Bohemian Bourgeois

I’ve been fantasizing about this wonderful West Village, NYC restaurant I discovered last summer called Bobo. The name is short for ‘Bourgeois Bohemian’– a term that definitely describes the aesthetic of the space. There’s lots of exposed brick, long curtains, antique chandeliers, books, candles and knickknacks tucked around the room.

And the outdoor patio stole my heart. Dining outside on a warm balmy eve is one of my favorite ways to cap off a long day, NYC or anywhere.

Sitting down to this bright, fresh asparagus and crab amuse, I knew I was in for a great meal.

I still think about this salad of frisee, celeriac, watermelon radishes, avocado and crispy shallots drizzled with balsamic reduction. It was just the right balance of flavors and textures.

And this ahi was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

I’m a sucker for mason jars and couldn’t help smiling when this one landed on the table filled with sugar for our coffee. It’s not only cute but smart (I’m also a sucker for smart!)

So many chocolate cakes fall short, but this one was spot on: chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate mousse, topped with salted caramel and a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream with a shard of toffee. Yum!

Okay…well, that was fun to relive out loud. I think if I were in NY right now, I’d be hailing a cab. Next year!

**top photo by Noah Sheldon for NY Magazine

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.

Having Your Cake and a Tea Towel, Too

My super-talented friend Christina Weber just launched her fabulous new line of tea towels and aprons at Studiopatró. I’ve been eagerly awaiting their debut and am so excited they’ve arrived in time for (forgive me) the holidays!

I love that there’s a whole page dedicated to alternative ideas on how to employ these beautiful pieces of handmade, utilitarian art — other than the obvious, that is. And you’re invited and encouraged to share any other clever ideas you dream up through the Studiopatró blog.

Not only are the aprons smart and tea towels gorgeous and versatile, you can know that they are made by a local team of designer, screeners and sewers who share a passion for creating stylish, high-quality, durable products. I can’t wait to get some!

**I pilfered all these gorgeous photos from the Studiopatró site, taken by the awesome, always energetic and über-talented Wendi Nordeck. All rights reserved © nordeck photography

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!

Eat Real

This is the logo on my new favorite t-shirt. Wow, what an amazing day! Today in Oakland at the Eat Real Festival, I ran into old friends doin’ what they love to do–some were cooking and some, like moi, were eating. If you were there or following any of the vendor tweets, you know it was a gratifying experience on both sides of the fest. Okay, there are lots of pics, so get ready to drool…

I dig the new Ritual Roasters retro trailer. It takes me back to the days of family road trips to Baja. My friends and I jump started our day with a cuppa delicious, fruity drip from Guatemala. Then, on to the grub.

If you like your falafel with a nice crispy crunch, cheerful smile and a whole lotta Liba, Gail’s the girl to find about town. She’s new on the scene and with her stylish aprons and infectious enthusiasm will surely win you over.

After many trials and tribulations, spunky Julia Yoon’s got her killer Korean BBQ tacos goin’ on at Seoul On Wheels. Today there were three to choose from; but seriously,the pork was a no brainer — it’s Korean! And really darn good.

I learned the term ‘appropriate technology’ during my Peace Corps stint in Africa and this is a fun application of the concept by Soul Cocina: the human-powered blender. Dig it.

I was first introduced to the wonderful world of padron peppers by my bud Cory Obenaur at Blue Plate. They’re typically sweet and mild, though beware of the occasional kicker. The padrons from Localicious were skillet-seared with olive oil and sea salt. Delicioso!

What would a food festival be without a little activism and petitioning…

Pretty pictures grab my attention every time. These tasty little ginger ‘sconelette’ morsels by Kleine are available online. AND…

…not just through their own site but through a food website I just learned about today: Foodzie, where I’m sure you’ll see some of your current fav’s along with new temptations. It just never ends.

For all of the expectant and new moms out there, this one’s for you: Little Bug Baby. I can’t attest to the taste, but you know me, I’m a sucker for packaging.

Who knew the pickle folks at Happy Girl Kitchen made refreshingly not-too-sweet lemonade?

I grinned big at this vanity plate, growth demo [two to eight weeks, left to right] and handwritten sign nearby with the proper pronunciation: ‘on-DEEV’

I think the thing that struck me most today about the fest, was the genuine love of making and sharing food by the majority of vendors. A perfect example of this was the impromptu collaboration of Elgin Espiritu, sous-chef at Orson, his lovely and talented wife June Lee, Tim Luym, original owner/chef of Poleng Lounge and Chef Kris from Luce to create Buta (translation from Japanese: pig). In the photo above, June Lee and Elgin Espiritu are gettin’ ready to ramen.

I wish these kids would play together more often. Their ramen is phenomenal! The cold [left] with yuba, corn, hearts of palm, garden fresh tomatoes and stellar dumplings was a perfect summer medley. The hot [right] with two types of handmade fishcakes, pork belly & kimchee was all happyness for my tastebuds.

All that rich, satisfying flavor required a little sugar interlude and Sweetface Bakery came to the rescue. A couple bites of the not sweet, moist cocoa cupcake with the super-sweet carmel frosting blended nicely for a wee sugar fix and palate cleanser.

One of the day’s highlights for this corn lovin’ gal was the fresh corn empanada by El Porteño. I haven’t made it yet to Argentina, but if the light buttery crust is a traditional trait, I’m gonna have to travel there with stretch fabric, elastic waistband garments.

The last glorious stop of the day was Pizza Politana. If you haven’t yet had this perfectly salty, crispy crusted, wood oven baked pizza made with farm-fresh toppings, you need to make a haj to their mobile brick oven stat.