Monthly Archives: February 2009

A Celebration of Dungeness

Bistro Boudin Executive Chef James Chan gets crabby. (Photo courtesy of Boudin Bistro)

Would you buy a Dungeness crab from this man?

Well, you should, because Executive Chef James Chan of Bistro Boudin, 160 Jefferson St., 160 Jefferson St. near Pier 43 1/2 in San Francisco, has got a deal for you.

Through March, the restaurant will serve a once-a-week Crab Feast on Thursdays. You get one crab per person, linguine with slow-cooked tomato sauce, Caesar salad, and of course, Boudin’s sourdough bread.

Prices for the feast are $25 for one person; $49.50 for two; and $89.95 for four.

Bistro Boudin's crab extravaganza. (Photo courtesy of Bistro Boudin)

OK, the Niners might not have made it to the Super Bowl. ‘Nuf said.

But you can catch 49ers team members in another competition, the 7th annual Celebrity Crab Festival. They’ll be digging into bowls of Dungeness crab, noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 28 at San Francisco’s Union Square, to demonstrate the fine art of cracking the Bay Area’s premier crustacean. That will be followed by a timed crab cracking contest to see who can crack the most crab.

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Your One-Stop Shop For French Gourmet Goods

Le Fermiere honey yogurt (2-pack for $6.99) in pretty ceramic jars.

See that creamy, dreamy yogurt above?

People drive miles and miles for it. Because once you’ve had full-fat French yogurt, there’s no going back.

The bare-bones Gourmet Corner store, 873 N. San Mateo Dr. in San Mateo, is one of the few retailers in the Bay Area — if not the only one — where you can find it. Surely, no other establishment has the variety of French yogurts that this one does.

Find a good selection of French cheeses.

That’s because proprietor Hugues de Vernou knows his stuff. Well, he’s French, for one thing. And two, he’s been in the food import/export business for more than two decades. For years, he ran the Made In France/Village Imports business that sold European gourmet foods wholesale. It was most famous, though, for its occasional public sales, which would prompt foodies to line up for hours to load up on imported cheeses, wines, olive oils, and canned goods at bargain prices.

Owner Hugues de Vernou

De Vernou sold that business last year. In December 2008, he opened this store in what was once a car dealership. In two rooms, totalling 5,000 square feet, you’ll find an array of French products for sale, including chocolates, cookies, foie gras, dried morels, mustards, dried green lentils, jars of duck fat, canned hearts of palm, frozen escargot, and duck confit. De Vernou recently got his liquor license, and now sells wines, too, $8 to $25 per bottle (you get a 10 percent discount if you buy by the case).

Plans are to expand the store even more, to add a selection of prepared foods, and even a barbecue outside in the summer, when the floor-to-ceiling bay doors can be retracted to create almost an open-air market feel.

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Not Your Usual Truffle

Yes, this is a truffle.

If you’re used to dainty, bite-sized chocolate confections, then Sterling Truffle Bar will come as a shock.

It’s a veritable log of chocolate. Triangular-shaped and spanning 4- or 8-inches in length, these hand-painted truffle bars are meant to be served in slices. They make for a great, simple dessert to have on hand for last-minute parties.

Made by Sterling Confections of Redwood City, the bars come in seven flavors, including Rocky Road, Pineapple Ginger Macadamia Nut, and Banana Honey Caramel. The small version is about $14; the larger size about $25.

I’ll use my patented scale of 1 to 10 lip-smackers, with 1 being the “Bleh, save your money” far end of the spectrum; 5 being the “I’m not sure I’d buy it, but if it was just there, I might nibble some” middle-of-the-road response; and 10 being the “My gawd, I could die now and never be happier, because this is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth” supreme ranking.

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Take Five with Four-Star Chef Eric Ripert, On His Fascinating, New Behind-the-Scenes Book

Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin. (Photo courtesy of Nigel Parry)

You may know Eric Ripert as executive chef of Le Bernardin, one of the few restaurants in New York City to have garnered a four-star rating from the New York Times. 

You also may know him from his stints as a guest judge on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef.” You probably recognize him, too, from his appearances on the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” with his buddy, the irrepressible Anthony Bourdain. 

What you may not know is that this suave, 43-year-old Frenchman has a wicked sense of humor that easily catches you off guard, and that he carries a most interesting collection of items in his pockets every day. 

Born in Antibes, France and reared in Andorra, a small country between France and Spain, Ripert left home at age 15 to attend culinary school.  Two years later, he moved to Paris to cook at the famed La Tour d’Argent. That was followed by stints with Joel Robuchon in Paris, then Jean-Louis Palladin at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., before he moved to New York to work as sous-chef to David Bouley. 

Not long after, he became chef de cuisine at Le Bernardin. When the restaurant’s founding chef died unexpectedly, Ripert took over the helm at the tender age of 29. He’s been there ever since, upholding the same high standards. 

Ripert’s newest book, “On the Line” (Artisan), is not your standard cookbook. Written with Christine Muhlke, a New York Times editor, it tells the behind-the-scenes story of the restaurant, through evocative text, glorious photos, and signature recipes. It’s a fascinating read. 

It explains in detail how the kitchen at this venerable restaurant works, who the players are, and what their tasks are. It’s filled with intriguing facts and lists, including what the employees eat for staff meals (burgers and fries to lobster pasta); the number of pounds of fresh black truffles the restaurant uses each week when in season (6); the average number of minutes it takes to cook a dish (5); and the restaurant’s monthly flower bill ($12,000). 

Lobster Cappuccino. (Excerpted from "On the Line'' by Eric Ripert. Nigel Parry and Melanie Dunea photographers.)

Throughout 2009, Le Bernardin will be helping to alleviate hunger by working with City Harvest, an organization dedicated to feeding New York City’s hungry, and which Ripert sits on the board of. During this year, City Harvest will receive $1 for every guest that dines at Le Bernardin. An additional $1 donation will be given to the organization for every guest who buys a copy of “On the Line” at the restaurant. 

I had the fun experience of judging cookies galore with Ripert in December at the annual Gene Burns’ Holiday Cookie Exchange contest. A few weeks ago, he graciously made the time to chat by phone while on his book tour. 

Q: Of course, one of my first thoughts after reading ‘On the Line’ was that I have to eat at Le Bernardin one day! But I know you had other reasons for wanting to do this book. What were they? 

A: I have written two cookbooks before. I didn’t want to do another recipe book. I wanted to do an inspirational book, a documentary on the life of our team. To me, it’s fascinating what a restaurant has to go through in a day in order to deliver excellence.

Q: I often hear people griping when they start seeing $30 entrees on menus. Do you think that most diners are unaware of all that goes into making a dish? 

A: I think the clientele is more and more aware. People spend money now without thinking, ‘Oh, I can do that at home for five bucks,’ which of course, is not true. You can’t. 

In general in the restaurant industry, the high-end market works with low margins. The profits are very narrow. When you go to luxurious restaurant, it’s a good value. 

Q: Compared to going to McDonald’s? 

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Now Might Be The Best Time to Snag That Table at the French Laundry

Chef-proprietor Thomas Keller of the renowned French Laundry. (Photo courtesy of the French Laundry)

You’re cutting back. You’re eating out less. But if you still have the means  to splurge on a fancy meal, now’s the time to try to get that longed-for table at the French Laundry.

To be sure, the Yountville restaurant considered one of the very best in the world, is still full every night. But as a result of this nightmarish economy, it’s now a little easier to get a reservation.

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