FOOD WRITER and restaurateur KAREN LEIBOWITZ enjoys a quaint cafe in her home city …
I was raised in Los Angeles and moved to Berkeley in 2001 to do my PhD in English. Four years later, I moved across the bay to San Francisco, with my husband Anthony Myint, who was a cook at the time, and we have lived in the Mission District ever since. I feel like we are very connected with our neighbourhood as we’ve been living on the same street for twelve years, which is unusual around here. One of our favourite spots is Taquería Cancun, on the same block (2288 Mission Street) as our first restaurant. If you’ve missed the boat with dinner and need a late-night option, this is the place to go – it’s highly affordable with great quesadillas and it’s always packed with people.
I first heard about Ballymaloe from Nick Balla and Cortney Burns who are co-chefs at Motze, which is also in the Mission (983 Valencia Street). It serves up Japanese hippy food that I find very gratifying with a complex layering of flavours. It’s cosy, small and a labour of love, much like the restaurants I have opened with my husband. We opened Mission Chinese Food in 2010, and it now has outlets in San Francisco (2224 Mission Street) and in New York (171 E Broadway, New York).
In recent years, we have cut down on cross-country travel, but when in New York, I love to visit the Lower East Side, a historically Jewish neighbourhood, where my grandparents lived when they moved to the US, and for me it always feels like going back home. One of my favourite spots is Russ & Daughters (179 E Houston), which is technically known as an “appetising store” – that means it’s like a deli, but instead of serving meat, it serves dairy, creamed herrings, bagels, and so on. Five years ago Russ & Daughters opened a sit-down restaurant (127 Orchard Street), where you will find all the things you can get in the market – bagels, pickles, spreads and rye breads, and between the food and the décor, eating there feels like a time warp. Along similar lines here in San Francisco, I recommend 20th Century Café (198 Gough Street) in the Hayes Valley area as a favourite place to step back in time. The proprietor, Michelle Polzine, is inspired by Eastern European baking. The café has a wonderful array of Viennoiserie and other delights like Russian honey cake, all served on beautiful china. I find everything about it very appealing.
When our daughter, Aviva, was born in 2012 we began imagining her future, which led to a paradigm shift in our thinking and a belief in the power of regenerative agriculture. Our goal with The Perennial (59 Ninth Street, San Francisco) is to experiment with sustainability and demonstrate how food and agriculture have the capacity to repair the damage of climate change. We named our Perennial restaurant because perennial plants play an important part in combating climate change. We serve bread made from a perennial grain called kernza, operate our own urban aquaponic farm (a system used for raising fish and plants), and work with a carbon-friendly ranch. There are ways of raising food that draw down carbon dioxide while improving flavour, and that’s a message I’m eager to share.
Leibowitz will be taking part in Ballymaloe LitFest next weekend, May 19-21. www.litfest.ie.
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