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BonBonBar 2010 Holiday Newsletter… Blogged

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
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Hello,

Happy Holidays!  Even though I have been quiet on the newsletter front, it has been busy at BonBonBar.

The most exciting news is that I have been hard at work writing a cookbook! It is called Beautiful Candymaking, and it is due out in the Fall of 2011 through Sterling Publishing.  The book will feature my take on a wide range of candy recipes — from toffee to fudge to caramel corn — along with candymaking tips/techniques and gorgeous photography courtesy of The White on Rice Couple.

After developing so many recipes for the book, I thought that it would be a good idea to recharge and seek new inspiration for the company’s confections.  So, BonBonBar will be closed from December 23 to February 1 as I eat my way around France, Italy, Brazil, and California.  I am looking forward to returning with refreshed ideas for new products, but it most likely also means that, unfortunately, some candies will be rotated out in the new year.

As always, thank you so much for your support and enthusiasm.  Happy customers have always been my favorite part of this BonBonBar adventure, and you have given me the amazing opportunity to run a truly artisan food company that will be going into its fourth year. I am grateful, and lucky.

All the best for a happy and sweet holiday season, and I hope that BonBonBar treats will be a part of it!

Thank  you!

Nina

Founder & Chief Chocolatier,BonBonBar

MORE BONBONBAR NEWS

So far, our candy bars are being featured in Fine Cooking, DailyCandy, and The Huffington Post’s 2010 holiday gift guides.

If you would like to place your holiday orders in advance of when you would like them to ship, please let us know in the comments of the order.

All orders placed during the break will ship after February 1.

Ubuntu – Napa

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

For various reasons that deserve a separate post, I went up to Napa for a couple days earlier this week. After reading about Ubuntu in the NYTimes and various food blogs, I was dying to try it for myself. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, but it’s the most artistic and boldly flavored on that I’ve been to. I ate at Ubuntu both nights that I was in Napa, and if I was still a local, it would easily be my local standby. And I should mention that it’s reasonably priced, with dishes ranging from $10-$14 or so, and are perfect for sharing; they’re technically small-bites plates. Although wine is kind of pricey per glass, you can get “tasting size” 2oz servings for $3-5 or so.

And the staff? So friendly and helpful. I sat at the bar, and felt very comfortable, chatting and doing a little paperwork.

I love restaurants that you make look at food in a new way, and to appreciate new flavor combinations without being overwhelmed. In this case, the ingredients are so immaculately cared for and presented. You notice their vibrant colors and unique shapes, and experiencing their unique flavors and textures is a special treat. It’s like a spa for all parties involved, except that it feels a little more decadent, and a little more masculine. In his NYTimes writeup, Frank Bruni says to that the space calls to mind a ski lodge, with its high ceilings and stone walls, and I felt that, too. I couldn’t remember what used to be there, and a bartender reminded me that it was a furniture store.

The bowl of the Caramelized Sunchoke Soup arrived dotted with a slow-cooked egg yolk, a quenelle of caramelized sunchokes, a sage leaf (fried?), and apple puree (I believe) before the waiter poured the soup inside. At first taste, the soup was already something otherwordly, making me wonder how the caramelization of the sunchokes led to such an elegantly smoky flavor… until I remembered that it is infused with coffee. It’s not weird for the sake of it, but a perfect pairing that gets even more exciting when sampled with the garnishes at will.

The Cauliflower in a Cast Iron Pot – roast-puree-raw-“couscous”, our vadouvan spice, coriander, and toast lived up to the legend of its cauliflower trifecta – creamy, crunchy, roasted.

The Carrot Gnocchetti with, among other things, mimolette cheese, turning it into a macaroni and cheese with a twist of carrot. I loved the garnish of micro carrots on top, as if growing out of a patch on to of the pot. Um, the pic… is not so clear.

As far as plating goes, you can tell it’s rather modern. Dishes tend to come layered in surprising ways in one vessel or strewn along a plate with a light hand.

This Braised Fig dessert was the first dish that I just had to take a picture of, with its figs, lavender meringue, lemon cream, edible flowers, and yogurt ice cream. The sprightly slivers of candied lemon peel were just the right touch for spikes of flavor.

I also loved the Chocolate “Cheesecake” in a jar, with huckleberries, cacao nib crumble, and perhaps the best tuile that I’ve ever had – deeply chocolate and light and shattering. Incidentally, I played with the idea of a candy bar made with chocolate nougat, dried blueberries, and cacao nibs last year, and this makes me want to revisit it.

The Medjool Date Cake was the last thing that I ate there, a perfect cube of moist cake, with candied quince… and earl grey ice cream… and caramelized apples (I think)… and matchsticks of apple…and candied lemon. The earl grey ice cream was such a delightful part of this dish, mingling so well with the other autumnal flavors that I can’t wait to play with the combination myself… and taste it again.

As all the “I think’s” show, I didn’t ask too many questions or take notes, or take pic’s of the menu as I used, too… I just wanted to relax and enjoy, and I did.

The Chronicles of Napa, Part 1

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

So, last weekend, Chad and I journeyed up to Napa for a wedding… and well, to eat.

First, we rushed off from the Oakland airport to have lunch at Canteen in SF. We paid $3 worth in quarters for the privilege of an hour’s parking, only to arrive at 2:02pm… and be told that they were closed. We’d once had a wonderful lunch there, watching the chef and his assistant cook from our perch at the counter. I remember that teasingly moist skate sandwich well, and still do… b/c my memory remains unclouded by any new dishes there. Sure, I could have mentioned that we’d just flown up from LA, loved the restaurant, and were dying to eat there again (along with their rmg guests)… but the stove was empty and I felt like it was right to accept that their shift was over. I hope someone used up the 53 rmg minutes on the meter, so that I can stop regretting my wasted laundry quarters.

In any case… to Tartine! Where parking was free and there was practically no line at 2:30 in the afternoon!

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Their Croque Monsieur is one of the better consolations you could come across. They’re displayed unassumingly on the counter, but once their heated up and cut into…

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…they’re beacons of comfort and deliciousness. The secret is in the bechamel sauce, which soaks into the bread to provide a silky canvas upon which the Niman ranch ham, gruyere cheese, thyme, and pepper play. The bread is also just soft enough, even though it looks like it’d be hard to cut into.

Unfortunately, Chad’s Ham and Gruyere Sandwich was rather soaked through with mustard, and he only felt fortunate that the nasal passages behind his nose hadn’t caught fire by the end of the sandwich.

And my pickled carrot was shockingly spicy… which I liked.

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The chocolate eclair was also a little funky. The pastry cream was very runny and the glaze very thick. I made a mess of myself trying to eat it, and turning it upside-down helped only until the pastry cream started spurting out the sides. The glaze was also a little too harsh with cocoa flavor for the rest of the eclair.

We also had the Lemon Meringue Cake again, but the chiffon cake was too dry for it to do its magic.

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And then to Emeryville, to catch up with the good people at Charles Chocolates, where I worked with the chocolatiers during the holiday season. They now have a retail store which has a seating area that overlooks the chocolatiers at work, and where tours are given.

I was lucky enough to be lavished with the peanut butterflies and lemon-pistachio clusters that I once daily rationed to myself… 12+ hr days were never so much fun before. I also got a jar of their newly offered Meyer Lemon Marmalade. It’s made with just organic meyer lemons and sugar — no commercial pectin, so it has a slightly more delicate set and the lemon flavor is bright and delicious. It’s nice on bread… or just on a spoon, if you’re me.

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By the time we got to Napa later that night, I was too excited to laze into the hotel room, so Chad and I went to have dessert at Redd, where Nicole Plue is the pastry chef (formerly of Julia’s Kitchen). We shared Sweet Corn Fritters with Cherries and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. I loved how creamy the fritters were inside, and everything was good on its own but I wasn’t totally in love with everything on the plate together — even though the subtle yet brilliant apricot sauce did its best to tie it together. I do like corn as a dessert, but I think it’s hard to match its flavor and intensity with other components. I also really liked the corn pop-like puffed corn kernels. I wonder if they do that themselves… and how.

It was cool to have microgreens on a dessert dish, and actually, they probably fit in best with the corn according to my taste buds. And the texture of the leaves was something novel and nice in a dessert. When we inquired, we were told that they were baby cilantro, which was interesting b/c they neither looked nor tasted like mature cilantro.

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The next day, we set out on an exploratory mission to Wild Flour Bread, committed to basking in the scenery, turning onto mysterious roads, and otherwise finding pleasure in getting lost.

We happened upon the historical Kenwood Depot this way.

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A walk around back brought me under a canopy of what I thought were possibly long-lingering apricots, blushing orange in the sun.

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So, when I reached out to touch them, I was surprised by their smooth texture… and the fact that they were plums. I’m not sure which variety. Rather small and yellow, with a smooth honeyed taste, a bit like greengages. If anyone cares to guess what they were, please let me know.

There were also thorny blackberry bushes rambling here and there around the tree and fence. If only we’d also come across some puff pastry and an oven, I think we would have had the galettes of our lives.

As a city dweller, even this little bit of wild fruit chase was enough to give a glow to the morning. Even when I lived in Napa, I realized that for all the lush landscape, it’s hard to feel truly outdoorsy without some effort. Driving through it or walking past it on the way inside a winery is far more common, unfortunately, if you live in an apartment.

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Once we made it to Wild Flour Bread, we got three loaves for our lunch. All were still hot from the oven, including this gloriously chunk-laden fougasse. We also got a goat flat and the egyptian, with a cinnamon bun-like form flavored with fig, ginger, and pear. All wonderful.

And this was the first time that we wandered into the beautiful garden behind the bakery, and next to the pile of wood used in the oven. It’s full of vegetables, berries, and flowers… and just enough wildness.

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Our little traipse in the garden must have given us time to digest, b/c we went to Patisserie Angelica in Sebastopol for dessert. On the left was the cleverly-designed Peanut Envy, with peanut butter, caramel and nuts in a cylinder of chocolate, and on the right was the key lime tart. Both were flavorful and fresh, and miraculously, completely consumed.

BarBersQ – Napa

Friday, August 31st, 2007
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Pulled Pork Sandwich

I’ve been back in LA for quite a few days now, and despite having great intentions of blogging about every wonderful minute of being in Napa, something has held me back. I think I’ve been trying to come up with an interesting way of talking about BarBersQ, and it’s not happening. I may as well just get on with it, and offer the best that I can come up with: IT WAS AMAZING. GO THERE AND EAT ALL YOU CAN MANAGE.

Just look at the picture above.

That pile of pulled pork… coleslaw… and barbecue sauce… in a soft bun… sums it all up. BarbersQ offers traditional BBQ with a bit of flourish and a whole lot of flavor. The space is warm and inviting. I get similar feelings at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and Ad Hoc. It’s less fancy than those two (and cheaper, esp than the latter), but it has that same clean sort of hospitality that makes me feel good just sitting at one of their tables, awaiting delicious dishes. BarBersQ is relatively new, but if I still lived in Napa, something tells me that I would know the menu very well by now. I used to live down the street from it. I probably would have walked there and back to feel good about burning off some of the calories and saving gas money that could go to, say, a side of cheese-strong macaroni and cheese instead.

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Or the Texas Toast Open-Faced Brisket Sandwich (a special), which was so much more fabulous than it looks here. And Chad, ever anti-coleslaw, was even pleased with their creamy/crispy version, with just a bit of tang — the way it should be.

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And meats and mayo aside, I’d also like to call attention to the butter lettuce and pear salad that came with my sandwich. I believe it was the only time that I’ve taken a bite of a piece of lettuce — albeit, a perfectly dressed one — and blurted out, “you have to try this” to Chad. It was just so crisp and well-seasoned, and the sort of refreshment that should be shared.

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So, there it is, my decidedly un-nuanced impression of BarBersQ. It’s been added to our pantheon of craveworthy Napa destinations. It’s relatively casual — more of a lunch spot for most, I’m guessing, and located in a plaza across from Target and Trader Joe’s, but the food is so good that I’d recommend it over most other places in the valley for dinner anyway. I hope that it’s as good next time we go.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawns at Osteria Mozza – Los Angeles

Saturday, August 18th, 2007
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I’m giving Santa Barbara Spot Prawns co-billing b/c they deserve at least as much attention as Osteria Mozza, and I consider this post something of a PSA — I have to spread the word about Santa Barbara Spot Prawns. I hadn’t known about them before yesterday afternoon, when I happened upon them in Suzanne Goin’s cookbook. Happily, two hours laters, I found them offered “al diavolo” during an impromptu first trip to Osteria Mozza. In short, they’re wildly delicious. Very sweet with a strikingly soft texture. The flavor has notes of lobster, but I’m inclined to claim that, in terms of pungency, they out-lobster lobster. Look out for them. And read more about them here.

Combined with a spicy tomato sauce and fresh cranberry beans (I believe), it was the dish to beat last night. And that’s saying a lot. Chad’s Beef Brasato with Polenta and Horseradish Gremolata was a wonderful rendition of braised beef short ribs. It may be more of a winter dish, but who would be foolish enough to turn down meltingly soft meat just because it’s a little warm outside? Once my fork sank into the meat, I could tell it was in a league of its own. And sure, braised short ribs seem to be everywhere in restaurants these days, but this dish was full of life, bolstered by a richly flavored sauce and sprightly garnishing vegetables, such as porcini mushrooms and caperberries. And the polenta was creamy without being bland or gloppy.

Chad thought that the Burrata with Escarole, Bacon, and Caramelized Shallots from the cheese bar was “amazing,” but I thought that flavors aside, the greens and bread were too oily. I still ate it all.

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I was smitten by the Bombolini with Lemon Mascarpone and “Fruit of the Woods” Sorbet (mixed berry). Well-orchestrated classic flavors. The sorbet was silky.  I liked that you could dip bits of fried dough into the mascarpone at will, so that every bite was like a custom-made stuffed donut. And there was a ricotta fritter amidst the bombolini, which was a clever touch.

As for the restaurant itself, it’s a bit fancier than Pizzeria Mozza, but nowhere near the operatic pretensions of Del Posto. It’s comfortable and stylish, with a rock ‘n roll soundtrack. We showed up at 7pm last night (Friday) and had a 10 minute wait for two seats at the marble cheese bar, manned by Nancy Silverton. I couldn’t imagine a better seat in the house. In fact, I’m sure that a satisfying meal could be cobbled together by the cheese-focused small plates. I ordered the burrata b/c I’d first had it served to me by Silverton herself at a Mozzarella Monday at Jar a couple years ago and I was feeling sentimental, but there were many cheeses that I was unfamiliar with that I would have loved to try. I would also be tempted by the starters, such as crispy pig’s trotter and testa (head cheese). Frankly, the main courses are a little staid in comparison, but as our’s showed, they do deliver nicely.

My main criticism of Osteria Mozza would be the profusion of Italian words on the menu. I can understand using the original Italian words for un-translatable proper nouns, but too many dishes had at least one wild-card word. And since it was so busy, no matter how friendly and helpful our waiter was, it took a long time before we could order — he suddenly stepped away halfway through our first  round of simple questions to tend to get grappa for other guests. Then we waited… and waited… for him to come back. And then we had to quickly make our decision based on what we learned during the second round so that we wouldn’t have to wait yet again to order. We’re reasonably well-informed and low-maintenance diners, so I think it’s an unnecessary flourish on their part. They could keep the phrases if they also print a description in the menu. Perhaps they want to encourage a dialogue btw the diners and the wait staff, but administering pop quiz is hardly my idea of a meaningful relationship or a perfect night out.

Anyway, I’d go back to Osteria Mozza, but the real question is, would I rather go to Pizzeria Mozza or Osteria Mozza? A craving for pizza aside, it would be a hard choice, since their sensibility is so similar. I guess I’ll have to visit them more — much more — to decide that. 🙂