Loading Dock Luncheon

The first day our lunch showed up at the studio in this packaging, I was hooked before I even took a bite. Packaging pushover, that’s me. AND it’s all compostable — extra points! So then I learn it’s Doug Monsalud (of the famed LRE Catering) and his crew that are behind the brainchild kitchenette. They’re rolling up the door at the loading dock and cranking out ‘spontaneous organic covert nourishment’ Monday through Friday from 11:30 to 1:30, or ‘whenever they run out’. This is definitely known to happen, so I recommend going on the early side.

The menu is simple and changes daily: a coupla sandwiches, salad(s), housemade chips and/or chicharrones, freshly baked cookies and some sort of seasonal drink like strawberry rhubarb refresher. You can check out the menu, posted daily, to get your salivary g’s in gear. kitchenette also serves up plenty of friendly neighborhood attitude and smiles which, I have to say, is counting for more and more in my book these days.

There’s nothing fancy about the digs; but if you’re staying, there’s bench space and lots of folk around you who also love good, simple, tasty fare, so you know you have at least that much in common.

This little sign is what to look for on Illinois St, just about in the middle of the block between 20th and 21st Streets, in Dogpatch.

To kitchenette, I think I can say on behalf of all of us who work in the vicinity of the American Can building, a big fat Thank You!!

Haute Coach

Innovations on the food scene spurred by the times are makin’ me smile from ear to ear. Laurent Katgely, chef/owner of Chez Spencer, now has the haute-est mobile menu around. He’s made a long-time desire come true with Spencer on the Go! In his converted taco truck, Laurent is bringing his Chez Spencer grub to the streets of SOMA.

When I visited Saturday night, the menu offered up everything from blue crab soup and lobster salad to frog leg curry and escargot lollipops. It was ALL scrumptious…

… including the tasty cookie nuggets from Sweet Construction sweetly displayed atop the lavender plants (a little bit of summer Provence ambience).

If you have the willpower to not dive into your food immediately, you can take your little box of delicacies across the road to Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and Bar where the boys will set you up with some nicely paired wine(s). Settle in and enjoy the good tunes, candle light and all-around great vibe. Terroir offers their wonderful collection of natural wines and is open every day of the week.

You can find Spencer on the Go! a few steps away on Thurs, Fri and Sat nights from 6 pm on. Chin chin et bon appetit!

PS – Soon you’ll also be able to find Laurent’s fine fare at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market on Tues and Thurs. Plus, he’s offering to take his truck to the locale of your choice for any special catering occasion you desire.

Stayin’ Local for the Holiday Weekend

After the fog moved my outdoor garden brunch with friends indoors, I was happy to bookend my day with the splash of garden colors in the mural adorning a space that is so refreshingly different from the ubiquitous wood table, wood chair, concrete floor uniform of SF eateries of late. Midi is fresh on the scene (just over two months) and welcome breath of fresh air. The interior feels urban and un-San Francisco, which made it feel like I was dining in a different city. The room is intimate, comfortable and sophisticated — like the Galleria Park Hotel decor that surrounds it, but different.

The oval plates (including the wee bread plate) are a refreshing change, and the crisp lines of the stemware and comfortable, contemporary cutlery are just right. I love the individual wine carafe — lets me linger over my one glass.

The bright, clean flavors are just my taste. I had the jumbo asparagus salad with paper-thin breakfast radishes and a perfectly delicate sauce gribiche. It was absolutely delicious — and asparagus is not an easy sell for me. It’s been at least a couple of years now, but after sorting, peeling, blanching and roasting 45 lb of asparagus for a tv spot, I never thought I’d want to eat it again.

To Chef Michelle Mah, I say a big huge, ‘Thank you!’ for combining a tangy watercress, raddish and picked onion salad with bleu cheese butter topped grilled hangar steak. Fantastic! And if you’re a die-hard who has to have frites with your steak, you can order ’em on the side.

Oh yeah! Don’t miss the caramel slurried, silky-smooth, chocolate pot de crème garnished with a quenelle of whipped crème fraîche. I happen to know one of the servers who confided she loves watching people go into a savor zone and shut out their dining companions. Chocolate isn’t what I typically order for dessert but my dining companion does. I must say, it was a memorable treat and worth a special trip.

Martini Anyone?

The next day I headed north to escape the frigid wind and fog, and found a bit of sunny poolside heaven up in Calistoga. At the end of the day, I sunk into a chair on the garden-surrounded patio of Martini House in St. Helena to enjoy the last vestiges of the day’s sunshine and warmth. I decided on the mushroom and spring vegetable tasting menu, which proved to be a terrific choice.

We started off with a ramp and green garlic vichyssoise, with sauteed morels, marinated potatoes and pickled ramps. The colors were beautiful and the little fried bits of green garlic add just the right crunchy texture.

Then came the saffron gnocchi with violet artichokes and olive oil braised King Trumpets in a mushroom glaze and crispy persillade.

The portobello ‘steak and frite’ with pan roasted fiddle head ferns and red wine butter sauce was a clever, fun and tasty play on the classic.

Even the dessert course was made using dried Candy Cap mushrooms which were steeped in cream to impart their maple syrup aroma. Two nights in a row, I found myself thoroughly enjoying desserts that wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice (note to self). This particular bread pudding was light enough to finish the meal. I do love maple and who can argue with currants and a maple sugar anglaise.

I have to admit that though I was really looking forward to dinner at Martini House, I was somewhat skeptical, fearing it’d gone the way of so many wine country restaurants whose menus have become stale and uninspired. I was happy to experience Chef Todd Humphries still keeping it fresh, delicious and lovely. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Los Mercados de Los Angeles

In the past several months, I’ve been the lucky recipient of two beautiful gifts from Mercado in Silverlake. It’s a different and unique kind of marketplace — one I was smitten with before I even stepped foot inside the door. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’m a sucker for packaging and the logo and these gorgeous boxes alone had me hooked.

Visiting in person only served to deepen my fondness for this haven of unique and beautiful wares that have been carefully selected by the owners, Chelsea Iovino and Michelle Weaver. These gals have found gorgeous, high-calibre wares and handcrafted pieces from near and far. Their perfect little Mercado is a beautifully curated collection of offerings from greeting cards and housewares to clothing and jewelry.

Of course, with my ever-keen eye for sweets, I spied the goods from Sugarbird Sweets. I’m a big passionfruit fiend and her marshmallows are tangy little pillows of fresh passionfruit.

I bought a couple of small gifts for friends (and something for myself, too!) I’m still contemplating a knockout necklace, the likes of which I’ve not seen before. I can only hope that if I do decide to purchase it, someone else hasn’t already snatched it up – like a certain celeb who was shopping at the store when I was there.

Hollywood Farmer’s Market

Going to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market is something of a tradition whenever I’m in LA on a Sunday. It’s always fun for me to break out of my regular farmer’s market routine to see and experience new and different offerings and vendors. I tend to be a curious person, so I enjoy getting to pester other vendors for a change.

Maybe I’ve skimmed right past these before, but limequats were new to me. I’m familiar with loquats and kumquats, but not limequats. I’m not sure why I didn’t buy any (I must’ve gotten distracted) but am now wishing I had. Next time…

I thought it was interesting berries were being sold in trio’s—by most vendors. Is this a regional thing? Anyhow, I kept getting a twinge of July 4th every time I passed one of the displays.

One of the changes I noticed on this visit was the expanded prepared food section. It’s grown even since my last visit just a few months ago. You can literally get almost any type of food you’re craving: from mac & cheese with a side of cornbread, roasted chicken and bar-b-que to curries, tamales and crepes. You name it. I was so psyched to discover the Thai sticky rice & banana, steamed in a banana leaf…for a buck! I felt like I was back in SE Asia (okay, there it’d be about 10 cents, but you get what I’m saying). That’s one thing LA and SF share in common, a rich ethnic diversity. And for me that’s a precious gift that never ceases to make me smile.

The little info card on Sugarbird Sweets I’d picked up at Mercado noted her goods were also available at Carmela Ice Cream at the Sunday market, so I had to check it out (more sugar!) I discovered Carmela has a tasty product, cute logo, eco-friendly packaging and a good story to back it all up. Turns out one of the owners is from the Bay Area, too.

In addition to using mostly local, organic and seasonal ingredients, Carmela offers a bargain on vanilla beans: $6 for two fresh Madagascar beans. The owners get a big break buying in bulk and generously decided to pass the savings along to their customers at the market. Carmela also sells vanilla sugar and cocoa nibs in smart, gift-ready little glass tube packaging.

Camino Royale

I’ve never seriously contemplated living in the East Bay, but for the first time I thought I could actually consider it if I were able to live around the corner from Camino.

For awhile now, I’ve been drawn to smaller dining venues, but the wide open space at Camino won me over with its stunning simplicity and the incredible attention to detail. Absolutely everything here is done with an artful eye, including the kitchen–which is open to the dining room.

Everywhere I looked–from the bar at the front to the kitchen at the back –there were large bowls and platters of gorgeous produce, beautifully arranged. To me, it was the best testament to the food I was about to be served, which was perfectly executed, simply and enticingly plated and phenomenally delicious. Honestly, after surveying the room and seeing the concise, brief and perfectly seasonal menu, they had me. That they had a cardoon salad, just punctuated my instant infatuation with an exclamation mark!

Then there’s this egg stand at the kitchen station which knocked me out.

The bread station was stylishly stacked on a lovely antique sideboard.

and came to the table on gorgeous wooden boards (extra points for the epis!)

Our entire group felt welcome and well cared for from beginning to end and found every member of the staff reflecting the same friendly and welcoming air as Allison, one of the owners, who was there and greeted us with a welcoming smile (and wonderful sense of humor).

Maybe Just One More…

Velvet da Vinci is, hands-down, the most brilliant jewelry/sculpture gallery I know. The owners, Elizabeth Shyppert and Mike Holmes, have been culling and curating their fantastic shows since before I lived around the corner from their original store in Hayes Valley (which was long before that strip of Hayes Valley was a tony address).

Being a lover of all things sweet, the donut & profiterole display in the window of the gallery caught my eye right away and made me smile outloud. So I walked in to see what else was in store for me and found a super-smart, fun show by artist Lynn Christiansen.

I found chess sets of Chocolate vs. Vanilla

and Good vs. Evil (it’s up to you to decide which side of the board – Fruits & Veggies vs. Sweets & Fries – is good and which is evil). Then there are the profiteroles on the wall, & truffle bracelets and brassieres adorned with ‘good’ and ‘evil’ –again, depending on your personal definition.

and huge donut bangles!

If you can relate to the artist’s statement (below) and you’re in San Francisco, the show is up through Sunday. Enjoy!

Food is my obsession. My heart races, all senses heightened as I stand in a bakery or chocolate shop enveloped by the sublime smells, the exquisite beauty of assorted truffles and pastries, the anticipation of the perfect cupcake. Pure joy!

Food is my obsession. My earliest and my most vivid memories are centered on food. A dropped ice cream cone, a butterscotch candy pulled from my grandfather’s pocket, the ultimate warm cinnamon bun. First comes the memory I can taste… the perfect chocolate cake … then comes the who, where and when.

Food is my obsession. Just one more … one too many.

Food is my obsession. I wear what I eat … both in my body and on my body. To be surrounded by truffles, pastries, ice cream … pure joy!

— Lynn Christiansen

LA-la Land

courtesy of Google Maps

I’m finally getting around to posting some bits from my whirlwind time in LA where I visited some old standby’s and discovered new ones. I can be a little cynical when it comes to LA, but somehow she continues to surprise me in new and exciting ways. For example, when I think of strip malls, I don’t typically equate them to good food. But in LA, some of my favorite eats are tucked away in these unlikely food meccas.


In a strip mall on Sunset Blvd in Silverlake, where the big Escrow office sign is the best landmark, I hit my favorite Vietnamese noodle joint, Pho Cafe. There’s definitely no website for this place and you won’t even find a sign apart from the numbers above the door at 2841 W Sunset Blvd. It’s a sleek, stylish, no nonsense interior with bright orange chairs and fab Italian light fixtures. There’s something fresh and inviting about the space.

I’ve not ventured beyond the pho into the pretty broad menu, so I can only vouch for the noodles and the Vietnamese coffee, which are both fab-u-lous-ly flavor packed and authentic. And it’s inexpensive, the way pho should be. So when you learn they only accept cash, you can know that 20-spot in your wallet will go a long way.

Viva La Cocina Mexicana

An LA food stylist friend of mine took me to one of her favorite spots in Long Beach (which is not LA proper, but is still LA county so counts in my book). It’s called Enrique’s and is in a strip mall on the corner of Pacific Coast Hwy and Loynes Dr., just down the road from where I grew up. I ordered the grilled fish tacos which were fresh and tasty. But the best thing Enrique’s serves isn’t listed on the menu. Lucky for me, I was with a local who knew to order the slow- braised pork shank bathed in a dreamy tomatillo cream sauce. As you can imagine, the dish is far from pretty but, seriously, it’s one of the most tender and flavorful hunks of braised pork I’ve ever tasted.

An added bonus to the strip mall location is an amenity I’ve learned to appreciate as a car-driving San Franciscan: ample, easy and free parking.

Chez Mes Amis & Berolina Bakery

I was one lucky gal on this crazy trip that had me staying with a few different generous friends and driving to the far reaches of LA for work each day (seriously, for those who know LA, I was trekking from South Pasadena to Malibu to Palos Verdes). The first night, I was treated to fantastic, home-cooked Japanese food whipped up by my most fabulous fashionista/foodie/all-around creative and in-the-know friend from way back in my undergrad days at UCLA. It’s fitting she and I met at a dinner party as we’ve continued to share good food together over the years, and she never ceases to inspire me with her creativity in the kitchen.

The next night, I was treated to another incredible dinner by the most extraordinary stay-at-home dad I know who is also a fantastic and creative cook. He fed us a luscious feast at this beautiful table in his and his wife’s gorgeous home. Not only does this couple have phenomenal taste, their home is blissfully free of visual clutter. And they have two young kids. I don’t know how they do it!

My friend, the cook of fab Japanese Dinner #1, came over to join us for fab Dinner #2 and brought a berry almond cake from a quaint little European bakery in Glendale that reminds me of the one my mother used to frequent when I was a kid. The almond cake from Berolina Bakery was a luscious, flavorful torte with a velvety texture. Mmmm! The next morning, my friends and I had it with our morning tea at the crack of dawn as they were getting their kids ready for school and I was preparing to head out into the perils of LA traffic. Who needs coffee when you can start the day with sugar!