Sunday, November 25, 2012

RICH TABLE (SF) - Follow the Yellow Brick Bridge

Chicken Lasagna & Popcorn?
Hell Yes.

I have lived across the Bay from San Francisco my entire life.  As a child, a visit to “the City” was a magical trip to the faraway land of Oz at the end of a winding road of yellow brick.   It was a place outside of reality that lay well beyond the boundaries of my childish imagination.  I remember my Great Aunt Susan taking me there for extra-special excursions.  The day to end all days, we would put on a fancy dress, don our best hats and gloves, and board the bus that would take us across the bridge.  Once there, in this place where magic was possible, we would ride the trolley car to the City of Paris with its sparkling crystal dome, to spend the day shopping; or perhaps during the holidays there would be a visit to Santa for photos.  For years, San Francisco was as far as I ever traveled away from home and it felt a journey to the Moon itself.  Looking forward to a trip to the city was the most exciting thing in the world.

Fried Squash Balls with pumpkin seeds
To my Italian grandparents, North Beach was a second home.  My grandfather was the reigning bocce ball champion for several years running.  They knew everyone in the City.  I remember the dinner shows at Bimbos 365, a place where they mingled with luminaries like Rocky Marciano and Earl Warren, while I tried to figure out how they got that tiny naked lady into the magical fishbowl.

Much of that youthful fascination still lingers when I find myself in this City by the Bay, and she remains a place outside the boundaries of the familiar, having never lost her alluring sense of adventure.  As I traverse her often foggy confines, wandering beneath the landscape of towering buildings that scrape the sky, I feel as though I have been transported to Wonderland.  There is even a hint of danger — perhaps I will soon be snatched away by the Red Queen and forced to play games for my life.  The otherworldliness that bewitched me as a child is a lingering thread of connection that compels me back as often as I can manage.  Though vastly changed in architecture and culture, she is now, as she was in my childhood, a large part of the East Bay experience.


Wagyu Tartare
When the reviews began to come in on RICH TABLE, the delightfully inviting new effort from Evan & Sarah Rich, located at the corner of Gough and Oak, I made our reservations immediately.  RICH TABLE is one of those places that is difficult to describe, its decor all at once comforting, inventive, and classy, but without a hint of pretension.  It’s community seating is European in atmosphere and yet somehow completely embodying the feel of the current San Francisco, with lovely planters provided to “divide” the seated parties into a slightly more private community feel.  Brilliant.

RICH TABLE is laid out in such a way as to be incredibly inviting for such a small space.  Diners arrive to feel immediately embraced within its walls. Elbowing through crowds is not something I relish when I want to enjoy a meal, so kudos to management for understanding this and setting it up so smoothly.  Quite an accomplishment.


We lucked out in our seating assignment, being placed directly adjacent to the kitchen.  I’m always a fan of watching them do their magic and this group was particularly lively and obviously enjoying what they do.  After a few moments chatting with the expediter, I was informed he was Evan Rich, chef, (co)owner and proprietor of this lovely new addition to the SF dining scene.  He is a delightful young man who absolutely gets it.  His food was spot on and his attitude for feeding people is undoubtedly the reason.  Well, that, along with his significant talent for inventive cuisine.

Sardine (stuffed) Chips
The menu here is seasonal, so you may find that the dishes I have listed here will be off the menu by the time you read this.  The good news is that whatever Evan & Sarah have invented in the meantime is likely to be just as tasty, if not more so.  When a restaurant starts out this well, the possibilities are endless.

We began with cocktails, all of which were delicious.  Mine was a concoction of mezcal, my favorite new alcoholic beverage.  The modern cocktail, with it’s tinctures of fresh produce, essences of fruit and the occasional spice, is a journey all its own—  and their cocktails rival the the standards of the best in the business.  Scott Beattie could order a drink here and come away pleased.  They were just that good.

The appetizers and “bites” were intriguing, so we ordered several.  The Fried Squash Balls had a nice topping of crunchy (I believe) daikon and a smattering of pumpkin seeds, and the Wagyu Tartare was magnificent.  Beautiful fatty meat seasoned to perfection.  The “Sardine Chips” are house made potato chips literally stuffed with a sardine.  They were the crispiest house chips I have ever had.  Still warm and not at all soft.  I love house chips, but often miss the crunch that a mass prepped chip generally has and have found house made chips a little soft for my tastes.  Not true here, as these chips had the freshness without sacrificing the appropriate toothsome bite, add the salty goodness in the middle and one has a really inviting “bite.”   Kudos.

Flatbread with perfect poached eggs....
Another favorite at the table was the chicken lasagna.  How Chefs Rich thought to add popcorn to the dish remains a mystery, but the crunchy puffed corn topping gave it a texture and interest that was both unique and magnificently satisfying.  The waiter recommended we try the spicy pasta dish, (I believe it was a tagliatelle) and it was perfectly al dente and completely engaging.   I devoured mine.   My daughter loved her ribeye steak as well, and the bottle of Barbera from the solid wine list was a perfect compliment to everything.


RICH TABLE is one of those hot places you have to visit.  But it is more than that.  It was instantly one of those places I must return to, and often.  Dining is about more than just good food, and while Chefs Evan & Sarah Rich serve blissful fare, they also know how to invite you to their table in such a way that you want to return.  Like dinner at a favorite relative’s house, a meal there is something to be anticipate, enjoyed, and then, once digested, experienced again and again.


Chocolate Magic (dessert is a must here)
Check it out for yourself, and make a memory.  I can guarantee it will be a pleasant one.

Chef Evan Rich
Chef Sara Rich
199 Gough St (at Oak St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 355-9085

Monday, November 5, 2012


Egg Salad
Chef Ryan Scott


Recently McDonald’s Corporation held a charity event to benefit Ronald McDonald House.  If you are unfamiliar with RMHC, its goal is to provide lodging for the families of sick or terminally ill children, in close proximity to the hospitals housing and caring for their kids.  RMHC provides a safe and “home like” environment for the families facing these challenges to recharge.  It is indisputably a great cause.

Held at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, the premise of the evening was fairly simple.  Using only the ingredients to be found in the kitchen of any standard McDonald’s franchise throughout the country, the Chefs would be asked to turn the ingredients into haute cuisine.  There was a bit of leeway with spices and greens, but not much.  They were supposed to turn a Big Mac into a fine dining experience.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s impossible.  I was initially skeptical, but when I heard that serious Chefs were participating in the event, I decided to attend and try to keep an open mind.  We’ve been bombarded with the message that fast and inexpensive equals bad for us, and to some extent that seems to be true.  Or is it?

Chef Scott talks food

McDonald’s brought in three heavy hitter chefs with varying culinary points of view.  Ryan Scott, Executive Chef of san Francisco’s Market & Rye and former Top Chef contestant, Beverlie Terra, of Chaminade Restaurant and Spa in Santa Cruz and Sophina Uong, Executive Chef of Pican Restaurant in Oakland.  These chefs know their food and they were certainly up for the challenge.

When asked for their culinary Point of View:

Chef Scott: “Don’t think too hard.  Don’t over manipulate an ingredient.  Fennel is fennel.”

Chef Terra: “My point of view has matured! My passion now is not only preparation of food and menus, but using local ingredients to inspire and teach.”

Chef Uong: “We eat with our eyes.  I like to add some color to the plate to keep it interesting.”

Gullah Fish Filet
Chef Sophina Uong
So they came together to make magic and to raise money for this magnificent charity.   McDonald’s had skin in the game — to  change a few minds when it comes to their ingredients.  Battle on.


Each chef prepared an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert, making for a nine-course meal.  Our first course featured several intriguing interpretations of the challenge ingredients, including a beautifully seasoned broth in which sat a savory parmesan “puddin”, a hearty tomato soup with a tiny grilled cheese sandwich on the side, and an exquisite soft poached egg over blueberries, buttered croutons that was gently dressed in a warm bacon vinaigrette.  Each one was unique and all were quite elaborately created.  The idea that we were eating “McDonald’s” seemed implausible when looking at the food being served.

Mickey D's Sugo with Gnocchi
Chef Ryan Scott
Of the main courses, our table seemed to feel that the Gullah fish fillet from Chef Uong was the most successfully “elevated,” though everyone seemed to enjoy every dish quite a bit.  Chef Uong had cleverly removed all the original breading and re-purposed the fillet itself into a delicate slab of light, flaky meat, garnished with a fricasse of fresh mushrooms, and treated it with a delicate sauce of poblano pepper jelly.  But Chef Scott’s fantastic braised sugo and gnocchi was spicy & flavorful, and the miniature meatloaf wrapped in bacon from Chef Terra was likewise delicious.

The desserts were varied, and all were a hit.  Chef Scott provided lovely beignets and a coffee “soda” dipping sauce, Chef Terra gave us a take on an apple tart slathered in caramel, and Chef Uong made her version of a chocolate hazelnut chess pie, which was topped with meringue.  To be completely accurate, I believe there were pastry chefs working alongside the participant chefs, but I do not have their names so cannot iterate them here.


Bacon Wrapped Meat Loaf
Chef Beverlie Terra
When I was first approached to attend this event, my initial response was fairly cynical.  I have to be honest:  I was reluctant to attend.  But when I heard who the participants were and that it would benefit RMHC, I was convinced I should go and try to keep an open mind.  By the time I left, I was, if not a complete convert, significantly convinced that the foodstuffs that McDonald’s serves to its consumer begin as wholesome, fresh, and nutritious ingredients.  Are their french fries highly caloric?  Absolutely.  But are they any worse for the consumer than the cheesy fries I get off my favorite food truck?  I doubt it.

The fact is that too much of any of these things is not good for us.  But they are delicious.  If I’m honest, although I dine often in some of the best restaurants this country has to offer, I can’t call much of what I eat there ‘healthy” either.  (Again, I plead “delicious.”) Proper food intake has always been about balancing intake with the dreaded exercise.  Aside from the caloric offset of regular activity, if you aren’t getting enough exercise, your body is turning to shit.  It’s just a fact.

Baked Apple Tart
Chef Beverlie Terra
If we as a nation are truly concerned about a healthy diet, the over-regulation of highly caloric foodstuffs is no more a solution than hiding the Halloween candy after your kids get home from trick-or-treating.  It is our job to teach our children to enjoy everything in moderation.  Did we really not learn from prohibition?  Taking away something most people desire by legislating their personal habits will always fail.

If we want our children (and our adults) to remain healthy, we should take the energy we put into regulation of foods and put it into ensuring a robust physical education program in every school.  We should be sending our kids outside to play rather than chaining them to a computer.  Instead, we just point at the big guy with his Big Gulp and scapegoat him by marginalizing his eating habits.  There are people who can’t afford the money to shop at Whole Foods nor always the time to prepare a meal.  Single mothers with two jobs.  Families who are barely eating, never mind eating well.  And they need a place to get reasonably priced food.

Beignets & Coffee Soda
Chef Ryan Scott
As a final question, I asked each of the Chefs how the average “Jane” could stock her kitchen with healthy food on a budget that might not stretch to include fine dining choices.  The answer was universal.  Start with the produce.  Let the fresh choices there dictate your meal for the evening, and once you’ve procured your seasonal items, head over to the meat counter and you will find your protein demands less, well, demanding.  Right now one can find beautiful butternut squash, acorn squash, delacotta squash, pears, apples and pomegranates.  Maybe all that’s needed to round out the meal is a pork chop or a chicken breast, instead of that 16 oz Porter House that would have called your name had you been to the butcher before checking out the produce.  It can be done.  I was raised on pasta, pizza and more pasta.  Now my favorite meal is a beet salad and some burrata or goat cheese.  Just sayin’.

So if you do have time to make dinner, take a stroll down the produce aisle first and really check it out.  Make a meal that will give you another ten years with your grandchildren, or that will allow them to live fit, productive and longer lives.  And if you save a few bucks?  Donate it to Ronald McDonald House Charities, so that families whose children have been stricken with illness and facing unimaginable battles can stay by their sides and give them a shot at that same bright future.

Ronald MdDonald House:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

COTOGNA: Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry Specialty Cocktail

About three weeks ago while checking my email, I found an invitation to attend an event celebrating the California Strawberry.  The event was hosted by the California Strawberry Commission, designed to educate the public about just what it takes to bring these summer delicacies from farm to table.  Each course of the meal was to feature strawberries, and the Chef preparing the meal was (Score!) the renowned Michael Tusk of Quince.  That was the icing on the cake, but if I’m honest, they had me at strawberries.

The event was held at Cotogna, Chef Tusk’s most recent entry on the San Francisco dining scene.  It presents as a modern Italian Pizzeria-slash-Bistro, and is a beautifully tricked out space, complete with giant wood ovens and a gorgeous bar.  Though not quite the pizzeria of my childhood, it manages to maintain the familial inviting atmosphere I recall from days spent watching my uncle toss the stretchy dough, flatten it tenderly, slather it with his special tomato sauce, finishing off the pie by covering it with all manner of toppings to order.  Cotugno had the effortless ease down pat, while updating it to a slick and modern interior.  This was a place I’d want to hang out even if I hadn’t been mesmerized into attendance by the promise of strawberry delights.
Strawberries & Prosciutto


Guests were treated to a menu designed by Chef Tusk specifically for the event.  Beginning with a specialty cocktail: a mixture of pureed strawberries with a bit of campari, a hint of anise and enough selzer to bubble it up nicely.  It was an intoxicating and refreshing beverage.  The hors d’oeuvres were a cacophony of strawberry surprises.  Among them: tiny arancini of fried strawberry goodness, a perfect fresh strawberry wrapped in a blanket of prosciutto and drizzled with a hint of balsamic.

But the magnificent strawberry and burrata pizzas that emerged from those wood burning ovens were the pièce de résistance: the creamy burrata melting into each perfect berry, the familiar toothsome crunch of the perfectly baked pizza dough—  they were a culinary treat I will remember for some time to come.  This was the kind of food that is so tasty you can’t stop consuming it because your brain wants your mouth to experience that thrill just one more time.  At least that’s what my brain was telling me as I consumed almost an entire pizza.  It seemed that over the course of the evening those ovens continued to produce the delectable treat on tray after tray; they came at me as relentlessly as circus performers exiting a clown car.


Pizza Magica!
Just EAT it!
The evening was coordinated for the California Strawberry Commission by Golin Harris, a company whose expertise at putting together a delightful evening while keeping the focus of the gathering front and center is impressive. And that is an understatement.  Among those present was Tom Jones (no, not that Tom Jones, but I imagine he hears it quite a bit) of the Tom Jones Farms in Monterey.  A strawberry farmer for decades, Mr. Jones told those present a great deal of fun facts about the strawberry.  The highlights for the health conscious are that strawberries are surprisingly low in calories (this I knew from my years of Weight Watchers, their Strawberry Shake, which, if memory serves, consists of a cup of strawberries and about two cups of cracked ice and comes in at under 100 calories). They contain enormous amounts of antioxidants, more Vitamin C than an orange and high amounts of folic acid and fiber.


We wrapped up our evening with several delectable desserts during the seated portion of the presentation.  Strawberries atop a creamy panacotta, a beautiful pistachio ice cream, with a light strawberry garnish over an airy meringue (like eating strawberry pistachio clouds).  By now I was stuffed, yet my table mates and I managed a final slice of the last pizza making its way around the room.  That pizza was one for the record books.

All in all, this was the kind of educational evening I’d love to repeat.  A far cry from the sterile classroom of my youth.  Perhaps that’s the solution for our schools. Serve up that knowledge with a platter of sweet, simple California strawberries.   Too bad they’re only in season from April to October. (Though this is peak strawberry season in California, a reader points out that these days strawberries are harvested and available year-round from growers in Oxnard, Santa Maria and Orange County.)

Cotogna is a lovely restaurant.  While my particular experience isn’t one that can be repeated, I can honestly suggest you check it out for yourself.  Make some memories of your own.  And do try the pizza.

Cotogna (Michael Tusk)
490 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 775-8508

And for more info on the California Strawberry - the California Strawberry Commission’s website can be found here:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

FONDA SOLANA FLASHBACK - Cinderella’s Mexican Feast & the Fairytale Ending

Not much left for the photo
of this Tequila laced concoction

It’s been almost two years, and I still salivate over the duck tacos.  The menu at Fonda Solana in Berkeley is a fascinating blend of elevated latin flavors, all served simply in shared-plates style.   They call it Mexican food, but it is so much more than that.

The occasion of my visit to Fonda (it seems they have all but dropped the Solana) was my daughter’s reunion with both her long-time paramour (now recently acquired husband) and the West Coast.  She’d missed the flavors of California and was needing a bit of reminding.  Dining out at Fonda Solana was just the ticket.  So we made our reservations and six of us headed there for drinks and delights.

Posole? Chicken soup?
Whatever they called it, it was delicious
What she didn’t know, but the rest of us did, was that next month, during her much-anticipated return to California, the boy would ask the girl to marry him. Their story was one of timing, and it was finally right.  Patience and commitment had brought this particular fairy-tale full circle.

But back to the food.  We ordered well, and soon found ourselves sated with the magnificent libations offered at this establishment.  As the courses came, we ooh-ed and ahhh-ed at the lovely presentations and blissfully developed flavors.  At the time I went the restaurant was one of the K-12 group that includes Lalimes and T-Rex (the latter having recently undergone a change in ownership).  To date, I have found a delightfully reliable uniformity of excellence in all restaurant establishments bearing the K-12 stamp.  Each one was worth a visit, many have seen return trips by this diner on the hunt for a food adventure.

The remarkably decadent
duck taco
Among my favorites of the menu we sampled included delightful empanadas drizzled in creme fraiche, hot fried cheese sticks full of oozy goodness while being light and airy as a creampuff, and a heavenly duck taco that incorporated pomegranate into the seasoning.  The duck taco was a revelation in flavors, but everything else was likewise delicious.

It was a magnificent way to relaunch my eldest child back into her native state and its myriad cuisines.  Mexican is something she felt she could never get in New York City, at least not to her California standards.  I can’t imagine NYC doesn’t have any good Mexican food, but on a budget perhaps extremely hard to find.  We reconnected over shared secrets and delicious food.  These are precious memories, which is I suppose why the surface now, on the almost two month anniversary of her nuptials with the lovely young man in the scene.

We talk often of food being love, and yes it is.  It can conjure love, secure love, bind love and remind us of times when we were loved.  It reminds of those who prepared it, the people we shared it with.  Our senses are so moved by the aromas, and the tastes can transport us to moments long gone but that will never be forgotten.  It is a meme I repeat, because it is like breathing.  Food and fond memories. The fabric of life.

Fonda Solana is a great meal if you like Mexican flavors, but don’t expect platters of heavy beans and rice.  The food here is delicate, though the flavors pack a whallop.  Pay it a visit and check it out, make a memory of your own.
Mexican "Wedding" cookies anyone?

Fonda Solana
1501 Solano Avenue
Albany, CA

Monday, September 24, 2012

LA FOLIE - Countdown to Foie-hibition...

It begins...
When it became increasingly apparent that the forces determined to outlaw the sale of the fantastically decadent "fatted liver of the goose," otherwise known as foie gras, were going to be successful, we made a series of reservations for as many meals as we could afford (and digest) in the months leading up to the fateful date: July 1, 2012.

The Upside:

The impending legislation did have some unanticipated benefits. Chefs were up in arms and madly preparing their best versions of this delicacy in countless special menus. There were dishes of seared foie, chilled torchons and country patés. The precious lobes had been grilled, seared, baked, frozen, flaked and liquified. These months we spent eating before the spectre of the long arm of the law and it’s restrictions on commerce, were a whirlwind of foie, in a cornucopia of flavors, textures and presentations.

The Downside:
Foie, truffles, and some other delicacy
(who notices after the foie?)

Months later, I find myself reminiscing about these meals, missing the spectacular and inventive preparations of this fatty delicacy, and wishing foie were more readily available. It’s hard to say how long the eagerly misinformed will continue to prevail. I know that while they have succeeded in shutting down one major California foie producer, (a small tragedy in this economy), they have not succeeded in turning anyone away from it who is so inclined. Foie will continue to be raised and to be eaten. While it may have to be purchased by the consumer before the Chef can prepare it, or given away by some establishments, it will not disappear. Prohibitions don’t work, they simply force people around the rules. That which comes from imposing one’s will on another without real purpose, always falls away in the end.

The Meals:

Of our many excursions (or as one waiter called them Sa-FOIE-ris), the one at which we almost cried uncle was one of the early outings. When one is looking to experience a true French delicacy, one has to head to the French,, and Chef Roland Passot was accommodating. He was more than accommodating, he just about buried us in foie.

The piece de resistance
 We thought we were badasses. We were "ready" for what he had to offer up. The man who was flitting about his kitchen like a whirling dervish in the kitchen had nothing on us. We had appetites for foie that could never be sated. The waitress warned us. We laughed. "Ha ha, we thought, we can eat all the foie you can throw at us." And we began. Appetizers of foie gras. Mains of foie gras. Foie gras specialities. There were only three of us, and the fact was I have never seen such large servings of foie. It was like this man had decided to feed the world, not just our little table of three. We powered through the appetizers, sailed through the first and second courses of foie laden delights, but by the time we hit the giant lobes of seared foie in a sea of tart summer cherries, the best among us were beginning to slow down. 
Foie Sliders

The plates kept coming, and we kept eating, but it was slow-going toward the end of our meal. We’d been beaten into sleepy comas of bliss, having been served mounds of the most delectable dishes I’ve ever eaten. Forced to admit to our waitress that we’d maybe, just maybe, had eyes a tiny bit bigger than our stomachs. But only a bit.

 The portions were massive compared to other fine dining establishments, but I can’t say we were sorry. Looking back, I’m delighted Chef Passot indulged our cravings so thoroughly. With no immediate foie on my horizon, I can at least, remember that night of bliss.

Chef Passot skills are legendary for a reason. Check it out for yourself, make a lasting memory of your own.

La Folie
2316 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Monday, August 27, 2012

CYRUS - Of all the Restaurants in all the world....

The Magic Begins...

Ilsa: I wasn't sure you were the same. Let's see, the last time we met... 
Rick: Was La Belle Aurore.
Ilsa: How nice, you remembered. But of course, that was the day the Germans marched into Paris.
Rick: Not an easy day to forget.
Ilsa: No.
Rick: I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.


I recently learned that a favorite restaurant of mine, Cyrus, is closing its doors at the end of October.  Maybe this will be a temporary hiatus for the talented crew of this magical establishment.  Maybe it is just for now, but there is no immediate plan for relocation.  Certainly the gold-washed walls beneath the perfect mini-cathedral arches shaped just so will no longer house Douglas Keane and crew.  The massive wooden bar that is the first thing one sees upon entering the hall will no longer be where I sit and playfully interrogate the knowledgeable bartenders as to the merits of all forms of crystal tequila to enhance my personal education.  Cyrus, a place I have grown to love beyond reason, will, in this particular iteration, be gone forever.

The very special restaurants (and people behind them) that find their way into our hearts by taking us places we’ve never traveled before, can develop connections with their customers that become deeply personal.  This is particularly true when the occasions spent within their walls are ones as momentous as the anniversary of the date on which you pledged your troth to another human being until the end of time.  Those moments become the touchstones of our lives, and the surroundings are carried in the memories.  Precious and permanent.  Whenever we conjure up the memory, we cannot help but picture ourselves in the surroundings where that memory was born.

My husband and I went to Cyrus. And we fell in love. With the food, with the decor, with the people who run it, and a little bit more with each other.  And now it will be gone.

Powdered Creme Fraiche
Rick: Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this? I mean what you're fighting for.
Victor Laszlo: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
Rick: Well, what of it? It'll be out of its misery. 
Victor Laszlo: You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart. 


Douglas Keane and Company have been fighting a battle with their landlord for years, almost since they opened the doors to this intimate little jewel in the sleepy California town of Healdsburg.  For reasons known only to them, they have finally given up that battle against the forces that have for so long wanted them gone. They have decided that it is no longer worth the soul-sucking battle and sleepless nights to remain in a location that is hostile, though they had over a decade remaining on their lease. This saddens me, both because these people are delightful, and what they made of the place was remarkable, and also because in my own small way, I felt I was part of the battle.  A cheerleader on the sidelines, but invested in their continued success.  It was their destiny to continue, as it was mine to enjoy the fruit of their labors.  So I am left with what feels like a destiny thwarted.

Egg & Noodles
Rick: [scoffs] You understand how I feel. How long was it we had, honey? 
Ilsa: [on the verge of tears] I didn't count the days. 
Rick: Well, I did. Every one of 'em. Mostly I remember the last one. The wow finish. A guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides have been kicked out.
Ilsa: Can I tell you a story, Rick? 
Rick: Has it got a wow finish? 
Ilsa: I don't know the finish yet. 


It’s never easy to accept an ending. I’ve never been good at it, and though I have lost my share of beloved eateries in my day, this is a particularly hard one to take.  I know that when one lives long enough this is going to happen occasionally, but it has never happened to a place as vital as Cyrus.  It feels as though it would have been easier to accept if they were at the end of their journey instead of so close to the beginning.  But as much trouble as I’m having, I have to assume it has been a much more challenging journey for the staff who have poured their lifeblood and creativity into the fruition of this magnificent establishment.  But I also know them to be passionate people, who have to have thought a lot about this decision before choosing to pack up their kitchen.  I don’t know how they are handling it internally, but I’m sure it’s with the grace and aplomb with which they do everything else.  As for me, I’m still stuck in one of the early stages of grief.  Denial.  And I’m acting out by returning in October for a last meal.

Certainly our most recent meal was enough to inspire anyone’s life-long dedication.  We began with the caviar tasting. Mounds of tiny little briny eggs atop these incredible house baked blinis.  Amuse after amuse, follow by an incredible salmon (for my husband the fish lover) and a chicken for me.  By the time the chicken rolled around I’d eaten so much that for the first (and I hope last) time ever I couldn’t finish my main course. It was so good I didn’t want to stop but there comes a point when a girl knows she’s met her match.  Another reason to go back.  Well, that and the amazing flavors.  Douglas Keane’s menus are a thing of wonder and beauty.

Cold Soup "Salad"
Rick: Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo, or were there others in between? Or - aren't you the kind that tells? 


In spite of the news of the imminent extinction of this magnificent place (or maybe because of it), I decided to write about our most recent meal at Cyrus.  To celebrate the perfect night.  It will be perfect in my memory, no matter what comes afterwards, because when we ate there that blissful June night, we had no idea of what was to come.  Anything was still possible.  We could imagine returning year after year to celebrate our special day with these wonderful people in those beautiful surroundings.  I will continue to imagine it until they make a return.

I believe in the culinary skills of Chef Keane and Company.  And because I do, I don’t believe this will be the final chapter in their story.  Maybe you’ll think I’m in denial, but I think they will be back, and they will be better than ever.  In October, after the final diners have finished their meals and paid their checks, I imagine Doug and Nick walking off into the fog together.  They will figure it out.  And while they do, I will continue to dream of my next meal at their table.  I will wait, if not patiently, for a reunion.  I’m guessing I won’t be alone.  From my perspective, this has been, and will continue to be, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  So check it out, if you can, before October brings the run of this magnificent establishment to a close.  And don’t forget to ask Nick to pour the good brandy.

CYRUS Healdsburg
(until 10/31/12): 29 North Street, Healdsburg

Moist roast chicken, skin crisped to perfection
sits atop a bed of greens

(after 11/1/12) coming to a theater near you...*
 *the Cyrus name and brand have retained by Douglas Keane & Nick Peyton

Thursday, August 16, 2012

EAT REAL 2012 - Oakland’s Jack London hosts Food-a-Palooza! Sept 21-23, 2012


I met a reader recently who told me she wished she had my life.  While reading my blog I suppose one could be led to believe that I lead this idyllic existence, blithely roaming from restaurant to restaurant, meal to meal, cocktail to cocktail. It certainly seemed to her that my world was one of constant fine dining and never-empty glasses of champagne.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But since it isn’t the first time I’ve left folks with this impression, I have to assume its something about the way I recite my adventures that convinces others that my life is an effortless one of food and fun times.  That’s not to say I don’t eat out more than most, though my eldest daughter’s recent nuptials have me brown bagging it more often than not.  Not that I’m complaining.  I find a meal of home-cooked succotash or soup as enjoyable (well okay almost) as a meal prepared by an artiste like David Kinch, whose Michelin-starred Manresa provided the backdrop for a recent triple birthday celebration.  (That details of that particular adventure, however, will have to wait for another blog).

I think it’s because I believe in thoughtful eating.  If a meal is experienced and savored, even a meal prepared at home from fresh but simple ingredients has as much opportunity to spread the love as a more formal repast.  Eating well is less about spending money or dining out, than it is about eating attentively.  Be present in the experience.  Take a breath.  Sit down.  Savor each and every bite.  Lastly, share your meals with someone whose company you truly enjoy.  That’s my recipe for great dining.  If I can pass on anything worthwhile, it is that our lives are too short to pine away for whatever it is you think yours may be missing.  Enjoy what you do have with those who love you, be it over a flute of French champagne and a plate of foie gras — or a glass of Two Buck Chuck and a burger.


The perception that dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant is the only way to enjoy a brilliant bite of food is something of a fallacy.  Though I hope I am fortunate enough to continue to dine with the best Chefs this country has to offer, I am no food snob.  One of my readers who owns a food truck once remarked “You eat so well, I’m jealous” I had to laugh a little at this.  I replied to her “But I am eating well because I am eating this” and pointed to the sandwich she had just handed me.  I was actually jealous of her, up in her truck window, handing out the tasty magic.  To me that is a charmed life indeed.  But that’s my point.
Senor Sisig's magic is well worth
the wait.  In the long, long,
long long line...

The fact is, I like to eat much too much to confine my culinary entertainment to something I can only enjoy three or four times a year.  Fortunately for me, there are many levels of fine food, and not all come at Michelin prices.

ENTER, EAT REAL FESTIVAL, OAKLAND.  September 21, 22, 23, 2012

The staff at Tamarindo will
serve up nothing less than perfection
Held at Jack London Square in Oakland every September Eat Real is a celebration of so much of what it is I enjoy about the Oakland dining scene these days.  All that is vibrant and vital and good about my little home town.  Oakland may be San Francisco’s under-appreciated baby sibling, but these days she’s got as much to offer as her Big Sister City, especially when it comes to less expensive establishments, and that includes the proliferation of food trucks (although she still needs a giant clue when it comes to allowing the trucks a bit more leeway to serve up their wares).

A Chef doesn’t have to have a Michelin-star to rock my world, or even my tastebuds.  All he or she needs is good ingredients, imagination, and most importantly --- skills.  Like any other art form, cooking with enough inventiveness to create a point-of-view is a skill that can’t completely be taught, so not every culinary school graduate can make the magic happen.

Eat Real has vetted its participants the best way possible, happy customers.  This food festival is jam-packed with the best-of-the-best of all the aforementioned food trucks, local brewers, as well as representatives from some heavy-hitters in Oakland’s bustling restaurant scene.  Every participant brings their A-game in eats, many offer classes in all manner of food-related curiosities.  Cheese-making, bread-baking, you name it.  This array of talented culinary artisans coupled with California’s gorgeous Indian Summer weather all comes together to create that which is at the heart Eat Real—  a three day journey to a heavenly food-centric Mecca.

I suggest you make time to experience it.  Chop Bar of Oakland will be serving up some (whole roasted) pig; there will be crepes from Brittany Crepes and Galettes, roasted corn and yams by Ear-Good Corn Roast, Indian street food from Curry Up Now! and, if memory serves me right, Little Green Cyclo and Senor Sisig will be serving up the longest lines (and some of the most amazing grub) ever to be experienced.

Admission is free.  Food is inexpensive (though it does add up) and cash is best.

For a full schedule of participants visit

Check it out.  Make a memory, and learn to make a loaf of bread.  Or make a memory about making a loaf of bread with a loved one!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

GUEST CHEF: Imaginative Concept Restaurant Graces Oakland


My daughter’s favorite film in all the world is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and one of the best moments of that movie is the scene where Belle is treated to dinner by the talking household furnishings.  Lumiere, a charming Candelabra insists that no one be served bread and water when a true repast can be prepared, while arguing with Cogsworth (the clock) who is afraid to treat the young lady to a proper meal should they be caught doing so by their Master, the Beast.  The scene is followed by much singing and dancing (all done by table ware), but the point is a good one.  To be a host is a sacred duty.  It is not sufficient to feed to sustain, it is incumbent on the parties responsible for feeding their guests to provide more.  To provide an experience that will be memorable.

At Guest Chef in Oakland, that concept has been taken to another level.  Every two weeks, a new Chef, or team of chefs, is permitted to run the kitchen for the diners who book their menu.  Each menu is seasonal, and the chefs themselves are vetted for skill and inventiveness.  The concept presented an opportunity for a lovely adventure with which to celebrate the BH’s birthday, so we booked ourselves a table and checked it out.  Not surprisingly, our experience with the restaurant, and the meal served us, was indeed, delightful.


Our meal was served by the team of Chef James Koskiniemi and Sous Chef Paul Dioguardi and it was a refreshing meal of unparalleled summer bounty.  

Scallops and Orchids
At the young age of six, Chef Koskiniemi won first place in a men’s cooking competition and a culinary award from the famed Alice Waters. It appears that this was all the inspiration young James needed, as he went on to study at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.  After graduating at the top of his class, Chef K was the 2010 recipient of the San Francisco Chefs Association Chef of the Year.  Chef Koskiniemi has worked at several of the Bay’s best restaurants, among them Boulevard and Chez Panisse.  Currently Chef James and Chef Paul run Fresh Canvas, a catering company that can be hired to bring one of their magnificent meals to fruition for anyone who’d like to experience their extraordinary brand of culinary acumen.


Whenever the opportunity presents itself, the BH and I have learned to plant ourselves at the Chef’s Counter to watch the magic happen from the front row.  It’s like having tickets to see a great piano player, the closer the better. There’s nothing like that personal interaction with Chef K and Paul were charming, and in addition to finding their fare delightful, I thought they were great entertainers.  Forthcoming with information and passionate about the food they prepare.  In my book, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Crunchy Corn Beignets
drizzled in Honey
and set off with grapes

We loved our first visit so much, we took our daughter back to catch the “show” before closing night.  Having a theatrical background (I spent almost 20 years costuming stage productions) I love the sense of urgency.  The audience only has so long to appreciate that once in a lifetime show.  The actors will never be the same, and each performance is different.  Cooking is indeed, live theater, and the best acts just keep it coming.

On our second visit, we began our meal with a lovely amuse of watermelon and corn “beignets” which were an incredible cross between the light batter of a beignet and the textured crunch of the sweet corn within.  Delectable.  We continued on with several appetizers, an heirloom tomato salad with fresh burrata, and some beautiful bay scallops.

Our youngest daughter and oft-dining companion is deathly allergic to fish rather than seafood, so was unable to taste my better-half’s delectable salmon which had been crusted with macadamia nuts and gently laid on a marvelous bed of farro.  I had a perfectly prepared filet and the Baby Lawyer had this marvelous vegetarian dish which was wrapped up beautifully in a phyllo shell and despite my bias toward dishes with animal proteins, I found absolutely delicious.

Salmon & Farro
The whole experience was somehow heightened by the immediacy of knowing the Chefs were there for such a brief time, and they made full-use of that “one night only” feeling that the Guest Chef model creates.  After spending those two visits bonding, I came away determined to return for another new experience and wishing both Chef Jeff and Chef Paul enormous success.  Were they to open an establishment of their own on a more permanent basis, I’d be first in line on opening night.

It’s a great idea, an incredible experience, and is reasonably priced.  I should also mention that the lovely young woman working both FOH and table service, was great at her job and added immensely to an already perfect experience.

Check it out, make a memory.  Then go back in two weeks and repeat.  No two memories need be the same.  Cool.


Guest Chef
5337 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618
Phone:  (510) 658-7378

Tuesday – Thursday 5:30 – 9:00
Friday - Sunday 5:30 – 10:00
Currently Not Serving Lunch
Closed Monday

Monday, August 6, 2012

FULL CIRCLE - Healthier Eating is just a mouse-click away.


When I was a child I remember the milk man coming to the front door.  He brought his chilled bottles of the fresh, cold white beverage to be poured over our cereal.  My mother would go to the front porch for the delivery and bring the carton of misty-chilled glass bottles into the house and set them on the kitchen counter.  I thought it was magic.

But of course it wasn’t magic, it was good old American entrepreneurship.  Farmers milked their cows, the milk was processed for consumption and delivered as fresh as possible to the doorsteps of happy consumers.  Then came the mass production of containers, the longer shelf life of food products, the advent of TV dinners.  Convenient, certainly.  Healthier?  Not so much.  There’s a lesson there for the health-conscious.  The longer the chain of custody between  consumers and the food they eat, the more those consumers lose in the health value of the foods themselves.  Preservatives gave us more time, but along the way, we lost out on nutrient value in many foods, nutrients that were supplanted by chemicals in our systems that we have come to learn are not the best for preserving own longevity.  And then there’s the loss of flavor over time.  I mean, is there any comparison to truly fresh corn?


Recently I was offered a marvelous opportunity by Full Circle, a company dedicated to resurrecting the home delivery of recently harvested local produce.  Their program includes dairy, as well as other delectable offerings from farmers all around the state.  They offered to give me several months of membership at no charge, so that I might help them test out the system as Full Circle expanded their successful home delivery program to include the Bay Area.  Being a food writer, I’m offered a lot of opportunities to try products, or to judge events, but few have changed my life so dramatically as this one.

After several months of receiving produce on my doorstep early each Tuesday morning, I’ve found that I’m cooking more, inspired by the ingredients that arrive fresh from the farm. No remembering to swing by Whole Foods to get those tomatoes I’ve forgotten to replace after the last salad.  I’ve made sweet corn right on the cob, steak slathered in fresh-picked mushrooms and salads piled high with ripe juicy tomatoes.

And the fruit!  Strawberries that need only to be rinsed and popped into the mouth to thrill the palate beyond measure.  The BH enjoys his grapefruit, and we’re drinking fresh squeezed orange juice with breakfast on the weekends.  It’s been quite the revelation.  So much so that I’m determined to make it a habit.


Full Circle membership is a reasonably priced alternative that is easy to manage.  One can turn off any single delivery with a visit to the member login portion of the site and a click of a mouse.  In addition to weekly deliveries of produce (which come in various sizes: Seed, Sprout, Garden & Harvest) the site offers the option to shop at their grocery, featuring local cheeses, jams, pickled goods, and all manner of other goodies.  The size of delivery can be changed as often as desired, to accommodate a small family or a one-time large family gathering.

There’s something to be said for cooking meals inspired by what’s fresh and available rather than using prescribed ingredients to suit the demands of a particular recipe.  It allows for more creativity certainly, but it also provides a more nutritious and satisfying meal.

My “free time” was up several weeks ago, and I’ve decided to keep Full Circle in my regular line-up of food acquisitions.  It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s fresh!  Maybe I just miss the days of the milk man, but I say bring him back.  It’s more exciting than waiting for the ice cream truck!

Full Circle can be found at - Check it out for yourself and make a memorable meal!

Friday, June 29, 2012

After the Fest Has Gone - (New Orleans Part Two)

Boudin Sausage Plate @ Cochon Butcher

The City has quieted down somewhat since the festivities have concluded. The loud whirring of the refrigerator truck that was keeping mountains of Abida beer chilled and at the ready for the crowds along Royal Street, has been replaced by the strains of a lone accordian player who has perched just below the ledge of our hotel window to serenade the few passers by. This particular musician has mastered only the chords of a single song, so the melody is unchanging, which as time passes becomes somewhat monotonous. This is unusual for New Orleans, the buskers here are generally very, very good. Nevertheless, I find the music soothing as it vibrates through the closed window of our hotel room overlooking the busy corner of Chartres and Madison, now nearly abandoned. Yesterday the sound of the party could be heard outside our window into the wee hours of the morning.

Duck @ Herbsaint
Nevertheless, we are able to get some much-needed rest before we head back out into the city for the second part of our stay, which, not surprisingly, also consists of unwinding with food and drink. This is, after all, what one does when in New Orleans. There will be just a little less street music as the City hunkers down in preparation for Jazz Fest, the musical equivalent to the "eye of the storm" as we pass through from one festival to another. Though we have enjoyed our whirlwind tour of the music and dance of our beloved New Orleans, we are ready for some time in the City that is all our own.

We have a grueling schedule ahead of us: shopping, stopping for drinks, visiting the cemetery and a lineup of reservations at some of the finest restaurants in the City. Poor me.
The Monday after Fest, we take a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar up to the Garden District to visit one of our favorite haunts, [Emile] Commanders’ Palace. The restaurant is a fixture in the city — having been run by the Brennan family for the past few decades. Its kitchen has been a training ground for such chefs as Emeril Legasse and Paul Prudhomme. Commanders is one of the original New Orleans fine-dining establishments. Currently led by Chef Tory McPhail, the kitchen behind those familiar swinging doors is a place both inventive and traditional. Behind these heavy black doors (one marked YES and the other NO, to assist in warning off potential oncoming traffic and averting culinary disasters), is a staff capable of the most current of dishes, while managing to evoke in every plate something of the lazy hot Mint-Julep Sundays of centuries passed.

"The" Bread Pudding Souffle
@ Commander's Palace
There are a lot of newer restaurants I will talk about in a moment, but Commanders bears mentioning, not just because it is established, representing the pinnacle of all that which is "Gone With the Wind" but because it is has managed to remain so, fulfilling the expectations of those who cling to a Southern milieu, while at the same time re-inventing itself . Chef Tory takes the traditional flavors and ingredients one expects in New Orleans and blends them into dishes that are light and flavorful and captivating. His style could be termed "Traditional FRESH." Behind the familiar bright turquoise exterior, lays a restaurant capable of delivering as memorable a gastronomic experience as any one of the newer, "hipper" restaurants that have sprung up in the Crescent City post-Katrina, such as Cochon and Stella! New Orleans takes such pride in the history of its food that familiar memes will surface in each of the restaurants around town in one form or another. Occasionally this repetition can seem a bit worn, but nothing in this restaurant will fail to deliver the potency of flavor that wasn’t around in such delicacy of layering even two decades past.

In addition to the plates at Chef McPhail’s table delivering consistently great food, Commanders is also beautiful. Inside, it boasts a glistening interior full of mirrors and linens and twisting passageways, evoking the essence of the mid-forties Deep South. The ambience providing the diner the means to time-travel back to an era when ladies wore gardenias in their hair and carried parasols to keep their skin unblemished by the sun, each accompanied by a gentleman in a Panama shade hat, who would never think to be without a [linen] coat and tie in the dining room. And Commanders maintains all of this historical elegance without for a minute giving the visitor the sense that they’ve stumbled into grandmas’ musty parlor, on the contrary, one is living in the moment — a moment preserved from a beautiful past, but as vital, alive and a part of the present as it ever existed in memory.

Lobster @ August
Commander’s Palace is a restaurant we have visited on every single trip to New Orleans. It remains our touchstone for the "City that Care Forgot," like standing at the foot of the Tour d’Eiffel in Paris or crossing the Plaza at the head of Main Street just beyond the entrance gates to Disneyland, one hasn’t really been to New Orleans until one has been back to Commander’s Palace.
We ate light on this occasion (or as light as we could given that forgoing the Bread Pudding Souffle at CP is simply not an option), as the longer we stay in NoLa, the harder it gets for us to maintain our Olympian-level eating skills. Commander’s bread pudding may be the best dessert on the planet. It is certainly the best version of bread pudding I have ever tasted. It encompasses everything about this staple of the South. Lovely spiced bread, slathered in butter and soaked in milk until it turns the consistency of pudding, then gently coupled with whipped egg whites and baked — a concoction so light and airy one would think it had been whisked by the wings of heaven’s happiest angels. At tableside, the souffle is gently broken open in the top center with a large silver spoon, the waiter then pouring a creamy serving of bourbon sauce from a tiny white pitcher directly into the steaming finished product. Like a saucer of milk beckons to a litter of hungry kittens, we lap it all up compliantly. Purr-fection.

Gnocchi @ Herbsaint, slathered in cheese!

Full and sluggish, we cross the street to wander the Lafayette Cemetery. It is our custom to visit here each time we dine at Commander’s, after which we venture out into the Garden District to stroll amongst the homes that themselves are the stately remains of old Dixie. There are flowers everywhere, in this climate that encourages a multitude of foliage. I assume this plethora of beautiful growing things is how the area got its name. Indeed, the blooms are abundant.

That evening (it is the Monday after Fest) Herbsaint is our destination of choice, which is why we tried so desperately at lunch to "save room for dinner." Originally the brainchild of Chefs Donald Link (Cochon) and Susan Spicer (Bayona), Herbsaint is an upscale "bistro" style resto in the CBD, just down the street from John Besh’s August. Though she was part of the team that helmed the restaurant in its infancy, Chef Spicer is no longer associated with the restaurant creatively, now concentrating her artistic efforts on Bayona, which is her original enterprise. Bayona is in the heart of the Vieux Carre and is an excellent spot to dine, but it so happens we didn’t visit it this time down South. It’s a shame, but I simply can’t eat twice a night. My bad.

The following day we slept in a bit before undertaking our annual walk down to Magazine Street for a little shopping and more eating. I would suppose that many of you might prefer a taxi, as it is a number of miles and quite a hike, but we look forward to the long walk past Canal, the Central Business District and into the quaint section of town that lies just outside the Quarter. We actually met a regular visitor to the City who had never been further out of the French Quarter than Cochon in his five trips to NoLa. I found that more than a little bit shocking, not to mention short-sighted food wise. There is so much to eat beyond the tiny square of French-infused New Orleans. There is the rest of a big, vibrant and beautiful City.

Duck Breast ala "Besh" @ August
We arrived at Cochon Butcher if not starving, certainly ready to dive into a good portion of the offerings to be found at this local treasure. Cochon Butcher is the tiny "hole in the wall" that is part butcher shop, sandwich counter & wine bar that will be found tucked into a tiny space (just a bit bigger than my dream clothes closet will be) at 930 Tchoupitoulas Street. The eatery is helmed by Link’s current partner, Chef Stephen Stryjewski. His food is straightforward, but chock full of complex flavors. And like any good wine bar in New Orleans, they also serve hard liquor. To geaux, no less. Absolutely divine. Nuff’ said.

Our evening reservations for Tuesday were at Chef John Besh’s August, a jewel in the C.B.D. crown. Having visited last year with our kids, we decided we had to make a return trip to see if it was as good as memory served. It was. We even had the same amazingly gifted server, who took us through the meal like a pro. Halfway through, I look up to see a tall (very tall) man in white with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen on another human being. They were like big blue high-beams. It was his Besh-ness. In person. I confess that my feminine heart was a-flutter as he welcomed us so personally to his restaurant. Nice touch. Ladies, I cannot stress enough. His Besh-ness is as impressive as his food.

Duck in Broth with dumplings
@ Root
The following day we wandered the Quarter, making sure to hit all our favorite t-shirts stops, including any new ones that had particularly fetching versions of "I left my heart in New Orleans’ or any iteration thereof, for our friends back home. There is one worth mentioning, called "Fleurty Girl" that is chock full of lovely tees adorned with all the best inside jokes favored by the natives of the Crescent City. If you hanker for the Vo-dou (Haitian original of Voo Doo) there is a charming little authentic shop run by practitioners directly behind the Place d’Armes called Voo-Doo Authentica. All are definitely worth a look see.

We continued to wander the French Quarter looking for carry-away gifts until late in the day. Too late for a major meal as we’d secured reservations that evening at the new hot spot, Root; but the BH was hungry so with dinner still a few hours away, we pondered our available choices. We both suddenly realized we hadn’t yet taken a "ride" on the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. We immediately headed up Royal toward Canal and stopped in for a drink. The bar was almost empty, which is rare, so we sat at the center of the "carousel" and let it carry us away. I had a milk punch, a new staple this trip, and the BH enjoyed their version of a Hurricane. The bar is circular, overhead is the topper to an old-fashioned merry-go-round; the seats each carved to resemble various animals seen on the familiar ride. It rotates, giving those in the seats surrounding the bar an opportunity to peruse the room from all angles (or just to become dizzy with booze consumed at its counters). This is a landmark destination in the City, and though the bar is novel, customers come mostly for the music. The piano bar is legendary, hosting such incredible talent as Tom McDermott and Jon Cleary. It had, in fact, been packed the entire trip, as it was one of the destination locations for local musicians at Quarter Fest. Newly renovated, the piano bar is now twice its former size — allowing a much more comfortable view of the entertainment. Perfect break in a long day. We left refreshed, both our buzz and our moods were significantly improved. And the bear was no longer hungry.

Meat & Pickled Bits Sampler @ Root
(absolutely to DIE for)
We got back to the hotel and had a brief siesta before dressing for dinner. Root was recommended to us some time ago by Chef Dean Dupuis (formerly of Pican in Oakland) who had heard multiple glowing reviews of the place and insisted we put it on our itinerary. Trusting his judgment in all things culinary, we headed to Root expecting to be pleased. I had no idea just how much so I would be. The decor is extremely modern chic, capturing an underground vibe, its green and wood interior recreating in my mind a space that felt much like a cave at the base of a tree. I had the feeling I was visiting an upscale hobbit nest in New York City. Only I was above ground, and in New Orleans. It’s absolutely one of the most successful interior decorating efforts I’ve encountered to date. Magical as Disneyland and extremely inviting. Now for the food.

The menu is varied, with plenty of choices for everyone, but one of their features is a "meat platter" that is a mountain (and I mean a mountain) of meats and pickled goodies. We had a modestly priced version, as we wanted to try other dishes, and it was almost too much for us. There is a $50 dollar version I am dying to try, as this was such a memorable food experience it still keeps me up nights salivating just thinking about it. The meats were house-cured and varied, tongue, liver, salumi, you name it. The assortment of pickled accompaniments were likewise varied, containing pickles, onions, peppers, vegetables of all shapes and consistencies. If it can be pickled they will bring it. The pickling itself was perfectly acidic, some of the selections a bit spicier than others. They also brought this miniature tube of a lovely house mustard to be applied as desired to the combinations. Perhaps it was the "Choose Your Own Adventure" aspect of the serving methods I liked as much as the food, but whatever the reason, I was seriously overwhelmed by the heavenly variety of goodies in my mouth. This is a dish to be had, and had again... and again. They also do a magnificent scallop surprise in a box that is as imaginative in presentation as it is delicious. Do not miss Root if you are ever in New Orleans. Seriously, y’all, do it.

Deconstructed Bananas Foster @ August

That was our last evening in the city, and as we packed up our room, we couldn’t help but comment on what a perfect rip this had been. Music everywhere, plenty of booze, great food and for the most part perfect weather (except the two-day thunderstorm, it was clear for 8 days, which never happens). We took one last walk down to the Riverfront before catching our cab to the Metairie Airport. There is just something about the Mississippi. The familiar smell off the water, carried along on the cool breeze as one walks down Decatur; the calming sound of the water as it laps the rockbed on the shore as one approaches the foot of the steps that take all travelers who venture it, right down to the water’s edge. Her gifts are my last bit of lagniappe before leaving the city I love like home. As we turn to go, The Mighty Mississippi calls on the breeze, she whispers "Don’t go. Stay and rest yourself a bit longer. But if you must leave, do come back. I’ll be here to welcome you when you return. Always." And she is, with her magic and her quiet and her ghosts. I gaze out over the expanse, remembering in the silence all those lost to her waters just seven years ago. They are here in spirit, keeping watch, as the water whispers "Always..."

"Y’all come back..."

200 Julia Street (in the Warehouse District)
New Orleans, LA  70130

301 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA  70130

701 Saint Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA  70130

Cochon & Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA  70130

Hotel Monteleone
214 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA  70130