Isa – Bklyn

I think you’ve gotta love a place that has a colorful, stitched together, hand-crocheted caftan weather curtain to greet you upon entering from the chilly out of doors.

Even if that’s not your thing, I can just about guarantee the food at Isa will be — the interior too, with spectacular wood working by Taavo Somer.

Isa is a breath of fresh air. Great style. No pretension. Gorgeous plating. Beautiful flavor combos. Perfect execution. Terrific service. I can’t wait to go back.

Killer cocktails. Celray Cup (left): vodka, Chartreuse, celery soda, black pepper. Looking Glass (right): rum, Amaro, ginger beer, molasses.

Bread made in-house, yes! Seeded rye and sour levain. Sweet butter with toasted caraway seed, sea salt and a touch of pepper.

Brussels sprouts (chilled) with yolk, potato and malt.

Mackerel filet with carrots, radish, cilantro and ‘eggmulsion’.

Hanger steak, rutabega (nice), orange wine, leaves, marrow.

Intermezzo: sorrel ice cream, powdered coconut, toasted genmaicha.

Dessert 1: Celeriac, espresso, malt, orange.

Dessert 2: Grapefruit curd, matcha, pistachio.

That was one seriously inspired and inspiring meal.

NY Feast

It’s been much too long, I know. I’m back and full of inspiration (and countless calories) from the phenomenal food I’ve been relishing at these incredible venues. In 2012, it’s going to be more photos, fewer words — cuz really, that’s what you want. Right?

Okay. You ready? Let’s go!

Boulud Sud, across from Lincoln Center, lovely environs and superb food & service.

Mediterranean delectables categorized in 3 parts: Sea, Garden and Farm

Grapefruit Givré by pastry chef extraordinaire, Ghaya Oliviera: sesame halva, rose loukoum, grapefruit sorbet and fresh grapefruit

Red Rooster in Harlem. American, down home comfort food.

Gospel serenade + jerk bacon & eggs = perfect Sunday brunch.

Cheddar cheese grits with balsamic. Never want ’em any other way now!

Caramel filled devils food cupcake with pretzels.

The Farm on Adderley in Ditmus (Brooklyn) is a farm-to-table neighborhood gem.


House-made ricotta with shaved carrots.

Shaved brussels sprouts with parm.

Pork meatballs with roasted parsnips, chard and hazelnuts.

Almond, brown butter cake with quince compote and vanilla i.c.

Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria in Noho (sister to Il Buco) is like eating in Italy.

Fresh ricotta, favas, anchovies, olive oil.

Perfectly fried baby artichoke hearts (best I’ve had outside of Rome).

Raw veggies & bagna cauda (garlic, anchovies, olive oil, salt).

Fresh pasta chitarra with ramps, fresh chiles and parm.

Tender, juicy porchetta.

Blood orange almond cake with amaretto ice cream. Chocolate budino with chocolate wafers.

Peels in Noho is Southern comfort food — brought to you by the folks behind Freemans.

Monkey bread with sweetened marscapone.

‘Build a Biscuit’ of your choice. Mine: egg, avocado, bacon on a buttermilk biscuit.

S’mores cupcakes.

Buvette ‘gastroteque’ in the West Village is worth the inevitable wait.

Yep, that’s a pop-up in the menu. Wait til you see the wine list.

Gorgeous artichokes, peppers & olives. And that not so pretty lump in back is a pesto di parma (prosciutto, parm & sage) tartinette — she defies her looks!

Coq au vin.

Leeks with vinaigrette.

The tarte tatin that stole my heart.

The Bar Room at The Modern, next to MOMA (post Cindy Sherman & Atget exhibits).

Tarte Flambée (Alsatian flatbread) with hen of the woods mushrooms, chive and Alsatian Münster cheese + red endive and arugula salad with bosc pear, pomegranate, ricotta salata & pumpkin-pistachio vinaigrette.

The Lambs Club bar in Midtown, is a gorgeous Art Deco lounge.

Blistered piquillo peppers and shrimp cocktail & my new favorite cocktail, the St. Hilaire (cava, St. Germain & lemon)

Mile End, artisan Jewish delicatessen, in Boreum Hill (Brooklyn). A total gem.

Artisinal everything.

Smoked lamb sausage with harissa-spiced slaw. ‘Grandpa’ smoked turkey w/ turkey rillettes and pickles on rye. Heaven.

Cookies: almond lemon, Mandel Brodt (biscotti), coconut macaroon w/ Stumptown coffee.


Eat+Drink+Bid for Good

This past year I started a non-profit project to build a pre-school and elementary school in a rural village where I lived and worked Mali, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. To say it’s been been a crazy year, running a non-profit in my ‘free’ time, feels like a bit of an understatement.

But on October 3rd, the school opened and the first classes began — with 91 first graders enrolled! It was a thrilling moment to witness and I am immensely grateful for the incredible generosity of the community of people from all aspects of my life who have come together to help make it happen.

On Sunday, November 6 from 4-6 pm, we are celebrating the opening of the school and raising further funds to install a clean water pump and establish a scholarship program.

We were fortunate to have a group of Bay Area teens come help us construct the school. They are incredible youth who participate in the buildOn afterschool program. Some of them will be at the event where you can talk to them about their experience and how a short two weeks in the village have had a significant impact on their lives.

Mali Kalanso is offering advanced online bidding on a number of auction items from our upcoming event Eat+Drink+Bid for Good, plus some items that are only available online — like a ton of great cookbooks, some of them signed by the authors.

A few unique experiences are being offered exclusively through the auction for supporters of Mali Kalanso:

FourBarrel Coffee — cupping, brewing workshop and roastery tour for 10 people
Mission Beach Cafe — pie baking class with Pastry Chef Alan Carter for 4 people
Pizza Politana — pizza-making party & wood fire cooking for up to 12 people
Poco Dolce — holiday production tour, tasting and chocolate treats for 4 people

And yours truly will be teaching a food styling workshop for the home cook that will be held in this gorgeous space provided by Cookhouse.

I want to give a big shout out to the incredible community of fine folks who have generously donated to the event thus far:

yam’Tcha Paris

Last week I had the great fortune to dine at yam’Tcha in Paris, a hidden treasure, tucked away on a tiny side street between Les Halles and the Louvre . I silently thank my gracious [and persuasive] Parisian friend daily for getting us a table on a cancellation.

Not only did we get in to this 20 seat gem [the typically wait is two months], we got the best seats in the house: the kitchen table.

Watching Chef Adeline Grattard and her crew create her Cantonese inspired dishes in the tiny space was an incredible pleasure. For me, the deft, practiced efficiency of a kitchen like this is a thing of beauty.

Being served this soft, rich oolong just after being seated, I knew I was in for a really good ride. To go along with the meal, guests can choose a wine pairing, tea pairing or combination of the two. I went the combo tea and wine route, because I just want to experience it all.

No less enticing was this amuse of slivered beans, wok seared tofu and sesame just layered with bright, crisp ginger and citrus.

The barely seared, marinated tuna belly atop a perfectly citrusy melange of miniature Mexican cucumbers, chanterelles, radish, cherry tomatoes and mussels was a gorgeous combination of flavors and textures. And the pork fat scented, steamed buns just melted in the mouth.

This dish is a revelation for me: blanched celeriac slaw topped with perfectly seared scallops. Hiding there under the foam is citrus roe and a sprinkling of salt. [Note: those are not the same buns — the first round had already been devoured!]

The morue fillet was flash basted with wok oil and served atop dry sauteed shrimp and delicately spiced blackbean braised cabbage.

The wines were divine: a Coume del Mas from the Collioure region (near the border with Spain), a crisp chardonnay from the Jura region (near Switzerland), and a Christophe Abbet rouge with lots of character from the Valais region in Switzerland.


This is the most deeply umami (and as my dining companion accurately phrased it: masculine) dish I think I’ve ever eaten. Smoky, marinated sweetbreads atop a rich mixture of chanterelles and cherry tomatoes, draped with paper-thin, smoked Ibérican pork belly.

The cheese course is the only patently ‘French’ part of the meal. The mild, luscious cheese is made by the monks at St. Nicolas abbey in Cîteaux from their own herd.

Dessert was a perfect marriage of the chef’s French and Cantonese allegiances: fresh mango, raspberry and passion fruit with lightly sweetened fromage frais, topped with a raw sugar tuile.

Dessert was paired with a delicate, sweet jasmine tea — balancing out the tart passion fruit and citrus. Like everything throughout the meal, on its own, the tea was wonderful: as a partner to the dessert, it enhanced the other component and was in turn enhanced by the food. The whole of the evening was just phenomenal. Merci beaucoup!

Brassica Napa Valley

Lucky me, I was invited this past week to the friends and family tasting at Cindy Pawlcyn’s new restaurant Brassica in St. Helena.

It’s in the former ‘Go Fish’ location, with a little bit of interior restyling and the same wonderful outdoor patio for those fabulously warm days and balmy nights in the Napa Valley.

They’re also doing something new and brilliant with the wine program: Brassica’s offering the entire wine list — which includes a dozen small producers without tasting rooms — by the glass *and* in 2 oz pours so you can pair each and taste a broad range of different wines. See what I mean? Brilliant!

The menu is truly inspired and encompasses flavors from all areas of the Mediterranean– Southern Europe, N. Africa and the Middle East. Everything from the kitchen is made with tremendous care…even the ceramic salt cellars and olive dishes were made by Cindy herself [because she clearly didn’t have enough to do in opening a new restaurant].

We started off the meal with the lightest, fluffiest, creamiest hummus I’ve ever had — almost the texture of a mousse, but with substance (if that seeming contradiction makes any sense). The fava bean ful in the center, perfectly cooked farm egg and freshly made pita bread right off the grill just elevated the it to a whole other level.

I love haloumi cheese and was so excited to see it on the menu. This amazing fresh haloumi seasoned with oregano, chili and garlic was heavenly. In addition to the little cast iron skillet being a sweet presentation, it kept the cheese perfectly warm and tender.

If you like a good fruit/cured pork combo like I do [think bacon-wrapped date], these delicious salty/sweet pancetta-wrapped and roasted Colavolpe figs are right up your alley.

For all you shrimp fans, these wild shrimp with espelette and plenty of garlic are so flavorful and tender, they just melt in your mouth.

Okay, I’ve had eggplant fries before but I have to say that previous encounters were nothing — and I really mean ‘nothing’ — like these light as air, za’atar seasoned strips of satisfaction. The spiced yogurt dipping sauce is bright and the perfect companion.

I must confess that I am not generally a sardine fan. However, my dining companion adores them and I like to share and taste, so was game to try. The verdict from this non-oily fish loving girl: the crunchy skin and rich flavor of the fish combined with the tang of the mustard vinaigrette on the bitter greens salad was just the right balance and I liked it so much, I just might order it on my own next time. Swear!

Despite having an already full belly, I called on my dessert stomach to come to the game and was so happy it was able to rally. This lemon, ricotta cake made with ground pinenuts was divine — great texture, light and lots of lemony goodness.

These spiced, poached figs in orange blossom sauce with vanilla ice cream and a date and honey stuffed phyllo ‘cigar’ were rich with flavor, not too sweet and a wonderfully satisfying end to the meal.

There’s so much more I had the desire yet no physical capacity to try: leek and pancetta risotto with friend egg, coriander & thyme braised rabbit with pappardelle, Turkish lamb with fig & onion yahni, and, and, and….I guess that just means I’ll have to return a few more times with more friends in tow so to taste it all.

Dogpatch Days of Summer

There’s so much exciting change afoot in Dogpatch lately, with even more to come. There’s a fantastic new wine shop called Dig, which is just next to the new Piccino location [well, there’s actually a new MAC (Modern Appealing Clothing) shop separating the two….details, details].

I do love our local wines, but sometimes I crave a French or Italian style with a lower alcohol content so I can sip the evening (or afternoon) away without getting blotto. Dig has a fantastic collection of exclusively French and Italian vino, and Wayne, the owner offers expert guidance to whatever suits your taste and pocketbook.

The Piccino move brought with it a bigger, brighter, more expansive coffee shop space where you can enjoy some superb Sight Glass java…

and one (or more…who’s counting?!) delectable baked treats.

Just down the street and around the corner, you can find where San Francisco is now the proud recipient of it’s new French butcher shop. So if you have a hankering for one of your favorite French cuts, go see Olivier.

The man is serious about his profession.

And the cuts are gorgeous.

There was a little micro-hood event put on recently by the Bold Italic and we got a little slider taste of Olivier goods off the BBQ. The housemade, baguette-nestled merguez sausage I devoured was spicy divine.

Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars is dedicated to filling and corking all of his wines by hand and hosts the occasional barrel tapping where you can walk away with one of these fabulously stylish jugs — filled, of course.

The night of the event, we got to sample just about everything in the current portfolio for a very modest tasting fee of five bucks. Nice.

I’ve already raved about Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous in a prior post, so I’ll spare you the repeat. I stand by my claim that this is some of the best ice cream in the city and decidedly the best housemade cones. And it’s definitely the sunniest spot you’ll wait on line.

Now, the gals at Poco Dolce are among my chocolate heroines. Just when I’ve gotten addicted to their latest chocolate ’tile’, they throw yet another flavor combo ditty into the mix. Sesame toffee you say? Uh, yeah!! I mean, ‘yes please’.

It may not look like it with them working away, filling orders at their desks, but their store front on 3rd Street, really is a retail shop, too. Don’t just peer in the windows, pop on in and start your own addiction.

Acupuncture Kitchen is not only a the most stylish environs to get your needles on, but the owner also makes some killer chocolates, specially formulated for her patients [it’s pretty hard to argue with a LAc who prescribes chocolate]. And for the recent micro-hood event, the ‘kitchen’ mixed up some mighty tasty herbal elixers for folks to sip while enjoying a webisode on coffee, a cowgirl foot massage by the fabulous Nell Waters — resident massage therapist– and/or the newly offered, old-school barber shop services by master barber Ruben Padilla for the gents.

These are just some of the latest & greatest destinations in Dogpatch with more coming soon — like a branch of Magnolia Brewery and the new savory cafe project [in the former Piccino space] by Jacky & Michael Recchiuti whose chocolate workshop was one of the original artisan production houses to move into the area nearly 15 years ago. So what I’m sayin’ is, if you live in SF, I suggest you come enjoy it all while the crowds are small. Cuz soon, the ‘hood is gonna be the dubbed the next ‘gourmet ghetto’ and you know what that means.

Sage Provisions

Have you ever found yourself near the junction of Arnold Drive and Carneros Hwy, on the border of Sonoma and Napa valleys, unable to make a decision which wines to explore cuz your belly is rumbling?

Next time, you just might want to stop in to grab a bite at Sage Fine Food & Provisions in the heart of Cornerstone (that place with the big, exaggerated, undulating white picket fence).

They’ve got something for just about everyone [in case you have a car full of disparate palates]. In my many varied and numerous samplings over time, it’s been consistently fresh, flavorful and satisfying.

Everything from gorgeous beet and greek salads

to Italian roasted chicken

to marinated grilled veggies

to noodles

and a wide variety of sweet treats. **Tip for chocoholics dining al fresco: If it’s one of those gloriously heat-filled wine country days and you have a hankering to try their chocolate truffles, enjoy the truffles as a first course, before the sun gets ’em [this tip comes to you courtesy of personal experience].

There’s also indoor seating with abundant a/c for those not seeking to defrost themselves from the chill of San Francisco’s summer.

Nojo to Table

There’s a new little taste of Japan in SF called Nojo. Nojo means ‘farm’ in Japanese, so you’ll find farm to table fare served yakitori and izakaya style — and a list of the nojos supplying the goods on the daily menu. For chef/owner Greg Dunmore [former Exec Chef of Ame], the deciding inspiration for Nojo was a visit to a yakitori bar in Osaka. Lucky us, we now have a sweet spot in Hayes Valley to sip sake and beer while enjoying some great bites and really nice hospitality.

The choices are plentiful and it was not easy to decide, but we started at the top with the simple, bright flavors of Spring tsukemono — pickled daikon, cucumber and curried cauliflower.

There are lots of options ‘on a stick’ and the tsukune (basically a chicken meatball cooked yakitori style) with egg yolk sauce was savory delicious.

This juicy chicken breast on a stick was topped with fresh wasabi leaves and rested on a dollop of freshly mashed avocado.

Okay: almond pork rice ball with miso mustard. Need I say more?

Loved the crisp and light tempura of Maitake mushrooms, Meyer lemon slices & Blue Lake beans with spicy ponzu mayo. Meyer lemon slices? Oh yeah!

I’ll try pretty much anything made with umeboshi (pickled sour plums). This handmade umeboshi somen, topped with uni and fresh shiso leaves, was incredibly delicate.

The tender tonkatsu (fried pork) comes with a fresh salad full of shaved daikon, sweet cherries and roasted almonds.

It was a tough call choosing ‘dezaato’ (the charmingly Japanified word for dessert). All in the offing are creative and intriguing, and the vote this particular eve went to the buckwheat crêpes with ginger muscavado syrup, plumcots and white miso ice cream. It was an excellent choice and stellar finish to a really enjoyable meal.

Anyone in for a repeat?

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.