Eat + Drink @ Russian River

I couldn’t agree more with the web address imperative:
The new little gem of a bistro in Guerneville, CA on the Russian River, boon eat + drink is enough motivation for me to hit the Armstrong Redwoods trails more often

— especially, now that I know there’s a place serving great grub and a nice glass of (local) wine at the end of the day!

Like its sister property the boon hotel + spa (just around the corner), the decor is simple, clean & modern.

Our server was sweet, friendly, eager to please and absolutely adorable — no photo available.

I do, however, have photos of the fab food we ate, including this creamy burrata with beet pesto and lightly salted, grilled bread.

The flash fried polenta sticks w/ marinara were super crispy, light and buttery.

The chilled cucumber buttermilk soup was just perfect for a balmy evening.

I love all things salad in summertime. This one has all of the essential elements: garden-fresh, tender greens + creamy Pt. Reyes blue + sweet cherries + toasted pumpkin seeds and a slightly tangy tarragon vinaigrette.

If you haven’t tried a braised pork belly that’s been flash fried as the finishing touch, I suggest you do so post-haste! (Yes, even YOU, my Jewish + Muslim + Vegetarian friends who make the exception for bacon).

Good ol’ Humphrey Slocombe ice cream is one of the few imports to the restaurant (all the way from SF). It tops not only these warm fresh fruit cobblers, it adorns the already anointed ‘signature’ fudge brownie with sea salt with their McEvoy olive oil ice cream.

If you’re in the area, follow the imperative to eat + drink at boon! And if you aren’t nearby, I suggest you consider a road trip.

PDX – The Food Cart Edition

If you aren’t familiar with the burgeoning food cart scene in Portland, let me just tell you, it’s really something. There are 300+ mobile eateries set up, mostly, in ‘pods’ throughout the city. Each pod is typically set up in a parking lot with hookups to electricity and water. Unlike in some cities where food cart vendors are always on the run and the only way to track them is through Twitter feeds, these carts are officially sanctioned by the city (hello, San Francisco bureaucrats, are you listening?) There’s even a Food Carts Portland website where you can find eats by location, food type, breakfast/lunch/dinner, new carts, etc. It definitely made it easier to track down good grub. I’m just sayin’!

The rains had retreated, so I sought out coffee streetside at the Spella Caffe cart @ SW 9th & Alder.

The boys were super friendly and even offered a place to sit when we returned later in the day to sample some of their neighbors’ lunch fare.

If you like chicken, we need to talk Nong’s Khao Man Gai! Not only is Nong a dynamic personality, she sells out of her amazing chicken & sauce every day. It’s abundantly clear why: like all great street food vendors, she does one thing and she does it exceptionally well.

Nong’s khao man gai is just like you’d find on the streets of Bangkok. It’s poached chicken served on rice made with the poaching water and seasoned with herbs. But it’s her sauce that’s the ticket–it’s got garlic, soy bean paste, lots of ginger, Thai chilies and vinegar. I went back twice during my stay and one of my friends, the fabulous cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, was known to sometimes indulge twice in one day!

The next gem of a find was a little taco cart standing solo just a couple blocks away on SW 3rd. This adorable paint job caught my eye. Seriously, how could you not love the stoplight!

Not only was my chicken taco muy rica, it was the perfect antidote to the Stumptown Coffee/Voodoo doughnut combo racing through my veins.

Some friends invited me along to explore the lively late night pod @ SE 12th & Hawthorne and am so glad I rallied. It was Friday night, so the carts were surrounded by folks out celebrating the beginning of the weekend.

It’s hard to imagine a more classic drinking food than Poutine. For the uninitiated, poutine has it’s origins in the greasy-spoons of Quebec and consists of good ol’ fashioned pommes frites topped with fresh cheese curd and gravy (personally, I like mine with a dash of vinegar, too). The kids at Potato Champion most definitely have poutine wired!

It’s easy to see why the girls at Perierra Crépereie &c have a consistently long line of eager customers for their sweet and savory crépes. You’ve gotta love a crépe cart that does a ricotta, Italian plum and honey combo.

The crépe I ordered was supposed to come with plantains and, truth be told, I was a little disappointed when I saw the bananas. But the dulce de leche (part of the original order) clearly made up for it since we devoured the whole thing.

Whiffies pie cart wins for most entertaining signage — most of which is done by a dedicated fan base of patrons cum artistes.

The owner, Greg, serves up just one thing at his cart: fried pocket pies. He does both savory and sweet, keeping some favorites but otherwise changing the menu daily to keep the intrigue high.

The selection of the eve was a chocolate, coconut and almond pie — an Almond Joy of sorts. Delish! The pie dough is made by hand and the pies are fried in a soy-based oil so you can feel better about the fried part of what you’re ingesting (worked for me!)

With all of the incredible food choices, it’s a good thing Portland is such a walkable city. I’m already looking forward to going back and exploring more. If you have any suggestions for me of good eats, please send ’em my way.

PDX Food Scene

I had the good fortune to spend half of last week at the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference in Portland, OR. It’s been several years since my last visit to PDX when there were a whopping *two* hot new restaurants in town. These days the food scene is bursting at the seams (as was I by the time I left). It was fantastic meeting colleagues, making new friends and catching up with those I hadn’t seen in awhile; exciting to have friends nominated for (and win!) cookbook awards; and it was an absolute blast exploring the local food scene with food biz buddies.

My first day out I found a fab little modern home/office/life accessories store called Canoe. The style maven owners have a keen eye for all kinds of wonderful things from around the globe, including my rad new cast iron spice grinder. Can I just say how much I love the no sales tax thing in Oregon!?!

Since I’d gotten up well before dawn for my flight that morning, I ventured just around the corner to Cacao for an afternoon chocolate fix where hot chocolate ‘shots’ are on tap….little espresso cups filled with rich, liquidy chocolate heaven. I chose a spiced choc shot but you can also opt for a flight of three different hot chocs. I was familiar with most of the confectioners in the case but didn’t know the locally handcrafted chocolates by DePaula Confections–what a find! The fleur de sel caramels (one of them with coconut – yum!) were silky smooth with just the right amount of sweet, salty and bitter.

Dinner led me to Clyde Common for some seriously great grub! I was so convinced I couldn’t get any sort of decent shot of the first course, I neglected to capture the most tender & tasty broccoli rabe with housemade Coppa, crispy fried egg and lemon dressing. I only got daring after tasting the pasta course of buckwheat cavatelli with nettles (yes!) in a super buttery, light cream sauce & sprinkled with toasted walnuts. Forks were feuding over it!

I have an entirely unproven hypothesis that it was my friend Cory Obenaur at Blue Plate in San Francisco who started a movement with his signature grilled romaine 10+ years ago. The Clyde Common version that accompanied a succulent grilled steak, perfectly poached egg, aged balsamic and shaved piave was great. The whole dish was definitely my kinda main course!

Then there was the rhubarb parfait I just couldn’t pass up…and the then de rigeur (as in truly and seriously necessary) digestif. It was one I didn’t know, made from myrtle. I was pleasantly surprised — and, thankfully, it did the trick!

The next morning started off with some Stumptown Coffee in the lobby of the Ace Hotel. My friends and I hopped into the photo booth there in the lobby to mark the occasion. Word of warning: four adults in a photo booth early morning after a late night does not a lovely picture make. On the contrary, my latte was lucious, beauteous & creamy. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that owner Duane Sorenson was awarded a special IACP award for his bike project in Rwanda. Unfortunately, Duane wasn’t able to accept the award in person as he was in Amsterdam, opening a ‘coffee shop’ (mmhmmm….).

After my morning caffeine upload, I felt fortified to walk to the first breakfast stop: Voodoo doughnuts. This place is incredibly popular and has a plethora of hyper sugary & kitschy options, all displayed in a constantly circulating case by the register.

My pick was the maple bar with crispy strips of bacon laid on top. If you’re a fan of old-school maple bars and of bacon, you might just want to make the haj to Voodoo — they’re open 24/7.

My heroines, the Pixie Retreat girls, arrived to save the day at lunch time with this incredible (raw & free of sugar) picnic lunch for me. I felt revived — and redeemed! [Clockwise from upper left: Sin Bun with dates, walnuts and vanilla bean icing in the little cups; tangy kale salad w/ sesame seeds and avocado; chocolate caramel cups; candy bar (for the following day!) and flax/multi-grain bread] If you live in Portland and enjoy eating clean healthy food, these girls who can hook you up like no other.

On to dinner at the stellar Nostrana restaurant. It was a phenomenal parade of food and I was so engrossed in conversation with the fascinating people around the table, I failed to pull out my camera — sorry! Suffice it to say that the locally-procured, regional, Italian fare put out by chef Cathy Whims
leaves no question in my mind as to why she’s a James Beard finalist again this year.

My last day in town, I went to the Portland Farmer’s Market. Wow, what a gorgeous location and what a bevvy of vendors. I’m pretty sure at least a couple hundred of us conference goers were among the crowd, but the local community came in droves.

Spring flowers were everywhere and this spectacular basket of lilacs was one of the first things I saw.

The urban planning profile for Portland allows the principles of farm to table to thrive since farmland literally abuts the city limits. The produce is out of control!

I don’t imagine you’ll believe me, but seriously I don’t normally drink coffee. PDX is a coffee town and when in Rome…Café Velo is renowned for their drip but the barrista advocated for the pressed coffee that day. It was really lovely, bright coffee — and supercharged, so kept me going til I got home that night.

These wood fired bagels from Tastebud are ‘Montreal style,’ which means they’re smaller, denser and, I dare say, better! Just one more incentive to venture to Montreal. In the meantime, I’ll be getting my bagel on at Tastebud on the west coast when I’m in Portland.

The number of bakeries in the area must be close to a 1:1 ratio with artisan coffee roasters. There were so many at the market it was almost impossible to choose. This display by ’The Tart Lady’ dba Market Gourmet sucked me in. I walked away with two little pecan tarts that are sitting patiently in the fridge, waiting to be delivered to my folks.

And the fleur de sel chocolate chip and citrusy shortbread cookies by Two Tarts Bakery got devoured by newly devoted SF fans!

I watched the line swell at Pine State Biscuits.

Despite the incredibly enticing biscuits and a queue the length of which would potentially allow my hunger to percolate again, I knew that I just could…not…eat….one….more….thing!

**photo of Cathy Whims by Basil Childers for Portland Monthly magazine


I have a charming new neighbor named Frances. Most of us in San Francisco know about Frances, the sweet new restaurant of chef/owner Melissa Perello that opened a couple months ago to a massively warm welcome. I met Melissa a few years ago on a photo shoot at the tail end of her tenure as the executive chef at Fifth Floor. While I enjoyed dining at her occasional Monday night dinners at Sebo in the interim, I’m happy she’s returned to the kitchen full-time and is in her own, very personal space. And I’m even happier she put down roots in my ‘hood.

Evidence of just how personal Frances is can be seen in just about everything from its being named after her grandmother, to the wooden service boxes, cabinetry and tables crafted by her father…

…to the aprons designed by Melissa and sewn by her mother (and her mother’s friends…)

to the hand-sewn coasters that protect her dad’s gorgeous walnut tables.

The wine beakers are from Melissa’s personal collection and are a fun part of the wine program put together by wine director, Paul Einbund (his wife made the coasters!) Apparently Paul’s taken up Muay Thai Boxing (which he swears is not meant to be learned as an adult) and had a broken finger on my last visit. So I gave him a break and let him pour a beaker of his own Santa Barbara blend of grenache (50%), syrah and cab. It is mighty tasty and went really nicely with the meal. Had it not been a school night, I would have likely ventured a little further into the eclectic wine list.

Okay, enough suspense and on to the food. First off, love the manageable menu. On a weeknight when my brain power is usually spent by the end of the day, I appreciate a well-curated, simply stated menu. And Melissa’s dedication to sourcing from local producers garnered the attention of the American Farm to Table Restaurant Guide — a culinary website you should know about if you don’t already. It was started by a kindly gourmand chap named Maurice Graham Henry and aims to list the top farm to table restaurants around the country.

We started off with the applewood smoked bacon beignets (oh yeah!) and one of the highlights of my night, the perfectly crispy Panisse chickpea fritters. They were divinely silky inside — and dipped in a little Meyer lemon aioli, heaven!

Pickled currants, preserved lemon and winter squash were intriguing companions to grilled calimari and I was, admittedly, a little skeptical. I shouldn’t have been! It was fantastic. I love being surprised.

Trotters… okay, I’m not often a fan of trotters but these herbs fines and mustard seed seasoned pups were fab-u-lous. The pickled baby veggie garnish and chunky, tangy sauce gribiche elegantly rounded out the flavor/texture combo.

The gnocchi were pillowy (as in marshmallow pillowy), buttery, and the melange of green garlic, broccoli di ciccio and rapini was a refreshing, crunchy companion.

I really love a good bavette steak but am so often disappointed. THIS bavette from Lucky Dog Ranch was perhaps the most meltingly tender, flavourful bavette I’ve had. One’s gotta have frites with un steak, n’est ce pas? These spuds (Rose Finn Apples) had a nice lil’ kick from Aleppo chili and romesco. If only I had a bigger stomach…

I was stuffed by this point, but couldn’t resist the heavenly desserts. The citrus compote atop the buttermilk panna cotta was divine. The compote was made up of blood orange, cara cara, Meyer lemon and Bergamot… served with crisp, slightly salty shortbread cookies.

I realize this may be shocking to some, but I’m not a big fan of cake. I’m a huge fan of texture — especially contrasting textures — and tend to like my cake dense. This ‘Lumberjack’ cake is just my kind of cake! It’s chewy and has lil’ hunks of Medjool dates and D’Anjou pear. The mighty tasty maple-walnut ice cream from Humphry Slocombe usually sits on the plate with the cake but my dining companion is allergic to walnuts, so we played it safe and asked to have it on the side. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the all-around excellent service on both my visits!

So, if you can’t tell, I’m pretty smitten with my new neighbor and hope to visit as regularly as the heavily booked reservations allow. Fortunately, there are 10 spots at the wine bar available for neighbors, er, walk-ins. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

Sweet India

If there’s one thing I’ve found in my travels, every culture has its own unique love affair with sugar. Unlike the Western butter+sugar+flour formula, India expresses its affection with jaggery, nuts, seeds and milk.

In Maharashtrian cooking, jaggery is used in just about everything, savory or sweet. And once again, a sucker for packaging, I couldn’t resist the heart-shaped hunks of it available in the market.

In a dim corner stall of the market, two gents were bagging up what looked like golf-sized birdseed balls. I asked what they were packaging and a third gent appeared and led me around the corner, down a dark narrow corridor to two small rooms. The square mold in the foreground is a mixture of cashews, jaggery and sesame seeds that have been dumped from the pan (the one resting on the spare tire), into the mold and rolled flat to cool before cutting.

**Fortunately, these two were so eager to have their photo taken, they posed patiently while I tried to figure out how to capture them in the flourescent-tinged near dark.

The various types of jaggery are weighed in proportion, depending on the type of laddu being made.

This gent was sifting through huge sacks of sesame seeds.

These two spend their day forming each perfectly round, cardamom-scented ball of sesame seeds and jaggery by hand. They were unbelievably fast!

I went in search of my friends to come join in the discovery and we were all generously treated to these still-warm, caramel-y, chewy, nutty, cardamom-scented samplings of laddu. It’s just this kind of experience I live for in my travels!

Sandbox Bakery

I was away when Sandbox Bakery opened for business in Bernal Heights. I finally made it over this week to check out the goods and was compelled to interrupt my India missives to report so you can enjoy the treats at Sandbox sooner than later.

Mutsumi Takehara is the pastry-chef owner and she has made this pastry-loving camper very happy. On my first visit, Mutsumi-san took pity on me standing there, looking pathetically dejected at the locked door. I’d arrived past closing and explained I was going to a friend’s house for dinner and asked if I might possibly (pretty please) purchase the only items left in her case: French macarons. The macarons were so excellent — wonderfully intense flavor, just the right texture, not overly sweet — that I went right back a couple days later to see what else was on offer. It was on my second visit that I learned the macarons are the one item not made in-house. Fear not!

This time I found the cases brimming and the findings were all good! First of all, you won’t see any overly-inflated, super-sized offerings here. Sandbox pastries are the size the pastry gods intended them to be. There’s a mix of French, Japanese and American breakfast pastries –from croissants to kashi pans to morning buns — along with other sweets and a growing variety of savory offerings for the lunchtime crowd. Based on my experience so far, I recommend going early and often and preferably on foot, by bike or some other self-propelled method so you can indulge even more.

For those who want locally roasted coffee with their sweets, Ritual and De La Paz are served up daily. And for you Mission dwellers, if Bernal is a little too far out, you can also find a sampling of Sandbox Bakery goods at Nervous Dog Coffee.

On my most recent visit, these were the picks of the day: the super soft, heart-shaped kashi-pan bun with still-warm and gooey chocolate & banana filling; a variety of intensely flavored macarons by Christopher David that I dare say rival the best Paris has to offer (and I assure you, I’ve tried them all. If you don’t believe me, you can ask my friend who had no choice in the matter as I dragged him around Paris on a tasting frenzy); and, the divine apricot-mango oat bar — missing from this photograph because I ate it on the way home. A girl can resist only so much temptation!

Craving Chai

I woke up this morning with a wicked hankering for a good cup of chai.

Of all the chai walla’s I visited in India, this cat had it down! He was theatre to watch. I figured since I’m reliving the fantasy, I might as well share.

…crushing fresh ginger with the all-purpose kitchen gadget: pliers.

…tossing the ginger into the boiling tea leaves…

…adding the milk…

…giving it a stir…

…adding freshly ground spices (cardamom, clove, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns)…

(…stir some more…)

…add plenty of sugar and give it a vigorous last whirl…

…strain it…

et voilà! Best chai walla experience on the books. And then there’s my favorite home brewed experience…

I met this chap when I stopped in his village to ask if I might take a photo of his house. He was thrilled and invited me in for a cup of chai, as is the custom.

Whoa, this cup of chai blew my chappals off! Or, more accurately, melted me into a puddle of ‘ooh’ing and ‘aah’ing. Seriously, it was made with fresh goat’s milk and was the creamiest cup of warm, spicy goodness to ever cross my lips. I can still taste it, which, this morning, is going to have to suffice.

Wada what…??

I love, love, LOVE street food and had such a great time tasting my way around the scene in India. It’s one of my favorite parts of exploring new places. Thankfully, my stomach has the strength and stamina to handle my sense of adventure.

I was intrigued by the crowd at this vendor in the heart of the main food market in Pune and asked what the fuss was about. There were a few items in the offing but was encouraged by all in the vicinity to try the wada pav.

Wada pav are spiced potato patties coated in graham flour and lightly fried, served on a little bun and accompanied with pickled chilies (or chutney). At this locale, it’s served on swank, crisp magazine pages. My Indian friends had a good laugh when I told them about this latest of my food discoveries. It’s really considered nothing special at all….just a super-cheap, fast food. While it’s true it only cost 8 rupees (about $0.17), it was a food revelation for me.

My next discovery was kachi dabeli: buns (again) stuffed with masala spiced potatoes, pomegranate seeds and spicy peanuts, and served with delicious tamarind and coriander sauces and a chili oil. The stuffed bun is ‘sauteed’ with a little ghee…

…and then topped with freshly chopped onions, coriander, grated cheese and a squirt of ketchup for good measure. Soooo tasty!

Then there’s the world of panipuri. They are everywhere in Pune. These little crispy discs get filled with a mixture of spiced chickpeas and potatoes that are then dipped into a water/tamarind/chili sauce (in the silver pot below).

You pop ’em straight in your mouth and let the spices wash over your tongue. I was so thrilled with the discovery that even my trepidacious friend decided to give it a try. This panipuri walla was so pleased that we enjoyed his food so much, he wouldn’t take our rupees.

And of course, no afternoon would be complete without a little chai on the go.

Perfecting Pomegranates

I’ve been meandering through the markets of Maharashtra, India, and as my first dispatch from the subcontinent, I thought I’d start with my (ongoing) obsession with pomegranates. Here, the pomegranate walla carts are spectacular displays.

I was in awe of the perfect clusters, so I asked one especially nice chap for a demo.

And there you have it…

…perfect clusters! Plus, the sweetest pomegranates I’ve experienced to date.