Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Yes, that's a lobster dinner you see here. And, yes, it is 2009. What's the connection?

Once a year, Walnut Creek Yacht Club, certainly the best seafood restaurant in Contra Costa County, and maybe the entire San Francisco Bay Area, features a lobster dinner for the cost of the year. So, for $20.09, during the month of January, that's the price.

It's at least a 1 1/4 pound lobster, boiled or grilled, served with French Fries, Cole Slaw, and drawn butter. We went last week and I am sure our lobsters weighed more than a pound and a half.

Since the Yacht Club gets its fish fresh every day and does not have a lobster tank, it is essential to order your lobster at least a day ahead. Of course, if lobster is not your thing, the Yacht Club has many fresh fish selections each day...everything is wonderful here.

To start, I suggest the Clam Chowder which is the best I've tasted west of Maine.

Just another 10 days for the $20.09 lobster, so make a reservation. Remember, next year, the price will be $20.10. And, for the rest of the year, a lobster is priced at market price.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Saturday night we heard the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), play a wonderful program: Copeland's music from the film "Our Town," Berg's "Three Pieces for Orchestra" and Brahms Symphony No. 1.

San Francisco is so lucky to have MTT as its conductor and Saturday's performance was no exception to his excellence. Since the Berg piece was a bit complicated, and even shocking, MTT spent a few minutes before starting it, talking to the audience about its complexity and playing short examples to demonstrate his explanations. While the Berg was not my favorite, I certainly appreciated it as it was played, thanks to MTT's mini-lecture.

As we always do, we dined at one the nearby restaurants before the performance. This time it was Absinthe. I love the ambiance of Absinthe with its stylized French murals on the dining room walls.

We haven't been to Absinthe in over a year and were a bit surprised that the entrée prices have increased. Most entrées are about $30..higher than most restaurants in the neighborhood.

But, we did enjoy a pleasant meal and were seated at my favorite table, a corner booth in the main dining room that allows both of us to look out onto the dining room from our cozy corner.

I started with a cup of Squash Purée, a thick squash soup flavored with ginger and topped with toasted almonds and crème fraîche. Jim chose the French Onion Soup.

For entrées, we both ordered the Grilled Scallops...three grilled scallops on a bed of sunchoke purée, baby artichokes, fennel and wilted chard.

To end our meal, we shared a selection from the Cheese menu which offers about a dozen cheeses. Our choice was the Portuguese Toledo cheese which was accompanied by medjool dates and toasted raisin bread.

A nice San Francisco evening of food and culture.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Yesterday I got an email from the Lark Creek restaurant group saying that the Sunday night special, Fried Chicken, was so popular that they've decided to offer it every night. We always enjoy their Regional American food but rarely get there on Sunday night for the Fried Chicken and Biscuits, just like somebody's mother used to make.

I quickly forwarded the email to Jim and he quickly replied that he wanted to have dinner there tonight.

I got on Open Table to make a reservation and in the Comments section mentioned that in addition to wanting a quiet table, one of us would be ordering the Fried Chicken.

Then, this afternoon Lark Creek Café, Walnut Creek, where we were booked, called to say there was a BIG misunderstanding with the email and the Fried Chicken is only served every night at the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, not in the Cafés. Bummer!

But, we decided to go all the same and had a lovely dinner.

It is cold tonight so the Cauliflower Bisque was the perfect and delicious first course for both of us. It was garnished with Buttered Croutons and Cumin Oil.

Jim had the night's special, Grilled Calves Liver Steak with Bacon, Caramelized Apples, Onions, and Mashed Potatoes.Jim loves calves liver and I don't, so I don't cook it at home. It's a treat for him to have it out, especially when it is cooked as it is at Lark Creek.

I went vegetarian with Squash on a bed of spinach and garnished with mixed mushrooms and toasted pumpkin seeds.

No desserts for us; just a glass of wine each tonight.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Today we indulged ourselves in another of our New Year Traditions, the Annual Sale at Vanderbilt and Company in St. Helena in the Napa Valley.
We left home a little before 8 a.m., to assure that we'd be there for the 9:30 a.m. opening on this, the first day of the sale. It was a clear but very cold early morning with temperatures in the low 30s...very cold by Northern California standards.

We had an easy drive up which left us with plenty of time to get tea/coffee and pastries at the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company around the corner from Vanderbilt.

We had Louie with us, so all our dining for the day was outdoors. We found a sunny spot on the deck at the Roasting Company and spent a pleasant half hour sipping our drinks with our pastries. It was tea and a Morning Bun for me and coffee and a toasted Bagel with Cream Cheese for Jim. Louie ate scraps from our pastries and sipped water from the communal dog bowl on the deck.

My personal tradition at the Vanderbilt Sale is to be the first one in the store when the doors open. Curiously, this is an extremely civil sale where loyal customers like me do not storm the doors and have fights over merchandise...nothing like one Saks after Christmas Sale where I witnessed well-dressed women fighting on the floor for possession of marked-down purses!

So what's so wonderful about Vanderbilt's Sale? the way this is the 24th Annual one. Vanderbilt and Company sells the most beautiful of table top items and other home furnishings such as linens, towels, soaps, and lots of gift items. They have one of the largest selections of Vietri ceramics from Italy that I know of in the Bay Area. The store is friendly and attractive. AND, for the sale, which goes on for a few weeks, lots of items are marked down 50%...remainders, discontinueds, odd pieces...and everything else, including special orders, is 20% off. Of course Louie is welcome here too which means that Jim is not left standing out in the cold. We spent over an hour here and came away with two bags of "stuff," including a marvelous wedding present for some special friends, new cloth napkins and placemats for me, a glass serving plate, and miscellaneous towels and other gift items.

After that, we walked up and down the main street in St. Helena, checking out other favorite shops.

By now it was just about time for lunch and we headed to Yountville for lunch on the patio at Bouchon, one of Chef Thomas Keller's several restaurants in Yountville. Bouchon is Keller's French Brasserie..yes this is the Thomas Keller of French Laundry just up the street.

At noon the temperature was in the 50s and it was delightful sitting outdoors.

Louie had his own bowl of water and also snatched things off our table.

We shared a salad of red and white endive, Roquefort, walnuts, and apples...very tasty, but they forgot the apples.

We both decided on the day's open faced sandwich with Fries. Today's Tartine was braised pork..sort of pulled pork...with pickled onions and pickles. Our server advised us that the serving of Fries is very large and suggested we choose another side dish for one of us. We chose the sautéed Butternut Squash with currants.

We passed on dessert but lingered over coffee, enjoying the beautiful Napa Valley day and chatting with others who were dining on the patio.

For one final stop, we went into the Bouchon Bakery next door to buy a loaf of bread to take home to a neighbor. He's happily enjoying Olive Herb Bread as I write this.

It's a day like this that makes everyone want to live where we do.

Friday, January 2, 2009


Left Bank in Pleasant Hill is one of the few restaurants in Contra Costa County that serves authentic French food. There are a few other French restaurants in the area, but none compare in food and ambiance to Left Bank.

I love Left Bank's elegance in that haughty way that the French can be. If I didn't hear English being spoken around me, I'd think I was in a Parisian Brasserie.

So, after the movies in Downtown Pleasant Hill last Saturday, we had dinner at Left Bank.

The restaurant always celebrates some region or holiday and this time it was Burgundy. We started with the Butter Lettuce Salad which we shared. The kitchen split it into two servings of this very generous size.

Jim couldn't resist the special Burgundian Beef Bourguignon. I went for one of my favorites, Steamed Mussels and Frites (French Fries).

Since my last visit to Left Bank, they've added small dessert servings to their dessert menu. Wanting just a little something sweet to end the meal, I ordered the small serving of three Financiers.

Financiers are tiny almond cakes...really little loaves. I often buy them in bakeries in France, but until last Saturday at Left Bank, the only place I get them in the States is in my kitchen when I go to the bother to bake them. What a treat!

All the seafood served at Left Bank is sustainably harvested. The Charcuterie is from Fra' Mani, the Berkeley company that handcrafts is salumi from pork raised with no antibiotics and vegetarian food. Other dishes which I recommend and which are regularly on the dinner menu include Coq au Vin, Cheese Fondue (lovely to start or end a meal), Roast Chicken, and Steak Frites.

There is live music in the Pleasant Hill Left Bank lounge weekend evenings...a nice place to linger over a drink after dinner or to just drop in for a light bite to eat.

In about a year or so, Left Bank has plans to leave Pleasant Hill to a new site in Walnut Creek in the Mercer condominium complex. This is a loss for Pleasant Hill which doesn't have any other restaurant as nice as Left Bank. The good news is that the Left Bank group is keeping this attractive property and will have another restaurant with a different concept...maybe American Bar & Grill? this same location.

There are other Left Bank restaurants in Northern California in Larkspur, Menlo Park, San Jose, and San Mateo. Chef Roland Passot, who started the Left Bank group as a casual French dining alternative to his more elegant La Folie in San Francisco, is still attracting crowds to La Folie for that special night out. Chef Passot also operates Tanglewood, an upscale American restaurant in Santana Row in San Jose.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Happy New Year!

I welcomed in the New Year last night with friends and food and continued in that spirit today with our traditional New Year's Day lunch of Dim Sum and dinner at home of Hoppin' John and Collard Greens.

We met M and D at Tullio's in Walnut Creek for New Year's Eve dinner.

Tullio's is a family-owned and operated Italian restaurant that J and I dine at often. It is friendly. The prices are moderate. The food is tasty and plentiful. And, it is a few miles from home. We've spent many a New Year's Eve at Tullio's.

The dining room was packed when we arrived.

On New Year's Eve, about a dozen of the most popular menu items are served as complete dinners...soup or salad, the main course, dessert, and coffee or tea, for a fixed price. Other beverages were extra.

We toasted our friendship and got started with dinner

M & I started our dinners with the Butternut Squash Soup. It was so good that I forget to take a picture. The men had salads.

Our main courses were Jambalaya Risotto, Cavatappi Pasta with Steak and Mushrooms, Chicken Saltimbocca, and Veal Piccata.

The dessert was an Eclair!

At noon today, New Year's Day, we headed for Tin's Tea House, again in Walnut Creek. Tin's also has an Oakland location. Tin's offers a greater variety of Dim Sum than any other Dim Sum restaurant that I know of in the Bay Area. At lunch time they also offer some noodle dishes. At dinner there is limited Dim Sum to go with a wide selection of dishes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dim Sum, they are small plates of a few pieces of any given item. Sort of like Chinese Tapas or Small Plates. The story I know about Dim Sum is that many years ago, Chinese restaurants were places where local people gathered to get together with their friends. They would drink tea. The restaurants started cooking up the equivalent of Chinese snacks and would bring them around to the customers as they were cooked. That's the way it still works but most of us don't spend a whole morning or afternoon eating Dim Sum, but rather go in for a lunch meal. The food is brought around, right from the kitchen, on wheeling carts or trays. If you want a dish, you tell the server "yes." If you don't want a dish, you turn it down. When you have had enough to eat, you ask for your check. You are charged by the number of plates that you've eaten. When you accept a plate, the server marks it on your check.

In the hour or so that we were at Tin's, we had seven plates of Dim Sum. My favorites today were the Seaweed Salad and the Mango Shrimp Rolls.

We also had BBQ Pork Buns, Stuffed Eggplant, Shrimp Dumplings, Scallop Dumplings, and, to finish our meal, the sweet Sesame Balls stuffed with Lotus Seed Paste.

Later in the afternoon, I got started on our traditional New Year's Day dinner: Hoppin' John and Collard Greens. About twelve years ago I read that in the American South, these dishes are traditionally eaten on New Year's Day and said to bring good luck for the year. Liking the idea of good luck for the year, I started making Hoppin' John and Collard Greens my New Year tradition as well.

Hoppin' John is Blackeyed Peas and Rice, with bacon, onions, and hot sauce. I steam the Collard Greens with more bacon and onions and season them with Hot Sauce as well. I serve them with Corn Bread.

Here's to good luck and good health in 2009!