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How to Do a NorCal Food Road Trip, According to a Chef

Café Boulud's Aaron Bludorn takes us through his favorite Bay Area eats.

Aaron Bludorn, executive chef at the famed New York eatery Café Boulud, has deep California roots. Before his big move to NYC in 2009, Bludorn cooked at Healdsburg’s Cyrus restaurant for three years, with frequent eating-driven trips around the Bay Area (sometimes with his mom, who lives in Berkeley).

On a recent trip out West, Bludorn made the most of his few days with an enviable road trip through Northern California’s tastiest pit stops.

Follow in his foodie footsteps and start with…

San Francisco. I’d been wanting to check out Monsieur Benjamin in Hayes Valley. It’s sort of like Café Boulud in a way. The place is very laid back. It was fun to see the differences between New York and San Francisco. The food is similar in terms of quality but the ingredients are very different.

“The next day I woke up super early (I wasn’t adjusted to the time zone yet) and went to Blue Bottle Coffee. I used to spend weekends in the city before going up to Healdsburg to work dinner service, and I’d always go to Blue Bottle. That was something like eight years before they were everywhere, and it’s super nostalgic for me. After I’d go to Tartine Bakery—this time when I went, I wanted everything on the menu. Their sourdough always gets me though.

“For lunch I went to Zuni Café. I know one of the openings chefs, so I used to go a lot. Their roast chicken is wood-fried and completely amazing, and they have the best Caesar salad—it’s done just right.”

Aaron Bludorn

Take a detour an hour south to Los Gatos…

“I used to cook with Chef David Morgan at Cyrus, and we keep in touch. So when he and David Kinch opened the Bywater in Los Gatos I knew I had to go. It did not disappoint—definitely one of my best meals of the trip. I ate way too much. The food is casual Creole cuisine done super soulfully. The red snapper, the gumbo, and the oysters Rockefeller were all favorites. For dessert we had beignets fresh out of the fryer. It was truly like being transported to New Orleans in Los Gatos.”

Loop back north towards Healdsburg, making sure to have time to stop at…

In-N-Out. I get the double-double, animal style. And a soda—the only time I’ll drink it.”

Find the most surprising culinary escapades in Sonoma County…

“I met up with my mentor Doug Keane from Cyrus. He started a burger joint up there—Healdsburg Bar and Grill—and the burgers are incredible, as are the chicken wings. He recommended I check out this place called the Shed. It was a showstopper for me. It’s this huge barn, and on top is a big open-air event space. It’s got a modern craftsman ambiance to it. In the middle they have a restaurant. The food was amazing—so fresh. Most of the produce was grown in Sonoma County. And everything was so thoughtfully prepared, from the farro verde to the slow-roasted lamb shoulder. It reminded me of how fresh everything is out in California. I was really surprised by that place.” 

Your can’t-miss stop on the drive back to the 101? 

“There’s a place on the coast—on your way back to 101 from Bodega Bay—called Wild Flour Bakery. They bake all their breads in a wood fired oven. They make the most spot-on sourdough I’ve had in my entire life. They’re only open certain days a week (which really is the best part). There’s something about the valley there…the way the local bacteria in the air reacts with the yeast makes it the best place to bake bread. Seriously. It’s a must-stop.”

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