Friday, October 31, 2008

Free Sangria for Voters at Balboa Cafe on Nov. 4!

Come Election Day, Balboa Cafe is offering a free glass of white sangria to guests who present proof that they voted, from 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. on the 4th! Proof = a sticker or voting stub. Hoot hoot!

One drink per customer, and the election will playing on Balboa’s TVs.

Sure, the crowd is a little Pac-Heights-creamy for my tastes, but the Balboa has character and old time SF feel. And we like that no matter who's slurping oysters in the next bar seat!


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Busch Beer Cans Go Camo Down South

JFYI, beer branding has officially reached a new high in the Southeastern United States: Busch Beer has gone camo.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Food Writing Seminar with Mollie Katzen at 826 Valencia!

You remember Mollie Katzen. Moosewood Cookbook? Your gateway drug to that short flirtation with (or lifelong dedication to) vegetarianism? The only way you ever knew anything about spanikopita or brown rice?

Well, this culinary legend is coming to 826 Valencia (a.k.a. the McSweeney's pirate store) for a seminar on November 20, 2008, along with Lessley Anderson of, Joe Jarrell of Where and the Guardian, and Scott Youkilis of Maverick and the AWESOME new food magazine Out of the Kitchen.

Get up in there! Click the flyer for a magnified image:

826 Valencia is proud to present a seminar on food writing
(for aspiring food writers)

Thursday, November 20, 6–9 PM
826 Valencia Street, San Francisco

Mollie Katzen: World-famous author of The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest
Scott Youkilis: Co-owner of Maverick restaurant and editor of Out Of The Kitchen Magazine
Lessley Anderson: Senior editor at
Joe Jarrell: Contributor for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and WHERE San Francisco

Tickets: $100 — limited to 50 only
Tickets available online:
Also available in-store: 826 Valencia Street, 12–6 PM every day
All proceeds go toward 826 Valencia’s free student programming.

Join us for an evening discussion on writing about food, and publishing your work. For the first time, we will also be sampling and talking about the food on offer during the evening. When we're not tasting food, our moderator will lead an expert panel in talking about it.

The conversation will range from discussing how to write mouth-watering prose on food—from restaurant reviewing, to recipe-composing and all things in between—and how to publish it.

In addition to reflecting on the writing process, the panelists will address issues related to the publishing aspects of food writing, such as contacting agents, working with publishing houses and newspaper editors, and running a successful blog.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Public Fruit Jam by "Fallen Fruit" at YBCA Nov 2!

Very little tickles me more* than plucking an illicit plum or Meyer lemon from a tree in the city. Fallen Fruit's mission is to get property owners to grow fruit trees on the edges of their property, so that the public can harvest and forage at will based on a mapping system vaulted at Ever seen how many plums a Mirabelle can bust out? Crazy!

Why shouldn't a city have plenty of public produce? Detractors complain of vermin problems, but there are solutions, my friends. Notes Fallen Fruit co-founder Matias Viegener, "If properly cared for, fruit trees don't attract vermin. If our dream of Public Fruit Trees comes true, we'd need a collective of local people committed to the trees."

Fallen Fruit's PUBLIC FRUIT JAM 2008 goes down this Sunday at YBCA. Rachael of LA's radicool Chicks with Knives Sustainable Supper Club clued me into this event. Check it out!!

The Gatherers exhibition @ Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Sunday, November 2, 2008
1:00pm - 4:00pm
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
PUBLIC FRUIT JAM - join Fallen Fruit in a collaborative event in which the citizens come together for a communal jam making session. Bring along your home-grown or public fruit and any clean, empty glass jars you have. At the end everyone will leave with a jar of communal jam.

If enough people bring surplus, even the empty handed will leave with jam. Pots of fun for all! The kinds of jam we make will improvise on the fruit that the participants provide. The fruit can be fresh or frozen. Fallen Fruit will bring public fruit. We are looking for radical and experimental jams as well, like basil guava or lemon pepper jelly.

We’ll discuss the basics of jam and jelly making, pectin and bindings, the aesthetics of sweetness, as well as the communal power of shared food and the liberation of public fruit. As a performance event, this piece is about collaboration on multiple levels: Fallen Fruit's collaboration with the public, the participant's collaboration with each other, and the long-term collaboration between humans and nature which have produced the type and variety of fruits we now enjoy.

If the rituals around food are our first form of culture, we see jam making as a kind jewelry of food: small, sweet and heightened bites. Jams defeat time – they turn something evanescent into something more lasting. The system of exchange and transformation that the jam crystalizes is the symbolic heart of much of Fallen Fruit's work.

Visitors are asked to join jam teams of 3 to 5 people, and to work with people they have not met before. The team negotiates the jams – what kind of fruit and in what proportion. We encourage the teams not to follow recipes but to improvise and collaborate in their effort.

When the jam is done, it is spooned into small, hopefully recycled jars, and the participants take some of their own, leave some for others, and perhaps take a jar of another team's jam. The jam is never for sale; it operates on the model of the gift. The fruit that comes from the public is returned to them.


*Thanks for coming back, even though I took a vacation from posting this weekend to visit family and rest my eyes for a spell. 

The Yum Diary, if it were handwritten, would be filled with all sorts of little scribbles and bubble-writing hearts singing your praises as a reader. In puffy paint and everything.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cult Wine Tasting Party at Foreign Cinema, 11/13

Get hopped on fine, fine wine to benefit Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard!!

Tix and more info for this November 13 event at Foreign Cinema here: 

With top Napa Valley wineries like Frias Family Vineyards and Viader on the ticket, you're sure to be sipping high-quality mountain fruit -- the stuff that goes for $65 a bottle and up -- and that's just mailing list prices. Imagine the retail and restaurant markup!

Great cause, great wines, great spot. And a good excuse to pull out a party dress!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

BBQ'd Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Jalapeno Poppers!

Speaking of passed-down recipes, here's a doozy. My friend Jules is from San Angelo, Texas, where his family was given this recipe by a cowboy cook/caterer fellow. He grilled them (along with a pile of his grandpoppa's ribs) for a bunch of us on Sunday.

Bacon-wrapped Chicken Jalapeno Poppers!
These are ridiculously tasty. And easy. And only mostly bad for you. (It's not like they're deep fried in batter, rosebud.)

Ingredients (serves 6-10, a couple of poppers each):
8-12 jalapenos
1-2 lbs bacon
1 pkg cream cheese
2-3 chicken breasts

The Prep
(start your charcoal grill now; gas grill or broiler can wait til the assembly phase)

1. Roast or saute 2-3 chicken breasts in salt, pepper, and the fat of your choice til *just* done. Let them rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting them into thick, roughly jalapeno-sized slices. Resting lets the tasty juices seep back into the muscle tissue, leaving your chicken moist and fabulous.

2. Halve and seed a pile of fresh jalapeno peppers (shiny, taut skin is a sign of a fresh pepper!)

3. Pack them with cream cheese.

4. Soften a pound of good bacon; 2 minutes in a microwave works great -- just spread out the slices on layers of paper towel. A slightly greener solution is to soften your bacon via oven or stovetop. Whatev! Just don't let the bacon become even remotely crispy. Keep it flabby.

Now you have all your elements at the ready!!

The Assembly
1. Top each cream cheese-filled jalapeno half with a slice of chicken, then wrap the whole thing in a whole or half slice of bacon. Secure with a toothpick if going halvesies. Buy 1 lb of bacon for halvesies, 2 lbs of bacon for whole slice action.

2. Pop those poppers onto a hot grill or under a hot broiler. Turn them frequently enough that they get nice and brown and crispy on all sides.

Party in your Mouth
Serve with a flourish. A tableful of happy guests will be the inevitable result!

photos: Jules Beesley

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paprika-Dill-Saffron Braised Meatball-Stuffed Peppers!

Let's make a pact.

We'll both try on this amazing recipe that I'm about to drop on you, sometime before the end of Thanksgiving weekend (6 autumn weeks! plenty of time!), and then: send me a line and let me know how it went! I will report my findings as well. Photos? Love em. Bring it on. 

(Bring it on even if it's 2012 and you found this blog post when you were searching for "secret stuffed meat" on Google.)

I Don't Even Like Bellpeppers, Especially Not Stuffed Bellpeppers, But This Recipe Sounds So Incredible I'm Going to GO FOR IT ANYWAY
This beaut of a recipe was told to me today by a friend of Turkish-American origin who seems to know his way around a kitchen; apparently he used to make this with all-organic-everything for his rather demanding-sounding guru (as part some sort of trade-off gig? cooking for enlightenment?)

He gave me all the special little notes you need to get it right, which I've included, although he admitted that there are no specific's one of those made-up recipes that ended up turning out phenomenal, so just eyeball it!
In the spirit of preserving the oral tradition, and because this recipe sounds easy enough yet mind-blowing, I'm writing this sucker up. Let's DO this thing.

Turkish American Paprika-Dill Meatball-Stuffed Pepper Magic
braised in a gorgeous paprika-saffron sauce

OK, so the dish is comprised of hand-pulverized grass-fed beef, fashioned into meatballs with egg, fresh dill, parsley, cumin, paprika and uncooked basmati rice
tucked loosely into whole, cored bellpeppers
all braised/stewed/simmered in a giant, caramelized onion-paprika-tomato-bay leaf-saffron sauce for an hour and a half until it is a thick, reduced glory of a sauce draping itself all over a potful of individual pepper-encased meatball magic.Which you can
serve over more rice. (Don't worry about double-starching; the rice in the meatballs kindof transmogrifies into a barely-there-meat-juice-host during the braise.)

The tricks: over-mushing the meatballs (yes! you should over-mush!), being liberal with the dill, browning and caramelizing the onions nicely, and reducing the braising liquid into a rich, luscious sauce. Oh, and the saffron. Yum.

Let me be quite clear before I start: I am dying to make this recipe.

*Warning: Any measurements within this recipe are total conjecture. You might want to glance at a good recipe for Hungarian chicken paprikash first (but, you know, without the chicken or the sour cream).


Paprika, And Lots of It: First, The Sauce
1. Slice and brown a few onions in a high-temperature fat (ghee, canola oil, grapeseed oil, etc.) until caramelized and roasty in a heavy-bottomed pot. A big-ish one, like what you'd use for a brisket or a coq au vin or braised short ribs. Now is a fine time to salt and pepper.

2. Throw in some good Turkish paprika, both sweet and spicy -- about what you would use to make chicken paprikash -- maybe 2-3 heaping tablespoons? Maybe more? You're making a paprika sauce so don't be shy. Get the now-spiced onions nice and hot and toasty, but not burnt.

Ingredient Note: All Paprikas Are Not Created Equal
I'm hoping a mix of sweet and hot Hungarian paprika will do, which is perhaps easier to find than Turkish paprika?

I'll try Haig's Delicacies on Clement -- haven't been there in way, way too long.

The Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated Magazine suggests mail ordering from The Spice House or Penzey's, but neither carry Turkish paprika specifically. I've had decent luck at Rainbow Grocery with sweet Hungarian paprika when I've made chicken paprikash.

Either good Turkish or Hungarian stuff will be notably better than plain old supermarket paprika.

(photo by Jen Yi Wang)

Wherever you get it, don't front with none of this Spice Island cr*p that's likely been dead on the shelf since you made deviled eggs three summers ago. Freshness really makes a huge difference.

3. Deglaze with a splash of water (sizzzzzzzzle), and let the onions soften further.
4. Add cut up tomatoes, 14 or 15, super-ripe and unpeeled. I'm imagining mid-sized tomatoes, like big Early Girls?
5. Add a bay leaf. Bring to a boil then simmah.
6. When the tomatoes have all disintegrated, add a couple of pinches of good saffron.
7. Add enough water to braise or stew something (if something like a plateful of stuffed bellpeppers were to be added shortly?)...or perhaps even use chicken stock? Keep simmering.

I WANT YOU To Make Me a Meatball
8. Maybe while the tomatoes are crushing out up there in that pot, you're starting to make your meatballs.
9. Smush up a raw egg with a mess of grass-fed ground beef (even some organic beef is still gnarly feedlot beef, so watch out!), salt and pepper, and a significant amount of chopped fresh dill. Throw in a little bit of finely chopped parsley as well.
10. Really mush it with your hands, and go *way further* than you think you should in terms of mushing. Pulverize it with your paws, tiger, until it's soft and pulpy. Normally you're not supposed to mush ground beef too much because it can lose its tender juiciness. However, these pups are getting braised, so just stay with me here and we'll call it an experiment.
11. Mid-mush, add in a fair portion of uncooked basmati rice, chosen for its unbeatable flavor when paired with beef. It'll cook in the braise! Genius. Mush mush.
12. Now throw in a few pinches of freshly ground cumin, and some paprika. Nothing crazy, just enough to flavor it all up nice. Mush.

May The Road Rise To Meat You
13. Parse out meatballs in sizes and shapes that roughly correspond with the peppers you've chosen. Apparently, the smaller, long-ish bell peppers, in various colors, are ideal for this dish, but anything will work.
13.5. Core your peppers, as opposed to slicing off the tops. This way you can stuff the pepper cavity with meat through a hole, kindof like how dog owners stuff those bouncy rubber kong toys with peanut butter for their dogs to go apesh*t crazy over.
14. Loosely stuff a meatball situation into each cored bellpepper, filling it 2/3 to 3/4 with meat. Don't cram too much meat in the pepper, because you want to leave some room for the paprika sauce to creep up in there.
15. Pop those bad boys in the newly-watered paprika sauce that you so painstakingly prepared for the last hour. It always takes longer than they say in the cookbooks to caramelize a bunch of onions, don't you think?
16. Bring to boil then simmer on low, low heat for at least 75 minutes at the very very minimum. Apparently, the longer you let it go, the better; a 2-hour braise is the optimum.  Don't stir too much! you want the peppers to remain whole.
17. Covered or uncovered, you ask? Mostly covered but ajar. Lets enough steam out slowly so that the sauce will reduce as it cooks. The goal is a nice, thick, reduced braising liquid studded with juicy, meatball-stuffed peppers.
18.  At the last, maybe two minutes before serving, sprinkle in some fresh dill and a bit of parsley and give the pot a stir. When I make this, I will probably not be able to resist the urge to add in a pat of butter or two. JFYI.

Harold, Eat Up Your Meats
19. Delicately spoon out a few peppers per person over some delicious chickpea-studded, salted, peppered and buttered rice, and get glamorous with the sauce. Apparently, when you cut open the meatball-stuffed peppers, they ooze steaming hot paprika sauce and meat juices.
20. Pat yourself on the back for following such a loosey-goosey recipe, and enjoy!

I would surely love to hear from anyone who makes this recipe to see how it turns out. When I get a chance to make it I will do the same for sure, right here on The Yum Diary!!



Monday, October 20, 2008

Secret Fancy Taco Truck in the Mission

A taco truck that serves handmade flatbreads with things like pork belly and king trumpet mushrooms? Holy Lord.

I can't in good conscience publish the location of the new Mission Street Food late night taco truck, run for the last few Thursdays by Tony from Bar Tartine and various guest chefs, including Chris of Meatpaper Magazine and Carlo of Piccino.

But I can tell you that even upon arriving at 11:30pm, a full three and a half hours after they had pulled up their rented taco truck and started serving their $5 treats, the whole operation was at the brink of sold out.

A super nice young woman named Karen was keeping track of everyone's orders on Post-its, taking payment, and graciously giving interview time to a couple of fellows with a video camera.

A pleasant, positive crowd was gathered and mowing down the last available paper plates of "hodge podge" -- no one seemed to mind chowing on bacon, avocado, roasted garlic and jicama tacos -- whatever was left to throw into a deeply caloric, deeply delicious, freshly griddled tortilla.

A girl next to me had lucked out and scored the last taco with king trumpet mushrooms and thrice-fried potatoes, socked in with perfectly soft roasted garlic and a creamy cilantro squeeze.

I somehow ended up with a buttery/lardy wrap graced with a few incredible shreds of pork belly and a smidge of roasted pepper, drizzled with a creamy cilantro situation and punched up with matchstick-cut jicama. HOLY LORD.

If you want to know where these suckers make their weekly taco magic, you can probably figure it out from one of the photos above, or you are welcome to email me and I will spill the beans off the record. I'm at Tracie [at] SFStation [dot] com.

Because America was born of an entreprenurial spirit.

And lard.

photos: TB

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Taverna Aventine Opens for Lunch, Cocktails, Bites

Prohibition-era tunnels used to run five blocks out (in various directions) from underneath Taverna Aventine, the new Vintage 415 spot that opened for drinks this past Thursday and will start serving food tomorrow.

Co-owner Gian-Paolo Veronese, grandson of former SF Mayor Joseph Alioto, used to tool around in them, in fact.

Shored up along an original seawall from the mid-1800s when Hotaling Alley was waterfront, Taverna Aventine builds further on the exclusive, historic cocktail culture that seems ubiquitous now (but was, for a time, limited to hotel bars and Historic District/North Beach neighbors like Bix and Enrico's).

Designer Lauren Geremia (grainily, darkly pictured, right, leaning against the 150 year-old wharf retaining wall next to a local antique store find) used the building's original timbers for both the upstairs and downstairs bar tops, and integrated the building's existing pipe network and masonry to further the maritime theme.

She left many of the holes and former ship-serving coal chute cutouts in the retaining wall, which runs the length of the downstairs Parlor -- where custom-upholstered, quilted leather chairs and antique sofas beckon and an ornate set of private booze/cigar/wine lockers dominates the entryway.

Here, Aventine Club members and their guests can enjoy a private happy hour daily from 3-7pm, as well as bottle service at night. Fancypants! (But casual.)

The ceiling in the main bar is made of this fascinating, expensive material called Lincrusta, which is basically just linseed oil and wood pulp cast into something of an embossed wallpaper. After two years, it settles in and becomes an immutable architectural element.

It's truly lovely and reflective of period (like much of her 60% recycled decor), perhaps even worth braving the inevitable weekend cavalcade of yahoos in luxury denim who will no doubt flock to Aventine for its exclusive members-only booze locker program (similar to Nihon's whiskey bottle club), swank-but-intimate feel, and bar nosh like local sausages, shellfish platters, salads, and piedini.

Just across the alley from Chiaroscuro restaurant and next door to the new Acqua di Roma day spa (another Veronese project), Aventine is poised to do well, as its exclusivity appeals to Fi-Di types while its adherence to SF cocktail-cultural mores will attract foodies and see-and-be-seeners.

Already, old school North Beach shakers like SF Wine Week co-founders Elie Ernest and Ruben Morency (left and right) are pulling up to the bar at Aventine, so signs point to "Yes" for this new speakeasy-esque lounge.

But we shall see! (and in the meantime be seen.)

horrid photos: TB

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Suckling Pig Dinner @ Jack Falstaff Restaurant 10/21 (and Trazzler Launch!)

I keep meaning to check out Jack Falstaff; this grower's dinner on Tuesday (info below) seems like a decent enough excuse! Especially when there's a suckling pig porchetta involved.

Which reminds me. Hey travel nerds! 

I wrote a pigpile of travel bits for a just-launched website and Facebook application called Trazzler.

You take a lil "travel personality" quiz (you like ze spa? or ze esstreme ski? or ze antelopes? or all three?) and Trazzler posts up a link to a one-paragraph blurb + photo daily or weekly
that puts you in a fabulous global destination. (Mentally.)

Para ejemplo, you'll find trip blurbs like:

I'm excited about the Trazzler launch and happy to announce it!

Now to that porchetta this Tuesday:

Jack Falstaff Announces First Farm-to-Table Grower’s Dinner
Executive Chef Jonnatan Leiva to offer special dinner series in collaboration with local farmers and vintners
Jack Falstaff Executive Chef Jonnatan Leiva, farmers from Star Route and Manteca Farms, and Joy Sterling, CEO, Iron Horse Vineyards

Jack Falstaff kicks off a series of Grower’s Dinners at which Executive Chef Jonnatan Leiva features an exclusive menu celebrating seasonal ingredients from local producers.
Guests enjoy the rare opportunity to mingle with the farmers and winemakers behind the meal. The first Grower’s Dinner features suckling pig from Manteca Farms, produce from Star Route farms and wines fron Iron Horse Vineyards. The cost of the Grower’s Dinner is $100, exclusive of tax and gratuity, and includes wine pairings. Members of the public may call 415-836-9239 or visit for more information or to make a reservation.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
5:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Jack Falstaff
598 Second Street (at Brannan)
San Francisco

Assorted Amuse Bouche
Iron Horse 2005 Wedding Cuvee

Greens from the Field
Pork Crackling and Coppa di Testa
Aged Sherry Iron Horse 2006 Un-oaked Chardonnay

Braised and Roasted Pig Trotter
French Breakfast Radish and Pickled White Turnips
Iron Horse 2005 Estate Chardonnay

Suckling Pig Porchetta
Parmesan Risotto, Broccoli Rabe and Fresh Herbs
Iron Horse 2006 Estate Pinot Noir

Lemon Thyme Panna Cotta and Figs
Iron Horse 2003 Russian Cuvee

Creative modern-American fare with a studied reliance on farm-fresh ingredients meets an artful dĂ©cor designed by Stanlee Gatti at Jack Falstaff. Acclaimed as one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Rising Star Chefs of 2008, Executive Chef Jonnatan Leiva’s menu focuses on clean flavors that keep the integrity of each ingredient intact. The original building’s exposed brick walls enclose a spacious interior comprising a 50-seat enclosed outdoor patio and a 70-seat main dining area with luxe suede walls and seats. Jack Falstaff's bar and lounge seats 20 and the outdoor patio is also available for private events. The restaurant is located at 598 Second Street (at Brannan) in the SOMA district of San Francisco and is open for dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Monday through Friday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended. All major credit cards are accepted. For more details, please visit the Web site at Tel: 415-836-9239.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom founded San Francisco’s popular PlumpJack Wines on Fillmore Street in 1992 with the goal of transforming the wine purchasing experience into one of fun and discovery. The PlumpJack Group portfolio has since grown to include the PlumpJack Cafe locations in San Francisco and Squaw Valley, Balboa Cafe locations in San Francisco and Mill Valley, PlumpJack Winery, PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn, MATRIXFILLMORE, two PlumpJackSport retail clothing stores, a second PlumpJack Wines in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, Jack Falstaff restaurant in San Francisco, The Carneros Inn, the Boon Fly CafĂ© and FARM in Napa Valley, CADE Winery and the PlumpJack Development Fund. For more information please visit

photos: Jack Falstaff

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Ringer: Chef Mark Ayers at TusCa and Pacific's Edge

Every so often, I come across an extraordinary chef who hasn't been hyped up yet. For a food writer, this is a fun and exciting moment!

I love giving props to people who are doing great things, so today's post covers Mark Ayers, a chef whose food I first enjoyed last year at TusCa restaurant down in the Monterey Hyatt Regency -- and more recently at the stunning Pacific's Edge restaurant at Carmel's tony Highlands Inn.

(It *is* autumn getaway season, after all!)

Ayers' food at TusCa is sophisticated and homey-chic at a very mid-range price point, not what I'd expected from the hotel restaurant at a Hyatt plopped on a golf course in Monterey.

He makes all attempts to shop local, and the back of house is run in part by serious Norcal surfers, a type known among surfing buffs for their fastidious natures and conscientious ways. Always good in a kitchen.

Wood oven pizzas ($12-$14) are savory and thin-crusted if I recall correctly, and soups like white asparagus with porcini oil ($9) are delicate and thorough in flavor. I loved a Pacific grilled sea bass plated with a platterful of grilled artichokes, fingerling potatoes, green beans, and baby squash in a fine fumeto; at $21, it's a dish that easily would go for $37 in the city.(And it's still on the menu.)

An open kitchen and a few high-backed booths give Tusca a cosmopolitan feel...

...And the wine bar can fulfill one's desires for a lil bit of chic -- to balance out an afternoon spent watching games and cheersing beers at Knuckles, the hotel's old-school "Historical Sports Bar." (Historical?)

The hotel is nice enough, with newly renovated rooms, two outdoor pools, and a full-service spa opening up in early 2009. At $240/nt or so, the pricing is competitive for a resort in the area.


Where Ayers shines, however, is at Pacific's Edge, an oft-noted fine dining destination with vertigo inducing, floor-to-ceiling windows cantilevered on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

The Highlands Inn was once independently owned and quite the darling among the Bay Area's traveling elite, but it was bought out by Hyatt in the last decade; for high-end hotel snobs, this brings down the Highlands Inn's former cache considerably (though not its $400+ room rates), but it's still a gorgeous place for an exemplary dinner and...dancing!

That's right. On weekend nights there's a live piano/jazz situation in the high-ceilinged great room adjacent to the restaurant (the "Fireside Lounge"), where a huge fireplace crackles and the pomegranate margaritas are top notch.

The divide is palpable between the glassy-eyed tourist couples of various ages sitting uncomfortably throughout the great room's couch seating, and the fun-loving glam set, who -- though seriously outnumbered -- do a decent job of decking out, cocktailing, and partner twirling between courses of Mark Ayers' haute cuisine menu.

The wine book at Pacific's Edge is impressive enough if a little short, listing excellent values like Alain Graillot's 2005 Crozes Hermitage ($65) as well as Napa cult wines like Kongsgaard and Arietta ($145-$265). We lucked out with a Pisoni estate pinot noir, grown in Monterey and perfs with Ayers' cheeky "Steak & Eggs" starter ($17) -- a poufy leek-gruyere quiche surrounded with (too few) slices of Tellicherry-peppered steak carpaccio.

Other standouts: a killer seared Hudson Valley foie gras ($26) with grilled brioche, caramelized pear and fig puree, and a light and lovely butter-braised lobster dish ($28) over a sweet corn bisque and potato risotto (potato risotto is all over the place, suddenly!). We hoovered up a plate of braised short ribs ($42) in an inky pinot noir reduction, cylindered over whipped potatoes and foraged mushrooms -- which the kitchen graciously split and plated for us.

As you can tell, the menu isn't challenging, nor is it groundbreaking. But the flavors are perfectly balanced, the textures are glorious, and the presentations are delicate without being precious. Oh, and there's the crashing sea beneath you, too.

Luxe booth seating by the windows is a must, so treat the hosts well to avoid getting seated at a rear table with freestanding chairs. Unless, you know, that's your thing.

It's oddly challenging to find truly excellent food in Carmel; you have to hunt and peck a bit to sort through all of the low-caliber, high-dollar traps that are stuck in the 80s, which seems to have been an era of one-dimensional continental cuisine and steamed cauliflower side dishes. (Not that I don't love my cauliflower. It good.)

I like knowing that talented chefs are doing their thing outside the SF city limits.

Gives a girl something to look forward to when the road lust sets in.

photos: Hyatt Hotels

p.s. Yesterday, I added my photos of Piccino's newly expanded space to that post, here:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crown & Crumpet Tea Room Opens at Ghirardelli Square

Finally, a tea room I can get down with!

Now that Crown & Crumpet has opened in Ghirardelli Square (I swear I have spent more time at the Square in the last month than I have in the last year!), there's a spot that combines Cute, View, Space, and Food: exactly the combo you want for a sunny day out with the ladies.

Yesterday, my friend Kate, a Brit by birth, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. Her mum, a sworn-in British-American herself, flew out from New York. What better occasion to have a ladies' lunch at Crown & Crumpet?

The view is decidedly not bad.

The owners are lovely. Look at that adorable Amy Dean (a former Creative Director at Ralph Lauren UK), showing off a shadowbox diorama thinger done by a local artist, one of the room's zillion cute details.

She and her husband Christopher know a thing or two about cute and original. They used to own that well-appointed little Russian Hill toile-and-soap boutique called La Place du Soleil. I liked these two back in 2000 when I wrote about them for Splendora, and I like them now in their sweet new digs!

I love the pink and white checkerboard floors and all of the over-the-top decor. I also love what Eater SF had to say about it:

"On one hand, it's a traditional tea salon with tea sandwiches and giant pink things everywhere; on the other hand, the place looks like a ten-year-old girl unleashed her dollhouse-loving id on a restaurant design."

Case in point, the overabundance of custom-cut Cath Kidston prints, which grace the walls, chairs, tables, and "Trolley Dolley" aprons.

But somehow it doesn't make me want to hurl. On the contrary! Can't explain it. I think it's just that the Deans are that good.

We sat on the terrace and enjoyed the view, as well as pots of tea and stacks of tasty treats like finger sandwiches, scones, and organic crumpets, the only ones in the U.S. (baked in San Rafael).

Talk about details! Little sugar stars in the sugarbowl? I love.

And the branded china is superb; each small teapot is served with an ingenious little silver tea strainer, and the big pots have nifty pull chains out of the lids so that your tea doesn't get too strong.

True, the biggish holes in those silver strainers aren't ideal for teensy-leaf teas like the Piccolo rooibos I had, but I don't mind a little flake in my tea, especially when I've got hot crumpets coming.

The menu item that looked the most exciting? Two toasted crumpets topped with savories ($12ish) like ham, cheddar, and mustard; tuna, sundried tomato and cheddar; bacon, avocado, brie and tomato; or Welsh rarebit with tomato (which they were out of, sadly).

Kate's cousin and I did some sharesies so we could try a couple of different takes. I wasn't blown away by the crumpet construction (too tumbly), and the flavors didn't knock my socks off, but Crown & Crumpet only just opened two weeks ago and they seem to have the right idea.

Just get the toasted crumpets and melty cheeses out to the table while they're still piping, and that should accomplish half the battle!

Meanwhile, their tomato and basil soup was absolutely to die for. I believe that, like a good Caesar, burger, or steak, an expertly prepared soup is indicative of a good kitchen.

Perfectly hot and creamy, and shot through with bright tomato flavor, this soup. And the soup spoons are FABULOUS. Bravo!

I'd like another bowl right now, to tell you the truth.

But tomorrow's another day.

photos: TB

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Barn Dance this Saturday at Pie Ranch: Super Folksy!

Fall weather calls for a day trip and a barn dance, no? I want to hit one of these asap. 3rd Saturdays down at Pie Ranch in Davenport, just down the Hwy 1 between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Pie Ranch, as you may know, is affiliated with Mission Pie here in SF!

Pie Ranch

October 18th Work Day & Barn Dancepie ranch logo
It's time yet again for the 3rd Saturday Barn Dance!

This Saturday, October 18th, celebrate fall as we harvest corn from the fields.  We'll harvest the cobs and create corn braids to store in the barn. The work party starts at 2 pm.

Then join in the potluck at 6pm and dancing at 7pm.

Reminder: Please bring your own dishes and utensils to eat off of and take home. Every bit of clean up help is greatly appreciated!

Also, remember to bring a donation to reward the band and caller for their talents and efforts ($7-15 per person - sliding scale - little kids come free).

(Scroll down for directions to the Ranch)

A Few More Words on Our Community Supported Barn Dances
Every third Saturday of the month has become a celebration of the work we do at Pie Ranch and of the rippling community of food system changemakers that inform and inspire us all. This monthly ritual of spending an afternoon working together on the ranch, sharing locally grown food together, and then spinning, laughing and dosey-doing together is nearly outgrowing the barn.

Pie Ranch
PO Box 138
Davenport, CA 95017