Saturday, December 17, 2011


My fascination with food began fairly early...

Recently while watching an episode of AMC’s hit series Mad Men, I came to a strange and somewhat unsettling realization.  I was Sally Draper.  Or she was me.  The life this little girl on the television was living was an eerie parallel of my own.  Her struggles were much like mine, her experiences with family, certainly the history that was shaping her childhood.  All mine.  That got me to thinking about what it meant to grow up in the time period from the late fifties through Woodstock.   The fifties were a time defined by a strong iconography, particularly in advertising.  It is no wonder that a television show has now been crafted around those vivid images.  Reflecting back on that decade of glossy ads in bright, primary colors, they spoke of a simpler time.  Photos of a poised and smiling wife and mother beaming over her stove in crisp white apron, her lipstick and coiffure perfectly in order, seemingly belied the reality we know must have existed for those women.  Yet the facade of perfection perpetuated for some time.  We wanted to believe life could be effortless, so we told ourselves it was.  Mother continued to effortlessly deliver her flawless roast beef dinner to the bread-winning master of the house.

That veneer soon began to crack, as veneers unfailingly do.  The illustrated perfection fed us by Madison Avenue eventually gave way to a generation unbound, as the early sixties brought with them societal turmoil.  The pill brought a new freedom for women.  Great leaders inspired our young people to hope for a better world.  The Civil Rights movement gained momentum in the year of my birth, as a soft-spoken, exhausted and profoundly courageous Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man.  Events began to tumble and plummet, as we were carried forward by time throughout the next decade and a half.  The times they were a-changin’ — suddenly Mother had a voice.

But back to Little Sally. She was six or seven when her parents parted ways, I was not quite three.  My father might have been Don Draper, the handsome roué with a gorgeous head of black-brown hair and piercing blue eyes.  My mother might easily have stepped into the role of Betty: she was likewise bright and beautiful, and may also have felt a little smothered by the role of  housewife and mother thrust upon women of her time. Lucky for me, if she was, she never let on.  It was against this complex and tumultuous backdrop that we all experienced Camelot; together we “had a dream.”  We flew to the moon together, only to come crashing back to earth as our inspirational leaders were murdered one after another.  1955 to 1970 was a decade and a half of hope and assassination.  Turbulent, magical and heartbreaking.

So how does any of this apply to eating, you ask?

People share joy and cope with tragedy by coming together  and that almost universally takes the form of also sharing a meal. The picture-perfect fifties were moving from an unattainable ideal to a more accurate reality.  The apron Mother wore was stained and greasy, and as she removed a roast from the oven, she was wiping real sweat off her brow.  Suddenly the way we saw ourselves was in conflict with who we were becoming.  Change is a recipe for the instinctive return to the comfort of traditions.  When we feel threatened, we come even closer together.   We celebrate our rituals.  Inevitably, we eat.

In these times when families were still regularly observing the formal family dinner, it was customary to expand that gathering to larger groups for the holidays. Though I was perhaps at least as restless as the next kid —  maybe even more so —  I cannot recall ever wanting to get away from the family table during a holiday meal.  It might be because there was no playmate waiting patiently outside for me to join her, or maybe it was because it was a special occasion, with all of my extended family gathered together.   At Grandpa Johnny’s, it might have been because I was with my father, an event that did not happen as often as I might have liked in the post-divorce years.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was because on these occasions even the adults were genuinely happy.

Being gathered around that table in the bosom of my family for a holiday dinner was a joy I anticipated all year long.  Though we spent most holidays with my mother’s people after my parent’s divorce —  the somewhat fractured holiday schedule usually allowed for Christmas dinner to be spent with my Father’s large and boisterous Italian family, particularly when I was very little.  Ours was typically a fairly robust gathering, at any given time there might have been fifteen of us all seated around my Grandmother’s table to share the feast.  Italian relationships most definitely revolve around the culture of eating.  I can hear him now once we were all seated and the food had been placed on the table.  “Mangia(re)!  Mangia(re)!” he would exclaim.

These early gatherings are vividly recalled whenever I think on them.  Recently, I ran across a photo taken of this beloved Italian menagerie at Christmas dinner circa 1957 or so.  Of the multitude seated at that table, only my mother remains alive.  The table itself had been decked out in Louise’s finest linens, sterling and china — elegant — the way she’d learned to do things in America.  The menu for the evening was however, uniquely Italian, resplendent with our shared Genovese heritage.  The food of Northern Italy.

First to be brought out of that kitchen were Lou’s depression-glass plates, all piled high with a rustic, vegetable-rich frittata, a moist, savory concoction that to this day is an unfailing delight.  Next would come a steaming platter of hand-made ravioli, generously slathered with Johnny’s mouth-watering mushroom sauce, each toothsome pillow generously sprinkled with fresh grated parmesan cheese.  Another platter would soon follow that one, perhaps containing hot linguini with clams and garlic, again layered with a gentle yellow snow of the precious cheese.  Sometimes one of the women would make a Cima, an old country staple that was eaten sliced and cold.  It is essentially a pistachio-stuffed veal breast, the preparation of which involves a week or more of stuffing, aging and pressing.  Food just kept coming until no one could possibly eat any more.

(Both my grandparents were marvelous cooks, and both of them had me working in their kitchens the moment I could steadily hold a chopping blade.  I will never forget my first successful solo attempt at browning an onion for the evening’s meal.  The look of pride on my Grandmother’s face when I showed her how nicely I had caramelized the onions was one of my proudest moments.  To win her approval was the ultimate reward.)

After the classic Italian dishes came our nod to the New Country.  Usually a fat roast turkey, but occasionally for a slightly smaller gathering Lou might offer her guests a beautifully prepared roast beef.  To my three-year old self, it all seemed limitless.  After the turkey came more platters, these with side dishes—  potatoes and salads.  There was wine in abundance, and with dessert came coffee and Galliano.  My grandmother believed there should always be more than enough food for company.  If the guest list was eight, she cooked enough for 14, nearly doubling every recipe.  If anyone were to have left her table remotely unsatisfied, that would have for her, been a fate worse than death.

Dining with a large, boisterous crowd of friends and family is at the heart of all that is best about life.  These gatherings are potent, marvelous, enchanting.  They are so rife with sensory and emotional pleasures we can become intoxicated by the event itself.  The palate is intrigued by the smells of the abundant meal as soon as you enter the home.  The heart is warmed with the sounds of beloved family gathered in every room happily chatting in anticipation.  There is an excited electricity as parents reunite with busy adult children they don’t see as often as they might like; youngsters of various ages scramble for a coveted position on a beloved grandparent’s lap; teen cousins bond over shared perceptions of the  adults in the room.  There are new babies to enjoy.  There are faces missing, as beloved elders are lost and new members to the family join the throng.  Some changes are inevitable as babies turn to teens and loved ones are lost, but at the root of the holidays is that thrill, the knowledge that for a little while, on this occasion and in this moment, we are safe.  We are together.  We are united in one another’s glorious company.

There is nothing more natural than dining—  and thus bonding— with immediate family.  Certainly those of us who belong to the Mad Men generation are seeking a route back to those simpler times — before the shattering of family food rituals began to shatter our connections to family.  We are beginning to realize that the preparation of food, and nurturing of a home, can all be liberating.  There is something to be said for the way June Cleaver rocked those pearls while tossing a salad.  When Mother discovered the TV dinner, it was a mixed bag.  Though the convenience of these instant meals represented a form of rescue for the newly working parent at the end of a busy day, the self contained meals began to erode the ritual of a formal family meal.  Decades later, we are coming full circle as people begin to rediscover the pleasures of dining together.  They are realizing that the act of breaking bread with others is as critical to human nourishment as the food itself.  Today’s foodies (and foomies) are seeking a return to a time when we were united at family dinners, celebratory get togethers and holiday tables a good deal more often.

For this holiday season, the recipe for Peace on Earth is a simple one.  Find a friend. Share  a meal.  Make a memory.

Monday, November 28, 2011

MANRESA - On the Occasion of My Last Winter Garden

A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of dining at Manresa in Los Gatos.  It was my birthday celebration, and what could possibly be more special than dinner for two in one of the world’s premiere restaurants?
An Imaginative Amuse Bouche

While sitting in the tiny foyer waiting for our table, my glee at glimpsing the kitchen preparing the night’s repast became evident to the well-dressed man who I mistook at that time for the Mâitre d.  He approached and we chatted.  Being a food writer, I asked about the restaurant’s upcoming plans, and he told me that they were building a sort of garden bar, the specifics of which he did not disclose as it was to be something of a surprise.  Polite and informative while holding back any real detail about the planned project that might spoil it’s launch, I found him charming.  I’d met him before, on a previous trip to Manresa, and he was no less gracious on this second occasion, remembering me and addressing me by name.

Grapefruit & Fennel Ceviche of Scallop with Truffle
At some point during the meal, Michael and I (he’d introduced himself by this point) got to talking about the wait staff.  I’d become increasingly transfixed by their orchestrated movements, the way each one always came in one side of the room and left by the other, circling the tables as naturally as water flows downstream.  They were graceful, more graceful than many I’ve seen, and I’ve been to quite a few Michelin-starred establishments.  It appeared to me that they were actually choreographed.  Since I have a theatrical background, I wondered if they were indeed rehearsed in this seamless ebb and flow of perfect service.  I asked Michael if this were the case. He smiled, beaming, clearly proud of the effort and pleased that I had recognized this attention to detail.  I asked him if I might come back and interview them (and him) on the intricacies of their specific routines.  He replied that I would be most welcome to do so.  I wish now that I had managed to find the time to schedule the interview.  The opportunity has passed.

Michael Kean was Manresa’s Manager, but he was more than that.  Losing him, they lost a friend and a presence that cannot be replaced.  Certainly the restaurant will not suffer any lack of attention to detail, nor will it become less than it was, they will see to it that a great talent is brought in to fill the void.  But I felt it important to take a moment to let the world know that anyone who missed out on an evening with Michael Kean, missed something truly remarkable.

He wasn’t just the Manager, he was your host for the evening.  The kindly uncle who politely saw to it that each patron’s experience was something better than flawless, something even bigger than memorable.  I met him only twice, but he knew who I was on that second occasion, and I felt as though the restaurant was open just for me.  That everyone else dining there were guests at my table.   I'm sure all the other guests were made to feel the same way.  And that’s just how Mr. Kean would have wanted it.

Into the Vegetable Garden
At the conclusion of this magnificent meal, Michael asked me if I would like to stop by and visit the Chef in the Kitchen. An invitation to The Inner Sanctum! Of course I said “yes!” faster than a smitten teenager responds when first invited to the prom.  I cannot emphasize enough how lovely the experience was, and how much it was enhanced by Mr. Kean’s smooth management of the environs.  We rarely notice those who manage.  We don't notice because nothing goes wrong. The people who make things run smoothly, who spot problems before they happen, who solve, who labor to protect us from the things that might lessen our adventure protect us from the things that might spoil the moment.  Michael Kean was such a man, more guardian angel than administrator, he cradled you in the warmth of blissful abandon inside the cocoon of experience that is Manresa, until it was time to return to the less than perfect world outside those doors.  It was for me a perfect birthday, in large part, because Michael Kean had made it so.

Don't get me wrong, the meal was remarkable as well.  Chef Kinch is a master of the perfect meal.  We began with petit four of “red pepper-black olive” which was a red bell pepper pâtes de fruits mingled with black olives.  Next up were garden beignets seasoned with a lovely concoction called “vinegar powder.” The wine that was poured to accompany this delectable treat a Bailly La Tiere.

Enchanted Oysters
The oyster, aptly titled “elemental oyster” arrived on a bed of seaside rocks, looking hand sculpted of some beautiful, exotic stone ---  opening to reveal a large and luscious bite of meat.  Salty, seaworthy, the water refrain continued.

Next was a red enamel bowl of raw milk panacotta, and beautifully prepared Monterey Bay abalone, the hint of radish giving the briny dish a bit of earthy balance.  It was followed by a lovely garden green velouté, a sort of soup with Orleans mustard cream, assorted vegetable purees, and a delightful Riesling from Marin County.  The wine pairings are as precise as the feet of the dancing waitstaff.

We savored the scent of house made bread and sampled our Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche, delightfully enhanced with grapefruit, fennel & black truffle.  Divine.  As we nibbled we sipped a crisp, refreshing Ryan Chenin Blanc from Monterey, our wine tour of California landing in every major wine-producing port.

The shellfish in bonito butter was a mix of octopus and dungeness crab accompanied by a Cheverney Domain de Sabard Sauvignon Blanc.

One of the highlights of the meal was the next dish an amusing and whimsical salute to the winter “garden” theme of the evening: a platter of warm greens on a bed of faux “dirt” — picturesque and toothsome.  The wine, a Chenin Blanc, Chateau de Pierre.

The garden itself was followed by another bowl of liquid enchantment, the Winter Tidal Pool, warm, inviting and delicious.  The colors somber but the flavors inviting and reinvigorating.  Served with an Arvois red wine from the Jura region.

Sea Bass
After warming us with the soup, we were presented with a lovely serving of black bass, set off with sweet onion and marrow broth, and seasoned with chervil, and smoked lentil.  The next dish a crispy roasted portion of squab, on a bed of carrot, potato and truffle croquettes.  The wine a Sangiovese Pleiades.

As our evening drew to a close, the dishes got richer, each portion a partner in a dance, the music lasting just long enough to tantalize before that particular partner was whisked away to be replaced by another.  Our plates suddenly contained a roast rack of veal prepared tonnato, chilled and drizzled in a sauce of tuna.  The veal atop a mixture of assorted garden cabbage, porcini mushrooms & onion.

After a moment to breathe and to acknowledge the journey our tastebuds had been on, it was time for a palate cleanser, this time a lychee champagne gelee with lychee ice cream, and a kiss of rose foam.  And then, of course, the elaborate red cheese cart rolled up to the table.  Manresa has a beautiful hand tooled cart, as lovely to look at as the wide variety of cheeses that ride its surface like Cleopatra on her palanquin.  We sampled a Cow’s milk from the Loire valley, that had been aged in abandoned railway tunnels.  It had a beautiful hazelnut and butterscotch quality, the humidity of the tunnels having provided the perfect environment for its maturation.  Next a cheese whose name sounds a bit like “de la vorc” with a similar flavor and texture to a parmegian.  Also a fudgy-textured delight with a nutty profile from the Western Pyranee’s Basque region; a Pireille papillion from Rouillard France (its double buttercream texture holding nuances of truffle and mushroom); a Goat’s milk Cyrus Gouda (the goat’s-milk is produced locally but aged in Holland);  a Cel Courshare, also from the Loire valley.  This cheese has a wood ash rind of blue mold, which makes it tangy with a nice runny interior; Finally a Trepa fuillard robiola – the mix of sheep/cow/goat, mingling to make it firmer than a triple cream.  This kind of world tour of cheeses is one of my favorite parts of any fine-dining experience.

Dessert was light and refreshing, a panacotta of orange, meyer lemon and vanilla ice cream & honey over a light graham cracker “crust.”  Simple, sweet, delectable.

Cheese Cart Magic 
There are many things about that wonderful meal that I have long-since forgotten. Details of presentation and preparation that elude me with the passing of time.  But the experience, the memory that I was warm, and comforted and dining on something like edible magic, that has not dimmed.

As we left, and Michael handed us those lovely envelopes that contain the evening’s menu, my copy thoughtfully signed by each member of the staff with birthday wishes, I had no idea it would be the last time he would do so.  So if you haven’t been to Manresa, or to any other special place you’ve always wanted to experience, don’t wait.  The lesson is, there is always a beautiful experience to be had, but just like live theater, no two shows are ever the same.  I’m glad I was afforded the opportunity to enjoy the Michael Kean experience, and will cherish my memories when I return.

A Sweet Finish
Go to Manresa as soon as you can.  Do not wait.  Life is short and meant to be lived with abandon.  Ask Michael, he’d have told you the same thing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

FALL CHOCOLATE SALON - San Francisco - November 13, 2011

As the seasons change and we approach the holidays, I’m usually not thinking about Christmas.  The first Halloween pumpkins and water-cooler chatter of the possibilities of who can make the most inventive costumes doesn’t bring me straight to Christmas trees and sugar plums.  But my thoughts do turn to something sugary.  Here in the Bay the approaching year’s end can mean only one thing: the Fall Chocolate Salon put on by Taste TV at Fort Mason.  Cause they, well, they have chocolate.

And not just any chocolate.  TASTE TV’s Fall Chocolate Salon is the Willie Wonka of chocolate experiences.  The World Cup of Chocolate Salons.  Held at Fort Mason, artisans from all over  arrive with all manner of magical concoctions and set up their wares to be tasted.  They are there to be experienced, to be promoted and to be judged.  Since it’s a competition of sorts, these artisans have delivered the best of their best, in the hopes of being among the chosen. But they are also there to expose us to the unimaginable variety of choice that is the face of modern chocolate manufacturing.

In this big sprawling room can be found an array of the best chocolates available in the world today.   Concoctions featuring sourced cacao from places like Bolivia, Venezuela, and Trinidad; some even from the hidden forests of the Amazon.   These beans have been harvested from across the globe and have been processed to make a myriad of chocolate treats:  raw, milk, dark, light, soft, crunchy, even sweet and savory.

I was not surprised to discover that many of these chocolate companies are family run, and their pride is palpable.  Treasured family recipes have been perfected for generations.  Elite events like this are the perfect opportunity for these proud descendants of pioneer chocolatiers to share their bounty with the world.  They offer their confections with such genuine enthusiasm.  They are not merely selling, they are aglow with the joy of what they offer.  They are inspiring.  Some have developed new or perfected versions of beloved childhood favorites, some have invented completely new recipes.  Siblings, cousins, couples and friends have come together to collaborate and along their journey have discovered much, and all of it should be shared.

These are magnificent artists.  They have discovered ways to incorporate more brilliant color in the shell of a truffle.  These are inventive and inspired chefs who have found flavor combinations as yet untasted.  And they will often be presented here at the Chocolate Salon.  Among the vendors can also be found a new generation of earth-conscious entrepreneurs who inspire us by their insistence on using beans from free-trade farms, and green technologies, ensuring that the populations of those source countries will also share in the profits.  They want in their own way to help the world benefit from our global delight in chocolate.

This fair is more than merely a contest or a “candy” extravaganza.  It is a giant tent of love, full of amazing expressions of human inventiveness manifested in chocolate.  Truffles in every color of the rainbow.  Bars of every shape and size.  Flavors spicy, sweet and savory.  The palate is assaulted with it all —   coconut, ginger, jalapeno, pineapple, mango, coffee— and it just goes on from there.  This is a room chock-full of chocolate, but it is also a place where the air is laden with the scent of cacao, and the artisans who have found their muse in this mythical substance of history, have outdone themselves to come up with a new and intriguing variation on ways to reinvent it for the world.

More information can be found at  I suggest you go and check it out.  Make a few memories of your own.

Postscript: It’s a great place to shop for the holidays, if you can think about them while overwhelmed with the glory of all the chocolate.  The packaging is gorgeous, sexy, pretty and inventive.  A little something for everyone.

Among the participants this Fall are  Amano Artisan Chocolate, CocoTutti, ChoclatiQue, Snake & Butterfly, Permano, Willet's Mini Creations, Leonidas Fresh Belgian Chocolate, Saratoga Chocolates, Victoria Chocolatier, Nicole Lee Fine Chocolates, Sterling Truffle Bar, Toffeeology, The TeaRoom Chocolate Company, Monterey Chocolate Company, Marich Confectionery, Sixthcourse Artisan Confections, Toffee Talk, Dandelion Chocolate, MDP Signature Chocolates, Au Coeur Des Chocolats, Seattle Chocolate Company, Butterfly Brittle, Be A Gourmet, Jack & Jason's Pancakes & Waffles, Urban Legend Cellars, The Winery SF, Jerk'NPickle, TasteTV, and more.

More information can be found at  I suggest you go and check it out.  Make a few memories of your own.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PLUM Oakland - (Pork) Belly Up to the Bar

A Rose....

It began with an email.  I get a lot of email, and even though most of it is information I have requested in one form or another, life just never seems to allow me to read every article on every new opening.  Hard truth is, there just aren’t enough hours in a day. The fact that I managed to receive this particular invitation was a combination of luck and timing. Guess some things are just meant to be.

One of my favorite new restos in Oaktown —  Daniel Patterson’s, Plum, helmed since shortly after opening by the incomparable Charlie Parker — was having a special prix fixe dinner.  The first of a series of such meals to be held on Monday &Tuesday nights, which will feature local-grown produce and proteins.   What could be more enticing?  Great food that supports local farmers.  Everybody wins.

The star of this particular dinner was to be The Pig.  A local pig butcher who’d worked with HAVEN Chef Kim Alter during Eat Real was sourcing the pork.  (Now, I’m a girl who loves pork in almost all forms.  Despite my decades old conversion to the laws of Moses, I still consume pork.  Raised Italian Catholic, giving up prosciutto seemed worse than cutting off an arm.  I was prepared to make the sacrifice, but my BH wouldn’t have it.  Fortunately the rabbis never asked me that question.)   Tantalized by all the potential in that “other” white meat, I made a reservation within seconds of receiving the emailed invitation.  Didn’t even run the menu by the BH.  We were down on the dance card.  All that was left to do was to wait and show up.

Beattie's Cucumber Cocktail
We arrived on the evening of our reservation, and after a brief delay while we waited for the hostess to deal with a fairly hostile walk-in, we were seated at the chef’s counter.  The counter is my favorite place to eat at Plum, or any other place that offers one.  I love sitting where I can watch the magic, the food becomes a lovely bonus while watching the best show ever.

There’s a certain kind of playful risk in a prix fixe meal.  Whether it consists of a simple and straightforward handful of courses or the more elaborate eleven-plus course “Chef’s Tasting,” one must be willing to submit their entire dining experience into the hands of another.  The patron has only one choice — to participate or not — he or she must become a guest at the table, dining at the pleasure of the Chef.   I find it invigorating.  Some Chefs are expanding on that experience, limiting their menu descriptions to suggestions of what is to come.  Recently, while being seated at Saison in San Francisco, we noted the “menu” contained only a single word to describe each course.  Last fall at the re-opening of service at the newly refurbished Eleven Madison in Manhattan, the diner was given a cryptic table, looking more like a game of tic-tac-toe than a menu, which contained several words in each line, supplemented by lithographs of seasonal symbols.  The diner was to select one word from each line, creating a mystical menu laden with unknowns, the words suggesting little more than which protein or other single ingredient might be in the dish.  The rest was left to the imagination.  Adventurous.  In the words of Anthony Bourdain “...your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”

Pig's Ear Chicharrones
For the record, although the pig dinner was the first, there will be more of these collaborative prix-fixe dinners coming to Plum at the hands of Guest Chef Kim Alter of HAVEN*.  These neighborhood celebrations will each focus on local-sourced ingredients, whether from farmers, beer and winemakers, or any other talented vendor with wares worth experiencing in a meal.  Showcasing that which is locally available to the consumer and giving each a featured moment at a particular meal is a wonderful way to teach people what they can find in their own backyard, as well as allowing them to experience those ingredients manipulated into something delicious by some spectacular local talent.  It’s also a pretty genius way to introduce folks to new talent.  Personally, I want to be first in line when HAVEN opens later this fall.   The five course menu offered last week was also priced very reasonably at $49 per person.

Another fabulous addition to Plum: the long-awaited bar next door is about to open and is currently offering mixology through a delightfully “speak-easy” styled service window that opens into Plum.  The as yet untitled saloon is another of D. Patterson’s brainchilds, and brings to Oakland’s bright mixology landscape the substantial talents of Michael Lazar, gifted mixologist  who will be serving masterful concoctions prepared by himself and which will incorporate recipes from the renowned Scott Beattie of Spoonbar (formerly with Cyrus).  Lazar is an expert in liquors, most particularly Bourbon.  Mr. Beattie’s artistic input comes in the form of recipes from his vast array of seasonal recipes, and yes, they’ll have the familiar floral garnishes and elaborate ingredient preparation that have become legendary in the modern mixology movement.  Cocktails with flourish.   Look for the bar to be opening within the next few months.  I know I’ll be there!

Bloody, Bloody Mary
Though I love a good glass of Malbec, and am fond of the occasional IPA, I cannot resist a fancy cocktail.  To complement my Pig, I chose one of Mike’s inviting libations, a little something titled “By any other name” which was a lovely ambrosia of vodka, I believe, if I am remembering correctly.  The drink had hints of rose that made it very special indeed.  The BH ordered the simpler-titled, Cucumber Collins, which he found refreshing and much to his liking.  Mine was a Lazar original, his a recipe by Scott Beattie.  Both were perfection.

Now to the meal.  The first course description read: “PATÉ CAMPAGNE - bloody mary, chicharrone.”   We were served a lovely little plated containing a miniature house made Bloody Mary (a shot glass containing vodka, spicy tomato juice, seasonings and a dash of pig’s blood), which featured a cube of rustic paté on a toothpick with an olive, several haricot verts and a pickle as a “garnish.”  In appearance an invitingly precious mini-rendition of the cocktail.  The paté was rich and flavorful, seasoned beautifully and with a perfect mouthfeel.  This tasty little mashup of meats and herbs was a complete success in my book.  The chicharrone were fried pig’s ears, which looked like crushed onion rings and tasted almost like bacon, but not as fatty nor as naturally rich in flavor.  While pig’s ears are not a food group I would seek out, I found the presentation inviting and the flavors appealing.  See what I mean about adventure?

Tomato & Bread Salad
The next course bore the title “TOMATO & BREAD SALAD pancetta vinaigrette, flatbread, crema, arugula.”   This dish arrived on a share plate.  Broken flatbreads hot from the oven, mingled with a nicely tossed salad of the above ingredients and several chunks of gorgeous, chewy pancetta, beautifully browned, and crispy in the mouth.  The acids in the dressing mingling perfectly to balance the fat in the salad.  Lovely.

The next savory dish was titled:  “BACON & EGG “salad lyonnaise”, braised bacon, fried egg, chicory.”  This dish was a one-per-customer affair.  A thick crispy slab of pork belly, a bed of luscious greens, all topped off by the perfectly-cooked fried egg.

We watched them fry the eggs from our vantage point at the counter.  First they are cracked one at a time into a glass dish and the thinnest part of the whites drained away;  then the egg is slid carefully from the dish to be fried for just about a minute on the hot steel griddle, and lastly broiling it in a hot oven for another few seconds to seal in the yolk, keeping it soft and runny in the center with the whites neatly cooked to perfection.  Tricky, smooth, intriguing.  The end result went beautifully with the pork, which was crispy and delicious.  The BH insisted he didn’t like any kind of egg that was loosely cooked.  I insisted he try it.  He ate it all, and says he’s a bit of a convert.  Personally, whenever I am offered the option, I “egg” it.  Always.

Loin of Pork over kale
The last of the four savory dishes was the “ROAST PIG fork mashed potato, braised kale with apple, crispy pig.”   A moist perfectly prepared loin slice of pork over a buttery mashed potato on a bed of kale.  Simple, juicy, toothsome.  We polished them off in moments.

We were just about stuffed by now, but the sweet tooth had been activated.  It’s like a little button in my brain that goes off when I eat that well, everything on my palate teased to perfection except that one place that needs a hint of sugar to finish off the meal.  The dessert that evening was prepared by pastry chef Matt Tinder from COI.  The menu read:  “PECAN PIE smoked lardo crust, chicory cream.”  The BH also decried pecans.  He announced before we began the meal that he hates them, particularly in pie form.  Has never eaten a bite of pecan pie on any holiday event, not since he was a kid and gagged on a mouthful of the most loathsome preparation.  Or so he says.  When the subject first come up (he’d finally got a look at the menu) I’d reassured him that we’d order him something else.  When we realized upon arrival that that wasn’t an option, I kindly offered to eat his, and whip him up a proper dessert when we got home.  The dessert plate hadn’t been before him for two seconds, when he said with a sly grin “You’re not getting any extra dessert tonight.” I love being right.

Pecan Pie & Chicory Cream
The pie was excellent.  Rather than being overly cloying, it was just sweet enough, the fresh frozen cream served with it forming a milky marriage of flavors.  Along with the ice cream was a powdery dusting of something that was delicious when mixed in with a bite of the pie and the chilly cream.  Not sure if it was lardo hit with a blast of nitro, or some other magical concoction because the waitress forgot to come back when I sent her to ask the kitchen.  No worries though, it added to the mystery.  I don’t need to know why everything tastes delicious, or even what I’m eating, as long as it’s served by a trustworthy chef.  It heightens the adventure, and I’m all about adventure.

If you’ve got an evening with nothing to do, and you are thinking about going home to waste an hour or two on reality TV, do yourself a favor.  Check it out. Make some adventure memories of your own.

Plum Oakland
2214 Broadway
Oakland, California
Twitter: @plumfooddrink

*HAVEN will be opening in November and will be located in the new space adjacent to the  Oakland Train Station at Jack London Square, in the same facility that now houses the Farmer’s Market.

Soapbox Sidenote: The walk-in was so rude and clueless that it made me wonder, again,  if there is anyone left on the planet who recognizes that they are not the only person living.  She stormed into the place ahead of those who’d been waiting patiently in line and had made reservations, demanded a table, and refused to listen to the hostess as she attempted to explain the format for the evening. When she finally did pause long enough to understand the meal was a set menu for the evening, she tossed the menu back in the face of the hostess (who remained patient and polite throughout) and stormed out.  There’s just no excuse for such rude and thoughtless behavior.  Ever.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I’ve spent my whole life apologizing for my hometown.  My fifth-grade bestie, a transplant from the City of Angels, once told me to simply tell people I was from “Frisco,” because no one knows where Oakland is, and those who do think it’s a ghetto.  Out of the mouths of babes.

Don’t get me wrong.  I was never ashamed of my city, despite her “little sister” status to her famous counterpart across the Bay.  Oakland has always been beautiful in my eyes.  That doesn’t mean that she wasn’t difficult to introduce to others.  Like the witty girlfriend whose great personality one tries to sell to a potential blind date, Oakland was a wallflower who needed to be experienced firsthand to be appreciated.  One could spend a lot of time trying to get her invited to parties.

For as long as memory serves, Oakland has struggled with various mis-perceptions, each holding just enough truth to stick.  I often hear that she’s all urban blight — a virtual black hole of decay.  While there are places in any city that need to be redeveloped, Oakland is by and large a beautiful place.  At her center is Lake Merritt, a lovely free-form crescent of greenish-blue water that is the beating heart of a National wildlife refuge.  The lake is surrounded by the “necklace of lights”  --- a string of refurbished turn-of-the-century lamp posts that glow after dark like gems the throat of a queen.  Oakland’s reputation is that she is a dangerous city, a place that is unsafe to visit.  While there are certainly neighborhoods that should not be traveled by those unfamiliar with them, most of Oakland is as safe as any other modern urban location.  New Orleans, Manhattan, all have their attractions and their challenges.  I can truthfully say in my decades of exploring Oakland, I have never felt any more threatened at night while traversing her streets, than I have in say, San Francisco.  Not once.

One of the main reasons I began writing this blog was to share with the world the changing landscape that Oakland is currently experiencing, and there’s been a lot of that change in the past few years.  As real estate became more expensive in San Francisco in recent boom times, many of those businesses moved into Oakland.  With those people came a few nice restaurants.  And so it began.

As season-ticket holders for another of Oakland’s best features, the Oakland Athletics, the BH and I were offered an opportunity to purchase tickets to the world premiere of Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.  The event was scheduled to take place at the Paramount Theater (another Oakland gem) followed by an after party at the recently restored Fox Theater in Uptown.  The chance to attend such an event was an offer too good to refuse.  How often does one get the opportunity to attend the world premiere of a Hollywood film? What could better serve Oakland than a full scale industry event?  I had to be there.  We took them up on their offer and scored seats in the rear orchestra for the big night.

Fans came decked out in full A's regalia
When we arrived I was thrilled to see the mini baseball stadium they’d recreated in the parking lot adjacent to the Paramount, a full-on Hollywood style red carpet.  We went over to will call and waited for the theater to open.  When it did, we were promptly escorted in, and the air-conditioning was a delightful relief from the unusually warm September weather outside.  Rows of lovely complimentary cocktails were displayed for the guests.  One a notable bright green appletini that had a lovely yellow apple floating in it (a nod to the A’s team colors); the other a nice soft pink tequila number.  I chose the latter because, well, the chance of spilling the green on a fancy dress in a crowded room was too high . . .  I’m sure you ladies will feel me.  The drinks were delicious.  I had several.  Once we were sufficiently lubricated, we proceeded to mingle.

Though the biggest celebrities were sequestered down in the green room, we roamed the crowded halls of the Paramount playing a game of identifying various minor celebs, chatting with other fans, many of whom we knew from our many years at the Coliseum.  Oakland’s own version of the glitterati were out in force.  Various members of the A’s: announcers and players past and present.  Mayor Quan.  A’s team photographer Michael Zagaris.  Even local hero Sully Sullenberger was in attendance.  Definitely a happening.

There were a good number of A’s season-ticket holders in attendance, many in full sports regalia.  They had come to cheer on our beloved rag-tag team.  I’ve followed baseball since the early 80's.  It was the thing my father and I rallied around, a common ground as he was dying of cancer.  We went together to a game during the ‘89 World Series.  Good stuff, baseball.  My dad used to say “It’s a thinking man’s game.”  Having played shortstop as a youngster, his love of baseball had even more history than my own.  And that’s the beauty of the game. It can pull us in at a young age and hold us for life.  It can be the backdrop for family events, uniting young and old in a communal enthusiasm.  Much like eating a meal, baseball is a pastime that is meant to be shared, to be experienced together.  It has heart.  Perhaps that is why it is America’s game.

Mini A's Field as "red carpet"
The premiere underscored this universal truth in many ways, but one of the most enjoyable instances was when the crowd would spontaneously burst into the “Oakland A’s chant” at various points throughout the evening.  “Let’s Go Oakland” came the voices, followed by the familiar rhythmic clap.  It was invigorating.  Aside from an event which so beautifully celebrated Oakland, we were all thrilled at the tribute this movie was paying to baseball and our beloved A’s.

Soon we were seated, and the main event was about to begin.  The director was introduced, and after a few words on the making of the film, he introduced the films producers Rachel Horovitz and Michael DeLuca; the screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillain; and the author of the book Moneyball, Michael Lewis.  Then out came the stars, and they were blinding.  The delightful and talented Kerris Dorsey (Beane’s daughter in the film); Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg); Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe); a slim and almost unrecognizable Jonah Hill (Hill plays a fictional character Peter Brand, a conglomerate of the computer geniuses who came up with the Moneyball concept, based primarily on the real-life Paul DePodesta) and then... Bennet began introduction that rapidly turned into “Oh you know who he is... BRAD PITT” ::insert roar of crowd here::  They thanked us for coming.  The lights began to dim.

As the lights went down, the fans in the back began to chant again. “Let’s Go Oakland, Let's Go Oakland” followed by the drumbeat clap clap clap clap clap and as they were descending the stairs,  Brad Pitt, Aaron Sorkin and Phillip Seymour Hoffman all paused and spontaneously joined in, essentially leading it for several moments.  Golden.  Oakland couldn’t have planned a moment like that in a million years.  Enthusiasm so infectious that even the larger-than-life Hollywood types could not resist it.  The wallflower had been asked to dance.  By the Prince, no less.  I will never forget it.  In those few minutes, it was hard not to be romantic about Hollywood.

From the moment the lights went out, I was on the edge of my seat.  Perfectly paced, engrossing film, the backdrop in every scene authentically familiar.  I’ve been going to games at the Coliseum since it was built. Pitt is a brilliant Beane, engaging, reflective, and madly in love with the game.  Jonah Hill was funny and introspective, in a perfectly natural way that spoke volumes.  The rest of the cast is brilliant, the running jokes funny.  The East Bay’s own Stephen Bishop does a turn as David Justice that is believable and entertaining. Inspired.

If the audience was any kind of a focus group, they have a huge hit on their hands.  Being at a premiere is a unique experience as, aside from the glitz, it turns the two-dimensional experience of a film into live theater.  The performers are there.  They can hear your applause, your laughter, or your disapproval.  They get the real-time feedback of a Broadway show, which is of course, one of the reasons they hold premieres.  It adds an incredible layer of suspense as the audience becomes a vital part of the show.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one I will not soon forget.  I won’t spoil the movie with details about the plot.  Suffice it to say that it’s a compelling story, and they tell it perfectly.  If you love baseball, it’s a must see.  If you love Oakland, same deal.

As we left the theater, we remarked on the only theme other than baseball that had permeated the evening.  “This is so good for Oakland.”  In the theater and outside, everyone was high on the City-that-couldn’t-get-a-prom-date’s evening as Cinderella at the ball.  Great stuff.
Now if we could just land a Westfield-style Mall smack in the heart of downtown.

As we walked to dinner at Picán (obligatory food reference), my husband remarked on how perfect the timing was. He reminded me that even ten years ago, there was not much “there there.”  Everyone leaving now had the opportunity to walk to a world-class restaurant to experience a first class meal.  Our choice was Picán, but Luka’s, Plum, Flora, Ozumo, Nex, Tamarindo, Hawker Fare and Hibiscus are all within a few blocks, are all first-class and represent a variety of settings and price-ranges.  It was a big happy block party, to which everyone was invited.  It was evident that no one felt threatened on the streets that night.  We could all have been strolling through a boisterous post-theater crowd in Manhattan.  Oakland’s glittering coach had pulled up and we were all invited aboard.  It was hard not to be romantic about Oakland.

Bottom line.  Moneyball.  Check it out.  Make a memory of your own, and while you’re at it, check out the real thing.  Go see an A’s game come spring.  This could be the year.  It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

FOOD TRUCK MAFIA (NEWARK) - The Dog (and Burger) Days of Summer...


The end of summer.  Though in California September usually brings the beginning of the hottest season of the year, it officially marks the end of our balmy, beachy out-of-school days.  The hours of daylight grow shorter as the bright blue-gold sunlight turns to amber, as though to coordinate with the papery leaves that will soon flutter down from the trees.  When I was a kid, summer meant lazy days spent boating, waterskiing the many canals and throughways of the Sacramento River Delta.

My childhood memories of summer are vivid.  The smell off the water, vaguely fishy and tinged with mud, everywhere it ran brown and murky and deep. The yellow speedboat that carried us was fast, so fast everything around was a blur, a rush of reeds, gold and green, like living sunlight as we thumped hard against the river delta.  The waves splashing up over the bow left a soft mist on my face that the sunlight and the wind would whip away as soon as it was deposited.  Those glorious trips across the open water were something splendid.  There was little speaking, just the roar of the engine churning the water, the air rushing against my ears and the constant sun on my skin.  And that glorious smell of the rich delta mud.

Hot, Crunchy Outside -
Creamy Inside -
Shrimp & Cheese Empanadas
Our final trip was always in late September or early October.  Those last days of summer carried their own kind of magic. My father called them Indian Summer, and they signaled not just a return to school from a time of what seemed like endless freedom, but a kind of communal closure as we all moved into fall together.  The drive home on our last outing always seemed to  bear a harvest moon.  It hung in the sky, large and luminous over the Delta, visible out the back window of my father’s car as we drove home for the final time.  That moon in my long-ago childhood memory still lingers in the sky, a perfect orb of yellow gold.

September begins our journey into fall, and Labor Day weekend signals the dog days are upon us.  A uniquely American holiday, this three-day weekend is more than back-to-school specials and furniture sales. It is a shared kiss goodbye to our collective summer vacation. Everyone, everywhere has fired up their backyard grill one last time.  Goodbyes are often bittersweet.

Crazy Fries.  Crazy, man.
This past weekend, the question arose in our household of how to mark this auspicious occasion and give sweet summer a proper sendoff?  An effective scout, the BH often discovers foodie-related tidbits while reading his morning paper.  Openings, events and happenings.  He happened to run across an event that sounded perfect: a gathering of the Food Truck Mafia, culinary gypsies who travel from one location to another to bring their individual brands of tasty treats to the hungry.  The Food Truck Mafia was scheduled to be at Newpark Mall on Monday.  Being Labor Day itself, this event seemed the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer.  After quickly double-checking the schedule we planned our final day off around it.

Grillstars manage a crowd of The Hungry!
The trucks set up and begin serving at 4:30, running until 9:00 pm.  We got there at five, and were immediately greeted by strains of Michael Jackson at a high volume, a heavy-set DJ playing boisterous dance tunes for the crowd.  The afternoon weather was gorgeous, more like mid-summer than September, and the crowds were diverse.  A collection of every age and color, all gathered under the Blue Top for some grub.   It felt like an oversized block party.  They had provided several tables to make eating some of the more challenging carry away cuisines easier.  Children ran from one truck to another, squealing out their choices for dinner to parents who could barely hear over the booming music.  Everywhere a variety of locals and shoppers who had wandered out of the mall to see what was going on were chowing down on a plethora of cuisines. The colorful trucks formed a big “U”, not unlike chuck-wagons circled to feed the field hands after a six-month tour on the cattle trails.  Yet there were no marauding Indians in sight.  The mood was festive and the smells welcoming.

In an attempt to be scientific in our ordering, and to make sure we sampled as much as was possible on a first visit, we walked by each of the trucks to absorb their menus before ordering.   It rapidly became clear we wouldn’t be able to sample anything close to everything, even one item per truck was overly ambitious.  We soldiered on, narrowing our choices to four savory and two sweet dishes.

Butterfly Shrimp
We began with a threesome of Shrimp & Cheese Empanadas, mini hot pockets of spicy goodness, served hot out of the fryer (and I mean hot) offered up by the first truck whose wares we sampled, Marisco's El Malecon. We found a couple of seats at a communal table and enjoyed a few bites of our empanadas.  Since it was their party, we were in agreement that we had to sample something from Grillstars and I’d selected (and ordered) a side-dish they were offering titled  “Crazy Fries”.  After placing that order, I imagined I would be handed a basket of fries and go off to sit with BH until we polished them off.  Best laid plans and all, the wait turned out to be over twenty minutes.  (Tho well worth it taste-wise, the standing around was not particularly pleasurable.  I wonder if there might be a better way to call out orders to keep people from having to stand while they wait for their meals to come up.)  Making the best of the wait, I observed a little of the food truck culture firsthand.  The salesgirl from El Malecon came over to order a burger, and Grillstars’ chef insisted that her money was no good there.  It would appear to be the custom that food trucks feed one another’s staff for free.  Like family. Classy.

 After my twenty minutes of running over to our table for a bite of empanada and running back to the Grillstars' truck to wait on my order, I was at last presented with a gimongous order of hot-out-of-the-fryer french fries, beautifully cradled in piles of smoky grilled beef, creamy nacho cheese, crumbled bacon and a lovely little dollop of fresh sour cream.  Every bite was covered with toppings, and every mouthful of the crumbled burger meat carried the lovely smoky flavor of freshly-grilled beef.  Absolutely worth the long wait. The cheese was a nice gooey consistency, sticking to the fries without being gummy, the bacon bits and sour cream coming together nicely, adding their own tasty music to the mix.  It was the best plate of “topping” fries I’ve ever had.  All for around four bucks.

Twisted Chill serves up organic
Soft Serve
Next up was the Butterfly Shrimp & Dipping Sauces from Bigg Shrimp’n.  These kids know their shrimp— we were served large, beautifully butterflied, whole prawns fried up in a light golden almost tempura-style batter that was almost effervescent.  Closer to cotton-candy than dough.  The sauces were fresh, made in-house, and just delicious.  We tried the Sweet & Sour (reminiscent of a Thai tomato-garlic sauce, it bore no relation to the thick red sauce of my takeout-Chinese childhood) and a Seafood Cocktail Sauce.  Bigg Shrimp’n’s Cocktail mixture was mildly spicy, with fresh horseradish being beautifully blended with fresh, ripe tomatoes.  Right then I was diggin’ the fresh trend in food prep.

Next I tried the Lamb Curry offered up by Munch India.  The meat was tender and fluffy and the curry mild yet packed with flavor.  The basmati rice was aromatic and light, and served as a perfect foil to carry the thick sauce over the lamb.

Creamy Soft Serve covered
in yummy strawberries,
toasted coconut & chips
By the time we’d finished off our four savory treats we were ready to move to dessert.  We went first to the colorful blue truck with the pretty girl on the side (fun design).  Twisted Chill is run by Jesse Soares & Michael Moules and the duo serves up a non-dairy soft serve.  Now ordinarily I’m a fan of “real deal” foods, but their organic take on this American favorite was no joke.  The creamy delicious red velvet version was sweet without being overly so, the flavor unique and craveable and the mouthfeel was creamier than a teenager’s pillow.  The guys offer up all manner of fresh fruit from within the truck and an assortment of dry organic cereals, chips, sprinkles and other treats in the self serve compartment outside the truck.  In addition to serving up great desserts, the guys are affable and informative.  I think they will do very well at this.

Our last stop was at That’s Sweet! Desserts, a cupcake and assorted baked goods truck whose list of wonderful flavor combos taunted us with it’s variety.  We settled on a Coconut Chocolate, Chocolate Orange, Sea Salt and Caramel and a mini Peach Pie.  The BH and I have at this point consumed every last bite, but I was in love with my first mouthful of the Chocolate Orange.  Moist, kissed with citrus and just sweet enough, this gal can bake.  Lucky us.  We had the Sea Salt later that night and the hint of salt and finish of toasted caramel, still linger on my palate urging me to return for more.

Sea Salt & Caramel Cupcake
The experience was a delight.  I’m a fan of fine dining, but who’s the rule guy who says a great food experience can’t be found on a truck in paper containers?  Not I.  These gatherings are a perfect time to gather with friends and family, enjoy the fading sunlight as the days grow shorter until the damp months are upon us and we are forced to retreat back into our homes to shelter in place until the sun, and the trucks return.

Their schedule can be found on Facebook at the Food Truck Mafia page. Check it out.  Make a memory of your own.  Have the crazy fries, I dare you!

Among the Participants:

Phil Woodman & Patrick Clarke’s GrillStars
Food Truck Mafia - Facebook
@Grillstars - Twitter

Bigg Shrimp’n - Facebook
@BiggShrimpn - Twitter

Jose Hernandez Marisco's El Malecon
Facebook under Food Truck Mafia

Chef Diana Afroza’s Munch India
Munch India - Facebook
@munchindia - Twitter

Jess Soares & Michael Moules’ Twisted Chill
Twisted Chill - Facebook
@chilltruck - Twitter

That’s Sweet! Desserts
That's Sweet! Dessert Truck - Facebook
@thatssweettruck - Twitter

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

eVe BERKELEY - Dinner in the Garden of Eating

My mother was born during the Great Depression.  In order to get me to eat my peas, she would tell me of the food she lacked as a child — of meals in her own childhood that were often scanty, with seven children in the family there were nine hungry mouths to feed.  To a kid raised on "sumptuous" TV dinners, it sometimes sounded that my mother was fed only tasteless gruel while I enjoyed Sailsbury Steak.  But if one listened more carefully there were other stories.  Of sweet red apples right off the tree that contained all the sunshine of summer.  Of white corn that still held so much natural sugar that she and her siblings considered it dessert.  My mother was a farmer’s daughter, and my grandmother cooked for everyone.

Theirs was a hard life, but a rich one.  My mom was raised in the midwest, and though there wasn’t  always enough food what there was, was fresh.  Food on a farm in the thirties was a genuine labor of love.  My grandmother milked the cows, separating the various dairy products by hand (Milk, cream, cottage cheese).  She killed and plucked chickens the day they were to be fried up for dinner.  Baked bread and pies, and every so often she allowed herself an indulgence for all her hard work, the rare aroma of a cup of steaming hot coffee.  She was one tough pioneer lady.
Spring Asparagus Stalks w/ "Terrine"

The people of my mother’s childhood were uniquely blessed.  Challenged to raise their own food and slaughter their own meat, they were connected to the food chain in the most natural and direct of ways.  They had a distinct advantage over many of us today, their understanding of the source of their sustenance allowed them to appreciate the fruits of the earth with which they were blessed, leaving them with a prevailing sense of gratitude for nature’s bounty.

That connectedness to our food sources was not as present during my childhood.  With America’s newfound love of canned goods and the availability of the TV dinner began a disconnect from the natural order of things that we are only now beginning to address.  Shortcuts that were invented to provide relief for women just like my mother, hard-working women raising small children while handling the pressures of a nine-to-five job, came with a price.

Souvide Egg
These shortcuts necessitated that the food be stored longer, prepared in advance.  Much of it was cooked beforehand, often draining all or most of the natural vitamins.  So the vitamins were manufactured and replaced into the food, salt was added to restore flavor.  Over time, the additives in our diets increased.  My food was plentiful when I was young, but much of it wasn’t particularly fresh.  Canned and frozen foods can sustain us, but it isn’t the same.  My mother would often comment on the lack of flavor, telling me I had never tasted real corn or real fruit because by the time it sat in the store the produce we got had lost any resemblance it bore to the produce of farm life.

Chilled Beet Soup
When I was a kid I dismissed her recitations, thinking she was speaking through the film of an exaggerated memory.  Everything seems more vivid to us as children, just maybe, she remembered these delicious treats through the haze of time.  How much better could they really have been?  These days I not only hear her voice when I eat, telling me of magical corn and fruit so ripe and sweet it imparts emotion itself to the eater, but I actually find myself quoting her.  I have tasted hours-old corn, and I am converted.  The religion of Alice Waters has claimed another disciple.

Recently we went to eVe in Berkeley for a family dinner.  One of the many such held in the Baby Lawyer’s honor.  The restaurant itself is a tiny nook, maybe seating not more than twenty people or so at a time.  But within its confines are some seriously fresh and fantastic flavors.  The joys of farm life have been resurrected there.

Lamb Belly w/ Pistacho "Stuffing"
The first thing they brought us at eVe was an aMuse boUche ---  a delightful little puff of saffron foam, topped with a smattering of fresh, tart currants.  My own mouthful of the creamy saffron goodness melted on my tongue, the finish of the tiny grape-like fruits mingling with the savory cream left me craving more.  I was ready for my dinner.

The meal we had was largely shared, as they so often are these days.  One of the common plates was a heaping of fresh aSparagus, in its natural state and in a terrine.  Both forms of greens were  laden with lovely morels, a sprinkling of almonds and the juice of fresh lemons.  An inventively green spring dish.

The menu is semi-prix fix, with each section allowing one or two choices, any additional choices incurring additional charges.  It's reasonably priced, except when you order everything. We ordered almost everything.  I had the bEet sOup, which arrived chilled, a  lovely gazpacho-style bowl of dill, radishes and carrots, the earthy taste of the beets balanced by the bite of goat cheese blended gently into its ruby hued ambrosia.  My BH had the soFt shEll cRab over risotto, the fried crab crunch set off nicely with a hint of ginger in the creamy risotto.

Pork Cheek Appi
Unable to resist the souVide fArm egG, I ordered that dish as well.  It was perfectly cooked, which is a trick I have never quite been able to master as a home cook.  Speaking of the farm, there is nothing that compares to a soft cooked fresh egg.  The rich yolk split open with just a brush of my fork, and its golden flood of flavor spilled rapidly over the bed of English peas.  The chef had added a healthy dose of black garlic and salty ham hocks, flavors that go together as naturally as the stirring notes in the song of the nightingale.  The salty fat of the ham, the acid flush of the green peas, the savory kick of garlic, all of these were swimming in a sauce made of succulent sunlight.

The kUrobuta poRk chEeks were likewise toothsome.  They had a delicate glaze of root beer and honey that acted to enhance the overall balance of flavor in the dish.  The hint of sweetness gave the pork that zing, and the bed of burdock root and dandelion greens, added some acid and gave nice texture and balance to the fatty pork.

The mains were simple and perfectly presented.  My parents both had the hAlibut, served with artichokes, lovely pearl onions, cornichon pickles and fluffy oyster mushrooms.  I tasted my mother’s and it was flaky and delicious.

I was unable to resist the laMb belLy.  Curious as to the unusual nature of the cut, I asked the waiter.  It was indeed from the lamb’s belly, the same cut as bacon, so was likely to be fatty but promised to be as flavorful.  Some experiments pay off, and this was definitely one of them.  The meat was beautifully marbled with fat, and had been ingeniously wrapped gently around a filling of pistachio and cardamon.  The stuffing absorbed melded with the fat to create a stuffing that was rich, fatty and delicious.  The flageolet beans were plump and buttery and the yoghurt in the sauce added a nice tang.   Remembering the flavors has got me salivating all over again.  This lamb was definitely a highlight of my dining excursions.
Fleur Verte Cheese w/
Apple Crisp

Of course we couldn’t skip desserts, so we ordered all three of them and plenty of spoons.  Two sweet, one savory (cheese).  The sweet tangy rhuBarb was beautifully flavored with coriander and served with a little raw milk pannacotta, served over a crispy whole wheat crust.  While I’m generally a fan of lighter flours, the texture of the whole wheat with the natural snap of the rhubarb was genius.  I loved it.  The “fleUr vErte” was a creamy cheese, flecked with edible flowers and served with an apple ginger chip, and a touch of mustard.  I love a good cheese and this was a great one.  The last dessert was ordered because my BH is a confessed choc-o-holic.  There was a housemade strawberry ice cream, dark and rich it paired beautifully with the dark, dark cHocolate cake, which came with an airy heaping of rich molasses sugar and a crumble of licorice.  One of the more inventive flavor combos I’ve seen in a dessert, we were all in agreement that it was entirely successful.

Rhubarb filling & whole wheat crust;
tasty "pannacotta" & rhubarb gelee
This is a great restaurant.  The service was attentive and gracious, and when the waiter brought us a little parting gift of a plate of scrumptious macarons, we were so full we could barely raise them to our lips.  But somehow, we managed just that.

We’ve come a long way, full circle.  It seems society at large has returned to the habits my grandmother practiced by necessity on the farm.  Pick it, kill it, eat it.  All in the same day if possible.  Fresh food consumption is quantitatively different.  I am aware that I am fortunate.  Fortunate to be able to eat as well as I do.  Fortunate that I live in a place with so many choices for people who appreciate good food.  And eVe in Berkeley is high on the list of places that understands what farm to table means.  Chef Christopher Laramie and his wife, Pastry Chef Veronica Laramie practice their art brilliantly, humming along in harmony, their love for what they do and for the beauty of the harvest is reflected in everything that arrives on the plate.  Those who dine here will come away having experienced one of the best meals the bay area has to offer.

This Garden of Eating is just what the farmer ordered.

Check it out, make a memory of your own.

eVe Berkeley
1960 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA

Chef: Christopher Laramie
Pastry Chef: Veronica Laramie