When I was last here in late spring of 1998 the Virgin River was overflowing with fast-moving murky brown water from recent heavy rains, making any attempt to hike up The Narrows an impossibility. I spent most of my time camped under the impressive gaze of The Watchman, lost in thought, writing in notebooks, relaxed in the majesty and serenity of the park. And while The Watchman, The East Temple, The Sentinel, and all the other sovereigns of Zion remain as mighty and stoic as always, everything at their feet has changed dramatically in the intervening years.
For the past several years Kim and I have been lucky enough to be able to travel to some far-flung corners of the world, chasing adventure while working on behalf of causes we feel strongly about. This year, instead of seeing how many passport stamps we could acquire, we decided to load up our car and travel to the gorgeous, otherworldly vistas of Southwestern Utah. The impetus for this year’s sojourn was running into people on our previous travels who inevitably would ask us if we’d been to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society’s sanctuary outside Kanab, Utah. We hadn’t. In fact, we weren’t even aware it existed (something I felt ashamed about with hindsight, being a son of the Beehive State). Everyone spoke glowingly of both the place and their work, and soon enough we decided that 2014 would be the Year of the Desert for us.
“I went into the desert seeking shelter from my enemies, and there the desert made me strong.”
Kim had never been to Southern Utah, and it’d been sixteen-plus years since I’d last been through. A road trip would also provide the chance to pay long overdue visits to both family and friends, along with affording us the opportunity to travel to numerous national parks.
As I was researching restaurants for our weekend in Los Angeles, I found I was as overwhelmed as I was when researching dining options in San Francisco. There seemed to be no shortage of intriguing dining experiences. Originally, Trois Mec stood out as a must-at-least-attempt-to-get-reservations choice, but as I was practicing and preparing for the one shot I’d have at purchasing “tickets,” our evening took a different turn when a special screening of 20,000 Days on Earth – complete with a solo performance and Q+A with Nick Cave – was announced for the very same night and we decided to put our ticket purchasing efforts towards that.
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
I was really looking forward to trying Trois Mec, but Nick Cave will always trump anything else, so my first choice restaurant had to go by the wayside. One needs to have their priorities straight. Unfortunately, Trois Mec is only open Monday through Friday, and Friday night we had tickets for another Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concert, so a multi-course tasting menu was out of the question.
The research would have to continue.
Traveling down the west coast to follow Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on tour this summer provided the perfect excuse to try out some of the most noted and notorious restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles. After all, a girl’s got to eat and I figured I might as well do it up right. I started with San Francisco and began my research months in advance so I’d have plenty of time to exercise my reservation-making mojo. What was I looking for? I wanted creative chef-driven food served in a relatively informal atmosphere. I wanted food that would tell me a story, and I was open to a challenge if that’s where destiny took me. But while my selection criteria was simple, making final decisions in this world-class food city was not. I did a lot of hemming and hawing because there seemed to be an overwhelming number of options. Luckily, I had a couple of limiting parameters: two of the four nights required early meals before heading out to rock and roll shows so that eliminated restaurants with multi-course tasting menus, and one night I would be solo and wanted a restaurant with a chef’s counter where I could sit comfortably on my own and watch the action. Michelin stars were not a requirement of the selection process, but they proved hard to resist and ended up being a common thread.
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
-George Bernard Shaw, “Man and Superman.”