two of my favorite things

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The local Chickenland wine shop held the most ingenius tasting last Saturday: various sparkling wines paired with French fries.

Of course, I went.

For $10, I got a flight of four sparkling wines (Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, J and a Spanish cava with a name I can't quite recall), with pours so generous these were pretty much like four glasses instead of just tastes, plus two kinds of fries specially prepared for the tasting by the folks over at Pazzo. One kind had extra salt, and the other was seasoned with truffle oil and parmesan.

I was in heaven.

And I learned some things, too. For example, you are probably used to hearing about bubbly being paired with sweet stuff. (I remember once going to a Champagne and chocolate tasting when I lived in SLO so long ago.) But the truth is, sparklers go extraordinarily well with salt. Hence the fries.

I also learned it takes exactly five-and-a-half twists to get the cage loose on a Champagne bottle. (But don't take the cage off completely, and keep a finger on the cork at all times, just in case that bottle decides to open on its own. Which actually happened to us once when we were pouring at an event. Oh, the dirty look we got from the oldish woman who was walking by and thought we were a bunch of irresponsible kids out to break every bone in her body with our out-of-control Champagne corks.)

Anyway, if you are ever in Chickenland on a Saturday afternoon when the Vine & Barrel boys hold their events, go.

Finally, on another wine-related note: I just finished reading wine writer extraordinaire Jancis Robinson's autobiography, Tasting Pleasure. What's funny to me is that this book came out in 1997, which was my sophomore year of college and which also happens to be the first time I ever really attempted to drink wine (outside of church, that is).

And alas, I was violently, violently ill after that first wine experience.

But I kind of suspect that was because I made the mistake of following those few glasses of Pinot Grigio with the high-class drink known as Zima.

in la-la land

Friday, July 20, 2007

I have a weird relationship with L.A. It's where I grew up, but I don't really like coming "home" because (a) my parents moved so the house I come "home" to isn't really "home," (b) I don't have a big network of high school friends to visit when I'm in town since I hated my high school and 95 percent of the people in it, (c) the traffic sucks and (d) the place just feels bizarre.

And by bizarre, I mean it feels like I've been magically whisked back to high school again, which as you read above, I hated. And yet I somehow allow myself to get sucked in. Listening to the same radio station and getting excited when they play Nirvana. Calling my mom to tell her where I am and when she can expect me back at the house. Driving past and around the old places. (Did I really hang out at the Burbank mall? And why do I suddenly have a near-violent craving for a hot dog from Pink's? And let's not forget Higley's for coffee, which sadly, no longer exists. I think the amount of mochas I consumed there stunted my growth.)

Despite the time warp, there are some things about this place that are strangely fascinating. Like the people watching. (People in L.A. actually wear shorts outside of their homes. I haven't seen this much public bare leg in ages. And these people have tans! Real tans! That definitely doesn't happen in the Bay Area!)

Also cool: The ethnic food. Susan (one of my two L.A. friends) took me to Little Armenia to buy some coffee today. (Can't wait to get home and try out the ibrik I got him for his birthday.) Little Armenia? Not exactly something you'd find in Chickenland.

Then there's the shopping. The selection of stripper shoes here is fabulous. Stuff you wouldn't see in San Francisco, not even at Foot Worship! I couldn't resist -- picked up two pairs for class.

And I'm also finding myself wishing I had packed my bikini. Because I haven't been to a beach where you can actually go in the water without wearing a full-body wetsuit in a very long time.

already homesick

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It's hard to pack your suitcase when certain furry orange creatures don't want you to leave.

the beast

Saturday, July 14, 2007

So you may have heard about the mega-mushroom that was picked in a forest in Mexico. I sent the article to our mushroom expert friend, the guy we went foraging with last December. I wanted to know if the story was real: Can a mushroom really grow to 27 inches?

The answer: Apparently, yes. He said this particular mushroom looks like it's from the Tricholoma family, and it's likely edible.

And he also said the guy in the picture is probably 4 feet tall.


Friday, July 13, 2007

As the clock ticks its way toward The Weekend (finally!), I find myself asking a very important question: What are we going to have for dinner?

We usually cook during the week. (The fabulous meal above is something he conjured up Wednesday night.) And cooking usually involves zucchini from our garden. (Our zucchini plants just won't stop.)

But by the time the week is over, the last thing I want to do is cook. Right now, I'm craving pizza. Bricks is my new favorite -- they describe themselves as Chicago-style pizza, but with a thin crust. And they make a killer Caesar salad, too -- housemade dressing, plus real anchovies if you ask for them. And if we're feeling too lazy to go out (and want a huge fatty pizza), Old Chicago Pizza delivers. One slice of that big, thick pie is all I need.

Then of course, there's Mexican. Cotija is delicious and dirt cheap. The restaurant looks kind of like an old gas station, but so far, it's the best Mexican food I've been able to find in Chickenland. (You know you've hit authentic when there's a mariachi band eating there. Yes, eating. On their own personal time and not hired by the restaurant.) I've had the tamale and enchilada combo and a veggie burrito there, and both were excellent.

Seriously ... is it time to go home yet?


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

That's me.

The truth became clear last week, when I was making plans to meet a friend who was in town from Cleveland. (And this friend isn't really someone you'd take to your favorite hole-in-the wall taqueria or vegetarian Chinese restaurant. When we were discussing dinner, she was shopping for Marc Jacobs.) We were trying to choose a restaurant in the city, and I realized I had no idea what the new place to eat was anymore. When I lived in the city, I had a long list of places I wanted to check out, but this time, I really couldn't come up with anything -- drew a total blank. We ended up going to Park Chow, a good neighborhood standby, but not exactly the best place to show off your It bag.

My bridge-and-tunneler status was further confirmed when I met another friend in Nopa (the neighborhood) on Saturday, only to ask her where Nopa (the restaurant) was. She looked at me like I was nuts. (Especially since we were maybe two blocks away from the restaurant when this conversation happened.)

But it hit hardest when I found myself driving past my old apartment on my way to a birthday party at Trad'r Sam's. The parking spot right in front of the building was open. This used to be my favorite (and the most coveted) spot. And it was free, the way it hardly ever was when I lived there. And I drove by because this wasn't my home anymore -- this wasn't my destination.

cyrus wins

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

There are the meals you remember forever. Like my first wine dinner, which was at Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso. I was a last-minute guest, invited to attend because several wine club members had cancelled and the marketing person thought it would be a good idea to have the local wine media take their place. (This was before I crossed over to the "dark side" known as PR.) John Besh was the chef. I had foie gras for the first time and can only describe the experience as "meat butter." Afterwards, I hung out with the staff and the cooks and smoked cigars and drank Port.

Then there was the mushroom dinner at Millennium. We had been dating for, oh, maybe a bit more than six months and had just moved to San Francisco. I was in love with everything (yes, including the 38 Geary -- those were the days). We made reservations and got as dressed up as we could and had the most beautiful meal -- an all-vegan multi-course mushroom dinner paired with wines from Coturri. Tony Coturri was there and came to our table and talked to us about his wines. There were candy cap mushrooms in the dessert. We were half-drunk and giddy when we left and stumbled toward the bus stop.

Both of those meals pale in comparison to Sunday night. I took him to Cyrus, chef Douglas Keane's restaurant in Healdsburg, for his birthday. Everything about the dinner was perfect, from the service to the food to the atmosphere. (I had been warned in advance that the restaurant could be stuffy, but it wasn't like that at all. No awkward "you look young so we'll treat you like crap" attitude. Everyone was warm and welcoming.)

We splurged and ordered the chef's tasting menu. I've heard Cyrus is the restaurant that can rival the French Laundry and make Gary Danko's cheese cart look like Trader Joe's. And after Sunday's decadent dinner, I think those rumors are entirely possible. This was our menu (which they printed out for us as a souvenir -- and which we've kept, since we're such food dorks):

* Canapés: This was a trio of bite-sized goodies. One was some type of grain with mint in a spoon. Another was a savory tart that reminded me of a super-fancy teeny-tiny pizza with perfectly balanced flavors. The last was a corn fritter.

(Also, there was bread served somewhere here with both cow's milk and goat's milk butter and two kinds of salt. I love butter. I love salt. I had to exercise extreme self-control to keep from stuffing my face with just the bread.)

* Amuse Bouche: For some reason, I can't remember what this was. But it was a bite-size something. I think maybe the bread obscured my memory. I was really, really into the bread.

* "Vitello Tonnato": The restaurant's take on the traditional Italian summer dish of veal in tuna sauce, this was thinly sliced seared veal and seared tuna with haricot verts, a quail egg and a thick French fry. The flavors were incredibly delicate. It was freaking unbelievable.

* Seared foie gras with pistachio streusel doughnut and bing cherry compote: Um, do I really even have to elaborate on this? Doughnut + foie + it's cherry season = Oh my good god.

(I think maybe the first palate cleanser came here, but I'm not so sure. It could have been after the next dish or the one after that. What I do remember, though, is that instead of the usual sorbet in a cup, they served the sorbet as popsicle sticks, and they brought them out to you in a floral arrangement. You plucked a popsicle off and then ate the sorbet. How's that for presentation?)

* Soft shell crab with sweet corn, mussel-saffron sauce: This was my favorite dish of the evening. The crab was so crispy yet so light, and it was served over pickeld ramps (I heart ramps). I loved the sauce so much that I sopped it up with my bread. Is that allowed at a fancy restaurant?

* Braised rabbit ravioli with porcini and artichoke: This was several slices of rabbit with one rabbit ravioli. My past experience with rabbit is that it can easily be tough and pretty much flavorless. Such was not the case here. The rabbit was cooked just right -- just a teeny bit of pale pink in the center.

* Strip loin of beef with morel mushrooms, asparagus and crispy sweetbreads: The most fascinating part of this dish was that the morel mushrooms were done in a sort of custard reminiscent of crème brûlée -- complete with cracking the surface. I am not a huge beef eater, but the combination of flavors here was wonderful. (Really, the combination of all of the flavors overall impressed me. I mean, if you look at some of the things on this menu, they all seem sort of random. But combined -- holy crap, look out.) Also, the beef was excellent with the Clos Du Val 96 Napa Valley Cab we were drinking. (By the way, we sent a glass to the somm, and he thought it was a Bordeaux!)

* Cheese course: We had been looking forward to this since we stepped into the restaurant and saw the cheese cart being rolled to each table. This cart is a masterpiece. They have everything. I wanted it all, but we had to narrow it down to just six cheeses. Unfortunately, I was so enthralled that I forgot to take notes. I think the first two were goat's milk -- one from Oregon and one from France. The third was a Sally Jackson cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves. I don't remember what the fourth was but I know it was a soft, Brie-like cheese that I kept eating with macadamia nuts. And the sixth cheese was a blue cheese unlike any I've ever tasted before. It had the strength of a blue, but instead of being slightly soft, the consistency was similar to a manchego, which is one of my favorite cheeses.

(This is where the second palate cleanser arrived -- it was like a boysenberry soda in a shot glass, and you drank it with a little metal straw. Yum.)

* White and dark chocolate mousse with raspberry; tasting of frozen melon; caramel wonton: Talk about a well-planned dessert sampling. This had it all: Chocolatey, fruity and caramelly (is that a word?). I liked the caramel wonton best. It was served with a dollop of crème fraîche, and the combination of the rich, creamy caramel with the slightly sour, salty crème fraîche was fantastic.

* Mignardises: And to top it all off, we got post-desserts. Yes, gorgeous little chocolates and gelées and caramels. And even their take on a Tootsie Roll, all wrapped up in shiny red paper. By this time, we were so full we thought we would explode, so they boxed these little goodies up in a small gold-and-white box for us. That very box is sitting next to me right now, and it's all I can do to keep from devouring all of its contents.

So there we were in Healdsburg, stomachs happy. And when we left the restaurant and got into the car to return to the real world, it was 1:04 a.m. Now that's what I call an eating extravaganza.
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