• 2011 was a banner year for Bay Area food in many ways, not the least of which has to do with preserving and even advancing the history and longevity of Northern California cooking. A number of groundbreaking, knowledge-building and visually stunning books penned by local authors, chefs and restaurateurs this year are as potentially engaging to a practiced home chef as they are to a more general food enthusiast, and have been internationally recognized as such.
The titles most worth your time and attention this year include Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, a combination graphic novel, cheeky business manual, cooking technique primer and love story from the couple behind the Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth restaurants; Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou, a format-bending education from the chef/owner of Aziza, recently honored with its own official day by the city of San Francisco; and Plats du Jour: The Girl & The Fig's Journey Through The Seasons in Wine Country by Sondra Bernstein, an enchanting and approachable look at the Sonoma restaurant's weekly special meal.
Next year, look forward to what will surely be provocative titles from two San Francisco institutions: Incanto, a restaurant helmed by chef Chris Cosentino known for creatively utilizing whole beasts whenever possible, and Humphry Slocombe, the bleeding-edge parlor of frozen desserts that fancies foie gras ice cream sandwiches and considers vanilla a bad word that needs censorship. The history of Bay Area food is still being created and defined, and luckily there are plenty of talented documentarians.
• Food trucks have steadily gained ground in the region over the past few years, but eaters in San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties didn't have to walk or drive as far to find meals on wheels this year. The rules and regulations governing food trucks are changing and vary from cautiously friendly to downright frustrating from city to city, but all signs point to more breadth and depth looking forward.
Strong food truck debuts that caught our attention in 2011 include Fivetenburger and Vesta Flatbread, which fire up restaurant-quality hamburgers and sandwiches, respectively throughout the East Bay; Bomb Truck, an artisan popsicle mobile from San Jose; Cookie Time, a truck baking up organic cookies and muffins in San Francisco's Noe Valley; and, also in San Francisco, the addition of a truck to the Crème Brûlée Cart business.
• While dozens of restaurants opened and nearly as many closed, the rise of pop-up meals soared whether they were elaborate one-night explorations of a theme or a weekday breakfast or lunch trade designed to boost an existing space. The popularity of the temporary restaurant idea was even sealed by Guest Chef, a new Oakland eatery dedicated to the concept of constantly rotating cooks and menus. The adventure possibilities in eating out have gotten markedly more exciting and diverse.
• As San Francisco's city health department rushed to shutter a local restaurant serving grasshoppers, leaving San Jose's Mezcal the only spot in the region that advertises still having them on the menu, there seemed to be a growing fascination with formerly crawling creatures as food this year. The media frenzy reached the height of ridiculousness over the summer when a Marin-based insect caterer called Don Bugito served up platters of wax moth larvae tacos to a room full of journalists and bloggers, and drew impenetrable lines for its mealworm-topped ice cream cones at the San Francisco Street Food Festival. We sampled our very first bug a few months back, conquering a pretty big mental barrier in the process, but we certainly won't be rushing for seconds.