Sunday, January 18, 2009

Third Time's a Charm

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Stacy Blondin + VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: Dinner and a Book
When: January 12, 2009
Why: To satisfy our intellectual and gastronomical curiosity

The Scoop: The plan was simple: depart the VNHQ at 5pm, arrive at Book Passage Bookstore at 6pm, engage in Mark Bittman's discussion of his latest book, and grab some grub at Ike's Place on our way home. What a perfect plot for a weeknight out in my new home town! Excited to embark on my first official VegNews outing, I boarded the MUNI along with my very own tour guide and co-staffer Elizabeth Castoria. We took the L line (a name which, btw, is in no way related to the shape of its route) to Embarcadero Station and walked to the Ferry Building Market Place, looking forward to the introduction of Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.

We arrived just a smidge late and a smudge directionally challenged. Like any ingenious investigators, we consulted our most readily available resource—a map, cleverly placed at the building's entrance. We were close. Very close. In fact, we were so close we could see our destination—along with just about every San Franciscan foodie free on a Monday night. The attendees were packed like, well, factory-farmed animals, to be precise, into the tiny book store with appendages bulging out of both passages. Apparently the trend of arriving fashionably late was sooooo last year.

Since we swapped life stories in lieu of brushing up on our lip reading skills on the way over, we did what any hard-pressed reporters would do: held our ears up to a small crack in the open door. Using this technique, we managed to catch a few unmuffled sound waves and make out the following key terms: battery cages, chickens, torture, vegetables, less meat, local, sustainable and environmentally friendly. These soundbites drifted our way, rousing our literary (and actual) appetites. Although I am sure we could probably find the same words correctly spelled and eloquently arranged on the back of Mr. Bittman's book, hearing them straight from the cow's mouth granted them definition beyond Webster's. The fervor in Mark's voice and expressions paired with the crowd's seemingly canned responses clued us in to good times going on inside—a place we most certainly were not.

In case you are just about as unfamiliar with Mark's new read as we (still) are, perhaps you are less of a stranger to his previous titles, How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. If these predecessors are any indication of the quality of his current work, which makes the case against meat from an environmental and health front, our expectations are high. For more frequent doses of Bittman wisdom, check out his weekly column in the New York Times, The Minimalist. Or, for a daily fix, keep up with his discussion, recipes and tips via his food-inspired blog, Bitten.

Slightly disappointed, but excited to extend our reading lists, we headed down to The Castro, intent on harnessing our hunger with a big, juicy, mouth-watering vegan sandwich. I ruminated all afternoon over VN staffers' rave reviews of Ike's creations, introduced during lunch at VegNews Café. Elizabeth and I approached the sandwich shindig only to discover dimmed lights and somnolent staff. Note to self and fellow San Franciscan sandwich seekers: IKE'S PLACE CLOSES PROMPTLY AT 4:30PM ON BOTH SUNDAY AND MONDAY. OK, well, I guess that gives us ample excuse to plan an upcoming VN staff outing …. and to opt for an alternative cuisine.

Not exactly a sandwich, I know

Slightly more disappointed, but anxious to consume anything edible, preferably nearby, veg-friendly, inexpensive and delicious, we ventured onward, deciding to try our luck down the road at Sunflower Restaurant, another of Elizabeth's Frisco favorites. And what luck we found! A packed (and more importantly, open) dining room on a Monday night can only mean one thing: good food. The large selection of V (Vietnamese, vegetarian, and vegan) options made it oh so difficult to make a decision. Our jovial waiter—apparently the only one on staff—remembered our orders along with those of every other table in place. Impressive! Elizabeth requested the veg noodle soup and I opted for the veg vermicelli; we were both pleased with our choices and the enormous white bowls in which they were delivered. A rainbow of fresh, locally purchased, steamed veggies piled high upon a bed of made-to-order pasta was as tasty as it was beautiful. We left the place having confirmed one profound theory: Food Matters.

Stacy smiles over her hard-earned noodles

Although the evening didn't go precisely, or for that matter, remotely, as predicted, I did come away from the evening boasting first sightings of two noteworthy food icons: Mark and Ike. Reading and tasting will just have to wait for a future date.


Mark said...

Can't wait to read more from you Stacy!

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Oh my, what an adventure! I hope you'll make it to Ike's & order the Vegan Backstabber, it's insanely delicious!