Archive for the 'NorCal' Category
Please enjoy this shameless plug for my boyfriend’s new website, Socialverse!
You may already know that Chad’s good at thinking up dreamy birthday cake ideas, but you should also know that his true area of expertise is software engineering. With Socialverse, I like to think that his company has developed a way for people to walk the world from the comfort of their computers.**
When you sign up, you get your own little doppelganger who can stroll around a map of the US. While you can explore cities and states that you dream of visiting, the site is mostly geared towards local search and social networking. So, you can chat up locals and friends near and far as well as browse businesses. Of course, people like us would probably first think to check out and add our thoughts to the restaurants and markets, but even I sometimes need to go to the hardware store or see a dentist. Socialverse lets you put your favorites on the map and find new places to go.
I suppose that it’s like citysearch and yelp, but Socialverse is cooler because it’s in real time (using Web 2.0 in clever ways) and you can actually see where these places in the country are b/c “you” are there, too.
In a typical move, Chad has thoughtfully provided lots of goodies that go above and beyond basics. So, here’s a cheat sheet to my favorite things that you can do that might not be obvious right away:
- Click on the “online” line on the upper right of the screen to see who else is online. Click on someone’s name to move closer to them.
- Place your blog (as an object) in an area where people will find it useful. You’ll find Sweet Napa already on the map somewhere in LA.
- Find the nearest ATM.
- If a location isn’t on the map yet, add it and talk about it.
- Use additional motions — such as sleeping, meditating, dancing, and acting scared.
- Adjust your appearance — clothing, size, hairstyle.
- If you are a business owner, you can promote your business online.
- Check the weather.
- You can’t zoom in or out on the main map, but if you click on “Self” then “Mini Map” in the “Navigate” menu, you can see where you on a zoomable mini map.
- Share photos.
- Search local classifieds and post your own.
Please keep in mind that this is, as Chad says, “the early public beta.” There are still bugs, but he’ll happily be the victim of anyone’s criticism… or suggestions… or insouciant banter. When the basics are ironed out, the long-term goals are to make it a nexus of local search for any type of person, business, or organization you may be interested in, and in turn, a way to build relationships and become closer with your community. More features will be added — such as perhaps coupons and ads for shops around the corner being implemented, trees being planted, menus being posted, icons being customizable, and whatever people want that the world can support.
So, feel free to sign up, check it out, and tell everyone you know about it. The world is wide open.**
**Right now, the map only functions in the US, but there are plans to make it international down the line. Also, the faster your internet connection is, the faster you’ll be able to do things. Broadband is recommended. It is also only compatible with Firefox and IE for now.
We had a bumpy start. Just a couple hours before, we’d wandered around Foppiano Vineyards, which leaves shoes looking like this…
I wiped them off as much as I could, and felt that it would be okay walking into “business casual” dress Cyrus for dinner with jeans and mostly clean shoes… Except that the moment we walked into the elegant restaurant, I saw that everyone else was in much fancier and cleaner dress.
As I tried to blend into the dusty peach paint on the walls, we were led down a hallway to the dining room, where the hostess stopped at a table with a phone. She picked up the receiver, and informed The Chef that we had arrived. So, yeah, apparently, it’s a direct line to the chef (EDIT: that is used to introduce every party as they arrive). I was so tempted to try out this line to The Chef (who was referred to often during the meal as such; his given name is Douglas Keane) myself during the evening, but I figured my shoes had already used up my Get Out of Jail Free card for the night.
Anyway, we were seated, and a Caviar & Champagne Cart was immediately docked at our table and accompanying menus placed in our hands. Would we like to start out with a bit of champagne and caviar? Hmm…. champagne was sold by the bottle, 4 oz glass, and 2 oz glass (even that was about $25, I think), and I don’t even remember how the caviar was served. So… Uh, no.
At this point, we were a little bewildered and uncomfortable. I thought that the phone call to the chef was a little over the top. I suppose that it would okay if he were to personally come out and greet us, but he didn’t do that for anybody (and normally, of course, wouldn’t be expected to) — instead, everyone got Amuse Bouches (which are great in any case). But then, to be set upon by the outrageous cart, I felt like it was a bad way to start off the night to have to refuse something.
But then… things calmed down and ascended… We enjoyed a wonderful meal — one that Chad said was among the best of his life. Basically, they have a very flexible prix fixed menu, from which you choose courses out of such categories as soups, foie gras, poultry, pasta and risotto, dessert, etc. You can have any number of courses between a three course meal for $58 to the seven course Chef’s Tasting Menu for $95. Edit: We were told that they adjust the portion size depending on how many courses you get.Â Faced with so many alluring options on the menu, we deferred our choices to The Chef for the 7 course menu.
The food was fantastic. I’ve spoken of the Craveworthy Test before in which I try to think whether to highly recommend a restaurant based on whether I’d crave dishes, but there’s also the Perk Up Test, which Cyrus also passed with flying colors. For all of the dishes I had, the tastes and textures made me perk up and enjoy how wonderful food can be. So, I highly recommend it. And as far as comparisons to the French Laundry go, I can’t speak to that completely, but I know that it’s about half the price of the French Laundry and much easier to get a reservation. So, if you can’t get a reservation at the French Laundry or just don’t want to pay the price, consider Cyrus instead. The French Laundry has a 9 course tasting menu, but Cyrus gives so many extra dishes that I don’t you’ll feel deprived of those roughly two courses (though I’m sure TFL gives extra courses, too).
And just looking back at that last paragraph, you can tell that I’ve given a lot of thought to the French Laundry recently, and after having read a bit of the cookbook, I couldn’t help comparing them during the beginning of the meal… but that wasn’t fair to Cyrus, so I weaned myself off with references to the “Spanish Firehouse” before I just concentrated on the experience as it was.
Also, our servers were also fantastic — very accommodating, efficient, and friendly… and there were no more disconcerting maneuvers after the bumpy start. There was just good food, which I think mostly speaks for itself… (I was told that I’d be given a transcript of our menu at the end, but it was vaguer than I would have liked for some courses, so excuse the vagueness with some descriptions since I didn’t try to memorize anything at the time)
Amuse bouche with Asparagus Tartar and Rabbit.
Lobster Amuse Bouche.
Green Garlic and Buttermilk Soup. This — the third amuse bouche — was one of the best courses of the meal. I couldn’t believe how well the flavors came together. Genius.
Bigeye Tuna and Uni with Daikon and Carrot.
Thai Marinated Lobster, Avocado, Mango, and Fresh Hearts of Palm.
We had a course of Seared Foie Gras with Crispy Endive and Gingered Rhubarb, Vermouth Reduction at this point, but I must have forgotten to take a pic in my zeal to eat it.
This was my second drink of the night. The Waverly Place Echo had Hangar One Mandarin Orange Blossom Vodka, Chinese Five Spice Honey, Lemon Juice, Pixie Mandarins, Orange Flower Water and Seltzer.
Before that, I’d had the Thai Boxer with Charbay Tahitian Vanilla Bean Rum, Thai Basil, Spearmint, Cilantro, Lime Juice, Thai Coconut Milk, and Ginger Beer. It went very well with the Thai Marinated Lobster course, and made me wish that restaurants did cocktail pairings as well as wine pairings for courses.
Rice Flake Crusted Soft Shell Crab with Fingerling Potatoes, Thai Red Curry Sauce.
Poached Local Egg with Fresh Grits, Asparagus and English Peas, Bourbon Verjus Sauce.
Strawberry Verjus Ice Lollipop.
Veal Loin with Sweetbreads, Leeks and Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Madeira Sauce.
Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses with Bread, Panforte, Grapes, and N. Cal Dates. Our server brought the awe-inspiring cheese cart to our table, and talked about each cheese as she selected them — after having first asked what types of cheese we like. We said every type, so we had a wonderful array of cheeses. She said that since I’m a student at CIA, she tried to pick interesting West Coast cheeses as well as some from further afield. As she placed the this amazing plate on the table, she said, “I may have overdone it.” Granted, we didn’t finish it all, but I’ll regret that for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I can’t remember any of the cheese except for the leaf wrapped cheese from Sally Jackson and an amazing goat cheese from Petaluma that was made by Dante Creamery (or something similar…? Aldante? I can’t find any info about it online)
Mojito Soda intermezzo, which didn’t have alcohol, but instead a mojito syrup that the server spritzed with seltzer tableside. I love the metal straw.
Caramel Soup with Kettle Corn Sorbet and Chocolate Filigree and Crepes “Suzette” with Strawberries, Caramel, and Whipped Creme Fraiche. The Caramel Soup is a brilliant idea that I loved at the first bite, but got a bit weary of as I ate more. It basically makes the caramel sauce the main player of the dish, garnished with popcorn, chocolate, and sorbet. It was good and fun, but I think a bit too all out sugary. It needs more depth.
The crepes were a little odd. I didn’t really like having to navigate my spoon to multiple places across the plate to build a perfect bite. The strawberry component was good, but after the sorbet and caramel of the Caramel Soup, I wish that the crepes had different components than the whipped creme fraiche and caramel sauce; there could have been more contrast. Also, the crepes themselves were rolled into rather dry little spirals; I liked the moistening elements between crepe layers at Terra a bit more.
Mignardise. I know that’s Gewurztraminer Jelly on the bottom, but the other two, I can’t remember the details. They were all very good, except the jelly was a bit too cloying for me.
With our bill, we also got a cute little gold bag with some treats for later, but they were a little odd: Ginger Tootsie Pop, A Mini-Palmier with Hazelnuts, and an Apple Hard Candy. The ginger was way too strong and the palmier was boring and looked sloppy, but the hard candy was great.
I went to Chez Panisse Cafe with expectations that were both high and muted. Chez Panisse and Chez Panisse Cafe are, of course, Alice Waters’s bastions of local, organic, sustainably harvested food, and they are known for seemingly simple dishes that let the flavors of the food speak for themselves (though even simple dishes can require involved preparation). This is a very difficult standard, and from what I’d read online, quite a few diners have left unimpressed recently.
For the most part, though, I found that it delivered. I didn’t fall in love with it, but it’s a restaurant worth visiting if you can manage it… because you never know when you’ll stumble upon a plate of genius.
Case in point: my Pizzetta with Wild Nettles and Pecorino was fantastic. The leafy nettles were the kind of crispy that slightly breaks and dissolves on your tongue, and reveals its hearty, slightly bitter taste. The wood burning oven did wonderful things to the crust, too — light, crispy, chewy. And the cheese, studded with some sauteed red onion, brought it all together for a great flavor. I can only wonder if the Pizzetta with Tomato Sauce, Anchovy, Olives, Capers, and Egg was just as amazing.
Chad’s Baked Sonoma Goat Cheese with Garden Lettuces was a perfect rendition of this classic salad, with every bite of the goat cheese filling your mouth with a luscious creaminess.
I had mixed feelings about my Hoffman Farm Chicken Al Mattone with Wild Rocket and Morel Mushrooms. I’d ordered it with visions of whole morels dancing in my head, but the morels turned out to be badly chopped up and with so many stem bits that I had to ask whether they were all morels (they were). “Al mattone” is an Italian term for a method of cooking the chicken with a brick on top of it (or in this case, a skillet). It fosters a crispy skin and a juicy meat. The skin was mostly crispy — and nice where it was — and the meat was juicy to the point of the juices being a bit too viscuous for me.
Chad’s Grilled Dal Porto Ranch Lamb Shoulder with Fava Beans, Rosemary, and Sage was disappointing because the lamb was stringy and dry, with a blah flavor. The sauce, however, was amazing, and a slice of toasted bread that sat in it was the treasure of the plate.
After my devotion to recipes in Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere and David Lebovitz‘s cookbooks, I was a little apprehensive about dessert going wrong after our shaky main courses, but I figured that even at the worst, I could say that I’ve had their desserts better at home. I needn’t have worried — they were wonderful. My Rhubarb and Pecan Crisp with Meyer Lemon Ice Cream was perky and refreshing, and an especially nice flavor combination. Chopped walnuts in it worked well, too.
Chad got the Bittersweet Chocolate Pave with Earl Grey Ice Cream… or rather, Earl Grey Whipped Cream (either the menu writer or a pastry cook slipped up). The pave was a great little cake that, as far as I can tell, was flourless. It went more towards a slightly dense dry souffle (in a good way) than a very dense flourless choc cake. It was a satisfying chocolate dessert that didn’t feel too overpoweringly rich.
I also liked their bar menu, which included an eclectic “Juice & Milk” section. It was not only fun to order “A Biodynamic Grape Juice, please,” it tasted good, too. It was a Mosta d’Uva Biodynamic Grape Juice, Guerzoni, Modena, Italy, which had a robust, almost musty taste that made me forget all about wine. I would also have been curious to try the 2005 Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer Grape Juice. I think it’s great to have an interesting selection of drinks that lets relatively little drivers like me enjoy a complex beverage without getting tipsy.
Overall Note about Plating: I’ve become less and less interested in painstakingly arranged plates, so Chez Panisse Cafe was a welcome change in a way, but some dishes looked a little bit too thrown on the plate (the crisp) and the one that was more arranged looked kind of weird (the pave); plus, our main courses looked almost identical at a glance. Somewhere, I’ll find a happy plating medium.
By the way, Chez Panisse Cafe is upstairs from Chez Panisse, and has an a la carte menu that is pretty reasonably priced. I called about a 1.5 weeks in advance for a Friday night reservation for Chez Panisse, but it was full so to the Cafe we went.
My visit to Wild Flour Bread last month changed not only the way that I think about bread, but also the way that I think about my schedule. It’s only open Fri-Mon. If I plan on being in LA for two weekends in one month, my first thought is “That’s two weekends I can’t go to Wild Flour Bread.” (Though my next thought, which cheers me up some, is “That’s two weekends I can go to The City Bakery.“) I also think about every Friday and Monday coming up, and whether I can get there to try its pizza, which is served only on those days. I haven’t managed it so far. (6/5/06 Edit: I finally did manage it, but it turns out that they no longer make pizzas)
Anyway, with a lot of excitement and a slight fear that it might not live up to our first visit, Chad and I drove an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday solely to eat Wild Flour Bread.
We were not let down. We were just as amazed by the bread as we were during our first visit.
The newest revelation that we had, which I think even trumps their sticky bun, was the Egyptian.
Its simple description of “pear, fig, ginger, walnuts” doesn’t prepare you for the fact that it’s an orange-tinged cousin of the sticky bun. Gooey, full of flavor, still warm, chock full of sliced pear and candied ginger and dried figs and whole wheat, about the size of a hardcover book, it was delicious. A thick kind of orange-colored syrup or jam also swirled through some of the pastry, much like the cinnamon swirl in a sticky bun, but this had the added effect of caramelizing into a chewiness on the edges, which was as prized as anything I can think of.
And sure, it was sweet, but it’s not as sweet as its appearance or ingredients would suggest. It’s just sweet enough. I think that the whole wheat helps to mitigate the sweetness of the sugar from the fruits. It looks like this inside.
We also tried the ladder-shaped Goat Flat, full of goat cheese, herbs, and onion. Perfectly flavored, with a satisfying crisp crust and a chewy crumb.
Oddly enough, the cheese inside was orange… I should have asked just what kind of goat cheese they use.
Their orange and white chocolate scone was also great (I wish I had also tried their almond currant scone with rosewater icing). There were a lot of relatively large pieces of chopped orange peel, the orange flavor was mellow enough so that the white chocolate fit in well to complete the flavor of the scone.
It looks like this inside. It had a light texture, and was just buttery enough.
I think that their fougasse changes rather frequently, so this time it was a shitaake mushroom, cheddar, jack cheese, and onion. We took a loaf home (um, plus another goat flat).
The shitaake mushroom imbued a flavor that approached bacon, and the chunks of cheese and mushroom were satisfying in the dough. It was yet another amazing loaf from Wild Flour.
And so begins my scheming to schedule my next visit there…