-Octavia restaurant review below-
One of the many pleasures of having a dog is the nightly walk. In addition to it being a great excuse to troll the streets and peak into my neighbors’ windows, it’s a time when I can be alone with my thoughts. There’s no avoiding it. The dog’s got to pee, and someone’s got to take him. This has been our nightly routine for nearly a decade now and it’s been therapeutic to say the least.
Just the other night when I was walking Eddie, I dreamt of a few things I hope to accomplish in my life. Like running a professional kitchen in San Francisco. A yuppie place that’s hip and trendy—a yipster place! A venue where I can work with food all day, and boss people around at night, while playing the ultimate host to friends, family and neighborhood regulars. I imagine how awesome it will be when the restaurant’s a huge success and international celebrity status is just one guest-judge-experience on an amateur Food Network cooking-challenge away.
But then I doubt myself and think, well who’s life does that actually belong to? Can I be the next Guy Fieri? [The answer is YES! Btw] But is that something I could actually do? One question leads to another—I pick up some dog poop—and eventually I’ve talked myself out of pursuing my dream of owning a restaurant in San Francisco, and I’m standing their holding a bag of shit.
Then I start to dream about being a real estate mogul. Flipping homes and selling them for record profits. Why not?
I’ve always loved real estate. Since I was eight years old, my father and I used to go to open houses after playing tennis on Sunday mornings at the high school when the courts were empty. We’d play for about an hour, and head over to the am/pm near the public library for some of the best gas station vanilla soft serve I can remember. He scarfed his down in seconds because he needed both hands to drive his cherry red ‘66 Mustang, and with my cone dripping in the hot So Cal sun, we’d head up into the hills of the Del Cerro neighborhood to hunt for houses.
One open house after another we went until they closed around 4pm. It was more of a window-shopping experience than anything else, but I sure as hell talked like someone who was ready to buy. I used to walk into a home and start busting the realtor’s chops.
“Oh no,” I remember saying, “that kitchen needs to be gutted! Doesn’t look like you’ve factored that into your asking price?” My father just smiled and let me do the talking. “What? No view? That’s a deal breaker at this price.”
I remember it being a blast, so why not get into real estate?
But then my doubt and issues of self-worth crept in. What if I don’t have enough of a network of friends who are ready to buy a home? Where will I get the money to make my first investment? What if working with contractors is harder than it sounds? And the seeds of second-guessing grew until they’ve overshadowed my dreams of being a realtor.
This internal struggle between my left and right brain ends up being the push and pull between the romantic dreamer and hesitant pessimistic within me. A struggle I’m thinking so many of us deal with every day. And though it seems like it’s debilitating, I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s a natural part of the process. A necessary part we must all grapple with if we want to hone in on our true passions and desires.
All of that dreaming is just a telltale sign that something in our current situation isn’t sufficiently satisfying, and whatever that is, or isn’t—needs to change. It’s the very uncertainty and fear of what’s next; that signals change is in order.
We spend most of our lives working so we can Live (with a capital L) in the evenings and on the weekends. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the work itself was just as satisfying as the time we spend on our favorite hobbies and pastimes? I know that’s the Holy Grail of careers, but whether you believe it exists or not, it’s worth pursuing, right?
Suffice it to say, I have yet to open a restaurant in San Francisco, and I’m in no way closer to getting my realtor’s license. But I did finally listen to myself, and took notice of all those internal conversations I had on my walks with Eddie.
I just started a new life chapter. I’ve left my day job in the family solar energy business where I was managing our marketing, communications and the overall brand for the last decade. It’s been an amazing experience, and one that I will cherish forever, but the time finally came for me to try something new. Something that feels one step closer to any of those dreams I’ve had for my future.
And I wouldn’t have taken this risk to pursue a road less traveled if it weren’t for all those countless hours of soul searching with Jonathan and Eddie on our evening walks—reflections on transpired events and dreams about tomorrow. A daily routine when I can duke it out with myself, and let the more passionate desires win, while he (Eddie not Jonathan) tinkles on that old lady’s gladiolas.
Here’s to taking a chance on those dreams we talk ourselves out of daily. Pay attention, because it’s the struggle that means a change is due.
Octavia Restaurant San Francisco
If I were to open a restaurant in San Francisco, it would have to be similar to Melissa Perello’s Octavia restaurant. Occupying the old Baker & Banker space, Octavia is the quintessential San Francisco neighborhood restaurant. It’s an intimate open floor dining room that seats 55 hungry patrons at a time. Just like Frances, her first restaurant in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, the venue is intimate, the food is honest, straightforward, and yet exhibits a sophisticated palette and kitchen techniques that remind you you’re in the presence of a Michelin star winner.
Octavia restaurant is Italian fare though Perello is using ingredients and techniques that might not seem as traditional as that label typically represents. I like to think her dishes are inspired by her Italian heritage but deeply rooted in the local sustainably sourced culinary capital that is San Francisco.
We really started the meal off on a high note with some of the best fried green tomatoes I’ve ever had. A rarity in San Francisco, I’m always on the lookout for a good friend green tomato and Octavia didn’t disappoint.
Theirs were served with Saskatchewan chanterelles, purslane, and a banyuls vinaigrette.
The other started was the chilled squid ink noodles with cortez bottarga (a delicacy of salted cured fish roe), fennel and lemon agrumato (olive oil pressed with lemons). The salt from the bottarga, fennel and bitterness from the lemon olive oil were the first blasts of flavor in my mouth until they were joyfully smothered by the comforting house made squid ink pasta base. We couldn’t get enough of it.
Knowing how fantastic Perello’s pastas always are, we ordered the spaghetti with Monterey calamari, early girt tomato ragout, leccino olive and fennel pollen. Another triumph only this time satisfying that classic seafood, tomato and spice we think of when we think of great Italian pasta dishes.
And because we couldn’t decide on a protein, we ended up getting seduced by the vegetarian option; wild mushroom panade made with house levain, summer squash, savoy spinach and parmesan. The was essentially a mushroom, squash and bread salad with giant pieces of wild king trumpet mushrooms, squash and chunks of crusty bread soaking up a salty, smooth and creamy parmesan cheese broth. It was very rich, but oh so fantastic. Imagine a loose bread pudding only there were no eggs to hold everything together.
Obviously we soaked up any leftover sauce with some additional crusty bread.
And for dessert we had the spiced fig roulade with fig leaf, ricotta and toasted walnuts. This dessert was a whirlwind of textures and naturally jammy flavors with a subtle tartness from the ricotta. For those who like desserts that are a little more complex and not too sweet, this was a great twist on the cake rolls you’ve seen so many times before.
If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy Octavia restaurant (or Melissa Perello’s other restaurant Frances for that matter), add it to your list. The experience will inspire you to pursue whatever dreams may come.