Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Jim invited me for pizza tonight. I told him that I had a lunch date tomorrow with a friend with whom I usually go for pizza. We thought about places where there is pizza and more and came up with Tomatina in Walnut Creek.

What I usually order at Tomatina is a piadine, the round of flat bread on which is piled both a warm filling and a cold salad. You eat a piadine out of hand like a very big taco...you need a big mouth for it, but it is good and fun to eat.

Once we looked at the menu...we haven't been here in awhile...we were tempted by the many new offerings. We both decided on non-pizzas and non-pizza variations such as a piadine.

I ordered one of the April Specials: Eggplant Parmesan with a small Caesar Salad ($9).

He started with a small Caesar

and followed with Fusili with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce.

We ended our night of dining out at Naia Gelataria, a block away. We both ordered the Piccolo (small) cup (1 or 2 flavors). He had Chocolate and Pistachio; I had Green Tea and Stratiaccella.


Monday, April 27, 2009


Jim & Louie invited me and Amy to lunch in the Napa Valley. Since Louie was with us, we would be dining outdoors. Their lunch choice was the patio at Bouchon in Yountville, where Louie recalled a lovely lunch on a sunny day this January.

The weather cooperated with us completely, with sun and summery temperatures.

We started our day with a visit to Cliff Lede winery.

About a month ago I saw Cliff Lede featured on TV on a show called "In Wine Country." The name did not ring a bell, but seeing its outdoor sculpture garden and hearing about its owner, Cliff Lede, who owns a construction company which is currently building a lot of the new structures in the town of Napa, I was interested.

Turns out that Cliff Lede is located in the winery which previously was S. Anderson, one of our longtime favorites. A few years back, the winery was sold and I never paid much attention to the location, despite it being on the Yountville Crossroad, a road we frequently travel when we stay in Yountville every summer.

As always, visiting a Napa Valley winery on a weekday, any time of year, is special because the crowds are not there. For awhile we had the tasting room to ourselves.

A tasting costs $20, a bit pricey, but, since none of us was wanting to drink too much, we shared sips of one tasting. Tom in the tasting room was very accommodating, assuring that we all had glasses.

He told us to that it was fine to carry our glasses out onto the patio, into the gardens, and even into their indoor art gallery.

And so we did.

I love the Jim Dine Red Hearts in the back garden.

The indoor gallery features changing exhibits.

The front garden was an array of colorful flowers. We could have sat outdoors all day, and did for quite awhile, until it was time to go to lunch.

Bouchon is chef Thomas Keller's French Bistro restaurant. Keller's vision for Bouchon was that it would be a restaurant where chefs from neighboring restaurants would go at the end of the day for a bite to eat. Bouchon stays open late to accommodate those chefs and the many others who want to dine late. Open all day, it is a popular place for a meal any time of day.

I started my lunch with a Beet and Mache Lettuce Salad.

Amy and I ordered the Croque Madame, a French version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg, surrounded by Mornay Sauce, on top.

Jim's choice were Steamed Mussels with French Fries.

The sandwiches come with Fries also, but it is possible to substitute another vegetable for the Fries. I decided to have the French Green Beans; Amy stayed with the Fries. Louie was served a bowl of water and he munched on the lunch we had packed for him. Lunch was delicious and relaxing.

After lunch, we walked across the street to the V Marketplace 1870 complex of shops and restaurants. We did a little shopping and then walked over to the new spa resort, Bardessono. Amy, Louie, and I sat awhile on Bardessono's patio...great furniture...before it was time for us to head back home at the end of a glorious day.

Friday, April 17, 2009


On our day in Berkeley, MA joined us. We started at the Fourth Street shopping/restaurant area with lunch at Eccolo. You might recall that my Valentine's Day dinner at Eccolo was less than satisfactory, but, this time, the restaurant was its "normal" excellent self with great service and plenty of room in all dining rooms between tables. Note to Self: REMEMBER holidays and special occasion days like Valentine's and Mother's are the worst times to go to restaurants.

At my suggestion, we started our lunch with a shared order of the Roman-style fried Artichokes, which are served with aioli for dipping. The Artichokes are amazing...way better than Fries, but I must say that when the table next to us started with not only the Artichokes, but also the Tuscan Fries, we really wanted to try them too.

MA could not pass up the Lobster Roll, which she throughly enjoyed and recommends.

Amy and I could not decide between the Sicilian Tuna Sandwich and the Cuban Sandwich, so each ordered one and shared them. Made on Acme bread, they were both excellent. The Tuna was Italian tuna mixed with capers, olives, roasted peppers, and aioli. The Cubano was the typical combination of sliced pork, ham, cheese, and dill pickles, served as a warm sandwich.

We passed on dessert, knowing that there was chocolate ahead in our day.

After lunch we spent some time browsing in the many Fourth Street shops. We spent a lot of time in Sur La Table and couldn't resist buying a few kitchen/home items. We also dashed into Bryn Walker to look at clothes and purses, and made a quick run through the Crate & Barrel Outlet Store. We would have spent the rest of the afternoon there, but we had to get to Charles Chocolate for a 2:30 p.m. tour.

So, off we went to Emeryville for a tour and tasting at Charles Chocolates.

With the closing of some of my favorite local chocolate makers, Joseph Schmidt and Scharffenberger, I've been searching for another outstanding local candy maker. I had tried some of Charles Chocolates confection around Christmas time and was impressed with his use of fresh fruits in his fillings. The fillings all have intense natural flavors.

It is only recently that I heard about tours at his factory. The tours are conducted every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. There is no charge for the tour itself, but, if you wish to follow the tour with a formal tasting of 5 different chocolates, that costs $10. A more extravagant Deluxe Tour is offered for $75 per person and includes the tour and tasting plus a gift set of Charles Chocolates' most poular products; it is said to be valued at over $100.

We signed up for the $10 Tour and Tasting.

Much to our delight, owner Chuck (Charles) Siegel, was our tour guide.

The tour and tasting take place in the factory's Chocolate Bar, where at other times, visitors can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and, of course, a piece or two of chocolate.

The Chocolate Bar overlooks the kitchen where just about all the processing of the confections is done. We learned the difference between molded and enrobed chocolates. And, everyone got to sample a few pieces, even those who were not signed up for the tasting. Chuck guided us as to what and how we were supposed to taste. We were particularly intrigued by the Fleur de Sel chocolate covered Caramels. Also of interest is that Charles Chocolates does not make its own chocolate but rather buys premium chocolate from some of the best chocolate makers in the world. Chuck describes his product as Confections, most of which are covered with chocolate. It is his fillings...caramel. ganache, marzipan, and more...that make his confections unique. The tour is very informal and Chuck encouraged us to ask questions.

At the end of the "formal" part of the tour, those of us who had signed up for the tasting, tasted 5 handmade confections. Chuck guided us through this tasting and provided us with more insights into Charles Chocolates.

Even after 7 pieces of chocolate, we still could not resist purchasing a few pieces of candy to carry home with us. The complete selection of Charles Chocolate confections is sold in their small retail store here at the factory.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


For longer than I can remember, Joseph Schmidt, the artistic, San Francisco based chocolatier was my favorite chocolate maker.

Many times during the year, I'd make special trips to his small shop on 16th Street in San Francisco, a few blocks from Mission Dolores. Each month, the windows of his shop would feature chocolate creations for either a holiday or season that occured during that month. Inside were handmade decorative paper boxes filled with his chocolates.

While most people know Joseph Schmidt's truffles, it was his Slicks that were my favorites...these thin chocolate disks with a thin layer of flavored filling in between, were a unique and special treat. At Christmas time, most of my gifts were boxes of Slicks.

Well, as with most things, times change.

A few years ago, Schmidt sold his business to Hershey's. He stayed on and oversaw the local production of his chocolates, but I certainly noticed that his store seemed to carry more packaged items and less of the chocolate sculptures and bowls and such.

Now, Hershey has decided to drop the Joseph Schmidt line completely!!!

At the end of June, his San Francisco store will close forever.

This week, I made one last visit. I stocked up on Slicks...enjoyed seeing a huge chocolate bunny and sadly, left what I consider a special San Francisco landmark.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Our Monday started with me working backward from a 7:30 p.m. reservation at Firefly where H & M were treating us to dinner, along with Dr. J. Firefly was featuring a special menu for Passover.

Our first stop in San Francisco was at the California Academy of Sciences. While I knew that Monday is a day the DeYoung Museum, across the concourse in Golden Gate Park is closed, I forgot that this week is a school vacation week for many kids. Arriving at the Academy around noon, we found it packed. All the Plantetarium show tickets were given out for the day and we tried waiting in the standby line for one show and got turned away.

So, we went to say Hello to Claude the albino alligator who is back on display after an injury by his then pen-mate, Bonnie (she bit him and his vision is limited so he didn't see it coming). Bonnie no longer seems to be living with him.

Then we went for lunch in the Cafe...a long line but worth the wait for the Chicken Pho from the Noodle station.

Refreshed by lunch, we stood in line for about 40 minutes to get into the Rain Forest Exhibit. Since they only allow a limited number of people to enter at any one time, once we got in, there were no crowds. Amy and I went to Belize together a few years ago and this exhibit brings me back to our hike in the Belize rain forest, except that we did not have to worry about stepping on and being attacked by Army Ants.

These photos are some of the plants and creatures we saw in the Rain Forest

Up on the living roof, many of the native plants were in flower...much prettier than last October when I made my first visit.

We spent some time in the Aquarium, looked at a few other displays, took a break for a cup of tea and some cookies, and it was 5 p.m., closing time.

It was a good visit although next time, I will try to get there at opening time when the crowds are less, or even better, go on a special members day when the Academy opens to members only an hour early. At dinner, Dr. J told me that Thursday nights at the Academy are Adult nights...no kiddies allowed...and she said it is much easier to get around and take in the exhibits.

With two and a half hours until dinner, we headed to Union Square to the Macy's 63rd annual flower show...this year's theme is Bohemian Garden. There are live flower displays on the first floor...really spectacular...and artificial flower displays on the 6th floor in the home department. Both are worth seeing.

Dinner at Firefly was a delight. This Noe Valley restaurant has been open for over 14 years. I've not been there in awhile and it remains as friendly and excellent as ever. Our meal started with a "bread" plate of matzos, bagelech, and haroset. I did not know what Bagelech were; they are a sort of popover made of matzo meal...very tasty, especially with some haroset spread over.

For main courses H & Dr. J chose the Grilled Lamb Sirloin with a Griddled Garbanzo Cake, Artichokes, Minted English Peas,and Olive Tapenade.

M & Amy ordered the Braised Corvina Seabass with Matzo Spaetzle, Sugar Snap Peas, Radishes, and Green Garlic Broth.

My choice was the Roast Vegetable Matzo Kugel with Creamy Tomato Mushroom Sauce and Roasted Cippolini Onions. We are all pleased with our choices.

For dessert, we shared Grapefruit Sorbet with Honey Mousse and a Flourless Chocolate Tart with Guanduja Sabayon and Caramel Ice Cream.

This was a wonderful evening with special friends and the perfect end to a busy day.