Tuesday, August 07, 2007

In-N-Out of the Googleplex

In the world of food blogging (and among my friends) In-N-Out Burger is second only to the French Laundry. While I love reading about the French Laundry, dining (if I may call it that) at In-N-Out seemed a much more feasible proposition.

This past weekend, I had the still-unexplained privilege of attending a Science Foo Camp organized by O’Reilly Media and Nature Publishing Group. The small, invitation only meeting was hosted by Google, held at the Googleplex, and drew a few CEOs, a smattering of Nobel Prize winners, a handful of editors-in-chief of major publications, a Microsoft big wig, Martha Stewart (??) and, umm... me. Don't ask, I don't know why I was invited either. To say that I was intimidated to the point of blindness would be like calling the ocean a little watery.

First, a word about the Googleplex – it’s fantasy land. It’s a grown up amusement park. It’s the Googledom. Googlevana. They do anything they can to keep they employees at work, and I suspect it works. It would for me. I shit you not, they have a massage parlor on the campus. Along with a laundromat, a volleyball court, dry cleaner, hair dresser, a dog- and booze-friendly policy (they can drink on the job. Seriously), and 14 cafes, most of which aim to be organic and local. They are big on food at Google. There were stations with snacks set out for us whenever we were not stuffing ourselves (myself) past the limit of reason with the most delicious food. The fact that they maintain that level of quality on such a huge scale of preparation is mind boggling.

Conference menu highlights:

Dinner, Friday night
Theme: Food on a stick.
Chicken and tofu kebabs
Grilled corn on the cob (on a stick), candy sweet, moist and crisp.
Pressed sandwiches (don’t know how these fit into the stick scheme but they were fantastic, especially the ones with banana and cardamom-scented peanut butter pressed between a crispy rosemary roll)
S’mores (get it? Stick? Fire? Yep, it’s clever)

Breakfast Saturday
Brie and dried cherry stuffed French Toast, which apparently, did not pass muster with Martha Stewart who was, for some unexplained reason, in attendance.

Breakfast Sunday
Eggs Florentine, with marinated heirloom tomatoes, sauteed spinach, and a light cheddary hollandaise sauce all atop an English muffin that miraculously avoided becoming soggy - until you spilled the yolky contents of perfectly poached fresh eggs, that is.

Lunch Sunday
The best falafel I have ever had – browned yet not too fried, creamy and moist with the slightest hint of curry flavor. I suspect they were hybrid falafels, chickpeas spiked with peas.
Lamb gyro pitas, marinated chunks of lamb in a yogurt and mint sauce
Salad of heirloom tomatoes, English cucumbers, kalamata olives and firm feta cubes.

The food alone at this conference was worth the cross-country flight.

Onto the burger experience. After the conference disbanded, I coerced a new friend (and owner of the coolest of all design firms in NY) to drive my SciFoo-ed out self to In-N-Out. To be fair, Phillip was a willing participant in my burger quest – everyone seems to love that place.

In-N-Out is a true fast food burger place, but without the heavy grease and processed food smell searing your lungs upon entry. It was clean. It smelled clean. They cut their own French fries in each store – I know because I took the trouble to photograph the slicer!

The slicer is on the left wall, after the tidy frier baskets.

Everything is made fresh, making the process not terribly fast, which I greatly appreciate. Their meat is made out of meat, not grey bits of horse snouts, or whatever it is that goes into McCrappie’s “burgers”. The bun was buttered and toasted to a crispy, buttery edge, the lettuce was crisp, and the tomato was not.

The meat patty, while thin (I should’ve gotten the double) tasted like beef, and fresh beef at that. The fries were a little anemic in color but tasted as they should, like potatoes and not chemicals. It was great. A perfect fast food meal, with none of the fast food hangover two hours later. I am almost (almost) glad there aren’t any In-N-Outs round these parts – I would be in big, burger-eating trouble. As Martha would’ve put it, they’re a good thing.


coturnix said...

Sunday lunch - three kinds of lasagna and I had a big piece of each!

JC said...

Damn, I didn't know Google let their employees drink on the job! What a perk!

I'm so glad you liked In N Out. To my unschooled palate it is the best fast food around. Nice to see that someone who knows what good food tastes like agrees! Although I sometimes wish it was closer to me, I too think that it's good that it's only an occasional treat. Don't want familarity to breed contempt, you know.

Anna said...

Bora - I had forgotten about the lasagna! Shame on me. I had the spinach and wild mushroom lasagna and it was fantastic. Very mushroomy. Whenever I wasn't gaping at all the scilebrities, I was thinking about the food!

JC - Google was named the best place to work this year, I believe. No kidding.

I think it really is the best fast food around. I ate it and was not praying for death an hour later. That's good stuff! "Familiarity to breed contempt" is a great saying and also one of my favorite song lyrics (Maximo Park).

coturnix said...

The spinach and mushroom lasagna is what Martha Stewart served me that day. It looked REALLY good on my plate - she has a great sense of food presentation, I have to admit.

coturnix said...

Perhaps we should have done the FoofBlogging event and the Science Blogging Conference on the same weekends instead of six months apart - you are invited to both:

Paul said...

On my frequent trips to the West coast (and very near the Googleplex, but never invited), I too have discovered the joys of in N out burgers...you described them better than I could ever do so (see, your foodie instincts are still good). Your description of your Googlemeal was scrummy too....mouth watering type of scrummy.

Will follow your food exploits carefully...you will lead us into new and uncharted waters (or is that yogurt?).


Anna said...

Bora - The Science Blogging conference sounds like it would be a great event. I am happy that you will, er, blog about it.

Paul - Funny you should mention yogurt! I, in all my anal retentiveness (is that a word?), make my own and have been meaning to blog about it. Thank you for coming by!

Anna said...

Bora - Ok, science blogging conference is cool by itself, but you got Michael Ruhlman to do a reading?? This is going to be the best conference of all time. Stupid grad school just. won't. end.

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