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Comfort Food - Issue #5: A new hope

Sarah Lacy
Sarah Lacy
The moment I went from Nope to Hope in my desert food journey…

Nope -> hope (Yes, I've ripped this phrase off the name of a Chairman Mom course about rage...)
Nope -> hope (Yes, I've ripped this phrase off the name of a Chairman Mom course about rage...)
THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING. 
So manifesting. Recently Evie and I manifested a puppy, and now I’ve manifested the answer to all my food woes. 
I didn’t so much “manifest” it as I did finally and embarrassingly belatedly discover On the Mark. It’s a gourmet market that could rival and out do– dare I even say this?– any place in San Francisco. 
Seriously. You know I don’t talk up Palm Springs food to be nice. I started this newsletter because it’s the one thing that PS isn’t (immediately and obviously) great at. So when I tell you this market is better than one I’d find in San Francisco, you know I’m not in the realm of hyperbole. 
Here’s what’s even more embarrassing than not knowing this existed until today. Our neighbors, Frank and John, BROUGHT US A DAMN CHARCUTERIE PLATE FROM THERE WEEKS AGO WHEN THEY CAME TO DINNER. What kind of self-respecting foodie am I that I didn’t inquire further when presented with said incredible charcuterie plate???
I blame the pandemic. I was just so excited to actually see Frank and John that I didn’t ask enough questions about the board’s origin story. Clearly. 
Here’s the story. This past week the Chairman Mom team came in for a two-day retreat/all-hands. Our first in two years! We haven’t even met some of the team in person yet! You know Southern hospitality me, I wanted it to be PERFECT. And you know that meant I was obsessing about the food. 
They got in Monday afternoon, and we had reservations at Bar Cecil Tuesday night. (Yay!) But what do we do for all the other meals?
I decided to grill for everyone Monday night, because cooking is my love language and I love this team. The last time Shea and Monica (our dev team) were here I made these ginger grilled shrimp with mango and pineapple, and Shea has talked of little else since. So I have to make those again, which scares me a little, because I think she is remembering them better than they were and shrimp are tricky. Especially in the desert. Paul and I transported those babies from the Whole Foods in Palm Desert like it was an organ transplant. I also had some Cochon Volant brisket from my last Four Star Seafood order. And I decided to make this spicy grilled halloumi recipe from the New York Times as well. 
I also made a gorgeous tomato, cucumber, date, stone fruit salad. I cut it all up, salt everything individually, layer it, and do the tomatoes last so that the tomato juice drips into the salad, mixes with the salt like a dressing. My favorite summertime side. 
Also cooked some corn and asparagus on the grill. I got these cedar wraps from Whole Foods because the last time I did corn on the grill I got in an intense debate about something and the corn got over done. :( 
I’m getting off topic. Back to ON THE MARK. 
Because Bar Cecil is still constantly overbooked even in 120 degree Palm Springs summer, our reservations are at 5 pm. So we needed a very light lunch on Tuesday. This will not be a day for Sherman’s take out. No no no no no. 
I remembered that charcuterie plate John and Frank brought! Looked it up and they have sandwiches too, so I grabbed Megan from the airport around noon, dropped her at the Arrive and headed to On the Mark which is smack in the middle of downtown…how TF have I missed it???? I blame the pandemic. 
I sort of gasped when I walked in. It was clear without even browsing that this was some sort of food pantry paradise. I ordered a sandwich for lunch. (Ham. Paul and I prefer ham to turkey and this is 99% of why I believe we are made for each other. How do you all prefer turkey!?) And inquired about the charcuterie situation. 
“We charge by the person, do you have allergies? Preference? Want salmon? Nope. OK, trust us.” 
“I do. I really really really do,” I thought.
As he was explaining all this my eyes drifted to a jar of pride candies in my peripheral vision. FANCY PRIDE CANDIES! I grabbed them. He took all my info for the board and then started to make my sandwich. 
“I’m just gonna look around,” I said, trying not to freak out. 
Oh dear Lord. Pastas. Spice Walla rubs. Salsas. Simmer sauces. Pickled everything. Spicy thai peanut butter! Duck fat cooking spray!!! I didn’t even know that was a thing. 
“Try these tortilla chips,” said the store manager. Literally the best tortilla chip I’ve ever eaten. AND I’VE LIVED IN THE MISSION FOR 20 YEARS! 
I got in a chat with the store manager (because Palm Springs. You always always always get in a chat.) He also moved from San Francisco and has lived this whole journey. He helped create this oasis for people like us. I could have kissed him in an entirely a-sexual way because, again, Palm Springs. 
“We’ve been spoiled,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders as I explained my food angst coming from SF. Yes. Yes we have. “It’s coming. It’s going to get better,” he said.  
He says a ton of SF chefs are in process of exploring places down here. I told him to call me if they needed investor capital because I know folks who invest in restaurants and the market here is so CLEARLY CLEARLY RIPE. Our house has almost doubled in value since 2019. I mean, 120 degree heat and Bar Cecil is still booked ‘til October. It’s hard to find a surer thing in the restaurant world. 
He threw in extra pride chocolates because I bought so much and the SF-> PS “I get you” foodie vibes. He said he can special order meat or seafood or most anything we need. I wanted to cry. He is my foodie fairy godmother in the desert. I didn’t need to eat the spoiled turkey. It was here all along. My ruby slippers moment. 
I basically have no more food problems after this store. I can quit this newsletter now. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve got to keep writing so that you know about this fancy restaurant explosion we are on the cusp of. Palm Springs might be about to become the most exciting food scene in California. Stay tuned. 
My heart and wallet and stomach are here for it. 
Meanwhile, what else I ate this week …
Bar Cecil part two
We called and they let us come an hour later than we reserved for, which meant I got to go! Chairman Mom had a zoom to promote our feminist small business bootcamp at 5 pm, so I was gonna take one for the team and miss dinner. But the slightly less early bird start meant I didn’t have to.
I was still late and– no joke– the Lyft driver asked “Have you lived here long enough to tell me a good place to eat?” I am glad I’m not the only one grappling with this! That explains the high open rates to this newsletter, I guess. (Hey! Good time to forward this to a friend?)
This time I had the pasta. Ask for it as spicy as the chef intended. Local tastes made him tone it down…they are wrong. He was right the first time. Adimika and I both loved it.
We had every dessert on the menu, and the pavlova is the best. So good thing we got two because Paul refused to share. Hotel Nationale is the best cocktail. (Check it out below in that gorgeous tortoiseshell glass!)
Friday
Remember when I wrote about my 120 degree cycle to the Palm Springs Art Museum? I think it gave me heat exhaustion I never fully recovered from. So after the team left, I didn’t eat much that was good for a few days.
I was in the middle of the virtual writing Showcase for our incredible course Ready Set Write. I actually started this newsletter as a project in the class, and as I was finishing sharing some of the work, Paul sauntered in with a surprise “feel better!” date shake.
That is unquestionably a benefit of desert living.
For those who haven’t had it, it’s ice cream, dates, and whipped cream. It’s like a dreamy oasis in the desert. I get mine at Lappert’s downtown but I’m sure there’s somewhere better and less crowded. (LMK if you have a fav spot!!)
Back to San Francisco …
We finally got back home! Wow was it a drive. Eight hours with kids and cats, and one of our cats face-tunneled his way through two regulation cat travel bags. So one cat was in my lap the last hour. The whole thing was a mess.
I made some bagel-and-bacon sandwiches for the drive, but we also stopped at a rare California sighting: A Dairy Queen!!! I had to explain the significance of the DQ to my British boyfriend and California children who just looked at me confused even after the explanation.
How do you explain DQ?
We had three dipped cones after MUCH cajoling that they would not regret it. Paul refused my suggestion of a Peanut Buster Parfait and got some sort of brownie/oreo concoction that was not on the menu in my youth. I got a small basket of onion rings. I can’t say why. I just felt I needed them from somewhere in my childhood sense memory.
Can I tell you they were the most perfect onion rings I’ve ever had???? I saved one (somehow) and made Paul eat it when he was done with his extravaganza ice cream bowl, so that I’d have a witness. They had the perfect crunch. The perfect ratio of onion to breading. The onion easily snapped with each bite– no long onion string pulling out of the breading situation. And they were remarkably un-greasy.
I don’t understand how fancier places can’t do onion rings that good.
If you see a DQ in the wild– STOP. Stop and get the onion rings. That is what all onion rings should taste like. The Platonic ideal of an onion ring right there by the side of a California freeway, attached to a gas station.
Sunset Squares
I have so much to say about food in San Francisco, and I’ll center the next three newsletters on every meal I’ve carefully chosen during this long, delicious, emotional goodbye. Al’s Place. Foreign Cinema. Mister Jiu’s. Flour & Water. Zuni. Eight Tables. We’ve got some big meals planned.
Oh! As I’m writing this I got an alert that a table opened at Ernest! We have to get back there if for no other reason than the chef’s take on French onion dip involving smoked fish, and the absurdly elevated soft serve for dessert. I know that sounds like SF food parody. It is. And you know what? It is still delicious.
But I’ll end this newsletter with Sunset Squares. I have been DYING to try this Detroit style pizza mashed up with Sichuan spices that’s part of the foodie explosion happening in the Sunset and has sent the SF food scene into umami orbit during the pandemic.
I noticed it was suddenly available on Door Dash during our drive home and starting counting the minutes. It was absolutely incredible. We got the thick square cheese pizza with olives and I drizzled hot honey and Sichuan chili crisp on top of it. Absolutely incredible. We also ordered the cheesy garlic monkey bread, and it vanished like one of Paul’s magic tricks. (Did you know he used to be a professional magician? My fav fact about him, probably.) The kids got a thin crust half cheese/half pepperoni and were a little snooty about it not being as good as Goat Hill, but I just ate the rest for day after breakfast, and I heartily disagree.
I really want to try their Mapo Tofu thick square pizza before we go…omg. Incredible. Order it right now if you live in SF. Make sure to get the side sauces. You will not regret it.
Staples.
Staples.
mixed grill ala Sarah
mixed grill ala Sarah
Chairman Mom team at Bar Cecil!
Chairman Mom team at Bar Cecil!
S'mores square at the Exploratorium Cafe
S'mores square at the Exploratorium Cafe
Don’t miss out on the other issues by Sarah Lacy
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Sarah Lacy
Sarah Lacy @sarahcuda

I'm the founder of Pando and Chairman Mom. I live half time between San Francisco and Palm Springs, ferretting out the best food between the two. Food is my love language.

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