mushrooms on white oak logs***. This lovely little pillow of pure love featured a delicate egg yolk (from Shiloh Hill Hens) nestled inside, and the cream sauce was blended with brown butter and Budweiser Black Crown.

Ravioli tossed with Ozark Forest Shiitake Mushrooms & Walnuts

Ravioli tossed with Ozark Forest Shiitake Mushrooms & Walnuts

Brewmaster Reisch – who suggested small sips before and after every bite to allow the flavors to burst with the beer’s carbonation – paired the ravioli with Black Crown. A new entry to the Budweiser portfolio of beers, it is brewed with toasted caramel malt and various American hops and then finished over beechwood to produce a nuanced golden amber lager.

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Chef Lee, Chef Racanelli, and Brewmaster Reisch

The course was terrific, and everyone at my table was primed for what came next!

The second pairing featured balls, fabulous balls, made of locally sourced pork. Chef Wes Johnson of Metropolitan Farmer in Springfield, Missouri, created pork and fennel meatballs. The juicy, flavorful meat came directly from Circle B Ranch. Marina and John Backes, proprietors of Circle B Ranch, like to say, “A happy hog is a tasty hog.” Take note: Their hogs must be simply giddy, because those pork meatballs were delicious! UUUMMMM, pooorrrrk!

Chef Johnson dressed the porky good meatballs with blackberry sofie jam, for which Goose Island Sofie provided the base. Really, who doesn’t love a beer-y jam?

Pork and fennel meatballs with blackberry Sofie jam

Pork and fennel meatballs with blackberry Sofie jam

As you may have guessed, Brewmaster Reisch paired the dish with the Goose Island Sofie. A little peppery, a little citrusy, in my opinion**** this is the kind of beer I’d like to have on a hot summer’s day hanging out on a patio somewhere. And yes, I remembered to sip-taste-sip to get the full zip-a-dee-do-dah of flavors.  (It works, folks!)

Course three, how I loved thee. Let’s just start by saying Chef Jack W. MacMurray III of Jack Mac’s Distinctive Taste served up lamb; beautiful, tender, juicy lamb from Jones Heritage Farms. I’m still crushing on this lamb chop, which was served on a sweet potato, vegetable, and gruyere hash and included a dash of Beck’s Sapphire for depth. Good God, I’m still giggling like a love-sick school girl when  I think about it. How did chef know to include all of my favorite flavors on one plate? However he did it, thank you!

Lamb rack with sweet potato, vegetable, & gruyere hash

Lamb rack with sweet potato, vegetable, & gruyere hash

The dish’s Beck’s Sapphire beer pairing really stood up to the lamb. As Brewmaster Reisch explained, the beer is brewed with German Sephir hops and includes just four ingredients. This is a beer-lover’s beer with its edge of bitter and really smooth finish. Sip-taste-sip … it was magic.

Then there was dessert. It featured Stella Artois Cidre ice cream – yeah, that’s a real thing – atop an apple and cornmeal cake with a divine dollop of apple butter on the side. Chef Christopher Lee from the River City Event Center brought this perfectly sweet (which for me means it wasn’t cloying) finish to the party. He tapped Justin Leszcz from Yellow Tree Farm for the apples. Bite after bite was fresh and sparkling and satisfying.

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Stella Artois Cidre ice cream with apple cornmeal cake and applebutter

Clearly, to complement the dish, Brewmaster Reisch introduced a tasting of the Stella Artois Cidre, which my cider-loving husband has been dying to try. It truly delivered a crispness that reminded me of crunching into apple. It was tart and fizzy and a wonderful way to close out a wonderful experience.

It was a terrific night full of friends, food, and beer. I had a great night out with my sweet hubs, Mark; we mingled with St. Louis’ super-successful blogger, Stefani Pollack (check out The Cupcake Project); we laughed with George Mahe, Dining Editor for St. Louis Magazine and his effervescent wife, Suzi; and rubbed shoulders with Sauce Magazine publisher, Allyson Mace (not pictured, because I’m lame).

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Stefani Pollack and me.

Suzi & George Mahe.

And the chefs seemed to have as much fun as the guests!

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Chefs wrapping up the evening. Sorry, Chef Rancanelli, for cutting you out.

We St. Louisans take our food and drink seriously. When a powerhouse like Anheuser-Busch brings the local chefs together, who in turn bring the local producers together, it’s quite the collaboration. I was honored to be invited to share the evening; rest assured, it was my pleasure to Eat It, St. Louis!

* Fooderati: My own made-up word. We eat better than the glitterati and look just as good!

** Budweiser Taste of St.Louis, Sept 27 – 29, Soldiers Memorial. Be there.

*** Fun Fact: Commercially grown shiitake mushrooms are grown in sawdust.

**** That and $2.40 will buy you a venti coffee — nothin’ fancy, mind you — at Starbucks.

Change.

When change happens what do you do? Do you shut your eyes tight and hope to get back to the world as you knew it before change happened? Do you keep your eyes wide open and work to manage the change, to learn, and to grow?

As many of you know, my life changed when my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and then changed again when he died last July. My eyes have been shut tight for some time as I’ve hoped against hope and tried to wish my way back.

It’s time to lift my lids and look around. It’s time to manage, learn, and grow.

I’m lucky to have people around me who can help me through this process, and I’m so glad to know Caryn Dugan and count her among my friends. You’ve probably heard of her and likely recognize her as STLVegGirl.

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Caryn is St. Louis’ most passionate vegan, in my opnion. She adopted a whole-food, plant-based diet after her dad succumbed to cancer and she won her own battle with the disease.

I admire her for managing her change right from the beginning. She dug in, and she found the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). What she learned changed her life. Caryn told me that she chose a vegan diet because, “…  science tells us that this is the best prevention for warding off chronic diseases and a whole host of other ailments.”

While she is the first to note that a vegan diet is NOT a fool-proof way to NEVER get sick, she is fortified by the idea that should she get sick, she’ll, “have done everything in [her] power to dodge that bullet.” Additionally, she has a better chance of a speedy recovery.

That’s powerful stuff.

Over the course of a few dinners and events, Caryn came to know my story and asked me to join her Food for Life class at the Cancer Support Community* (CSC). So I did. I didn’t know anything about vegan diets. I thought I was going to learn a few techniques and walk away.

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What I got from Caryn was information. She shared research gathered by PCRM that shows how meat, dairy, and fat contribute to cancer’s ability to grow. She shared information that shows how diets that are high in fiber, vegetables, and fruits work with our biology to strengthen our immune systems and rid our bodies of toxins. And Caryn showed me in a fun, approachable way how to create easy, flavorful, thoughtful meals that support healthy living (and appeal to a hard-core food lover).

What I found at the CSC was a group of people who were either beginning or in treatment; cancer survivors; family members; and people like me who are grappling with grief. In any event, each of us was trying to manage change in a positive way. The CSC offers a lovely, safe place for people who have been affected by cancer to come together. It’s lively and there’s laughter. When there are tears, there is real understanding and deep compassion.

I had no idea how much I’d value the community I found in those classes. I’m indebted.

My eyes are wide open and I have a lot to chew on as I work through my changed world. Cancer will be part of my life forever, and I know that the odds are not in my favor. There is a target on my back. So, at the very least, I need to make wiser choices.

While making a total conversion to a vegan diet is not what I’m likely to do (I have to be honest with you), I find that I am becoming more conscious of my food-based decisions. There are times – particularly when I’m cooking for myself – when I will be making vegan dishes. I am particularly fascinated by a soy-based ingredient called Tempeh, which I’d never before encountered.

Change doesn’t always have to be cataclysmic. Change can happen in baby steps. As I manage, and learn, and grow with my exploration of vegan opportunities, I will enjoy every bite while I Eat It, St. Louis!

As an aside, a popular question during our classes revolved around which restaurants offer vegan menus. Here is a short list of eateries around St. Louis where you can find vegan options (please feel free to let me know of others):

Black Bear Bakery
Café Natasha
Frida’s Deli
Gokul 
Green Bean
HotPot Smoothie Shop

Local Harvest Café
Pho Grand
Pi
PuraVegan
Rooster
Sweet Art Bake Shop & Art Studio

* Cancer Support Community of Greater St. Louis is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.  All programs are completely free of charge and offered in a comfortable, home-like environment. Cancer Support Community offers professionally-led support groups, educational workshops, nutrition and exercise programs, and stress-reduction classes to empower and educate individuals affected by cancer.  For more information,  call 314-238-2000 or visit www.cancersupportstl.org.

There are two things I can’t do without. Every year, my guilty pleasures’ debut set me all a tingle. I thoroughly bask the brief, yet golden glow they bring. The sun shines brighter. My coffee tastes richer. And the shoe sales are – um – shoe-ier.

Every year I just can’t wait for McRib season and The Rachel Zoe Project.

Yes, you heard me right. The McRib, all tangy and saucy and messy and mystery, makes me giddy. The first hint of McRib season, which started right on schedule last week, makes me clap and bounce like a little kid while I gleefully wait in the drive-thru lane. Truly, it’s my happy meal.

Yes

Yup. I break out the Wedgewood for The McRib.

If it makes me THAT happy, though, then why should I feel SSSSOOOO guilty? Because I’m (allegedly) a grown-up, and I know better than to eat fast food. Because the McRib is much maligned by the mainstream, and I simply love it for what it is … or isn’t … or might be. Because I secretly care about what people think about me, and I really just want to be one of the cool kids (but it’s troublesome with a big McRib sauce spot on my shirt).

Which brings me to The Rachel Zoe Project, which I love with the same zeal as I love the McRib. And, much like the McRib, Rachel’s time with me is short. I feel her pain when she struggles to delegate. I get simultaneously anxious and teary-eyed with her when she watches her beautiful styling work walk the red carpet at the Oscars. I get angry along with her when those she’s mentored leave and try to siphon her business. Oh, this show allows me to be part of a glamorous, fabulous made-for-TV reality.

Again, however, why so much guilt over Ms. Zoe and her show on Bravo? Because I’m trying to reform some of my own controlling, A-type, if-you’d-just-let-me-run-the-whole-show-it-would-be-better ways; and I really just want to be more like Rachel.  Because it shouldn’t seem reasonable for every successful woman to have multiple Hermès Birkin bags; and now I’m stalking them on Portero Luxury and wondering how much my 44-year-old eggs will fetch on the open market. Because – despite my food loving ways – I’d give anything to shimmy into sample sizes.*

But let’s face it: Rachel is one of the cool kids, and I have that pesky McRib sauce spot on my shirt. Damn.

So these are my guilty pleasures. For eight weeks, The Rachel Zoe Project feeds my seemingly insatiable appetite for fashion and glamor and A-type success. And for approximately eight weeks, McDonalds will offer to feed my appetite while I struggle not to hit up every drive-thru for a McRib.

Beware: The two (or three) times I can’t resist, kindly avert your eyes and move out of my way because I’m going to Eat It, St. Louis!

*Of course, with a McRib in one hand and a Birkin in the other!

But there is a San Francisco. Ashleigh Brilliant wrote this, and quite honestly no truer words were ever penned. Every time I arrive in the City by The Bay, my soul simply sings.

When my singing soul needs sustenance, there is no shortage of bistros, grills, and eateries of all sorts to fuel the symphony within. Just wandering through the streets – which are teeming with life from pre-dawn hours to well after Midwestern bedtime – presented me with global fare and delicious options that made my choices difficult. I had the feeling, however, that no matter what my choice I would have no regrets.

My gut … as usual … was right.

My first stop was for a late lunch at the lovely bistro, Le Central. It was late enough in the afternoon to have the lunch crowd gone. There were a couple of regulars and a cheery bar tender who was happy to have me sit at the bar. I ordered my favorite French lunch of escargot and big glass of red wine, and relaxed into the atmosphere.

One of the most fabulous characteristics of San Francisco is the unabashed openness of the people. Whether they are native to the city or travellers, like me, there is little fear of striking up conversation and enjoying the community that sharing a meal provides. At Le Central, Toni the bartender; Gloria, the executive who heads up global HIV/AIDS initiatives for a bioscience company; and Sandra, her vibrant, funny, lifelong friend, scooped me up into their conversation. They told me about a trip they’d taken to Bali. We shared a “St. Louis Connection.” They told me about the majesty of Yosemite and the Ahwahnee Hotel. We talked about idealism and the real-world practicality of it all. We talked about cancer and we talked about living.

It was like I was supposed to be there, with them, on that glorious day.

When my escargot arrived, complete with half a baguette and full-fat French butter, my senses were electrified. The perfectly tender snails were basking in little pools of butter and garlic. The splash of Pernod gave them a signature sweetness and edge that makes the escargot a must-have dish. And good God; mopping up that divine sauce with the baguette was an act of pure decadence.

I was so very thankful to have my ad hoc lunching companions. Our spirited and convivial conversation kept me from eating so fast as to embarrass everyone and exposing myself as a glutton.

As my late lunch came to a close and my merry group said our goodbyes, I walked on clouds back to my hotel relishing in an afternoon that was better than anything I could have hoped for. I was grateful and my soul was humming a happy tune.

Le Central on Urbanspoon

Never one to skip a meal (seriously, have we met?), I set my sights on a late-ish dinner. My destination for this meal was no mystery. Armed with a recommendation from Paul*, a foodie Facebook friend from Phoenix, I got ready to make my way to the Tadich Grill in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. Paul’s instructions were simple: Order the cioppino and a cold beer, you won’t be sorry.

The Tadich Grill is a little bit old-school. When you go the website, there is only a page that says it its “website is coming off the grill soon.” So, not knowing quite what to expect (Is it a fancy place? Will it be weird if I’m dining sans companion?), I decided to go for a casually cool look, packed a book, and hailed a taxi.

As I walked through the door, the hustle and bustle let me know that I’d arrived as just my kind of place. The waiter behind the bar hollered out, “ONE!?!?” I similarly hollered back, “YES!,” and he directed me to a seat at a long, art deco bar. It seemed as though nearly all of the restaurant were flying solo.

(Note to file: The book and taxi were both unnecessary!)

Although I glanced at the menu, which was extensive, I simply followed Paul’s directions and ordered the cioppino and a Stella Artois. The meal that came to me was out of this world.

To start, when you take your seat, there is a huge hunk – yeah, HUNK – of sourdough bread waiting. It might make you think that the grill skimps on its portions. Rest assured, that is not the case. When the main attraction arrived in a trough-sized dish, this stew was packed with sea food: Clams and mussels; scallops and shrimp; halibut and Dungeness crab. It was perfect.

Here’s something to know. Often the various components of a mixed-seafood anything can be uneven in the cooking which can make for tough scallops, rubbery shrimp, or all-around blandness. This was definitely not the case with the Tadich Grill cioppino. Whether or not every piece of seafood was cooked individually I do not know. What I do know is that every bite was tender and sweet and flavorful in just the right way. It was amazing.

As I took each bite, a hint of heat punctuated the brilliant flavor. At no time did I run out of the “good stuff.” As a matter of fact, I got full before the magnificent trough was empty and failed to finish my meal.

Um … that never happens. I was sad to leave such goodness behind.

With a heavy heart, and a full tummy, I settled up my tab and walked back to my hotel, mostly uphill, and as always, in high heels. My soul was beginning to sing a sweet lullaby.

Tadich Grill on Urbanspoon

As the sun was coming up on the next day – a real work day for me, as I was there as a freelance marketing representative for Elsevier, the world’s largest STM publisher – I had a bit of a food hangover so breakfast was out of the question. It was an easy pass, however, because I knew what was ahead for the evening: Dinner at Ame, the Michelin-rated restaurant in the chichi St. Regis Hotel.

First, the St. Regis is so deluxe that the only sign is a small white plaque near the entrance. I loved it!

My dining companions for the evening were Cynthia, an executive publisher and a mentor with Elsevier; Dr. Doug Zipes, editor-in-chief of HeartRhythm Journal and author of the thriller, The Black Widows; and his lovely wife and managing editor, Joan. It was an evening filled with smart chat, big laughs, and great food.

My meal began with a beet salad, which was presented in the most artistic way. These lovely roasted baby beets, both sunshine yellow and vibrant red-purple, were positioned around the plate vertically and also sliced and placed horizontally. Goat cheese crème fraiche dotted the plate and made for a perfectly delicate dressing (if you can call it that). Plus, it looked really pretty when I dragged the red-purple beets through the white and little trails of pink were left behind.

The evening we were there, Ame’s special was sea bass – a personal favorite – with grilled octopus. Really … I eat snails … how could I say “no” to grilled octopus? This is, after all, one of the primary reasons it is fun to dine at fancy-schmancy restaurants: you get good stuff.

To be certain, the sea bass was perfection. The grilled octopus, however, was the star of the show. A visual treat and a tasty nosh, it had a delicate smoky quality from the grilling that refined the usually sweet sea treat and elevated it from mere calamari.

The experience at Ame was made a little extra-special-wonderful because of the deluxe service. Let’s face it, Michelin stars aren’t handed out willy-nilly. No, they are earned through a combination of innovative cuisine and well-trained, attentive-but-not-intrusive staff. The team who took care of our table – we asked lots of questions, switched up described preparations, and bantered shamelessly – was accommodating, light-hearted, and put the exclamation point on our evening.

At the end of our meal, our entire party felt indulged and pampered.

Replaying the night’s repartee and repast as I taxied back to the hotel, the pace and volume of my soul’s concert changed as frequently as a newly licensed 16-year-old changes the radio station. I was giddy and bubbly and happy to have been included in such a lovely evening.

Ame on Urbanspoon

On my last full day in San Francisco, my colleague, Matt (who’s a delightful foodie, too!), and I decided we would venture out of the usual downtown area and try a restaurant that @Kimberly9938 (one of my fabulous foodie Twitter followers)* had recommended with great enthusiasm: Nopa.

To quote Usher, “wow, oh, wow!”

At the onset, it was great to hit up a neighborhood. Nopa is located in the heart of the Northern Panhandle – hence the name – area of the city. Modest homes (although not likely modestly priced … it is San Francisco), markets, delis, and shops lined the busy streets. Young families were out and about carrying on life that was different from Downtown.

When we arrived at Nopa – and yes, if you’re downtown a taxi is totally necessary – we were welcomed into a warm environment where community was clearly intrinsic to the philosophy of the restaurant. A large community table is situated by the bar, and the places there quickly filled in with diners and drinkers who shared easy smiles and exchanged hearty, “hellos!”

Matt and I chose to sit at the Chef’s Table, which looks directly into the kitchen. As colleagues, we could “talk shop” all dinner long. Sitting in this place, however, at this time, we were able to engage with the sous chef and talk about … what else … food and our love of it.

Rather than stick to a traditional dinner, we jumped right into the community atmosphere of Nopa. We got twice the bang for the buck by agreeing on two appetizers and two entrees and sharing them between us. Matt chose the flatbread with bacon and shallots. I chose the giant white beans, tomato, feta, oregano and breadcrumbs. Both the flatbread and the beans were baked in a wood-fired brick oven.

Now, those of you who know me know one thing: I don’t like bacon. Yes, I eat pork. Yes, I LOVE sausage. I really just don’t care for bacon. As we were watching the flatbreads come from the oven, I found that I couldn’t resist and I was glad that Matt had ordered one up. It was divine. The bacon was perfectly done – not too crisp, not too limp — and full of amazing flavor. The sweet tang of shallot complemented the meaty pork. And the finish of olive oil made it just perfect. My, oh, my! (Another Usher reference.)

My giant white bean bake (for lack of the better descriptor) hit me in my giant comfort food spot. Simple and beautiful; warm and thick; aromatic and bubbly, the dish came straight from the brick oven. While I know we’d agreed to share our dishes, I was a little sore that I’d promised to share this one. It was the kind of dish that you eat a little too quickly because you’re afraid someone might take it away.

For the entrée, Matt ordered the grilled pork chop and I ordered the 9-hour Bolognese with house-made pappardelle. Let me be clear: The pork chop was the way to go.

Way too often, whether I’m at home or in a restaurant, pork is always overdone. A little too white all the way through; a little too dry.

At Nopa, the grilled pork chop, which had to be at least an inch and a half thick, is just a little pink in the middle and juicy. So juicy, in fact, you’d think they injected the chop with jus. But no, the pork chop is simply a superstar example of perfectly grilled meat. It brings out the Fred Flinstone in the daintiest woman; it speaks to the unapologetic carnivore within; it makes you want another portion even though you know it’s preposterous.

My Bolognese was good. Very good, in fact. But I really wanted my very own pork chop. And one to go!

The evening of incredible food, communal dining, and awesome people (my colleague, our cool and edgy waitress, the sous chef, and the patrons on either side of us) created an experience that was at once chic and unselfconscious. My soul was in the San Francisco swing of things, singing out in happy, hippy, poetic tones that felt like the shining sun.

Nopa on Urbanspoon

San Francisco is my heaven, and I’m so lucky to have been there time and time again. I feel like a better, brighter version of me came home. For me, that feeling comes from the meals I shared, the people I met, the adventure I charted for myself and the beautiful music that the whole experience created within my soul.

I wish I could share the happy song I hear with all of you; but, I’m tone deaf. So please, go find – or revisit – your heaven, venture into a new place, chat up the folks next to you, engage your waiter or waitress, listen closely to what happens in your soul, and Eat It, St. Louis!

* Thank you to Paul and Kimberly, a Facebook friend and Twitter follower respectively, who guided me to great places in San Francisco. I love social media and how it enables people with similar interests to connect and share. Thank you for pulling your chairs up to my table and being part of the conversation. Without you, this post would have been only half as long … and half as interesting!

Foodbuzz

I’ve spent my life loving food. As a military brat, it defined how I connected to every community and culture into which I was plopped. As a young adult, it played a leading role in helping me craft friendships and shape my identity. Now, as a bona fide grown up, food brings my family around the table; coaxes my friends out to play; and encourages strangers to find common ground.

No foodie could ask for a better place to live than St. Louis, a true restaurant town. St. Louis has a sparkling independent restaurant community with stars who capture the national spotlight. I’ve found good stuff, too, at some of the chain restaurants. Any gastronomic need can be met. Any ambiance can be achieved. Any budget can be accommodated. A legitimate hobby in our fair city is going out to eat, and I do so often.

Perhaps this is a conceit, but in my opinion St. Louis has an inordinate number of crazy good home cooks. I’ve enjoyed meals that introduced me to new delights and new people. There are some meals that have become tradition. And there never has been a meal that left me wishing I’d dined somewhere else.

This blog is dedicated to the pure love of food, the artistry and passion of those who create it, and the sheer experience it provides. I won’t be commenting on bad service, sub-par dishes, or kitchen malfunctions that lead to last-minute pizza delivery. I’m not a reviewer. Each post will focus on one dish that I’d like you to try.

Also, don’t be surprised to see “fair food,” cocktails, or road trip explorations take center stage from time to time.

Pick up your fork, hoist your drink, and Eat It, St. Louis!

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