A trio of outstanding pastas at La Balena.
There are many reasons to adore Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s as picturesque as it gets, full of romance, and boasts a white sand beach that just begs you to doff your sandals and relax a long while.
Now, I have another reason to love it: La Balena.
The three-year-old restaurant is owned by Emanuele Bartolini, who used to work front-of-the-house for Mario Batali in New York. After vacationing here regularly with his wife, Anna, the couple finally decided to make the leap to this West Coast hamlet.
Bartonlini named his restaurant La Balena (“The Whale”) after those magnificent sea creatures he used to view when he served aboard ships in the military in Italy. It’s also a nod to the giant whale in his favorite story of “Pinocchio,” which was written by Carlo Collodi, a children’s writer who grew up in Florence, near where from Bartolini hails. In fact, his second restaurant, set to open in April just steps away, will be named Il Grillo (“The Cricket”), in reference to Jiminy Cricket.
La Balena’s namesake.
The pretty back patio.
This is Italian food with true soul wrapped around an abundance of fresh, local ingredients. Executive Chef Brad Briske describes it as “Monterey Bay Tuscan” food. He buys whole and half pigs, and butchers them, no easy feat in such a compact kitchen. All the salumi is made in-house, as well as almost all the pastas, with the lone exception being the spaghetti. But that may change in the future, as the restaurant just purchased a pasta extruder.
Miso Ramen in a flash — with the help of Nona Lim.
Bowls of brothy noodles are the ultimate comfort dish. But you can work yourself into a tizzy in the time and care it takes to create one from scratch.
Oakland’s Nona Lim makes it easy to enjoy your favorite Asian noodle bowl in a flash. Lim grew up in Singapore, and worked as a consultant in the tech industry, all the while training competitively in fencing. After moving to the food-centric Bay Area, she knew she wanted to start a business built around healthful and tasty food.
Her broths, soups and noodles are made in small batches. Find them in the refrigerated section at such stores as Draeger’s, Sigona’s, and Whole Foods for about $4.40 per package.
I had a chance to taste a couple of samples recently. The broths are super convenient — all you have to do is warm them up in a saucepan. The noodles — wide Pad See Ew, flat Laksa ones, and thinner Pad Thai ones — are all made from rice, so they’re gluten-free. Just boil them in water for a minute, drain, then add to your bowl of broth.
Then, get as creative as you like by adding tofu, chicken, mushrooms, cabbage, Sriracha, green onions — or pretty much anything you like.
A pretty — and savory — tart tatin to dig into.
It looks like a sweet. But eats like a savory.
That’s exactly what this lovely “Carrot Tarte Tatin” is.
It’s from the new cookbook, “My Little French Kitchen” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy, by Rachel Khoo. The cookbook author, who also has starred on cooking shows on BBC2 and The Cooking Channel, chronicles her travels through France through these rustic recipes that capture the ease with which Europeans cook and entertain at home. They always make it look easy, don’t they? Enjoy everything from “Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Cod” to “Red Wine Roast Chicken” to “Chocolate and Creme Fraiche Tart.”
Unlike a classic apple tart tatin, this carrot one is not drenched in sweet caramel syrup. Instead, it lets the purity of the carrots shine through with just a touch of honey, red wine vinegar and fresh thyme to awaken their flavors even more.
Santipapas salsas made right here in Oakland.
As a registered nurse, Mark Sorenson definitely knows how to soothe the ailing.
Now as a salsa entrepreneur, he’s proving he knows how to perk up the taste buds, too.
What started as a hobby has now turned into a full-fledged business. His Oakland-made Santipapas salsas are now available at the Pasta Shop in Oakland and Berkeley, the Alameda Natural Grocery store in Alameda, Bi-Rite Markets in San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, and others.
The salsas will soon be in Northern California Whole Foods stores. Sorenson will start direct online sales in June, too.
The company’s name was inspired by Santiago Papasquiaro in the state of Durango. Nicknamed “Santipapas,” it is the town where his mother hails from.
Who would have ever imagined kiwi and ricotta would make such a magical dish?
How do you follow-up a smash-hit restaurant that proved a game-changer in the dining world?
If you’re Chef-Owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski of the red-hot, James Beard Award-winning State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, you do it with The Progress, which opened next door in December.
The Progress was originally going to be the couple’s first restaurant. But when they realized the extensive renovations the former movie house and century-old building would require, they wisely decided to open the smaller State Bird Provisions first in 2012.
That restaurant brought to bear the age-old concept of dim sum-style service to an eclectic array of global small plates — a concept now copied by others on the heels of State Bird’s success.
An overhead view from the mezzanine.
The open kitchen at the back of The Progress.
Whereas State Bird grabs hold of your attention by parading the majority of its dishes out into the dining room on carts or trays for you to see before you choose what to eat, The Progress is wrapped in a little more mystery and requires a peaceful consensus among your table mates.