Takeout Time: Palette Tea Garden

Iberico cha siu from Palette Tea Garden. And yes, this is the full amount.
Iberico cha siu from Palette Tea Garden. And yes, this is the full amount.

If you are seriously into quantity versus quality, then Palette Tea Garden in San Mateo’s Hillsdale Shopping Center might not be the place for you.

But if you’re craving top-notch dim sum made with premium ingredients — and don’t mind splurging a bit — then head here pronto.

That’s exactly what I did recently, intent on getting some superlative takeout dim sum in honor of the Lunar New Year.

Palette Tea Garden is owned by the same folks behind Koi Palace, which started in Daly City, and is the sister restaurant to Palette Tea House in San Francisco.

Siu mai, ha gow, and Wagyu black pepper seared buns.
Siu mai, ha gow, and Wagyu black pepper seared buns.

While I’ve enjoyed Palette’s xiao long baos before, I opted not to get them to-go, fearing they would not travel well. Instead, I opted for ha gow (four for $8) that were plump with shrimp, and siu mai (four for $7) that had a juicy filling of ground pork, shiitakes, and shrimp.

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A Pancake Of A Different Sort

Little more than water and chickpea flour combine to make this nutty-tasting, fluffy pancake.
Little more than water and chickpea flour combine to make this nutty-tasting, fluffy pancake.

It never ceases to amaze how little more than flour and water can combine to create a delicious and substantial base for a meal.

Be it bread, pasta, pizza or in this case, “Chickpea Pancake (Farinata).”

This quick and easy recipe is from “At the Table of la Fortezza” (Rizzoli, 2022), of which I received a review copy.

The recipes take inspiration from Lunigiana in the northwest region of Tuscany, where author Annette Joseph, a cooking and entertaining authority, renovated a medieval fortress, La Fortezza, with her husband.

She proudly follows a “zero-kilometer diet,” meaning most everything she consumes is local. With a culinary garden, vineyards, and nearby forests, her ingredients come from a mere 30-mile radius of La Fortezza, with the only exceptions being balsamic vinegar from Modena and Parmesan from Parma.

Bring a taste of this region to your own home with dishes such as “Rosemary-Smoked Branzino,” “Chestnut Ravioli with Chard and Ricotta,” “Braised Chicken and Porcini with Chestnut Polenta,” and “Limoncello Granita with Whipped Cream.”

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A Visit to Stellina Pronto

Stellina Pronto is known for its puffs. One look at these beauties and it's easy to see why.
Stellina Pronto is known for its puffs. One look at these beauties and it’s easy to see why.

For months, I’d heard inklings about just how fabulous the Petaluma Italian bakery, Stellina Pronto, was. Then, when a good friend, whose pastry bar is as high as mine, raved about it, I knew I had to make a beeline a couple weeks ago when I was in Sonona Wine Country.

All you need do is look for the line out the door to find it, as there almost always is one.

It’s no wonder, because this bakery, which opened last summer, is first-rate.

That’s no surprise when you realize it was opened by Chef Christian Caiazzo and his wife, Katrina Fried, who owned the highly regarded Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station until its closure in August 2020.

Don't despair at the line. It moves fairly quickly.
Don’t despair at the line. It moves fairly quickly.
A look at part of the bakery case.
A look at part of the bakery case.

The glass cases are filled with all manner of sweet, buttery treats, most of them sweet, but with a surprisingly wide variety of savory ones, too. Look for pizza to make its debut in the future, too.

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Praise for Braised Winter Melon

Juicy, cucumber-like chunks of winter melon get braised gently in this easy dish.
Juicy, cucumber-like chunks of winter melon get braised gently in this easy dish.

Some ingredients like caviar and truffles are unabashedly luxe.

Others like celery decidedly relegated — rightly or wrongly — to mundane.

Winter melon, though, is that rarity that falls equally into high- and low-brow camps.

Like tomatoes, these huge green-skinned melons, which can grow as large as 40 pounds, are actually a fruit that’s most often treated as a vegetable.

As a kid, I still have memories of many a Chinese restaurant Lunar New Year banquet at this time of year, where a waiter would gingerly carry a heaving half winter melon to the Lazy Susan on our table. Its skin would be intricately carved with Chinese characters for a grand presentation and its chasm filled to the brim with bubbling soup fortified with ginko nuts, shredded dried scallops, and the melon’s flesh. It was the epitome of special occasion.

In contrast, I also fondly remember my mom regularly making a much simpler version at home, cutting the melon into chunks to simmer in canned chicken broth with slivers of ginger, and sometimes a little bit of pork or chicken. It was not only an economical way to stretch a meal, but her way of trying to ward off colds and flus, as winter melon is high in Vitamin C.

Whether prepared fancifully or frugally, winter melon is a taste of home for me.

Even though it can be prepared many ways, including in candy and poached in a dessert soup, I’ve mostly had it in savory soups. That’s why this recipe for “Braised Winter Melon” immediately caught my eye as a novel method I just had to try.

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The Return of Cyrus

A perfect cube of succulent pork belly served with a zingy ale aged with cherry blossoms at the new Cyrus in Geyserville.
A perfect cube of succulent pork belly served with a zingy ale aged with cherry blossoms at the new Cyrus in Geyserville.

After a seemingly interminable odyssey, the wait is indeed over.

Cyrus, the acclaimed fine-dining restaurant that closed in Healdsburg in 2012 after a landlord dispute, finally reopened again last September in a striking new iteration in Geyserville.

Chef-Owner Doug Keane, co-owner Nick Peyton, and their team couldn’t be more relieved and thrilled to be back at it again. Neither can their legions of fans, so many of whom considered the original Cyrus their favorite restaurant.

The original Cyrus garnered two Michelin stars. The new one already scored one star — barely two months after opening.

At the entrance.
At the entrance.

Keane spent a decade searching high and low through the Alexander Valley, which was founded by the restaurant’s namesake Cyrus Alexander. He had all but given up when this site came available. Though this sleek contemporary glass, steel and concrete building is the polar opposite of the restaurant’s original Old World provincial aesthetic, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting place in this new age and time. At least, that’s what I found when I finally had the opportunity last week to dine here.

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