We arrive at Bar Bambino early—very early—because I haven’t made reservations. The host gives our six-person group the once-over and decides we are one of those overly-confident foodie families, but after a quick consultation with my father he seats us three and three along the corner of the bar. An elderly man and woman sharing olives and wine are our only dining companions, but by six o’clock the place is packed.
I have chestnut soup with celeriac (feeling very self-satisfied that I know this gnarled root after my time at Love Apple) and we all vie for crispy florets of cauliflower that have been battered and lightly fried. We finish dessert just before seven and my thoughts turn shamefully (and longingly) to my inflatable mattress at our friend’s home in San Rafael, but Stas the music maven has another suggestion: the SF Bluegrass and Old Time Festival. After settling snugly in a basement bar to wait for Hang Jones and the Jugtown Pirates, she and I venture upstairs where a friendly festival-worker lets us in to go square dancing. Immediately I love it—over 30 couples assembled in plaids and dresses, with a live string band and dance moves like “three little ladies” and “let the dove pass through.” At one point a very tall man whisks me two feet off the ground, and moments later Stas and I burst out giggling in the giant circle of dancers, clasping hands for minutes before realizing none of the actual romantic couples are doing so. I laugh a lot. “You look so happy!” My sister cries reproachfully when we pass her in the do-si-dos, with a look halfway between envy and I’m trying not to be embarrassed for you.
Sunday morning is farmer’s market round two in Marin, and this time I’m ravenous. A five minutes on the premises I’m sinking my teeth into an Indian spinach flatbread at a stand where we somehow spend $25 (“But he gave us a free samosa!”). From there I buy and devour an extremely large Asian pear, then go for a handful of caramel dates, then finally settle on a pretzel-croissant (let it be known: Germany and France have produced a perfect love-child). It’s a good thing we get lost on the hike that follows because two-hours of walking is exactly what I need.
Sunday night I have made a reservation: a restaurant called Picco that I imagine is “amiable Italian.” One glance at the menu proves me utterly (and delightfully) wrong. There are grilled baby artichokes with smoked ham and tarragon aioli, lamb chops with rapini pesto and cumin yogurt, and a risotto made from scratch “on the half hour.” Each plate arrives to be shared by the whole table, and as we wait to be delighted yet again (nothing disappoints) I’m hard-pressed to think of a meal with my family that I’ve enjoyed more. An avocado bruschetta scores big, and we finish with miniature alcoholic shakes and warm chocolate madeleines.
Sitting at Café Fanny in Berkeley early the next morning, I’m rejuvenated and thankful and full as I nevertheless contemplate a second hot chocolate. Oh to live a life of travel and eating with family and friends—but then I suppose that’s why we work, isn’t it?
Avocado Bruschetta with Smoked Salmon
This recipe–inspired by a similar dish with chorizo at Picco–resulted in one the simplest and most delicious lunches I’ve had in ages.
4 thin slices of good-quality bread (whole wheat levain works well)
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
2 ripe avocados
1 small packet of smoked salmon
red pepper flakes
Cut the slices of bread in half diagonally and toast until lightly browned. Rub each half-slice with the raw garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Place a thin piece of smoked salmon on each toast.
Cut your avocados into quarters and peel. Slice each quarter thinly lengthwise before fanning it out gently on top of the salmon. Sprinkle completed toast with sea salt and red pepper flakes.