i am feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and kind of like a retiree after spending a few glorious days in california. for the last three years, i've flown out west for a may vacation pilgrimage and i feel like the first, second and third times have all been charms. come this year, california was the destination of choice. matt and i kicked off our trip by landing in san francisco just in time to catch the sunset at mission dolores park and capped it off by cheers-ing wine in the seemingly endless vineyards of carmel valley.
our trip was filled with so many incredible meals, but i suppose that's not totally unexpected in one of the culinary capitals of the country. the first meal in san francisco was dinner at mission chinese, where we split an unlikely but delicious combination of kung pao pastrami and matcha and squid ink noodles. from there, we had burritos, sourdough bread, and craft brews galore. in carmel valley, the wine was much more the star of the show than the food, but we were pretty much just looking for big bowls of pasta to soak up all the wine tastings at that point. whoops.
the recipe in this post was inspired by two san francisco forces: artisanal toast and a renewed focus on seasonal eating. the two culinary highlights of the trip both have humble roots but in san francisco, reached new, imaginative heights.
toast is the ultimate no-frills childhood food, something your parents would sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar before elementary school. in san francisco, however, it's topped with dollops of stone fruit jam, slices of avocado and flaky sea salt, drizzles of local honey and olive oils. in short, it's heaven and also the subject of great scorn for being "hipster food" or the reason millennials can't afford to buy homes.
it feels almost silly sometimes to talk about the evolution of seasonal eating. for the vast majority of human history, that was the only option; there was no other way to eat short of preserving foods for when the growing season changed. over the last few decades, however, largely spurred on by culinary queen alice waters, there has been a movement to re-establish connections with our food. alice waters' hallmark restaurant, chez panisse is legendary for being based on a very simple premise: eat what the land provides. eat locally. eat what's in peak season. elevate it with creative flourishes and exceptional service.
it cannot be overstated how excited i was for the reservations we made at chez panisse. i've read every book on alice waters known to man, met her at the dupont farmers market, and have checked out several of her cookbooks from the library. she is such an icon to me for her groundbreaking and creative culinary talents, and also for the work she's done to improve our youngest generation's diets thanks to edible schoolyard. this is all to say, i've been counting down to this day for years.
so, we walked across the famed wooden porch and into my dining mecca, were greeted with a bubbling kir royale...AND THEN...a giant spider crawled across my plate. how far chez panisse fell from grace in a split second! for all the anticipation i had built up in my mind about what eating at chez panisse would be like, i never imagined it would involve me shrieking as i leaped out of my chair, nearly knocking over the table. thankfully, the evening quickly rebounded thanks to a flight of wine pairings and an exquisite dinner. the spider was simply a mere blip on the radar that was far funnier in retrospect than horrifying. what we dined on that lovely evening:
kir royale and an amuse bouche of *i believe* morel mushrooms with mint on crostini
tartare of local halibut and king salmon en gelee with cucumber salad
soft shell crab amandine with celery and peas
grilled wolfe ranch quali au poivre with asparagus, turnips and glazed radishes
brooks cherry clafoutis
so, this is all to say that immediately upon returning from san francisco, i had a deep craving for toast and trying more alice waters' recipes. it wouldn't be a california-inspired meal if i didn't turn to sourdough, so you'll want fresh, thick slices of sourdough as the base for this elotes avocado toast. elotes, or grilled mexican street corn, is the perfect topping for this summery meal, which could easily double as a hearty breakfast or light lunch. this take on elotes relies on a cast iron skillet over a grill, but for a wonderful traditional grilled recipe, try out this one from serious eats.
as for the alice waters incorporation into this dish, i used her my pantry recipe for chile-lime salt. it keeps well for several months, and waters recommends serving it as a topping for a bountiful platter of radishes and carrots, or even over mango, watermelon or oranges...with a glass of mescal, she notes. in this case, it pairs perfectly with elotes, a dish bursting with juicy lime.
elotes avocado toast
what you'll need:
for chile-lime salt (from alice waters' my pantry):
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp chile powder
zest of 1 lime, finely zested (save lime to use juice in next part of recipe)
for elotes toast:
kernels from 1 ear corn
1/4 cup cotija cheese, finely crumbled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, plus extra to taste
juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp chile-lime salt
2 slices thick sourdough bread, toasted
1/2 of an avocado
what you'll do:
- make chile-lime salt by stirring together sea salt, chile powder and lime zest. set rest of lime aside to use juice for the elotes mixture. store in a tightly covered container, as it will keep for several months.
- heat cast iron skillet, then pour in corn kernels. reduce heat to low and cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until kernels begin to brown. stir occasionally.
- while corn cooks, in a small bowl mix cotija cheese, cilantro, lime juice and chile-lime salt. once combined, pour into cast iron skillet and mix thoroughly with corn kernels. cook for approximately 3-4 minutes. remove from heat.
- spread avocado on slices of toast, then top with elotes mixture. garnish with a squeeze of lime juice and cilantro and dig in!