Sunday, August 30, 2009

TransRockies (Part 1- Caitlin's perspective)

Wow, what an experience. 6 days, 113 miles, 20,000+ feet of gain. Laughter, tears, fights and friendships the Gore TransRockies had it all. Together Caitlin and I ran a great race, weathered the ups and downs and were victorious in the Open Women's Field. I am still wrapping up in Colorado, so will start you off with a taster of our experience by offering Caitlin's take on the race. I will follow up soon with my own blow by blow! I will be back next year!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Campsite Top Chef

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Curried Lentils with Roast Carrots, Stir-Fry Broccoli with garlic, onions and spices, Greek Salad, Chili-Spiked Roast Butternut squash, Chili loaded with organic veg, Corn on the Cob roasted in the Husk. Sounds like something straight out of a hardworking, well equipped kitchen right? Sure it does, but that would be easy. All of that was created while camping out here in Leadville, using little more than a campfire, a JetBoil, a little camp stove and a few tupperware containers.

I have been delighted to find out how easy it is to still create amazing dishes while "roughing it". We have eaten well, not had to sacrifice flavor, health and gotten to be hugely creative in the meantime.

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Our first night of cooking we decided to experiment with roasting under the hot coals of the fire. I had picked up some butternut squash, carrots and corn for roasting at Alpine Natural Grocery in Frisco and with a few simple additions from Bryon's backseat pantry, we were in business. I only had a very small paring knife that I picked up for 2 bucks so I painstakingly peeled and cut up the Butternut Squash and then tossed it with some Chili powder, fresh garlic cloves and olive oil. I did the same for the carrots. We folded them up nice and tight and put them under the hot coals of the fire. We left the corn in the husks and wrapped those in foil as well. We slightly buried the packets under the coals, way from the direct heat. The sound of the oil in the packets sizzling wetted our appetites. Meanwhile, I put together a great Greek salad and added avocado. Tomato, fresh spring greens, red onion, cucumber, local goat cheese and avocado, topped with a easy red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing. We pulled it out of the fire when we intuitively knew it was done and voila, perfectly tender butternut squash and carrots. It was so amazing to have this success after proceeding with the technique we had never tried before. There was a lot of high-fiving after we took the first few bites. It was damn good.

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The roast vegetable packets were amazing and the salad was a fresh, bright counterpoint. The whole meal just popped and was quite satisfying. After this meal, my mind was churning with the infinite possibilities for the next few nights. The success of the coal roasting unleashed so much potential!

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The next night we were hungry for something hearty and interested in trying out multiple techniques. We again roasted some carrots in the fire. We also cooked some wild rice on a friend's gas burner. Bryon carefully and tediously cooked up some lentils over a small campstove which pretty much requires constant attention. I utilized the jetboil and stir-fried up some broccoli with onions, garlic and spices. It was really quite good, well rounded and proved once again that good quality ingredients simply prepared make amazing meals.

I come back to it time and time again, good food, healthful food, gourmet food is not rocket science. It can be quite easy in fact. Good quality ingredients, simple techniques can produce profound results! I for one am continually excited about the possibilities for cooking, eating and discovering. There is always more to learn and explore! It is exciting!

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Hopes, Fears and Getting High (Rocky Mtn, that is)

The sunset above was a sight met with mixed emotions on Tuesday night. I was far behind where I should have been in terms of my driving to Colorado, due to slow going on I-80 because of construction. We are talking 4hrs slow, driving less than 50 mph for the first 8 hrs. Therefore, the fact that the sun was setting was a bit disheartening but at the same time, a sunset is still a sunset. It is a beautiful moment in time, it cannot be rushed, it need not be. It reminded me too, that I was in no rush. The reality of the situation was that I was on my way to Leadville to acclimatize for TransRockies which was, at that moment, more than a week and a half away. There were no appointments to keep, no pressure to arrive on time. I had hoped to make it in time to run a double Hope Pass crossing with Bryon Powell on Wednesday morning, but even so, I told him to go without me if I hadn't arrived in time.

But for whatever reason, I still was feeling moody and stressed. I felt anxious and at the time I could not figure out why. I am, after all, use to all this rambling right? I have been "homeless" for nearly a year and have become very comfortable just being wherever I am. That said, I realized, as I swam through my feelings, that this is one of the first adventures since London where I simply decided to just go. Without much of a concrete plan or itinerary or direction. That is very different to the very calculated and thought out plans of most of my travels. Usually I have a clear direction and plan. Usually I have a soft landing, somewhere to go, some sort of structure. What I had, in this case, was just a friend willing to share a campsite and my own desire to acclimatize, which requires me to simply "be", just at altitude. Like London, I desired to just show up and figure it out from there. But that is also something I have become unaccustomed to. After leaving London, I lost a bit of that adventurous spirit somehow in the quest to "move on" with my life. And move on towards what? I think when I came down from my London experience, I got caught up in idea of figuring out my direction, I got caught up in my very own Threat Level Orange. I have talked enough about it that is certain. One of the things I have begun to work on in addition to being Here and Now, is letting go of the safe bets, the safe choice, the safe path and regaining the adventurous spirit that is a bright part of me. The fact of the matter is, I am perfectly comfortable with the unknown. I am happy as a pig in s**t, having just a few belongings in my car, setting up a tent and camping out (first time camping ever, some much fun) and that being the extent of things shaping my day to day. It is a great exercise for me to wade deep into the uncertainty, into spontaneity, and leap without looking. It is further helping me to regain myself, my power. In alot of ways it is a small thing, in other ways it is everything. But needlesstosay, it is empowering to wake up each morning and say "how will I create today? The possibilities are endless".
Somewhere, high above is Hope Pass.

And after all that, I still made it to run Hope Pass. It took 22 hrs to do an 18 hr drive, but I made it. I was able to get a 2 hr nap in at 3:30am, or should I say I was forced to take one. Thankfully Bryon was able to stall his friend Paul for a bit and I made it up to the trailhead without having to delay them too much. No better way to shake out your legs and start acclimatizing than start running straight up a mountain starting at 9,300 feet!

Looking up at Hope Mtn
As I have said, I feel like I have become a better climber and hill runner. But also, since this is a relatively new development for me, I still sometimes somehow think my fitness is a clever ruse. And so, while I was super excited to test myself on Hope Pass, I was also desperately hoping that my legs would once again shatter my doubts and fears. And they did. Sure, my heart was racing, my lungs were heaving due to the elevation but I could tell that I was fit. I could tell that underneath the mask of not being acclimatized was a whole new uphilling me. I keep talking about the whole running uphill thing because, well, as I said, it is pretty new to me. I have been average on the ups for so long and dreaded them so much, that it is so refreshing to run up 3,000 feet and exclaim (between gasps for air) "this is freaking awesome! I loved that climb".

Bryon at the top of Hope Pass, after coming up the North Slope (the "fun" direction)

The air up there. Me smiling at the top of Hope Pass, 12,500 feet up.


View down the North Slope

The run up for the first crossing was more runnable than the second. The North Slope up which we started is a bit more gradual, which is to say still not the most runnable trail ever. I pushed where I could, my heart beating at an insanely high rate and power walked when I couldn't. I enjoyed myself which is definitely the point. Running down the South Slope was a bit dodgy. The South Slope is the "un-fun" side because there is lots of loose rock and slippy dirt. It is pretty technical and steep which I demonstrated the dangers of by slipping and buckling both ankles under me and skidding on my shin and hand, which was a small price to pay for keeping myself on the trail and not off the cliff. I ended up being extremely cautious going down the rest of the way and prepared myself mentally for seeing this climb in the opposite direction. We spent a few minutes chatting at the South Slope trailhead, I took a Vespa and off we went. It was good that we were doing both directions since the South Slope uphill is the direction that TransRockies goes. It was brutal. It was awful. It was painful. It was awesome and I am glad to have done it once before race day.
Almost there, just 500 more vertical feet. Looking up the South Slope.

Once we got to the top of Hope Pass again, it was time for some fun. The more runnable North Slope makes for a fun bombing downhill. I was feeling a bit light headed (lack of oxygen?) and the tops of my feet were feeling bruised up from pacing at Headlands on Sat/Sun, but I clipped down the hill with a bit less trepidation. Arriving at the bottom, I kicked off my shoes, and went straight into the frosty creek. It was such a nice reward for a tough run. 4 1/2 hrs, maybe 18-20 miles, tons of fun, emotion and experience.

I look forward to the rest of my time in Colorado. I love it here. It is very "me", I could see myself living here. I am looking forward to feeling more acclimatized, exploring some awesome trails and watching the Leadville 100 (tomorrow the mtn bike race and next sat, the run- and I am not mad at all that there are tons of cute cyclists wandering around Leadville today). I am also making plans to hit up CO springs, Vail and Boulder while I am here. Before I know it, it will be race time and Caitlin and I will be throwing down against some awesome competition. Exciting!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Road Food- what's your excuse

I am back on the road again. Up in Colorado trying to acclimatize to the killer altitude before running TransRockies from Aug 23-28th. I know it will be hard enough just to run, so I wanted to minimize the suffering where I can. That means 3 weeks pretty much without a kitchen. Am I worried, heck no! I am a "carry on, make it work" kinda girl. I am camping out and we have a few useful tools and I am likely going to pick up odds and ends, so I have essentially the kitchen necessities. Whenever I am without a "real" kitchen I think back to when I was at culinary school and we spent a day on an organic farm. We picked a bunch of fresh produce and then cooked a 3 course, amazingly delicious meal right there on a few portable burners. So I proceed without fear or trepidation when faced with the minimal accommodations.

In fact, I am excited to cook out over the fire tonight. I mean nestling some root veg & corn down under the hot coals wrapped in foil? Kale salad with fresh tomatoes. The possibilities are quite exciting.

But most healthier or conscious eaters are not excited by the prospect of road eating. I get asked more than anything when I road trip, especially considering my special needs, what do you eat? Most people think of fast food restaurants and chains when they think of road trips. Not me! I make a bee-line for the nearest grocery store and can put together something that fits with my foodie philosophy pretty much anywhere.

Take for instance, the delicious salad above. I was somewhere in middle of nowhere Utah and managed to eat a completely organic salad. I just grabbed some organic baby mixed greens, a package of those pre-cut stir fry veggies (cabbage, carrots, broccoli and sugar snap peas), and some Amy's organic salad dressing. I topped it with some packaged cooked grilled chicken (free-range, vegetarian) that I was pleasantly surprised to find. It was a great complete meal and I didn't have to succumb to eating fast food. I have done this all over and never cease to be surprised to find what some grocery stores have in places where you would never expect it. For instance, I once went to a middle of nowhere grocery store in West Virginia and they not only had Kombucha, but they had an extensive gluten free selection, lots of organic products and even a bulk section. If I had judged it by the location (near nothing) or by its seemingly "unorganic" structure (think mega market), I would have missed out on a great opportunity to eat healthy on the road.

I think what it comes down to while out on the road is priorities. I feel better when I eat healthy and avoid my trigger foods, thus I go out of my way to be prepared. I bring a few back up items with me (like Vega shake mix and rice bread) and do a bit of pre-planning  when I can (locating if possible the nearest natural food store). And I never feel put out or like I spend any more time than I usually do shopping and preparing. Plus, it is always a fun adventure, keeps me on my culinary toes to see what I can pull off. The way I think about it is, I can fail in a kitchen as quickly as I can fail over a camp fire, but it would be even worse if I never tried!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Here I am

On Thursday, I got a wild hare and decided that I really, really wanted to come back to Seattle for a visit. I haven't been "home" in 3 months practically and the promise of warm weather, great friends and good running, simply called to me through the SF cold, gray summer. I snapped up one of the last seats on a Saturday flight home (forgetting it was Seafair, as I pondered how things were so booked) and was back in Seattle in no time. It is refreshing to be home. I was excited to see my mom and very happy that my bestest everest friend Jonathan is on vacation AND doing his peak training for CCC100, which starts the same day as TR ends (and sadly I miss out on pacing him!).

As soon as I booked my ticket, Jonathan and I made plans to run on Sunday morning. We decided that we would do the last 32 miles of the CCC100 course if we could coordinate cars with Linda who was joining a larger group of CCC-ers who were doing the same portion of the course. Jonathan had headed out on part of the same portion of the course with the boys on Saturday and Linda had done another section of the course with the same group she would be with for Sunday. Thankfully, the plan worked and at 6:45am Jonathan was scooping me up for the long drive out to Kachess Lake.

The elevation profile of our run (missing the first miles on Trail from Hell from the Kachess Lake)

Cascade Crest 100 course map, we ran from Kachess Lake to end.

Cascade Crest is definitely no joke. It has 20+k of gain and at least 7,000 of that is in the section we were going to run. I paced last year and did a good deal of this section at night, including the Trail from Hell which is where we started.

We arrived and were ready to go outfitted with a hydration pack each and two handhelds each, since this section of the course was pretty remote. Jonathan had gotten some water purfication tablets so that we could drink out of the few streams along the course. And by few, I mean few. We were a few hours in before we hit water once and had to be especially careful about rationing the water. When we got out of the car, the larger group which had organized together was coming into the parking area where we were going to start from. They had run in from outside the parks gates. There were about 7-8 including friends Linda, Jamie, Eric, Steve, Shawna, Joe, Arthur and a few I am less familiar with but know I know (you know what I mean), there was also a larger group of early starters who we would pass along the trail at various times. Jonathan and I had planned that we would run together and do our own thing. It was fun to chat with the group as we started out on the Trail from Hell. The Trail from Hell is very technical and there are lots of very steep cliffs that would certainly equal demise if you slipped and fell off (which I tried to do at least once). Jonathan hung back to talk with Linda (my twin) to discuss her plan for the day and any contingencies. Meanwhile, I chatted it up with Eric and Steve. We were being snap happy when Jonathan caught up to us and we took off on our own pace.

Jonathan is super tough and I am super tall. That or we are standing on a cliff on the Trail From Hell. Photo by Eric

Eric, Steve and I a few minutes onto the Trail from Hell. Photo by Eric

Steve and I smiling because the suffering has only just begun. Photo by Eric

I am kind of a spaz and it didn't help that I wore old road shoes for this run since my Salomon Whispers were dead, dead, dead and I didn't have the chance to get my package of shoes from my team (Salomon Racing Team!) before I left. These trails are definitely better done with some traction. I slipped numerous times, cracked my head on a tree branch (that apparently owen had hit the day before) and nearly fell off a cliff because of the head bonk. By the time we got off the Trail from Hell. I was scrapped, scratched and broken in. At least this time, if felt alot shorter. It is a fun trail that borders the edge of Kachess Lake and is super pretty. Jonathan and I used the opportunity to catch up on life and times and tell all sorts of funny stories.

We were to Mineral Creek in "no time", thinking we had just arrived there behind Joe and Shawna as I had seen them just off down the trail ahead of us. However, as we got out on the gravel road, we realized that they had missed the turn to Mineral Creek and got mis-directed, as Jonathan and the boys had done the day before. We contemplated turning around to retrieve them, but the trail they were on dead ends and the turn they missed was actually pretty well marked with ribbons from the organizer of the larger group. It was getting quite warm and I was sipping judiciously on my water and taking my Saltstick caps. It was a lot hotter than I have been training in, but I was also concerned about running out since we did not know when we would actually find water. That is a scary thing. We ran and walked up the road for a while, then stopped for a snack. I ate one of my delicious peanut butter protein bars by Macrobar and we were quickly underway. Jonathan had told me that at any time if I wanted to run the hill, I could just take off and wait for him at the top. My calves were pretty tight after already running 93 miles that week before we started including a 27 road run on Thursday and a 23 hilly hammerfest on Friday. I hadn't decided to take off but after our short stop, I decided that I should challenge myself and just freaking get going and up to the top. I headed off and powered my way all the way up. I felt really good.

When I got to the top, I waited (but not for very long) for Jonathan and then we headed towards the infamous "Needles". Jonathan commented that my running form on the hills had significantly improved and that I was running with a great deal of efficiency. It was nice to hear, since I rarely get any outside indicator of how my form is. Jonathan and I had talked on the way up about what I spoke about in my last blog post. We talked about the Here and Now and how ultimately cultivating your future is "as simple" as being fully present here and now. Being fully present means being a participant in your own life, not passively being pushed along or anything else. In that moment, as we ran up that ridge I was able to really feel like I was coming around a corner that leads further and further away from that place of crisis, so oft occupied. It is something that is ongoing, but there is something about being high up in the mountains on the top of the world, doing what you love that makes you feel like you are on top of the world (har har) and can conquer/do/be anything. Life is beautiful and for the most part simple when we let it be. I am learning, always learning which is part of the fun too.
Heading up to No Name Ridge, 3 miles of up after 5 miles of "Hell".

Where we finally found water and lots of bugs. Thank goodness for water purification tablets.

We anticipated that the whole run would take us between 6-7 hours with stops (because the clock doesn't stop in a race when you do that is for sure!) and before we were even to Thorpe Mtn (though over a few of the needles) we were in dire need for some water. Thankfully we happened upon a little stream and filled up. It makes it a bit less scary to know that you have full bottles! We were running well through the Needles, which are really just a series of intensely steep climbs, followed by narrow single track usually along a intense drop off on the side of a ridge! And did I mention, with very little tree cover. It was awesome. My calves got a bit tight going up some of the steeper climbs when I was getting low on water, but I actually felt strong enough to bound up and over some super steep places where I never before would have been able to dream of running. It was great.
High atop the Cascades. Heading up to Thorpe Mtn.

Jonathan at the ranger station on Thorpe Mtn.

We made it to the top in good time and made the final push up to the Ranger Station/Fire Look out on the top of the mountain. Some of the early starters were refueling up there and we stopped for a chat and mentally prepared ourselves for a bit of down, then two more ups (the last two needles) and then the long,long, long "7 miles" of downhill. I remember from pacing last year that that 7 miles of downhill felt more like 20 and was a very intense stretch. Plus, you pound the crap out of your legs.

Finally over the last needle. Yeah! Jonathan and I are very happy.

Jonathan is the best training partner, ever. At least for me. We tend to race at similar times and thus are usually doing peak training at the same time. Jonathan and I have been running together since my first trail night run last year in May. Over that time, we have learned how to push, motivate and support one another. We always have fun and it was such a great decision to come back this weekend.

We made it down to French Cabin, which means you are done with the Needles and just have on climb over a pass before hitting the 7 miles of downhill. Jonathan has been struggling with a foot injury that for the most part had not bothered him on our run. Downhill is a bigger irritant to his foot than anything, so we just decided to see how we felt on the down. It was funny because after hammering a few miles of the downhill, we stopped and said, wow we are really getting into race mode (aka pounding the crap out of ourselves) and we had a quick snack. We got more water from a stream, which made us both feel much better and I went both feet into the icy cool stream as well as hat and head. It felt great, but moments later when we started to run again my wet road shoes met tree branch and I slipped and fell hard on my face. Fun.

It felt like forever getting down to Silver Creek but in a way no time at all either. We had been running for a good portion of the day under the beating hot sun and yet, I felt I could keep on going. Sure my legs were tired, but I was so blissed out, I didn't want it to end. From Silver Creek to the cafe where the group had parked their cars is somewhat anticlimactic. You go from sweet single track in the mountains to running on a MTB dirt path under some powerlines before turning on to a road that parallels I-5. Sure you have to get to the start/finish somehow, but it still is a bit of a downer. Granted, it also motivates you to haul tail since you have no interest in lingering.
"7 miles" of downhill. But at least we are over the Needles. Photo by Jonathan

Somewhere closing in on the end. Nice cool shade. Photo by Jonathan.

We hit the road and zoomed back into the parking lot, happy, thirsty and tired. It was a true epic. Jeff, the organizer of the larger group, had a sign in and out sheet on his car and had left bananas and watermelon for everyone to have. I dove face first into a giant piece of watermelon and it tasted absolutely divine. This run proved one thing: I am fit and I am ready. Jonathan is definitely fit and ready for CCC100 and I am bummed I won't be there to pace him (unless someone figures out a way to teleport me from the finish of TR to Hyak in the same day).

I am happy to be home, though I am not doing anything special per se. I am just here and that is enough. It is nice just to be here for no other reason than that. It is now the beginning of taper time for TR. We are three weeks out and so I will be cutting back my mileage a bit. I PR'd for a training week's worth of mileage last week with 125 miles, which makes me even more impressed with how good I felt on this run since it was miles 93-125. The most I have run in 7 days is 146, which was Saturday of last week to Friday of this week. That bodes really well for my fitness at TR. Ah life, I love it!

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

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Yes, its that old saying: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Its funny when I decided to name this post that since I realized as I made my beautiful salad, that what I am really imitating is myself. Let me clarify. There is a cafe in the Marina in San Francisco that I adore called Blue Barn. I go there very often to get a fresh, delicious, organic salad. I love their salads, but the truth of the matter is, I only ever get one salad and it is a combination I chose myself utilizing their "You pick your own" salad option. You get a choice of greens, 6 toppings and can add avocado or protein for an extra dollar. Their dressings are delicious, my personal favorite being the grain mustard vinaigrette (which is gf & vegan). Heck, its probably the reason that I keep on going back.

However, there are (many) times when I am not available to drive into San Francisco and get a $10 salad, or I am not in the area at all. Should I do without? Say it isn't so. So it dawned on me one day that I must figure out how to make that dressing on my own. I played with it and ultimately, found a dressing which mimicked that at Blue Barn. It is easy enough to gather the ingredients that I ALWAYS pick when I make my salad there and now am able to enjoy a taste of my favorite joint, wherever I am. Sadly, I don't have a cute chinese takeout box to put mine in like they serve theirs.

Devon's Favorite Salad


For this salad, I use the following vegetables & then when I want to make it heartier I top with a few ounces of meat such as in the picture (leftover BBQ'd chicken):

Spring/Mixed Greens

Jicama, julienned

Carrots, julienned

Cherry tomatoes

Beets (Raw or cooked, whatever is on hand)

Roasted Bell peppers

Avocado

And one of the following (again what is on hand): grilled portabello mushroom, caramelized onions, garbanzo beans or red onion

Ingredients for Dressing:


2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tbsp grain mustard

2 tsp agave nectar

1 cup good olive oil

salt and pepper

Directions:


In a blender, blend all ingredients except the olive oil together. Then with the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil in until the dressing emulsifies. Makes several servings.

(more below picture)

[caption id="attachment_594" align="aligncenter" width="1024" caption="PB filled deliciousness. Nice crisp outside, soft on the inside. Yum."]PICT0029[/caption]

Another thing I have taken keen interest in imitating but in a gluten free fashion is peanut butter filled pretzels. I love pb pretzels but haven't found a brand that does them gluten free. I have taken it upon myself to create such a product. Maybe just for me, maybe for the world.



This was my first attempt at working them out. They were good, not great. But still pretty darn tasty. I need to work out the xanthan gum amount, or better yet, work with a gluten free flour mix that already includes it (which is much easier yeah). I am going to re-write the recipe and do much more perfecting before I post the recipe (if I ever do, who knows I could come up with an amazing secret formula I patent and produce for the world). I am excited about continuing to work on this though. After that, I am going to start work on my own on the run nutrition bars and see if I can create my own ultimate running food.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nopa

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="840" caption="Image from Nopa's wensite, Nopasf.com"]Image from Nopas wensite, Nopasf.com[/caption]

When I was trying to figure out somewhere to go to dinner with my friend Hollis in San Francisco, I decided to check out the webpage for Nopa which is less than a mile from where I use to live when I was still full time in SF. As soon as I spied the words: local, organic, seasonal and simple, I picked up the phone and made my reservation. Rave reviews abound and the promise of food that fits my model for eating, health, sustainability and is still gourmet, made me really excited to try it out. I have, for the most part, not had the opportunity to explore the SF food scene. I hadn't been in SF enough to make real work of exploring (my goal is to try one new restaurant a week!) the food scene, so this was just the chance I needed to do said exploration.

I arrived at Nopa on a blustery, cold summer evening and while my guest wasn't there yet, they gave me the option to be seated at my table, away from the cold draft that came in everytime the door opened. I was lucky enough to sit upstairs and the whole restaurant really jives with my sense of style. The upstairs is more of a balcony, overlooking a huge, high ceiling, open space. The kitchen is open as well, and I could scope out some of the things being prepared from a bird's eye view. The bar on the main level was packed (it was 7pm) and I was happy to have a reservation since the drop-ins that had requested space before I was seated were looking at a minimum 1.5 hr wait. My waiter came quickly, brought me a tall glass of cool water and took my drink order with speed. I decided to try a White Manhattan. I was intrigued since I had recently read a blog about Death's Door Liquor and that it was NOT overrated and in fact quite good. I also really like Manhattans and was keen to try the interesting twist. Needlesstosay, it was a success. Enough spin and enough tradition.

Hollis soon joined me and we tucked into conversation, neglecting out menus profusely. The waiter, who I found intensely endearing and fitting- he had the style of a mission barista with the service of fine dining, made himself present and available to take our order but did not rush us. When we finally got around to looking at the menu, I was feeling a bit daring. I have been thinking alot lately about trying new things and foods I have never tried before and figured instead of opting for something I knew I would like (like the amazing summer melon salad with sheep's milk feta & basil that Hollis got), I decided to try Grilled Monterey Sardines with cherry tomato confit and spiced chickpeas. Can you believe I have never had Sardines? Well, these were the real deal-whole fish, simply and beautifully prepared. Despite the fact that I hate little bones, I made me way through the flavorful dish. The spiced chickpeas were crunchy and well, spicy and tomato confit perfectly offset the sardines flavor. As I mentioned, Hollis' summer melon salad was delicious. The flavors popped and you could taste all the best of summer in each bite. The basil was the perfect element to draw out all the layers of flavor.

For my main dish, I was absolutely drawn to the Moroccan vegetable tagine with toasted almonds. I got it sans lemon yogurt, which was not a problem. Hollis got the Northern Halibut with roasted early girl tomatoes, grilled summer squash and arugula. Even though SF is in the midst of one of its typical summers and is very cold, I didn't necessarily want a heavy dish. I wanted the flavors of summer in a warming dish and the tagine absolutely delivered! The vegetables were intensely flavored and crisp tender. The Moroccan spices warmed my palate but the dish itself was not laden with out of season vegetables. It was highly successful. Hollis' dish sang of summer. It was light and fresh. Everything that crossed our table really exuded the local, organic, seasonal nature of this restaurant. It was completely self-evident in the food. That absolutely delights me. The menu is very eclectic and covers a good range of flavor profiles. There is a burger on the menu that had me thinking all week (and ultimately creating one for myself at home) about the perfect burger, but there were also many other options available. Their wine/spirits list was extensive and thoughtful. The waiter paired my Sardines with a delightful red (mourvedre carignan syrah Languedo 2006) that complimented the dish impeccably. They put as much thought into their wine/spirits as they do their food, so no matter what you find on the menu to drink, it is not there thoughtlessly.

I will return to Nopa. It was genuinely good and I am hopeful that their food and wine philosophy sets a precedent that return meals will be as equally seasonal, thoughtful and plesantly surprising as my first visit.

Nopa on Urbanspoon

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