Category Archives: Chefs

My Top 10 Eats of 2016

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Despite wrestling with a shortage of cooks, skyrocketing rents, rising business costs, and ever increasing competition, restaurants in the Bay Area and elsewhere did themselves proud this year, turning out food that was delightful, delicious, and unforgettable.

What dishes do I still dream about long after taking the last bite?

Here are my Top 10 eats of the year, in no particular order, of which I’d gladly have seconds, even thirds, if I could.

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Wishing Everyone A Ducky New Year

Make an impression in the new year with this whole, tea-smoked duck.

Make an impression in the new year with this whole, tea-smoked duck.

 

New Year’s Eve automatically means Champagne.

Caviar, perhaps. Lots of hors d’oeuvres. Even Dungeness crab or lobster.

Why not add duck to that glam list?

There is something special and regal about presenting a whole duck, especially one that is smoked with fragrant black tea, coated in five spice, and served alongside souped-up sweet-tangy hoisin sauce.

Little pillowy steamed buns filled with morsels of the moist duck would turn this into festive finger-food. Or carve at the table, and serve alongside steamed rice or garlic noodles.

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Have a Very Dorie Christmas!

A sophisticated brownie with the intense taste of almonds.

A sophisticated brownie with the intense taste of almonds.

 

Include a little Dorie Greenspan in your Christmas to ensure it’s a sweet one.

Greenspan is a baker extraordinaire who also happens to be great at savory cooking too. She can do it all, and it shows in her many cookbooks, Washington Post column, and her wonderful Everyday Dorie blog that’s followed by legions around the world.

Her newest cookbook, “Dorie’s Cookies” (Houghlin Mifflin Harcourt), of which I received a review copy, is a 518-page comprehensive cookie trove.

Cookie fans are sure to find something to love. Cookie Monsters like myself will be beside themselves trying not to make every single recipe at once.

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There are bar cookies, drop cookies, butter cookies, and even savory cocktail cookies. I’ve bookmarked so many of the recipes, including “Princeton Gingersnaps,” “Devil’s Food Wafflets with Chocolate Sauce,” and “Triscuity Bites” (yes, savory cookies made with cream cheese and crumbled Triscuits).

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Nancy Silverton’s Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies

Not your average chocolate chip cookie.

Not your average chocolate chip cookie.

 

Does the world really need another chocolate chip cookie recipe?

You bet, if it’s by Nancy Silverton.

The renowned pastry chef can do no wrong. At least in my book. Over the years, I’ve made many of her recipes, and none have ever disappointed. She’s also the co-owner of my favorite pizza joint, Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, as well as nearby sister restaurants Osteria Mozza and Chi Spacca.

“Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies” is from her newest cookbook, “Mozza At Home” (Alfred A. Knopf), of which I received a review copy. It was written with James Beard Award-winning journalist Carolynn Carreno.

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It’s a dirty little secret that most chefs don’t cook much at home. They just don’t have the time. Silverton was the same way for many years, until a trip to Italy reconnected her to the pleasures of cooking for friends, family, and even herself.

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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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