Grazing in Madison

I ventured to Madison, Wisconsin recently for a friend’s wedding and I honestly had no idea what to expect on the food scene. I did know there was a James Beard Best Chef nominee this year, but other than that, clueless. I quickly learned that not only is Madison home to the country’s largest producer-only farmer’s market (who knew?!), there are two fantastic restaurants within one block of each other: Graze and Harvest.

Just across the street from the State Capitol building, Graze is the stylish and more casual gastro-pub cousin to the eponymous L’Etoile. Both establishments’ kitchens are under the guidance of Tory Miller, the 2011 James Beard nominee I was referring to.

Graze is all about haute comfort food. And no visit to Madison, so I was told, would be complete without indulging in the local delicacy of fried cheese curds. Yes folks, fried cheese. With housemade ranch dressing for dipping. That’s some serious decadence!

Wisconsinites are devoted to their cheeses and producers. At Graze, the daily local cheese offerings are announced on a large blackboard.

As are their ‘Conservation Farmers of the Year’ purveyors.

Not only is there American comfort food on the menu, but there are pan-Asian inspired offerings woven throughout, like the House pickle platter featuring escabeche, Persian cukes and beets…

… squash, kim chee and daikon.

The silky smooth asparagus and spring onion soup with tarragon, topped with lemon crème fraîche was essentially Spring farmer’s market in a bowl.

And back to Vietnam with a hyper-fresh version of Bún with grilled halibut and shrimp, rice noodles, spring veggies, peanuts, chopped cilantro, mint and a chili-lime vinaigrette.

The grilled cheese special of the day featured beets, local feta and bacon on pumpernickel. The flavors were all so satisfying (and the food filling), that dessert was just not do-able. Maybe even a first for me!

Just one block down is Harvest and I’m sorry to say I don’t have any photos of the food to share. I know, but it was the wedding rehearsal dinner I was off duty (a girl’s gotta draw the line somewhere.) I do, however, have a very vivid memory of the wonderful meal, and can’t gush enough about the grass-fed beef co-op grilled flat iron steak seasoned with harissa, topped with pickled red onions & mint and chickpea fries. Seriously, the steak was extraordinary. Don’t just take my word for it, go enjoy it yourself!

Forage SLC

I had no idea what a treat I was in for when I booked my birthday dinner at Forage in Salt Lake City, UT. It was to be a great weekend of skiing with friends from NY and took a little turn for the unexpected on my first run. When we arrived at this charming house converted into restaurant, I was minus an ACL in my left knee, plus a knee brace and crutches, and full of determination to enjoy the meal. Let me tell you, it was truly one of the most creative and inspired meals I’ve had. Period.

Chefs Viet Pham and Bowman Brown are super-talented and were rightly nominated for a James Beard Award in 2011. In my humble opinion they also should’ve been recipients of said award, but unfortunately, my vote doesn’t count. Let me just say that if you are EVER in SLC, you really ought to book a table. You’ll be glad you did. Promise. Here’s why…

Soon as I popped the amuse into my mouth — a croquette with liquid fennel center — I knew I was in for a great ride.

Next up: super-soft scrambed egg with maple syrup and crème fraîche.

This silkly sunchoke soup with puffed rice and pickled radish was extraordinary.

House made butter! and buckwheat bread, still warm from the oven.

Perfectly cooked scallop topped with puffed rice, rhubarb and chicken vanilla sauce.

Poached farm fresh yolk on a bed of rosemary cured onions, beets, pork and chi broth.

Charcoal potatoes, smoked buttermilk, radish and fresh cheese.

I thought you might need a little breather to peek at the room….

Charcoal encrusted Hamachi belly, white asparagus, celeriac, toasted farro, smoked bacon and braised savoy cabbage.

Melt in your mouth pork loin with potato crust, squash puree, trumpet mushroom, bok choi and a honey brown butter sauce.

A mild tomme with green apple jam and house made crackers.

A phenomenal and refreshing palette cleanser of grapefruit sorbet, ricotta cream and poppy seeds.

Parsnip and milk sorbet, pear mousse, dehydrated yogurt and burnt hazelnut.

Amano chocolate three ways — with dehydrated raspberry crumbles.

Meyer lemon marshmallow migniardises were perfectly refreshing (and light!) at the end of the meal.

I couldn’t have dreamt up a better birthday meal! The service was impeccable and a really sweet touch by the entire staff was a lovely, handmade birthday card signed by all the staff. Thanks to everyone at Forage for turning the day around 180 degrees! And next time I’ll remember to bring my ‘real’ camera.


At the moment, I’m wrapped up in thoughts of cocktails and caftans as I prepare for a 70’s cocktail party photo shoot. I figured what better place than Thermidor to spark inspiration.

If you were around in the 70’s, Thermidor is not only a big slice of nostalgia, it’s got that wonderfully sleek style that makes a girl want to slip on her Pucci caftan….

sip cocktails…

…and nibble into the night on things like chips and caviar with crème fraîche and smoked trout,

pommes dauphine with lobster butter,

braised oxtail croquettes with horseradish cream & chives.

Moving on to a perfectly pan crisped sole almandine with fresh gnocchi bathed in a prosecco-almond sauce.

Let us not forget the eponymous Parker House roll with just the right amount of sea salt.

There’s nothing like butter fried cake with crème fraîche ice cream and a berry coulis for dessert.

Absolutely everything was delicious, down to the tiny, lemony madeleines that came with the tab.


I lived in this village in Mali, West Africa nearly twenty years ago. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and that experience forever changed the way in which I view my life and the world. I think about my Malian friends often, and especially at Thanksgiving. I am so incredibly grateful for all they taught me about finding joy and laughter throughout every day.

I thought I’d share with you all a little food diary from my visit to Mali this past summer.

This breakfast porridge is called ‘moni.’ It’s made with millet flour that’s rolled into little tiny balls. It has some tang to it from the millet and because we were guests, a little sugar was added (which makes it much better!)

All cooking starts with water, pulled by hand from a well.

For those with enough means, they will take their grain to the village mill.

And those who don’t, pound it the traditional way: by hand with a mortar and pestle. That pestle, by the way, weighs about 20 lbs (9 kilos) and takes hundreds of strokes to grind the grain.

Once it’s ground, the next step is winnowing and sifting the grain.

You may know of the legendary Baobab tree. It’s leaves are the primary ingredient for the traditional sauce.

The other principal ingredients in the sauce are okra and tomatoes — and a Maggi cube (eg bouillon cube).

After cooking the bajeezus out of the millet, you get a texture something akin to hyper-stiff polenta and it’s called ‘toh’ — pronounced like your big Toe. If the name isn’t unappetizing enough, the sauce seals the deal. To eat toh, you take a handful — with the right hand only, please — dip it in the slimey okra/baobab leaf sauce and pop it in your mouth. Mm-mm-good.

The soft food allows everyone from infant to elderly (the toothless ends of the life spectrum) to eat the same meal. It’s all very practical.

During the dry season, gardens yield other delicacies, like sweet potatoes.

For villages flanking the banks of the Niger river, fish is part of the diet. I was fortunate to live in one of these villages, though I must say I did not count myself so fortunate when the fish ended up cooked in the toh sauce.

This gorgeous fruit is called ‘tabacoumba’. I have absolutely no idea if there’s an English name for it. Anyone?

And these are beautiful, ripe melons plucked fresh from the vines. Sadly for you, in my bliss among the mango trees, I failed to capture the absolute rapture of biting into the best mangoes on the face of the planet (mental note to self duly registered).

No afternoon is complete without a round of tea– 3 cups, to be exact. The first is very strong and bitter….and gradually getting lighter and sweeter with the subsequent rounds. Sharing tea is a matter of heartfelt hospitality, and that is an area in which Malians excel.

My time living in Mali left me forever cognizant of the opportunities I have been given in my life, particularly education. If you’ve noticed that my posts have been a little less frequent of late, it is because I launched a non-profit this year called Mali Kalanso.

We’re building a school so the children in these photos can have the opportunity to get an education, break the cycle of poverty and create their own destiny. I’d like to invite you to join us in making a difference.

To contribute and help spread the word, visit Happy Thanksgiving!

Salt + Chocolate

I’ve got a thing for salt, so when Michael Recchiuti told me he was doing a chocolate and salt workshop with Mark Bitterman, I signed up as soon as I could logon (I’d have signed up instantly using my iPhone, but, well, that means AT&T and we know how well that’s working out…) Little did I know when I signed up for the workshop, that I’d be greeted with this refreshing, sparkling vermouth cocktail garnished with a grapefruit peel twist and a chamomile-infused fleur de sel-glazed rim.

This Sutton Cellars is some seriously sumptuous vermouth!

A slideshow of the salt harvest process in Ghana ran on the wall as we gathered in the space at Recchiuti Confections.

The first course was a savory rosemary & olive oil cracker topped with aged manchego, basil, a drizzle of evoo and sprinkled with a caramel-y fleur de sel.

Course Two was a layered pumpkin cake, milk choc crémeux (using Michel Cluizel Papua New Guinea 55%) and salted struesel topped with Bali kechil salt — a clean, bright, mild box textured salt…one that I actually happen to have in my personal collection!

Course Three: this almond-free, cocoa nib ‘flour’ macaron was THE best chocolate macaron I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting — and I’ve pretty much tried all the best Paris has to offer. The cocoa flavor was incredible. The little pipette was filled with burnt sugar, cocoa nib and grappa for infusing as we wished. The miniature white chocolate salt cellar housed the finishing touch: cocoa-infused fleur de sel.

Course Four: these little cassia cinnamon bonbon’s were served in combo with sauteed apples….

….in tiny cones and were eagerly washed down with freshly brewed pumpkin ale.

Course Five: the flight included three Japanese salts new to me (left to right): Moshio sea salt, Shinkai deep-sea salt and smoked Shinkai — all in their own, custom chocolate salt cellars. We dipped the chocolate caramel squares into each of the salts and cleansed our palates with the tarragon syrup laced grapefruit granita. Yeah, it was a rough afternoon!

Despite the overload of decadent goodness, we forged ahead to the sixth and last course: a truly fantastic pain au chocolat by William Werner of the much-anticipated Tell Tale Preserve Co. Michael concocted the decadent white tube of house-made gianduja and Mark paired it with a Halen Môn smoked sea salt, making the whole thing a little nugget of hazelnut/chocolate heaven.

I rolled on out of there on a chocolate & salt high, well-informed, fully entertained with a copy of Salted under my arm and eager to see what Michael Recchiuti comes up with for the lineup of 2011 workshops!

Knead Patisserie & Local: Mission Eatery

I’ve been horribly remiss in not sharing my adoration of (er, obsession with) Local: Mission Eatery and Knead Patisserie. It’s a little gem in the heart of the Mission bustle on 24th St near Folsom in SF. Yaron Milgom is the brainchild of the venture and the über-talented husband and wife team of Jake and Shauna Des Voignes make the perfect flavor team: Jake on savory and Shauna on sweet.

Both are classically trained, so everything’s prepared with the utmost attention to detail and technique.

And their dedication to providing ‘local, humane and housemade’ eats is genuine. On their one day ‘off’ each week, Jake and Shauna head to their family farm in Lodi where they tend to an enormous garden that supplies produce for the restaurant.

Knead Patisserie is tucked away in the back of the space — except when the cart is wheeled out front weekdays for early morning commuters to get their breakfast pastry fix.

In addition to her signature fleur de sel chocolate cookies, Shauna creates all kinds of temptations like chocolate pot de crême smores filling that comes in individual little jars alongside homemade graham crackers. Then there are the pommes d’amour tarts (puff pastry, pastry cream and caramel), almond twists, fruit preserves and all kinds of new surprises all the time.

And there are the lemony madeleines!

The menu changes with market availability and as of a couple months ago, dinner’s now a regular affair. So now you can grab brunch, lunch and dinner.

And for those who have a cookbook obsession but don’t have the space to store or inclination to purchase an entire library, can check out a broad collection by joining the cookbook lending library.

This roasted potato sandwich with garlic ricotta, pickled shallots and dandelion greens is the first thing I ever tasted at Local: Mission Eatery. It was to-die-for!

And the cream of corn soup seasoned with taragon and filled with hunks of dungeness crab is obsession-worthy (I order it any time I see it on the menu).

I love pickles but am particular (there’s something new!) These farm-fresh, quick pickles were exceptional: crisp and the flavors shone through. The fennel was particularly memorable.

I’ve craved this masterpiece often: toasted Knead brioche topped with a slow-poached egg, creamed corn, tarragon and topped with thinly sliced, just-picked summer squash. Heaven!


Fremont Diner is a gem of a find tucked on the side of Carneros Hwy between Sonoma and Napa. It’s a perfect roadside stop up in wine country, open for breakfast and lunch – 7 days a week.

Before being lovingly renovated, I zoomed passed this roadside shack a hundred times without stopping….and almost bypassed it accidentally when I went looking for it. It’s a joy-filled place that feels like you’ve stepped back in time.

The menu board changes with the daily availability of ingredients and may seem a little intimidating at first glance — mostly because it’s filled with so many delectable options. The entrance area is chock-full of childhood edible road-trip memorabilia (Abba-Zaba anyone?).

Every little detail is tended to…(okay, so maybe the cash register doesn’t count…)

The kitchen is open to the dining room and, should your lil’ ole heart desire, you can pull up a stool and sit ringside right at the counter. As you can see, while it may be a diner, it’s far from being a greasy spoon (or ‘greezy’ as my grandma used to say).

They sell their own seasonal preserves and such, like these pickled cherries seasoned with bay, chili and cinnamon.

And for any of you looking for a good source of freshly rendered lard, this is your spot!

The menu offerings I tried were are homey renditions of comfort food. And with the high quality local, sustainable, small farm ingredients, you can be certain your to-die-for pulled pork sandwich is made up of only the best stuff. I haven’t yet made it in for breakfast, but from what I can judge, I just might be dodging an addiction. Seriously…biscuits & gravy, grits, hash, donuts…need I say more?

(How sweet is that pitcher….!?!)

Nothing makes me happier in the middle of a foggy San Francisco summer, than finding a place to be outside in the warmth of Sonoma. Here you can sit outside at one of the aqua painted picnic tables and enjoy your grub roadside — whichever direction you’re headed.

Sons & Daughters

Sons & Daughters opened in June 2010 and with it came a dose of NY style and creativity. The black awning caught my eye as I buzzed by one day and the inventive menu posted on the website enticed me to take a chance on a place with virtually no press. I am oh-so-glad I did! You’ll see why….

The space used to house the former Cafe Mozart for 30+ years on Bush St. @ Powell. The interior was transformed by one chef’s mom, Debbie McNamara, into a sophisticated but unpretentious space. The lounge area is chic and cozy — a nice place to relax with a glass of wine while waiting for a table.

This little amuse of compressed melon, avocado cream and pink peppercorn definitely announced I was in for a treat from the two young chefs, Matt & Teague. They met in culinary school and between the two, have cooked in a variety of kitchens around the globe. The melding of refined technique and diverse cuisines shines through.

Bonus points for the butter presentation and Maldon salt sprinkle.

This foie torchon, accompanied by a peach gelée, was melt in your mouth, velvety, divine.

My Japanese foodie friend, visiting from Tokyo, was effusive about the lobster carpaccio–and that’s saying something. It was dusted with toasted and dehydrated lobster roe & dill, drizzled with lemon juice & lobster butter, and garnished with sturgeon caviar.

‘Herb salad’ does not do this creation justice. The salad portion is a tumble of freshness: shaved fennel, radish, dill, chervil, chives, edible flowers dressed in champagne vinaigrette. The rest is a totally unexpected play on curds and whey, with fresh curds and quinoa hidden at the bottom under a whey froth dotted with Eucalyptus oil.

Between courses, the change of flatware is ported in vintage cigar boxes — entirely suited to the sophisticated surroundings that include original signed prints by Swiss photographer Hans Gissinger, taken for La Conversation – a stunning cookbook by French chef Marc Meneau.

Have you had lamb loin cooked sous vide in hay? Neither had I! I highly recommend it- particularly with veggies tossed in a feta chimichurri!

The chefs switched up everything between visits. This time, the beautiful scallops were served with Maitake mushrooms and veal tea, and garnished with purslane, nasturtium and smoked sea salt.

I think this dish may just be the ultimate in comfort food: risotto, marscapone, shaved black truffles and a soft egg. And this is just the right amount.

If you don’t like to think about where your meat comes from, the squab dish is not for the feint of heart. For fans of squab, the confit leg in particular, is swoon-worthy. The super smooth beet puree and huckleberries were great companions.

A lil’ intermezzo of plum slivers….

And a nice version of a latent discovery for me this year (at Frances): date cake! This one w/ crême anglaise, whipped sweet cream and ripe, juicy blackberries.

(The dark chocolate truffle cake with mint ice cream was devoured as soon as it hit the table).

Alas, the mignardise….bruléed pineapple bites. A nice little bit of punctuation to an elegant and satisfying meal.

There’s a groovy wine cellar downstairs and while they’re still working out the deets, it’ll likely be a fixed chef tasting menu.

I still can’t figure how they’re able to serve such gorgeously crafted food for such affordable prices. But I’m not going to question it. I’ll just keep enjoying. Upstairs or down, I suggest you book your table now while you still can!


There’s a new artisanal creamery down in Dogpatch (San Francisco, that is). The two pastry chef owners, Ian Flores and Annabelle Topacio, are the couple behind the recently opened Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous. After roaming the pastry kitchens of the great Sherry Yard in LA and Maui and baking across the bay at one of my fav bread bakeries [Firebrand], I count us lucky they decided to open shop in SF!

I became a fan on my first visit. Everything about the place is home spun and leaves me feeling good about my ice cream experience. Seriously, how could you not fall for a place with a sign like this hanging on the door?

They make their own delicious, caramelized and crispy cones and the generous scoops of Mexican coffee and Earl Grey flavors I’ve had (so far), prove these kids know how to make a full-flavored base and spin it just right.

Flavors rotate by season and inspiration. There’s lots of creativity and care in the flavor profiles but nothing outrageous here. The high quality ingredients are principally organic (with chocolate being the main exception). It feels like the modern version of an old school mom n’ pop shop.

I’ve got a fondness for peanut brittle (my mom made some killer brittle back in the day). And you know me and my love of packaging….I’m all about these simple, hand written labels on canning jars filled with homemade brittle.

There are bits of nostalgia all around….does anyone else remember the days when glass milk bottles like these were delivered to the steps outside the kitchen door? (Please say yes!)

I dig the space….it’s airy and open in a way that invites community — the way ice creams parlors should. It’s a great place to meet up with a bunch of friends and walk away with a good ol’ fashioned ice cream high.

And you can walk away also feeling good about your experience being a little lighter on the planet.