Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Yes, I am going backward in time a few weeks, but, since we had such a nice dinner on New Year's Eve, I want to pay tribute to it.

These days, we don't go far on New Year's Eve and tend to shun the big deal fixed-price restaurant meals. As with most holiday meals in restaurants, they often don't live up to their price and fanfare.

But, we like to go out, even it if it is locally.

And, we are lucky enough to have several very nice restaurants close to home.

Lark Creek Café in Walnut Creek is one of our regular favorite for fresh, creative, American regional cuisine. When I discovered that they would be serving their regular menu, with a few special dishes, on New Year's Eve, we decided that this is where we would go with friends Mary Ann and Dean.

We enjoyed one of the best meals we've had on New Year's Eve and any time we dine out. The dining room was festive. Friends stopped by to say hello to us.

We were not rushed. It was as perfect as could be.

Mary Ann and Dean brought a bottle of Nickel & Nickel Suscol Ranch 2006 Merlot for us to drink with our dinner. It was fabulous and a special treat.

We all had appetizers...Fried Calamari, Butternut Squash Soup, Apple & Romaine Salad. Unfortunately, I was enjoying the food so much, I forgot to take photos.

Our main courses were Stuffed Pork Loin

Grilled Steelhead

Scallops wrapped in Bacon

Black Cod

When it got to dessert,

Dean ordered the night's special dessert, Baked Alaska.

Jim treated himself to a Hot Fudge Sundae.

And, boring me, ordered a plate of fresh fruit (which I thoroughly enjoyed!).

As I've mentioned, I regularly dine at Lark Creek, both for lunch and dinner. The quality and pleasant service is always outstanding.

They did not dissappoint on busy New Year's Eve.


Last week was the occasion of another of our New Year's traditions: An outing to the Napa Valley for the annual Vanderbilt sale.

Vanderbilt is a very special one-of-a-kind home decor and gift shop in St. Helena.

Once a year, for several weeks, Vanderbilt has its annual sale. The sale usually starts during the first week of January and end before the ends of January. This year's sale ends on January 24.

Some items...usually discontinued and seasonal items...are marked down 50%. This year, to celebrate the store's 25th anniversary, all other in-store merchandise is marked down 25%. Special ordered items will be 20% off. The sale continues until January 24, so you still have plenty of time to pay a visit.

We headed up for the first day of the sale, leaving home early in the morning in the cold and the fog.

We got to St. Helena a bit before Vanderbilt opened, giving us time to get hot drinks and pastries at the nearby Napa Valley Coffee Roastery.

Since Louie accompanies us on this annual outing, all our dining was outdoors...we were prepared, wearing several layers of jackets and sweaters. Yes, Louie is here with Jim, but under the table, presumably keeping extra warm and eating dropped pastry crumbs!

After more than an hour of shopping, I came away a bit poorer, but richer in a collection of gifts for birthdays, weddings, and babies for the coming year, as well as lovely Christmas paperware, some special cook books, and other goodies for myself.

We spent a little more time wandering in and out of our favorite shops in St. Helena and then headed for lunch in Yountville. Unfortunately, St. Helena has almost no restaurants with outdoor seating.

While no one without a very good reason to do so wanted to dine outdoors in Yountville, Bouchon graciously welcomed the three of us on their patio. With two heaters surrounding our table, we had a cozy al fresco lunch.

Jim had the Bibb Lettuce Salad and a steaming bowl of French Onion Soup. His glass of wine made him forget that it was January and a cold foggy day.

My choice was the Croque Madame. I replaced the French Fries that usually are served with it, with an order of Haricots Verts (thin French Green Beans).

A fun family day for us!

Friday, January 1, 2010


Happy New Year to you all!

Yes, I know I have been MIA the last month or so. No matter how much I try, the Holiday Season with all the entertaining, being entertained, shopping, visiting and everything else that goes with it, seem to take all my time. While I love it all, I am happy to be starting a new year and getting back to this blog.

Jim and I have a New Year's Day lunch tradition of going out for a dim sum lunch. Our favorite close-to-home restaurant, Tin's Tea House, closed rather abruptly last year, with promises of reopening in a new local location. Well, that has not yet happened, and, while we have Oakland and San Francisco Chinatowns not far from us, we've gotten spoiled and lazy with being able to drive a couple of miles for outstanding Dim Sum.

A week ago,I was in panic mode and ready to resort to frozen Dim Sum eaten at home.

Then, I took a walk down Walnut Creek's Main Street and spotted Modern China Café in the spot that several restaurants and bakeries have occupied. It was closed when I walked by but there were sample menus to take by the entrance. Lo and behold! they serve Dim Sum every day of the week from noon until 6 p.m.

Later in the day, I phoned them and was told they had just opened, a "soft opening" with no fanfare. So, at noon today, we headed over to Modern China Café.

The restaurant is stunningly beautiful. The pumpkin-colored walls are relaxing. The walls are decorated with Chinese art and photographs. The two indoor dining rooms have beautiful and comfortable furnishings. The dishes, serving pieces, and flatware are all lovely. There is a full bar.

As for our lunch, the Dim Sum was delicious and I look forward to returning for more and to sample some of the other dishes on menu.

My favorites of our choices were The Baked BBQ Pork Buns and the Crispy Calamari.

The Shrimp & Chive Dumplings were delicious too. The Bell Pepper stuffed with Shrimp and served with Black Bean Sauce, was tasty, but hard to pick up...for this one I gave up on chopsticks and resorted to a fork.

The Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls were tasty but probably the least distinctive of our choices.

For our dessert (sweet) Dim Sum, we chose the Sweet Sesame Balls. All these dishes, with a pot of Chrysanthemum Tea cost about $20 before tip. We left satisfied.

Several of the Chinese waiters, and possibly one chef, checked on us frequently and described such things as the tasty dipping sauce that was served with the Calamari. They told us that each selection is prepared to order...I was pleased at how fresh everything tasted.

While I know that Modern China Café is only unofficially opened and that I should not be too harsh on them, there are a few things that I hope will change to assure their success. I don't know who owns/manages the restaurant but there seem to be a mix of Caucasian and Chinese people running it. Our Caucasian waiter certainly tried to make our meal a pleasant one, but did not have enough familiarity with the menu or even the different types of tea that were being offered. I don't think this is the right place for him to be working, pleasant as he is.

Also, there was only one table at which there were Chinese people dining. This makes me wonder about the restaurant's connections with the local Chinese population, which is fairly large. Again, I realize the restaurant has yet to get much publicity, but I would think that those associated with it would be inviting their Chinese friends and associates to come on it.

As I've mentioned, Modern China Café is open daily for lunch and dinner. In addition to its food, it features specialty cocktails and a full bar. During Happy Hour ( 3 to 6 p.m.), all Dim Sum is only $2 a plate; at other times, Dim Sum plates (usually 3 pieces) cost between $2.25 and $3.50.

Modern China Café's Grand Opening Party is Friday, January 8 from 5 -8 p.m. Stop by, if you don't get to try them out beforehand. I think this is a nice new addition to Walnut Creek's dining scene.