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The Readjustment, and Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ

Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ

It takes me a few days to readjust to life when I come back to the U.S.A. On our last trip, as we stepped off the plane at Dulles, we were confronted with a huge picture of a giant overstuffed sandwich plastered on the wall of a restaurant, which was aptly named, Potbelly. Like the clever titling of The Pretty Kitty salon that I passed the other day in Dallas, whose speciality was Brazilian waxing, I admired the witty double-meaning. (Albeit referring to a place a little farther south.) But I had assumed the only places where a big belly was à la mode were Polynesian places like Guam and Hawaii. Years back, I did an event with a bunch of nice Hawaiians on the Big Island, who invited me to an after-party. Hûi! I’d never seen so much unrestrained indulging in my life. It was funny being at a party where their weren’t many people, but it was very crowded nonetheless because a big belly is a sign of contentment. (Am not sure what a Brazilian waxing is a sign of.)

Lockheart Smokehouse

After arrival in the States, some things I get up-to-speed with right away – customer service, sidewalks not being a constant game of “chicken”, folks politely apologizing if they happen to get in your way, and clean public bathrooms. Other things, like men calling each other “bro”, waiters stopping by every three minutes to see if anything has changed since the last three minutes that they stopped by to ask you if everything is okay, the proliferation of cooking as a competitive activity, and total strangers taking an intense interest in your welfare: My hotel was kind enough to call my room two hours after I’d arrived, after eleven hours of flying, to see if everything was okay. I wanted to say, Well, it was…until you called and woke me up.” But slipping into my polite American mode, I mumbled under my fog of jet lag into the phone, “Everything is okay” instead of saying, “Actually, no, everything is no longer okay. You woke me up and now it’s going to take me seven hours to get back to sleep.”

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Roam Artisan Burgers, Blue Bottle Coffee & Wooden Charcoal Korean Village Barbecue House

Korean soup

Now I know why they call America – The land of the free. I had a trifecta on my first day; The (normally pricey) watch repair place fixed my watch for free, with a “Merry Christmas!” as he walked onto the next customer, the mobile phone company not only gave me a new SIM card so I could talk and tweet away (which isn’t free, unfortunately) but gave Romain one, too, and last night as we were coming home from dinner, we passed by Boudin bakery, where the bakers were up baking loaves of sourdough bread.

The baker, wondering who the weirdos were (which was odd that he was watching us, because we’re certainly not the only weirdos in San Francisco), who were peering in the doorway. We told him we were just looking and I mentioned my other-half was from France, so he handed us a hefty bâtard of San Francisco sourdough. I dunno, maybe after the trip, we kind of looked bedraggled and in need of some nourishment.

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Cotogna Restaurant

beef tenderloin at cotogna cotogna pizza maker

I’m going to get this out of the way right off the bat: I worked with Mike Tusk at Chez Panisse – he was a cook upstairs in the café and I was downstairs in the pastry department, and although I knew he was a good cook, I was blown away the first time I ate at his restaurant, Quince.

Quince restaurant in San Francisco warm ricotta with figs

I went there shortly after it opened, when it was in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco. The kitchen was nice and rather large if I recall, and he explained to me that he was figuring out how to do everything that he wanted to do in that space. I had dinner later that week in the dining room, which is run by his wife, Lindsay, and was really delighted at the wonderful meal I had, especially the pasta dishes.

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Camino Restaurant

marinated lamb leg

When I started working at Chez Panisse way back in 1983, from the moment we opened the doors at 5pm for dinner, the place was packed. I worked in the café upstairs, which opened because the restaurant downstairs had become a little more formal than anticipated and since the original idea for Chez Panisse was to be a casual dining spot, they opened a café with a no-reservations policy.

At the time, Chez Panisse was garnering a lot of publicity across America and everyone wanted to eat there. So a line formed outside of people waiting for that moment, at 5pm, when the host would go downstairs and open the front door to let everybody in.

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Blogher Food ’11, Atlanta

hota sauce

People often ask me how many times I get back to the states. I don’t know why this is such a pressing question but having just gotten off a plane after 1 1/2 days of sitting on plane, where the guy next to me coughed all night* – and he was kind enough to cover his mouth (although each and every time he did, he jabbed me awake with his elbow) – then sitting in a crowded airport bus for nearly two hours in rush hour traffic from de Gaulle at 7am for my final sprint home, I can honestly still say the BlogHer Food conference was well-worth the trip.

The nice thing about the annual BlogHer Food conference is that it’s a good mélange of food folks, from everyday cooks to professional, both of whom happen to have blogs. There aren’t a lot of places in the world where people converge like this on similar footing and it’s fun to chew the fat with young folks under the age of twenty along with folks coaxing bloggers to engage in more adult activities.

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Garrett’s Caramel Corn

Garrett's caramel corn

I don’t recall the first time I had Garrett’s caramel corn, but a few years ago I was in Chicago just before Christmas and walked over to the Michigan Avenue store. There was quite a line, and I was told the wait was two hours. “That’s just not possible!” I thought to myself. The line just didn’t seem all that long. But after twenty minutes of standing out in the frosty cold Chicago air, as the wind whipped off the lake and my face felt like it was being pelted with ice water, I’d moved forward perhaps nine inches, so I left, thinking, “No caramel corn is worth this.”

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Floriole

breads at Floriole

Lest anyone think I spent the entire week in Chicago wolfing down nothing but Mexican food, gobbling up hamburgers, and chugging hot chocolate, one day I actually took a breather and headed up to Lincoln Park to Floriole.

passion fruit tart & banana caramel pie swirl cookies

The minute I walked in, I knew I’d found somewhere special.

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Edzo’s Burger Shop

edzo's burger shop chocolate malt

What’s not to like about Edzo’s Burger Shop? Imagine a hamburger joint that offers not one, but two different options for sustainable and humanely raised beef. Or “Old Fries” for those that like our frites extra-crispy. Or Angry Fries, dusted with “four kinds of spicy.”

Although next time, I’m getting the Garlic Fries because when the pile landed on the table next to us, drizzled with garlic-parsley butter, me and my dining pal Louisa both turned and began engaging our neighbors in a conversation, perhaps with the hidden agenda that they’d be so kind as to offer us a bite. She and I never said anything, but the looks passing between us made me pretty certain she was thinking exactly the same thing that I was thinking.

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