April 30, 2006

The future's so bright... Story Winery

The solution to my problems with over-subscribed wine storage options?


And I didn't think I *liked* Amador County zins. Ha!

Our second weekend in Plymouth in under a month, we found ourselves with some free time on Sunday afternoon and chose to tour the area wineries with our friends Bill & Vickie.

First stop Sobon Estate Winery, where we reconfirmed that we're big Primativo fans, followed by a visit to sister winery Shenandoah Vineyards to taste what they had to offer.

From there we headed toward Charles Spinetta Winery where among other things, I discovered that all white zinfandel is not grock. We walked away with a couple of bottles that will be great on a summer picnic or autumn neighborhood barbecue.

Our last stop was Story Winery, for our first experience with barrel tasting. A day of surprises -- I expected little more than very young, fermented grape juice flavor. What we found was a lot more than grape juice -- young, yes -- but with more than a hint of how it would mature over time. We walked away with a receipt for a combined case of their 2005 vintage. And we have a little over a year to come up with a plan for storing it...

Obsession? What obsession?

Story Winery
10525 Bell Road
Plymouth, CA 95669

April 23, 2006

April in Italy - Global cuisine with local ingredients

Taking inspiration from their recent vacation abroad, Steve and Laura chose "Italian" as the theme for this month's supper club soiree. Our contribution to the menu was Arugula, Roasted Tomato, and Goat Cheese Salad with Maple-Balsamic Dressing. Well-stocked from an afternoon on the Embarcadero, I got a preview in constructing a dish primarily from local ingredients.

Okay, so I started easy. Even with the record rainfall in March and April, fresh salad-fixings are fairly easy to find at any self-respecting Northern California farmers' market. But everyone's got to start somewhere...

For those locally-focused and San Francisco Bay Area based, I've included sourcing details with the recipe below.

Arugula, Roasted Tomato, and Goat Cheese Salad
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (source: Capay Organic Farm, Capay CA)
1/4 cup Maple-Balsamic Dressing, divided
Cooking spray (left it out, tossed tomatoes in olive oil from Big Paw Grub, Calistoga, CA)
8 cups loosely packed baby arugula, watercress, or spinach (about 4 ounces) (source: Capay Organic)
1/4 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion (source: J&J Farms, Stockton, CA)
2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese (source: Bodega & Yerba Santa Goat Cheese, Lakeport, CA)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (source: my well-stocked pantry)

Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons Maple-Balsamic Dressing; toss well to coat. Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until tomatoes soften. Cool completely.

Combine tomatoes, baby arugula, and onion in a large bowl. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons Maple-Balsamic Dressing; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle evenly with cheese and pepper.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: about 1 1/3 cups salad and 1 teaspoon cheese)

CALORIES 47(44% from fat); FAT 2.3g (sat 0.6g,mono 1.3g,poly 0.3g); PROTEIN 1.5g; CHOLESTEROL 1mg; CALCIUM 54mg; SODIUM 97mg; FIBER 0.9g; IRON 0.7mg; CARBOHYDRATE 6g

Maple-Balsamic Dressing
1/2 cup tomato juice (source: my well-stocked pantry)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (source: Big Paw Grub)
1/4 cup maple syrup (source: my well-stocked pantry)
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (source: Eat Well Farm, Davis, CA)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (source: my W-SP)
1/2 teaspoon salt (source: my W-SP)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (source: my W-SP)
2 garlic cloves, minced (source: Capay Organic)
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (source: Big Paw Grub)

Combine all ingredients except oil, stirring well. Gradually add oil, stirring constantly with a whisk until well combined.

Note: Refrigerate dressing in an airtight container for up to five days; stir well before using.

Yield: About 1 cup (serving size: 1 tablespoon)

CALORIES 39(53% from fat); FAT 2.3g (sat 0.3g,mono 1.7g,poly 0.2g); PROTEIN 0.2g; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 8mg; SODIUM 118mg; FIBER 0.1g; IRON 0.2mg; CARBOHYDRATE 4.7g

April 22, 2006

Time for a field trip

It's Saturday morning.

For the first time in several months, the sun is shining.

We're making salad for tonight's supper club soiree.

I'm about to embark on a new culinary challenge.

And we live fifty BART-able miles from what Bon Appetit calls "the nexus of all things good to eat and drink."

Time for a road trip to the Ferry Building Marketplace and Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market.

The first time we ventured to the Ferry Building with visitors from the midwest a couple of years ago it was one of the last of many stops on a three day whirlwind foodie-tour of San Francisco and the east bay. We enjoyed it -- we were awed by a lot of it -- but because we'd breezed through Chinatown, North Beach, the Haight and Union Square and still had dinner reservations ahead of us in Walnut Creek, we probably didn't get as much out of our marketplace experience as we might have liked.

Over the years we've talked about returning, but when it came to deciding what to do with precious weekend time, it somehow never made the cut. Now here we were, headed toward on of San Francisco's shrines to all things food. This time opportunity wasn't passing us by; we were going prepared. I new I wanted to visit some of the delightful establishments I'd read about on other bay area food blogs. Prather Ranch. Cowgirl Creamery. The Fatted Calf. And after a year of weekly fruit-and-veggie boxes, we wanted to meet some of the team behind our CSA. Oh yeah, and we needed those salad ingredients.

We started wandering the booths in front of the Ferry Building. Fresh tomatoes from the central valley. Artichokes from Castroville. Strawberries from Davenport. Mushrooms from Moss Landing. So very much to choose from. Despite one of the strangest, wettest, winter-est early spring's in recent bay area history, there was produce out there. Lots of it. What won my heart and my tastebuds was the most wonderful sweet-creamy-tangy artisan yogurt I've ever experienced. We tasted everything they had to offer and walked away with two crocks of the star thistle honey flavor. oh. my. gawd. A-MAY-zing. And a bit of web surfing indicates I can procure their product on my side of the bay at Andronico's or Berkeley Bowl.

All this tasting got us hungry, and we wandered to the bay side of the building in search of lunch. We found it at the Prather Ranch stand -- Buffalo Tacos, Dry-Aged Organic Beef Hotdogs, Grass-Fed Lamb sausage served hot of the grill -- this IS your grandfather's fast food. Count me in.

Fueled for further shopping, we headed off in search of salad ingredients and anything else that captured our attention. We found fresh arugula and cherry tomatoes from Capay Organic and spent some time visiting with some of the friendly folks who run our CSA. Fresh-made-Wednesday goat cheese from Bodega and Yerba Santa Goat Cheese in Lakeport. Lavender and thyme from Eatwell Farm in Dixon. And a loaf of Kalamata Olive Bread for soaking up the salad dressing from Della Fattoria

We left satisfied with our bounty and confident that we won't wait another two years to make a pilgrimage across the bay -- the Ferry Building will be a regular weekend stop for us in our quest to eat healthy, wholesome and local this summer.

April 19, 2006

Five stores in search of Tobiko... my adventures with Miso Glazed Black Cod

It adorns hundreds of rolls in thousands of sushi bars throughout the Bay Area. Even in the relatively white bread Tri Valley, sushi is as mainstream as... well... white bread. So why can't I find tobiko in any of the local mega-marts? Struck out at Safeway, Nob Hill, Albertsons, Andronicos and even Whole Foods. Ended up settling for ikura.

My first experiment with the bounty from my recent Amazon Adventure was a hit. Black cod marinated in miso seems to be all the rage in restaurants around the country, and I was curious about trying it at home. Melissa Clark's Chef Interrupted includes a recipe for Miso Black Cod with Roe, adapted from Anissa Restaurant in New York. Clark's notes indicate she didn't adapt much -- most of what she removed were garnishes. What remains is an entree worthy of inclusion on a "special occasion" menu, but eminently preparable as a weeknight dinner with only a bit of preplanning (giving you time to hunt down that elusive tobiko).

I was pleasantly surprised at how easily this came together -- I expected it to be far more complicated despite Clark's reassurances to the contrary. But pull together a few items that are likely staples in a foodie kitchen (especially when that foodie has a fascination with all things Asian). Cure the fish for two-to-three days in the simple-to-assemble marinade and begin searching for salmon roe...

I served this as Thursday night dinner-after-bocce, with a simple green salad with a commercial Asian vinaigrette and a bottle of Michael David's 2005 "Incognito" Viognier. A-may-zing. The three-ingredient marinade works magic with the fish during it's three day soak -- the result is delightfully sweet-spicy finish that melds wonderfully with the melt-in-your-mouth buttery fillet. How mirin, miso and sake can blend together to create something so complex is beyond me, but it works. It works every bit as well in my kitchen, without decades of culinary education, as it does when it emerges from the kitchens of some of my favorite restaurants.

April 17, 2006


It's funny, really, how this blog thing seems to take on a life of its own.

I started this little adventure as a creative outlet. I've got a degree in journalism and I love to write, but for a lot of reasons not worth exploring here, no one has ever paid me to write (nor is that likely to change any time soon).

And I adore food. Lots of food. Fast food, junk food and gourmet food. Shopping for it. Planning menus around it. Creating culinary masterpieces (and even mistakes) with it. Trying new recipes. Writing new recipes. Exploring new restaurants and returning to old favorites.

I confess I've lost touch with my inner teenager -- I don't understand the drive to expose my soul on My Space or my face and the story behind it on FaceBook (my soul, my face, my life just aren't that interesting).

But expose my inner exhibitionist in a blog about food? Yeah, I can do that.

Not sure how it works for others, but for me, what started as a creative outlet for myself gradually grew into a feeling of community. I started to read other food blogs. I quickly identified several favorites. Each has his or her own personality, and my day wouldn't be the same without them. And each week, my list grows by a blog or two. Obsessed? Who is obsessed?

As I discover other voices out there, I begin to wonder if anyone's listening to mine. Like the velveteen rabbit seeking counsel from the skin horse I know I'm here, but I sometimes wonder if I'm real.

I add a counter, which confirms that people are surfing in. And occasionally staying a while. Validation.

Occasionally, someone comments on something I've posted. Indicating they're reading, not just looking at my stunning (stunted) photography.

I get tagged with a meme by one of the cool kids. So some folks are coming back for more...

And then, when I least expect it, THE bay area blog takes an interest in my Peep expose.


I may never be rich, famous, or beautiful.

But I have arrived.

I am real.

April 16, 2006

Seductive Sashimi & Salmon Salad - Yuki of Tokyo (Danville)

They don't do "stunt sushi" or saketini's (though there's the occasional sake bomb). While they've got some interesting preparations you don't see everywhere, you won't pay $30 for some strange fusion of American food products presented sushi-style and named after a regular. Or fifty variations on a California roll.

If you want a full-blown Iron Chef experience (with a pricetag to match), I might suggest a flight to Morimoto's in Philadelphia. But if you're looking for consistantly top-quality sushi, sashimi or tempura at a reasonable price in the East Bay, Yuki of Tokyo in Danville is the place to stop.

John's favorite is the Tiger Roll which really sounds more 'kitchen sink' than it turns out to be. Soft-shelled crab, tempura shrimp, "California" roll and crisp Japanese vegetables wrapped in nori and rice strike a wonderful balance of texture, temperature and taste. Occasionally Frank experiments a bit with it, and I've really enjoyed versions that add a bit of spicy tuna to the mix. Warm, crispy tempura batter. Succulent shrimp. Soft-but-spicy tuna. Yum.

Speaking of spicy, another must-have is what Frank calls the Tuna Poki Salad. Firm red tuna. Buttery albacore. And often a bit of negi-toro. Tossed in a smokey-spicey marinade and served over a bed of salty-sweet wakame. Yum, indeed.

One of our favorite parts of the sushi experience is that as we get to know the chefs (and they learn our preferences) we get the benefit of their creativity with some of our favorite ingredients. Frank's Special Unagi Nigiri won't appear on the menu with my name or John's, and that's okay. Part of what made it special was it's now-or-never-ness. Frank knows what we like, and he knows what's fresh. And he's got the creativity to combine that knowledge to create some of the best one-off sushi we've ever had.

Yuki of Tokyo
200 Hartz Ave # E - Danville

April 15, 2006

Camera shy on a classic Hollywood date - Bing Crosby's Restaurant & Piano Bar (Walnut Creek)

I charged the battery...

I slid the camera into my purse...

I intended to regale my readership with snapshots of the souvenier stand featuring golf shirts, caps and aprons with the Bing's logo. Of the photos of der-Bingle that adorned the walls. Of the Casablanca-meets-Hollywood ambiance that surrounded us. Of the beautifully plated Trio of Ahi Tuna. Of the idiot waiter who commented that one of our favorite Amador County wines was the only selection on the menu with a screw top after trying to open it with a corkscrew.

But when it came down to snapping the pictures, I got camera shy...

So all I have to show from our trip to Bing's is the rather crappy picture I took of the marquis (I clearly need to consult the instruction manual on "night" pictures) and this one I purloined from Open Table.

I wanted to like Bing's -- really I did. There's a special place in my heart for all things classic Hollywood. Souvenier stand notwithstanding, the restaurant held promise. A swanky lounge with a piano bar that features 42 martini selections (one for each of his hits). Three themed dining rooms -- the "Oscar" Room reflecting the glitz and glamour of a bygone era; the "Country Club," a nostalgic look at Bing's playful side (complete with an impressive collection of his golf memorobilia); and the "Wine Room" -- a reflection, I suppose, of the restaurant's varied wine selections. I half expected to run into Cary Grant or Clark Gable in the lounge, Barbara Stanwyck emerging from the ladies room, Marlene Deitrich playing poker with the boys in a backroom... But in the end, Bing's delivered far more sizzle than substance.

We started with the Trio of Aji Tuna - Nori Seared, Spicy Tartare, Marinated in Watermelon. Of the three, only the watermelon marinated version really delivered. I realize we're extremely spoiled sushiphiles, but when we order sashimi, we expect it to be of the highest quality. The nori seared tuna wouldn't have worked raw. And the spicy tartare was pulverized beyond recognition, and not terribly spicy.

We decided to split two entrees to get a greater feel for the menu. After some deliberaiton, I chose Grilled Atlantic Salmon with Citrus Beurre Blanc Wild Mushroom Risotto and Roasted Vegetable Ragout. Actually, I really didn't deliberate. I expressed an interest in the Salmon and one of the beef entrees, and asked our waiter for his opinion. He decided I would have the salmon because he wasn't fond of beef. Hmm. Okay...

John opted for the Five Peppercorn Crusted Aji Tuna with Garlic Shoestring Potatoes Braised Winter Greens, Brandy Cream and Glazed Cippolini Onions. This is when camera-shy really took it's toll on me -- everything we ordered was presented beautifully and I wanted so badly to share the artistic presentations with you. But I couldn't shake the vision of gawdy, pushy tourists and my camera remained tucked in my purse. You'll have to take my word for it 'til I get more comfortable with my food blogging self...

In the end, as pretty as it was, the food just didn't deliver. Sure, it was good. But I wanted great. So we blew off dessert, paid the check and headed off to our home away from home to wrap up our evening.

Bing Crosby's
1342 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek
925.939.2464 (that's 939.BING ... isn't that clever?)

April 13, 2006

Some wine with your... sushi?

Wine. Cheese. Sushi for dessert. There IS no more perfect girl's night out, no better way to wind down on a Thursday night.

We've started to make The Grapevine a weekly destination. It's where I discovered Lizard Rock. And broadened my horizons beyond goat, cheddar, and mozzarella.

For this week's visit the theme was wines of Lodi. I know I love Lodi Zin's, so I'm curious about what else the area has to offer...

Like I need more more wine...

"Lodi is local," I remind myself as we walk in the door.

Most of my experience with the Grapevine has been the "Cheap Date Night" events -- wonderful explorations of weeknight wines and playful expressions of artisan cheeses -- but popular and crowded, standing room only events. For our tour of Lodi, we had a smaller, more intimate group. Debbie and I made our cheese selections (more on that in a moment) settled into a small table in the corner until the festivities began.

The Cheese Selection:
Brie de Meaux - a cow milk cheese from France
Lancashire - a cow milk cheese from England
St. Agur Bleu - a cow milk cheese from France -- smooth, creamy, ultra-mild, the complete antithesis of the Kraft Blue Cheese that inspired my hatred of the concept of blue-veined cheeses in general.

The Wines:
Michael David "Incognito" Viognier (2005) - this was delightfully spring-fruit sweet, but not syrupy. I was surprised at how well it went with each of the cheese selections offered.

Maley Brothers' Merlot (2002) - this surprised me... it went better with the brie than the blue. Paired with the blue, it got very muddy tasting.

Wyneland Estates "Prioprietor's Reserve" Zinfandel (2002) - This retails at $20. I can get 7 Deadly Zins for $13 on sale. I'll stick with 7 Deadly...

(Just noted that the Incognito above is also produced by Michael David Vineyards -- no WONDER I love it!)

Klinker Brick "Farrah" Syrah (2003) - nice, but nothing special. Which is good, because...

Klnker Brick "Old Vine" Zinfandel (2004) -- these folks know how to make Zin. Another must-add-to-the-growing-library of Zin's.

Earthquake Petite Sirah (2004) - Another entry from the Phillips brothers -- but for a budget and limited storage, this would be in my cellar too. Mental note: add Michael-David to the "must visit" list for the next dance weekend in Lodi...

The Story:
Because it was a more intimate group, Cara shared her adventures in tasting and procuring Lodi wines. She'd gone to a commercial tasting planning to pick her 5 favorites out of 50-some wines and bring them back to all of us to enjoy. She did her research. She found her favorites. And then discovered that in a community of small, single-family wineries where her telephone calls to the "corporate number" were sometimes answered by the winemaker's five-year-old daughter, she might have some trouble with the actual procurement process. "What? You want CASES of wine? Delivered? Let's see... I visit my grandparents in Santa Cruz on Thursdays... I could drop off... two cases." It was apparently quite an ordeal, but worth it in the end. I walked out with a quarter pound each of the Brie and the Blue cheeses, 2 bottles of the Incognito Viognier and 3 of the Klinker Brick Zinfandel.

The Sushi
So what do a couple of women out on their own with too much of a buzz to drive straight home do? Attempting to avoid breaking into my brie, we wandered around Willow Glen searching for culinary inspiration and settled on... sushi.

John and I had a less-than-stellar experience at the Campbell Kazoo many years ago, but we've read rave reviews and wondered if we'd just experienced a fluke. So Debbie and I ventured into their Willow Glen location. A converted Burger King in a small shopping mall, my second trip was an... odd experience. We skipped the boats in favor of a table -- I don't have an aversion to the boat concept if it's well executed, but when the sushi selections are wrapped in saran wrap and look like they may have been lunch leftovers, I get a little squicky.

We chose a couple of rolls and a couple of nigiri selections. Our order arrived at our table fresh, and the portions were certainly solid for bay area standards. It tamed my constant sushi jones -- I should be good for another day or two before I get the cravings again. It sobered me up, but it didn't... inspire me. And with all the other sushi options out there, it's not somewhere I'll likely return.

Perhaps the answer in this case is to bag the boats and visit the full-blown restaurant in San Jose's Japantown. We shall see.

Grapevine Wine Shop
1389 Lincoln Avenue, San Jose

Kazoo Sushi Boat
1165 Lincoln Avenue, #110, San Jose

April 11, 2006

I wanna talk about... ME!

Because really, it's all about me. Toby Keith be damned. Right?

I usually skip these get-to-know-you quiz type things, but this one caught my attention. Unfortunately since I can't remember where I picked it up, I can't even provide proper attribution. Nor do I intend to tag anyone else with it. Here goes... Me (it's ALL about me), in fours...

Four Jobs I've Had
1. Cashier
2. Office Manager
3. Business Process Analyst
4. full-time student

Four Movies I Watch Over and Over
1. The Princess Bride
2. Auntie Mame
3. Aladdin
4. Sixteen Candles

Four Places I've Lived
1. Oakland, CA
2. Eugene, OR
3. Chicago Heights, IL
4. San Jose, CA

Four Websites I Check Daily (or almost daily)
1. The Delicious Life
2. LinkedIn
3. Open Table
4. Yahoo & Google News

Four TV Shows I Love
1. Good Eats
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
4. Inside the Actor's Studio

Four of My Favorite Foods
1. sushi
2. fresh baked sourdough bread, still warm from the oven
3. chocolate
4. just about anything Daniel puts in front of me...

Four Albums I Can't Live Without
1. Billy Joel's Greatest Hits
2. The Essential Simon & Garfunkel
3. Phantom of the Opera: the Original London Cast
4. Strait Out of the Box

Four Places I'd rather be
1. On the coast, watching the waves
2. Venice, Italy
3. Tokyo (because I'’ve never been, but I love the food)
4. San Diego

April 10, 2006

Thanksgiving in May -- Thoughts on Eating Locally

I'm not a particularly political person, at least not in the traditional sense.

Sure, I have opinions.

I read, and I vote.

Actually, voting's probably the extent of my "public" political expression, to date. Despite my proximity to Berkeley and a four-year stint in Eugene Oregon for college, I've never attended a protest or a political rally (or college football game, but I digress... that's another story). I've never participated in a strike (except outside my high school library when we were kicked out for making too much noise as seniors, but again, that's another story.)

And while I've certainly taken my share of leadership opportunities in my professional and personal life, I've abstained from those parts of leadership that are the most politically charged.

So why then am I choosing to join over 700 others from around the bay, the country, the world in a quest to "eat locally" for the month of May? And making that challenge public by writing about it here?

I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and the short answer is that there IS no short answer -- there are a lot of factors driving my desire to do this. But when I push myself to come up with the short answer, it all comes down to education. I have no idea what impact, if any, my decisions over the next thirty days will have on my community, my world. But as sure as I breathe, I know I will learn from the experience.

I suspect I'm going to gain a newfound appreciation for all I have and have access to... both in my local foodshed and through interstate commerce and import. While I'm not going to obsess about this -- we'll eat out with friends and I will not interrogate my hosts about how they procure their food -- I do expect I'll make some sacrifices. If nothing else, I'll miss the supermarket sushi that becomes my grab-on-the-go lunch when I hit the snooze bar once too often and don't have time to make lunch at home. And ramen noodles when I get home late and just want something fast and warm. And weekends at the deli after the farmer's market.

I also expect I'll eat well... the bay area is home to some pretty exceptional produce, dairy and seafood. And some web surfing in preparation for my challenge indicates that poultry, beef and pork aren't out of the question.

And with any luck, reducing my dependence on processed, packaged foods will reduce my waistline. Hey, I can dream...

I'll also appreciate everything that's available to me through more modern commerce. We live in an amazing era. We're a mouse-click away from curries from India, vanilla from Madagascar, cheeses and meats from all over Europe, sweet onions from Georgia, chiles from Mexico... I think we lose sight of that. I know I do. My ancestors had no such luxury -- "imported" Italian cheeses were those brought from the "old country" wrapped carefully among the linens in their luggage.

So while I don't know exactly what I'm getting into with this challenge -- where I'll struggle, what I'll crave and not find locally -- I am looking forward to the journey and the lessons it will teach me.

April 09, 2006

Phhfffttt Forty isn't old (for a tree) - Espetus Churrascaria (San Francisco)

Okay. So I'm not forty. Yet. But I will be. Someday.

And today, I'm one day closer to that... um... milestone.

To celebrate (or commiserate) our respective milestones (John's is tomorrow), we opted for something we'd each discovered on our own and have been wanting to experience together. Our destination: San Francisco's Espetus Churrascaria.

An Atkin's dieter's (or any meat lover's) dream, the churrascaria is Brazilian barbecue at it's finest, steeped in the Gaucho tradition. The Gauchos (or Brazilian cowboys) would skewer large portions of meat and roast them slowly over carefully tended open fire pits. They would serve the meats family (or rodizio) style, carrying the entire skewer from plate to plate, carefully carving the delectable meats into perfect serving sizes.

The American churrascaria (at least the ones we've experienced) carries on much of this tradition. Each table uses a two-sided disk to control the pace of their meal. The green side signals the Gauchos offer their selections of sizzling fire-roasted meats to your table. The red side indicates you're ready to take a break. Flip it back to green and the protein parade resumes.

And the protein parade at Espetus was quite a show indeed. While the buffet -- a salad bar on steroids -- wasn't nearly as opulent as either of remembered from our previous experiences, and Espetus is clearly outgrowing it's current geography (the website promises expansion is imminent), the actual skewer selection was impressive.

Garlic Sirloin. Prime Rib. Pork Loin. Linguica. Not into red meat? Chicken Breast. Chicken Thighs. Shrimp. Feeling brave? Check out the Chicken Hearts.

Skip the dessert here though... neither of us were impressed with the sweet selection.

We don't get to the city often, so it's hard to say whether or how soon we'll return to Espetus. If/when we do, it'll be after they remodel, and with a crowd -- "family style" is kind of lost on a couple and to sample everything would require a day or two of fasting ahead of the big meal. It'd be a great location to take out of town guests looking for something a little different.

1686 Market Street, San Francisco

April 04, 2006

Finger-lickin' good?!?

Remember Kentucky Fried Chicken Livers? I confess I don't, but John does. And he misses them. A lot. So if anyone's got a tried-and-true recipe, please point me in the right direction. A google search yields nor much ... a compilation of internet jokes and a dog with some interesting snack habits. Odd. Very odd.

So in a fit of desperation, we sought out some "copycat" recipes for Kentucky Fired Chicken. And we found some interesting candidates. We're working our way through the various takes on "11 herbs and spices" and as with all things food, you can expect to see some discussion of our results here.

First off, let me say that I consider myself a foodie, but not a food snob. Ramen noodles and imported extra virgin olive oil both have a home in my kitchen. And there are frozen french fries next to the gourmet coffee beans in the freezer. But despite my "everybody's welcome" attitude, I had to shop for the chicken ingredients.

According to the recipe we tried, the eleven herbs and spices are all present and accounted for in prepackaged, powdered salad dressing. Go figure. Not a staple in my kitchen, so it's off to Safeway. While I'm there I pick up the chicken (we opted for boneless, skin-on breasts for our trial run) and the other item I've never purchased before: tomato flavored instant cup-o-soup. Safeway has lots of flavors of cup-o-soup, but not tomato. So I opted for Knorr's tomato-basil soup and in retrospect I think that choice changed the balance of the whole recipe.

Ingredients assembled, we began our experiment. The coating clung very nicely to the chicken pieces. We chose to double-coat it, hoping for a crispier texture. We weren't disappointed with that decision -- the combination of crispy batter and buttery-tender chicken that can only be accomplished by frying was a treat for both of us. This is a recipe we'll return to and experiment with when we're feeling the need for indulgent comfort food.

But was it reminiscent of "Kentucky Fried"? Well, no. But that may well have been operator error. The primary spice-age coming through was tomato/basil. Remember my Knorr soup? Looking at the box, I realize that in terms of volume I had something closer to vat-o-soup than cup-o-soup. Hmmm... perhaps that threw the flavor balance off?

So modifying my opening query, if anyone's got a tried-and-true recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken Livers or a source for tomato cup-o-soup, let me know. In the mean time, enjoy the recipe.

Kentucky Fried Chicken Original Recipe (adapted from the Copycat Cookbook

1 frying chicken, cut into frying pieces (we used skin-on, boneless breasts)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 Pkt. (dry) Good Seasons Italian Dressing (THE 11 herbs and spices!)
1 Envelope Lipton (or other brand) Tomato Cup of Soup
2 eggs, well beaten
2/3 cup milk
Vegetable oil to cover bottom of your skillet; about 1/2 inch deep.

1. Combine eggs andmilk. Set aside.
2. Combine flour with the Italian dressing and soup mix.
3. Dip chicken pieces inmilk-eggmixture and roll them in the
flour-seasoningmixture. Repeat procedure.
4. Fry pieces over medium heat for 25 to 30minutes, turning often.
5. Remove from fire. Drain and serve.

April 03, 2006

Rain, rain, go away - Pho Saigon Noodle House (Fremont)

Okay... so in February, we kind of expect we're going to see more rain that sunshine. Some of us are still working off the excess calories we consumed over the holidays, and homey soups, stews and casseroles are just the ticket.

Twenty seven rain days in March is a bit of a drag, but there are several winter-to-spring comfort food recipes we've been wanting to try.

But this is April, dammit, I'm tired of winter foods already; I'm craving spring salads with their luscious greens, vibrant veggies and mouth-watering fruits. This weather is precisely why I left Oregon after college... where the heck is the sun?

So where does our waterlogged heroine turn for a hint of spring when the weather doesn't cooperate?

The simple, clean cuisine of Viet Nam, that's where. Spring Rolls (hey... even the name says spring!) where the crunch of fresh veggies replaces the crunch of deep fry, while the sweet/spicy and peanut sauces keep my tastebuds engaged and provide a richness that counterbalances the weather outside. And a nice steaming bowl of Pho, where the bright green basil, crispy bean sprouts and fresh clean broth hint that spring is buried somewhere above all those clouds.

So Monday afternoon finds us escaping the rain at Pho Saigon Noodle House - a quiet unassuming establishment in a strip mall less than a block from the freeway. Kind of the Asian equivalent of a cross between a cafeteria and a coffee shop -- formica table tops with cracked vinyl seating that would stick to the backs of your legs if it were sticky summer instead of gloomy winter(nah... I'm not bitter... really). Like a well used but equally well maintained late model car -- dependable, not showy.

We opted for our usual standard for Vietnamese: an order of spring rolls to split and two medium bowls of Pho Bò Viên (Pho with meatballs). We weren't disappointed. Warm rich broth, tender noodles, dense, chewy meatballs, and they even floated some delightfully rare beef flank on top. With a heaping plate of leafy green basil, crisp bean sprouts and other associated veggies on the side for addition at the table. Yum. For a few minutes we forgot our frustrations with the weather forecast and reveled in good, simple food and the opportunity to experience it together.

Pho Saigon Noodle House
46825 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont

510. 683.8951

April 02, 2006

It's an... investment! Exploring Amador County wines

In 2000, we remodeled the kitchen and I added a 24-bottle wine rack. Despite the fact that I knew I'd never fill it, but it's a nice look, and the house is an investment...

In 2003, we added a free-standing wine cabinet that houses an additional 70 bottles for the overflow. It fits perfectly in the kitchen corner and is all the storage we'll ever need. It matches the decor but it's free standing and we purchased it at BevMo, so I really can't call it an investment...

We're now considering using part of the garage for some cold storage. Again, I'm considering it as an investment...

I'm living this fantasy quite nicely until one of my coworkers tells me a story. Her dad built a "small walk-in" designed to cellar 1000 bottles, knowing he'd never use that much space; it was an investment...

It's been full for a month.

That scares me. These obsessions, they creep up on you.

And Daniel is a bad influence on me. (stay with me here; the abrupt segue will make sense in a minute or two...)

First of all, he's got me addicted to his food. And at dinner last night he mentions we HAVE to check out a couple of wineries on our trip to Plymouth.

After more than enough mediocre dancing, we ditched the Sunday afternoon program. Sobon Estate Winery here we come! And $210 later...

We tasted all thirteen of the wines they were pouring and if money were no object we would have followed in the footsteps of the delightful New England couple that preceded us at the tasting bar and walked out with five cases of wine. Since we both agreed it'd be a good idea to make the mortgage payment, we settled on one case. Our favorites?

2004 Viognier - This was light and airy and summer-fruity. The perfect antidote for rainy spring evenings when your tastebuds say 'primavera' and the weather responds 'stew'.

2004 ReZerve Rose - This is certainly not your grandmother's watered down "white" Zinfandel -- the red-headed-stepchild of vinticulture. Clean and bright, this would be sensational on a summer picnic. Might just inspire us to pull out the bikes, pack up some sandwiches and explore Mt. Diablo. And for the couch potato that is me, that says a LOT.

2004 Zinfandel "Rocky Top" - This is probably going to join Stevenot's Gabriel Chardonnay and Valley of the Moon's Pinot Noir on my list of dinner party "house wines" -- rich and velvety without being heavy, Rocky Top goes with everything.

2003 Zinfandel Port - Sunset Magazine proclaims this gem pairs perfectly with peanut butter cups. Far be it from me to disagree -- I can't think of much it wouldn't work with. Y.U.M.

2003 ReZerve Primativo - My first exposure to Primativo, it won't be my last. Everything I adore about a good Zin -- on steroids. We walked away with three bottles for later.

So now I have a wine rack, a free-standing cabinet, and a half case of "spare" wine "cellared" in the breakfast nook. No, cold storage isn't far behind. But it's an investment. Really. In our happiness and occasionally our sanity.

April 01, 2006

We're not obsessed, we're just DRAWN that way! - Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar (Pleasant Hill)

Friday finds us nibbling again. Tito's visiting from the east coast and we want to expose him to our new favorite restaurant (never mind the fact we're driving to Plymouth tonight...)

We're dining with Tito, so it's as much about the wine as the food. (My undergraduate wine education was primarily independent study. Tito's the professor-of-record for the graduate level courses to date). Two bottles of wine, plus or minus (who are we kidding... plus) a couple of glasses on the side - followed by a two hour drive east. Yeah, we could have planned this better. But hey, we're starting a weekend away we would rather not do (save promoting the square dance festival) mellow and relaxed.

The Wine Courses:

We started with a bottle from our collection– Stevenot Winery's 2003 Gabriel Pinot Noir. We fell in love with Stevenot wines when we stopped there on a trip through Murphys in the Sierra Foothills a few years ago, and weÂ’re especially fond of their Gabriel series. The 2003 is their first Pinot, and while we probably should have decanted it for a bit before we dove in, the young-berry flavor worked well with the small plate selections we chose.

After much deliberation, Tito selected a 2001 Mara "Vino di Ripasso" from Cesari Winery in Venice. Oh. My. Gawd. Red velvet in a bottle, full and rich with none of those nasty tannins. Perfect as we moved on to the second round of selections, where the underlying theme was... cheese. Since I was going to do some of the driving to Plymouth, the Mara marked the end of my wine adventure for the evening, but I saved half a glass to enjoy with my dessert. Yum!

John and Tito shared another couple of liquid libations, including JohnÂ’s favorite Don PX. But since I didn't sample, I'’ll leave them to choose to comment on these. On to the food...

The Food Courses:

After my last experience, the salmon sashimi was an absolute must, but I managed to limit myself to one serving. Yes, your heroine can occasionally exercise restraint. Especially when there are many wonderful things on the menu to try...

Among the best of our two dozen or so other selections were (in no particular order, just note that the dishes featuring mushrooms and cheeses played very nicely in the same sandbox with the Mara):

Costolette of organic lamb with fresh rosemary & root vegetable brovada - Lamb's not normally my first choice, but the guys didn't get my portion of this plate...

The Black Pepper Spiedini of flatiron beef with a rosemary pesto over fried spinach - I said fried spinach. Crispy, green, slightly salty. Brilliant. They call it a signature accompaniment. For as long as I dine at Nibblers, we'll be ordering whatever is paired with the fried spinach. Tuna/marshmallow/raisin salad over fried spinach? Hold the salad and count me in!

Fruilian rolled strudel filled with leeks, pecans, fiddleheads & grated Montasio - Let me just say that I will eat anything Daniel wraps in pastry. Even tuna/marshmallows/raisins. Thankfully his creativity hovers on the border of sublime, not ridiculous.

One of the specials of the night, sauteed wild mushrooms with blue cheese - paired with the Mara wine, this went to 11. which prompted us to order...

The pizzetta with wild mushrooms, caramelized cippolini onions and Shaft blue cheese - who the hell needs therapy? Bad day? Bring me rich earthy mushrooms, decadent cheese and red wine. Hold the prozac.

And for dessert? A quintet of some of the most wonderful, heavenly cheeses your heroine has ever encountered. Which thanks to my budding skills as a food blogger (read: I asked Daniel to write them down for me) I can actually list for you here. (It only took me 30 minutes to locate the list amongst stacks of food magazines and restaurant menus):

White Stilton with Lemon
Sotto Carene di Tartufo
Gorgonzola Picante

Wrinkled Paranelia

Tete de Moine

They were all amazing. They all made wonderful music when combined with my last few sips of the Mara. But the Tete de Moine went *beyond* 11 and demanded a moment of silence. There are some experiences that just defy verbal documentation, and this was one of them. Move over goat, this is my new favorite cheese.

Despite the fact that we had a two-hour drive ahead of us, we lingered after dinner -- spending time with Daniel (Tracy was in Vegas on business) just feels like coming home. So we hit the road for our weekend adventure later than we might have liked, but relaxed, contented and plenty sober enough to drive. Beats arriving in Plymouth with high blood pressure from battling traffic any day.

So in an attempt to prove to my readers that we DO eat out elsewhere, I'm going to stop waxing poetic about Nibblers in every other discussion here. Know that we're still dining with Daniel & Tracy at every opportunity. That we're sharing our newfound love with our friends. And that if you're ever in the area, we highly recommend you stop in for a glass of wine and a small plate. Tell them John and I sent you...

Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar
1922 Oak Park Blvd, Pleasant Hill