Parada New Peru

Several years ago, the parking lot for our local BART station was converted (at least partially) into a couple of large buildings, with real estate for shops, parking, and restaurants on the first floors, and apartments up above. This change pretty much coincided with the crash of our economy, and likely for that reason, much of the retail space remains empty. There is a Starbucks, of course. There is a ‘brow bar’, a ballet studio for the toddler set, an insurance agent’s office, and a place to take your dog for training and play. About a year and a half ago, we noticed that one of the store fronts was rented, but development didn’t happen. It just sat there, for about a year. I don’t know the story, if there were funding issues or what, but several months ago we finally saw some movement, and a lot of work going into a new restaurant. It finally opened about 2 weeks ago, and it was worth the wait.

Parada New Peru is the latest offering from chef Carlos Altamirano. He is a well renowned chef in the Bay Area, with a Michelin starred restaurant, La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, three other restaurants, and several food trucks delivering his food to the area. If I had known all of this before hand, perhaps we would have made a reservation before walking over for dinner on our 22nd anniversary. As it was, it was more like, “Want to try that new Peruvian place?” “Sure!” So off we went. We arrived at about 5:15 on Friday night, and were told they were booked solid until 8. We had a play in SF at 7:30, so that wouldn’t work for us. They suggested we get take out. OK, but the atmosphere is nice, and it’s our anniversary, and we wanted to sit down for a few minutes at least. There was a table in the small bar area that was reserved for 6:00, so they let us sit and have a drink and an appetizer, then we took our main course to go.

We started with the cebiche (the Peruvian spelling of the word I’ve always seen spelled ‘ceviche’) tasting, which included 3 cebiches: Pescado (fish of the day), Chino (ahi tuna), and Mixto (fish, prawns, and calamari).  They were all delicious and complex.  One had a little heat, one was tart, and the third was maybe a little sweet.  My favorites were the tuna and the mix.  So good.  I had a glass of wine, though I have no idea what it was.  Just that it was white.  Ted had a Manhattan, which he declared good, but not the best.  He wasn’t a big fan of the orange peel in his drink, but otherwise it was good.  For our main course, I had the  Lomo Saltado, which was a delicious stir fried beef tenderloin, with onions, tomatoes, soy sauce & shoestring fries.  Oddly, it came with both fries and rice.  I like both, so that was OK by me.  I’m not familiar enough with Peruvian food to know if this is normal or not.  Seemed like a lot of starch.  Ted had the Langostino Crocantes, which was crispy quinoa encrusted wild Mexican white shrimp with sweet potato gratin & Inca Kola BBQ.  It was delicious, though a little more sweet than he wanted.  Perhaps that was the gratin.  Both dishes were really good, the ambiance was lively, the wait staff friendly.

I didn’t feel like our waiter knew the menu as well as he should have, but it’s a new restaurant. Give it some time, and I’m sure they’ll have it all figured out.  I wish the prices were a little more reasonable, as our casual dinner ran about $100 for the two of us.  There were plenty of staff on hand, the rent is high around here, and it tasted like the ingredients were all top line and really good quality.  I hope it does well, and I look forward to going back. Welcome to the neighborhood, Parada.  Glad to have you here.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

One of the benefits of membership to our local PBS station is that they sometimes have a ‘free member day’ at local museums. Several years ago, that took us to the SF MOMA to see a Picasso exhibit, and Maya and I spent a lovely day in San Francisco together.

This time the ‘free member day’ was for the de Young Museum, one of two fine art museums in San Francisco. They have several exhibits, but the current Special Exhibit is a collection of paintings from the Mauritshuis in Holland, which is a museum that is being expanded and is under renovation until mid-2014. While they’re tearing up the place, they sent some of their paintings on tour, the most famous of which was the Vermeer painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring. I read the novel several years ago, and was excited to see the painting for free, so those of us who were willing to get up early and be there 1/2 hour before doors opened (I remembered how crowded the Picasso exhibit was, and that was on a weekday) hopped in the car and went. That means Ted and I. Maya is at that teen age when it takes something more important and exciting than a once in a lifetime chance to see a famous painting in person to rouse her out of bed and be out the door by 8am on a Saturday. We got there at 9, doors open at 9:30. As sometimes happens in a long line, we struck up a couple of conversations with those around us. I was actually pretty impressed that people will make such an effort to see art. The couple ahead of us had driven up from Cambria, spent the night in a fancy hotel, and were spending the day. They were also members of PBS. Then there was a guy behind us, who had flown down from Portland to see another exhibit, on famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, which is leaving in a few days. I was thinking about that, and about how people with certain interests and a certain income level are willing to spend a certain amount of money for such high minded things. If you don’t have the income level to see the exhibit ($25 per person), or to donate to your local PBS station, but you do still have the interest in art, many museums have free days, when you can see the exhibits for free, one day a month, though that won’t get you in to see the Girl and her fancy earring…that’s extra.

The highlights of the exhibit, for me, were Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, which was so much more lovely in real life than online, and Rachel Ruysch’s Vase of Flowers.

We toyed with buying framed prints of these two paintings to display in our home, but decided that it might seem sort of weird. So I bought some magnets instead. Our fridge is getting arty.

We also saw the exhibit called Rembrandt’s Century, which was comprised of a few paintings and a lot of etchings, both by Rembrandt, and by his 17th century contemporaries. I was glad that I overheard the gentleman behind us saying he had flown down from Portland specifically to see the Nureyev exhibit, because it was well worth seeing, and I don’t know if I would have known about it otherwise. There were photographs and videos of Nureyev dancing, but the most spectacular parts of the exhibit were the costumes, which were dazzling.

There were tutus and costumes from many famous ballets…Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadere, and Giselle, among others. They were sumptuous and so detailed. Just beautiful. I would go and see them again, if they weren’t leaving this week. So glad I got to see them.

After our museum visit, we decided to go out for Chinese food. Just in time for Lunar New Year! Our first thought was to dine in our old neighborhood, Clement Street. The parking gods were not with us, however, and we left, discouraged. Not to be thwarted, we decided to drive a bit further out into the avenues, and get Dim Sum. When we lived just off of Clement, there was a tasty and reliable Chinese restaurant near us, Ton Kiang. They have a sister restaurant further out, that has good Dim Sum, so that’s where we went. We were able to park pretty quickly, and only 2 or 3 blocks from the restaurant, which any big city dweller will tell you is fine parking indeed. The good thing about Dim Sum is that, if you’re hungry, there’s no dilly dallying around with a menu and waiting for your food to be prepared. You sit down, and waiters start coming by with trays of food. You take what you want, and not what you don’t. We ate a bit more than we should have, because we were quite hungry and there was a lot of dumpling and starch involved, so we were pretty full by the time we left. I’m not sure of what all we had, but I do know we had bbq pork buns, shrimp dumplings, eggplant stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms stuffed with shrimp and chilies, asparagus, spinach, little riblets, shrimp and rice noodles, and maybe something else. If I could do it over, I’d swap out the ribs and get the salt and pepper calamari instead, but by the time that came around, we were far too full. That’s the down side of Dim Sum. You shouldn’t be greedy and eat the first things that they bring (like we did), and instead, bide your time a bit. Next time perhaps.

Now I’ll finish off this long winded post by telling you that when we got home, I had the overwhelming urge to re-read Tracy Chevalier’s novel, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring‘, which is a completely fictional story, supposing that the girl in the famous painting is a maid in Vermeer’s household, and what her life might be like. Luckily, my copy survived the loathsome book purge of 2007, so I curled up on the sofa and devoured it. I finished before bed, which pointed out to me the difference between a book that completely draws me in, like this one, and one that fails to do so, like ‘Lincoln’, by Gore Vidal, which is sadly not holding my interest. Now I kind of want to see the film version. I think I saw it when it came out in theaters, but I’m not positive, and that would have been about 10 years ago. Maybe time to make a stop at our local video store.

Overall it was a lovely day. It would have been nice if Maya had come into the city with us, but on the other hand, it was quite lovely to have a date with my handsome husband in our favorite city, doing things we love together, just the two of us. I’ll call that a success and not complain a bit.

Bella Trattoria ~ San Francisco

Sunday was a day in San Francisco, which we spent going to the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park, looking for Magnolia trees in bloom. It turns out it’s a bit early, even here in sunny California, so we didn’t see a LOT of blooms. OK, there weren’t many. But one thing I like about Magnolia trees (specifically, the ones called ‘Tulip Trees’) is how the branches and trunk look relatively delicate, and the sparseness of the branches with the beautiful pink and white flowers coming out, it’s somehow architectural or something. I love it.

Anyway, after searching the Gardens for Magnolia trees for awhile, then stopping by Ocean Beach, watching beautiful waves, smelling the sea air, and being amazed by the kite surfers, we decided to stop for an early dinner in the City. We couldn’t find our favorite Vietnamese place, wondering if it closed, so we decided to give a new place a try. Not new, but new to us.  The restaurant was Bella Trattoria, which we saw it covered on ‘Check Please, Bay Area‘ awhile ago, and when they talked about how good the gnocchi was, I knew I had to try it, sooner or later. We got there just when they were opening, so we had our choice of tables. The waiter was very friendly and outgoing, and was very informed about the menu and the wine list.

I am a super duper fan of gnocchi, so anytime I hear that a place has good gnocchi, I have to have it. So there was no question about what I would order. Except, actually, that there were two gnocchi dishes on the menu. What’s a girl to do? Order the dish with Gorgonzola, obviously. You’d be an idiot to not do the same. Not that others are idiots, because I’ve heard that a lot of menu items are really good. But for me, it’s gnocchi. So I went for the gnocchi verdi, which was spinach gnocchi with mushrooms and a Gorgonzola sauce.

(I didn’t take pictures…so these are taken from the internets…)
Photo found here.

Here’s a pic of my absolutely delicious gnocchi verdi. The gnocchi was light and pillowy, and made me want to try to figure out how to make spinach gnocchi at home, rather than buying the frozen or vacuum packed versions. The Gorgonzola sauce had just the right amount of Gorgonzola, not too tangy, but delicious. The mushrooms balanced the dish perfectly. Wow, that was good. I might have trouble ordering anything else here.

Ted’s was a squid ink spaghetti with seafood that looked a lot like this, except there was more variety of seafood, and the pasta was thinner.  Photo found here.

The only bad thing about this dish was a matter of taste, I think. The shrimp in the dish were shell on, which gives the shrimp and sauce more flavor, but makes it a bit more messy to eat. The spaghetti was squid ink…Ted said that the flavors of the seafood overpowered the spaghetti, so he’s not sure that squid ink tastes a lot different, but it was all a delicious treat.

Photo found here.

Maya had the rigatoni with Italian sausage and a cream tomato sauce, which she said was very good.  She’s fairly discriminating with her pasta, so I’m glad that she enjoyed it as much as she did. I would have expected her to order the butternut squash ravioli, as we have had that at home before, but she wasn’t in the mood for that. Perhaps too sweet.

Overall, I would highly recommend ‘Bella Trattoria’ to anyone living in the area, or anyone visiting San Francisco who wants to get out of the Union Square, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Fillmore Street areas. There are plenty of wonderful restaurants there, but sometimes it’s nice to go out into the Avenues and try something a bit different. Yum. I hope we go back, and not TOO far into the future.


photo mix found on the Contogna website

Yesterday found me taking BART into the City to meet my dear friend MAS for luncheon, at a lovely restaurant that I hadn’t tried before, Cotogna. Turns out, they are the sister restaurant to Quince, which inhabits the space once occupied by Myth, a restaurant that Ted and I happened upon one night several years ago.

It was the kind of lunch that Ladies of Leisure enjoy…we had appetizers, potato gnocchi with castelmagno cheese, wine (I had wine, MAS had sparkling water), veggies, and a delicious apple-quince crostata with vanilla ice cream (seen in the picture there).  We lingered for well over 3 hours, catching up and telling our stories to each other. Marilee and I met back in graduate school, and I do adore her.  She’s smart, hilarious, effervescent, and fun.  A real kick in the pants. 😉

(image found here)

kick in the pants, informal
a. someone or something that is very exciting, enjoyable, amusing, etc.: I think you’ll like her, she’s a real kick in the pants.

definition found here

The food was delicious. One of our appetizers was a little pot of ricotta cheese with sun-choke, hazelnuts, and toasted baguette. The other was Asian pear, prosciutto & smoked almonds. The sauce for the pears was marvelous, and truthfully, the pear with the ricotta made me happy to marry the two appetizers. And prosciutto…it was really, really thin and lovely. The gnocchi was light and fluffy, the cheese creamy and not overpoweringly rich. I love love love gnocchi, and this was some of the best I’ve had. Funny, because another of the best gnocchis was at Myth, and no, the same people are not involved in both restaurants. There’s just good gnocchi karma in the building, perhaps. Last was the apple-quince crostata with ice cream, which was light and not too sweet.

The atmosphere at Cotogna is casual, though you wouldn’t feel overdressed in a suit and heels. The service was attentive, friendly, and helpful. There aren’t very many restaurants on my side of the tunnel where they clear your silverware between courses, rather than suggesting that you keep your dirty fork and knife for the next course. It’s one criteria for good service for me. Another is that they didn’t clear my plate when I had finished eating, they waited until MAS had also finished her meal. Yet another was that they stayed on top of our water situation, and that they spoke knowledgeably about the menu and the wine list. It was a lovely afternoon, and I recommend it highly. Both the restaurant, and getting together for a leisurly afternoon with a dear friend.

Monday Randomness

Last week was Ted and my 19th wedding anniversary (link is to Ted’s blog, where you can see a slideshow if you’re interested….we look so YOUNG to me). It seems so strange that so many years have gone by, and yet I still sometimes feel 27. But then I look at my pictures, at my face in the mirror, and I think, oh yeah, I’m not 27 anymore. Oh well. We had a lovely day.

We started off by driving to Muir Woods for a hike, with a pit-stop in Sausalito for sandwiches. We saw a segment on Check, Please, Bay Area about a deli counter in a little market, Davey Jones Deli, and we thought we’d get sandwiches there. All I can say is, YUM. Perhaps the best sandwich I’ve ever had. The ingredients were so obviously made with care, obviously the best possible quality, extremely fresh, all of that. Also, quite innovative. I had the porkberrywich, which is seasonal and not on their menu, and consists of pulled pork, strawberries, raspberries, maybe some mustard in there, and Cole Slaw sans mayo, on a dutch crunch roll. Really, really good. Ted had the Cuban, which was (clipped from their website) ‘Pulled Pork, Ham, Turkey, & Cheese with plenty Irish Mustard, Pickle & Pepperoncini, Fresh Jalapeno, Lemon, & Cilantro, Lettuce, Tomato, & Onion with Roast Garlic & Red Pepper Sauces on a Po’ Boy Roll.’ Maya went traditional, and had a tuna salad sandwich. She wasn’t as impressed as Ted and I were. I think she liked it OK, but she’s loyal to Morucci’s sandwiches, closer to home. I’ll be diplomatic, and say that if you’re in the Walnut Creek/Lafayette area (aka, the wrong side of the tunnel), go to Morucci’s, but if you’re anywhere near Sausalito, go to Davey Jones Deli. It was pricey, sandwiches were $12 or $13 each, maybe a bit more. Three sandwiches, three drinks, one small bag of chips, $42. But you could taste the quality, so I felt like it was money well spent.
Then we moved on to Muir Woods, which was packed with people. Tourists galore. We heard people speaking Italian, German, French, Hindi, and English in many accents, Southern, South African, British. I could have done without the crowds, but the trees are beautiful. It’s such a peaceful, beautiful place. The coastal valleys of California used to be populated with these old growth redwoods, but most of them were cleared for the wood, and for houses. Luckily, people were thinking ahead a bit, and saved this beautiful place. After hiking for a couple of hours, we made our way back to the car for the ride home.
Once we got home, Ted and I wanted to go out to a celebratory Anniversary dinner. Maya didn’t really want to go, which was fine with all of us. It was nice to spend family time together, and then have couple time together in the evening. So I made her a grilled cheese sandwich and some fruit for dinner, then Ted and I went out to one of our favorite local spots, Chevalier. Our favorite part of our honeymoon was in Paris, so we often try to have French food for our anniversary. I went all cheese, with a cheese plate appetizer and stuffed squash blossoms for my entree, which was delicious, but I don’t think I’d do all cheese again. Pretty rich stuff. The squash blossoms are something I’ve seen made on TV a few times, and had vowed to try if I ever saw it on a menu. These were stuffed with goat cheese, and very yummy. Ted started with a salad, and then moved on to a skirt steak. He really enjoyed it. It was a lovely anniversary.

On a more somber note, I went to Stockton that Saturday. I have a friend, Helene, whose lovely 18 year old daughter, Bronte, passed away from complications of Cerebral Palsy and Pneumonia. Helene and I are not close friends, we have not kept in touch over the years, I had never met Bronte, but when I heard of her loss, I wanted to be there for her. I came away wishing that I had met her. Everyone who met her talked about her wonderful, joyous spirit. She will be greatly missed by many people. Mostly, of course, her broken hearted parents. I cannot imagine anything worse.

Also while in Stockton, I stopped to see my Grandma, who hasn’t been feeling well as of late. I was dismayed and shocked to see that she has lost quite a bit of weight. She’s always been a tiny woman, so she didn’t have anything to lose. She looks to weigh about 90 lbs, she’s weak and tired. She needs to eat more, to give herself the strength the get better. She has no appetite. She eats two or three bites, and loses interest. Why does it seem to always come down to food? With my mom, who couldn’t eat, and lost 60 lbs in her last few months. She had the weight to lose, but you can’t really live on your fat, your body needs nutrition. With Genevieve, who didn’t eat much, who had to be coaxed. It’s so stressful. So now the thing is to try to get my Grandma eating, hopefully nutritious foods with lots of calories, but which won’t upset her stomach. The other thing to do, which is amazingly difficult, is to try to accept that perhaps this is the beginning of her decline, and that she may not be with us forever. I don’t want to accept that in the least. I love her so much. She means the world to me. But she’s suffering right now, and I don’t want that, either. Sigh. I feel worried. Last night my dreams were of ideas for fattening foods that I might get her to eat. Not very restful.

What else…we saw another really good movie a few weeks ago, Safety Not Guaranteed. It’s about a magazine intern who’s covering a story for her magazine; a man has put an add in the paper, that he’s looking for someone to time travel with him. Safety not guaranteed. So she pretends to be interested in his theories of time travel, and to be willing to go back in time with him, in order to root out the story. Quirky and wonderful, and ultimately quite touching.

Maya has finally gotten Ted and me hooked on Game of Thrones. She’s been trying for awhile. We don’t get HBO, but for some reason it’s working on OnDemand right now. I have no idea why, but we’re enjoying it. We just finished Season 1 last night. Wowee.

Maya took her first AP class this year, AP European History. She got her test results on Friday, and she got a 5! Wow, amazing stuff. The scale is 1 – 5, and many colleges give credit if you get a 3 or above. She was hoping for a 3. Nicely done. She’s also doing swim team this summer, in a very casual, rec-team sort of way, which means she goes to practice every day, but only goes to the meets that she feels like attending. Fine with us. She has already shaved 6 or 7 seconds off of her time from the beginning of the season. She came to the sport late, starting last year at the age of 15, when you swim 100 meters, and most of the kids had been swimming for at least 5 or 6 years, some more.

Ted’s still looking for work. I’m enjoying having him around the house. He’s sleeping well and getting a lot of time in following his favorite hobby, road biking. Nothing like free time to let you improve your health and bike condition, huh? Unemployment isn’t so bad, really, except for the lack of a paycheck. So he’s keeping his contacts and applies for a variety of things. There are a couple of possibilities out there. Keep your fingers crossed for something GOOD to come along very soon.

A Day in the City

Ted and I are both fortunate enough to be able to take the week off between Christmas and New Years, and it may be my favorite week of the year. Don’t ask me about that when I take time off in the summer, because I may change my mind, but for now, let’s say this is the best. The lead up to Christmas is one of hustle and bustle, with hurrying here and there, buying gifts, going to parties, wrapping gifts, sending cards, decorating the house, making latkes (for Hanukkah, which we also celebrate, because we’re atheists and can do whatever we want), enjoying Stollen Bread on St. Nicholas Day (which we also celebrate, because we’re atheists and can do whatever we want), baking Christmas cookies, etc. etc. It’s a lot of fun, but in reality, it’s also a lot of work. The week after Christmas, however, tends to be a week when very little work gets done, people are still mostly in a good mood, you can probably get a reservation at a decent restaurant, and if you avoid the after-Christmas mayhem at the department and big-box stores, it’s pretty low key. It’s a chance to regroup and relax. I love it.

One thing we did during that week off was to go into San Francisco (aka, the City). We started off with brunch at a place we saw on Check Please, Bay Area. It’s not a fancy place by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a greasy spoon diner, the likes of which we don’t really get out here in the burbs. But the reviewers all loved it, and were doing some big talking about the Rib Eye used in the steak and eggs, so we wanted to give it a try. Ted and I actually tried to go there a month or so ago, but they’re closed on Sundays, so we ended up at another greasy spoon down the street.

Ted ordered the Steak and Eggs, which he said was better quality than the joint down the block, but somehow, he liked the meal better at the other place. How can that be? No idea. It was a good steak, though.
Maya had the French Toast, which she really enjoyed.
I had the French Dip, which was delicious. You could tell that it was really good quality meat. I was so excited by the stupid potato thing, though, that I forgot to take a picture. (as if anyone needs to see a picture of my French Dip sandwich. Blogging is weird.)
The Silly Spud, if you didn’t click the video, is a potato skewered and twisted, deep fried and served hot, sort of like a cross between a french fry and a potato chip. It comes with all different kinds of flavors.
We went for plain, wanting to try the basic potato first before trying any flavors. My review? Meh. I’d rather have either a potato chip (more crispy) or a french fry (that tender inside), but this didn’t seem to combine the best of both worlds. It was more the worst of both worlds. I wouldn’t try it again. Overall, though, I liked Manor Coffee Shop. I don’t know that I’d drive 40 minutes a 3rd time to try it, but if I were in the neighborhood and in the mood for a burger, a French Dip, or steak and eggs, I might give it another shot. Oh, and if Santa didn’t make it to your house on Christmas Eve, it’s because he fell through their roof, and was still stuck there the following Tuesday.
After brunch, we went downtown to see the current exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, Maharaja, The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts. They didn’t allow pictures in that exhibit, though they did in other parts of the museum. It was interesting to see how colonialism seemed to bring a new level of hedonism to the royals of India. They always lived in splendor, but after the British took over, their roles became more symbolic than useful, and they seemed to deteriorate into a worthless group, mostly bent on fine living and partying. Much like the British royals of today, I expect. The Asian Art Museum moved to its current location maybe 10 years ago. It was located closer to our neighborhood, in Golden Gate Park, when we lived in SF. Now it’s in the old City Library, which is a gorgeous building. Kind of strange to walk the gallerias and remember studying there in college.
There was another exhibit, The Maharaja and Me, by a talented artist named Sanjay Patel, that was a lot of fun. Patel is a cartoonist working at Pixar, and his paintings looked like graphic novels in their modern flair, though the writing style wasn’t graphic novel-y.

Here are a few examples.
I really enjoyed the show. Maya really wanted this last picture in poster form for her wall. Ganesh is just so cute, right? Sadly, they only had the poster in a book of posters, and she didn’t want to spend $25 on the whole thing. Too bad he doesn’t sell just the Ganesh poster, because I’d buy it for her online if I could.

After the museum, we decided to walk across Civic Center Park to City Hall. San Francisco City Hall is beautiful, and if you’re going to get married in a City Hall somewhere, I highly recommend it. We walked around, remembering when we were there getting our license and blood tests back in ’93, and saw a lot of brides hanging around, waiting for their turn. I didn’t want to be too invasive, but I did take a couple of pictures.
Ted says that last one is going on his book jacket, if he ever writes a book.

It was a great day. I like traveling a lot, though I’m not as fond of flying as I once was. But when you live so close to such a beautiful city, why go elsewhere? There’s so much to see here, from little neighborhood restaurants, to wonderful museums, world class restaurants, and amazing views. I pink puffy heart San Francisco.

Artisan Bistro

Artisan Bistro(photo found here)

Saturday morning, Ted and I were downstairs, looking at the newspaper and wondering what the hell is going on in the world, when we received a phone call from our friend Marilee, with whom I have been friends since our days in graduate school together, many years ago. She was in our little town on the wrong side of the tunnel, and had unexpectedly been released from her duties of the day. Would we like to go for coffee or breakfast, she asked. Indeed, we would!

We considered IHOP, but decided to go to the other end of the spectrum and try the Michelin recommended Artisan Bistro, which I hadn’t even heard of until last week when I was looking online for a place to pick up a quick meal to eat at Maya’s swim meet. That evening I picked up cheese and crackers at the grocery store, but I remembered how wonderful Artisan Bistro looked. I’m glad I had found it, because this appears to be a great find. Non-chain type restaurants with truly good food aren’t that easy to come by on our side of the tunnel, so whenever we find one, we’re thrilled.

We arrived just after opening, and chose to sit outside in their garden, as it was a lovely sunny morning with a light breeze. Their indoor space looked welcoming as well. We were greeted with hot sourdough bread and house made butter. Marilee’s coffee came to the table in a French Press, and Ted’s tea came in a small pot. Someone suggested a Bloody Mary, and my ears perked right up. The thing with Bloody Marys is that they are so often dreadful. Bloody Mary mix is a disappointment, and many places make the drink either too spicy or too mild. I thought that probably a restaurant with a full bar and house made butter could probably be trusted, so I went for it. 10:30 is a little early for vodka, so I had a virgin Bloody Mary, and it did not disappoint. Delicious, clearly hand mixed, spicy enough, but not so that I couldn’t enjoy it.

California Benedict

For our meal, Marilee ordered the California Benedict, complete with eggs, crab, and béarnaise sauce, though she kindly ordered her avocado on the side, so I could put it on my eggs. She said the crab was fresh and delicious, though her eggs were a bit more runny than she would have liked (she likes them barely soft, not runny, but not hard…perhaps difficult to manage).

Kansas City Benedict

Ted had the Kansas City Benedict, with poached eggs, grilled N.Y. steak, spinach, and béarnaise sauce. He said it was delicious as well. He was craving red meat, and the fish tacos I made for dinner the night before really weren’t cutting it for him. The Benedict did the job.

French Scramble

I ordered the French Scramble, which consisted of eggs, Jambon de Paris, baby wild arugula, and Gruyere cheese. Most of the scrambles and omelets that I find in restaurants are huge and strongly flavored. This scramble was delicate and subtle. The eggs were not overcooked, the ham and cheese were both mild, and the arugula provided the perfect peppery bite. The house potatoes that accompanied all of our meals were delicious, crispy on the outside, and mellow and fluffy on the inside.

The service was attentive and unassuming. The food was delicious, and the atmosphere was lovely. My second Bloody Mary was just as delicious as the first. The only complaints that I had were small. We would have preferred a butter knife to spread our house made butter on our delicious sourdough bread, rather than having to use our dinner knives. When Ted and I were finished with our meal, our plates were cleared, though Marilee was still eating. That’s not a big deal, and I suspect some people find it disconcerting to have the dishes remain on the table after they’ve finished eating. But I find that it can make the person who is still eating feel like they have to rush. Kind of like when they drop off the bill while you’re still eating (more an IHOP situation), which happily did not happen here.

Overall, the delicious meals were so satisfying, I’m sure we’ll be back. Looking at the pictures on the website, I’m looking very forward to having some rack of lamb or heirloom tomato salad, or perhaps even…both. Yum.

Morimoto Napa

Happy Anniversary
For our anniversary dinner, Ted and I decided to try something new, rather than our traditional Rivoli dinner. I wanted to go to a place in San Francisco that is supposed to be wonderful, Aquarello, but they’re not open on Sundays, so that was out. Maybe for our 20th anniversary, we’ll go there. Anyway, I remembered reading that Iron Chef Morimoto had opened a restaurant in Napa, so we decided to see if we could get a reservation there. Happily, we were able to get a table, even though it wasn’t until 9:30. So we got dressed up a bit (we were overdressed, the place is pretty casual…but I wanted to dress for our occasion, even if not for the atmosphere) and off we went.

We arrived maybe 1/2 hour early, and thought we would have a drink at the bar, but they had a table ready for us, and the bar was full, so we sat down and began to peruse the menu. As you would expect with a Japanese Chef, the menu is a mixture of sushi and traditional Japanese items. We started with drinks, a glass of Chardonnay (Far Niente, YUM!) for me, a Manhattan for Ted. Then we shared a spicy tuna roll, which was a simple roll of rice and spicy tuna, and was delicious.

For our main course, Ted ordered the Surf and Turf, because it came with a Wagyu beef filet, which is supposed to be amazingly tender and flavorful. He wasn’t sure what the surf portion of his meal was. The beef was very interesting…much more tender and flavorful than anything I had had before, really delicious. It was prepared with a crispy onion flavored crust that complemented the beef very well. We weren’t sure what the surf was…some sort of raw fish or another, but it was good as well. Ted said that though he really enjoyed the beef, he wouldn’t want a whole steak of it, because it was VERY rich.

Black Cod
I ordered the braised black cod, which was braised in a soy-ginger reduction. It wasn’t as delicate as other black cod dishes I’ve had, and tasted fishy. It was delicious, and it tasted like it was supposed to be fishy. Not overpowering. But I think I prefer the more delicate miso black cod I’ve had at other restaurants.

The food wasn’t inexpensive. A $28 piece of cod came with just what you see there. No rice or vegetables. The portions weren’t large, so we were glad that we each ordered a side of vegetables, which helped to fill us up.

Overall, I was a little bit disappointed, though not so much with the food as with the atmosphere and service. The atmosphere is very stark and industrial, leading to an almost deafening room. We had to raise our voices to hear one another, and it was unpleasant to be so overwhelmed by the noise of people laughing, talking, etc. The service was friendly, but not as professional as I would have liked. The busboy asked us if we were finished for the evening after our appetizer. A waiter refilled the water glasses at the table next to us, but not ours. The waitress didn’t know what the mixed vegetables might be. They were friendly, though, and wished us a Happy Anniversary. It was a fun restaurant, just not as good as I wanted it to be, and not necessarily a romantic place. I am glad we went, it was fun to try something new, especially since we used to LOVE watching the original Iron Chef, and Morimoto was our favorite chef. But I doubt we’d go back.

(Ted and I did a ‘he said/she said’ kind of thing, with both of us reviewing the restaurant. His write up is here.)

Brown Sugar Kitchen

Brown Sugar Kitchen

I believe I’ve talked before about a local PBS show, Check Please, Bay Area, where people come in and talk about their favorite restaurants. I’ve seen an episode a few times reviewing a place in Oakland that’s famous for their Chicken and Waffles, Brown Sugar Kitchen. You can watch the review. I’ll wait.

OK, now you’re probably wanting some chicken and waffles too, right?  I’ve been wanting to try the chicken and waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen since first seeing this episode.  This last Sunday, I got together at BSK with Cherry and our friend, Lei, for brunch.  Yay brunch!  Yay friends!

Brown Sugar Kitchen doesn’t take reservations, so Lei and Cherry got there about 10 minutes before I did, and we relaxed in the bar area with drinks (coffee and milk, it was early) and waited for them to call our names.  There’s a line out in front of the building, of people waiting for tables, so we were happy to have seats.  Once we got our table, we started by sharing Beignets served with BSK seasonal jam, and then three orders of the house special, Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Cornmeal Waffle with brown sugar butter & apple cider syrup. Lei has had their hash before, and says it’s great.  She offered to share a plate of the daily hash special with poached eggs, and a plate of the waffles and chicken.  I’ve never had hash, so I chickened out, and we decided to all get the chicken and waffles.  I’ve never had beignets before, though I swear if I ever make it to New Orleans, of course I’ll have to try them there.  These were delicious, sweet, soft, yummy.  I didn’t want to gross Cherry and Lei out, so I didn’t tell them why I wouldn’t try their homemade strawberry jam.

They serve their jam on the table, with a little spoon, the way so many better restaurants do.  Years ago, Ted and I had breakfast at a wonderful and popular place in San Francisco, Judy’s Cafe.  Judy’s has amazing sourdough French toast, which I highly recommend if you ever find yourself in the neighborhood.  I was enjoying my amazing French toast with jam from the jar on the table, when what should I spy at the next table over?  A woman took the little spoon out of the container, spread jam on her toast or whatever, POPPED THE SPOON IN HER MOUTH TO GET THE SWEET GOODNESS OFF, and PUT IT BACK IN THE CONTAINER.  Ugh.  Not the grossest thing ever, but up there enough that I don’t eat the jam when it’s served that way anymore.  Which is a drag, because I’m sure it would have been wonderful.

After the delicious beignets (what’s not to like about fried dough and powdered sugar?), our chicken and waffles arrived.  My first bite of waffle was delicious.  So light, crispy, fluffy, and luscious.  Then I made the mistake of spreading the butter all over the waffles, and then pouring the syrup on top.  The brown sugar butter was just too sweet to me, and I didn’t care for the flavor of the apple cider syrup.  Too rich, too sweet.  Not my cup of tea.  The chicken was almost right…it had a delicious crust, and there was a lovely herb flavor to it.  But it was overdone, and kind of dry.  Not delicious.  Good, but not great.  I really enjoyed my time with Lei and Cherry, and trying a new restaurant.  But the experience was disappointing.  I don’t think I’d go out of my way to go back.  If I do find myself there again, I think I’d try just the waffles, no ultra sweet butter, and spring for the real maple syrup ($2 extra).  I’ll bet that would be an amazing breakfast.  I wish I had tried out the hash with Lei.

Any fans of the chicken and waffle meal out there?  It’s kind of trendy right now, I think.  There are a few places in Oakland to get this soul food meal, and we’re getting a place in my little town soon.  Honestly, I doubt I’ll try it.  Not sure the combo is for me.

Sasa ~ Walnut Creek

Sasa Walnut Creek
Photo found here

After a morning swim and a hot shower, I was lazing on the bed in my bathrobe, hair in a towel, with my book, trying to decide whether to read or perhaps have a nap, when Ted asked, “Would you like to go to lunch with me today?” “Maybe,” I said, thrown off because I was still kinda full from breakfast, and almost too lazy to bother with getting dressed, but as he showered, I thought about it and admitted to myself that the likelihood of my wanting to lie there all day in my robe without lunch was slim, so when he came out I said yes, I would like to have lunch with him, but perhaps not just yet.

I’m very glad that I got my butt up out of bed, because we went to a lovely new restaurant in our little town, Sasa. Sasa is housed in an historic 100-year-old building, which was originally the Walnut Creek Meat Market, and still has a certain butcher house vibe to the architecture, with exposed beams and bricks and doors to the meat lockers still in the wall. It was most recently a crepe restaurant, before morphing into Sasa, an Izakaya style restaurant, where small plates of food accompany a wide range of sake and a full bar. Perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon, especially for someone who’s not terribly hungry after a large breakfast.

I ordered the Gindara Misoyaki which was grilled miso marinated black cod, baby bokchoy, and a seasoned rice ball. YUM. The cod was delicate and flaky, moist and delectable. The flavors were subtle but it was in no way bland. I’m looking forward to going back and ordering it again some time. Ted had the Mini Chicken Teriyaki Burgers and root vegetable chips, which he said was delicious. He also sampled a few different kinds of sake, settling on some kind or another, but I sure wouldn’t know which one. I don’t really care for sake.

They also have a fairly extensive sushi menu, which I think would make Maya happy. She’s a fan. Most of what I saw going to other tables looked to be sushi rolls. From the quality of the food we ate, I’m betting their sushi would be delicious as well.

The dinner menu is different enough that I’d like to go back and try it out, perhaps for the Ahi Parfait, or a roasted lamb chop. I hope it does well, because I really enjoyed our meal there.

Rethinking Rellenos

Check, Please! Bay Area is a show on our local PBS station, based on the original Check Please! in Chicago.   A local host (Leslie Sbrocco, a wine expert and enthusiast) talks with three people about their favorite restaurants in the area.  They all go to all three restaurants, and come say what they think.   A few weeks ago, we saw an episode that mentioned Memo’s Restaurant, which is way out here in on the wrong side of the tunnel in the East Bay.  I was especially captivated by what they had to say about the Chili Rellenos, because aside from my trips to Hola! in Burlingame, I don’t generally like rellenos.  I find them too heavy, too rich, too fried tasting, too much cheese and not enough else going on.  After going to Hola! and trying their Rellenos En Nogada, and then having Cherry tell me that she likes most rellenos, I  gave them another chance at a tex mex place, and yeah.  Blech.  So hearing the guy on Check, Please! say that he doens’t like most rellenos, but he likes the ones here, I was intrigued and wanted to try them.  I almost chickened out when we got there, but then I overheard a woman at another table saying that she thought they were the best rellenos she had ever had, and that at most restaurants they’re too heavy and greasy.  So I went for it.

Boy, am I glad I did.  I would go back in a heartbeat and order another.  Really light, fluffy, and delicious.  It seemed like the batter was barely there, light and airy.  The sauce was my favorite, a tomatillo based sauce.  The cheeses were delicious.  Yum.  I’m getting hungry right now, writing about it.  My margarita was also quite good,  mixed fresh, not from a machine.  Yum.  Ted ordered one of their other specialties, the Chicken Pepian (aka, Wedding Chicken), which was quite flavorful and complex.  He really liked it, though he liked it better without the tortillas than with.   Maya had a cheese and chicken quesadilla, which is an appetizer…she was worried that it wouldn’t be enough for dinner, but it was plenty big, and quite delicious.   Ted then went on and ordered the chocolate cake, which is a vegan cake, with a wonderful sauce over it.  To be honest, I didn’t really care for the texture of the cake, but Ted liked it quite a bit, and he was glad he gave it a try.

Memo’s is a family restaurant, run by a father and daughter, with old family recipes from Zacatecas, the region of Mexico from which the family hails.  They both run the front of the house, taking orders and serving food.  They are both friendly and charming.  The only problem that we had with the restaurant was that they never came back to see how our food was.  There were plenty of helpers going around, filling water glasses, clearing tables, but no one checking on you to make sure everything is to your liking.  They were quite busy, it was a Friday night and there was a line outside when we left, but I think they would be well served to hire another waiter.  I have a feeling we’ll go back, regardless of the questionable service.  Yum.

Friday Randomness ~ Vacation Edition

Us in Oregon

We’re on vacation!  Last Thursday, we flew up to Portland to spend time with my family up there.  We had a lot of plans, some of which were realized, and some of which were not.  Maya’s a big fan of the TV show, “Avatar: The Last Airbender“, so we intended to see the movie version after our arrival.  Ted and Maya passed out, though, and by the time they finished their nap, we still needed to have dinner, so it didn’t happen.  And to tell the truth, the reviews have been SO horrible (like, wondering if this is perhaps the worst movie ever made, that kind of thing), that she lost interest, so we’ll see if we bother at all.  So we had dinner on Thursday with my Dad and step-mom (whos name is Julie…and one of my sisters is Maya, so yeah, it’s a little confusing), then relaxed at the hotel. Oh, we also walked to a house in Dad’s neighborhood where the Cullens lived in Twilight. The people who live there were really cool about having us tourists looking, waved at us and made vampire faces. 🙂 Ted made a video and posted it on his blog. Check it out, here.

Friday we wanted to go on an ‘Underground Tour‘ of Portland, which claimed to talk about the shanghaiing that went on back in the early days, and to take you through some underground tunnels where all sorts of nefarious deeds occurred, including conscripting the poor un-knowing sailors.  We assumed that it would be easy to get tickets, so we took our time, didn’t buy tickets ahead of time, and showed up about 15 minutes before the tour.  Sold out.  OK, now what?  Not difficult, in a city like Portland, because being readers all, we enjoyed wiling away some time at Powell’s Books.  I grabbed a couple of books, and then we went to check out this fancy shop that I read about in O magazine at the dr’s office, The Meadow.  It’s an interesting shop, they specialize in gorgeous flower arrangements, a couple of hundred kinds of salt, some bitters, and wines.  I got some Sel Gris, which is supposed to have 30% less sodium than regular salt.  Also a bottle of French wine.  Nice.  Then we went to my sister Maya’s house for a nice bbq dinner in the rain.  Not hard rain, just the occasional drizzle.

Bowie's Brother?

On Saturday, we tried again and this time bought tickets, and went on the Underground Portland tour.  Turns out it’s partly about shanghaiing, but also more about the seedier side of Portland’s history, and how it was a pretty rough and tumble place until probably the early 40s or so.  Our tour guide looked like David Bowie’s younger brother, which was strange.  It was interesting, though, and we got to try Voodoo Donuts, and we discovered that Portland has some of the most relaxed nudity laws in the nation…perfectly legal to walk around nude, as long as you’re not performing, all thanks to the strong free-speech movement of the communist ilk back in the day.  Interesting.  After that, and after getting cleaned up, Maya spent the night at Dad and Julie’s house, and Ted and I went out to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary.  Nice!

We went to The Heathman Restaurant, which was GREAT.  When Ted made the reservation online, he mentioned that it was our anniversary.  They custom printed a menu for us that said “Happy Anniversary” at the top, and the waitress mentioned to us that she was happy that we chose to spend our celebration there.  Really nice.  They had a lot of things on the menu that I would normally order…heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil…beet salad…dayboat scallops.  But I decided to stir things up a bit, and get something different, something perhaps more local.  So I started with an appetizer of roasted figs wrapped in bacon, grilled nectarines, and a local brie-type goat cheese.  Really good.   Ted had some local oysters on the half-shell, which were creamy and delicious.  For dinner, I had quail, polenta, and scallops.  Oh dear, SO good.  Highly recommended.   Ted had the rabbit, which he really enjoyed as well.  For dessert, he had a warm flourless chocolate cake with some kind of yummy sauce, and I had my favorite, sorbets.  Mango, lemon, and raspberry.  SO GOOD.  Every bite was wonderful.  If you find yourself looking for an upscale dinner in Portland, we highly recommend it.  It also turns out that the Heathman is where my dad took Julie on their first date, lo those many (22) years ago.  After dinner, we went to Ted’s favorite Portland music store, Music Millennium.  I’m sure he’ll be doing a ‘Mix Six’ with some of the songs he got over on Popdose.  He went for several CDs of local Portland artists, and they’re a mixed bag, quality wise.  Some good, some meh.  That’s kind of the fun of buying CDs, right?  The risk of it all?

Fairy FallsSunday was the 4th of July, which we celebrated by going on a hike in the Columbia Gorge, where we started out by the Wahkeena Falls, and then hiked up about 900 feet or so to Fairy Falls.  We had Maya’s children Chloe and Justin with us, which made it more fun and more slow at the same time.  Chloe is almost 6, and Justin is almost 3, and they’re both as sweet as can be, so it was a lot of fun.  Also a bit tiring, so we went and crashed out at the hotel for a bit after, then went to Dad and Julie’s for a 4th of July bbq.  The part of Portland where they live is on a pretty high hill, and if it weren’t for the trees in the way, we could have seen a lot of fireworks from their window.  We saw quite a bit as it was.

Monday we went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry with my sister Melissa and her kids, Jack and Sophie.  We had a lot of fun checking out the exhibits and trying to solve their brain-puzzlers (my brain was still puzzled when we left).  I think I needed an engineer to help.  My BIL John was there, but he was in the sandbox with Sophie (almost 4), so he wasn’t able to solve anything for me.  After that we had pizza at Dad and Julie’s house, the whole family together, which happens very rarely, and was really nice.  Interesting to see Maya, an only child of 14, amongst a group of 2-6 year olds who are pretty good at winding each other up.  Nice.

Tuesday we came home, which was mostly uneventful.  Maya got my Dad set up on Facebook before we left.  Nice to have a 14 year old around for times like that, right?  Wednesday, Ted and I went to see Cyrus, which was an interesting independent film starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Marisa Tomei.  Basically took the issue of dating after divorce, with children, and explored the issue if the child involved is an adult, and one who has not yet managed to leave the nest, as it were.  There were a few times when I thought the filmmaker might take it in a disturbing direction (horror movie, or perhaps incest), but it never went there, and was actually a really good, interesting film.  If you get a chance to see it, I suggest you might enjoy it.

Thursday was spa day, with Ted and I both cashing in gift certificates for massages at two different spas.  Really nice and relaxing.  Today we’re going to Capitola, where I haven’t been since I was maybe 5 or 6.  I’m not sure what there is to do there, but it’s a beach-side community, and it should be a relaxing way to wind down our vacation.

In case you’re interested, here are two delicious recipes.  One, my step-mom’s delicious homemade salad dressing.  Really easy, really good.  I’ll admit that most recipes for homemade dressing just taste like oil to me, so this one is a wonderful change.  I went out and bought a good seasons carafe so I can make it at home, though certainly that’s not required.

Julie’s Salad Dressing

1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup golden balsamic vinegar (I couldn’t find this, but I did find white balsamic vinegar)
1/8 cup orange juice
a drizzle of honey
a small clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
Shake ingredients together, use immediately. Yum.

Second is the recipe for roast chicken that I made for dinner on Wednesday, which is from my Julia and Jacques cookbook.  I didn’t have savory, but thyme worked just as well.  Juicy and delicious.  I didn’t take a picture.  I wish I had, because it was lovely.  Looked around online, and couldn’t find the right one.  It’s good, though.  Really good.  Really good with the salad and dressing, and some yummy steamed carrots.

Jacques’s Savory-Stuffed Roast Chicken

For the stuffing
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp virgin olive oil
l/2 cup minced shallots (4 or more large
4 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh savory
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 chicken, 31/2 to 4 pounds

¼ tsp salt for sprinkling on the chicken
Butter or vegetable oil for the roasting pan

For the deglazing sauce
1 Tbs minced shallot
1/3 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
2/3 cup chicken stock

Special equipment:
A small frying pan; a shallow-sided heavy aluminum or copper roasting pan or heavy cast-iron skillet, just large enough to hold the trussed chicken; a 1 -quart glass measuring cup or deep bowl; cotton kitchen twine; a basting brush; a board or platter for resting and carving

Preparing the herb stuffing
Preheat oven to 425 °F
Heat the butter and olive oil in the frying pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the shallots, parsley, savory, salt, and pepper, stirring well and tossing in the pan. Cook for about a minute, just until the shallots begin to soften. Let cool.

Preparing the chicken
Remove any lumps of fat from inside the cavity near the tail.
Loosen the breast skin by lifting the neck flap and work your fingers between the skin and the flesh, especially the thighs, taking care not to puncture the skin.

Stuff the cooled herb mixture down between the skin and the flesh. Lay the chicken on its back, tuck the neck skin underneath, and smooth the surface, to distribute the stuffing evenly.

Roasting the chicken:
Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt all over the chicken. Grease the center of the roasting pan. Set the chicken on its side in the greased pan and place in the oven.
Roast for 25 minutes for a 3 1/2-pound chicken (3 or 4 minutes longer for a 4-pound bird), then turn the chicken onto its other side, grasping it with kitchen tongs or towels. The first side on which it rested will be deeply colored; be careful not to tear the skin when turning. Lower the heat to 400°F and roast for another 25 to 28 minutes, depending on size, then turn the chicken breast side up; baste with the pan juices. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes and baste once again during this final cooking.

Test the chicken for doneness; return to the oven for a few minutes if necessary.
Remove the chicken to a cutting board, place it on one side or breast down, so the juices flow into the breast meat, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Final steps:
Make the deglazing sauce in the roasting pan. Tip the pan to one side and skim as much fat as possible off the top of the juice. Stir in the minced shallot and then the vermouth and chicken stock. Add the juices accumulated on the carving board and bring to a boil.

After carving the chicken, drizzle about half of the pan sauce over the pieces and serve, passing the rest of the sauce.

Overall, it’s been a great vacation, some in Portland, some at home. The weather, by the way, has been awesome. Family kept apologizing to us because it was cloudy and cool in Portland. And gosh, everything there is so GREEN. They don’t seem to understand that to us, any day under 90 degrees in July is a gift. And just when it heated up there, we came home to find the fog in, and it’s nice and cool here. Sorry to those of you back East in the heat AND humidity. Ugh. Come on out here. You can sleep by our pool if you want, since we don’t have a guest room.

Halibut with Carrot-Ginger Purée

halibutA few weeks ago, Ted and I decided to take advantage of Maya’s girl scout meeting and go out for a nice dinner. We went to Lark Creek, which is kind of hit and miss. The atmosphere is nice, the service is pretty good, and the food is sometimes wonderful, sometimes a bit so-so. I was contemplating the pork chop, when the waiter brought the couple next to us their food. The husband had a yummy looking scallop dish, but the wife’s halibut was drool-worthy. I’m glad I saw it, because it wasn’t on the regular menu, and I’m not positive I would have ordered it just hearing about it. It was delicious. The halibut was creamy and tender, and the carrot-ginger purée made the dish. It had just the right combination of flavors to make it really special. Ted had a leg of lamb that he enjoyed, but he said he thought my halibut was overall better. I agreed.

So when I was thinking of what to make for Ted’s birthday dinner on Monday, I decided to try to make that same dish at home. Halibut isn’t cheap by any means, but it’s certainly less expensive at the store than at a restaurant. I looked online and found this recipe, which includes a carrot-ginger purée, and decided to try that.

One problem I had with the recipe was that I was out of cumin. I don’t remember the purée I had at Lark Creek having cumin or not, but this purée came out pretty good, but just…missing something. Just a bit. The halibut was delicious. Give it a try, but don’t skip the cumin.

Halibut with Carrot-Ginger Purée

* 1/2 pound carrots
* 3/4 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger root
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
* 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces
* 1 lb halibut fillet, divided
* Spinach leaves, washed and trimmed
* Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel carrots and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large saucepan bring 4 cups salted water to a boil and cook carrots until tender, about 7 minutes. Reserve 2 cups cooking liquid and drain carrots in a colander. In a blender purée hot carrots in batches with reserved cooking liquid, ginger root, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste (use caution when blending hot liquids).

Season halibut with salt and pepper. Bake in 350 degree oven until done, probably about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, steam spinach until just wilted.

To serve, place a large spoonful (or two) of purée on your plate. Top with some spinach, and then the halibut.

Next time I make this, I’ll double check the cumin first. If you’ve ever made an awesome, slightly Asian tasting carrot-ginger purée, send me the recipe. I’d love to try it.

Udupi Palace

(Photos found at Check, Please! Bay Area)

There’s a television at Ted’s office, and on Friday he decided to watch a little TV to unwind during his lunch break.  Happily, Check, Please! Bay Area was on, and one of the restaurants reviewed was a Southern Indian place in Berkeley called Udupi Palace.  The large majority of Indian restaurants in the Bay Area are Northern Indian, influenced by Punjabi and Pakastani flavors.  We love that, but the idea of trying something from another part of India entirely appealed to Ted.  He came home thinking we might go that night, but I didn’t feel like getting in the car and going to Berkeley, and Maya had already eaten.  So we had pizza on Friday, and went to Berkeley on Saturday instead.

Udupi Palace is part of a small chain, with three locations in the Bay Area, and one each in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Gaithersburg, MD.  You sure wouldn’t know it was a chain by looking in.  The Berkeley location has just about zero atmosphere, with Formica tables and stark white walls.  But it’s clean and boasts large windows looking out onto University, and the food more than makes up for it.

Looking at the restaurants website, not all of the restaurants are vegetarian, but the one in Berkeley is.  Ted and I ordered dishes that had been ordered on the Check, Please! Bay Area episode, while Maya branched out a bit.  Ted started with a spicy tamarind and tomato soup, called Rasam.  It was unlike anything we’d had before, and was light and delicious.   Ted commented that it was the perfect soup to have if you had a cold or flu, because it would make you sweat a bit.  I’ll bet it would open your sinuses as well.  Really yummy.

I had the Chefs Thali Platter, which varies depending on what is in season.  You really don’t know what vegetables you’re going to get from one visit to the next, I don’t think.  It was a wonderful way to try several different dishes at one time.  Mine included an eggplant dish, the same Rasam soup, perhaps two different kinds of Daal, two yogurt based dishes, a cabbage dish that was flavored by coconut, rice, papadam, Chana Batura, and a very sweet orange vegetable of some kind.  It might have been sweet potatoes or pumpkin, and it might have been carrots, but it was bright and tasted mostly of sweetened coconut.

Ted had a Dosa, which is a thin crepe filled with various vegetables, and I believe the specialty of the restaurant.  It came with two different sauces, and was quite good.  The crepe was crispy and light, and the vegetable filling was flavorful and cooked just right.  Not overcooked, not undercooked.

(Uthappam, photo found at the Daily Feed blog.)

Maya decided to try an Uthppam, which was a large rice and lentil pancake, with a wonderful spiced potato topping. It was just the right amount of crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside. Really, it looked more like a potato pancake, and I joked that I’d like to have those for Hanukkah this year instead of more traditional latkes, but Maya didn’t like that idea. She’s a traditionalist, I suppose.  It was delicious, and she ate every bite, with a little help from her potato-loving mother.

The service was fine, though they tended to bring out dishes as they were ready, so I was enjoying my dinner for a few minutes before Ted and Maya got theirs.  But the staff was friendly and attentive, and brought us plenty of water.

The price for all of this yumminess?  About $30, including tax and tip.  For a wonderfully delicious dinner of new flavors and dishes we hadn’t tried before.  We’ll definitely go back.


Saturday night, Ted and I decided to try a little place near us called Nibblers. It’s located in a strip mall in the next town over, and I really like the idea of the place. They do sustainable food, and it’s all local and very fresh. As much as possible, they get their ingredients from the local Farmers’ Markets. As a matter of fact, I found out about Nibblers a year or so ago when they opened, and they had a booth at the Farmers’ Market, where they were giving out really yummy samples of something or another on a corn chip, and I’ve wanted to try it out ever since.

I would call it a tapas bar/wine bar combo, similar to another local restaurant that I love, Va De Vi. They had a very large selection of wines, and the servings are what is called, “small plates”, meaning there’s not much there. That’s OK with me, as I often like to try little bits of several things at restaurants.

It’s disappointing, then, to report that we really disliked our meal. We started with flash fried spinach, which was kind of how it sounds…spinach that has been very quickly deep fried in very hot oil, so that it’s crisp, sort of like a potato chip. It’s a clever idea, and I enjoyed the surprise of the crunchy texture. Unfortunately, all I could taste was the oil and salt.

We then tried a Jambalaya Cake, which was sort of like a crab cake. Again, all we tasted was the oil. Getting tired of olive oil at this point, no matter how local and sustainable it might be.

Next was a salmon dish, which really LOOKED like fresh salmon, but tasted to me like canned salmon. Not fresh, overcooked, blah. I didn’t finish it. Ted was very hungry, so he finished his, but he didn’t really enjoy it.

Last, we had some potato wedges with an aoli. The potatoes were probably the best thing we tried all night. The skin was crispy, the inside was tender, the flavor was mostly good…but still, they tasted far too much of oil.

We were in a bit of a rush, so we didn’t have any wine with our meal. I think some red wine might have cut the taste of the oil in our mouths. As it was, we had to eat or drink something when we got home to get the greasy taste and feel out of our mouths.

To be fair, we didn’t mention our disappointment to our waitress. The service was fine, but as I said, we were in a hurry, so we didn’t really have time to try to suss out if there was a way to salvage our meal or not. Having worked in restaurants, albeit many years ago, I know that this isn’t fair, and doesn’t give the staff a chance to fix things. On the other hand, I kind of felt like we should be able to pop into a cute neighborhood tapas place and try a few things on a tight schedule, without having to go into the sort of negotiations that would have come next. Want to try something else? Want some wine? Desert? No, we just need to go. That sort of thing.

I doubt we’ll give it a second chance. The meal wasn’t terribly expensive, but it wasn’t cheap either, and there are plenty of other restaurants in our area where we can get a reliably good meal. Too bad. I really wanted to like it.