Getting Local

When I’m in NY, I make sure to hit Local in Soho (on Sullivan between Houston & Prince). It’s just a couple doors down from my sis’s place, so it’s not hard to do. The owners, Craig and Elizabeth, have lived in the hood for a long while and have seen the myriad changes over the past couple decades. These two clearly knew just what the neighborhood needed, as it’s become a favorite hangout of, well, locals.

The menu is fresh, seasonal and consistently tasty with plenty of breakfast, lunch and snack options to satisfy sweet or savory hankerings. Their own unique (and fully Fair Trade) coffee blends are available to purchase so you can have your brew at home, too.

I was pretty smitten already but my bond with Local was solidified earlier this year when I walked in to find the fab photo essay ‘Obama’s People’ by Nadav Kander — published in the NY Times Magazine — framed and hung along the length of the one once-empty wall.

Next to the Local canvas tote bags for sale, there was even a laminated copy of the narrative for each of the portraits in the series – for anyone who hadn’t yet had a chance to take a gander. Not all of the politically conservative old-timers in the hood were as thrilled to see the photo essay as I was…

It’s a teeny joint with an open, welcoming, laid-back vibe and is entirely conducive to bumping into neighbors and other regulars. It’s one of those places that makes me feel at home even when I’m away. That goes for the delish, local food, too — including the breads from Grandaisy Bakery down the street.

Local 123 – Berkeley

Just a few months ago, I was hunting and gathering for work over in Berkeley and stumbled upon Local 123.

Local 123 was named after a union headquarters that used to occupy the space and the owners, Frieda and Katy, have created a really comfortable spot both inside…

…and out back. Since I am often in search of warmer pastures in the summertime (which Berkeley usually provides) the outdoor patio’s been duly noted!

Local 123 is known for their housemade shortbread cookies, with versions in rosemary and cardamom. I’m especially partial to the cardamom as it’s one of my all-time favorite spices. And they serve up Flying Goat Coffee from Healdsburg to go with those fab shortbread cookies or any of the other carefully crafted menu choices that strike your fancy. Be sure to take notice of the groovy light fixtures that were created by a local artisan.

It’s nice to know that whether I’m traveling to the E. Coast or just across the bridge to the East Bay, there’s a local spot I can tuck into to ground, regroup, refuel and feel right at home. Maybe I’ll see you there one day!

Ode to Eloise

I just learned that the lovely Restaurant Eloise in Sebastopol closed on Nov 29. I only had the pleasure of dining there once for a family celebration. We were all smitten with every aspect — it was so elegant and yet down to earth.

I regret not posting this delicious memory sooner. Here’s my ode to the lovely Eloise:

Perfectly spicy, marinated Monterey Bay sardines with diced avocado, scallion and black sesame.

These clams were a bowl of spicy deliciousness.

Pillowy, ricotta & Swiss chard gnocchi with sage brown butter that just melted in my mouth.

A refreshing escarole salad with walnuts, red onion and shaved pecorino.

To finish, a perfectly soft vanilla panna cotta with the sweetest strawberries and a sprinkling of candied orange peel.

Should the super-talented chef/owners, Eric Korsh & Genevra Iverson, open another place anywhere near as delightful as Eloise, I will be sure to hustle on over and report back tout de suite!

Thank you to everyone at Restaurant Eloise for the delectable food and fond memories.

Top Turkey, Vegas Style

Last week, work took me to the Encore resort in Las Vegas for the ‘Top Turkey’ showdown: a cooking competition taped in front of a live audience for the Regis and Kelly show airing the day after Thanksgiving. The challenge for the competitors was to create two dishes using Thanksgiving leftovers. The kicker was a 25 minute time limit. Anyone who has watched a quickfire challenge on Top Chef knows that’s precious little time for just one dish, let alone two. But these are serious competitors: Paul Bartolotta, Alex Stratta and Hubert Keller — three phenomenal chefs hungry for this prized trophy and the prestigious title of Top Turkey.

Backstage in Turkey Battleground, Chef Paul Bartolotta cracked open the top-shelf secret ingredient in his tasty turkey cakes: lite beer.

Chef Alex Stratta made fresh pasta for his pumpkin ravioli dish….

And Chef Hubert Keller whipped up fancy pumpkin pie milkshakes and a turkey cappucino.

I snuck down to the audience to watch the judging portion of the show. Regis pretty much left the tasting to Kelly, who — tiny, hyper-fit gal that she is — didn’t have nearly enough time to relish the dishes as much as she would’ve liked. The three audience members cum guest judges seemed to find the experience a little, well, overwhelming. However, they pulled through and in the end, the scoring was VERY close.

Ultimately, Chef Alex Stratta reigned supreme. As Top Turkey, he gets to proudly place that regal, one-of-a-kind trophy on the mantel among his collection of Michelin stars and James Beard awards. Truly a proud moment for Chef Stratta, to be sure.

As for my part, it was a blast working with the chefs and all the Regis & Kelly posse. I must confess that until I started working in Las Vegas, it was not a town I frequented. These days, I look forward to the royal treatment: gorgeous resort room, amazing meals (including the in-room dining – thanks, James!), reserved tables at clubs, chauffeured grocery shopping and wonderful staff make for a very enjoyable work gig indeed!

Ad Hoc – Bringin’ it Home

If you have a birthday coming up or are already starting your holiday wish list, I highly recommend adding Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller to your list. I’ve had some seriously great grub at Ad Hoc the past two years. It’s a style of cooking I’ve dubbed ‘haute comfort’ – meaning, comfort food done super-clean — and stylishly plated, of course!

Just to be clear and give credit where it’s due, the gorgeous food photos in this post are reproduced from the book and are the work of the amazing Deborah Jones who has photographed all of TK’s cookbooks.

With the change in weather (called ‘seasons’ in other parts of the country) and my hungry posse coming over for Sunday supper, comfort food was calling. I dove into Ad Hoc at Home for inspiration and emerged with this incredibly delicious, succulent pork roast stuffed with a fig balsamic jam. I served it with a delicata squash/sweet potato/wild chanterelle hash inspired by a dish made at a competition I judged the week prior (that post is in the queue…)

A pastry chef friend tried out the brownie recipe and had to seriously negotiate with her husband to share one (yes, one) with me. Fortunately for me, she won. After devouring it, I understood why he didn’t want to let it go: it very well may be the best brownie I’ve ever had.

If after making the recipe yourself, you think you have a better brownie recipe, please feel free to bake a batch and send ’em my way! I’ll be happy to offer my opinion.

Royal Par/T

This past weekend, I was down in LA celebrating a slew of friends’ birthdays. One afternoon included venturing to a Culver City I’d not known before: design stores, art galleries, good eats and French Maid-clad waitresses. Yep, that’s right. Apparently, French Maid cafes are a trend in parts of Tokyo. So in the spirit of the Japanese-inspired cafe/gallery/shop Royal/T, owner & art collector, Sue Hancock, provides kawaii and pop eye-candy all around.

From a gallery space that is home to a noodle-skirted, dumpling-winged sushi chicken

and eyeball bedecked tea accoutrements…

to a shop filled with all kinds of novelty items, including food coloring books (had to get one) and heart-shaped egg molds…

to the cafe space where the plants on the back wall of the cafe are grown in felt pouches made from recycled plastic bottles by Woolly Pocket Garden Company

to the super-delicious Kobe beef sliders on brioche buns, topped three ways: bleu with caramelized onion, quail egg up & tomato chutney. The menu offers a nice selection and the tempting cupcakes were very popular at tables all around us.

Loved everything about Royal/T. It’s just the kind of place I’d want to throw a royal party.

In the Moment

So, it turns out, my first experience working with Saveur magazine is not as a food stylist, but as a photographer of sorts. I was working on an Italian cookbook a few months ago with the wonderful and true professional photographer on the project, Sara Remington. We decided the best way to shoot the fresh pasta would be overhead, but didn’t have a ladder handy.

Sara’s a hard core rock climber, so she just hopped up on a chair and balanced herself on the door handle. I was guest blogging for 7×7 magazine at the time, so it seemed like a great photo op. Little did I know a candid shot of Sara, taken with my dinky point n’ shoot, would be my first ‘professional’ photo credit.

How the shot ended up in Saveur goes something like this: the lovely and talented food writer on the book, Janet Fletcher, sees the photo in my 7×7 blog entry and forwards it to James Oseland at Saveur, who sends it to the photo editor, Paul Love, who tracks me down, et voilá!