Category Archives: Wine

Get To Know Spokane Part I: Sips, Doritos Ceviche, Original Crab Louis & More

The Skyride tram at Riverfront Park in downtown Seattle.

The Skyride tram at Riverfront Park in downtown Seattle.

SPOKANE, WA — Sure, Seattle may have the Mariners, Seahawks, Amazon headquarters, and James Beard Award-winning chefs and restaurants. But Spokane has a spectacular waterfall in the center of the city. Take that.

Seattle may get more attention, but Spokane definitely deserves its own fanfare for attractions and attributes all its own. That’s what I discovered when I was invited to visit the state’s second largest city recently by Visit Spokane.

It’s a most livable city — with home prices not surprisingly a fraction of those in Silicon Valley — a revitalized downtown that’s safe to walk around in at night, a renovated waterfront, a thriving convention scene, fabulous bakeries, and cool restaurants opening in repurposed old buildings.

What’s more, it gets less rain than Seattle.

And it’s the birth place of Father’s Day.

Get to know what else there is to love about Spokane.

It Takes Bread & Beer Seriously

Does it ever, especially at the newly opened The Grain Shed, a bakery and brewery all in one.

At The Grain Shed, they revere local, heirloom grains, but keep their sense of humor about it all.

At The Grain Shed, they revere local, heirloom grains, but keep their sense of humor about it all.

Yes, come for a pint and a loaf. And for Pizza Mondays.

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The Oasis of Ambience

Ostrich mousse with black truffle at Ambience.

Ostrich mousse with black truffle at Ambience.

 

The elegant Ambience in downtown Los Altos may have opened more than four years ago, yet it still flies relatively under the radar.

But thankfully, more people are finding out about this fine-dining gem on the Peninsula, as evidenced a few weeks ago when I was invited in for a repeat visit as a guest of the restaurant. The first time I dined there in 2015 on a weeknight, I have to admit I wondered how it managed to stay in business. I think my party of two was only one of three tables filled that night in what albeit is a small restaurant. But on the return visit, I was happy to see that about two-thirds of the restaurant was filled on a weeknight.

Cobalt water glasses.

Cobalt water glasses.

A sip of warm almond tea to get in the mood.

A sip of warm almond tea to get in the mood.

A tasting menu-only restaurant can be a gamble, especially in too-impatient-to-wait-for-anything Silicon Valley. It’s one thing to devote 2 hours or more to a meal on a weekend or special occasion. But on a Wednesday night after work? For a lot of people, that’s a big ask.

Chef-Owner Morgan Song makes it worth your while, though. Song, who cooked for years in Sacramento and San Francisco, most notably at Kiss restaurant, and his wife, who manages the front of house and greets guests warmly when they arrive, have created a subdued restaurant, cloistered from the stresses and vagaries of the day with a candlelit dining room with smoky glass windows that seems to make the outside world disappear.

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Parcel 104 Celebrates Its 17th Year

Not to big, not to small, but just right citrus tart by Pastry Chef Carlos Sanchez.

Not to big, not to small, but just right citrus tart by Pastry Chef Carlos Sanchez.

 

To help celebrate Parcel 104’s 17th anniversary this year, the restaurant in the Santa Clara Marriott near Levi’s Stadium last week reunited founder Chef Bradley Ogden with the team there for a special Cakebread Cellars wine dinner last week, which I was invited to as a guest.

The festivities will continue, as the restaurant is offering a $35 three-course lunch through July 31 with appetizers by Ogden, entrees by Executive Chef Sergio Morales, and desserts by Pastry Chef Carlos Sanchez.

Ogden, who practiced farm-to-table long before it became part and parcel of the Bay Area lexicon, is now working and living in Lodi’s wine country, as culinary director at the Wine & Roses resort.

Chefs Bradley Ogden (left) and Sergio Morales, (right).

Chefs Bradley Ogden (left) and Sergio Morales, (right).

Sanchez has been with Parcel 104 since day one. Born in Columbia, he has staged and worked with Juan-Mari and daughter Elena Arzak at Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain, as well as Pastry Chef Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, two of the greatest restaurants in the world. Over the years, Sanchez has become known for his dainty-sized desserts, often served in trios, that are perfection personified.

Cakebread Cellars' wines matched to each course.

Cakebread Cellars’ wines matched to each course.

Morales was supposed to be a lawyer like his father. In fact, he attended Santa Clara University’s law school for a year and a half before leaving to follow his passion of cooking. He graduated from the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, now known as the International Culinary Center. His Dad first feared that he’d end up being a short-order cook, flipping burgers for the rest of his life. But now, his father couldn’t be prouder of his son working his way up from a cook to head chef here.

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For A “Bargain” Tasting Menu, Head to Commonwealth

Spring asparagus with an unusual potato salad at Commonwealth.

Spring asparagus with an unusual potato salad at Commonwealth.

 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a chef mention this restaurant as the place they most like to eat on their day off or as the establishment they’d most like theirs to emulate, I’d be doing very well indeed.

Such is the respect that Commonwealth has garnered.

The Michelin-starred restaurant opened in 2010 in an old donut shop in San Francisco. In fact, the Mission District restaurant not only sports the old donut mural on the side of the building, but possesses something truly rare in San Francisco — its own parking lot. It is a fairly small lot, though, so you still have to be lucky to snag a space.

Chef-Owner Jason Fox oversees the open kitchen in the compact dining room, which means it is worthwhile to make a reservation. My husband and I, who were invited to dine as guests of the restaurant on a recent Saturday night, saw a few walk-ins turned away because the restaurant just gets that booked.

Located in a former donut shop.

Located in a former donut shop.

Some bubbly to accompany the first couple of courses.

Some bubbly to accompany the first couple of courses.

While there is an a la carte menu, what really makes Commonwealth stand out is its tasting menu. In the Bay Area, where many tasting menus have prompted ire for their stratospheric prices that now reach well beyond $300 per person, Commonwealth’s is all of $85 per person ($140 total per person with wine pairings) for about seven courses. Even the “chef’s extended menu” is a relatively moderate $125 per person ($195 total per person with wine pairings) for about 14 courses, which is the option we went for.

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First Look At the Hotly Anticipated Protege

Gilded hush puppies on a bed of popped sorgham at the new Protege in Palo Alto.

Gilded hush puppies on a bed of popped sorgham at the new Protege in Palo Alto.

 

After more than a year of permitting and construction delays, Protege, arguably the most highly anticipated restaurant around, finally opened its doors to the public on Tuesday.

Passersby have been peeking in the windows for months, streaking them with hand prints and even nose prints, so eager to experience this restaurant by French Laundry alums, Executive Chef Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly. They are joined by Pastry Chef Eddie Lopez, who also hails from the French Laundry, as well as Grace in Chicago and Vintage Cave in Honolulu.

With that kind of culinary star-wattage, is it any wonder that the night this California Avenue restaurant quietly debuted, there were already half a dozen people anxiously waiting outside half an hour beforehand to be one of the very first inside?

Head Chef Anthony Secviar readying a dish a few weeks before the grand opening.

Head Chef Anthony Secviar readying a dish a few weeks before the grand opening.

The kitchen on opening night.

The kitchen on opening night.

I was one of them, along with two friends, snagging seats at the chic, back-lighted bar, and paying our tab at the end. There are purse hooks underneath, of course, along with some of the most comfy nappa leather bar stools I’ve ever sat in.

Sit on the stools closest to the kitchen and you can peer in at all the activity as Secviar calls out the orders, and the cooks all respond in unison, “Oui, Chef!”

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