It was a bright morning as my fiancée Alexa and I packed our sedan with a completely full suitcase, a new camera and our fanatically prepared selves. We were visiting my oldest sister, her husband and their dog Lily in California. Food obsessed as all four of us are, my sister had carefully planned lunch and dinner for all of our days together. It was common knowledge that we would be spoiled by an expertise in good restaurants, food secrets and an unmatched generosity from my family. California is a culinary kingdom, spanning styles and ingredients all along its vast coast. We were in for the trip of our lives, and a food coma. I should state that this isn’t the first “food-enhanced” trip I’ve been on. I have greedily shared sukiyaki in Nara, Japan. I have dirtied more than one bib devouring blue crab in Baltimore. I became a master of dissecting good and bad pollo pibil in the Yucatan. I’ve eaten my way up and down California more than once. None of these meals though, were going to be as memorable as the delights we had coming our way.
We started in Los Angeles, a gigantic and immensely spread out place, with more identities and characters than can be explained in one work of writing. The restaurants feel different there. The first place we walked into surprised us culturally and gastronomically; serving Kampachi tostadas in a dim and square shaped dining room by a middle-aged hipster in a tightly fixed bistro apron, who could probably hold his own in any food-related discussion with the likes of Harold Mcgee or Escoffier. Or who wouldn’t want to go to a lunch spot called “Oinkster” the next day? With a cozy diner themed patio of red and white, home to the best chili cheese fries I’ve ever had, and a draft beer selection that any Michigan craft beer advocate would respect. The sushi is made correctly. Not just the process, but the fact that they are actually close the ocean, so that seafood only has to travel minimally. Even the Thai delivery was exceptional and cured our jetlag. We were heading to northern California next, stopping in Los Olivos and Solvang; two towns that serve as a beautiful wine country destination, as well as home to friendly and humble people, Ostrich Land and the setting of the infamous movie, “Sideways.” Wine was great, but the stories were better. The award-winning bacon at Sides Hardware was truly worth it, as well as being from the most interesting restaurant we had been to yet. All in all, good preparation for what was to come next, Napa Valley, where even cooks are bewildered and intimidated by the food.
The air is amazing in Napa. It’s a surreal feeling to be surrounded by so many artisans and kings of the world you know and hold so dear. It was a shame we stuffed dozens of oysters and rich clam chowder down our throats on the day of our French Laundry reservation, but I don’t regret a bite. Our dinner reservation was at 9:15, which was much more than a “bucket list item” or a “last meal” for me. It was a dream coming true. The kind of dream you take for granted, because you can’t fathom it actually being real. Keller’s French Laundry, is arguably one of the best restaurants in the world, and could be the best meal of my life. I will keep it short and sweet, as it would take pages to explain my experience there, and I can’t bear leaving any piece out. The next day we enjoyed rock shrimp tempura at Morimoto’s that bent my brain on Japanese fusion like never before, and I live Japanese fusion. If you don’t get a burger from Gott’s while in northern California, then you’ve missed a landmark. Our last meal with our gracious hosts was at Yank Sing Dim Sum, in San Francisco. A meal of mixed emotions; incredibly sad of parting ways with two people that mean so much to us, yet drooling over soup dumplings that I have fantasized about since I last ate them, three years prior. Later that day, Alexa and I shared cold Anchor Steams and a buttery Dungeness crab on a wharf sidewalk, staring out into the ocean alongside fat and domesticated seagulls. I proposed to my fiancée that night, as we watched the sunset from a sailboat.
So why glorify California and its institutions so much? I believe the food culture has been established there, at or past its prime if you will. They have a strong stance and have set a standard, holding up to any trends in a culinary enlightened society.
Their door has been closed though, and ours is wide open.
We are at the brink of an extremely exciting time for food and drink in southwest Michigan, as my peers and I are at the forefront of an economic up-turn. We are creating the trend, painting the canvas and landscaping the map for a food culture. A gentleman who used to work at Webster’s, has since become sous chef for a very well renowned restaurant in California, still claims to this day, “nobody does beef like you guys.” Webster’s is proud to be a part of this movement, and will keep pushing our theory and beliefs in sourcing the best ingredients locally and regionally, supporting Michigan wine and beer, helping the community in any way we can, treating our product with respect, and maintaining restraint and originality in this exciting time for food. So come enjoy a pastrami sandwich or high quality steak here at Webster’s Prime, and be a part of putting Michigan in a well deserved spot in the growing gastronomic world.