Yes, there is something about simple, local, fresh, light food that just makes an eater feel good about herself and at one with the earth. And then there's something about simple, local, fresh, fried food that makes an eater remember that her true love lies not with light and healthy but rather, breaded and fatty.
Yet in a way, the food at Barbara's Fishtrap in Half Moon Bay is kind of like the Chez Panisse menu. Allow me to explain.
The ingredients are local and fresh: Hello! The sea is right there!
The dishes are simply prepared: These oysters aren't even cooked!
And the food is light: Well, OK. The portions were a bit on the gigantic side. And fried food generally isn't light. You've got me there.
But after two nights of eating at restaurants where the patrons are well-versed in wine and cheese and expected to eat with a knife and fork, I welcomed the big plate of seafood tempura (fish, calamari, scallops, and shrimp), the coleslaw, the cold beer, the tacky-in-a-charming-way decor, and the freedom to pig out with my hands and slurp all I wanted.
Oh, and I slurped. First, the clam chowder.
And I know I said this in my last post about the tea at Chez Panisse, and I probably lose a bit of credibility (what little I may have) every time I say this, but this is seriously the best clam chowder I've ever had. Of course, I don't really have much to compare it to, since I never really eat clam chowder. I have this idea that clam chowder is usually gloopy and chowdery, which just aren't appetizing words. From now on, every clam chowder I ever eat will be compared to this one, and will probably lose horribly, because this clam chowder is awesome.
I slurped this oyster, too, because oysters are meant to be slurped. I've tried a raw oyster once before, in Paris, and I remembered it being cold and slimy and nothing special. After my second try, I still don't see what all the fuss is about. Sorry. They were good and all, and I'll eat them again, but I'm not freaking out about them or anything. Not like the chowder. Oh God, that chowder...
So, I suppose I should confess and say that Barbara's Fishtrap in Half Moon Bay is nothing like Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Chez Panisse grows fresh and local from the ground; Barbara's Fishstrap grows fresh and local from the sea. Chez Panisse is world-famous and Alice Waters is heavily worshipped in some foodie circles. Barbara's Fishtrap is a type of hidden, hole-in-the-wall gem that you'd never know to visit unless you have a sister who likes planning fun excursions and researches the hell out of places. And who is Barbara? The world may never know.
But it's all about the food, really. Both restaurants could become merely overrated, overpriced establishments that sell nothing but a label. But they're not. They just focus on good food with good ingredients -- fried, steamed, baked, raw, whatever -- that you can't get anywhere else. And those types of restaurants are hard to come by. Right, Mira?