Presidents Day is not a big food holiday. Sandwiched between the wings-n'-guac of Superbowl Sunday, the noodles and dumplings of the Lunar New Year, and the kings' cake and jambalaya of this Tuesday's Mardi Gras celebrations, this long weekend in February is known more for white sales and ski-resort deals than for anything on the plate. Still, by the highly public and influential nature of the office, every President's personal culinary leanings, however quirky, end up making a cultural impact on our country's food. (Just ask California's broccoli growers, who in 1990 sent 10 tons of the stuff to then-President George H. W. Bush, after the President went on record with his hatred of the vegetable, which he'd banned from meals served on Air Force One.)
For a President, even an innocuous, man-of-the-people gesture like grabbing some Chinese takeout, as Obama did last week at San Francisco's Great Eastern restaurant, can have political repercussions: as soon as word got out about his pork-bun run, reporters noted that Great Eastern in one of a only a few restaurants in the state still serving the California-banned shark fin. Not that the President went for the $48 shark-fin soup; instead, he stuck with a much easier-to-swallow array of buns and dumplings, but the proximity alone was enough to make a story.
Of course, the real Obama food story of the week was the President's private fund-raising dinner, prepared by Quince chef Michael Tusk. The menu--nettle tortelloni; chicken with black salsify, savory cabbage, and chanterelle mushrooms; squash puree; marble potatoes; chocolate cremeux--put the spotlight on local farm produce and products from around the Bay, including cheese from Barinaga Ranch (Marin), vegetables from Marin Roots Farm (Marin), Tierra Farm (Sonoma), Full Belly Farm and Riverdog Farm (Yolo), and dairy from Straus Family Creamery (Marin).
Nettles! For the President! It takes some chutzpah to serve the POTUS what some would call a common stinging weed, despite its off-the-charts nutritional value and minerally, earthy tang. If you want to try making some nettle pasta yourself, you can usually find it for sale at Star Route Farm's stall at both the Ferry Plaza and Marin Civic Center farmers' markets. Or forage it yourself, being sure to wear gloves and harvest only the youngest, tenderest shoots for best results. (Cooking neutralizes the sting, just in case you wondering; this is not something for your raw-food friends.)