Witness to the slaughter


It happened before we were ready, which is often the way with death.
Walking toward the barn, a 22-caliber rifle popped once. Then again. The sound, unmistakable.
Despite being barely 8 a.m. in the morning, Chef John Stewart and I rush toward a small pig sty in the freezing hills north of Santa Rosa. "Damn. We missed it," I said, having spent the previous 24-hours emotionally girding myself to watch a 300-pound animal die at my feet. The pigs had been shot. The slaughter doesn't wait.

Moss Room Restaurant at the California Academy of Sciences


The menu is brief, with a strong focus on seafood. Because the duo are committed to using line-caught, ecologically-harvested foods, expect to see ingredients change up frequently. Best appetizer bets: Grilled squid with jalapeno pesto and chickpeas ($11) or salt cod fritters with peppers and lemon aioli ($9). The pork terrine ($11) brought over from Coco500 was a huge disappointment, served too cold to be very enjoyable to eat. (Think cold bacon grease.)
Where things get really interesting are with entrees: A perfectly poached line-caught black cod blanketed by its own crisp skin, Himalayan truffles and wild mushrooms ($26) or rich Kobe beef with charmoula, a Moroccan marinade ($25). What could be a spice-rack gone wrong in less adept hands becomes a rich, perfumed, exotic experience. Other dishes pasta with duck, pork loin and a whole baked fish.
The wine list features a handful of organic and sustainable wines, along with a healthy number of wines by the glass. Californian and European wines are fairly equally represented, but what's even more fascinating are a number of beers and ales and specialty cocktails featuring artisan distilleries (and made with no more than three ingredients).
Pace yourself to include dessert. Though ice cream always seems a cop-out to me, pastry chef Rachel Leising's Cookies and Cream is a scoop of fresh mint leaf ice cream with chocolate cookies. The tarte Tatin is a personal-sized pastry with Calvados ice cream. But tops is the vacherin, a meringue with creme anglaise, chocolate sauce and coffee gelato.
Worth the drive: What could easily seem a bit hokey with all its earnestness about sustainability and artisan foods has serious cred with so many solid cooks in the kitchen. There are still some staff kinks to work out (there were a few long waits) and the menu doesn't have the broadest appeal. But what works well works REALLY well. Prices are reasonable, considering the quality and location, but not cheap. There aren't any views and the minimal decor can feel a bit stark. But like so many destination restaurants, dinner at The Moss Room Restaurant is a singular event that will give you plenty of mileage around the water cooler.
Provided you can find the place.
The Moss Room Restaurant at the California Academy of Science, dinner daily from 5:30pm to 10pm, 415.876.6121. 55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

Fork & Shovel Dinner

A lot of restaurants are talking a big game about using local foods, but the reality of securing what they need in a timely manner can be a whole other story. Enter Fork & Shovel, which is hosting a kickoff party Oct. 5 with a stellar lineup of farmers and chefs.