Category Archives: Great Finds

La Calenda Proves Naysayers Wrong

Pork jowl in mole verde at La Calenda.

Pork jowl in mole verde at La Calenda.

 

When Thomas Keller first let wind that he was going to open a Mexican restaurant in Yountville, the response was immediate: lots of eye rolling and sarcastic remarks.

But like Rick Bayless in Chicago, Keller soon proved this gringo knew exactly what he was doing. Keller may not have made exhaustive trips to Mexico to immerse himself in the intricacies of the cuisine. But he did the next best thing; he hired a chef de cuisine with impeccable credentials and know-how, Kaelin Ulrich Trilling, who was raised in Oaxaca by his mother, Susana Trilling, the noted culinary teacher who owns the cooking school, Seasons of My Heart in Mexico.

As a result, Keller’s La Calenda, which opened in January, is a triumph.

I finally had a chance to check it out a month ago, when I dined at lunch, paying my own tab at the end.

Housed in the former Hurley's.

Housed in the former Hurley’s.

La Calenda is mere steps away on Washington Street from Keller’s other establishments: The French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc, Ad Hoc Addendum, and the group’s lush culinary garden.

The former Hurley’s has been transformed into an airy, colorful space reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda.

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Red Duck Gourmet Condiments — And A Food Gal Giveaway

Everyday sausages turn special with a topping of Red Duck Curry Ketchup.

Everyday sausages turn special with a topping of Red Duck Curry Ketchup.

 

With summer weather comes prime condiment season.

Red Duck has got you covered, no matter what you’re grilling.

The Portland, OR-company makes a range of ketchups, barbecue sauces and taco sauces, all gluten-free and certified organic. The tomatoes used are all grown in California’s Central Valley, too, picked ripe in season from late-June through July.

The business is the brainchild of four MBA students who were studying at the University of Oregon when they came up with the idea for the condiments for a class project. The name “Red Duck” takes its name from the color of ketchup, their first product, plus the mascot of their college.

There are 11 products now, sold either separately or in trio samplers: “Quite Traditional” (Original Ketchup, Approachably Mild Taco Sauce, and Smoked Applewood Molasses BBQ Sauce); “So Unique” (Curry Ketchup, Uniquely Korean Taco Sauce, and Sweet Mustard Peppercorn BBQ Sauce); and “Fairly Spicy” (Spicy Ketchup, Actually Spicy Taco Sauce, and Hot Honey Chipotle BBQ Sauce).

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Fried Chicken Debuts At Duende

Fried chicken with corn on the cobb -- Basque-Japanese-style at Duende.

Fried chicken with corn on the cobb — Basque-Japanese-style at Duende.

 

When you hear that Duende in Oakland just put fried chicken on the menu, you might scratch your head for a moment, thinking how is that a Spanish dish?

Turns out it is.

In the land of paella, gazpacho and croquettes, fried chicken definitely has its place. That’s what I learned last week, when I was invited as a guest of the restaurant with other media to try the new offering.

As Chef-Owner Paul Canales explains, his father, who is of Basque heritage, would often fry chicken in olive oil in the morning, then let it sit out to cool to room temperature before the family ate it, garnished with a squeeze of lemon, for an early dinner, hours later.

Chef-Owner Paul Canales in the kitchen.

Chef-Owner Paul Canales in the kitchen.

Canales was inspired to put his version of fried chicken on the menu when an employee brought in some take-out Japanese karaage for staff meal. Canales considers the Japanese-style fried chicken the gold standard for fried chicken because of its light yet shatteringly crisp exterior.

After experimenting, he came up with a rendition that marries Japanese and Spanish sensibilities in one superlative crunchy bite.

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Inside the Cockscomb Cosmos

Behold the signature bacon chop at Cockscomb.

Behold the signature bacon chop at Cockscomb.

 

Cockscomb is a place you come for outright fun.

Chef Chris Cosentino‘s South of Market restaurant in San Francisco is all excess, abandon and liberation. Well, with an invisible layer of deft control over it all because it is by a “Top Chef Masters” victor who is one of the most skilled and versatile chefs around.

Inside the soaring two-story space, there’s a bit of a medieval lair feel to it. There are flames spewing from the grill where ginormous cuts of meat get seared, a buffalo head stuffed and mounted on the wall, and an eclectic assortment of items arranged on shelves such as a plastic pig sticking out of a vintage meat grinder. If Jon Snow walked in, it probably wouldn’t take him long to feel right at home.

On a recent Saturday night, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, the place was packed with seats filled at tables and the counter by the open kitchen, along with a parade of folks filing upstairs to the second dining room (with its own Juliet-like iron balcony no less), where groups are usually seated.

A sign above the open kitchen.

A sign above the open kitchen.

The eclectic collection decorating the walls.

The eclectic collection decorating the walls.

Cosentino wasn’t there that evening. He may have been in Houston, where just days before news broke about his new restaurant planned there, Rosalie Italian Soul, with a menu inspired by his Italian grandmother. Located inside the C. Baldwin Hotel, it is expected to open this fall. It will join his mini empire of hotel-based restaurants that includes Jackrabbit in Portland’s The Duniway, and Acacia House in the Las Alcobas resort in St. Helena.

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East End — The Be All And End All

Wide ribbons of pasta enrobed in a pork-lamb ragu at East End.

Wide ribbons of pasta enrobed in a pork-lamb ragu at East End.

 

There are many pizza places where you go for pizza and nothing but pizza. Oh sure, there might be appetizers on the menu, and a few salads to consider. But really, the main attraction that overshadows everything else is the pizza. Anything beyond is just filler to bide your time while you wait for your pie to emerge.

East End in Alameda is as far from that as it gets. In many ways, it reminds me of fabled Roberta’s in Brooklyn. You brave the lines there because you’ve heard the pizza is all that and more. But then you discover every single other thing on the menu is worth shouting about, too.

Such is the case at East End, where everything from the cocktails to desserts stands as tall and proud as the incredible pizzas.

Co-owner and co-chef Jacob Alioto manning the pizza oven.

Co-owner and co-chef Jacob Alioto manning the pizza oven.

East End was founded by co-owners and co-chefs Jacob Alioto and Paul Manousos. (You can find out more about them in my new cookbook, “East Bay Cooks” (Figure 1), which will publish in September and include two recipes from East End.)

Paul’s wife, Michelle, designed the laid-back, light-filled spot that’s full of reclaimed wood and interesting touches like old player-piano music rolls repurposed as wallpaper.

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