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Food Gal Ticket Giveaway and Foodie Happenings

Monday, 21. February 2011 5:25

(Image courtesy of Paso Robles Wine Country)

Win tickets to the Los Angeles Grand Tasting Tour

Taste wines from more than 40 Paso Robles wineries and nosh on gourmet bites at the glam 2011 Los Angeles Grand Tasting Tour, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. March 2 at the Virbiana.

Tickets are $60 each. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association of Southern California.

Because the Food Gal has so many loyal readers who live in or travel regularly to the Los Angeles area, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be giving away three pairs of tickets to the event.

Contest: Entries should be limited to those who will be in Los Angeles on the day of the event, March 2. Contest runs through midnight PST Feb. 26. Winners will be announced Feb. 28.

How to win?

Tell me one of your favorite eats in Los Angeles and why I should try it the next time I’m there.

Here’s my own answer to that question:

“Do you love Chinese dumplings? And specifically, do you love xiao long bao, otherwise known as “soup dumplings”? Then, make a beeline pronto for Din Tai Fung in Arcadia for the very best dumplings you will ever have. I have Pulitzer Prize-winning, Los Angeles food writer Jonathan Gold to thank for telling me about this place. Here, the wrappers are the thinnest ever and so fragile you have to be careful picking them up with your chopsticks, lest you puncture them accidentally. They are tender, juicy, brothy and plain amazing. How good are they? So good that my husband and I ate there twice in three days last year. Until recently, its two Arcadia branches were the only ones outside of Asia. But Pacific Northwest foodies are sure to be rejoicing now that one just opened in Seattle.”

Winner of the Last Contest: In the most recent Food Gal contest, I asked you to tell me your favorite thing to eat back in school. The top three answers will win an annual membership to Blackboard Eats.

Congrats to the winners:

1) Single Guy Ben, who wrote: “I felt like we had the best school lunches growing up in Honolulu. Every day was a different entree always served with a carton of milk, a side salad (which I always ate) and dessert. And I don’t want to date myself but we got all this for a quarter! (Yeah, back when we actually did walk a mile to get to school.)

One of my favorites is the good ole’ Sloppy Joe. It’s ironic that it’s my favorite because growing up (and still today as an adult) I’m a bit of a neat freak. I used to eat my lunch in sections, eating the salad, then the entree, then dessert. Never mixing bites here and there. So sloppy isn’t really in my vocabulary. But something about the Sloppy Joe, whether it’s the flavor or the fact that the sauce soaked into the bun and made everything soft and juicy, just brings a smile to my face. An oddly enough, the Sloppy Joe’s weren’t necessarily super slopppy. Sure, a few clumps of ground beef would fall out as I slowly ate the bun in a systemized concentric pattern, but it still held together.

It’s funny how a lot of school lunch favorites aren’t a part of our regular diet when we grow up. It may be my adversity to eating too much red meat, so I haven’t had a Sloppy Joe in many many years. Or maybe it’s because I don’t use those ready-mix packets any more so don’t have the perfect recipe for Sloppy Joe’s made from scratch. But when I look back, I think now that a perfect, juicy, Sloppy Joe may be just the item I’d like as my last meal on Earth.”

2) Sadie, who wrote, “We had different exchange students every year when I was growing up. Nothing was more wonderful than discovering that a stroopwafel from Barbara or a pulparindo (tamarind candy) from Claudia had snuck into my otherwise very Wisconsin-Midwestern lunchbox.”

3) Jennie Schact, who wrote: “We carried lunch to school. Mom would sandwich thick slabs of roasted turkey between slices of challah slathered with Russian dressing (which is to say, mayo and ketchup stirred together), wrap ‘em up, stack ‘em in the freezer, and throw one into the lunch bag in the morning. You were lucky if it was defrosted enough to eat around the edges at lunch time. Frozen turkey = not pleasant. She was also the innovator of leftover cold hamburger on a bagel. I preferred Ring Dings from the vending machine.”

Dungeness crab salad at One Market Restaurant. (Photo courtesy of the restaurant)

Fabulous Restaurant Events

There’s still time to indulge in the annual Lark Creek Restaurant Group’s “Crab Festival.”

Through the end of the month, you’ll find special dishes at each restaurant that spotlight fresh, sustainable Dungeness crab.

Look for such lip-smacking fare as crab salad with grapefruit at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco; Dungeness crab raviolis with chanterelles and brown butter at Yankee Pier at Santana Row in San Jose; and chili roasted Dungeness crab with garlic and smoked paprika at Fish Story in Napa.

There’s also still time to try the the special prix fixe Black History Month menu with wine pairings from African-American wineries at 1300 on Fillmore in San Francisco.

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Category:Chefs, Chocolate, Enticing Events, General, Health/Nutrition, Restaurants, Thomas Keller/French Laundry/Et Al, Wine | Comments (15) | Author:

A Comforting Cake Laden with the Bounty of the Philo Apple Farm

Wednesday, 22. December 2010 5:25

An apple-cranberry cake with a sense of time and place.

Amid all the lengthy, elaborate and supremely elegant recipes in “The French Laundry Cookbook” (Artisan) is a most homey one that concludes the book.

Perhaps it’s only appropriate, too, since “Sally Schmitt’s Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce” was a favorite dessert at the original incarnation of the French Laundry when it was owned by Sally Schmitt and her husband, Don, before the couple decided to sell it to Thomas Keller.

As “The French Laundry Cookbook” co-author Michael Ruhlman so eloquently writes of the couple in the intro to the recipe, “…they are the ultimate purveyors. They purveyed a restaurant.”

Indeed, had it not been for them, and what they nurtured in that spot, there might not have been the French Laundry as we know it today, nor the now vaunted reputation of the town of Yountville as a tiny culinary capital of the world.

So when I purchased some Philo Gold (Golden Delicious) apples from the Philo Apple Farm that the Schmitts bought after leaving Yountville, and which their daughter and son-in-law now run, I knew just what to do with them. To pay homage to all that the Schmitts have accomplished and created, I knew those apples that Sally had helped sow the seeds for had to be baked into the apple cake she used to serve at her restaurant.

A very thick batter of butter, sugar, egg, flour, a little milk and baking powder gets stirred up with nutmeg and a pinch  of salt. Spread it evenly into a greased cake pan. Then artfully press thin slices of apples down into the batter. Arrange fresh or frozen cranberries over the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake.

Gild the lily with hot cream sauce.

The simple, tender cake lets the fruit shine through. It’s fine as it is. But Sally also adds a hot cream sauce fortified with sugar and butter that you can pour over slices as liberally as you want. I must say, it does add a rather nice touch, making the cake even more special and memorable as it soaks up all that warm richness.

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Category:Chefs, Fruit, General, Recipes (Sweet), Restaurants, Thomas Keller/French Laundry/Et Al | Comments (22) | Author:

A Visit to the Philo Apple Farm

Tuesday, 21. December 2010 5:25

Apples grown the old-fashioned way.

You might not know Sally and Don Schmitt by name. But you know of them by their legacy.

They were the original owners of the French Laundry in Yountville. They transformed what was once variously a bar, laundry, brothel, then run-down rooming house into a destination restaurant with a prix fixe menu even back then that attracted wide acclaim and visits from the likes of Julia Child and Marion Cunningham. Opened in 1978, Don was the maitre d’ and Sally was the cook, serving up five French-comfort-style courses that topped out at $46 per person.

Entrepreneurs and pioneers, Sally and Don Schmitt.

In 1994, after a number of restaurateurs eyed the property with interest, the couple decided to take the chance to sell it to a then down-on-his-luck, young chef named Thomas Keller.

As Sally deadpans now, “That turned out pretty well, didn’t it?”

The Schmitts ran the original French Laundry restaurant. Here is their menu on opening night in 1978.

Sally, 79, and Don, 81 have a gift for seeing the potential in things most folks would turn their backs on.

After selling the French Laundry, they went on to refurbish yet another run-down property — a 30-acre swath in Philo in Mendocino County near the Navarro River. They turned what was once a decrepit sharecroppers farm into a thriving biodynamic farm specializing in heirloom apples. The Philo Apple Farm is so picturesque now that it’s a favorite setting for retailer Pottery Barn to do its catalog shoots.

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Category:Chefs, Fruit, General, Going Green and Sustainable, Great Finds, Restaurants, Thomas Keller/French Laundry/Et Al | Comments (23) | Author:

Spice Kit — A Sandwich Shop with Quite the Pedigree

Wednesday, 8. September 2010 5:28

Eat one pork belly bun at Spice Kit, and you're sure to want another.

Spice Kit in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood is not your average sandwich joint.

Not with its state-of-the-art sous vide equipment in the kitchen.

And not with a founder, who used to work at the French Laundry in Yountville, and a chef, who hails from the celebrated Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco.

The duo, which opened Spice Kit two months ago, near the Hotel Vitale, is elevating the bold, irresistible flavors of Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese street food to a higher level with organic tofu, organic greens and high-quality meats. They even make their own paté in-house for the banh mi sammies.

Fred Tang, right, and Will Pacio, left, of Spice Kit.

Chef Fred Tang and Founder Will Pacio, who not only cooked at the French Laundry, but also Thomas Keller’s outpost in New York, Per Se, invited me in recently to try their offerings. (Full disclosure: Will is the brother of one of my former San Jose Mercury News colleagues, fashion writer Nerissa Pacio, who now does the stylish blog, NerissasNotebook.)

How could I refuse? Especially when French Laundry chef de cuisine alums, Corey Lee of the new, nearby Benu restaurant in San Francisco, and Ron Siegel of the Dining Room, have already been in for their fill? In fact, here’s a pic of Siegel placing his order at the counter.

The fast-casual spot offers salads, banh mi and ssams (Korean wraps) with your choice of five-spice chicken, beef short ribs, roasted pork or tofu. The prices are higher than your typical Mom-and-Pop Vietnamese cafe, but the most expensive item is only $7.95. And the caliber of ingredients and cooking really shines through.

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Category:Chefs, General, Meat, Restaurants, Thomas Keller/French Laundry/Et Al | Comments (18) | Author:

The Most Anticipated Restaurant of the Year, Benu, Opens Today

Tuesday, 10. August 2010 5:25

Expectations are through the stratosphere for Benu, which opens today in San Francisco, to unparalleled fanfare.

Discriminating diners have been salivating over every detail that has emerged over the past few months about this new restaurant from Chef Corey Lee, the esteemed former chef de cuisine of the French Laundry in Yountville.

Reservations already have been going fast on OpenTable for Lee’s first restaurant, with tables already nabbed as far out as late September.

But that’s not surprising, given Lee’s stature in the culinary world. The James Beard award-winning chef has built a restaurant, where every detail has been meticulously considered — from the specially designed porcelain plateware to the private wine lockers to the first-of-its-kind Viking cooking suite in the kitchen.

Indeed, Lee’s architect, the award-winning Richard Bloch of New York, calls this the most custom restaurant he’s ever worked on. It’s also the first restaurant that the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller has invested in that’s not one of his own.

Learn just what it took to build this elegant restaurant, housed in the former Hawthorne Lane-cum-Two restaurant space just a hop away from the W Hotel. Read all about it in my story in the September issue of Food Arts magazine.

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Category:Chefs, Enticing Events, General, More Food Gal -- In Other Publications, Restaurants, Thomas Keller/French Laundry/Et Al | Comments (22) | Author: