Nom Nom Paleo

Zenbelly Paleo Popup

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Back when we lived in San Francisco — and before we had kids — the vast majority of our meals were eaten in restaurants around town. Henry and I voraciously ate our way through the city, slimming our wallets and fattening our bellies.

These days, restaurant meals are the exception and not the rule, so when we manage to escape for a night out on the town, I try to pick places with insanely great eats — even if the food isn’t always Paleo-compliant. 

But on Saturday night, a group of us nabbed spots at Simone Shifnadel’s Zenbelly Paleo Popup at Coffee Bar in San Francisco, where we dined on super-fresh, gluten/legume/dairy-free farm-to-table fare. Score!

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I first heard of Simone and her catering company, Zenbelly, when she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a community gluten-free kitchen. Since then, we’ve tweeted back and forth and we finally met IRL at the Weston A. Price conference last November. We instantly bonded over our mutual love of food (and sarcasm).

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So when I learned about Simone’s popup dinner, I bought tickets right away. I was amazed at her ability to pull together a Paleo Popup in just a few short weeks, transforming a Potrero Hill coffee shop into a chic, glowing hotspot for Paleo eaters to congregate over a hearty yet refined five-course feast.

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The ambience was perfect and the service was friendly and professional; if it weren’t for the big red “Coffee Bar” sign out front, no one would’ve guessed that the place is ordinarily a coffee-and-sammitch joint.

Ready for a peek at the food?

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A Quick Trip to NYC

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My little cousin Jennifer has a bun in the oven! (Don’t worry: she’s now a bit older than she was in the photo below.)

When she asked if I’d attend her baby shower, the answer was obvious; after all, Jennifer’s always been more like a sister to me than a cousin. Along with my big sister Fiona, we were basically raised by our grandparents while our parents were at work. 

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Poor Jennifer. Because she was an only child starved for companionship, it was easy to cajole her into playing servant to my queen or shoe salesperson to my snobby shopper. I spent a large chunk of my formative years bossing Jennifer around. I’ve been trying to make it up to her ever since.

I couldn’t miss Jennifer’s baby shower. So bright and early on Friday morning, I kissed the kids and hubby goodbye, hopped on a plane, and flew to the opposite coast to help celebrate the little one’s impending arrival. 

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Dining Out: The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena, CA)

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Last night, we zoomed up to Napa Valley to dine with our besties at The Restaurant at Meadowood. We had a lot of celebrating to do: This weekend marks Sidney’s and Jory’s tenth wedding anniversary. Plus, Henry and I are finally toasting our birthdays — albeit a month late.

As an unapologetic restaurant nerd, I couldn’t pass up the chance to dine at The Restaurant at Meadowood — especially since it’s only one of two establishments in California bestowed with three Michelin stars

Our experience at The Restaurant at Meadowood was reminiscent of our meals at Chicago’s Alinea and New York’s Eleven Madison Park. For starters, there’s no menu. Someone at the restaurant contacts you ahead of time to inquire about your food preferences, and then they craft a multicourse tasting menu from the items in their larder that match your picky tastebuds. I hate being a troublesome diner, but hey: they asked. So I told them that Henry and I would prefer a gluten- and legume-free menu. For the price we paid for dinner, I had no qualms about demanding “unique snowflake” treatment.

Here’s a peek at what we ate:

We started with an assortment of canapés…

…which led to whipped yogurt, black sesame, pickled plum, and shiso…

…sunchoke “granola,” sea lettuce, and oysters…

…pumpkin, molé, and ricotta…

…gluten-free bread…

…trout, forgotten herbs (like wormwood!), beets, and quince…

…coal-roasted sturgeon, fermented pear, bone marrow, and parsnip…

…bouillon of roasted meats…

…pheasant, pandan, mushrooms, leek, and prune…

…lamb, shabazi, and dates…

foglie di noce, walnut, and truffle…

…citrus snowball with verbena…

…Asian pear, frankincense, and warm sabayon…

…milk chocolate, potato(!), coffee, and passion fruit…

…frozen raspberry parfait…

…and we ended with an assortment of mignardises.

Afterwards, we were invited to tour the kitchen…

…and thanked the genius crew behind the curtain, including our attentive and charming server, Zion.

We all had a fantastic evening laughing and eating, but one of us had to grab a burger before heading to bed.

I’m such a pig. (Kidding. It wasn’t me.)

Final Day In The Rockies & Dinner at The Kitchen (Boulder, CO)

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With our Paleo seminar duties out of the way, we drove to the nearest watering hole in Estes Park to guzzle gallons of NorCal Margaritas. Okay — not exactly. But I wouldn’t be shocked if the Paleo Police spied a half-dozen of us decompressing over plates of greasy Mexican food and sugary piña coladas. Even after Mel, Holly, and I had talked our heads off all day, we happily babbled away until we shut down the cantina.

After catching some Zs, we were ready to tackle our last full day in Colorado. We had grand plans for Henry's birthday: Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, blending in with the camera-wielding tourists at Elk Fest, eating our way through Boulder, and exploring the haunted hallways of the Stanley Hotel — the inspiration for the spooky Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

But we lost track of time at breakfast with Mel, Dave, and Holly (it was totally their fault for being so damned funny and interesting), and with only a few hours left to cram everything in, it was up to the birthday boy to pick the day’s activity.

What won out?

Ghost tour at the Stanley Hotel with the gang!

Although Henry’s been a fan of “The Shining” since he read it as a kid, the real reason he wanted to visit the Stanley Hotel is so he could impress our seven-year-old with “real-life” stories of hauntings. 

As you may recall, Big-O is obsessed with two things at the moment: Weird Al Yankovic and the macabre. (Remember the ghost tour he took in Seattle?) It’s truly heartwarming that he’s evolving into a weird little pop-culture-spouting nerd, just like his mom and pop.

Henry and I are the two of the biggest skeptics around — we know how Photoshop works — but we made like tape recorders ‘cause we knew our pint-sized ghostbuster would demand a complete debriefing. 

Besides, the hotel is genuinely creepy and unsettling, and I didn’t want to spoil the mood with open mockery. See? I’m not even smirking very much in this photo. I kept on my poker face Polka Face.

To make sure that no ghoul floated past our untrained mortal eyes, we took a zillion photos. From multiple angles. With flash. You know — just in case an orb could be captured in a shot. (In case you didn’t know, “orbs” are evidence of ghostly activity. They’re more commonly referred to as “lens flare” or “dust particles on the camera lens.”)

I think I see one, don’t you? I guess we gotta get our camera cleaned…

(By the way, the photo above shows the door to Room 217, where Stephen King stayed when he dreamt up “The Shining” — and the same room where the characters in the book encounter…something.)

After our spooky tour, we fiercely bear-hugged Holly goodbye as she dashed off to the airport. Ghost stories make me hungry, so Mel, Dave, and Henry, and I hoofed it over to the nearby Mountain Home Cafe for a hearty brunch. Yes, we had breakfast here just the other morning, but Mel and I intently studied the menu again as we waited to be seated. Food nerd habits are hard to break.

My lunch? A bunless grass fed cheeseburger topped with avocado and crisp bacon, accompanied by a side of crunchy sweet potato fries.

The four of us gabbed until the friendly staff gently nudged us out of their restaurant — which was already closed for the day. I love Mel and Dave. For some reason, I just can’t shut up when I’m with them.

So it was with great sadness that we parted ways after brunch. Henry and I had early dinner reservations at The Kitchen in Boulder — an hour’s drive away! — but we wanted to explore the Pearl Street Mall beforehand.

One of the coolest shops we wandered into was Peppercorn. How do I describe this place? It’s kind of like a Bed Bath and Beyond curated by your tasteful-but-crazy foodie hoarder aunt. As we browsed through the immense cookbook section (crammed with tons of Paleo books!), we unexpectedly bumped into Holly, who had taken an impromptu pitstop on the way to the airport. It was like finding another piece of chocolate at the bottom of your purse after thinking you’d eaten ‘em all — the best kind of kismet.

Of course, this meant we had to part ways again — more hugging ensued — before Henry and I headed to his birthday dinner at The Kitchen.

When I’d put out an APB on this blog for a great dining establishment in Boulder, the overwhelming vote was for The Kitchen. It’s a casual farm-to-table neighborhood restaurant with a world-class pedigree.

We were the first ones seated for dinner service, but as the sun sank in the sky, the place quickly filled up.

Look at my handsome birthday buddy!

The Kitchen’s all about feeding the community with fresh ingredients from local farms. 

For our meal, we decided to split a bunch of nibbles and starters and one entrée. We started with Devils on Horseback (balsamic-drizzled seared dates stuffed with cheese and wrapped in crispy speck)…

..prosciutto with cornichons and a tangy mustard…

…duck rillettes topped with a plum and cognac gelée…

…melon salad with lime, Fresno chili, basil, olive oil & black sea salt…

…grilled shrimp with tomatillo sauce and corn relish…

…roasted vegetables with spicy greens and harissa…

…and a grilled pork chop with wood-roasted plums and sprouts.

Throughout dinner, we did our best to hew close to the Paleo straight-and-narrow — until dessert.

We capped off Henry’s birthday dinner with a celebratory affogato and a flourless chocolate cake …

…that we filled with heavy whipping cream.

As we drove the winding mountain road back to Estes Park, a full moon peeked through the clouds, signaling an end to a fun and memorable weekend.

No lie: I’m already planning a return trip to Colorado next year.

Paleo Eats: 9/22/12

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Before I recap my chow for the day, I want to wish my dad a happy, happy birthday. I hope my two sons grow up to be just as righteous as my dad. Rock on, pops!

Plus, he has such a snappy sense of style — something that I sadly failed to inherit.

Back at the hospital, chaos reigned. I was almost too busy to eat my leftovers: meat from my beefy bone broth with Leon’s Miracle Sauce, cherry tomatoes, roasted eggplant, and broccoli.

As soon as I got home, I tumbled into bed. As much as I wish I could’ve attended Big-O’s blue belt ceremony in the morning, my eyes simply wouldn’t stay open.

While I snoozed the day away, the boys pinballed around Palo Alto with their dad, running errands and pretending the Arizona Cactus Garden on the Stanford campus was a hostile planet populated by aliens with sinus problems.

When I finally emerged from my bedroom in the early evening, we drove to Shalizaar — one of my parents’ favorite Persian joints — to celebrate my dad’s birthday.

As you can see from the photo above, Lil-O is a master procrastinator just like his mommy — he didn’t get around to making a birthday card for his grandpa until he was seated RIGHT NEXT TO THE BIRTHDAY BOY at the restaurant. Slick. 

The six of us started with a big salad with tomatoes, red onion, cucumbers, feta, and dried dates (hold the croutons!)…

…and puréed grilled eggplant and garlic (kashk-e-bademjan).

After our appetites had been properly whetted, the meat parade began. Shalizaar is popular ‘round these parts among my meat-loving peoples (a.k.a. Asians) — so much so that Lil-O looked around at the other patrons and asked if we were at a Chinese restaurant.

We dug into a big braised lamb shank…

…and divvied up a couple of platters of combo meat platters.

Our plates were piled with grilled lamb chops and Cornish game hens…

…marinated prawns…

…and koobideh (seasoned ground beef kabobs).

We enjoyed everything with generous dollops of mast-o-khiar — yogurt mixed with dried mint and pepper, and topped with diced cucumber.

It would’ve been a perfect Saturday night…if I hadn’t had to pack up and drive off into the night for another graveyard shift. But hey — the bacon doesn’t pay for itself.