Ruth Reichl leads an enviable life among foodinistas as it is, but this past week found her on an especially insane marathon of eating, starting in New York, moving on to a four-day stay in San Francisco — which included the Good Food Awards and a dinner with longtime friend Alice Waters — and finishing off in Los Angeles where she celebrated her birthday with friends and where she’ll be spending the next few weeks working on her novel in progress. In her own words, here’s Ruth’s latest Grub Street Diet…
Wednesday, January 11
I started the week in New York. Got up in the morning and had coffee, and Alice Waters had sent me a box of these adorable little kishu tangerines from the Churchill folks [Churchill Orchards in California’s Ojai Valley]. I had a handful of those and I made myself some fried rice with shrimp for breakfast.
I met a friend for drinks at Eleven Madison Park, and they sent out a few bites to eat. The most wonderful chicken velouté with parsley oil: so delicious. And some chickpea panisse, and some icy yogurt lollipops with curried lentils. All really great.
Then I went to dinner at Wong where we had these amazing duck buns, which are kind of like the pork buns that everyone is making all over New York now. They were crisp and rich and great. And we had duck tongue and jellyfish balls — he’s a Singapore chef — shrimp fritters with hot scallion ginger oil on top; collard greens with coconut milk; deep-fried black pepper lobster which was just so peppery and rich and delicious; and the most tender duck wrapped in lotus leaves. And for dessert we had their famous duck fat ice cream, which is wonderful.
Thursday, January 12
I flew to San Francisco that afternoon, but beforehand I got up and made pancakes for my family with grade-B maple syrup. (I can’t believe anybody wants to eat amber, light maple syrup when you can have wonderful, dark, murky grade B.) Then I grabbed a few more of the kishus to eat on the plane.
When I landed I went to RN74 with Jeff Meisel [consulting wine director for Gilt Taste] and a whole group form our Gilt Taste wine team, and we were tasting a lot of different wines and champagnes and they sent out some of their wonderful fried mushrooms. Then the entire team, all of twelve of us, went for an early dinner at Mission Chinese Food, where we had the most crazy tornado of food, at least half the menu. The dish I keep dreaming about is chawanmushi with sea urchin and trout roe and little bits of apple. And I loved the szechuan pickles, the Beijing vinegar peanuts, the the beef tendon with pig ear, the kung pao pastrami, and then we had watercress with pumpkin-salted chili broth and pressed tofu, salt cod fried rice with little bits of sausage in it which was really nice, and there was also some really good jook with crab and egg. Jeff brought along some of this Cos orange wine which was just wonderful. It has a really forceful flavor and it’s really unlike any other kind of wine in the world.
We had a lot of other dishes, but by then I was getting food overload. We had the veal rib and the tingly lamb noodles. Back in my hotel room a few hours later I found myself wishing for another bite of that veal rib, but all the leftovers went home with people with refrigerators.
Friday, January 13
I had meant to go to Golden West, but I ended up getting up late so I got some really good coffee from a cart on Samsome and Pacific, then went to the Kung Fu Taco truck and got some of the duck and the Asian asada tacos. Then I met with the Gilt Taste team and we went for a tour of Tcho Chocolate factory, where I ate a mountain of chocolate.
Then it was time for the Good Food Awards. During the reception I was drinking this really wonderful fermented cider they were serving called Joker by Ace Cider. Then while I was standing there one of the winners came up and handed me his really amazing corn whiskey [by Death’s Door], which was incredible.
Afterwards we went off, Alice and I and a big group, to Locanda, where we also managed to eat almost everything on the menu. We had the pizza bianco with bone marrow and radish salad; tripe with mint; spaghetti cacio e pepe; carbonara; lamb chops; fried artichokes; chestnut agnolotti; the puntarelle salad; and the grilled sepia. Lee Hudson was there and we were drinking his Hudson Ranch Chardonnay and Pick Up Sticks.
Saturday, January 14
The next morning I met the Gilt Taste team really early over at the Ferry Building and we spent the morning tasting our way through the winners. I was only a preserves judge, so we went through and tasted everything methodically. Chocolates, cheeses, sauces, preserves. It was amazing talking to this passionate, wonderful group of people. But I also managed to find time to go to the Primavera cart to have their chilaquiles with scrambled eggs and black beans, and they have these wonderful shrimp and red snapper tacos. Then I went over to the 4505 Meats stand and Ryan [Farr] gave me a Zilla dog, chicharrones, and a wonderful breakfast sandwich with peppery pecorino brioche, some really tasty sausage, egg, and peppercress.
Then I ran into Soyoung Scanlon of Andante Dairy and ate some of her cheese, and bought some strawberries and ate some of those. Then a group of us from Gilt went over to Bi-Rite and I never met Sam [Mogannam] before. He basically took us through the whole store saying “taste this” and “taste that” and then had us taste all their ice creams.
I wasn’t really feeling like dinner after all of that, but I met a friend and we ended up going for a drink at Anchor & Hope, and somehow we ended up sitting there for about four hours eating oysters and Thai ceviche and crab remoulade.
Sunday, January 15
I met some friends for breakfast before the Fancy Food Show. We were staying at the Omni and we just wandered up the street and found this little Chinese place and had bowls of jook and won ton soup. Then I was walking around the Fancy Food Show with Jennifer Pelka, the managing editor of Gilt Taste. We were there from 9 in the morning to 5 at night, eating all day. Some highlights: Susan Feniger was making pulled pork turnovers and beef with this green sriracha she’s made for Perfect Bite, it’s her ‘street food’ line that hasn’t come out yet; there was a company making no-calorie noodles that were really interesting; we spent a lot of time with the people from Le Sanctuaire, sniffing various spices and spice mixtures. They had the most amazing vanilla I’d ever smelled, these gigantic pods, this year’s harvest. I can still smell it in my mind. And we did a blind tasting of about fifteen different caviars from the California Caviar Company. For somebody who’s watched the development of the sustainable caviar industry over the years, it was really something to see just how good this caviar was.
That night I had dinner at Nopa, which I had never been to before. Jeff Meisel very kindly got me a reservation there. I can see why this place is so popular. It’s comfortable, it’s unpretentious and the food is really honest. We started with a really delicious fino sherry with a warm goat cheese terrine and crisp little toasts; and a salad of pomegranate and kiwi. And I had a whole mackerel which was a special appetizer — I think it’s very brave to serve a whole mackerel … it’s a fish for people who really like fish, but here it was bones and all and it was just lovely. I felt very vegetable starved after all this eating, so I ordered the vegetable tagine and my friend had the chicken with turnips and dates.
Then I went back to the hotel to pack for L.A.
Monday, January 16
The next morning I had another bowl of jook before I got on the plane to L.A., and when I landed I drove right to Yuca’s and had a bean and cheese burrito. (When I lived in L.A. I lived in Los Feliz, just up the hill, and I developed a passion for these burritos — they make these wonderful, lardy, loose beans with a lot of flavor, wrapped in a tortilla with really good salsa and cheese. It’s probably Velveeta, but it’s the only legitimate use of Velveeta in the world.) They also have these great little cochinita pibil tacos and I had one of those, because it was my birthday.
That night, for my birthday, my husband invited a group of family and friends to Bouchon, where it happened to be fried-chicken night. We had big plateaus of fruit de mer, and fried chicken, Brussells sprouts, biscuits, tons of food. And washed down with some very nice Krug champagne, and Becky Wasserman’s white burgundy, and some lovely wines from Bruce Neyers. Then a great red velvet birthday cake — happily it did not come covered candles. Needless to say it was a very nice way to slide into L.A.
Tuesday, January 17
My husband wanted pancakes so I made some and I ate them too. Then for lunch we went by ink.sack, and we got sacks of sandwiches — a tuna sandwich with Sriracha mayonnaise, a fried-chicken sandwich, one with chicken-liver mousse and fried chicken skin; and this kind of Reuben that they’re making. And we just brought them back to the backyard of this house we’re renting for the next couple of months.
Then last night we went to the movies and had a big bowl of ramen at this place I didn’t even catch the name of.
I’m trying to finish a novel, and it’s great to get rid of the distractions of New York and just sit in the backyard here and write. Before I leave, I have reservations at the next iteration of LudoBites at Lemon Moon which I’m really looking forward to. And I’m sure while I’m here I’ll go eat at Park’s BBQ, because I love it. And everyone’s telling me I have to go to Cooks County, so I’ll definitely try that. There’s lots of great places to eat here right now.