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Meals to Seek Refuge In

April's Hum Plate roundup


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Party in a crepe

As you circle the hors d'oeuvre tables and snatch deviled eggs and skewered shrimp from passing servers at parties and openings, spare a thought for our introverted friends missing the spread. Even for the most outgoing among us, there are some people whose company is a high price to pay for a well-laid cheese platter. But will those for whom social interaction is truly uncomfortable ever know the joy of the first swipe of crostini through a chafing dish of hot artichoke dip?

A soiree-worthy spread in a crepe for one. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A soiree-worthy spread in a crepe for one.

A solution presents itself at Renata's Creperie (1030 G St.), that longtime Arcata brunch staple. It's not so crowded just off a weekday lunch hour, and the interior, with its warm color palette and distressed furniture, welcomes like the home of an old friend/art teacher. Find a homey corner table among the punched tin hearts and sunset-colored walls, and order the Got Yer Goat crepe ($11). The batter is a nutty buckwheat — that glamorous whole grain of caviar blini fame — that stands up to strong flavors and fillings, like the tart Kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts within. Add the mild fresh basil, an even-handed measure of Loleta jack cheese and the creamy tang of goat cheese, and you've got the makings of a casual get together without the mingling. You can even order it to carry out and enjoy the party in blissful solitude.


New York strip steak and a counter view of the fire. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • New York strip steak and a counter view of the fire.

Going for woodland chic in Humboldt risks redundancy but the vibe at Campground (865 Ninth St., Arcata), the landlocked cousin of Salt, is a bit more Swedish cabin hotel, with its deconstructed forest of birch stalks separating the bar from the tables and the homey blue and white tile flooring. Blackout curtains obscure the Bret Harte Alley view from booths with caged lightbulbs suspended from ropes in rustic imitation of something your grandpa hooked up in the basement. The redwood tattoo on the forearm of the young man prepping vegetables over the back counter is probably just a coincidence, but it's on brand.

A glass fridge stocked with aged beef in the corner is promising, as is the fire in the back of the open kitchen, crackling and spitting embers up through the grill, a stack of firewood on deck below. Billed as an "Argentine-inspired steakhouse," the fire is the star of the show. What to order from the all à la carte menu?

Slim wedges of beef tallow potatoes ($7) arrive sprinkled with parsley and chive in a little cast iron pan. A true rival to French fries, they are perfectly salted, soft inside and rich with the promised beef fat, which also yields a just-crisp exterior. There's a reason McDonalds worked so hard to replicate the flavor of beef fat for its fries — oil is no substitute.

The 10-ounce New York strip steak ($27) gleams with garlic and truffle compound butter, though the taste is squarely about the tender meat and the wood fire char that makes a wonder of its marbling and rind of fat. On a recent night, the grilled seasonal vegetables with roasted garlic vinaigrette included bright, glossy asparagus and zucchini with a perfect bite and a hit of woodsmoke ($6).

Are you going to eat someplace named Campground and not order the s'more pie? You are not. The hefty graham cracker crust and velvety ganache filling are topped with a dollop of marshmallow cream that's been torched to sleep-away camp toastiness. And you didn't even have to pack a sleeping bag.

Rescue by torta

On a rainy day, the little striped pop-out awning on the Los Giles Taqueria tucked in the lot behind US Bank in Arcata looks like an oasis (953 G St.). (Yes, it's the same black truck you see up the street, across from the Arcata Theatre Lounge, in the evening.) Pressed for a recommendation, owner Osmando Hernandez hunches down in the window and suggests a torta ($7). Which one? He shrugs. "Carnitas is bomb."

A big, beautiful hot mess of a torta. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A big, beautiful hot mess of a torta.

This is no lie. And "bomb" is doubly descriptive when you try picking up this overstuffed sandwich, exploding as it is with guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese and mounds of carnitas. The flavorful pork is that ideal balance of juicy hunks and crispy goodness where it's been pressed on the grill, with the occasional pearl of sweet fat. The grilled crust of the soft, buttery roll is the only thing holding all this together, for the moment anyway. Take advantage.

And if the rain is still coming down hard, Hernandez may just loan you his umbrella to protect you and your leftovers as you ford the flash sidewalk rivers. Bringing it back is a chance to order another torta. You might take advantage of that, too.

If something saved your life at a Humboldt eatery, let us know. Share your Hum Plate tips with Jennifer Fumiko Cahill, arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.


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