West Coast Adventures: Healdsburg

September 29, 2010 § 2 Comments

Picking up from where we left off in Portland, Rupert and I hopped on a plane to SFO where we rented a car and set out towards wine country – Healdsburg to be exact. En route, we stopped at Muir Woods, where we took in the gigantic redwoods and hiked a nice (very uphill) 2-mile loop off the beaten tourist path. Post hike, we hoped back in the car and made our way to Healdsburg, arriving at our bed and breakfast in the late afternoon.
Raford Inn
After some extensive online research, Rupert and I stumbled upon this six room inn online and I can’t imagine our trip without it. The owners, Dane and Rita, are wonderfully friendly and passionate about their historic inn. Rita prepared extravagant breakfasts each morning, which were a fun way and we enjoyed meeting and chatting with the other guests each morning at the breakfast table. Each evening, Dane opened a few bottles of wine and broke out the cheese and crackers on the patio for a pre-dinner quaff. They made wonderful recommendations of wineries in the area and were full of dining recommendations as well. The views from the inn were absolutely spectacular and we woke up each morning having trouble believing a place could be so peaceful and beautiful.
Zazu
Our first night in Healdsburg, we ventured to Zazu after hearing many great things about the restaurant’s incredible salumi (made under the black pig meat co. label) and chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart’s passion for local food. While a large part of our dinner was focused on cheese and salumi, we also tried some delicious ricotta gnudi, a white bean spread, roasted beets and fried potatoes with a delicious aioli for dipping. It was a somewhat random selection of our what caught our eye, and all of it was delicious. With the constantly changing menu, I would eat here again and again and would especially like to try brunch on our next trip.
Biking through Wine Country
The next morning, after fueling up on breakfast at the Raford Inn, we heading into town to rent a pair of bikes for the day. We reasoned these would serve as our transportation and economically keep the amount of wine we purchased to what fit on our bike bags. After our biking adventure through Portland we were pros, and the Russian River valley proved a lovely, relatively flat area full of cyclers. In total we covered about 12 miles with several stops along the way for photos, wine tasting, lunch, picking blackberries on the side of the road, etc. It was the perfect weather for riding. Here is a rundown of the two wineries were we made pit stops for tasting during our ride:
Quivira
Our first stop along our tour de vins, was Quivira. We ditched our helmets (safety first!), locked up our bikes and stolled into the tasting room. Here I fell in love with Zinfandel, specifically the 2007 Anderson Valley Zin. We vowed to return the next day via automobile to take a bottle home, and now I’m eagerly awaiting an occasion to drink it! Another thing about Quivira that appealed to me was the biodynmic nature of their wine growing and farming. The more I learn about organic and biodynamic wines and methods, the more strongly I believe in them!
Preston of Dry Creek
Preston lies tucked away about half a mile off the main road on a gravel/dirt drive, but the guy at the bike store told us it was one of his favorites and well worth the trek. He was RIGHT. Equally as impressive as the wines at Preston was the fresh produce they had for sale on the porch. Even more impressive, however, was the freshly baked bread and olive oil made in house. We snagged the last loaf of what appeared to be a whole wheat sourdough loaf bread, and later learned the breads are only made a fw times a week for sale there in small batches. Dipped in the rich olive oil, it still sticks out in my mind as the best bread I’ve ever eaten (and I honestly don’t think that was my bike-enduced huger talking). We accented our picnic with a soft cows milk cheese and some fresh strawberries and plums. It was the perfect lunch eaten outside on a picnic table following our tasting. We even had a furry visitor to share it with:
One of the coolest things we sampled at Preston was not in fact wine but actually kefir soda, something the winemaker enjoyed playing around with on the side. This strawberry flavored, slightly fermented soda was delicious and refreshing without the pucker effect of Kombucha. I would be a top customer should he ever decide to bottle and sell that as well!
Upon returning the bikes, we also stopped in at Arista and Twomey for additional tastings. The Twomey tasting room may have been the coolest one we visited with the most spectacular view. The Pinot Noir was out of this world.
The next morning, after another spectacular breakfast at the Raford Inn, we were off to Yountville via Napa. For that adventure, you’ll have to wait until the next installment!
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Weekend Wrap Up

September 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

This weekend, my mom and sister were in town to celebrate both of their birthdays – slightly belatedly – and enjoy our “fall” weather. We had a great weekend complete with fantastic food, a co-ed soccer game (my soccer debut), a Brooklyn housewarming party featuring an Indian feast, Wicked, and of course some requisite shopping. Here are a few highlights from the weekend eats:

L’Artusi
After our first visit a few months ago, I was eager to bring my family back to experience one of my new Italian favorites. The folks at L’Artusi went over the top to make it a fabulous dinner and we had the opportunity to sample many things we had not ordered on our previous visit. Of the vast array of dishes we all shared, the highlights this time around were the fresh ricotta cheese with buttermilk crackers, the hanger steak with crispy potatoes with salsa bianca, and the brussel sprouts, which were roasted to crispy, nearly burnt perfection. This time, dessert was a must, and the olive oil cake with raisin marmelatta, vin santo and creme fraiche mousse was incredibly airy and moist, and the coconut semifreddo with figs was simply out of this world.
www.lartusi.com

City Bakery
For breakfast on Saturday morning, we opted to pick up some pastries to enjoy on Rupert’s roof deck and serve as fuel for our soccer exploits later in the day. While the signature pretzel croissant is always a winner, the standout this time around was a pear and candied ginger corn muffin, the perfect balance of savory, sweet and spice. We also tried the maple bacon scone which was also unique savory/sweet combo. In my opinion, City Bakery offers some of the best iced coffee in the city, so that was also enjoyed. Had it been winter, the hot chocolate would have been requisite as well.
www.thecitybakery.com

Pulino’s
Sunday brunch was a special request of our guests, who had been to Pulino’s on their last visit just after it opened. The order never changes now that Rupert and I have zoomed in on our two favorites: the ottima and hte patate. The ottima features the crackly Roman crust with blobs of ricotta, blueberry jam and peices of crisp bacon. Some may question if this combo “works” but I am here to tell you it goes way beyond working, taking breakfast pizza to a new level. Run, don’t walk. The patate, on the savory side, features potato, sausage, mozzarella, fontina and green onions with two baked eggs on top. For the ingredient lineup it is surprising light. About one slice in to our brunch, I managed to dump half a latte all over our table, pizza, my lap, etc, and I have to thank our fantastic server for replacing the pizza and latte without charging us. Those who know me know that I have a proclivity for spilling, but this was definitely one of my more disastrous incidents.
www.pulinosny.com

Momofuku Milk Bar
Of course, no trip to New York would be complete for my sister without a stop at Momofuku Milk Bar. She stocked up on compost cookies for her friends back home and we sampled the Ants on a Log soft serve. One of the crazier combos they’ve made, but I have to admit they nailed the celery and PB flavor…it was authentic if not a bit bizarre. Apparently pumpkin cheesecake is up next on their flavor rotation. I’ll definitely be stopping by that one!
www.momofuku.com/milk-bar/

MIA

September 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Hi Everyone! I promise to be back in blogging action soon. Just a hectic week around here. Next week: a weekend recap of my mom and sister’s visit to NYC and the next installment of West Coast Adventures! We have a lot of eating adventures in store so stay tuned…

Impromptu Panini

September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

One night this weekend upon decided to stay in, I surveyed my fridge in hopes of piecing together a passable dinner with its contents. A zucchini and yellow squash from the greenmarket along with a bit of leftover pancetta and a rather absurd assortment of cheese (does having no fewer than SIX types of cheese in one’s fridge indicate a problem?) inspired me to offer up pasta as an option, but Rupert raised the bar and suggested I work them into a panini. A lover of all grilled/toasted/pressed breads and the proud owner of a new grill pan, I quickly accepted the challenge! The results were surprisingly delicious and reinforced my recent theory that pancetta makes everything taste better. While quantities were all estimated, here is the basic recipe concept:

Summer Squash and Pancetta Panini

Ingredients:
4 slices ciabatta or sourdough bread
1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 yellow squash, thinly sliced on a mandoline
1 zucchini, thinly sliced on a mandoline
1 cup assorted grated cheeses (fontina, mozzerella and pecorino romano)
olive oil
coarse salt and freshly grated pepper

Directions:
1. Saute pancetta over medium high heat until crispy. Remove from pan and set aside while leaving drippings in pan. Over medium-high heat, saute squash and zuchinni in pancetta drippings with a touch of olive oil if needed until slightly browned, soft and cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Sprinkle cheeses and pancetta on the bottom slices of bread and top with a liberal amount of squash and zucchini and the remaining slices of bread. (If I had any basil on hand, I would have added a few leaves of that as well). Drizzle both sides of bread lightly with olive oil. Grill the panini in a grill pan or panini press until cheese is melted (I prefer mine on the charred side, but feel free to adjust cooking time to your preferred grill mark degree). Cut in half and serve!


We also opened a bottle of 2007 Corazon rose from Corison Winery that we purchased on our drive through Napa this summer.  We only shipped 6 bottles back (and tucked a few more into our suitcases) from all of our wine country jaunt, and we loved this one particularly because we had never come across another Cabernet Sauvignon rose.  With fall almost officially upon us, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy this bottle.

It was the perfect meal for a relaxing night in!

West Coast Adventures: Portland

September 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

As promised, despite being a bit overdue, I’m carrying on with the next installment of this summer’s west coast travels. After a very early morning wake up call, we were off to the train station in Seattle to Amtrak it to Portland. This proved to be a scenic, cost effective and relatively efficient way to go, although I had to take Rupert’s word (and photographic evidence) for scenic as I may have slept for the majority of the trip.

A view from Amtrak en route from Seattle to Portland

Coffee Coffee Coffee
After getting checked into the hip and conveniently located Hotel Lucia, we set out for an afternoon of exploring. And explore we did! We first headed out in search of coffee, but not just any coffee would do. After last year’s debut of Stumptown Coffee in New York’s Ace Hotel, I was deadest on tracking down any and all of the Portland based stores and filling myself with as many lattes as possible during our short stay.
With delicious coffee in hand, we explored the Pearl District where I feel in love with the very urban but green design of the lofts and condos. Almost everyone had some sort of balcony or outdoor space and for relatively new construction were very attractive. We grabbed a quick bite at the cute and tasty Everett Street Bistro, where the pastry counter did catch my eye, but I decided to hold out for treats down the road. Lunch was good, but I think it would be killer for brunch, particularly the pastry counter!
Roses & Blues
Following lunch we set out on foot for what turned into a beautiful (and uphill) walk to Washington Park, home of a huge reservoir and the famous Rose Gardens. The roses were in full bloom and glorious. I’ve never seen so many varieties and colors in such a dense area. From there we took the zoo train through the forest and the zoo before heading back downtown where we CONTINUED walking and ran into the Waterfront Blues Festival. We sat for an hour or so listening to music on the two stages and enjoying some beer from Deschutes Brewery.
Le Pigeon
We abstained from festival food, not without temptation, in order to save room for a very anticipated dinner at Le Pigeon that evening. After some sprucing up in the hotel, we took a quick taxi across the river to dinner. Le Pigeon’s chef, Gabriel Rucker was honored as one of F&W’s Best New Chef’s this year and deservedly so. He is known for his way with offal and organ meats, and knowing we were in his capable hands, I was open to eating just about anything. The restaurant itself was small with a great retro vibe – boasting an assortment antique glasses, plates and silverware. I had an incredible beet salad following by a lamb tongue appetizer that came highly recommended by our server. It was my first time eating tongue and it was tender and delicious. Rupert had the Beef Cheek Bourgingon, a signature dish, which was also impressive. When I referenced the menu while writing this post, I realized almost none of the dishes were the same – a testament to its seasonality – but its ashame as I can’t recall all of our dishes or their components.
On Two Wheels
We woke up with a plan to secure bikes and take advantage of the bikeability that Portland boasts. After a quick stop for lattes and bagels at Stumptown Coffee (yes, twice in 24 hours!), we rented some nice Trek hybrids and set out along a trail along the river with a handy map outlining the bike lanes, bike friendly roads and less than friendly roads. In all we were out for about 4 hours with a quick pizza break which was essential for refueling. It was indeed a beautiful place to ride and I loved the arts and crafts style houses that dominated the neighborhoods across the river from downtown.
After getting cleaned up, we headed out to reward ourselves with a visit to the Rouge Ale House, where we had a great sampling of their brews on tap. Note to international travelers: apparently foreign drivers licenses do not suffice as IDs to prove you are of age in Portland, even when you are 27! Rupert had to hightail it back to the hotel to secure his passport before he could treat himself to the Rouge brews. In doing so, he made a taxi driver friend who gave us a lift to the airport the next morning 🙂

This guy was scoping our bikes out from above

Charcuterie and Tug Boat Jenga
We continued the night with dinner at Irving Street Kitchen sitting outside on the patio to take advantage of the cool weather. Irving Street has a cool “barrel to bar” cask wine program that predominately features wines from Oregon and California. We enjoyed a wonderful charcuterie plate and bibb lettuce salad and shared one of the seasonal fish entrees that was delicious.
Finally we finished our evening at Tug Boat Brewing Company. We were told by the bartender that hops was the name of the game when it came to the Tug Boat brews, but they had a few other artisanal offerings on tap that were more my style. This is the coolest dive bar I’ve been to in quite a while and a serious game of Jenga only added to the evening’s entertainment.
After only two action-packed days, Portland earned a place on my shortlist of favorite US cities – a refreshing, environmentally friendly place to explore with a great food and beer culture. Next Up in the West Coast Adventures series: Healdsburg!

Creative building post-Jenga match.

Food Memories: New York

September 16, 2010 § 2 Comments

On my first trip to New York City, I was 14 and relatively terrified. With a death grip on my Dad’s hand, I scurry along trying to avoid oncoming traffic on the sidewalks. Everything seemed dirty, loud and fast paced, but once safely inside the Broadway shows we attended and restaurants where we dined, I came to understand what made the city so great. It’s safe to say if you had asked me then, I probably would have sworn I would never live in such a place. Of course 13 years later, I’ve been living here and loving it for more than 4 years.

Croissants

Looking back on my first visit, I can recall which outfits I brought to wear, which broadway shows we saw and the exciting cab ride into the city for the first time from LGA. But —two distinctly new York food memories stand out to me. The first was my father’s morning trips from our hotel room to Dean and Deluca for croissants and freshly-squeezed orange juice. These would serve as our breakfast as we completed our morning routine. Having never been to Paris at that time, I am sure they were the best croissants I would have had up until that point and in my mind I labeled them as what New Yorkers ate for breakfast. (At that point I had not been introduced to the hard roll, which I still think is a crime again all breads, biscuits and pastries.) Luckily I do not currently follow my perceived New York breakfast regimen or I would surely weigh 500 pounds. Croissants, however, would reenter in my life when I studied abroad in Paris during college, and my affinity for and constant pursuit of the best almond croissant will never wain. Nor will never forget my early morning runs in Paris with smells of baking breads and pastries wafting from boulagerie-patisserie.

Gotham Bar & Grill

The second New York food memory that surely inspired me to follow my path of cooking, writing and working in the food industry, was a dinner at Gotham Bar & Grill.  Still a wonderful and successful restaurant today, Gotham was relatively avant garde for the mid-1990s, and Chef Alfred Portale’s vertical masterpieces of food were unlike anything I had ever seen or tasted. It was here were I also learned that refills in New York are often not free (as they gloriously are in the South) so I would be having one Coca-Cola with dinner and I better make it last. This lesson has also served me well when it comes to ordering beverages in New York and Europe. Gotham, by the way, is still an excellent restaurant, classy spot for after-work drinks and one of the best prix-fixe lunch deals in town.
www.gothambarandgrill.com

While I have formed hundreds of new food memories since interning and then moving here four years ago. These two will stick in my mind always when I think about this incredible city and experiencing it for the first time.

Meatballs & Dry Erase Menus

September 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

The Meatball Shop

On Friday night, we were in the mood for something fun and different. The Meatball Shop has been on my list of places to check out since I sampled one of their spicy pork meatballs at Taste of The Nation earlier this spring, and this seemed like the perfect occasion for it. We arrived around 8:45 and were quoted a 45 minute wait – not bad at all for the Lower East Side on a Friday. We were happy to wait but were also told the bar and two standing tables in the window were first come first served. We quickly grabbed a small bar table in the front and actually enjoyed the standing dining experience after sitting at desks all day in the office.

My favorite features of the restaurant were certainly the antique meat grinding tools adorning the wall and the laminated menu which one checked boxes to order. This menu is conducive to meatballs in every format including in a bowl, as a topping, as sliders, in a hoagie or smashed in a bun. See for yourself!

We opted for the spicy pork meatballs in classic tomato sauce served with focaccia, a beef slider with parmesan cream and a lamb meatball special slider. To round out the meal, sides of polenta and saffron green beans with onions were ordered as well. We loved it all and were only encouraged to want to try more as there were so many meatball/sauce/bread combinations and permutations to explore! (I would like to think I could calculate this, but even at the peak of my high school algebra career, I probably would have gotten it wrong). The spicy pork meatballs were perfectly cooked and the beef & parmesan cream slider tasted like the most decadent burger you can fathom. The green beans were tender and reminiscent of the overcooked (in a wonderful way) green beans I am accustom to as a Southerner.

After our meatballs, we considered asking for the check and going elsewhere for another drink in order to oblige the throng of hungry people waiting outside, but our fantastic waitress would have none of it. She all but insisted we stay until we had finished a homemade ice cream sandwich and I was not one to object. Like the meatballs, you must custom build your ice cream sandwich by selecting the cookie and the ice cream. As I take ice cream very seriously, I must have pondered this menu for at least 5 minutes in silence before selecting the coconut macaroon with strawberry ice cream. This turned out to be a great combination but I have a feeling it would be hard to go wrong. The ice cream reminded me of one you would churn in a wooden ice cream maker at a summer cookout.

Even with a couple of drinks, our meal was a great value for high quality ingredients cleverly prepared and served in a lively environment. For $3, The Meatball Shop even offers draft beer by the glass (basically a half-pint), an option I came to love in England and one that I wish more bars and restaurants embraced.

I just read on Eater that they were shopping for another space, and would welcome a second Meatball Shop anywhere it pops up! For now, I will be a frequent patron of their LES outpost.
www.themeatballshop.com

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