I recognize, too, that the eating in this case needs to serve several functions -- not only to fill the empty belly, but also to fill the empty soul. Comfort food is clearly in order. But I advocate that Left Coasters who want to feel better but would prefer not to roll over and play dead should take solace in something other than the typical, business-as-usual comfort food.
What, after all, are we saying if we rub our wounds with heartland salves like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, or with Southern staples like biscuits and gravy? That it's OK to weigh us down with caloric fillers and false promises of nourishment? That we don't mind being enervated into slothfulness until our reasoning is so clouded that we find ourselves saying the words "George B*sh" and "morality" in the same breath?
Conscientious consumers can let the healing begin at Chow (215 Church, 552-2469), a safe harbor from the tsunami of intolerance if ever there was one. It's virtually impossible to walk into this place and not feel like you belong: Seniors and toddlers in highchairs cozy up to gay couples and big, noisy extended families; single white females share salt shakers and counter space with black bus drivers, while the roasty smells of pizza and grilled meats waft from the wood-fired oven. Waiters whisk through the busy dining room assuring new arrivals that they'll be right back -- and they are, with crayons, coloring pages, and a hug for a cranky 5-year-old; with menus, ice water, and soup-of-the-day announcements for hungry food writers.
After a quick peruse, I settle on the perfect combination of feel-good food and political statement with the cream of broccoli soup and the baked artichoke -- the former as an admittedly petty dig at George Sr.'s well-publicized dislike of the anti-cancer vegetable; the latter because artichokes are what I consider to be the ultimate California appetizer. Grown and harvested in the fields of Watsonville and Lompoc, 'chokes have a tough, thorny exterior that (if cooked correctly and eaten properly) yields up sweet, satisfying, sustaining meat. High in vitamins, low in calories, moderate, unassuming, intelligent.
Unlike at chain restaurants, where the vegetable might be deep-fried in onion-blossom fashion so that all you taste is the Crisco batter, or at Grandma's house, where it's steamed or boiled to the point at which the flavor is completely leeched out and all that's left is a limp, clammy pile of leaves, Chow lets the artichoke-ness of the artichoke shine through. Poached first in a broth of white wine, shallots, garlic, and herbs, it is split, its thistle removed, and basted in olive oil. Then it's baked in the wood-burning oven until the edges of the leaves crisp just a little and the heart becomes soft and malleable. It comes finished with a healthy squirt of lemon juice and presented on a plate with a small saucer of garlic-lemon aioli. The result is a dish that's filling without being overwhelming, subtle and nuanced without being pretentious, and downright tasty.
I smile at my waiter as he brings over a basket of sourdough bread, unsolicited. "Artichokes take a little bit of work and dedication," he intones sagely. "But what worthwhile things don't?"