Madison Eats, part 2

Seriously, Madison has too much good food to limit it to just one post. Which isn’t to say that everything we ate was wonderful – we had some downright lousy coffee, for example, and tried to get drinks at a couple of places that turned out to be too upscale (while also smelling really weird) or too dive-y – but there were plenty of places that were just right.

Breakfast, day 2: Marigold Kitchen

Veggie Scrambler

French Toast

Photos by beautifulcataya

There are two things I would like you to notice in these photos: the breakfast potatoes in the first, and the exceptionally decadent French toast in the second. We ate all of these things. My scramble of the day was kind of wet and disappointing, but the incredibly flavorful breakfast potatoes more than made up for it. I don’t often want potatoes – they can be really hit or miss – but these were worth the risk: crispy and salty, fried up with onions and a lot of rosemary. Amazingly good. Shane had a different French toast than is pictured here, but it was no less wonderful.

Lunch, day 2: Chautara

Chautara - sunny spot on a cold day

Photo by humbletree

Tofu Buff at Chautara restaurant

Photo by John Kannenberg

Max had his first samosa, and I had the ridiculously flavorful seitan buff. I have fond memories of this place, even moreso now that I’ve shared it with Shane, Jenn, Bill, and Max.

Dinner, day 2: Natt Spil

lively up yo'self

Photo by mkebbe

We had planned on having a really nice dinner while in Madison, but neither of us were particularly hungry or decisive when it came to making a plan on our last night in town. While Shane moved the car, I decided on Natt Spil, which was supposed to be sort of dive-y and intimate while also having good food and music. The cuisine is somewhere between Chinese and Italian – really, I’m not sure what you’d call it. Not fusion, as that suggests a melding of the two flavor sets. Really, it’s a place where you can get dim sum and also pizza and also cocktails. I like all of those things. We were a little underwhelmed by the food and definitely by the service, but that didn’t stop us from devouring a small pizza and a plate of shrimp cakes. My cocktail was delicious, though I couldn’t tell you what it was. It seemed like the sort of place we’d definitely go with friends – like the Galaxy Hut, except completely different.

Drinks, day 2: Merchant Madison

Merchant cocktail list

Photo by jumbledpile

I spotted Merchant while we were walking around the first night in Madison. We didn’t love their food menu, but decided to stop in for a cocktail as a majorly scary storm rolled in over the lake. You’ve gotta love a cocktail bar where the menu is reputable enough that you’re happy to go with the “bartender’s choice” option. There were so many good things, but I’d already started down the bourbon road, so it seemed like folly to stray.

I was right. And the drink the bartender made me was even more right but unfortunately I will never know what it was because when I went to order another, he was gone! I know that it had at least five ingredients, one of them bourbon, another absinthe, and that I really shouldn’t have had another after that. I also know that Shane had two delicious cocktails, perhaps made with gin, perhaps citrussy? I don’t know.

What I do know is that we ordered toast with lardo – another good idea – and then I ate all of the toasts. OK, not all the toasts. But most of the toasts. And they were good.


Photo by jumbledpile


“The humble slice, we learn on pages 25 through 27 of the USDA’s report, is Americans’ No. 2 source…”

“The humble slice, we learn on pages 25 through 27 of the USDA’s report, is Americans’ No. 2 source of saturated fat and solid fats, largely because pizza is what the dairy industry might call an “effective cheese-delivery system.” Pizza is also the No. 3 source of sodium, beating out cold cuts and even bacon. After “grain-based desserts” like cakes and doughnuts, it’s the second-biggest source of calories for children and adolescents in a generation that has so far distinguished itself only on the scales.”

Why the Government Is Telling Us to Eat Less Pizza — New York Magazine

I love pizza, but I’m totally horrified by this.

1211 Living the Dream

Photo by yosoynuts

Remember when you were a kid and imagined what being a grown up would be like?  Well, today I lived the dream.  I had ice cream for lunch, and pizza for dinner.  Just ice cream – OK, frozen yogurt.  Just pizza.  And I sat on the couch and watched three movies in a row.

Never mind that it was 30 degrees out, and I picked up the (fat-free, topped with fruit) frozen yogurt after a run on snowy roads.  Never mind that I attempted to make the pizza more healthy, with cracker-thin crust and light cheese.  So maybe I was living a grown up version of the dream?

1130 Food Resources

We had a frozen pizza for dinner tonight. Shane only had 10 minutes to spare between work and an errand in the Detroit ‘burbs, so a pizza was all that we could manage. Since that doesn’t exactly make for interesting blog fodder, I thought I would instead share with you some of my favorite food blogs and other go-to sites for food inspiration.

My process for planning meals and/or figuring out what to eat often goes something like this:

  1. Stare at the fridge (or the list on the fridge) and imagine what I can make with what’s already in there.
  2. Ask Shane what he feels like eating.
  3. Check my voluminous bookmarks to see if anything jumps out that might use what’s already in the fridge.
  4. Refer to a few favorite cookbooks or check back through this blog for notes on what we’ve made in the past.
  5. Come up with an idea – say, pork chops – based on what sounds appetizing and/or is available, then consult a bunch of different sites to see what they recommend, and ultimately just make something up.
  6. Repeat as necessary.  Or order a pizza.

I find that while I regularly read a number of food blogs – both individual and aggregates like The Kitchn – I don’t actually cook from them that often.  In a sense, these blogs serve the same purpose as 97% of the reading I did in school – they provide an introduction to the language and techniques, ingredients and flavor profiles, shortcuts and shopping.  In looking at my list, I’m realizing that I have more than I really can tackle in one post, so stay tuned for more recommendations.  For now, though, you can start with:

Smitten Kitchen
If you read one food blog, this is probably it. A few of my favorite new recipes for this year came from SK, including Thanksgiving’s sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese and the pasta with fava beans, tomatoes and sausages that we couldn’t get enough of this summer.  Beautiful food photography, writing that balances instruction with anecdote, an adorable baby, and almost never fail recipes – all emanating out of a tiny Manhattan kitchen.  She also writes a baby food blog and a has a cookbook in the works.

Dinner: A Love Story
The focus of DALS is just getting dinner on the table – specifically dinner for your family when you’re juggling a job, a commute, and a whole lot of picky eaters. The author is realistic about the difficulties of “having it all” while also putting nutritious meals on the table and maybe getting your kids to eat something other than buttered noodles. Her recipes are fast, easy, and appealing, and often include suggestions about what can be added or removed depending on your family’s particular tastes. So many blogs glorify the eating experience and the superiority of ingredients without acknowledging that many nights it’s difficult to even get to the table – which may be why I find DALS so refreshing.

I’m very sad that this project has ended: one blogger’s attempt to answer the question “Does it waffle?”. Answer: frequently, yes.

Tigress in a Pickle – also in a Jam
The titular Tigress takes on all things, well, pickled and jammed. I participated in her can jam earlier in the year – each month features a different ingredient, with Tigress posting a mouth-watering round up of all the participating bloggers and their recipes. Basically if you want to get ideas about canning anything, this is the place to start.

From the Kitchen of Olivia
My friend Olivia makes beautiful things in her beautiful new kitchen – and occasionally lets us come over and make a mess of it with donuts.  Don’t click through to her site if you’re hungry or have a sweet tooth, as I can guarantee your mouth will be watering in moments.

1112 Oops, I ate a pizza

Michaelangelo Special Pizza - Michaelangelo, Aspendale Gardens
Photo by avlxyz

It was a small one, though, and it was loaded up with veggies and less cheese than usual. And I ate it after running home from work, and skipped the beer that I’d planned on having. With a healthy breakfast (sandwich) and a healthy lunch (sandwich), I think I’ve come out OK for the day.

1014 Pizza Thursday

Whoever decided that Thursday night was a good night for a solid TV lineup was on to something.

Thursdays are kind of the no man’s land of the week – moreso even than Wednesday, in my opinion.  On Wednesday, you’re solidly in the work week mode.  You’ve had two days of getting up early and coming home tired to shake you out of your weekend relaxation.  By Thursday, though, the weekend is within reach – but you’re eating leftovers because you’re not quite to payday or Friday’s happy hour or Saturday’s trip to the farmer’s market.  You’re running out of clean socks, and the detritus of the week is cluttering up the table.

I feel overwhelmed when I have plans or responsibilities on Thursday nights.  It’s one reason I stopped volunteering as often at SELMA.  If we’re having weekend guests or going out of town, we need to make sure that the house is clean, the bags are packed, the garden has been weeded, and the gas tank is full.  If one of us is leaving for the weekend while the other stays home, we like to go on dates.  And even if we’re staying put and not entertaining, by the time Thursday rolls around I am usually wiped and want nothing more than to sit on the couch.

My mom is coming up from Rockford this weekend, so tonight we needed to get the house ready for her visit.  The 80 degree days of early October have finally abated, so I needed to dig out the sweaters and put away the sundresses.  Our friends are chefing at SELMA this week, so Shane wanted to help them prep.  And we were both tired, so we ordered a pizza.  And that’s just fine.

1006 Routine

On a normal day, I get home between 4-4:30.  I feed the cats, check the mail, chill out for a bit, and then start dinner so that we can eat around 5:30.  On a similarly regimented note, I generally plan meals Friday night or Saturday morning in advance of our weekend errands – farmers’ market, grocery store, garden.  If something happens to disrupt this schedule, we often end up with an unplanned snack dinners or some sort of unfortunate take out.

With no planned meals this week, it’s not surprising that tonight featured a round of Oh God What Do We Want To Eat, especially since neither of us were hungry after work. We came home, kicked around the house for an hour or so, and then found ourselves suddenly and ferociously hungry. Fortunately Shane was quick on the draw: pizza! And double fortunately, we stocked up at Trader Joe’s earlier in the week, and so could pop a Tarte d’Alsace in the toaster oven while quickly sauteing spinach and garlic for an iron-rich side.  In under 20 minutes, we had a great little meal on the table.  Sometimes a break with routine can be a good thing.

0915 Post-Run Pizza

I think I’ve finally figured out the necessary components of a successful run home from work.  I have a tiny running vest that holds my wallet, phone, keys, and (sometimes) coffee mug.  I have a couple of route options that work out to 2-2.5 miles.  If I run til I hit Dexter Ave, I can cool down for the last .25 mile, arriving home pink in the face but not totally out of breath.  It’s taken me a few months of trial and error, but I think this is going to work.

Shane has recently started running with me, so tonight was our first joint run home from work.  I’m really proud of him – and a little jealous – for how easily he’s gotten back into it.  I hope that he’ll keep it up and keep me motivated to run further and faster, as I’ve been content to just run after a spring full of injuries and a very hot summer.  Tonight we ran up Madison, down Seventh, up Liberty, down Crest, and when I stopped for my cool down after 2.5 miles, Shane kept running all the way up to our house.

Apparently we used up all of our motivation for healthy living on that run, though, as neither of us felt like cooking.  Instead, we ordered a pizza, which Shane picked up while out shopping for new minimalist running shoes.  No guilt, right?

Russian River Daytrip

I’m the wrong person to write a post about Russian River. I really am. I can’t do it justice, and for that, I’m sorry. I can, however, tell you that the Russian River brewpub is located on a quiet street in a cute downtown area – quiet and cute in the middle of a Tuesday, that is.

Russian River

As promised, it was considerably warmer in Santa Rosa than in SF, so we were happy to enter the cool and dim interior, and to face down an intimidating board of options. On the left, the sour Belgian-style ales with religious names befitting the seriousness of the beers:

One of Everything

On the right, everything else, including Pliny the Elder, rated the #2 beer in the world by Beer Advocate (Pliny the Younger is #3):

One of Everything

What to do but to have one of everything? OK, we never would’ve been able to get back to SF had we actually done that – but we did make a fair pass at the Belgians – sour and boozy, perfect on a hot afternoon. And oh, did you notice the prices? $3.75-6.75 for a pint of the Belgians. Outrageously good prices for outrageously good beers.

Beer Mecca?

Food was really necessary, and Kiya said that we had to try the pizza bites. Basically: take a pizza of an undetermined size. Chop it up into bite size pieces, toppings and all. Serve with a wee cup of marinara to happy drinkers. Nibble an dunk your way into a happy greasy pizza coma.

Like I said – I can’t do Russian River justice, but perhaps Shane will weigh in with more information about the beers. That said, he was in a jolly place when we left, so perhaps he can’t do it any more justice than I can.

A Man in his Element

After Russian River, the remainder of our daytrip hardly bears mention. We stopped for an espresso at Flying Goat on our way out of town, then stopped for adequate beer at Moylan’s in Novato. As we drove back into the city, Kiya asked if they could take us to just one more place, and so we ended up at Bender’s, a grubby dive-y bar reminiscent of the Galaxy Hut – which, if you know us at all, you know is a high compliment.

Among the things not allowed at Bender’s are fisticuffs:
Bender's doesn't put up w/shit
Photo by The Mitzikin Revolution

Among the things on offer are a damned good Bloody Mary – including a beef stick! – and Fernet, which we all inexplicably tossed back while Shane and Kiya played pool. It was a great way to end a great day.

If you go:

Russian River Brewing Co
725 4th St
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 545-2337

There’s only one reason you’d make the trip here from SF, and that is the beer. Fortunately you can get a damned good pizza (or calzone or basket of pizza bites) while you’re there.

Flying Goat Coffee
10 4th St
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 575-1202

An out of the way little coffee shop in downtown Santa Rosa. A good place to sober up with a single origin espresso after your lunch of pizza bites and Pliny.

Moylan’s Brewery & Restaurant
15 Rowland Way
Novato, CA 94945
(415) 898-4677

Not really worth the trip unless you need another beer after Russian River. Which you probably won’t.

806 S Van Ness Ave (between 19th & 20th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 824-1800

Grubby, dive-y neighborhood bar of the best possible sort. I hear they have good food, but their Bloody Mary was nearly dinner enough for me.

…and then back to Italy

Another really lovely night of food and conversation but no photos!

While there were many delightful things to look forward to on this trip, one of the highlights for me was getting to have dinner with two of my college friends, Blaze and Heather.  We were all students at Rockford College, but didn’t meet until we went to Regents College in London in the spring of 2000.  As is the case with many college friends and study abroad friends, we had all manner of adventures together, then drifted apart in the years since.  Heather and I have managed quarterly emails, but I hadn’t seen either her or Blaze since leaving Rockford in 2003.

Hadrian's Wall
Tara, me, and Blaze at Hadrian’s wall, spring 2000

After some back and forth about reservations and commutes, we decided to meet for dinner at Flour + Water, which came highly recommended from Shana. Flour + Water is notoriously hard to get into, though, so we hedged our bet with other restaurants in the Mission. Blaze arrived at 5:30 and was told there’d be a two hour wait, so she put our names in and grabbed a table at Shotwell’s, a neighborhood bar a few blocks away.

I know I said that I want Church Key in our neighborhood, but Shotwell’s might be even better. This is a neighborhood place, you guys, in the way that only 100+ year old bars can be. No frills – just a bar on the corner where you might run into a friend while grabbing a quick beer on your way home from work. We did exactly that, and then were joined by Blaze’s husband Michael shortly before rolling over to Flour + Water.

Remember how I complained about waiting in line at Mama’s? Well let me tell you – Flour + Water was worth the wait. Absolutely. Even very hungry Shane agreed on this one.

Once inside Flour + Water, it’s apparent why we experienced a two hour wait. The space is small, and the eaters are happy. And happy, wine-drinking eaters might take two hours for a meal, especially one that came out of this oven:

Photo by *christopher*

We talked. We considered the wine list. We asked questions of the waitress. We settled on a bottle of wine to share, and on amazing things to eat. Shane invoked his extremely useful restaurant request: if I’m only going to eat here once in my life, what should I have? The salsiccia pizza, she said, or the farro farfalle with sweetbreads. So I ordered the former, and Shane got the latter. Worth. The. Wait. Shane’s pasta was exquisite, full of rich and delicate flavors, an entirely different experience than the sweetbreads we had at Restaurant Eve last summer. My pizza was fantastic – thin crust, flavorful sausage, and a curious and pungent drizzle of anchovies.

Pizza 1 and Casual Wine
Photo by portmanteaus

Blaze and Michael both tried items from the antipasti menu – a stuffed squid and some sort of vegetable stew, both of which were passed around the table to our shared delight. I didn’t try Heather’s puttanesca, but it smelled amazingly fishy, the sort of dish that is done best close to the sea. Our wine – a blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano – worked well with everything, and we probably could’ve finished a second bottle if we hadn’t already had drinks at Shotwell’s. Besides, there was the matter of dessert:

chocolate budino with espresso-caramel cream & sea salt
Photo by Premshree Pillai

A chocolate budino – halfway between pudding and crème brûlée – with a quenelle of Humphry Slocombe ice cream and a sprinkling of sea salt. So amazing.

Let’s not wait another 10 years to have dinner, friends, but if we do – this meal’s going to be hard to top.

If you go:
Flour + Water
2401 Harrison St. (corner of Harrison & 20th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-7000

Flour + Water takes reservations for less than half of their dining room, so plan in advance or to wait a long time. I promise you won’t regret it.

3349 20th St (corner of Shotwell & 20th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-4104

People like to talk about the food from their back yard as being “deep local”. I’d call Shotwell’s “deep neighborhood”.