With festive pine cones adorning simple plywood tables, string lights festooning sidewalk trees, and blankets as soft as cashmere at the ready, Cotogna’s parklet has got to be one of the nicest around.
That’s what I found when my husband, two friends, and I dined outside last weekend when it hovered around 48 degrees. The popular Jackson Square Italian restaurant has tables outside right on the sidewalk, as well as a sizeable parklet. The latter is where you want to sit if possible because it has a canopy overhead, so if it rains, you’ll probably be fine unless the wind kicks up mightily.
Indeed, with both an overhead and tall standing heater at each table, we were as comfortable as can be. In fact, halfway through dinner, two of us even shed our coats because we were that warm.
With our server’s charming Italian accent, we almost felt like we had taken a trip to Italy during the holidays, too.
Chef Tanya Holland may have left behind the hustle and bustle of the restaurant industry in 2021 with the closure of her Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, whose superlative fried chicken and waffles prompted a never-ending line of diners eager to enjoy comforting soul food at its best.
Thankfully, though, her cooking and community championing continue on in her new cookbook, “California Soul” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy.
It was written with Maria C. Hunt, a California-based journalist who specializes in cultural stories about food, wine, and lifestyle; and Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz, who holds a PhD in African diaspora studies and anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley.
It’s a cookbook not just of recipes, but of stories, that reflect the struggles and triumphs of African Americans who migrated from the South to California. Holland knows first-hand that journey, being the daughter of a mother who grew up in Louisiana, and a father who hails from Virginia. As a child, Holland spent many summers in both states, immersed in the gardening and cooking traditions of her grandparents.
Her great-aunts would make their way to Oregon and Southern California. Holland, herself, would move to the Bay Area in 2001, drawn to the fact, she writes, that “California offered an openness to ambition (female and Black) thought leaders and entrepreneurs that I hadn’t experienced on the East Coast.”
During the pandemic, when everyone who was anyone was fussing over their sourdough starter like a new puppy, I was not.
I just couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger to tend to a starter that needed caring, feeding, and coddling, day in and day out. After all, I already had a husband who needed all of that. (Kidding, sort of.)
So, when it comes to my sporadic bread baking, I rely on packaged dry yeast instead, which is convenient enough to buy at any supermarket and to keep handy in my fridge when the urge strikes.
But along comes 2019 James Beard Award-winning “Outstanding Baker” and head baker at Chicago’s Publican Quality Bread bakery, Greg Wade, who shows how to combine both dry yeast and a preferment for even better results, as evidenced in his recipe for sensational “Oat Rolls.”
It’s all in his new cookbook, “Bread Head” (W.W. Norton), of which I received a review copy. It was written with St. Louis book collaborator Rachel Holtzman.
It’s a good bet that Guillermo Soto Torres is one of the few — if not only — pastry chefs in the Bay Area with a degree in telematics, the interdisciplinary field that combines telecommunications, vehicular technologies, electrical engineering, and computer science.
He had hardly stepped foot into that scientific career, though, when he made a major pivot to use his knack for precision in a whole different way. He started working in a chocolate shop in his native Mexico, then began studying baking books. It wasn’t long before he jumped full bore into pastry making about 15 years ago.
That led to stints at Four Seasons hotels in Costa Rica and Florida, before coming two years ago to the Four Seasons Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto to become head pastry chef.
Earlier this week, the 36-year-old chef invited me and two other media colleagues into his hotel kitchen to watch and learn as he made what will be the stunning centerpiece dessert for Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day buffet — the buche de Noel.
His version of the classic French yule log cake is comprised of a flourless chocolate cake on a base of crispy hazelnut feuilletine (crunchy crepe shards) that’s rolled around chestnut cream and an anise-flavored orange compote before it’s all enrobed in shiny white chocolate glaze and holiday garnishes. To serve all the expected guests on those two days, he will make 100 of them.
He talked about his favorite ingredient to work with, the one that’s he’s allergic to, the one dessert he could eat every single day, and the rather ill-fated day that he began working at the Silicon Valley hotel.