Saturday, March 31, 2007

san francisco treat

Day 3: I got an hour run in this morning through the streets of sunny California. I needed it badly from the way I have been chowing down on this holiday. After running some errands, we finally made it into the city by three in the afternoon. We started off at Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf; much like the Navy Pier in Chicago, a tourist friendly hodgepodge of restaurants, souvenir shops, and rides and juggling acts. We were starving by then, so we settled for an outdoor table at Pier Market. The menu stated their clam chowder was voted the best in Fisherman's Wharf so we both ordered a cup each with our meal. I had the Crab Cakes and Esther ordered the Fried Platter. I would have to agree that the clam chowder was excellent; the best I've had by far. The rest of the meal was just OK. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, the beer was quite tasty too: a local San Francisco beer called Anchor Steam.

We walked along the peer, bearing the cold wind and unbelievably steep hills, up to Lombard Street. The world famous, most windy road. I couldn't get any good photos from below because the sun was setting right at the top of the hill. We walked up the steps to the top, watching tourists and locals driving down the street. Some out-of-towners would roll down their windows and wave at the people walking by or scream like little girls as they tried not to hit the car in front of them. I wonder how annoying it would be to live in one of the row houses along the street. From there we headed to the Ghirardelli Market. They were under construction so was a bit disappointing, but I got to eat free chocolate. Not a great big fan of their chocolate but they do have a great chocolate chip cookie recipe I use all the time.

I wanted to get over to the Palace of Fine Arts before dawn so we caught one of those electric buses and headed over to the Marina/Persidio area. If you remember from the movie The Rock this was where Sean Connery's character meets his daughter, played by Claire Forlani. What gorgeous architecture; just for a moment while I was standing among the tall columns of the rotunda, I felt like I was in another world, somewhere far from California. I would have to say say this neighborhood is my favorite. The row houses are beautiful with one looking like non-other. If I were to live in San Francisco one day, I'd like to be here.

My feet started to blister from wearing new sandels so we cabbed back over to the parking garage. (Our cabby was kind enough to drive us down Lombard Street, what fun!) We headed downtown to Union Square to hit up the nightlife. The streets were bustling with tourists, locals, and panhandlers. I picked a place from the guide book that had a star next to it and read somewhat appealing: Harry Denton's Starlight Room. We snacked on an Italian anti-pasti and salad before heading over to the lounge. Located on the top floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, the Starlight Room is a swanky lounge with a great view of the city. A jazzy cover band did a good job getting people on the dance floor; something for a slightly older crowd but we had fun anyway. And yes, I did a little booty shaking before we called it a night.

Friday, March 30, 2007

uni beurre blanc

Day 2 started off with an open house/tour of The Culinary Institute of America Greystone Campus. Located in the town of St. Helena, this school is the Napa Valley campus of the premier culinary school in America with its main campus in Hyde Park, New York. The tour consisted of a presentation and Q&A with an administration rep., followed by a chef's demonstration (Chef Thomas Wong formerly of the Pink Palance in Hawaii), and brief tour of the school. Greystone is very small with an enrollment of 130 students compared to the 2700 students at Hyde Park, but beautiful in its own right nonetheless: Perfect weather, abundance of fresh produce, and situated in the middle of Napa Valley; what more could you ask for?

After the tour, we headed over to the campus restaurant, Wine Spectator, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch.

Olive oil from Greece and olives.

Mandarin Orange Blossom.

Steamed Clams in Romesco sauce.

French Onion soup with a Gruyere souffle on top.

Black Cod with a kelp (I don't remember what they called it in Japanese) reduction sauce.

After lunch, we headed down St. Helena Hwy to hit a few wineries before heading down to San Jose. The first winery we visited was the Beringer Winery. It reminded of the times in college when we used to drink the white zinfandel. Oh, the good ol' days. We shared a tasting of three wines for $5, not bad.

Further down the highway close to Yountville, we stopped at the Robert Mondavi Winery. The last To Kalon tour of the day had just left so we quickly paid our $25 and joined the group as our guide was showing us the different wine regions of California. We headed out to the demonstration vineyard where the chardonnays and and zins were beginning to burst their buds. Since it was the bud burst season, there was no activity in the cellar but the smell of yeast permeated the room. On the lower level of the cellar was where the aging took place. Rows and rows of french oak barrels full of Cabernet sauvignon. You could definitely smell the wine. Finally the wine tasting: 2002 Stags Leap Sauvignon Blanc, Robert Mondavi Winery 2004 Chardonnay, 1996 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2005 Moscato d'Oro dessert wine. I really enjoyed the cab and the Chardonnay was an easy every day. Of course I couldn't leave empty handed so I bought a bottle of the PNX Pinot Noir, Carneros. The sales guy, Robert?, said you couldn't go wrong with it.

We finally made it down to Mountain View around 8pm where we will stay with Kristle until Monday.

The highlight of the day:

Mr. Information Desk: So are you enjoying your stay in Napa Valley:
Me: Yes, very much so.
Mr. Info Desk: Could I just tell you, I did a double take when I saw you walk by.
Me: Oh.
Mr. Info Desk: You look like that actress Margaret Ho.
Me: Who? (I knew who he was talking about.)
Mr. Info Desk: That actress from Sideways.Me:
You mean Sandra Oh.
Mr. Info Desk: Is that her name? Isn't there an actress name Margaret?
Me: You're thinking of Margaret Cho, the comedienne.
Mr. Info Desk: You're right.

I just can't seem to get away from it!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

the leaning golden gate bridge and mustards grill

Day 1: It took a total of 12 hours from Springfield to Santa Rosa. After a two hour delay at Dulles, another delay in Phoenix, which was actually a welcome or we would have missed our flight, getting lost in the San Francisco Airport, getting used to a GPS system (I don't like it when she says she's recalculating.), and experiencing rush hour again in about two years; Esther and I finally made it to the Quality Inn in Santa Rosa.

Dinner was at Mustards Grill for that evening so we headed back out as soon as we freshened up. We drove down Sonoma Hwy, passing the Blackstone and Kenwood wineries among others, and made our way up and over the hills on winding roads to Yountville. I had just read about the restaurant in the latest issue of Gourmet where Andrew Coleman wrote of one of his favorite places to dine in Napa Valley.

Right off of Hwy 29, nestled among wineries sits the Mustards Grill; a quaint, elegant eatery serving modern American dishes. We started off with a Vietnamese lettuce wrap (wait, did I just say American cuisine?) of grilled pork, rice noodles, shredded carrots with a fish sauce. The pork was tender and juicy but nothing exciting; it was good, mind you, but something I could easily make at home. I actually thought it didn't fit in with the other dishes on the menu. On the other hand, the roasted garlic with croutons were wonderful. My only complaint was that it would have been better served hot right out of the oven. As for wine, I opted for the "Reds" flight while Esther had the sparkling pink drink.

I debated whether to get the quail or rabbit but because of my soft spot for polenta, I chose the rabbit. Served with baby leeks and baby carrots, the little hare was exquisite.

Esther had the blackened duck with pineapple salsa and sticky rice. The meat was quite dense and delicious, almost like the other white meat.

Of course we couldn't forget dessert; although we were busting out at the seams. The apple, almond, cherry crisp served with vanilla ice cream was the perfect way to end our first meal in Napa Valley.

Monday, March 26, 2007



1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, room temperature
8 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate (I used dark chocolate)
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie (double boiler), set aside. Mix the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture and combine. Mix in the dry ingredients a little at a time until all is incorporated. Grease a sheet pan and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Pour in the mixture and bake at a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes for soft fudge brownies. For a more cake-like brownie, leave in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Let it cool in the pan and invert onto a cutting board and cut into squares, rectangles, triangles whatever your heart desires. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

spaghetti alla carbonara and spring salad

A nice spring weather pasta with a fruit spinach salad tossed in a orange-sherry vinaigrette paired with Laurent Miquel's Nord Sud Viognier (2005).

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Serves 2

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6 oz pancetta, cut into strips
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
1/4 cup pecorino romano, grated
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 egg
1/2 lb spaghetti, 5 tbsp pasta water reserved
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Add crushed garlic and cook until golden. Remove and discard garlic. Add the pancetta and cook until the edges are crisp. Add the white wine and simmer for about 1-2 minutes. Set aside. In the meantime, cook the spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving some pasta water. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg, parsley, and grated cheeses together. While whisking, drizzle in the reserved pasta water slowly into the mixture. Toss in the spaghetti and pancetta mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spinach Fruit Salad
Serves 2

10 seedless green or red grapes, halved
3 strawberries, halved and sliced
1 quarter of an apple (gala, granny smith), cubed
1 orange
1 blood orange
2 handfuls of baby spinach, rinsed and dried


1 tbsp mustard
2 tbsp orange marmalade
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

To prep the oranges, slice the ends off so it stands on the cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut away the peel including the membrane to expose the flesh. You will see the membrane between each section of the orange; cut as close to the membrane as you can while only cutting out the flesh of the oranges.

Mix all the vinaigrette ingredients in a mixing bowl, except the olive oil. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly as you whisk constantly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

filomena: health, wealth, and happiness

RS # 3: Filomena
Eaters: Doug, Nat, Michael, Brian, and me

Snow in mid-March? We must be in D.C. Amidst the freezing rain and sleet, the five of us crammed into a vee-dub chauffeured by Doug and made our way up to Georgetown. Walking into Filomena's was like stepping into Alice's wonderland. To the right, a pasta mamma was rolling out ravioli welcoming us into the rabbit hole. Literally. Down the steps, we check in at the front and wait by the dessert case. Delicious looking cakes were surrounded by Easter deco. On one side, a basket of eggs were flanked by rabbit guards and on the other, a basket full of babies wearing rabbit costumes riding on the back of a burro. It gets even creepier. The dining area is dark and cramped. (I got hit on the head by a waiter.) Hundreds of rabbit dolls hang from the ceiling by fishing string. We didn't know what to make of it other than the Italian Big Mamma must be into Easter decorations. I'm tempted to visit them again during Christmas.

But all was well as food was brought to the table. We got a carafe of Chianti Reserva and warm white, honey wheat, and ciabatta breads were served with a medley of fresh herbs and olive oil. I started off with mozzarella in carrozza; triangle-shaped fried mozzarella accompanied by the sweetest and most savory roasted cherry tomatoes. I opted for the ravioli di funghi for my entree. Mushroom and cheese stuffed ravioli with a light cream sauce of shiitake, tomatoes, and spinach. Dinner became family style with everyone sharing their dishes. The calamari was excellent; one of the best I've had yet. Slices of buffalo mozzarella and tomato topped with basil and olive oil, always a winner. Doug had the Festivale in Venezia: a seafood pasta with black fettuccine (I think they colored it with squid ink); Michael ordered the Lasagna alla Bolognese: served in the smallest dish on the table but good nonetheless; Brian was talking about roasted babies the entire car ride up so fittingly, he ordered the Vitello alla Filomena: veal scallopini with a marsala sauce, quite tasty; and Nat had the Gnocchi della Mamma: fluffy pillows of potatoes that melted in your mouth. The portions were huge so everyone took a doggie bag home. Complementary amaretto and sambuca arrived at our table in communal decanters as we finished up our meals. Anyone have room for dessert?

Raspberry Marquis

Macadamia Nut White Chocolate Mousse

Dark Chocolate Mousse

Monday, March 5, 2007

mai thai

Chutima and I headed out to Old Town for lunch at Mai Thai today. This may have been my first time at Mai Thai during the day. We ordered chicken ginger stir-fry, drunken noodles with tofu, and a bowl of tom kha kai soup. The two entrees were good, but the rice was over-cooked; tasted as if they'd re-cooked the rice from the night before. The soup was mediocre at best: too much coconut milk and too little spice. Despite my last two comments, Mai Thai is one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the area and I've always had great food each time I visited. The restaurant is located at the end of King St. Try to get a table upstairs by the window which boasts a view of the Potomac. Other fares to try: Shrimp Clay Pot, Panang Curry, and Seafood Paradise.

Purple Orchid

Orange Chair

Chutima sipping Thai Iced Tea

Chicken Ginger Stir-Fry

Drunken Noodles with Tofu

Tom Kha Kai

Sunday, March 4, 2007

ray's the steaks

Restaurant Series # 2 Ray's the Steaks
Eaters: Leslie, Michael, Paul, Brian, Doug, Nat, and me

Seven-top at 6:30pm, had to be out by 8pm to make room for an eight-top. Everyone had to arrive on time, or they would give up our table. It was pretty chilly out that day so the girls huddled inside by the coat rack, making room each time someone left, came in, or searched for their coats. Michael finally gave in and joined us inside. We got seated by 7pm and the hostess made sure we knew we still had one and a half hours to finish our meal. Why how generous, thank you.

No decorations, no artwork. Just plain white walls with wooden tables and chairs, deli style silverware and paper menus stained with wine and meat drippings. Despite the fact they could be on the next episode of Restaurant Re-Design, Ray's is known for the quality of their meat available at a reasonable price. We all had great expectations.

Most of us started out with the crab bisque. Very creamy and crabby. Quite good, but could have tasted less of the cream. We ordered a bottle of pinot (pictured) to share. If you drank fast enough, you got seconds.

I chose the hanger steak, cooked medium. Written on the menu, their most flavorful cut of meat. A lean cut I might add; I think I will try a fattier cut of meat next time. We also had filet mignon, t-bone, and rib-eye among others on the table. Family style sides of mashed potatoes and creamed spinach were included with the order of a side of sauteed onions and steamed broccoli (which Michael ate all by himself.) A complimentary demitasse of hot chocolate followed. While the librarian figured out our tab, Leslie did tea readings with our dessert cups. Michael was to be the next Steve Erwin and Nat had screaming heads in her cup: Rock Star? Dentist? The next M. Night Shyamalan?

Everyone seemed to have enjoyed their steaks, but I don't think we were all "too" impressed. Don't get me wrong, it was pretty good steak. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it didn't live up to the hype; at least not for me, but a good time was had. Thanks gang, look forward to the next outing!

(Since Michael had the most recurring roles in this post, I feel it be most appropriate to include a photo. Eskimo Mike? I just had to, sorry B!)