California: A Lesson in Eating Locally

If I needed a reason to move to San Francisco, I found it this past holiday weekend. The motive? Food, of course.

It all started at Beretta for dinner on a Saturday night in the Mission District. A friend and I wanted to sample the contemporary Italian comfort food there based on a few trusted recommendations.

This eatery's use of fresh, seasonal ingredients was better than any recent dining experience I've had in a long time. A simple broccolini dish with peppers and garlic was the perfect bridge between the summer-to-fall handoff. The greens were perfectly cooked and tender while the peppers and garlic gave it a good punch but just enough — just like they taught us in school. It didn't stop there, though.

I've consumed a lot of Neopolitan pizzas in New York since it's one of the latest crazes here. None of those thin-crusted pies stood close to the one topped with spicy Italian sausage and onions I devoured at Beretta that night. The crust was perfectly crunchy, almost like a thin cracker. I'm not sure I want to eat another pizza anytime soon to spoil my memory of this one.

But a quick trip out to Yountville in Napa Valley called for more eating. I passed (gawked really) at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry but had to settle for walking through the restaurant's garden that included everything from tomatoes and egg plants to green beans and sweet corn. A friend and I ended up dining at Michael Chiarello's Bottega.

It's here that I'm convinced California's access to fresh produce is unparalleled elsewhere in the United States. An avid meat eater, I couldn't get enough vegetables. A sugar snap pea and raw sweet corn salad with almonds, a sieved egg, pecorino and a citrus vinaigrette put a big smile on my face. It tasted pure and not too dressed up. I could've converted to vegetarianism at that moment.

So I'm back in New York going through the grind but these meals have me inspired to cook with the best local ingredients. Until then, I'll keep dreaming of that perfect pizza and all that alluring produce across the country.

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