Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

Category: Food (page 3 of 4)

June 25, 2015 Taco Maria




I know it looks like a work of art, perhaps reminiscent of a Richard Diebenkorn. The sign like everything else that is composed at this unusual restaurant in Costa Mesa, California is elegant, artistic, and enough to turn the taste buds upside down. Two years ago, my partner and I had gone to Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning at the OC Mix, a collection of locally owned boutiques and specialty food spots in my hometown of Costa Mesa. A ring of food trucks surrounded an end of the market. Hungry, I decided to check out the trucks for some lunch. After reading over the menu at Taco Maria, I ordered the shitake mushrooms, walked over to a table, laid down my meal and began to munch. My palate began to dance in the stars as I enjoyed the best tacos I had ever had. At the time, I did not know who was in the tiny truck kitchen or why, I just had to go back to Taco Maria every time I was in the OC. A few months after that initial meal, I arrived to hear that the truck had closed. Carlos Salgado, the chef, was going brick and mortar. I languished for several months until he opened


Talk about a native son (Salgado grew up in nearby Orange) doing well, Carlos is getting hooplas from every part of the food world. Los Angeles based Jonathan Gold, the only food writer to have received the Pulitzer Prize for food writing, has put Taco Maria on his top 100 this year (for Los Angeles, no less). Food and Wine recently selected him as one of the top ten best new chefs in the US. The announcement will be in the July issue.





Brad Johnson of the OC Register says that, “Taco Maria is one of the most sophisticated restaurants to open in Orange County in years…has turned fine dining on its head.” He also claims that, in a word, it is a restaurant not only important to California, but to the Americas. Move over Mexico City.


The thing is, Salgado does not serve traditional style dishes associated with Mexican cuisine: burritos, enchiladas, tamales. Raised by the owners of a taqueria in Orange, he worked in some of the finest kitchens in the Bay Area including a stint as pastry chef at Michelin starred Coi and Commis in Oakland before returning to the OC. At Taco Maria, he brings together his heritage and his experience in the fine dining world. When the brick and mortar opened, I was thrilled to see that shitakes were still on the menu in the form of mushroom chorizo, among other preparations.


The simple, attractive site, overlaid with black walnut and raw steel with a few interior tables, a patio with several and open to whatever the elements may bring. In Costa Mesa that usually means temperate weather.















At the bar (my favorite place to dine), one can easily observe the work of the chef and his small crew of sous artists in their open studio kitchen. They work seamlessly in unison almost as though one person, quietly composing dishes, generally breaking their focus only to respond or to acknowledge a customer. Salgado’s watchful eye addresses each dish before it goes to the diner.

















Sylvia Salgado works along side her brother administering, serving, and advising.





If there is a restaurant that can be thought of as an art studio, it’s Taco Maria. Salgado draws, paints, sculpts, and designs with only the finest ingredients available. Methods include sous vide and charred wood fire. I am always amazed at the way delicate items such as flower petals and cilantro flowers are arranged and tweaked with tweezers. With nothing left to chance, his artful compositions are as beautiful to look at as they are to eat.










I know he forages but will not reveal where. I don’t blame him. Open, untarnished land is at a premium in OC. Besides, as Chef knows, I would be tempted to go myself if I knew where. He gets corn from a small farmer in Mexico, grinds it and makes his own posole and blue corn tortillas. Recently, I was standing near the door as a diner exited. I heard him say, “I generally don’t like corn tortillas, but those were the best I’ve ever had.”

The menu changes seasonally, and I have to have it at least twice. A pre-fixe menu is offered Wednesday through Saturday. A mainly taco menu is served at lunch and on Tuesday evenings with brunch only on Sunday.

When I think about describing the dishes, it’s hard to know where to begin. I was unfamiliar with huitlacoche butter. Sometimes called corn smut, it has an earthy taste. I had it at Taco Maria for the first time on a piece of bread smothered in refried beans and queso fresco at brunch. Simple? Yes, and good enough to bring me out again for brunch on any given Sunday. One of my favorite sides at the same is the crispy potatoes perked with just the right amount of torreados. The yogurt and fruit items give a new take on the traditional health breakfast: coconut granola atop a panna cotta like yogurt mousse gently covered in wisps of citrus sprinkled with poppy seeds.

Those who come expecting the traditional dishes mentioned earlier leave with an expanded understanding of what Salgado means when he calls his style Chicano cuisine. I cannot go to lunch without ordering the shitake chorizo tacos with crispy potatoes and queso fundido while my partner usually does local black cod with scallion aioli, cabbage and grapes. Out of the eight items on the dinner menu of which the diner chooses four, there is generally one taco. Mind you, not your mother’s taco! At this writing, squid, garlic, peanuts, purslane on an ink tortilla is the seasonal choice. I’ve had it. The purslane was so fresh it must have been picked just in time for my tortilla to be served!







The dungess crab with grits recently changed to crab with Carolina gold rice; green chili and chicken skin is a personal favorite…







… along with the frijoles, heirloom beans braised bacon, and oregano with grilled cabbage.







On the current menu along with the dishes in the above three photos is a salmon dish that reflects Salgado’s ability to layer history and heritage. A king salmon bathed in cultured cream containing, peas, potatoes and caviar brought up memories of dining with my parents at The Harbor House  in Costa Mesa back in the fifties when salmon was preceded with Boston clam chowder. At the same time, the dish reminisced the best of California coastal cuisine of the same era. Salgado is too young to have experienced the above; the history must be in his genes.






The pre fixe dinner menu at 65.00 is the least expensive *** Michelin quality meal I have encountered. (A wine pairing featuring global wines and ales is available for an added 29.00.) When I mentioned this to Carlos he pointed to his staff  at work in the kitchen and said, “They are doing the work.” Devotion to quality and humility are his hallmarks. While he is getting high press, I have never seen him grab the limelight.

In addition to artistic sensitivity, humility and commitment, Salgado has great regard for his customers. I once asked him if it would be ok if I brought a vegan friend to Taco Maria for dinner. He said, “yes,” then created a menu to suit my friend’s dining needs on the spot.

Until recently, no one thought of the OC as a dining destination. While it has a history of coastal cuisine, with longstanding traditional Mexican and Vietnamese establishments in the interior, it is the work of the second and third generations such as Salgado with his “Chicano Cuisine” who are changing the format. Taco Maria, a destination par excellence, is well worth a drive or a plane flight. It offers some of the finest food I have had throughout the US.



Taco María

December 12, 2014 Sandy’s Chutney


Today for the first time,  I am turning my blog over to a friend. She sent me this note this morning and it is well worth reading. Not only is it a good chuckle, but talk about “food” for thought as we prepare food for the holidays! Some of you know her…she has a small farm just east of Sacramento, California.

Here is my Thanksgiving story that you might think worthy of a column, at my expense.

For this Thanksgiving dinner, twelve of us gathered at the wonderfully restored adobe home of great friends here in Sacramento. The owners, Laurie and Jacek, are outstanding architects who have created a magical miracle out of some old adobe bricks. They have a son Stefan, who is Zane’s age, and we have been friends now since the boys were toddlers. Both young men came to the Thanksgiving dinner in fine form.

Laurie and Jacek are serious foodies to boot, so the bar is high, but the rewards are great.

My assignment for the dinner was pear chutney and Humboldt Fog cheese, and Crostini.

I begged to be let off the hook, because my Sonoma farm partner foodies make a wonderful cranberry fig chutney that would surely work.

But Laurie would have none of it, and so I was left to fulfill my assignment with honor but no dignity, as I was without the required culinary skills.

For two weeks, I had scoured specialty stores throughout my California centric travels, looking for a pear chutney that I could take out of the jar, and put into mason jars to give off the appearance of home made. But that strategy proved fruitless.

So I then tried the bait and switch approach with a simpler recipe, but Laurie was clear about her sense of order would be awry without the prescribed pear chutney and Humboldt Fog Cheese.

So by last Monday, panic was beginning to set in, and now no time for ordering anything on line, I was resigned to having to actually gather all of the ingredients. So, the great scavenger hunt was on! But then I was immediately stumped by the call for pear cognac. Yikes. So I spent another day in search of pear cognac. Finally resigned myself to having to go to Corti Brothers, a famous specialty grocery store in Sacramento, with everything, including pear cognac. The recipe called for 1/4 cup. The bottle was $50, French of course. Then on to get a quarter wheel of Humboldt Fog cheese at $34 and the cheese paper that was a requisite for such wonderful cheese, if there should be any left over (there was, but not much). I did not have cinnamon sticks in my cupboard, so went off to my neighbors to find that all of his cinnamon sticks were in cardboard boxes with no expiration dates, but had to have been at least 30 years old. So the new cinnamon sticks were in class jars, set to last about 30 years, along with the bay leaves which are not grown in my garden, but clearly I need to plant, given the prices. Next were the oranges and lemons. There were two choices for the oranges, naval, or canna (which turned out to be a cross between an orange and a grapefruit. The grocery clerk and I taste tested the lot to pick out the best, and the canna won hands down. Next I was on to the shallots and unfortunately my shallots are still in the ground, growing away, albeit slowly now that ‘winter’ has set it. Finally, the recipe called for butter, and so topped off the day with some special hand churned butter from France. All in hopes that great ingredients will can make up for the errors and omissions of the cook.

My exit toll out of Corti Brothers stood tall at $135.

Of course, the pears came from the local organic farmers market, and cost $5.00.

Such are the wayward ways of your friends from California who have much to be thankful for and much bounty to celebrate with, but with more reckless abandon then sense. What would the pilgrims say to $140 pear chutney?


October 27, 2014 Pittsburgh’s Strip


It rained early on my second morning in Pittsburgh, lightly but enough to give everything a good cleansing. I jumped up and down for joy, until I realized I was not in California home of the worst drought in 500 years. Coming from the Golden State, the green hills here seem outrageous. With water, water everywhere I did not feel guilty about running it when brushing my teeth. I’ve gotten a lot of questions from Pittsburghers about the drought. My only answer is, it’s time to bring out the drums, do the rain dance and hope that the goddess of rain smiles on us.

After breakfast the rain cleared; humidity set in and the gray-coated sky provided the perfect backdrop for Pittsburgh’s hills edged with its ubiquitous red brick houses and rivers whose yellow bridges line up like giant tinker toys against the mud-brown waters. The weather boded well for our plans to visit the Strip, and St. Anthony’s Church.

We would forgo the Andy Warhol Museum as we had visited it on previous trips. If for nothing else, the Warhol is a great read on his life and work and a reason to come to Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh art scene continues to burgeon through other venues including The Miller Gallery at CMU, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Pittsburgh Filmmakers and SPACE Gallery.

In spite of its provocative name, the Strip is just that: a half-mile strip of land sandwiched between the Allegheny River and a mountain-like hill. Warehouses lined with truckers picking up and delivering goods, a flower mart, and various industrial suppliers flank its side streets. A jumble of eateries, coffee houses and roasters, specialty groceries, bakeries, and a plethora of ethnic food stalls crawl along Penn Ave. catering to every known craving: kielbasa, pierogis, banh mi, pasta, and tacos, etc. simply presented, and cheaply priced.












































It’s not a Church!



It’s an Altar Bar!









I approached a stand where workmen were lined up for sandwiches. “Vietnamese?” I inquired. A customer replied, “I don’t know, but they’re awfully good. I come here all the time.” The Vietnamese woman behind the stand, famous for her sandwiches replied, “Yes, they are Vietnamese.” The Strip as a great spot for street food, just may be the Hanoi of America.




Banh mi in disguise.


















My partner hungered for one of Primanti’s signature sandwiches. Fried sardines, tomatoes, pickles, onions, cheese and yes French fries slathered in mayo and mustard, squeezed between two slabs of bread large enough to feed a Steeler, filled the bill.



















I did not inhale.

From the Strip we ubered to St. Anthony’s Church a museum of sorts in that it houses the largest relic collection in the world. “What is a relic?” An object that has survived from an earlier time of course, in this case, religious relics such as pieces of clothing, bones, drops of blood, ashes, or the personal affects of saints or venerated persons. Corporal memorials – they are saved for remembering and honoring a highly regarded being.

In 1880 Father Mollinger from a wealthy Belgian family, the pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus Church initated the construction of a chapel to house his collection of relics. In his lifetime, thousands of people made their way to the chapel to receive his blessing and the relic of St. Anthony. Mollinger’s 5000 relic collection has been housed in the church for over a hundred years. They had been venerated in Europe previous to their transport to St. Anthony’s. Documents verify their authenticity. Included in the collection: a splinter from the True Cross, a thorn from the Crown of Thorns and a piece of stone from the Holy Sepulchre and many relics of first class saints.

Father Mollinger spent over $300,000 to provide the chapel located on Troy Hill on Pittsburgh’s North Side. When he died unexpectedly and having left no will, the Church acquired the title to the chapel. The Bishop settled with the family heirs for $30,000, a pittance of the original cost. At the time, the struggling parishioners of St. Anthony’s eventually raised the $30,000 to repay the Bishop.







Photos are not allowed inside the church.

My thought was that if the relics truly were the survivors of so many elevated and even enlightened beings, with 5000 pooled in the same room, the energy would be overwhelming. I anticipated the possibility of levitating and gliding through the church. My illusion was met by the silence of a morgue-like museum of unrecognizable bits and pieces of people from another time and age. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I cannot deny my skeptical response to the idea of housing scraps from 5000 deceased humans in one room. What purpose do they serve save to placate our attachments and emotional needs? In some cultures, such as the Native American and in India, open-air cremations are allowed in which the fire consumes all traces of a body and releases the ashes back into the cosmos. My own father’s memorial card read, “Do not weep for me, in death I now surround you”. If you are reading this, I would be most interested in your thoughts.

Pittsburgh’s two trams up Mt. Washington have been running since the 1800s when they were originally constructed to transport steel. With the steel industry all but shut down today, they transport people up to the mountain-top where a bevy of restaurants lays waiting. Instead of using the tram, we treked up the mountain with Uber. We would dine at Altious with its unparalleled view of the Golden Triangle.
































October 21, 2014 More to Pittsburgh than the Steelers


More to Pittsburgh than the Steelers?

When we arrived in Pittsburgh, disembarked our plane and walked into the terminal an auspicious greeter waited. Just as I am about to head down the escalator to baggage claim I spot him: Franco O’Harris a Steeler famous for his Immaculate Reception! Steerlers galore, but and here’s the interesting thing, George Washington stood next to him. Two famous historical characters from venues miles apart, though George Washington is a bit more famous. Outside of Pittsburgh, of course.







Pittsburgh is brimming with history; its citizens are proud of the relationship with our first president, and sports, (Pirates, Penguins and Steelers) does reign supreme as one of the greeters indicated, but there is far more to this most friendly of all cities.

At the moment I am sitting in the William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh surrounded by the opulent design of a former time. There is no way I want to wallow in opulence, yet the Penn provides me with the comfort I need in this moment. A dated, but finely appointed lobby with comfy chairs, oversized sofas, bordered by restaurants, a bar, and a workout room, I am home for the next few days.










My gratitude goes to Henry Clay Frick the industrialist who ran up a six million dollar tab in 1916 to build the hotel. He intended to bring a hotel to Pittsburgh that would rival the great, grand, old world style hotels in Europe. To this day, the Penn remains what Frick envisioned: a grand old hotel.










The pilgrimage to the steel city is truly a trip down memory lane. My life on this planet began on Pittsburgh’s North side in St John’s Hospital. The Sisters of Divine Providence were there, an omen for my future, assisting my mother with her long, laborious labor. I learned only today that the hospital was torn down ten years ago for, of course, a development.

Born and bred here for my first seven years established such a deep connection I will forever remain Penelope from Pittsburgh, PA. Today, while strolling around the city, I felt a root running from the soles of my feet deep into the terra below. The city felt inherently familiar and familial. As I walked its streets, bridges, hills, caught the aromas of the rivers, and heard words like babushka, you-ins, washroom rather than restroom some of the local lingo, old memories lurking in the recesses began to come forward and the bond I have with the city reawakened.

I came to Pittsburgh to accompany my partner to a conference. As soon as the plane landed, the ghosts of the ancestors began to shadow me, filling my thoughts and pulling on my emotions. Last night they haunted my dreams as I slumbered. I have no family left, I am alone in a familiar land, but the old hotel like visiting Grandma’s house offers solace, a protective place to come in out of the rain and nurse recollections.

When it opened the Pittsburgh Gazette described the Penn as “A house of a thousand guest rooms, without the need of candles, which after months of tireless energy, the employment of every known art and craft, the calling service of every ingenuity of man, is now a fact for Pittsburgh, and as such, is not only a magnificent illustration of the enterprise of Pittsburgh men, but its opening is an epoch in the history of this city as a community, …” How wonderful that even the building of the furniture was farmed out to local craftsmen.

To this day, the Palm Court lobby with walnut pillars, green Italian marble floors, a resplendent ceiling reputedly copied from the French Palace at Fontainebleau remains luxurious and lavish. The one per cent who formerly lollygagged in the lobby, feasted in the dining rooms still adorned with frescoed walls, hand-cut chandeliers and vaulted ceilings, danced their nights away in the ballrooms. Later, in the forties my parents would come to dance to the music of Lawrence Welk. To this day the large ballroom is named in his honor. As I walk past I hear echoes of his champagne music.




When it opened, hotel guests were offered the latest amenities including: iced drinking water on tap, “certified” lighting, electric clocks, a telephone in every room and a private bathroom. The latter was offered at a time when many Americans were still using outhouses. (Add Internet, television, shower, refrigerator and room service for my current amenities.) The initial rate per night started at $2.50 for a standard room and escalated to $50.00 for a seven-room suite. I am paying a lot more. Thankfully it is under the cover of a business expense.

As we taxied in (Uber is not allowed to pick up at the airport), Liberty, Penn, Forbes, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Aves – the names of streets that formed the grid I walked as a child called up images of taking a bus with my mother from the borough in which we lived to downtown. Frequently, we made on our way to Kaufmann’s Department Store where my grandmother worked at altering men’s suits, designing wedding dresses and making my clothes on the side. Edward Kaufmann, the President of Kaufman’s, commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build Falling Water leaving a legacy far more famous than my grandmother’s design skills.

I remember downtown Pittsburgh when hang-over from the raspy spewing breath of coal mines and steel mills was so thick some days we could hardly identify the sun. And in the dead of winter, skies rained so much soot the snow cover turned black.



















I recall leaving the city seated in the back seat of my dad’s old forty-nine Chevy to drive north to Butler County where the crystal blue, elegant skies that covered my great grandparents’ farm offered welcome relief.

The farm had been in the family since deeded to my several times removed, great grandfather, General William Critchlow for his service in the Battle of Saratoga during the Revolutionary War. Drives through violet pocked shimmering chartreuse-carpeted hills in summer, snow and ice flows in winter, imprinted scenes of the rolling hills of Pennsylvania permanently into my cerebellum. Inexorably, our journeys concluded on a pebbly dirt road angling up to the farmhouse through Grandpa’s sheep pasture to one side, buckwheat crops to the other. Buckwheat pancakes. Wish I had Great Grandma Chatham’s recipe.

Years later after we had moved to California Grandma Ethel May informed me that the farm had been deeded to the Boy Scouts when my great grandparents passed. Considering how the farm came into the family, that the Boy Scouts got it seemed to hold a certain logic.

On arriving in Pittsburgh today one would never suspect there had been a time when it rated as one of the worst, smog-full, polluted cities in the country. As I poked my way around earlier today the skies bode clean and clear. Not only skies, but streets as well.

















In eighty-five ethnic neighborhoods old traditions maintained with differences among groups respected, continue to this day. As children we were told that we did not cross over to their territory uninvited, or “they” to ours. There was nothing wrong with any of us we were told, it’s just that “we are different” and should stay among our own. Lines were not only black and white. A mixed marriage – momentous – engendered discussions among the elders about whether the wedding ceremony should take place in the Polish, Irish, Italian, German, or Slovenian Catholic Church? As they were all Catholic I wondered how the Irish Church differed from the Italian? When I questioned them, the elders chided me with, “that’s just the way it is.” I said little in response, but and argument about ethnicity and race indued between my elders and my inner voice.

As demographics are changing, I suspect that the beautiful mosaic of ethnic groups with each piece loving its own, is changing as well. Community and tribes gather and form for reasons other than ethnic lineage.

Before leaving California, I researched the Pittsburgh food scene. The meat, mashed potatoes, corn, beef and cabbage, kielbasa, pierogies and salt water taffy of my youth would not serve my aged body. I searched every food site from to Yelp to the Pittsburgh Chooses sites and made up a short list of the eateries that appeared most frequently in the top five. I consulted with the locals. I wanted to eat the food of a progressive chef who is not afraid to move into new and tantalizing places with eye  fixed on vegetables. Paul the concierge at The Penn was confident that Grit and Grace would meet my requirements. “It was the only Pittsburgh restaurant to make 100 best in the US list.” When I found out that its Chef, Brian Pekarcik from Murrysville, Pa had spent time at Gary Danko and Fifth Floor in San Francisco I was sold.

Walking over to Grit and Grace from the Penn earlier this evening, I missed the flocks of pigeons I chased off the street as a child. Nowhere to be seen.  When we arrived we decided to sit at the bar where conversations can be lively and informational. It’s is a great place to get to know people in the industry and with Pittsburgh being one of the friendliest cities in America, it called.

As I pored over the menu, the same menu I had checked out on line earlier, the lady next to me introduced herself, illustrating the friendliness I anticipated. Told me she lived in the southern part of the neighboring state, West Virginia. Had come up to attend a Jackson Brown concert with her daughter. She went on about how much she loved Jackson and let us know that if we were interested it was still not too late to get tickets to Fleetwood Mac who would be performing the next night. Always pays off to sit at the bar!

Grit means the texture of sand or stone used in grinding, and courage, resolve, strength of character. Grace, the simple elegance or refinement of movement, free and unmerited favor of God. Definitions of both words printed at the top of the menu inform the diner about intention.


/ grit /noun

/ grās /noun

1. simple elegance or refinement of movement.

2. free and unmerited favor of God.

It is said that everything needs an opposite in order to exist… to achieve balance.

“Grit & Grace pushes opposites to the extreme to bring you the most unique and balanced dining experience Pittsburgh has to offer.”

Chef knows his dictionary; I wondered if the conceptual would carry over into the food.  Pekarcik makes choices that represent “the diversity and sophistication of today’s diners.” Goat and curry, ramen, short ribs and biscuits, kimchi are but a few examples. He carries his choices through in the three daily condiments as well: soy and black vinegar sauce, chili sauce and fennel-onion compote. G&G specializes in small plates and American Dim Sum.




Dim sum is offered in small bowls.




Crispy tofu




To be honest, I did not expect to find such quality, creativity and artistic ability of the chef an a restaurant in the city on the rivers. How I wish that Grit and Grace were around my own neighborhood corner!

More on Pittsburgh to follow.

September 23, 2014 Les Clos

To enlarge the photos, give them a click!

As we were crossing the new Oakland Bay Bridge yesterday I opened my iPhone and hit on Google. My job to look for a place to have lunch could not have been easier. With the depth of delicate morsels at Saison lingering on my palate, a long finish indeed, I came across news of the soft opening at Les Clos a new wine bar, café, coffee house on Townsend. Surely a cosmic hand was at play. The opening would run from ten – three. My clock read 1:00 pm. We descended from the bridge and headed straight for the opening.

Here’s the cosmic part: Les Clos is under the ownership of people from Saison. When I wrote the recent post for Saison I kept my attention on the food and chef – not beverage or wine director. Later, I debated with myself about the possibility of doing a second post on the latter, but when Les Clos did a pop-up on my Mac, the debate resolved itself.

Mark Bright is Joshua Skenes’ business partner and Wine Director at Saison. He comes in with a history in wine as impressive as Skenes in the culinary arts. It is in his stars to illuminate our path to understanding wine. His began at Aqua in the Bellagio, Las Vegas at seventeen while, he attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Can you imagine what it must be like to study food and beverage in Las Vegas? Later, working for Michael Mina he did a stint at Stone Hill Tavern in Laguna Beach as did Skenes. The list of hi-end restaurants where he has worked or consulted is endless, not to mention his own consulting firm: the Bright Wine Fund.

For me what is of consequence about Bright is that he has had an almost single-minded concentration on burgundy, (but I hear an expansion is in the works) of which he has amassed a legendary collection. When those in the business focus in, Ceri Smith is another with her attention on Italian wine, like old vines, they run deep with knowledge, expertise and the juice to make connections that open doors for the rest of us. When I started to get to know wines, I depended on the folks at Hi-Time, K&L, California, Sherry-Lehman Wine and Spirits, New York, Schaefer’s, Chicago, among others to show me the possibilities. Now that America is finally developing a palate, there is a vacuum longing to be filled by people such as Smith and Bright.

At Saison, a wine pairing can include ale, sake and wine. In my growing age, I must sometimes take heed so I chose not to do the pairing the night of our meal. (A recent survey by Robert Smiley at UC Davis taken among twenty-six heads of wineries   indicated that, while wine consumption is declining among baby boomers, they are passing the glass on to the millennials.) Instead, I chose a glass of Chablis that paired well with every dish, my partner a Volnay.






I did not do the pairings but I had been duly impressed by what I read about Bright’s expertise and collection of Burgundies. I can now look forward to learning more when I visit his latest project: Les Clos. Forty wines-by-the-glass ranging from $10 – $25 dollars will be offered. Tastings and classes are also in the works.

We pulled up in front of Les Clos about 1:30. Plenty of parking spaces for mid-day were available despite the fact that we were around the corner from the AT&T Park where dozens of sightseers were milling about. A wood-hewn bar with stand-up cylinder seats formed a well-designed frame to the entry.



photo-51 copy







We walked in to an empty café save for a single dude dining solo at the bar. I thought I was in a neighborhood spot in Paris!






After all, this was a soft opening. Giddy over such accessibility to the café, I reminded myself that the odds are that never again in this lifetime will I arrive to an empty Les Clos. After snapping some shots we sat down to a table just  big enough to handle cups and glasses and maybe food.































A few employees shuffled about taking care of initial projects such as filling wine racks. Hopefully, some of those hard to find Burgundies to be found in the Bright collection will be available. I thought I saw Cara Patricia Higgins the sommelier and also from Saison floating about.









A third alum of Saison cellar master Shawn Gawle, is leading the kitchen. As with the others, his background is stellar: Food and Wine’s best pastry chef in 2012. Did stints with Chefs Jean-Marie Lacroix, Joel Rubochon, and Gras. The latter allowed him to spearhead the dessert menu although he had trained in savory.

The best part of eating at Les Clos is that while quality is Saison-like, style and price are more beer pocketbook. Pastries from Le Maraise Bakery, coffee from Spyglass and ice cream from Humphrey Slocum add prestige to the larder. Charcuterie, cheese, escargot, caviar, gnocchi are planned for the menus.







Although wine was not available for our lunch as Les Clos awaits its liquor license, expected to arrive later this week we were shown the menu.





I had a salad and a cut of goat cheese sided with a swath of honey, my partner the duck sandwich on Josey Baker Bread. Salads that are simply composed of the best greens available ever so slightly slicked in olive oil and an acidic complement, topped with a twitter of fine salt are among my all-time favorite dishes. In fact, so much so that the quality of a salad is often my subjective test of a restaurant. Les Clos passed. My partner loved his duck sandwich, somewhat of a combination-like rillete and pureed liver he agreed that it too, made top scale.









When things are in full swing, Les Clos will be open from 8 am to midnight during the week and open at 10 am on weekends.


I will be back even if I have to negotiate the crowds.

photo-50 copy


September 13, 2014 Saison

The first time I met Joshua Skenes in 2005 he was twenty five. Michael Mina had snagged him to open The Stone Hill Tavern at the St. Regis Hotel in Monarch Beach. Before coming to Stone Hill he had done stints with Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York, helped open Troquet in Boston, worked under Anthony Ambrose at Ambrosia, and served as executive chef at Chez TJ in Mountain View, California. At Stone Hill just south of Laguna Beach, known for its paucity of upscale dining, Skenes, in my mind, turned the scene upside down with his cooking. I frequented Stone Hill in those days. When I requested an all veggie dinner Skenes came out to the dining room and personally consulted with me. It did not take long for me to turn my dining needs over to Skenes. He was tall, handsome and young. I knew this knight in chef’s clothing was destined. Not once was I disappointed, that is, not until he left to move on to his next step.

In 2010 I ran across Skenes again in the Mission District of San Francisco. My partner and I were taking a stroll when we saw the sign for Saison. The knight’s  ascension already underway, we had heard good things about the place. It was mid afternoon and with the café door open, I suggested that we take a look. We walked up to the doorway and peered in. A very simple place, not what one would expect of a restaurant that had fully straddled the top of the tower for discerning diners. At that moment Joshua walked out from the back, greeted us and started up a chat. He responded quietly and humbly when I told what I had heard about his new place and gently encouraged us to return for a dinner.

The third time I came across Joshua Skenes was when I began to consider a dinner at Saison the French word meaning season,  for my partner’s birthday.





The knight had continued to move on and up and opened his own restaurant now located in SoMa and housed in the former California Electric Building.





I read the press, scoured the reviews, checked out the menus and confronted the cost. The one thing that I had issues with was, and I say was because it has since changed is that Skenes originally ordered fish from Japan. That he no longer does may account for the fact that the menu price formerly advertised as 298.00 is now 248.00 He is/was not alone. Japan is in these days and, in my humble opinion, there is no fish market in the world that compares with the Tzujiki Fish market in Tokyo. It is worth a visit. Go soon if you want to see the old as it is slated for relocation – still in Tokyo – and the old site will become a development.

Skenes has explained some of the reasons behind the high costs of his current menu. He has twenty-four people working in the kitchen, including a full time forager, nothing is used, redone, or served from the previous days menu, and the restaurant is limited to eighteen seats. Everything is made fresh and from scratch. In this line a friend who owns a small restaurant in the OC once told me that every time the menu changed as in seasonally, it cost the restaurant 4,000. In this place, the ingredients are not sourced in the special way that Skenes sources.

So I hemmed, hawed, and fretted. Some of the best food in the world comes at a hefty price. If I have the best I want to experience  a combination of taste and art that stirs up my creative juices  so much that I can hardly wait to go home, enter my own kitchen and create. I had similar feelings about art when I was an art’s writer reviewing exhibitions. Food prep and service is a relatively high art form! My resolve to let go of the dilemma drama, go on line and set up a reservation met with another challenge. Reservations are held at Saison with the agreement that if a diner cancels less than a week before the dinner date, the full price is charged. I suspect this is the reason it is generally possible to get a reservation during the week without too much long range planning. Of course if the Michelin Guide 2015 to San Francisco that comes out on Oct 21, gives Skenes three stars that may change.

A week and a half before our dinner date, I got a call from Saison in the late afternoon on my voicemail. The person on the other end reminded me of my reservation and asked me to confirm. Unable to call back that day during business hours I planned to return the call the next day, but before I could I received another. This one I answered. The pleasant woman on the other end reminded me that I had three days left in which I could cancel with no penalty. She also inquired if there were any special food needs. Yes. We do not eat meat, but on rare occasions, fish.  She assured me that that would not be an issue. The chef would prepare accordingly. It is rare to receive such an attentive call from a restaurant, but we were going to dine at Saison.

On the website, it is explained that Saison has no dress code. It reads, “Come as you are.” I must admit I was tempted to go in my pajamas! It was a Wednesday night when we ubered over to Saison from the Harbor Court Hotel on the Embarcadero. I had dressed appropriately (no pajamas). We arrived a bit early so as to avoid another restriction on the dining. If a diner arrives later than the reserved time, he/she will be seated, but if courses have already been served, the diner will start with the current course. Past courses cannot be made up!

We stood outside waiting for the restaurant to open as we usually do when our reservation is for 5:30. When other diners arrived and walked into the restaurant  we realized the doors were open. (Chagrin). As we entered the hallowed space we were greeted by a framed wall of firewood.





A man in a black suit seated us at a table in the bar. We sat there for all of two minutes when another man in a black suit came to escort us to our table. He told us that we were to think of ourselves as having dinner at a friend’s house.  I appreciate that an attempt is being made here to make the guests feel comfortable, without the “stuffiness” of a fine Michelin double starred restaurant. However, with the staff in black suits or designer chef outfits, I did experience a certain formality. Nothing wrong here, just it is what it is.









We sat in full view of the kitchen. One can actually walk through, as there are no restrictive walls or gates. Along the side of the dining room I took note of a series of slick coolers. I assumed the wine cellar, but our waiter explained that they were the refrigerators. Again, placed in the dining room as part of the idea of dining in a friend’s house.
















The first course was tea served in a small, tubular porcelain glass. A tied package of herbs and flora from Saison’s garden hung over the edge of the glass. We were encouraged to steep them in the hot water for as long as we wished. My palate was soothed by the subtle flavor and yes, I felt like I had been served a cup of tea at a friend’s house. Now, relaxed and comforted I was ready for the meal to begin.








The fourteen courses that followed were served with clock-like precision. At first a gentle flow like a quiet stream, it opened to a river of wider possibilities then gradually concluded with dishes that quieted the awakened palate to allow the diner to relish and munch on inner, reflective musings about what had just occurred.


Tomatoes in a few forms in corn pudding and black mint.






Artichoke stuffed with scallop with sauce of grilled artichoke.






Diamond turbot with a sauce of grill bones.

I inquired about the source of the Talbot and was told that it came from Korea.

All other fish dishes came from California.






Battle creek trout smoked in the wood oven with anise hyssop.






Abalone roasted over the embers, sauce of the liver and capers.






Giant octopus, radishes, yuzu, sea salt.







White sea bass, roasted over the coals, sauce of citrus leaves and yogurt.








Brassicas leaves dried over the fire, seaweed bouillon.








Toffee, milk, bread and beer. In my excitement, I forgot to photo.


Duck, grilled whole and sea fig.








Pickles, a bouillon of the grilled duck bones.








Krug sorbet.







Wild berries, French marigold, raw milk ice cream.







Birthday cake.







Tea and canele.






Final treat.







The influence of Japanese cuisine was surely evident. Silvered handled chopsticks served as dining utensils for the first six courses, to be followed by traditional for the remaining courses. Our waiter shared that the chef had recently returned from Japan where he had spent his honeymoon.







Less than half way into the meal, the server brought a lovely platter of Parker House Rolls, the best Parker House Rolls in my memory. I generally do not eat flour, but in this situation I could not resist. The jagged sea salt twittered buns changed my history with Parkers. So good, we unabashedly and to the surprise of the waiter ordered another round. After the first round I referred to them as a course, but the waiter said no, that they were brought out as they come out of the oven.








That Parker House Rolls served in the midst of such a delicate, well designed work of art  felt both like a nod to the history of American cooking as well as  a bit of humor injected into the seriousness of the production. I paid dearly for my over consumption. It left me with that full feeling that accompanies over consumption. Next time: one order, please!

As we sat discussing our meal with a diner at the next table, a waiter brought a final treat: two muffins from Boulette’s Larder in the Ferry Building for a midnight snack or breakfast the next morning. Soon our head waiter came along and invited us to walk over to take an upclose look at the kitchen. When he asked us to take all our “things” with us I felt it was a most gracious way to tell us they needed the table.



The Knight in white.










How do I feel about Saison? What moves me most is the young chef’s intention to serve the highest quality food he can possibly find along with his vision and an amazing skill-set to create his art. In my research I came across a telling story about Chef that illustrates his destiny and skills early on.

“When I was about nine, my family sent me to summer camp in North Carolina. I went on a long hike and saw a water moccasin. I fished the snake out of the water, cut his head off, took out the poison sac, filleted the snake cooked it up and fed it to the camp. I can’t believe I didn’t poison everybody.”

That one blew me out of the water along with the moccasin!

I loved the food, the ambiance of the restaurant with the use of wood, stone and steel, and the over-all integrity of the performance. If I have any misgiving, it is only that I want more people to share Skenes cooking. As it turns out that will soon be possible when he opens Fat Noodle a fast food joint that he is undertaking with Adam Fleischman of Umami Burger. Hand pulled noodles, wine and beer available, priced from six to ten dollars, open  11 am to 2 am is the intended norm. Can hardly wait!

September 12, 2014 Ambrosia

More on Matera is coming, but first I am taking time to post on events of the past few weeks.

It was Labor Day weekend and a big bday celeb for my partner had been planned. It was one of those knock-off number of decades that requires a mention. As chef for the family and friends I planned dinner with the intention to keep it simple. My granddaughter would come to visit for the first time and my preference was to spend time with her rather than be in the kitchen.

So here’s what I cooked up…

First, I contacted D’Artagnan one of the finest purveyors of meat and fowl in the country and ordered organic smoked duck breast and rabbit legs. When the guests arrived they were shocked to see fowl and rabbit coming out of my usually vegan kitchen, but none of them got foul with me about my choices.

A smoked duck appetizer was followed by gazpacho. OC chef Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria told me to soak the tomatoes in a little sherry vinegar and the cukes in champagne vinegar. The sherry gave just the right zing to the creamy texture of the processor-ed tomatoes.

Using Angela Cook Gardener’s recipe I marinated the rabbit legs in buttermilk, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder for eight hours. Drained them in a colander, shook them up with flour in a brown bag  just the way my mother used to, and fried them in canola oil.

Accompaniments included a salad of zucchini sliced on the mandolin for fettucine-like shape and size, mozzarella, olives, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh corn soaked in olive oil, sherry vinegar and topped with Himalayan salt. Cornbread. Gave my personal recipe to a friend and she, surprised by the call for fresh corn, did the honors. A tomato smothered, slow cooker rice, filled out the details

We finished off with a cake, thin layers of chocolate separated by salted carmel, filling from Konditorei, a fine Austrian bakery in Davis and topped with a dollop of caramel ice cream.

Basically, a simple, no frills dinner, but the diners seemed satisfied.

The following day after the guests and out of town family departed my partner and I headed to the city to continue our celebration. When it comes to food, I don’t know of any place on the west coast that does it better than San Francisco. LA is finally on it’s way. Portland although a bit meat heavy for my taste, does it well. Seattle, not bad the last time I visited, but San Francisco is the gift that just keeps giving.

Our agenda included reservations at three new-to-us restaurants. We also made quick stops at a few old standbys: Delfina, Tartine Bakery, and The Slanted Door. All three continue to live up to their long and upstanding reputations!

We discovered 1760 the newer restaurant from the owners of Acquerello on It was the first we would try on our list of newbies. We arrived at 6:30 and were seated promptly. With local pub-like ambience it’s a casual place. Our first appetizer a crudo was topped with a crispy veggie that I could not identify. It had a strange taste, did not pair well with the fish. It was a tough chew, but I kept at it hoping to id the weird item. Finally, I asked the wait-person who identified it as daikon. Shocking. Daikon can be tricky, but generally the longer it is sautéed or roasted the sweeter it grows; in this case bitter, it left a bad taste in the mouth. The daikon along with a parsimoniously doled out second appetizer prompted us to get the check and leave. I rarely do this, but so turned off by the first two courses I could see no reason to stay. Later I heard that 1760 has had “issues.” Perhaps a second try will be down the road.

It turned out that our favorite Italian wine shop Biondivino was only a few blocks away. We decided to head over for some of their bruschetta. Emanuele Fromento from one of Genoa’s leading wine bars initiated a bruschetta pop-up for the month of August. With the pop-up so popular owner Ceri Smith decided to continue with the city’s first bruschetteria serving over a dozen including pesto, Taleggio, prociutto cotto from 6 pm Wednesday through Sunday. Ceri Wine Director of Tosca named by Bon Appetite as one of the top ten new restaurants of the year is also Food and Wine’s Sommelier of the Year for San Francisco. It’s a great place not only to sample Italian wine, tastings are held regularly, it is also a wonderful place to meet up with the neighborhood, with food writers and wine connisieurs.

We munched on the finest pesto bruschetta in my memory, sampled a rare white and discussed possibilities for another place for dinner. As recently as Aug. 25th called Nopa one of the “toughest places to snag a table in SF,” but Ceri checked in with Nopa a favorite and when she gave us a thumbs up, we ubered over.

Almost ten years in, Nopa is as vibrant as the day it opened. Both of us felt gifted when we were ushered to the seats at the chef’s bar next to the chef. To make matters better, Chef Laurence Jossel standing next to us checking and approving the dishes as they came out of the kitchen, initiated a conversation that lasted through out our dinner.


He informed us that two thirds of the seats are reserved for walk-ins. If you do not mind a wait, dining is possible even without a rez. Lulu the sommelier checked in with us several times as well making sure that we had just the right wine pairing with our dishes.

The food made with “local, organic and sustainable” ingredients is farm to fork at its best. Due to our earlier appetizers we had to limit our courses. When I tasted the warm water halibut I knew we had made the right decision. We followed with smoked trout, accompanied with crispy potatoes, horseradish, marinated peppers and poached egg. The tomato salad with spiced chickpeas, cilantro, lime and mozzarella could not have been more seasonal. We finished with small fried fish in dill and olive oil. Each dish was ample.  Next time, we begin the evening at Nopa.



I thought long and hard about a priced to the max SF restaurant.

That I am a foodie, who refuses to eat in corporate restaurants, who requires welcoming, friendly service and healthy farm food when I dine out is not a secret. I search out progressive chefs who create veggie centric, but not necessarily an all vegetarian menu. I felt that my top choice for this celebratory occasion would meet all my expectations, still, the price tab at 248 per person, not including drinks or service charge, although less than the French Laundry, would be enough to make even the most endowed take note. Long story short, I held an internal debate. When it finally resolved, I decided to take the plunge and made a reservation.

Check the next post for the result.

August 5, 2014 Soul Foodie Mate: Fabrizia Fiori

“I’ve always been a passionate about food and everything started when I was a child. I used to go to my grandmother’s house to cook with her.”

Fabrizia Fiori’s email led me on a short, but sweet trip down memory lane.

I recalled sitting on a kitchen ladder beside my paternal grandmother while she demonstrated how to make chocolate chip cookies with black walnuts from the tree in her back yard; I remembered standing next to my maternal grandmother in her utility room, observing the traditional way she made bread. I sat on a bar stool watching my mother bake cakes: white, chocolate, pineapple upside down, banana, and pies: apple, peach, cherry, coconut cream, lemon meringue, pumpkin, pecan. Bowl licking–an essential ingredient.

The joy of baking cookies and cakes–play for preschoolers–gave way to more serious stuff when I became my mother’s sous chef at the ripe age of seven. Not to say that my adventures with baking stopped. I remember swapping cookie recipes with the mother of one of my playmates at nine. To this day, that cookie, crisp, with oatmeal backdrop fronted by a soft cinnamon twirl is a favorite (recipe available on request).

Several things influenced what went on in our kitchen. My father’s vegetable garden along with the changes in American cuisine as a result of the development of frozen foods, Campbell Soups, and jello among others. The American Woman’s Cook Book, Betty Crocker and The Joy of Cooking played a role. Likewise, my parents were aware of the basic 7 food groups established in the 1940’s. By the time I graduated from the family school of culinary arts I could pull off stuffed bell peppers, baked beans, fried chicken, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and tuna noodle casseroles.

Showing a proclivity for cooking, my parents decided with my approval, that I would be the designated chef during school vacations. Menus and recipes posted on the door of the refrigerator by my mother facilitated my assignment to put dinner on the table by 6:00 PM. Her rule of thumb: a proper meal must include a salad, veggie, potato and protein. Little did she know, she was contributing to the making of a foodie.

In some cultures a woman is not considered ready for marriage if she does not know how to cook. I would have fit in to those cultures.

In preparation for the trip to Sardegna I pored over Motus Travel’s website:

Motus Travel Sardinia

“Enjoy cooking classes” jumped out at me. Oh my goodness! I contacted Mario Delitala, managing director of Motus immediately. He responded by setting up a class with Fabrizia Fiori. I sensed that this would not be  just any cooking class! On the given Saturday we drove from our hotel in Cabras to the nearby city of Oristano.  Fabrizia met us at the historic center of town and led us to her home. As we followed my inner psychic had me jumping up and down. I knew I had met a foodie soul mate.

No one is more prepared to teach Sardinian cooking than Sardinian native and resident Fabrizia Fiori.


foto fabrizia


Not only did her grandmother teach her the typical dishes of her family, she taught her what Sardinians value most. “She taught me that the most important ingredient was what she called ‘pizzico d’amore’ (pinch of love). She meant what is most important is the passion you put in what you’re doing.”

After that, “my mother introduced me to the Italian word for culinary: she bought me Cucina Italiana, the first Italian culinary magazine. Every month we spent spent a lot of time cooking the classical Italian recipes garnered from the magazine.”

On graduating from the university in Milan where she studied languages, Fabrizia worked as a German and English translator until she joined and began creating events for the Slow Food Movement. From 2006-2012 she ran Slow Food Sassari where she got to know the most important high quality food producers. She continued her culinary education through several Master of Food classes about specific topics: wine, cheese, fish, meat, sweets, chocolate, beer and spirits and obtained her Sommelier certificate from the worldwide AIS.







Today Fabrizia is a gastronomic guide, culinary teacher for tourists, and a personal chef for local people. In 2013 she won the television food competition Cuochi e fiamme.

Why does someone become a chef? For the same reason a writer becomes a writer, a painter becomes a painter. They have to. Fabrizia started as a child and never stopped!

In 2013 she participated in the Italian food competition Cuochi y Flamme and won.

and has been a guest chef on the Gambero Rosso food channel.

We arrived at Fabrizia’s high tower condo at  5:30. Her husband out of town, the three of us would spend the entire evening cooking then feasting on the fruits of our labors.


Fabrizia opened our class by explaining various flours that would be used to make three separate pastas.




















She followed the explanations by  hands on detailed, step by step instructions.




Making chiusoni, a typical pasta from Gallura in northeast Sardinia.











































After the pastas we prepared the dough for Seada the famous Sardinian dessert.










And, its young pecorino cheese filling.


















The final feast included a salad, vegetable, protein and in this case rather than potato, three typical pastas.










We finished the meal with seada. The world famous Sardinian fritter filled with salty pecorino topped with sweet honey made for an intense, but divine ending to our cooking class.













July 20, 2014 Fit for a Foodie

Once up and running, word got out, spread far and wide that the amrit was one of the best restaurants in the state of Maharastra. Tourists drove the forty five or so kilometres from what was then called Bombay, to the village of Ganespuri, knocked on the gate to the meditation ashram that housed the amrit, and asked for dining reservations. While the resident devotees found it rather humorous, tourists when told that the amrit not a public restaurant and served food for the residents of the ashram only, went away disappointed.

One of those fortunate individuals to eat the ambrosia served in the amrit three times a day for one solid year, why I get jealous when I remember my experience of living there some twenty-five years ago. The amrit’s five star reputation—well deserved!

This was not a restaurant in any ordinary sense, but it could have held its own against some of the starred Michelins. The philosophy behind it ran in deep streams of thought coming out of the Vedas and the Upanishads, some of the world’s most ancient scriptures. Food a necessity, not only nurtures the body, the divine can be known through the sense of taste.

One of my work assignments that year now seemingly so long ago, was prep work in the kitchen. As we washed, cut, and chopped vegetables, de-stemmed thyme, peeled mangos and papayas, kneaded dough for naan and chapatis we worked in silence and listened to recordings of ancient Sanskrit mantras and ragas. In a kitchen so contemplative and peaceful I could not help but fall into that same state. I could feel that peace slipping through my fingers into the food that would eventually nurture the souls of those ate it. This was in fact the intention behind the the silence and chanting. To this day I listen regularly to chants when preparing meals in my own kitchen.

An aside on a similar note: years later while visiting a large winery down in Chile I thought I was in a church when I entered the barrel room to the sound of Gregorian Chants. Piped in over a sound system because sound carries vibration, the winemaker convinced that the elevated vibrations of the chant would permeate the wine, played them continuously as the wine aged.

How many times have I heard the question, “do you like the food?” to be followed by the answer, “it’s divine”– music to the ears of the chef. According to the dictates in the ashram not only the method of preparation,  the intentions and state of the staff are important. I would add a very important third ingredient,  the essence and quality of the food.

What is it that makes me  feel that the food is divine.

First, it makes me feel good—it’s that simple.

Second, it takes me out of my ordinary experience into dimensions beyond the thing itself. Like the visuals of a gorgeous sunset, the taste of food can be overwhelming. It is one of life’s most pleasurable experiences. I am not talking about the self-gratification found in an eat, drink, and be merry hedonism in which food is solely an end in itself. That’s another topic.

How was the food in Sardegna? Divine! Simple, made with local ingredients, beautifully presented. People fuss over the preparation process like a hen taking care of her chicks.

As I toured the island some ingredients growing increasingly familiar drew my attention to the essence of  Sardinian food. I knew from conversations with chefs and locals there was a great deal of concern and pride in the way food was prepared–in short, with good energy.

Rather than my usual focus on the dishes or menus I began to focus on the menu of some of  the ingredients that turned up in one form or another across Sardegna.

Pecorino, like I had never tasted it, young and soft like mozzarella or aged from a few months up to a year. Casu marsu, a maggot riddled form was new to me. Pecorino and ricotta the other ubiquitous cheese are made from sheep’s milk until they are shorn in late spring. Cow milk replaces sheep’s milk for ricotta until late in the fall. With more sheep populating Sardegna than people it is understandable why lamb, pecorino and ricotta dominate the cuisine.







Bread, made in the old, traditional way. I cannot imagine how a Sard could handle gluten intolerance, but surprisingly, there is a segment of the population with problems. One chef teacher told me that many feel that the gluten issue began when wheat production was “modernized.”






Pasta. Culurgiones, ricotta filled pockets rather than ravioli, malloreddus, small dumplings in tomato sauce rather than gnocci, fregola, a nutty pasta frequently served with clams, varying slightly from north to south were common.

















Veggies: tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant dominate.







Seada: ravioli like pockets filled with pecorino, topped with honey is divine.









Wine: cannonau, vermintino, carignan always available, but rare varietals indigenous to the island may be had as well.










Nutshell: the divine food of Sardegna covers all three of the above criteria making it more than fit for a foodie, the kind of foodie as explained by Mark Bittman.

Rethinking the Word ‘Foodie’


Pleasure is just one aspect. It’s even more important to reflect our values.

JUNE 24, 2014

June 4, 2014 The American Woman’s Cookbook

IMG_4052 1

A blanket of grey May covered the skies for a few days, but then the heavens opened, the sun reappeared and given perfect weather, I decided to head for the beach. With book underarm I jumped into the Prius, drove down the canyon to Laguna and settled on a warm patch of soft sand. A day so lucid the limestone colored rock cliffs on the south end of Catalina Island, stood clearly delineated against the horizon. Beyond: unbounded space.

 Relaxed in the comforting presence of negative ions I opened a book that had been gathering dust on my cookbook shelf for several years.

The American Woman’s Cookbook first published in 1938, seven years later than the first Joy of Cooking was my mother’s first cookbook. I held her 1942 edition in my hands, the one that most influenced the meals that made their way to our family dining table.


IMG_4050 1

The introduction listed the Butterick Co. as the publisher with credit paid to The Carnation Company the producer of Irradiated Carnation Milk for being

 “among the first to present pictorially in full, natural color of many of the appealing dishes, which grace our dinner tables… The development of printing reproduction in full color of difficult food subjects is a fascinating story. The color pages in the book required not only skillful preparation of the dishes to be photographed, but also an advanced photographic technique which makes possible the brilliant colors and superb craftsmanship of modern photoengraving. The beautiful pages which have been included in this volume effectively vitalize the recipes and add inspiration to the occupation of cooking.”




Cookbooks provide recipes, but they also give an account of the transformational process of American life. With The American Woman…I realized how cookbooks  reflect social concerns, national mores and cultural bias.  In 1942 for example, a woman’s occupation stated indirectly in the above, was definitely in the kitchen.

The opening pages offer sage advice.

“To become a good cook requires more than the blind following of a recipe. This is frequently illustrated when several women again note, “women” living in the same community, all using the same recipe, obtain widely differing results. It is the reason so many cooks say, ‘I had good luck with my cake to-day,’ or ‘I had bad luck with my bread yesterday.’ Happily, luck causes neither the success nor the failure of a product. To become a good cook means to gain knowledge of foods, and how they behave, and skill in manipulating them. The recipe by itself, helpful as it is, will not produce a good product; the human being using the recipe must interpret it and must have skill in handling the material it prescribes.”

Clearly, there is a distinction between good cooking and following a recipe. How often have I heard, “I can’t cook, but I can follow a recipe,” from the mouths of some of my close friends.

Useful facts about food anticipate the recipes.

Methods of cooking for example, are defined as: boiling, simmering, stewing, steam, pressure cooking, broiling, baking, poaching, roasting, sautéing, frying, braising, fricasseeing and fireless cooking! Methods of mixing food follow: stirring, beating, folding in, cutting in, creaming, kneading and larding. Temperature is important: cooking by exact temperature is recommended and therefore an oven thermometer is needed…

Extended information on several key ingredients is revealing. Starch is a headliner with points to be observed in cooking starch-rich foods, the thickening power of flour or cornstarch and methods of combining flour or cornstarch with liquids. The same is done for sugar, the use of fats, shortening, milk and eggs.

 Michele Obama would love the four pages that are devoted to school lunches.

“As much care is needed in selecting and preparing food for the child’s lunch at school as for the other meals served to the child. If the lunch is inadequate or lacking in food essential throughout the school year, the child’s whole nutrition will be seriously affected and “his”, parentheses are mine, work at school will suffer.”

It is recommended that the lunch “possess the following characteristics.” Abundance, regard for the nutritive needs of the child in relation to the whole day’s food, and be “clean, appetizing, wholesome and attractive”.

One menu suggestion among several:

                                    Cream of Spinach Soup (in vacuum container)


                                      Raisin and Nut Bread and Butter Sandwiches

                                                            Apple Sauce

Perhaps this book is more hip than meets the eye. Since the first publication, have we evolved or regressed?

Need to know how to set a table? Check this out.

IMG_4068 1

The joy of perusing turned up recipes for grouse, opossum, reindeer, squirrel and venison. Intriguing.  I doubt that they will make their way into my kitchen, but some of the following just may.

IMG_4062 1



Older posts Newer posts