Category Archives: Travel Adventures

Exploring California Gold Country, Part II

Mushroom cigars at Taste Restaurant.

Mushroom cigars at Taste Restaurant.

In the Bay Area, we admittedly get spoiled by the plethora of restaurants in our midst.

But Gold Country definitely has got it going on with good eats, too.

Thanks to the tourism bureaus in Folsom, El Dorado, Amador and Sacramento for inviting me to be their guest on a three-day trip (including meals and accommodations) to explore the restaurant scene. Here are the highlights:

Taste Restaurant in Plymouth

With less than 1,000 residents and a dusty main street so compact you would almost miss it if you blinked, Plymouth in Amador County is hardly the place you’d expect to find as stylish and creative a farm-to-table restaurant as Taste.

Chef Mark Berkner and wife Tracey, who runs the front of the house, have created nothing less than a true gem here.  It’s lured tourists from afar, locals day after day, and even merited a mention in the New York Times. The couple has a real knack for opening places in what some might deem nowhere’s-ville and turning them into destination dining. Consider that before they opened Taste, they owned and operated the St. George Hotel and its restaurant in Volcano, CA — population 115. Yes, you read that right.

Dining at Taste is a warm, welcoming experience with dishes that will delight.

You can graze on small plates or order a full-on entree. The menu changes seasonally and features house-cured lamb bacon and duck prosciutto.

Sweetbreads and waffles? Yes, yes, yes!

Sweetbreads and waffles? Yes, yes, yes!

The night I was there, the restaurant featured a clever take on chicken and waffles. Only the chicken was swapped out for fried sweetbreads ($14) atop a vanilla-infused waffle all crowned with grilled nectarines, smoked maple syrup and salted peanut brittle. It was down-home yet uptown at the same time. An amazing dish.

The one dish that never leaves the menu is the Mushroom Cigars ($9.5). The crisp, phyllo logs hold a center of crimini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms fortified with creamy goat cheese.

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Exploring California Gold Country, Part I

Karen Holmes of Karen's Bakery & Cafe in Folsom.

Karen Holmes of Karen’s Bakery & Cafe in Folsom.

As a native San Franciscan, I sheepishly admit I haven’t explored much of California Gold Country.

I vaguely remember playing at panning for gold once as a child somewhere in the vicinity, but beyond that, Sacramento, Amador and El Dorado counties have largely been seen from the freeway on the way to somewhere else.

Thanks to the tourism bureaus in Folsom, El Dorado, Amador and Sacramento,  I finally had a chance to see that area up-close, when I was invited as their guest over three days late last year to taste, explore and experience.

Here are highlights from that trip, which I hope will inspire you to get to know that region better, too.

Karen’s Bakery & Cafe in Folsom

Karen’s Bakery & Cafe is reason enough alone to stop in Folsom.

Karen Holmes opened this wonderful bakery in 2000, which has become so popular that you’ll almost always find a line to get outside, especially since it’s located near popular hiking and biking trails that bring famished weekend warriors right to her door for plum galettes, fig scones, and Tebirkes (a tradtiional almond paste danish).

The pastry case brimming with goodies.

The pastry case brimming with goodies.

Holmes is a former school teacher, whose mother took her family to Europe regularly, especially to its fine patisseries. As a teacher she baked banana bread for PTA events that became such a sensation that colleagues encouraged her to open a bakery.

A talent for baking and cooking obviously runs in the family as her son, Duncan Holmes is the chef de cuisine at San Francisco’s Sons & Daughters. In fact, in his teenage years, he’d ride his bike over to his mom’s bakery to help wash dishes after school before going home to hunker down to his homework. Both mother and son are self-taught.

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Four Places To Nosh in Los Angeles

Addictive Short Order spuds.

Addictive Short Order Spuds.


On vacation late last year in Los Angeles, my husband and I were all about spontaneity — meaning we dined without reservations or a specific game plan in mind. And yes, that made it feel like a real vacation, indeed.

Here are some of my favorite eats from that excursion:

Short Order

Often referred to in shorthand as “Nancy Silverton’s burger place,” Short Order was created by Silverton, who started an artisan bread revolution in Los Angeles before opening her now famous Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza with celeb Chef Mario Batali and restaurateur Joe Bastianich.

Silverton planned to open Short Order in 2011 with Amy Pressman, once her former assistant pastry chef when the two worked together at Spago. But tragically, Pressman died of cancer shortly before the restaurant opened.

Today, Executive Chef Christian Page carries out Pressman’s vision of a gourmet diner serving food with top-notch organic ingredients.

Located in the popular Farmers Market on W. 3rd Street, Short Order is tucked in a quieter back corner of the complex. It’s two stories with seating both inside and out around glassed-in fire-pit tables.

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A Visit to Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel

Executive Chef Justin Cogley in the kitchen of Aubergine at L'Auberge Carmel.

Executive Chef Justin Cogley in the kitchen of Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel.

Justin Cogley’s first career may have been as a professional figure skater with “Disney on Ice.”

But these days, you can find him spinning circles around haute cuisine as executive chef of Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel.

Cogley, who started his culinary career working at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, developed a passion for fine food and wine as his skating career took him all over Asia, Australia and Europe. At Aubergine, a jewel-box of a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, he’s so dazzled diners that he was even named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs 2013.”

He’s all about local ingredients, even going diving with his cooks to gather their own seaweed for beautifully composed dishes.

Late this summer, I had a chance to experience his skills when I was invited as a guest to stay overnight at the inn and enjoy dinner.

The inn is situated in the heart of the charming village.

The inn is situated in the heart of the charming village.

Housed in a three-story, European-style building constructed in 1929, the charming inn features 20 guest rooms set around a brick courtyard with a bubbling fountain and plenty of patio chairs for lounging.

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Maui Part IV: Eating Around the Island

Dining in the open air at Merriman's Kapalua.

Dining in the open air at Merriman’s Kapalua.

Merriman’s Kapalua

Thanks to the Maui visitor’s and conventioner’s bureau, which invited me to be its guest on Maui, I was able to sample an array of island eats — from low-brow to high-brow.

Chef Peter Merriman is one of the original founders of Hawaii regional cuisine, and his restaurants have long been a favorite of any visitor to the islands. Ninety-percent of his ingredients are sourced locally, and the seafood is caught sustainably.

With its ocean-side setting, Merriman’s Kapalua restaurant is a great place to watch the sunset while you dine.

An assortment of fried root chips is set down on the table, accompanied by smoked taro hummus, and fresh, crunchy slices of cucumber and radish.

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