Sunday, March 31, 2013

San Francisco Indulgence: Nopa

The San Francisco journey continues! 

Before I even left for this trip I had a lot of fun researching possible restaurants I might try while visiting the Bay Area. Trying to choose a restaurant in San Francisco is like deciding where to travel to in the first place -- so many options, so little time! 

I decided to treat myself to dinner at Nopa

Known for its local, organic and sustainable fare, Nopa is self-described as "a San Francisco gathering place" — the perfect place for me to eat, drink and connect. From the moment I entered the restaurant, the place was alive with conversation, cocktails being prepared, wines being poured and of course, wonderful aromas from thoughtful plates of food traveling from the kitchen to diners' tables. Being a 'table for one', I decided to sit at the bar, the perfect place to park yourself if you're traveling alone.

Instantly I was greeted with a smile by the handsome and friendly Sam. A bartender named Sam...not sure if he ever played baseball but he did have a good head of hair and a great smile. I chose an elderflower sparkling wine cocktail to begin and started reading the menu. Shortly after I settled in, a cute young couple sat down to my left and we struck up a conversation (see above re: best place to sit as a solo diner). They gave me recommendations for my upcoming Napa tour and we enjoyed sharing stories like how they met at a breakdancing competition and how I ended up writing a food blog.

Having just visited Fish in Marin, I opted for the little fried fish as a starter. Fresh, with just the right amount of breading and salt and nicely balanced by the creamy dipping sauce, it was a perfect beginning to the meal. I asked if it was supplied by Two X Sea and lo and behold, it was. This was the stuff of 'local food stories' that I was hoping to experience on this trip. It was pretty cool that I had just met the fisherman who caught these little guys, and that I knew that they were caught sustainably.

For my entree, I chose a baked fish dish cooked in a beautiful broth and served with fresh, seasonal vegetables.  Nopa is known for its rustic food that highlights fresh product from local producers and farmers. As I sat and enjoyed my meal and conversation with Sam and the cute couple to my left, I noticed that Nopa is also known for its sense of community. The service was warm, friendly and professional. I felt cared for, not rushed, and valued as a diner. 

I ended my meal with an indulgent cheese and madeira experience. I usually opt for a dessert wine, and Sam told me that they were known for their selection of sherry and madeira. I had never tried madeira before so I decided to have a taste. Sam wasn't wrong and I enjoyed my after dinner drink with a perfect plate of aged cheeses, honeyed almonds and toasted fresh bread.

Like many restaurants that focus on local eating, Nopa lists their purveyors on their website. Take a look here and you'll even read a few stories about some of the farmers and other producers. In case you were wondering, the name "Nopa" is a commonly-known nickname for the area where the restaurant resides — a centrally-located area referred to by some as "North of the Panhandle". During my SF visit, I learned that most locals actually call this area "The Western Addition". A multicultural area, NOPA/The Western Addition is known for its Victorian  homes, jazz music roots and bars, restaurants and small businesses.

You can check out Nopa's current dinner menu here. During my brief visit, I barely even scratched the surface of the delicious, fresh and local food they offer. I get the feeling that if I was a SF local, it might become a place where "everybody knows my name".

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Photo Sharing

Hey friends!

I recently submitted some photos to the 2013 86'd Food Photography Awards organized by the fabulous Ivy Knight. Last year one of my photos was a finalist and I was grateful to the judges for choosing it! I took this photo at a friend's family farm in Burnstown, Ontario. It is a cream separator that is used to filter sap during the process of maple syrup.

This year I was not a finalist but I still wanted to share the photos with you and give them a bit of context. I hope you enjoy :) *Please respect that these photos are my own and if you wish to use them for anything, please contact me directly. 

Beautiful grapes in the vineyard at Waupoos Winery in Prince Edward County. I took a great trip with my sisters there last summer.

A picnic I had with my pal Jamie in Big Sur, California. Post coming soon! 

I grabbed this shot inside the old hacienda at Scribe Winery in Sonoma, CA this summer. Post coming soon! Amazing winery.

A humble shed on site at Medlock Ames Winery in Healdsburg, CA. Post coming soon :) Also really liked their wines. 

I love Scribe, did I mention that? Even their labels are awesome. Beautiful quote.

Cappy the bartender at Spoonbar at the H2 Hotel in Healdsburg, CA. He makes a mean cocktail. This is the man that introduced me to Amaro Montenegro. More on that later :) 

Token Instagram photo. Also at Spoonbar. Beautiful edible garnish on the bar.

Congratulations to all of the finalists and winners of this year's awards! I had a lot of fun taking these photos and I hope you enjoyed them :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

San Francisco: Buyer's Best Friend in the Haight

In August I spent a few weeks in California, starting in San Francisco. I started telling you about it a while back, but other projects started to take priority. I figured with this recent snowfall, now is as good a time as any to harken back to sunnier, warmer days. I hope you enjoy re-living my trip with me!

On a sunny afternoon while walking through the Haight district, I saw this sign: 

Of course I followed the directions of this sign and went inside! I was greeted by a cute and friendly clerk named Alex, who quickly showed me the many food samples I was permitted to enjoy. As she told me about the store she was also nice enough to recommend some restaurants in the area. I love being a tourist because people are so forthcoming with ideas of what to do next! 

The store that I had ventured into was (and is) called Buyer's Best Friend Wholesale & Mercantile. It's a wholesale artisan food shop that carries over 2000 different products, all made by small shops, entrepreneurs and artisan food producers. The store also carries health products and beauty products, and they have a few different locations throughout the city. They also have an extremely comprehensive e-commerce system on their website for wholesale buyers and sellers. If you are an artisan food producer or you make organic beauty products, check them out! (I'm not entirely sure if it's exclusive to the U.S., but you could ask!)

The owner, Joyce (pictured below), showed me great hospitality, touring me through the store and introducing me to her team in the back warehouse/office area. She insisted I take home some samples to try and it was clear the passion she and her team had for the handmade food products in store.

The first thing that appealed to me about Buyer's Best Friend (besides the sign outside, of course), was the design of the store. These days many of us love that antique, old-timey feel, and in this setting it worked well to highlight the products. They used old suitcases, antique wine barrels, kitschy lamps, gramophones and velvet chaise lounges to decorate the store and create a very homey feel.

I purchased some Stumptown Coffee and a gorgeous-smelling handsoap from Clean Getaway Soap Co. for my cousin and his wife whom I'd be visiting in Oakland in the next few days. I was tempted to empty out the ice cream fridge pictured below but I figured I'd better hold off. People say that calories don't count on vacation...I'd like to know who these people are!? Trust me, I made up for this sacrifice later in the trip.

Examples of the aforementioned artisan food samples included: caramel corn, dark chocolate, a whole shelf full of artisan balsamic vinegars, granola, nuts and other delicious snack food items. It was great to see such a selection of healthy, handmade, gourmet, artisan and/or unprocessed foods available for sale in one place! I love it when you turn a product over and there are only 4 or 5 ingredients listed on the back.

I took my bounty home to the cute spot I was renting in Cole Valley — packed some for the road, stowed the gifts safely, and chowed down on the rest over the next few evenings. Thank you, Joyce and Alex, and to everyone at Buyer's Best Friend. Without a doubt my favourite snack was the Boulder Granola which made a perfect breakfast the morning I left Oakland for wine country.

Stay with me as I continue to post about my California journey! More San Francisco to come, as well as wine country, Big Sur and more!