A Golden State of haute cuisine
All up and down the state dining in the open air is popular, as it is here in Los Angeles, above. LA is known for its wide variety of exquisite restaurants, and its cousin to the north, San Francisco, has more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city. Old standards that have been around for decades still hold their own against innovative new arrivals. SF’S Mission district has become a foodie haven and surrounding communities from Berkeley to Palo Alto to Napa and Sonoma all bring fine food to the table. Like everything else in California from politics to entertainment, food is a celebrity-driven business. From the rock star antics of Guy Fieri to the farm-to-table phenom that took the country by storm, the culinary scene is a mix of where to be seen and those unseen farmers and field laborers who actually do all the dirty work necessary to put food on tables.
Kudos to garden-to-table pioneer Alice Waters, who made growing your own green the new black before that was even an expression. There are now nearly one thousand farmers markets and CSA’S thriving here: more than in any other state.
Sustainability is the keyword in all things agriculture, and we can tip our hat to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for its impactful Seafood Watch program that helps diners make informed choices at places like Cindy’s Waterfront and Passionfish (Pacific Grove).
Sonoma and Marin counties have become cheese tourism havens and apple lovers can pick their fill in Sebastopol and El Dorado’s Apple Hill.
Coastside, berry farms (Swanton) and pumpkin patches (Arata’s, Half Moon Bay) beckon: visit Harley Farms for adorable goats and exquisite cheese (Pescadero).
Many restaurants have on-site gardens, including The Restaurant at Wente (Livermore), Chez TJ (Mountain View) and Zazu Kitchen (The Barlow, Sebastopol).
California’s olive oil production is booming, with Stella Cadente (Fort Bragg), Victorine Valley Farms (Livermore) and Olea (Paso Robles) all producing decadent
flavor-infusions. Fortunately, as the state faces water challenges, olives are one of the most drought-resistant crops.
Dining Among the Stars
It comes as no surprise that of the 148 Michelin stars awarded to restaurants nationwide, a full third of them go to San Francisco establishments. Let’s take a tour of the gourmet galaxy.
LA & Environs
Trendy dining spots include 71Above, Animal, Erven, Faith & Flower, Georgie, Gwen, Here’s Looking at You, Kali, Lost at Sea, Maude, Nora, Paley, The Glen, The Guild, Trois Mec and Wolf. Michelin stars include Asanebo, Birch, Cut, Mélisse, Osteria Mozza, Patina, Spago, Sushi Zo, Valentino and Water Grill.
San Diego’s food scene is currently buzzing over Barbusa, Bracero, Campfire, Carnitas’ Snack Shack, Cucina Sorella, False Idol, Herb & Wood, Madison, One Door North, Pokirrito and Trulucks.
San Francisco Bay Area
Aglow with coveted Michelin stars, the area boasted a record 50 honorees for 2016. Benu, French Laundry, Meadowood, Manresa and Saison all have 3, while Acquerello, Atelier Crenn, Baumé, Campton Place, Coi, Commis and Quince each sport two. New one-star establishments include All-spice, Al’s Place, Aziza, Californios, Commonwealth, Kin-khao, Lord Stanley, Mourad, Nico, Octavia, Omakase, Rasa, Sushi Yoshizumi, The Lazy Bear and Wako.
True Food Kitchen comes to Stanford, while Andrew Welch premieres ASA in Los Altos: he opened The Basin in Saratoga in 1999. Los Gatos gems include Nasch (Austrian), Hult’s (Scandinavian) and Bywater (New Orleans). In Campbell it’s Orchard City Kitchen (Michelin starred Chef Jeffrey Stout). Luxe dining divas Chez TJ, The Plumed Horse and The Village Pub all boast Michelin stars. Wine tasting abounds throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains from Summit to Sea.
Think Mendocino for romantic and isolated coastal dining stars, such as Chef Marc Dym of Little River Inn and Chef Nicolas Petti of Mendo Bistro. The creative cuisine of Chef Peg Davis at Brewery Gulch Inn makes it a gourmand’s delight and The Wild Fish in Albion sets new standards for seaside dining. The Madrones in Anderson Valley offers centralized wine tasting, gourmet food and posh accommodations, and Mendocino’s beautifully preserved Joshua Grindle Inn offers rest and respite.
Carmel & Monterey
La Balena’s authentic Florentine cuisine sets a high bar, while Michelin-starred Aubergine, Anton & Michel, Casanova, Carmel Belle and Cultura are Carmel darlings. Carmel Valley’s Lucia at Bernardus Lodge, headed by esteemed Chef Cal Stamenov, features his new mentor-inspired menu, along with Café Rustica, LOKAL, Roux and Wills Fargo. Monterey’s 1833 is historic chic while Fandango in Pacific Grove offers Old World cuisine and charm.
LA PERCH, opposite; salad at Faith & Flower, LA, right; kitchen crew working at Valette, Healdsburg, bottom.