As we near the end of one year and ready for the start of a brand new one, allow me to toast my favorite dishes of 2014.
It’s never easy to narrow the list to just 10. But these are the tastes that lingered the most; the ones I’d want to eat all over again in a heartbeat.
Here’s my Top 10, listed in no particular order. I raise a glass from a lovely sample bottle of Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling, a blend of nine white wines, which give this method champenoise bubbly the complex flavor of apple, pear, peach and lemon. Here’s to all the chefs and restaurants that made 2014 so delicious and delightful.
Southern ham done in the style of Iberico jamon — magically appears during a hiking tour of Post Ranch Inn.
When you get a group of esteemed Master Sommeliers together, you know there’s going to be an abundance of fine wines uncorked.
When you get them together at Big Sur’s gorgeous Post Ranch Inn as a prelude to next spring’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine extravaganza, the drinking and dining are of the highest order and pretty much go on non-stop.
That’s what I was lucky enough to be privy to when I was invited as a guest to the soiree and to Post Ranch Inn a few weeks ago.
A room with a view at Post Ranch Inn.
The Nest — a sculpture that you can cocoon away in.
Sierra Mar restaurant.
Among the other guests at the two-night affair were: David Bernahl, founder of the Pebble Beach event; Lara Sailor Long, executive wine director for the event; Kim Beto of Southern Wine & Spirits; Shayn Bjornholm, education director for the Court of Master Sommeliers; Ian Cauble of SommSelect; Dominque DaCruz, wine director of Post Ranch Inn; Christie Dufault, former wine director at Restaurant Gary Danko; Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines; Jordan MacKay, wine and spirits writer; Carlton McCoy, wine director for The Little Nell in Aspen; and Larry Stone, estate director of Huneeus Vintners in Rutherford.
Chef Ariane Duarte of “Top Chef” fame talks with attendees at a previous Chefs’ Holidays cooking demo. (Photo courtesy of the Ahwahnee)
If Santa didn’t leave you exactly what you desired this holiday season, here’s a chance to treat yourself to a real four-star gift.
Imagine spending a few days and nights in majestic, snow-capped Yosemite during the winter, all the while mingling with celeb chefs, and enjoying their cooking demos and gourmet gala dinners.
You can do exactly that at the annual Yosemite Chefs’ Holidays extravaganza that runs from Jan. 11 through Feb. 6.
There are eight sessions to choose from, each featuring three top toques from around the country strutting their stuff in cooking demos before preparing a multi-course dinner in the spectacular Ahwahnee dining room.
The Ahwahnee all decked out for Chefs Holidays. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)
Ahem, you might be partial to attending either the Feb. 1-4 Session 7 or the Feb. 4-6 Session 7 because I’ll be acting as the moderator at each. Hey, just sayin’.
Popovers to absolutely, positively die for — at The Farmer and The Fox.
As I sit down to the most incredible popovers of my life, it’s hard to believe I once rifled around to score discounted clothing and purses in this very same spot.
Yes, the buildings that make up the long-closed St. Helena Outlet Mall, which once housed Escada, DKNY, Coach and Brooks Brothers, have been redeveloped into decidedly new enterprises that surprisingly look like they were there all along.
Cairdean Estate now owns the property,which is lighted by strings of white lights and a glowing circular, tiered fountain. The buildings have been repurposed to include a wine tasting room, a mercantile (to open in the next few months), Butterscots Bakery, and The Farmer and The Fox. It is the latter that has drawn me to visit. Opened in June, this elegant riff on an English pub is headed by Chef Joseph Humphrey, formerly of the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Murray Circle in Sausalito and Dixie in San Francisco.
The redone property that used to be an outlet mall.
The English pub-vibe of the bar.
The focal-point wine cellar.
Humphrey, who earned two Michelin stars at Meadowood, was cooking at a special event off-site on the November evening I was invited as a guest to try the restaurant. But you wouldn’t have known, because the food was still exceptional.
Pork belly buns arrive in their own little steamer at Mixx in Mountain View.
It was a shame when the short-lived Palo Alto Grill shuttered its doors earlier this year in downtown Palo Alto.
But the good news is that its Executive Chef Ryan Shelton has landed just a little farther south at the new Mixx in downtown Mountain View. The casual restaurant, which opened in September, is a much larger venue. So much so that Shelton is still amazed that he’s often doing 300 covers in one night now.
His signature seasonal New American cooking is much on display. His wife, Pastry Chef Yoomi Shelton, who worked alongside him at the Palo Alto Grill, is not in the kitchen here. But her presence is still felt, such as in the addictive homemade pretzels baked in the shape of a wheat stalk here that’s her recipe.
On a sunny afternoon, you can enjoy lunch outside.
Over lunch and dinner with two different friends, I had a chance to try quite a few dishes. Each time, we paid our tab at the end of the meal. You can make a meal from the small plates alone. But there are plenty of larger plates worth investigating, too.
Maybe it’s my Chinese heritage, but I can never resist a pork belly bao. Here, they’re billed as sliders ($12) and come three to an order. The pillowy clamshell buns are filled with big pieces of pork belly that are nicely crispy on the edges. The meat isn’t as fatty as other pork belly I’ve had, which may be a boon to some who feel guilty enough indulging in such a decadent porcine cut.