I recently finished my oh so brief vacation, a whirlwhid tour of the Bay Area in California. The Bay Area is blissfully far away from the two cities where I’m currently spending most of my time – Miami during the week, and Brooklyn during the weekends. Central California is also so full of so much good food, it’s hard to know where to begin this blog entry. But something very different I noticed about Bay Area restaurants, markets, grocery stores, etc, was how open they often were about how the food (and the wine!) made it from the farm to the table.
Central California is so rich in different farms, pastures, and artisans who make excellent use ingredients available nearby. The proximity of the restaurants to the source of the ingredients is evident in the freshness of dishes. “Local,” “artisanal,” and “sustainable” seem to have descended into the meaningless buzzword category (think “synergies,” “paradigm shift,” “super food”), and I’m hesitant to use them. But no place are the benefits of using local and sustainable ingredients more apparent than at the Marin Sun Farms Butchery and Restaurant.
The first thing that stood about about Marin Sun Farms restaurant that I almost didn’t notice it. The website fore Marin Sun Farms emphasizes the “Farm” part of the name. It discusses at length the pastureland, how the cows on the pasture are raised, and what they’re fed. Then the website makes note of the Marin Sun Farms Butchery, where normal consumers like you and I can buy different cuts of these lovingly raised cows. Finally, after some clicking around, you’ll notice that attached to the Butchery is a restaurant that serves various dishes made with animals raised on its pastures.
Perhaps some people would find the proximity of the butcher case to the dining table unsettling or strange. But I thought it emphasized that Marin Sun Farms was proud of the ingredients they used. Marin Sun Farms seems to recognize that good ingredients are paramount in the making of good food. Even our waiter emphasized the tastiness of burger as much as he did the fact that I could take a tour of the pasture grew the cow that produced my burger.
And oh my god, that burger was delicious.
The patty was delicious, and had a much more complex flavor than does your typical ground beef. And every component of the burger – the cured-in-house bacon, blue cheese made from California cows, and bun made by a real baker – worked to make that sandwich something really special. The fried brussel sprouts and green salad were also uncommonly good, particularly given their very common ingredients.
Maybe because of a tradition of selling produce straight from the farms to the people driving on roads that went past the farms, California seems to be really into roadside and takeout dining. Take for example the ever popular Gott’s Roadside, or Addendum, which serves one lunch menu each day to go. Gregoire’s is a restaurant Berkeley in the same vein, creating very adorable, very tasty lunch(and breakfast and dinner)boxes.
I experienced a coup de coeur when I first laid eyes on Gregoire’s. Part of it was the very attractive, very blond, very Californian cashier taking our order. But other parts of it were the super cute lunchboxes lined with checkered paper, the oh so charming Frenchy influence on the menu, and the wonderful accessibility of $9 gourmet lunch.
Favorites included the crispy potato puffs, which reminded me of the pomme dauphines in France. But the potato puffs were fried, so they were possibly even better… I also really liked the fried chicken with coleslaw sandwich. The fried chicken on a delicious french baguette-like bun combined the best of the South and the best of France in one sandwich.
Can’t wait to go back. So many coups de coeur yet to discover!
Marin Sun Farms
Perfect for: a delicious stop along highway 1
Perfect meal: brussel sprouts, your pick of steak cooked to your liking, french fries
Perfect for: takeout for a picnic in amazing central California weather
Perfect meal: potato puffs, buttermilk fried chicken sandwhich