Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cooking as a Spectator Sport

Has cooking become a spectator sport? I'd like to recommend an article from the New York Times which suggests this and proposes we'd all be thinner if we took more time to cook for ourselves. I think he's on to something.

My husband and I are addicted to cooking shows. He actually does most of the cooking, because I'm the one with the traditional job these days and he works at home. But his idea of cooking is along the lines of "Semi-homemade." He's more than happy to use canned sauces for pasta, even though making them from scratch is fairly quick and easy. I'm reluctant to complain, because by the time I get home from work and the requisite trip to the Arabian Prince at the barn, I'm not in any shape to cook.

I am feeling somewhat inspired by Julie & Julia, and I think it would be so much more interesting and healthy to actually eat fresher things with fewer ingredients (a la Mark Bittman and Food Matters.)

So I think I'll challenge my other half to this: starting September 1 and going til the end of the year, I'll cook for the Sunday Super Supper Squad and one other night each week and you get to do the same three nights a week for the three of us, but the cooking can't use highly processed foods (that means canned or frozen things with more than the maximum requisite number of ingredients Mark Bittman writes about.) You can go back to Rachel Ray's books, which actually are pretty good about these things, or any other cookbooks on the shelf (Julia Child is still there, even though most of our cookbook collection is gone because of the fire.) I claim Marcella Hazan and the Silver Palate books.

Remember, we live in southern California, where the produce at a farmers' market is always wonderful and fish is readily available. And we've got a really nice grill in the back yard.

It will require planning on both of our parts, but we can do this. And we don't have to give up watching cooking shows while we do it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gordon Ramsay at London, West Hollywood

Len scored points for the second year in a row by taking me out to a special restaurant for my birthday. Last year it was the too noisy Osteria Mozza, disappointing because we could not carry on a conversation over the din of the music and hard surfaces. This year it was the pretty close to perfect Gordon Ramsay at the London, West Hollywood.

I wanted to take Len there for his birthday in June. He wasn't feeling well, so it didn't happen. We learned when we went on my birthday in July that Gordon Ramsay had spent the entire month of June at the restaurant, celebrating its first anniversary. As big fans of Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, and The F Word, we were most disappointed we had missed meeting him.
We decided to be adventurous and go with the seasonal chef's menu, a seven-course meal of modest sized portions. (I intended to post the actual names of the selections, but it was not available on-line and I didn't take notes at the time--I barely remembered to take pictures.) It was beautifully prepared and beautifully presented, starting with the amuse bouche of endive with a filling of duck confit and fruit and home made potato chips with creme fresch shown above. This was followed by focaccia and a savory sweet corn custard of Japanese influence, shown below.
The next course was a cured salmon with mushrooms...
followed by an amazing fois gras.
The only thing that Len wouldn't try was the seared scallops of the pasta course, served on fettuccini with a lobster bisque sauce and a decorative dollop of caviar. I finished off his scallops as well as mine and he ate the rest of the dish.
For the main course, Len chose the beef. It looked wonderful, but I no longer eat red meat. He said it was wonderful.
I ate every bit of the sea bass, and couldn't have been happier.
We paid for an upgrade which included a cheese course. I love blue cheeses and the one served was divine. I'd love to get the recipe for the fruit and nut bread which was toasted as an accompaniment to the cheese.
The dessert was a chocolate bavarian cream, followed by...
some meranguey cookies and chocolate. Unfortunately, they were made with peanuts, so I couldn't try them. When we asked for a box to take the cookies home so my son could have them, the restaurant included a box with four hand-made truffles.
When we finished eating, Len informed me that it was the most expensive meal he had ever paid for (and we didn't have any alcohol.) I told him it was by no means the most expensive meal I have ever eaten (which was probably one of those dinners a publisher-paid-for dinners in San Diego) but it was definitely one of the best meals I've ever had. I can understand why Gordon Ramsay has won so many Michelin stars for his restaurants. I'm hoping we go back for our anniversary in December to try the seasonal chef's tasting then.

Sunday with Julia

Run, don't walk, to see Julie & Julia, well written and directed by Nora, Ephron with wonderful performances by Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Amy Adams. I've been looking forward to seeing this film for several months and I think that Meryl Streep is on her way to another Oscar nomination.

While I love good food, I've never been overly in love with French cooking. I generally do not go looking for French restaurants to try and, until recently, I haven't been tempted to try French cooking at home. I did buy a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I replaced a couple of what I consider cookbook staples after our house fire in April. the two volumes are still shrink-wrapped, whereas I've already used the most recent editions of The Joy of Cooking, The Silver Palate Cookbook, and Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking already.

Marcella Hazan's books are my kitchen bibles, and I my original copies Classic Italian Cooking and More Classic Italian Cooking were worn and stained. I would be far more likely to recreate Julie Powell's year of Julia as a year of Marcella using Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking as my guide. My husband and son would have no objection to that, I'm sure.

I did go through an intense period of baking right after the attacks on the World Trade Center because I had an incredible need to do homey things. Nancy Silverman's The La Brea Bakery Bread Book had been sitting on my shelf for several years, because I felt intimidated by it. It requires working with a sourdough starter. Every time I had ever tried to make a starter, it had failed miserably. In 2001, my grape vines were producing lovely clusters of grapes that were never exposed to pesticides. That allowed me to make a starter from scratch, using Nancy's detailed instructions. And, much to my surprise, it worked. It also became the source of much amusement and many jokes from my husband about the living thing we referred to as "Seymour" calling "feed me" every four hours. Following Nancy's recipes is a life-calling. Most of them require two days of work, and some even three, to properly raise and proof the doughs. They are wonderful and definitely worth the time. Sadly, I don't have the luxury of time (because of flexibility) I did when I was self-employed.

We came out of the movie with a need to find a good restaurant fast. Some people have referred to Julie & Julia as "food porn." I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but much like Stanley Tucci's wonderful film Big Night which required finding an Italian restaurant at which to eat when the film ended, we decided that a French restaurant was in order. Fortunately, I remembered there was a place not far from the theatre about which I'd heard friends rave. We gave the others directions to the place.

Even though we couldn't remember the name, we knew it was next door to Earth 2, a comic book shop owned by a friend of Len's. Turns out the name is La Frite. The food was good and reasonably priced. We had to wait for a while to be seated, because the restaurant was packed. Probably with other people who had just been to see Julie & Julia.

Len, Lorien, and Becky all tried the baked crepes, Lisa went with the chicken cordon bleu, and I had the Sunday night special of swordfish brochette. Served with rice, green beans and a piquent salsa verde, the grilled fish was heavenly. I'd go back for it again. The gang decided it would be fun to go back for the cheese platter, some wine, and dessert.

I look forward to adding Julie & Julia to our film collection (and I've wanted to find a copy of Big Night for a long time.) If it were playing anywhere near my mother's, I'd like to take her to see it when I go back East this week. I'm sure she'd enjoy it. We all noticed that the audience was one of the oldest groups of people I've seen at the movies in a very long time. This is not a bad thing, just an unusual thing. I suspect that most of the people there usually don't go to a movie theatre any longer, but they came out because they remembered watching Julia Child on television.

I would recommend seeing Julie & Julia after you've gone to a good dinner, preferably French. If you are brave enough to go on an empty stomach, make sure you've made reservations for afterwards.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lunch at TGI Fridays

Len called me yesterday to see if I'd like to meet him and Bob Skir for lunch. They get together for lunch every Wednesday and then head off to the comic book shop for their weekly fixes. The TGI Fridays was a bit out of their way, but close to my office and I agreed (even though it would never be my choice for a meal.)

I am pleased to report that TGI Fridays makes an excellent tomato basil soup, almost as good as the tomato soup I had at Angeli Cafe last year. It was the soup of the day and I had it as part of the Endless Lunch special, which included soup, salad, bread, and beverage for less than $10. I don't know if the tomato soup is served every day or every Wednesday, but it is definitely worth considering the next time you go to TGI Fridays.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Taking Tea

Susan Ellison (wife of Harlan) and Kathryn Drennan (wife of JMS) took me out for tea last Sunday. I thought we were going dutch, but it turned out they wanted to treat me because they felt they hadn't been able to do anything to help us with fire recovery. It was very sweet of them. They took me to the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, where tea consisted of the lovely spread you can see in the photograph above.

Tea seatings start early at the Peninsula--around noon for the first seating, which was the one we attended. We enjoyed a glass of champagne (I wasn't driving, so it seemed like a good idea to me) and I tried the caviar treat, which was caviar and creme fraiche on a pumpernickel bread round. Good, but it added a disproportial expense to the tea.

There were lovely strawberries in cream before getting to the main meal: four kinds of savories and an equal number of sweets. The waiter suggested we eat the two kind of scones while they were still warm, and we did. They were served with clotted (or Devonshire--I don't remember which) cream and a choice of lemon curd or a chocolate-raspberry spread which was...unusual.

Susan and Kathryn like a smoky Russian tea, the name of which I cannot remember, and insisted we needed to drink the caramel-pear tea with the sweets. Both were quite good. I was a bit pedestrian with my choice of Earl Grey, which Susan finds "too fussy." I've been known to try a bit of rooibus tea, which I now know is the "bush tea" referred to in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but I passed up on it last week.

We had a lovely time, and then went off to do a bit of retail therapy in Beverly Hills and at the Farmers' Market and the Grove. I was trying to locate La Creuset kitchen canisters in cobalt, but neither Williams-Sonoma nor Sur La Table carry them in that color. It looks like I'll have to buy them on-line.

While at the Farmers' Market, we felt the need to refresh ourselves with beverages and beignets at The Gumbo Pot, one of the few reliable places I know in Los Angeles to get New Orleans style food. The beignets were hot out of the oil, powdered with sugar, and tasted exactly like the ones at the Cafe du Monde in the Crescent City. It's been years since we were there, but we went every night of the week we were in town to cap off the day.

It's too bad that Susan and Kathryn don't go to San Diego Comic-Con, because there are several tea shops I'd like to take them to. We've decided to give Gordon Ramasy's restaurant at London West Hollywood a try for tea sometime soon.

Meanwhile, I'm going to reprint the recipes for the best scones ever. They came from the Ticky-Boo Tea Shoppe in Carlsbad, which went out of business virtually overnight much to our disappointment. I don't know what shape my cookbook from there is in, wherever it is in the warehouse, so I was thrilled to remember I had put it in to this blog early on. Enjoy:

Ticky-Boo Scones

2 C. All-purpose Flour
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/3 C. Sweet Butter
1/4 C. Vegetable Shortening
1/3 C. Heavy Cream
Splash of Water

Place baking sheet in oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.
Sift the measured dry ingredients together, twice.
Dice fats into the dry ingredients, then lightly rub with cool fingertips or pastry blender. Make a well in center and stir in cream. Lightly mix with a fork until a soft dough forms. If dough is dry, add water, sprinkling a little at a time until the dough is perfect for kneading.
Turn out on a well-floured board and knead very lightly for about 1/2 minute for a loose smooth dough. Roll out with a rolling pin or pat with hands to approximately 3/4" thick.
Stamp out with a cutter or cut into triangles with a sharp knife. Knead together any trimmings and stamp out again, continuing until all the dough is used.
Lift with a spatula onto the preheated baking sheet, placing them 1" apart. Brush tops only with beaten egg or milk (optional--I don't.)
Bake toward the top of the oven for approximately 10-15 minutes or until well risen and golden brown. Remove and turn out onto a wire rack for cooling. Best served warm with clotted or Devon Cream and jam or curd.
This basic recipe may be adjusted to add currants, raisins, cheese with sage and walnuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, or any other spice or variety you choose.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rebuilding a Kitchen

In case you hadn't heard, our house caught fire on April 6, so blogging has fallen by the wayside. We're now somewhat settled in our rental house and making decisions about what to do (rebuild the old house the way it was and sell it or rebuild it so it meets our needs.) I have now truly come to appreciate what I need to have around in order to cook and what I can do without.

I can do without clutter. There are a number of items which were packed out of the fire-damaged house that I don't need again. There were other things we simply said "don't bother" at the time, so they were trashed. I don't need Tupperware or a lot of space-hogging plastic anymore, thank you very much. I am still trying to find nice ceramic or glass canisters for storing flour and sugar, but I really don't want plastic, which seems to attract grease and then refuses to ever get really clean again.

I do need a good selection of glasses. Most of my glassware is still at the packers because two of the boxes I expected to bring home with me got left behind. I had no stemware until yesterday, when I scored 8 Libby champagne flutes in cobalt at the $.99 Store. When we had the party to thank everyone who helped us through the fire, we had to use plastic cups for the margaritas my friend Michael whipped up. I don't think it changed the taste, but there's something really nice about having the correctly shaped glassware on hand.

As I've long thought, I need to have my Cuisinart to feel that I'm in a useful kitchen. I also want to keep my Kitchen Aid Mixer close by. Surprisingly, the first electric tool I really needed was the blender. All of them got a great cleaning at the company that packed out the house.

We went out and bought a couple of good knives right away. And we bought a new storage system for our spices, since we no longer have the beautiful shelf unit which was built for our kitchen less than three years ago. Sniff. We also had to buy new cutting boards and a number of kitchen implements. I'm still looking for a good can opener because the one Len bought is awful.

I discovered it is good to have several sets of dishes, because I managed to stop the packers from taking my Stangl Country Garden stuff with them. I washed that myself, and some of it was quite close to the source of the fire. The packers took the Correlle, which Len was desperate to get back (he's got it now), the Sun and Moon informal stoneware, and the Noritake Adagio fine china for cleaning. The Stangl, made back in the 1950s and 1960s with different flowers on different pieces, was incredibly cheerful to use and put on display. I really needed cheerful during the first part of this disaster.

Good stainless beats the hell out of cheap stainless. I discovered that Oneida has discontinued the Act I pattern I've used for 25 years and we only got part of the set before the packers got the rest. I think I've now got most of it, but trying to buy more is problematic. I've seen prices high enough to put it in the range of my sterling pieces. Act I is a particularly nice, heavy stainless pattern, with a certain heft to it, which balances nicely in the hand. When I was young an foolish, I almost picked out a sterling pattern because there was a coordinating stainless pattern. I've held pieces of it and thank my lucky stars I didn't go that way--it's really uncomfortable to use.

Speaking of the sterling, it was a good thing it wasn't stored in the bedroom any longer. I got all of it out and with me unscathed. It could have wound up like my silver jewelery: in free-form puddles. I am going to make sure I've got an insurance floater on it now.

Good pots and pans are an absolute necessity. We finally got back most of the pieces of the Analon I bought for Len for Christmas and such, but before they came home I picked up a couple more pieces to carry us through. We cook a lot of pasta, and having big pots is critical. Good thing Sur La Table was having a sale. I also bought an enamel-coated cast-iron dutch oven, which is great for making sauce. I love cast iron. Len doesn't.

I miss my own range, which is sitting in a warehouse in Glendale along with our refrigerator. We hate the frige that the rental place sent. Neither Len nor I find it convenient to get to the lower shelves after several years of having a freezer in the bottom set up with our Maytag. On top of that, the rental unit is about 10 c.f. smaller than ours and, strangely, I haven't had my calls about this returned.

We're still waiting to hear how much it will cost to fix the dining room table leaves. The table itself is not a big deal, but the leaves (all six of them) were in my closet and half of them looked pretty bad when I saw them in the trash heap.

Since we entertain almost every Sunday, the first few weeks without appropriate serving dishes and utinsels were tough. It's much better now. I got some of my Nambe back and I picked up two new pieces at the Pasadena City College flea market yesterday. Nambe does not melt in fire or break in earthquakes, making it an ideal artform to have in Los Angeles. Things seem to be going for less on E-bay these days, so I got a few serving pieces, including a huge bowl, in Country Garden. Shipping is still a killer.

A really big inconvenience is the loss of the use of my cookbooks. They too have been taken away and I don't yet know if I'll be getting them back. I ordered a few necessities from Jessica's Biscuit, such as Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian omnibus (can't live without it), the most recent Joy of Cooking (although I really prefer the edition from the 1970s), the 25th Anniversary Silver Palate Cookbook, Mark Bittman's updated How to Cook Everything and Food Matters, and thought I'd give Julia Child a try. I miss my artisan bread book and Len misses all of his Rachael Ray books. I did pull out my little blue notebook with a few of my favorite recipes in it, but it is woefully inadequate. Len did not get his notebooks out, so he's struggling to remember a couple of his favorite recipes.

We're still missing most of my baking pans, but I think I could do a sit-down dinner with no trouble. The Belmont tea would have been a bit problematic, since my tea trays will be in storage until we have a new permanent home. Holding a barbecue is no issue, since we've got a really nice built-in grill and we brought our big grill down from the house to keep it safe. The 30 people who came for the thank you party seemed to enjoy themselves a lot, so I expect we'll be doing a lot of grilling this summer.

One item that is a new edition to the kitchen is a butter bell. I'd never heard of one before we stayed at our friend Gillian's during the days after the fire until we could move into the rental. It keeps a quarter pound of butter spreadable and safe by using water to form a barrier. They are available for under $10 at Ross and similar stores (more at places like Le Creuset, Sur La Table, or Williams Sonoma) and I can't recommend one enough. Try it, you'll like it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dining Out

Restaurant Week is coming to a close and I've not had a chance to take much advantage of these discounts, but I did get to go to two restaurants I visited for the first time last year.

I introduced my friend Melinda to Angeli Caffe last Friday. It is participating in Restaurant Week, but not on Friday nights. Nevertheless, we had a spectacular supper of a selection of appetizers from the seasonal menu, with Melinda choosing the lasagna bolognese while I got the ahi tuna with garlic on linguini as main courses. The restaurant was very busy, but they managed to find an open seat. I just wish it wasn't quite so noisy, but hard surfaces are in.

On Tuesday, we went to see "Minsky's" a new musical which will probably go to New York this spring. Our friend Gillian discovered the four of us could eat at Roy's Hawaiian Cuisine near the Staples Center and then get a complementary shuttle to and from the Ahmanson Theatre, which is not located in a restaurant-populated neighborhood. Roy's has a seasonal fixe prix menu for $34 (the same as the mid-level Restaurant Week price), and we did justice to the selections for appetizers and entrees, but we all chose the same dessert. Roy's put a bowl of edamame on the table which was flavored with salt, sugar, and a selection of some Japanese spices--fantastic. I had the seafood chowder (which had a New Orleansean kick) and the grilled salmon, both of which were very good. The other selections on the table included a salad with grilled chicken or a salad with grilled beef for appetizers and the short ribs or grilled shrimp for entrees. There was none of the pork pot roast available or someone would have ordered that as well. Dessert was moulten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. We then waddled off to catch our shuttle, which turned out to be a stretch limo.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Restaurant Week L.A.

I've been looking through the list of restaurants participating in Restaurant Week L.A. which runs January 25-30 and February 1-6 (Saturdays not included.) There is tiered pricing, unlike in San Francisco where there was only a difference in price between lunch and dinner, not dining establishments. Lunch is $16, $22 or $28 and dinner is $26, $34, or $44, depending on whether it is a deluxe, premier, or fine dining establishment.

I can enthusiastically recommend the food at a number of the restaurants on the list, such as Drago (one of the best high-end Italian restaurants at which I've eaten), Angeli (an excellent and reasonably priced restaurant about which I've written before), Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine in Woodland Hills (which surprised me and was a hit with both my husband and son as well--and which has a tasting menu throughout the year), Patina, Border Grill (owned by televsion's Two Hot Tamales, but I liked the food a lot anyway), Lowry's and Ruth's Chris Steak House (although I no longer eat red meat, I remember it well.)

I'm somewhat surprised by the appearance of the Daily Grill, which I don't really care for and Gladstones (at best o.k., but they do know how to wrap leftovers), identified as deluxe dining--in someone's dreams. Katsuya may well be a cheaper dining experience alla carte than the premier three course price. I was stunned by the selection at a $$$ tapas restaurant. $44 gets you three tapas dishes at The Bazaar by Jose Andres, considerably more than it cost the last time I went out for tapas.

The participating restaurant I would most like to try is Gordon Ramsay's London West Hollywood, which is one of the $44 selections, but I'm not sure about the menu choices. I'd have to go through the list and menues before I'd make any other choices. With our booked schedule, it is unlikely we'll actually get a chance to participate this year unless we make an early-evening reservation for the night we're going to see Minsky's next week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Restaurant Week in San Francisco

My photographs all look much better on a Mac than a PC. It's about the difference in settings. Oh, well.

We got into San Francisco and to the hotel after 9 p.m. on Thursday evening. By the time we got our luggage in the room and went to find a place to eat, it was closing in on 10 p.m. However, in this economy, restaurants are willing to stay open a bit longer to make a little more money, and the concierge found us a place in walking distance which was willing to serve us a bit later than it's normal 10 p.m. closing time.

The restaurant was the Nob Hill Cafe, a California-Italian place which suited us just fine. We each had a pasta dish (mine was the linguine con vongole, but I can't remember what Len ate--we left the extras in the refrigerator at the Fairmont) and I also had a mixed greens salad. For the first time in my life I actually noticed the off-taste of mixing Parmesan cheese with shell-fish, but maybe it was the last of my cold messing with my taste-buds. I was really hungry, but I could not finish the dish.

I never left the hotel during the day because the group that had come to town for the meeting worked from 8:45 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day. Breakfast was at 7:30, lunch around 12:30, and snacks were brought in mid-morning and mid-afternoon. It was like being on a cruise in a barrel because we didn't have a window. Those of us with significant others were told tales of gorgeous weather and shopping trips to Pier 39 and Chinatown. But we had important work to do and we were quite faithful about performing.

Dinners, however, were elsewhere and in different social combinations. On Friday night, ten of us went to Chinatown, where we did a family meal that included dungeness crab in spicy salt and Peking Duck. Fantastic. Did I remember to take my camera out for pictures? I don't even remember the name of the place or the street it was on, except that it was not on Grant Avenue. It was on a street parallel to California, though. I could tell by the slope.

On Saturday night, Joe and Gay Haldeman and Len and I went off together for a quiet dinner together at a small place about seven blocks from the Fairmont, not counting ups and downs. The quiet was the important part, because it allowed us to really talk and laugh. I met Joe and Gay decades ago, but this was the first time we've ever had this much face time and it was really great.

Joe and I both ordered the halibut in papillote at the Hyde Street Seafood Grill.
Mine was quite good. Joe's was a bit undercooked, but that's the downside of cooking in paper where you can't really tell if stuff is entirely cooked through. My potatoes could have used a little more time, but the fish was just fine. I think Gay had shrimp cooked in garlic and Len had the potato-crusted salmon, which I also tasted and liked. Len and I shared key lime pie for dessert, but I bet Gay and Joe, who live in Florida for part of each year, would have found it lacking in real key lime.

On Sunday night, Joe and Gay went off with Karen Haber and Robert Silverberg for a traditional double date they always do when in the same place and Len and I went off with Russell Davis and his wife Sherry to Big 4 at the Huntington Hotel to have a "San Francisco Restaurant Week" prix fixe meal.

The Huntington Hotel was about a block away from our hotel on Nob Hill. The Big 4 referred to include Leland Stanford, Sr. and three other California magnates. Karen Haber said to me the next night "I hear you did the boy thing for dinner." It does look like a men's club, with dark paneling out of the Victorian era, but the food was excellent. The restaurant is considered to be among the top 20 in San Francisco (at least according to Gourmet Magazine) and we would have spent close to $100/person if not for the $34.95 three course special.

Len had the butternut squash soup for a start.
I had a salad with apples, candied walnuts, blue cheese and a champagne vinegarette.
For the main course, Len had a chicken dish and I had the crusted sole with grilled corn and spinach. It was very good and I cleaned my plate.
Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake with a bit of vanilla ice cream and raspbery sauce. Yum.
We waddled back to the hotel to get a good night's sleep. Restaurant Week is later this month in Los Angeles and I'd love to try out a few pricy places at the reduced rate. Particularly Gordon Ramsay's London.

During the four days in meetings, Russell had arranged for one lunch menu to be repeated. It was my favorite, with crab bisque, lobster salad sandwiches, greens wrapped in cucumber for a salad, and some nice marinated mushrooms.
Dessert was chocolate. On our last day, the afternoon snack was a Ghiredelli chocolate spread, with mouse filled chocolate cups, dark chocolate tarts, macademia cookies and a chocolate torte. We were all in a sugar and caffine-generated high.

On Monday night, we had a group dinner for 16 people in the Laurel Court Restaurant. The restaurant is normally not open on Mondays, but Russell convinced them to let us have a private dinner there. The Fairmont Hotel has an excellent kitchen. I had the ahi tuna salad and the duck breast and finished with the lime panna cotta. Robert Silverberg chose the wines and I had a California white and a shirraz from Australia. I didn't taste the French red. Nor did I bring the camera to dinner, which is a real shame. The presentation was really nice, with unusually shaped plates, much like on Iron Chef America.

It was a great trip, even if I never got down to the Pier to eat cheap shrimp cocktail or watch Len ride a Segway.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

San Francisco, Here I Come

Len and I are driving to San Francisco on Thursday morning. I get to go to all-day meetings and he gets to enjoy the Fairmont Hotel, the City, and whatever else he feels like doing between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. for four days. He's got the better deal this time out.

I wanted to have dinner at COCO500, where Jennifer Biesty, one of last year's competitors on Top Chef, worked, but she is no longer there and I can't find out where she is. It is a great eating city, and I'm sure we'll have at least one memorable meal.

I lived in Palo Alto on the Stanford University campus during the first year of my first marriage. It was about an hour trip into San Francisco from there. We managed to get into the City on a couple of occasions (not nearly often enough during that year), including a trip to watch the Chinese New Year's parade in Chinatown. It bore no resemblance at all to the parade in Flower Drum Song. It was rather disappointing. We did, however, eat at this strange restaurant called Sam Wo's, where they made fantastic noodle concoctions, including what I think were thick rice noodles that were stuffed and rolled like a jelly roll (but not slimy like the steamed dim sum stuffed with shrimp you can get in so many places.)

At Sam Wo's, you entered the narrow building through the kitchen and walked up the stairs to the second or third floors, which were the actual dining rooms. The object was to get seated on the second floor, where the waiter named Edsel Ford Fong ruled over the very few tables croweded with diners. He was a great floor show, and made a lasting impression on a lot of people. You can even look him up in Wikipedia. Herb Caen called him the world's rudest waiter. Robin Williams confessed in an article in TV Guide that he wanted to learn Chinese so he could go to Sam Wo's and confound Edsel Ford Fong, who "considered every occidental a challenge" in the words of one review from those days. One of these days, I will ask Harlan Ellison to ask Robin if he ever actually did this. It would have been a beautiful thing to behold.

On the night we were there with a group, the pretty young blond (not me--I was a brunette in those days) was shanghaied into setting the table and taking the order by Eddie. He would brandish a fist full of spoons in front of every occidental's face demanding "insurance?" I was always glad that I had mastered the use of chopsticks early in life.

Oh, yes. Dinner for 5 of us was $11 that night.

I hear the restaurant is still there, but Eddie is gone. I'm not sure the food has the draw of the entertainment.