What I’ve Been Drinking of Late, Part 14

The 2019 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon has power and finesse.
The 2019 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon has power and finesse.

2019 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon

What do you get when you source grapes from the storied Napa Valley vineyards of Beckstoffer Dr. Crane, Beckstoffer Las Piedras, Oakville Ranch, Vine Hill Ranch and Weitz Vineyard, and blend them into one singular wine?

The flagship 2019 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon ($250).

You know you have something special — and spendy — on your hands when the bottle arrives, as my sample did, in its own custom-designed, cushioned box like fine art.

Winemaker Sam Kaplan has created an inky garnet wine that is velvety smooth. Big Cabs sometimes exhibit aggressive tannins early on, needing to be set aside to age to give them time to settle down. Not Memento Mori. This is a powerful wine that surprises with impeccable balance already. There are aromas of dark berries and dark wooded forests. The palate gets caressed with cassis, purple plum, mocha, cranberry and pomegranate, plus a touch of anise and toast.

Outfitted with its own custom box like fine jewelry.
Outfitted with its own custom box like fine jewelry.

Consider this the Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson of Cabs — imposing, with weight and solid structure, yet also surprising with a soft, gentle side.

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Dining Outside at the Revered Californios

Californios' astonishing banana with caviar and dulce de leche.
Californios’ astonishing banana with caviar and dulce de leche.

How fortunate is San Francisco to have the only Michelin two-starred Mexican restaurant in the world?

Exceedingly.

Now, chances are that in your lifetime, you’ve had more than your fill of tacos and tostadas.

But not the way they and other dishes are interpreted at Californios.

This is Mexican cuisine that is elevated, elegant, exhilarating.

Last year, Californios relocated from its snug spot in the Mission District to a roomier property in SoMa, which formerly housed Bar Agricole. Following a remodel and the throes of the pandemic, it opened its doors earlier this spring.

The chic outdoor patio.
The chic outdoor patio.

While Bar Agricole didn’t really make use of its sizeable front patio, Californios certainly has. High walls encircle it, painted deep, matte charcoal gray like the restaurant’s interior. Steel beams run across the top, from which large light fixtures dangle. In case of rain, there is a retractable roof, with space between it and the top of the walls to allow for air flow.

Executive Chef-Owner Val Cantu in the kitchen at Californios.
Executive Chef-Owner Val Cantu in the kitchen at Californios.

My husband and I sat at one of the white tablecloth-draped tables outside, which had heaters both above it and to the side to provide ample warmth, no matter how chilly the evening. Done up with potted plants, the patio has a chic starkness to it.

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Kids-Love-It Beefy Chili Mac (And So Do Adults)

Macaroni and ground beef combine with cheese and smoky spices for a one-pot comfort meal.
Macaroni and ground beef combine with cheese and smoky spices for a one-pot comfort meal.

When I was in middle school, my best friend and I would cook dinner together whenever our parents were out spending time with relatives.

Our meal of choice?

Hamburger Helper Chili Macaroni.

We’d tie on aprons and flourish wooden spoons like microphones, pretending we were on our own TV cooking show as we sizzled the hamburger meat, stirred in water, pasta, and the seasoning packet, all the while providing our own commentary along the way.

At the end, like any self-respecting Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray, we dug our spoons in, savored a bite, and flashed the imaginary camera a big contented grin, before bursting into laughter at our hamminess.

Truth be told, that’s probably the last time a box of Hamburger Helper found its way into my kitchen.

But “Kids-Love-It Beefy Chili Mac” had me not only reminiscing about those fond childhood memories, but craving this comforting dish all over again.

The recipe is from the best-selling “Once Upon a Chef: Weeknight/Weekend” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy. It’s by Maryland-based Jennifer Segal, a classically trained chef and founder of the blog, Once Upon A Chef.

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Dining Outside At John Ash & Co.

Grapes on the vine at Vintners Inn.
Grapes on the vine at Vintners Resort.

This year, I’m all about the staycation. It may be only a couple hours’ drive away for me, but Sonoma Wine Country sure feels like a real getaway that relaxes and recharges.

When I was invited as a guest for an overnight stay at the Vintners Resort in Santa Rosa, the weather may have been drizzly. But it didn’t put a damper on the time spent at this expansive 92-acre, bucolic, European-style resort with bubbling fountains. Because it’s a little more secluded than other Wine Country properties, there’s a lovely sense of calm that permeates.

One of the best ways to start the morning is to go for a walk around the property, especially on the vineyard trail. There are working vineyards on the property, with the grapes now sold to Kendall-Jackson and La Crema wineries. The gravel trail winds around the rows, which on a fall morning are often veiled by morning mist.

Walking the vineyard trail on the property is a great way to get the blood flowing on a lazy morning.
Walking the vineyard trail on the property is a great way to get the blood flowing on a lazy morning.

Follow the path around to the events center and beyond to find one of the property’s onsite culinary gardens. At this time of year, there is kale, cauliflower and citrus growing abundantly.

Part of the expansive grounds that make up the Vintners Inn resort.
Part of the expansive grounds that make up the Vintners Inn resort.

I snagged a perfectly ripe black Mission fig off a tree to snack on. Shh, don’t tell.

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Nigella’s Chicken In A Pot with Lemon and Orzo

Cook a whole chicken in a big pot with veggies and orzo for an easy, one-pot meal.
Cook a whole chicken in a big pot with veggies and orzo for an easy, one-pot meal.

This is a dish that serves up a warm, enveloping hug — which is just what you want at this time of year when the winds kick up, the clouds turn more ominous, and the skies dim to black much too soon.

But then again, Nigella Lawson always seems to know what we crave, no matter what time of year or occasion.

Her “Chicken In A Pot With Lemons and Orzo” is no exception.

It’s from her newest cookbook, “Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories” (Ecco), of which I received a review copy.

If you are especially drawn to Lawson’s personable and downright sensual voice, then you will especially love this book. That’s because each of the recipes is preceded by a page-long introduction in which Lawson explains the dish, often including what inspired it, whether it can be scaled down, and what draws her to certain ingredients used in it. In other words, she makes the dish come to life so vividly that you’ll be hard pressed not to run to the kitchen to make it right then and there.

The book isn’t arranged in the conventional format of “Appetizers,” “Salads,” and “Entrees,” etc. Instead there are headings such as “A Is For Anchovy,” where you’ll find delights such as “Spaghetti with Chard, Chiles and Anchovies” and “Celery Root and Anchovy Gratin”; and chapters such as “A Loving Defense of Brown Food,” which includes recipes for “Marrowbone Meat Sauce” and “Beef Cheeks with Port and Chestnuts.”

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