Author Archives: foodgal

The Newest Il Fornaio Opens in Santa Clara Square

A bountiful Mare Chiaro at Il Fornaio in Santa Clara.

A bountiful Mare Chiaro at Il Fornaio in Santa Clara.

 

So conditioned are we these days to thinking negatively about chains that we often dismiss them without a second thought.

But bigger doesn’t always mean mediocre or less personalized.

Case in point: Il Fornaio.

The Italian restaurant chain started in the Bay Area, but now has 23 establishments not only throughout California, but also in Colorado, Virginia, Washington and Nevada.

I admit I hadn’t dined at one in quite awhile, even if I’d always had fine experiences at them, including when I held my wedding rehearsal dinner at the San Francisco locale years ago.

So, when I was invited in to dine as a guest at the newest Il Fornaio, which opened last month in the new Santa Clara Square retail-residential complex, I knew it would be satisfying, but I honestly had forgotten just how good the food really can be.

After all, it may be a chain, but it takes the time and effort to make its own breads and pastas, which is no easy feat. And it does so exceptionally well.

Fetching a bottle of wine.

Fetching a bottle of wine.

The Santa Clara restaurant is a huge 150-seat affair housed in a 6,200-square-foot building that has the air of a modern-day Tuscan farmhouse with soaring ceilings, weighty wood posts, a wide-open dining room, an open kitchen, and stylish glass-enclosed wine storage cases that reach to the ceiling and are accessible by a library ladder.

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Starry-Eyed Over Star Anise Snickerdoodles

A simple cookie with a powerhouse of flavor.

A simple cookie with a powerhouse of flavor.

 

Think of these as your favorite snickerdoodles — only taken up a big notch.

They’re crisp on the edges, and wonderfully chewy in the center. And they boast that old-fashioned cinnamon-sugar flavor we all love. What’s more, they get an unexpected punch of star anise, which lends warm, balanced licorice, tarragon and fennel notes.

My husband said they tasted exotic. I think they taste irresistible. Especially with coffee, chai tea or hot chocolate.

“Star Anise Snickerdoodles” is a recipe from “Incredibly Decadent Desserts Over 100 divine Treats with 300 Calories or Less” (Oxmoor House, 2015), of which I received a review copy.

incrediblydecadentdesserts

The cookbook is by Cooking Light recipe developer Deb Wise. The recipes use moderate amounts of sugar and fat without sacrificing texture or flavor. Wise is a fan of whole grains, reduced fat cream cheese, fat-free Greek yogurt, and even Cool Whip.

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Going Green (Tea Lemon Wafers) This Christmas

A different kind of Christmas cookie.

A different kind of Christmas cookie.

 

You have to love a book that invites you to bake a different cookie every day in the lead up to Christmas.

Indulging in a different, freshly baked treat every day? What could be better?

That’s just the premise of “Cookie Advent Cookbook” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy. The cookbook is by Virginia Van Vynckt and Barbara Grunes, two authors who are avowed cookie lovers.

Kids will love the cover of the book, depicting a Christmas tree laden with 24 ornaments. Lift up the flap on each ornament to uncover a tiny illustration of the “cookie of the day.”

The cookies are standard classics for the most part, such as “Swedish Thumbprints,” “Candy Cane Cookies,” and “Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti.”

cookieadventcookbook

I gravitated toward one of the slightly more unusual ones, “Green Tea Lemon Wafers.” These are a breeze to make because the flour, sugar, egg and butter get cooked on the stovetop in a saucepan.

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Holidays at The Hotel Healdsburg

Holiday tea is served in style at the Hotel Healdsburg.

Holiday tea is served in style at the Hotel Healdsburg.

 

Sonoma Wine Country always sparkles, but even more so during the holidays.

With everything ablaze in festive lights, it’s a wonderland without the true toll of winter.

There’s no better place to experience it, too, than at the Hotel Healdsburg, as I found out when I was invited as an overnight guest recently.

The 56-room boutique hotel, right on the square, is co-owned by celeb Chef Charlie Palmer, who lives with his family just four miles away on a 36-acre spread. The hotel was his first venture upon moving to the area in 2001. It sports one of his restaurants, Dry Creek Kitchen, as well as a lifestyle store, Lime Stone, operated by his wife Lisa.

For the holidays, the hotel gets dressed up with strings of lights, and both tabletop and 6-foot-tall decorated trees. The contemporary fireplace in the lobby lounge is always aglow with a warm fire. Nearby is a help-yourself station where you can assemble your own cups of spiced cider or hot cocoa complete with cinnamon sticks or mini marshmallows.

Dry Creek Kitchen -- all done up for the holidays.

Dry Creek Kitchen — all done up for the holidays.

The lounge also has a full bar, with plenty of tables and chairs around the fireplace, to enjoy an afternoon glass of wine or morning breakfast, which is included in the price of the room.

Now through Dec. 23, the lounge also serves a popular Holiday Tea on weekends from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. It’s $34 per person with tea and food; $43 with wine; and $14 for kids under 12 who get a choice of tea, cider or hot chocolate.

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The Long-Awaited Single Thread Finally Opens

Chef Kyle Connaughton in the kitchen of Single Thread, the restaurant-farm-inn he and his wife have dreamed for years of creating.

Chef Kyle Connaughton in the kitchen of Single Thread, the restaurant-farm-inn he and his wife have dreamed for years of creating.

 

Healdsburg’s Single Thread is an ambitious, high-end restaurant. It is an organic, sustainable farm. And it is a luxurious inn.

It is also the most hotly anticipated opening of the year.

Above all, it is a labor of love and dedication by husband-and-wife team Chef Kyle Connaughton and farmer Katina Connaughton.

After two long years of construction, it finally opened its doors to the public last Friday. I had a chance to check it all out at a media dinner held just a few days before that.

Connaughton’s impressive credentials include cooking at Heston Blumenthal’s the Fat Duck in the United Kingdom and Michel Bras’ Toya Japon in Hokkaido. Katina learned the tenets of sustainability while working on a strawberry farm in Japan.

It was under construction for two years.

It was under construction for two years.

Just a few steps off the square.

Just a few steps off the square.

Together, that ethos of serene Eastern hospitality and utmost respect for the land imbue the restaurant, which they built almost from the ground up. The former post office right off the square was supposed to be a tasting room with lodging for Seghesio Vineyards. But when the winery was sold to Crimson Wine Group, the property became available. And the Connaughtons pounced on it for their dream restaurant.

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