I am the Rachael Ray of NovatoI must confess that I've never watched the much-derided Rachael Ray, and so I am sadly bereft of passionate feelings about the woman.
I was, however, delighted with Sam's idea of miming Rachael in her quest to eat out for three meals on $40, especially since I'm trying to get more familiar with Novato. And so I had every intention of seeking out obscure lunchtime diners and becoming the quirky girl with the camera in her hand, but alas: work has been intense, and I am planning a long-awaited trip to New York, and so I didn't exactly devour Novato in the way I had planned. I'm also posting this 5 days AFTER the deadline, so I hope Sam will have mercy on me.
That said, this is what I discovered in the course of my adventure.
I am not a breakfast person. The first thing I do after I get out of bed in the morning is to put a kettle of cold water on the stove. While the water heats up, I wander into the bathroom to stand in front of the mirror and look for new crinkly bits around my eyes. I turn on my computer and strike awkward stretching poses. When the tea kettle sings, I brew a pot of something exotic, most likely from Mariage Freres. My current favorite is Casablanca, but that might change by tomorrow...
I like breakfast food, just not at breakfast time. I don't generally feel hungry until well after 11.
But in the spirit of this experiment, I sought out spots for muffin-espresso-eggy-ish places, and discovered a wonderful bakery in the old town section of Grant Avenue called Skully's. Skully's has an assortment of delectable pastries and heavenly freshly-baked bread that you can take home with you to make French Toast for Sunday Brunch. They are committed to using the highest quality ingredients, and it shows. On my "40 dollar day", I choose a plain croissant ($2.25) and a single cappuccino ($2.25). I leave $1 in the tip jar.
Grand total: $5.50
Now I'm waking up. The day is progressing, and I have a million things to do, not enough time to sit down for a proper lunch, but I'm STARVING. Must! Eat! Now!
As it turns out, Novato has a plethora of taquerias and Mexican markets. I will not, shall not, think about my favorite places in the Mission. I will take what Novato has to offer, and I will LIKE it, gosh darn it!
Tamales sound like just the thing. And where better to get them than Quezada Market at the corner of Rowland and South Novato Boulevard? They have both chicken and pork today, so I ask for one of both. The man behind the counter blushes and smiles when I order in a flurry of pseudo-Spanish and stilted English. I ask him for extra red sauce, and he quickly obliges. I note that Quezada has a fantastic assortment of dried chilies. I'll be coming back to stock up on supplies for Mole Sauce.
The tamales are $1.50 each. On my way to the counter, I grab a can of young coconut juice out of the cooler.
My total? $4.23.
I rush home to devour them, and I am not disappointed. The masa is tender and moist, and the filling is spicy and delicious. I'm up to $9.73 now, which leaves with an embarassing bounty for dinner. I have plenty for an afternoon snack, but no time to indulge. I've spotted a Double Rainbow ice cream parlor in the Vintage Oaks Plaza, but don't have time to stop.
Kitchen recently announced an early Prix-Fixe menu, which is only $15 between the hours of 5-6pm. $15 bucks! Seriously, how wonderful is that? Word has it that they came up with the idea to attract the Farmer's Market crowd that gathers on Tuesday evenings, and it has been an unqualified success.
Eating at 5:30 is something of a trial, but I'm up for it tonight. The meal begins with cauliflower soup, silky with slightly nutty overtones. I might have wished for it to be a few degrees warmer, but the flavor is excellent.
A grilled skirt steak is next, a bit chewy but with nice grilled bits on the sides. It is accompanied by arugula with red-skinned potatoes and a white nectarine. Desert is strawberry ice cream, the color of pale pink rose petals. I enjoy a glass of Franus Cabernet with each delectable bite.
My total is $25.98.
I may not come from an Italian family, or have a 8 cookbooks to my name, or have a television show, but I HAVE eaten well in Novato for $40.