Category Archives: Great Finds

Yossy Arefi’s Soft Chocolate and Fig Cake

You'll fall hard for this chocolate fig cake. I sure did.

You’ll fall hard for this chocolate fig cake. I sure did.

 

Imagine a deliriously, deep, rich chocolate-y cake that’s like the love child of a brownie and a molten lava cake.

It’s the stuff of dreams, isn’t it?

It surely is my fantasy come true, especially with its scattering of plump fresh figs on top. So much so that I can’t stop myself from digging a fork into it again and again in utter bliss.

That’s what “Soft Chocolate and Fig Cake” will do to you.

This incredible — and incredibly easy — cake is from the new cookbook, “Sweeter Off The Vine” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy.

SweeterOffTheVine

It’s from the super talented Yossy Arefi, a Brooklyn-based food photographer, food stylist and baker, who created the charmingly named blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co., where she chronicles her baking endeavors.

This is one of those must-have cookbooks. And I don’t say that lightly, not when my shelves are already groaning under the strain of too many cookbooks. But if you’re like me and love to bake, you will find yourself bookmarking practically every page because these are down-home treats with a personality all their own that are in no way an ordeal to make.

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Shhhh, Stolen Fruit Mixers

Stolen Fruit Mixers turn any gathering into a party.

Stolen Fruit Mixers turn any gathering into a party.

 

OK, no fruits were actually pilfered for these non-alcoholic mixers.

Stolen Fruit Mixers is just a fun name for this new Healdsburg company that makes mixers from the fresh-pressed juice of green varietal wine grapes and their skins (also known as verjus).

But unlike so many mixers that taste way too sugary or are so processed to death that they lose their vibrancy, these have real elegance and distinction.

Not surprisingly, since they were created by a chef, Peter Brown of Healdsburg, and long-time grape growers, Doug and Susan Provisor.

The company makes five flavors: Lemongrass Ginger Sauvignon Blanc, Jasmine Juniper Viognier, Hibiscus Grenache, Blood Orange Muscat, and Fig Grains of Paradise Zin.

Mix with alcohol or sparkling water.

Mix with alcohol or sparkling water.

They are concentrated, so it’s suggested you use 1 part mixer to 1 part alcohol (for a cocktail), or 1 part mixer to 2 parts sparkling water (for a mocktail).

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Big City-Eats At Small-Town Rancho Nicasio

The stunning rabbit liver appetizer at the Western Room inside Rancho Nicasio.

The stunning rabbit liver appetizer at the Western Room inside Rancho Nicasio.

 

You’ll be excused if you’ve never been to Rancho Nicasio in Marin before.

The out-of-the-way roadhouse and live music venue may not have been on most people’s radar before. But it sure is now.

That’s because about four months ago, it added a new chef.

Not just any chef. But Ron Siegel, former executive chef of Michael Mina Restaurant in San Francisco, who previously headed Masa’s in San Francisco and Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco. And the first American-born chef to beat an Iron Chef on the original Japanese TV cooking competition.

Chef Max Brown who has been at Rancho Nicasio for 18 years since his father Bob Brown, former manager of Pablo Cruise and Huey Lewis & The News, bought the property is still there. He still oversees the main dining room and the massive backyard barbecue festivities.

The unassuming facade of Rancho Nicasio.

The unassuming facade of Rancho Nicasio, built in 1941.

The Western Room.

The Western Room.

But Siegel now serves up an entirely separate menu in the Western Room inside the rustic Rancho Nicasio.

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Take A Load Off At El Molino Central

A trio of pork tacos at El Molino Central.

A trio of pork tacos at El Molino Central.

 

When a noted chef tells you the name of a restaurant he thinks is the very best in the Bay Area, your ears can’t help but perk up.

And when he reveals that it’s an unassuming taco joint, you really get intrigued.

Such was the case when I recently interviewed Chef Louis Maldonado for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle Food section about his favorite places in the Healdsburg area.

Maldonado, former chef of Spoonbar in Healdsburg and now culinary director of Mugnaini Imports in Healdsburg, was effusive in his praise for El Molino Central in Boyes Hot Springs. So much so that when I found myself in the area last week, I just had to try it, paying my own tab at the end.

The back of the restaurant.

The back of the restaurant.

El Molino Central is a tiny place with a tamale-sized kitchen. Inside, there’s barely room for two small tables, and the counter where you place your order. Lest you think you’ll have to eat your food standing up, you will find a cheerful patio in the back with picnic tables, covered by a trellis and a revolving ceiling fan. You’ll have to walk through the compact kitchen to get to it, though — or go out the front door and walk around the building to the back.

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Trestle Serves Up An Astounding Prix Fixe — For $35

Huckleberry cake at Trestle in San Francisco.

Huckleberry cake at Trestle in San Francisco.

 

I’ve had many wonderful meals at restaurants, but never have I left at the end of an evening overcome with the emotions that I had at Trestle in San Francisco.

As Co-Owner Tai Ricci bid me adieu, I just wanted to hug her for dear life and implore, “Please, please be profitable and be around for a very, very long time!’

If you’ve found your eyes bulging out of their sockets at the stratospheric prices of some of the Bay Area’s tasting menus lately, you’ll find your peepers popping out at Trestle for another reason:

You’ll wonder how they do it — serving an extraordinary three-course dinner nightly for all of $35 per person.

The cozy, contemporary dining room.

The cozy, contemporary dining room.

We’re not talking a slap-dash affair, either. This is food, where it’s immediately evident that great care is taken. Soup is poured tableside by your server. The skin on a fish fillet is seared till perfectly golden and crisp as a perfect potato chip. Desserts are not just plopped into a bowl, but artfully arranged with whimsy.

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