Sunday, September 21, 2014

Chalkboard for Some Super Tasty Small Plates

So far, since coming back from NY, I make it up to wine country about once a year. Don't get me wrong  I love it up there, and though I have great ambitions to go more often, city living (work and the rat race) gets in the way. Best-laid plans aside, this summer included a little jaunt to Cloverdale and the surrounding area, including dinner at Chalkboard in Healdsburg.

Wow. The restaurant's website says its food is "a celebration of the best ingredients Sonoma has to offer." I'll say. A lot of the produce showcased in Chalkboard's small plates come from a dedicated 3-acre garden. And it was obvious once the dishes start parading out to our table. See for yourself.

This night, Chalkboard's bruschetta were flavor bombs  featuring heirloom tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with a crumble of smoked egg yolks; summer squash caponata with ricotta and basil; and hickory smoked salmon with smashed avocado, creme fraiche and pickled onions.

Summer isn't complete without corn. Chalkboard's grilled Brentwood corn was incredibly sweet and juicy, and dressed to perfection with queso fresco, chipotle crema and cilantro. Loved the addition of grilled lime to balance sweet with tart and tangy.

Creamy luscious goodness in the guise of uni butter injected this bucatini dish with all kinds of umami. Oh, and the additions of gulf shrimp and roasted garlic were pretty awesome too.

Chalkboard's savory meat pasta  jalapeno cresta di gallo (aka rooster crest-shaped pasta) with corn, bacon, creme fraiche and a pork shoulder ragu  served as the ideal counterpart to the seafood pasta. 

The only dish we didn't absolutely love was this one: the San Marzano tomato braised meatballs with Pecorino and mint leaves. It was good, but just didn't pull off the richly complex flavor of the meatballs and spicy sauce at Beretta

No matter. Overall, Chalkboard delivered. Happy to come back any time.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ken Ken Ramen Still Packs a Punch

Ken Ken Ramen in the Mission is still kicking out some mean noodle combos since it went from pop-up to permanent status more than 2 years ago. It's still my go-to spot for savory, umami ramen. I'm especially fond of the spicy ground pork special with soft-boiled egg and milky pork broth.

But lately I've been jonesing for (a lot) more vegetables to accompany my noodles. And I've come on the perfect solution: to ask the Ken Ken Ramen folks for the miso veggie ramen with the pork stock (in lieu of the vegan broth).

Best laid plans ... the veggie substitution keeps slipping my mind when I get to the Ken Ken Ramen table, and I invariably request the porkiest option available.

Eh, no regrets. Pork is after all the best of all proteins  versatile, flavorful and ever so satisfying.

I leave Ken Ken Ramen a happy camper every time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fresh Figs for Breakfast

What's summer in California like? Let me see ... oh yeah, it's about feasting on fresh-picked figs, juicy peaches and the sweetest tomatoes. A simple and yet glorious breakfast in the great outdoors.

These figs were plucked at their perfect ripeness just that morning. They're not something I grew up eating, but have happily added to my favorite things over the past decade.

And the rest of our farmer's market finds  including a hearty and wholesome bread (the loaf must've weighed 5 pounds) from a local bakery  made this a meal to remember. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Abbot's Cellar Surpasses Expectations

I'd heard mixed reviews about The Abbot's Cellar, sister to Monk's Kettleboth known for their wide selection of craft beers, but curiosity got the better of meand frankly, the food dotting the daily changing menu sounded pretty damn delightful. So I decided it was time to try Abbot's Cellar for myself. With cousin MC as my willing accomplice, I made a visit to the Mission restaurant on a night not too long ago, and this is what I found:

A gorgeous presentation of California's bounty with flavors that backed up the stunning display. Big stalks of crisp tender asparagus came bathed in creamy burrata and a healthy helping of sauteed maitake and other mushrooms.

Beautifully bronzed bacon of the sea (aka scallops) came paired with the crispiest fried sunchokes and wisps of green leaves. I'd say of the two appetizers, this one was my fave.

And then there was the home-made strozzapreti ("priest stranglers" in Italian) in a creamy carbonara with peas, both whole and smashed, and an egg to add even more richness to the pasta. Artery-clogging? Yes. Worth every bite? Hell, yes.

Did we really need to order the pork chop with honey-glazed bacon? Of course, we did. After all, a girl needs her protein and those baby carrots were the sweetest little things.

We even managed to save room for dessert (not pictured): a lovely chevre cheesecake topped with a dusting of pistachio nuts and drizzled with a sweet-tangy verjus reduction. Oh man, was that good.

Abbot's Cellar, you're alright in my bookand MC's as well.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Craftsman and Wolves' Crafty Creation

How best to describe the desserts at Craftsman and Wolves? Well, besides the fact that they are truly eye candy, they're also packed with complementary and contrasting flavors that set the Valencia patisserie apart from any other in the city. 

This cool creation was a vanilla bomb of creamy goodness, filled with an apple puree, sitting atop a springy graham crust.

The coconut slivers, fennel fronds, kumquat and apple slices added personality to the diminutive dish.

And how fun that when you cut into the white sphere, it was like you were tucking into a soft-boiled egg. Craftsman and Wolves gets bonus points for finding humor in their creativity.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bratwurst on a Bun at Pig & Pie

Pig & Pie in the outer Mission has two of my favorite things though I have yet to try the latter. Maybe next time I'll make room for a slice of one of their daily specials (Wow, today's line-up includes Mississippi Mud, Pear Blueberry, Chocolate Cheesecake, Lemon Shaker and Apple ... mouth is salivating).

On this visit, I settled on the bratwurst on a bun, which came with a healthy helping of crunchy sauerkraut and a tasty squeeze of spicy beer mustard.

A bit on the pricy side at $8.50 (Really? For a hot dog?). But considering everything's made from scratch, and all of their porky pig comes from a "consortium of small family farms in Texas, hormone and antibiotic free," I figured it was worth the "splurge."

Indeed it was. After all, who doesn't love a good brat? 

And now for that pie ...