My Labor Day weekend had very little to do with labor, and everything to do with long days of wandering, writing, and eating. Three lethargic days showing inquisitive and delightful Anthony around the city, and time elevating my knee, cursing my clumsiness, and trying not to cry whenever the thought of not being able to run the marathon crept into my mind. On Saturday morning, I tripped and fell while running, landed directly on my knee, and it hasn’t been reacting well. It doesn’t really bend. I can’t stand for a long period of time, so going to the grocery store or cooking hasn’t sounded like much fun. A good excuse to eat out. A lot. So on Saturday morning (post-pavement encounter), Linnea, Anthony and I all piled into the car and headed over to the Dogpatch, fast becoming my new favorite neighborhood in SF. It was once the industrial center of town (if you could call it a “center” of anything), and much industry still remains. It’s gritty, it’s often sunny when the rest of the city isn’t, there are big deserted lots, sweet hidden galleries, independent jewelers and furniture designers, and lunch windows serving out of loading docks. It’s got spunk. And it’s got Serpentine, a corner restaurant on 3rd, touting “honest food and classic cocktails.” And a damn fine brunch.
Serpentine is truly light and airy. It seems these days people use those words to describe virtually every restaurant with large windows and an open floor plan. But it’s the real deal here. With its high ceilings and sea-glass fixtures, it feels more like a magical city loft than a fully functioning restaurant. In addition, much of the typical restaurant din (clanking spoons, steaming milk, martini shakers) is strangely absent. And not because the place was empty (in the photo above, it was…but we closed the place down). Serpentine is quiet and serene, the perfect spot to roll out of bed and stumble into. It almost welcomes you with open arms.
But if all of this were true and the food was lousy, none of it would matter. Such is not the case. The food is thoughtful: each component selected to complement the others in terms of taste, color, and texture. The best part about going out with a few open-minded friends is sharing everything. So begins our eating pilgrimage: we ordered the Alaskan sockeye salmon benedict ($13.50) with fried green tomatoes, pickled red onion, and lemon cumber. Truthfully it was a little heavy on the potatoes and the fried green tomatoes were noticeably absent. But the salmon was cooked perfectly and the hollandaise sauce was surprisingly light and creamy. It was a beautifully layered dish–I just would’ve loved to see the tomatoes amongst the mix.
Next we shared the “red flannel hash,” the best brunch dish I’ve had in quite some time. It consisted of chunks of perfectly roasted beets, potatoes, Prather Ranch beef brisket, two poached eggs, and spinach ($13.50). It was filling but not in a ‘stack of pancakes’ kind of way. More in a fresh, balanced, satiated way. I love the combination of runny eggs on top of beets and perfectly tender brisket. My chubby sixth grade self reared her ugly head, and I had a little trouble sharing this one.
We also ordered a few smaller dishes: the housemade granola with blossom bluff peaches ($4.50) and the buckwheat pancake with strawberries, walnuts, and whipped cream ($5.50). The granola wasn’t anything special. It was lovely, with thinly sliced, perfectly ripe peaches. But something I could (and do) put together at home.
The pancake, however, I would order again. There were actually strawberries baked inside and on top, and the maple syrup was the most buttery I have ever tasted. With a little black coffee, this would be all you’d really need on a foggy morning with nothing much on the agenda.
All in all, the food was seasonal, conscious, and well-executed. This is a true neighborhood restaurant. It’s tucked away, so you have to seek it out. But once you find it, you’ll be back. This may be my new favorite brunch spot as it seems the usual mid-day weekend crowd hasn’t yet descended, so there isn’t an obscenely long wait and you don’t feel guilty lingering over numerous cups of coffee. Which is exactly what we did.
Serpentine: 2495 3rd St. (between 20th and 22nd St.) (415) 252-2000
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)