Contemplating Appetite

Food writer Virginia Miller introduces her new weekly column in the Guardian -- and gives us her favorite restaurant openings of the year

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From one of the year's best openings: Nojo's tempura and chicken breast skewers
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY VIRGINIA MILLER

virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE My adventures in food and drink have been the subject of my SFBG Appetite column for nearly three years online at SFBG.com. As of last month, you now also find me in print every week. Many have asked where I am going with this column — some expecting a formal weekly review, others a mix of subjects and directions. The latter is true. I cannot replace former Guardian food critic Paul Reidinger's eloquence and decades-long experience as a food writer (and I'm glad to say we will continue to hear from him in various articles). I take this opportunity to explain where I've come from and my philosophy in covering the edible world.

First and foremost, I bring to the table passion. From mostly Italian and German stock, I've eaten heartily since early childhood in Oklahoma and Missouri, 16 total years of my youth in Southern California and New Jersey (just outside LA and NYC respectively), and travel over five continents. As an incessant reader and writer since girlhood, books first opened me up to the world, though I dreamed of having my own adventures to write about. Moving to San Francisco a decade ago, I was wowed not only by its unique, radiant beauty, but by the consistent quality of food, spending spare dollars eating out constantly. Though SF wasn't the immediate love affair for me New York was, it is a love that has only increased each year, the home I would happily end up in. This city still takes my breath away.

Patricia Unterman's original San Francisco Food Lover's Guide was my food bible in those early days. I connected with her quest for the authentic, no matter the cuisine. I ate my way through neighborhoods, marking up her book (and all my dining guides) until I had been to every single restaurant, market, and bar in its pages. Eventually, requests asking me where to go and what to eat reached a fever pitch, so my husband (and partner in taste and travel) helped create my own humble website, The Perfect Spot, to share my reviews and finds. I've been sending out a bi-weekly newsletter for nearly four years based on my writings for the site. I also write for an ever-increasing number of magazines and websites.

"Diet," "lowfat," and "hold the cream" are words you'll never hear me say. My hunger for food as adventure means I make it a goal to have no food prejudices. Many say, "I'll try anything once," but my philosophy is to keep trying anything I don't like until I do. The food may not have been prepared properly; it was perhaps of poor quality; maybe the palate wasn't quite ready for it — dishes still deserve to be known at their best. I spent years trying to overcome my aversion to uni (sea urchin), for example. Eating chef David Bazigran's brilliant uni flan at Fifth Floor early this year was a revelation. I realized it was uni's texture, not its of-the-sea flavor, turning me off. I've enjoyed uni ever since, though only when ultra-fresh. From personal experience, I know one can change one's abhorrence of a food, and in so doing expand one's horizons another inch, uncovering another of life's simple delights.

Sometimes fear arises around unfamiliar foods — and the unfamiliar in general. Without variety and a vast range of expression, the world loses it color — and its joy. While sameness can be comforting (and there's a time for that), it is entirely boring. To go through any part of life bored or complacent is simply lazy. As with music or books, one can discover unknown lands with a few new ingredients, enlivened by the hands of a gifted, caring chef. Whether food cart or fine dining, there's no reason to settle for mediocrity, not with the unreal produce, vision, and talent surrounding us.

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