Goodbye, Foodie February. Hello, Meditation March.

If I’ve learned nothing else about myself in February, I now know that I wouldn’t enjoy being a restaurant critic. Writing about my experience at restaurants is some of the least exciting writing I’ve ever had to do. Well, perhaps not as painful as that freelance article about elevator safety,¹ but still not something I’d welcome doing again.

Still, to do justice to the month, I’ve got one more review to submit. And in this case, I’m happy to do so. Ad Hoc was pure delight. This Thomas Keller restaurant is the French Laundry’s warm, unpretentious younger sibling. There is a fixed menu each night, and the food is served family-style. The restaurant is meant to feel like home, and the noisy families with their rambunctious children ensured that it did. The food was humble but delicious and the service was spot-on, making for a wonderful dining experience.

Our meal seemed simple enough: wedge salad, sirloin with sides of cabbage and grits, cheese course, and chocolate pudding. But the preparation of each dish elevated it: the surprisingly sweet tomatoes and creamy dressing on the salad; the perfect texture (at once creamy and chewy) of the grits; a delectable sweet-and-sour flavor to the cabbage; the pudding that was so balanced and, with homemade whipped cream and a graham and toffee crumble on top, so much more than regular chocolate pudding.

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It was sweet redemption after Poggio and a lovely note on which to end Foodie February. If you have plans to be in the Napa area, and you are looking for delicious, local food done right, you should give Ad Hoc a shot.

With that done, I can now clear my plate (hah!) from February and move on to… “Meditation March.”

Meditation March: the name makes me laugh. It’s a bit of an oxymoron- the idea of a march (loud, militant even) that is also a meditation. Or that people would be marching in support of meditation- a cause whose champions seem… well… unlikely to march. Meditators seem more likely to tread as lightly as possible.

But insofar as “march” indicates a steady rhythm, the name is apt. My hope is to meditate every day. I’ll try different approaches to see if there’s one that is a particularly good fit. I have tried meditation before, but never with any regularity or diligence, and I think My Year of 40 is the perfect time to give it another shot. The “new” aspect, in this case, is in making it a daily practice.

I’ll check in soon to let you know how it’s going. Happy March!

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¹Back when I was still figuring out who I wanted to be, I flirted with freelance writing. And in that flirtation, I did indeed write that captivating article linked above. Same Jill Witty. Living on, ad infinitum, in the never-ending cache of the Internet.

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Poggio: when Michael Bauer is wrong

Michael Bauer is a legend in the Bay Area. The restaurant critic for The Chronicle (for over 28 years now), Bauer annually publishes his list of the Top 100 restaurants in the Bay Area. Prior to this month, I had dined at sixteen of them (not great– but for someone who lives outside of the city, with three kids and a full-time job, not awful, either). Part of my mission in February was to knock a few more of these off the list.

Lazy Bear: check. Worthy of the Top 100, as well as a top 10 and even a top 5 if such a list existed.

Next up: Poggio. I chose this restaurant because it was one of the few Marin restaurants to make the list, and because it’s Italian food (something I almost never eat at a restaurant, because restaurants get it wrong so often– but in the spirit of My Year of 40, I thought I’d do so), and because I was able to secure reservations for a pre-Valentine’s Day dinner. Excellent.

Sadly, our revered food critic got this one wrong. The food was fine; we were “whelmed” (as in: not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed; just whelmed). The non-food experience was pretty awful.

We arrived to a packed restaurant but were shown to our table with not much delay. The waitress was curt and exuded a “couldn’t be bothered” kind of attitude. I asked her about a cocktail (vodka, amaretto, and cherry purée)– was it sweet, or not too sweet? (Cocktails used to be my business, and the sweetness of that drink would all depend on the ratios of the ingredients.) She told me that no, it wasn’t sweet at all; “Perfect,” I said, “I’ll have that one.” When the drinks arrived, my cocktail was almost undrinkable for how sweet it was. Strike one.

We were offered bread and sparkling water when we sat down. Fifteen minutes later, neither had arrived. Finally, we tagged a bus boy, who was able to help us. Strike two.

The food, meanwhile: good. B or B+. We started with pastas: I had the gnudi (delightful spinach & ricotta “pillows”), while Graham had the bucatini with guanciale. Both were tasty, but not particularly memorable or original. IMG_5847Next we split the polpettone, described as one of their signature dishes. It arrived, and it was meatloaf; good, yes, but meatloaf.  Brussels sprouts to accompany were mushy and bland. Are we sure this restaurant belongs on the same list as Lazy Bear?

To top it off, we were neglected for most of our meal (ran out of water; ready to order more beverages but nobody around, etc). When we were ready to pay, our waitress was nowhere to be found, so again we had to ask a different server to help us. That always feels awkward, but when you’re ready to go (and your babysitter is on the clock)– you’re ready to go. Strike three.

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(Here we are, the happy but impatient couple.)

Admittedly, this all could have been a case of one bad waitress. But the food wasn’t good enough to justify giving Poggio another shot.

Lazy Bear, you spoiled us! Next up… Ad Hoc.