Sometimes you go out to a restaurant because you’re too tired to cook (or there’s no food in the house). Sometimes for a special occasion. And sometimes you go to be inspired. Inspiration comes from different places and in different forms. Here are a few of my favorites.
Eating at Waterboy is a lesson in why it’s so great to live in the central valley. The focus is on fresh, local foods, sourced from suppliers that they have a relationship with. It’s really the ultimate in culinary transparency – knowing what you’re eating, where it was grown, how it was raised. I don’t think I’ve had a single meal there when I didn’t walk away with appreciation for all that we have available. Really, pretty much the only thing you can’t grow here is coffee beans (and I’d be willing to bet UCD is trying to change that…). We have it all, and at Waterboy they can prepare it so well you’ll be mentally making out your list for the farmer’s market halfway through dinner. Spring onion and potato soup. Fresh corn bisque. Endive braised with bacon.
Sometimes you need a new view of your basics. Roast chicken, green salad, steak, lamb, mussels – these are the things Cafe Plan B does to a tee. Anything with mushrooms. Anything fresh. It’s not a complicated menu but that doesn’t mean it lacks depth. Want to remember how good just a basic roast chicken with rosemary is? Or how good a medium rare peppercorn steak with a light cream sauce is? How about a lesson in the versatility of mussels – with six different sauce variations? Remind yourself that the classics aren’t boring and that they’re classics for a reason. Oh, and also, if it’s really fresh it can be simple.
This is a new favorite of mine. My sister was visiting and we all wanted to go out. Her best friend was joining us and has to eat gluten-free and she’d heard of Magpie. Our waitress (who was amazing by the way) said they can accommodate for nearly all dishes, accepting the obvious bread-centric ones. Note: they make a kick-ass panzanella. Besides the great food, outstanding service and comfortable atmosphere why did I like Magpie so much? It made me re-think my favorite foods. I love parsley (yeah, I know, weird), but I’d never thought of muddling it in a cocktail as they did in the Secret Garden, a combination of vodka, white vermouth, lemon juice and simple syrup. I consider duck confit to be the best thing on the planet, but chicken confit? Why not make chicken confit? It’s cheaper and less rich than duck. You get all of the crispy, fatty fabulousness, but with chicken.
So yeah, sometimes you go out because you just can’t bear to cook another meal, and then, if you’re lucky, you find yourself inspired to get back to it.