Debauching the Sloth
Chaz Brenchley's irregular food supplemental
Ah now, what a day we had yesterday, people. What a day.
I’m a devout foodie and Karen approves wholeheartedly of this whole eating thing, but we didn’t actually go out much even before the pandemic: it was an occasional treat, rather than a regular indulgence.
Since lockdown? We’ve been to one restaurant maybe twice, and we get takeout dim sum for lunch every Sunday. Otherwise, I have cooked or otherwise prepped everything that either one of us has eaten, this last three years and more.
Yesterday, good friends whom we had not seen since lockdown had invited us to join them at an outdoor restaurant—not quite a pop-up, but it’s only there on Sundays and in season—where they’d literally been waiting years to land a table.
People, we were excite.
So we drove up the peninsula to their house, and carpooled across the Bay to Berkeley, to the Hearst Museum of Anthropology. There we found our way to an open courtyard which proclaimed itself Café Ohlone.
The Ohlone were and are the indigenous people of this area; this particular sub-group—our family, they call themselves—have been in the East Bay continuously since time immemorial, which means since their own creation story, despite both Spanish and American attempts to drive them away or destroy them altogether. Here they have preserved and cherished their language, their culture—and, blessedly, their foodways.
Members of the family created Café Ohlone to share those foodways, something of their history, something of their customs. It was a privilege to be there and listen to them, and a privilege to eat what they’d prepared.
Also, it was all of it delicious.
We ate fried sea lettuce, and a gathered salad of leaves and herbs and nuts and berries and flowers, and soft-boiled American quail eggs (a different species from the European quail, since you ask).
We ate mussels and clams and lion’s-mane mushrooms in a kombu broth, and crisp-roasted salty potatoes (not actually the native variety, because that currently survives in too-small numbers to harvest, but fingerlings made a close-ish substitution), and fiddleheads.
We ate berries with a whipped cream of elderflower and ground candy-cap mushrooms, and chia-seed flour brownies baked with unsweetened chocolate, local black walnuts and locally-harvested salt.
We, ah, may’ve had seconds of some of that. Not admitting to thirds.
It was a slow, a measured, a perfect experience. I adored every minute of it: everything we heard, everything I put in my mouth.
And then it was back to our friends’ house, and hours of conversation in their den, enlivened by a tasting flight of uncommon spirits: a Calvados made with pears as well as apples, which I’d never come across before; a 21-year-old (!) applejack; a rye that was new to me; and not one but two distinctly different honeyed spirits out of Poland.
Food and fun and lovely people: it was a glorious day. Glorious.