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What Happened When I Dropped the Diet for 5 Whole Days and Went Thousands of Calories Over My Goal

After four months of pretty careful food tracking on the Social Diet, I was recently in San Francisco and then Sonoma Valley, two of my favorite places in the world. I had food-related work to do (if you call going to the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend “work”), and I had food-related fun to have: a lunch pilgrimage to Chez Panisse, breakfast at Tartine, and a 10-course dinner at what turned out to be one of the best new restaurants I’ve eaten in in a long while.

When we touched down in SFO I was superstitiously nervous: If I go off the wagon here, will I be able to get back on? On the other hand, if I couldn’t relax and enjoy all this good food—really, fully enjoy it, which is both my job and my passion—wouldn’t that prove the other thing I fear: that my eating plan had transmogrified into neurotic mania? You don’t cross the sacred threshold of Tartine without sampling the richest offerings, calories be damned. But I didn’t want to go nuts, either. I wasn’t going to stop the MyFitnessPal food diary. I just planned to ignore what it told me for a while.

This felt like a test. It felt, even though I’ve been enjoying the whole Social Diet process a hell of a lot, like work release from prison, day pass from the calorie-counter’s loony bin.

In the end, I went more than 4,000 calories over my limit over the five days, total. Exercise: a morning run every day. Weight gain: zero. And it was heaven, from the roast pork banh mi sandwich at the Slanted Door to the sublime cocoa-nib caramel corn dessert at Prospect. A few things eaten along the way:

• Amazing duck-confit b’stilla at Mourad Lahlou’s Aziza in San Francisco. B’stilla is a savory Morroccan pie—an unlikely and swoon-worthy combination of pigeon, phyllo, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. Lalou’s duck version was the best I’d had since first trying the dish in Morocco more than 20 years ago. Then he served the best couscous I have ever eaten—homemade, buttery, with spicy carrots.

• Thin-sliced heirloom tomatoes with a garlicky avocado puree, served on crunchy Acme toasted bread with feathery fresh chervil at the Café at Chez Panisse. The cafe is a casual neighborhood restaurant that can seem unremarkable, almost old-fashioned (though it’s crisp and gorgeous) until you slow down, sip your wine, take a first bite, and see why simple chow like this set off a food revolution.

Gazpacho, crudo, crab "tater tots" and pasta with pork at Chalkboard in Healdsburg, CA.

• Brilliant small plates at Shane McAnelly’s new Chalkboard restaurant in Healdsburg. There was a lime- and lemon-inflected gazpacho with avocado-cilantro foam (more like a light mousse); little Dungeness crab tater tots with crème fraiche; two crudos: tuna with “compressed watermelon” and cherry tomatoes, and hamachi with grapefruit, avocado, and jalapeno; and an astonishing bowl of cocoa-colored fresh pasta with milk-braised pork shoulder. This chef is headed for big things.

Tartine’s hot pressed sandwich of gooey Gruyère, Niman ranch ham and Dijon—which we split after trying their stupendous passion-fruit and coconut Bavarian cake, because that’s the order the food came in. Worth the 45-minute Sunday morning wait.

• A heirloom tomato and burrata salad at Prospect in San Francisco, which distinguished itself by including the best tomatoes I’ve tasted this year; followed by an heirloom cucumber salad, followed by roast goat, all washed down with a funky, delicious 2007 Cote Rotie wine (all wines that night were 50% off!).

Going “off” the Social Diet—and being able to get back on—without feeling out of control: That was a delicious success…

How do you enjoy special trips and events without obsessing with your weight loss goals? Comment here, email Scott_Mowbray@timeinc.com, and tweet @ScottMowb or @Cooking_Light using #SocialDiet.