Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lunch at Neiman Marcus Walnut Creek

My infatuation with having a Neiman Marcus in my very own town continues.

Today my friend Starr and I decided to treat ourselves to lunch in their small restaurant.

Having been advised by the maitre'd to arrive early for lunch, we got there at 11:30 a.m. With just 13 tables in the entire dining room, almost all the tables were already occupied.

But, there was a table for us...and a very very nice relaxing lunch.

As we were perusing the menu which features daily specials and a fairly large regular menu, we were presented with a tiny cup of hot bouillon

and the "famous" Neiman Marcus Popovers.

When the popover server placed a Popover on my plate, he also set down a ramekin of molded Strawberry Butter, right next to my Popover plate. I quickly picked up the ramekin to move it closer to Starr, thinking we would be sharing this generous serving of butter. The server quickly "corrected" me saying that we each got our own ramekin of butter. Silly me to even think otherwise :-)

While I'm a big fan on Neiman Marcus's Pecan Tuna Salad, I decided to try something else, the Shrimp Salad with Green Goddess Dressing. Starr ordered the Mini Crab cake Sliders.

Both dishes were delicious and very very generous in size. Starr thought the crab in her crab cakes might not be from crab that was freshly cracked for preparation, but enjoyed her meal all the same. Every ingredient in my salad, including the poached shrimp, was fresh as could be.

When our meals were served, we were asked if we wanted more Popovers....we did and they were served with fresh ramekins of Strawberry Butter.

By now, I was feeling totally decadent. The only way this lunch could have been more decadent would have been if we had ordered cocktails or glasses of Champagne...the four people at a nearby table drank an entire bottle of Champagne during their lunch.

While dessert was not something we truly craved, we decided to share the day's featured dessert, a Chocolate-covered Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich!!! When our server heard we were sharing it, she had the kitchen divide it and served us each our half, each one garnished with a fresh Strawberry.

I had a cup of tea and Starr had coffee.

I also asked to take home a box of 4 of their famous Chocolate Chip Cookies (boxed with Neiman Marcus's recipe for their special version for Walnut Creek) and a bag of one big Chocolate Chip Cookie. I mentioned to our server that I'd pay for this separately as we would be splitting the lunch check.

Once again, she took things in her own hands and presented us each with a check for just what we had ordered...and even divided the cost of the shared dessert. A chocolate "stick" accompanied each check.

Lunch at Neiman Marcus is more expensive than my usual quick sandwich and apple lunch but well worth it for attentive professional service and delicious food. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals and our visit.

An observation about the menu: Most items have their calorie counts on the menu...not the desserts or the popovers, but the other dishes. Calorie counts are very low for what tastes like very rich food. For example, the dressing for my salad was made with Greek yogurt and the dressing was served on the side. The "Go Figure Cuisine" section of the menu gives a complete nutritional breakdown of each dish in this section.

Another observation: at about 1:30 there were several empty tables, but they were starting to fill as we were leaving the dining room. But, I'm told that until about 3 p.m., there can be a wait of half an hour or more for a table for lunch. Reservations are not accepted.

The restaurant is open until 7 p.m. on weekdays and until 6 p.m. on weekends, allowing a full two hours before the store closes to comfortably serve its diners.

Friday, March 16, 2012

iPad Day is Today!!!

It's not very often that I don't at least head to my local Apple store on the day of a new product release, even if I am not purchasing...just to take in the festive atmosphere of the long line outside the store.

But, today, given the rain and the fact that I was not getting a new iPad, I did not check out my Apple store.

That is not to say that there was not a new iPad coming to my house.

I had preordered for Jim his very first iPad.

I've spent the week hovering over the FedEx tracking web site wondering why it was sitting in Ontario, California all week long. But finally, on Wednesday night, it was on the move. And shortly after noon today, the FedEx truck was in front of our house with Jim's new iPad. The FedEx delivery person told us that his truck was filled with iPads...I'm sure he's had a great work day delivering them to their eager and happy recipients.

As is the case with Apple products, within minutes, Jim was up and running...he didn't even have to get out of the chair where he had been reading a real book...you know, the kind that is made of paper?

At any rate, Jim is off to new adventures with his iPad and immediately was showing off images in the new retina display...of course my photography and our computer screens do not do these images justice...you have to see the real thing!!!

Have fun Jim!!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Neiman Marcus comes to Walnut Creek

Neiman Marcus opened the doors to its new store in Walnut Creek last Friday...that's five days ago!!!

I've been more than frustrated at not yet having been in the store yet...no excuse that I was in Palm Springs until Sunday and have been busy with work and school since my return.

At any rate, today was my day to check out the new store.

And, it is gorgeous!!!

It's cheerful; it's bright and airy; it is filled with tempting items; it has a small but very intriguing restaurant. I thought I'd just spend an hour or so there, but wound up being there for over two hours. And, my apologies to the men, I never even went into the men's department which looked beautiful from afar and occupies about half the first floor.

As for merchandise, it is high end, but not outrageous! Lots of designers, many of whom are also carried at our nearby Nordstrom.

Here are some pictures of some of the women's departments:

The jewelry department features a mix of known jewelry designers and lesser known smaller designers. In the displays for the lesser known jewelry designers, there is a card with a photo and short biography of each designer...like what art museums do in their gift shops where they sell jewelry. Actually, the jewelry department is much like that of an art museum.

The restaurant is small and serves an informal menu of mostly salads and sandwiches. It has just 13 tables and I'm told that each meal is accompanied by Neiman Marcus's legendary popovers. There are several menu items created just for Walnut Creek, including the Walnut Creek Salad and a special Walnut Creek version of their secret-recipe Chocolate Chip Cookie. Prices are in the $10 - $15 range which seems reasonable for a meal with table service in a pleasant setting. Reservations are not being taken at this time, so arrive early for lunch or expect an average wait of about half an hour. The restaurant serves the same menu all day long and is open weekdays until 7 p.m. and on weekends until 6 p.m. This could be a good place to stop for a light meal before a movie or performance at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts.

This photo is from a resting area near Customer Service, looking toward the restaurant.

There is beautiful art work throughout the store, all from Neiman Marcus's private collection. Specially commissioned works by 30 Bay Area artists are displayed.

This is a seating area in the Ladies restroom...nice furniture, pleasant art.

I am delighted with the new Neiman Marcus. It's a nice boost for Walnut Creek's downtown and is sure to boost the downtown retail economy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Weekends in and around Palm Springs

Saturday mornings in Palm Springs at the Camelot movie theatre parking lot There is a Farmers Market. It's a small market, but has a little bit of everything, including amazing produce, fresh flowers, meat, freshly baked bread and pastries.

For those who bring their pets along, there is pet sitting available.

This year we will be lucky enough to shop the Saturday market twice. This Saturday we bought for the week...not much, but enough to assure delicious lunches on the days that we eat at our condo.

These are some of my purchases: heirloom tomatoes and a cross between a mandarin and a kumquat. I couldn't resist the mandaquat, or whatever the farmer was calling it. It is larger than a kumquat, but not by much and you eat it whole, skin and all.

The market is fun and very social. We met many people while shopping and afterwards at the Camelot's cafe that opens early on market day and serves pastries, full breakfasts, and beverages.

One tempting item to which I did not succumb was the goose eggs. One is equivalent to about three regular eggs. If I was here longer, I'd attempt an omelet or frittata with one.

We spent Saturday afternoon at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Jim's favorite sculpture was there to greet him.

We spent most of our time viewing the "Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography" exhibit. This exhibit is here through May 27 and is a fascinating collection of photographs and video displays. We spent several hours enjoying it.

For years my friend Paul has been recommending Mamma Gina's in Palm Desert. We finally dined here on Saturday night.

It's old style Italian and family owned. It's been in Palm Desert since the 1980s.

The large basket of bread which was presented to us shortly after we were seated was brimming with house made Italian breads. I loved the two kinds of focaccia: sun dried tomato and an unusual whole wheat version. In addition to the oil and balsamic vinegar on the table, the bread was served with a tasty black olive tapenade.

To start, we shared the Mamma Gina Chopped Salad. What you see here is half the serving...quite enough for two, for sure.

we both ordered pasta dishes for our main courses.

Jim chose one of the evening's specials, Spinach Gnocchi.

My choice was Zucchini Lasagne which was assemble with layers of noodles and layers of sliced zucchini.

All Mamma Gina's pastas are made in house.

Our meals were delicious.

While we really weren't hungry for dessert, I can never pass up Spumoni gelato, which was one of the offerings. As you can see, it is not the traditional pink and green Spumoni but Mamma's version was worthy of the indulgence.

Early Sunday morning, we were off to the College of the Desert Street Fair, which takes place every Saturday and Sunday on the College of the Desert campus in Palm Desert.

The Street Fair is a very large mix of flea market, art fair, produce market, and more. Many locals go every weekend. Parking and admission are free and you can find everything here from fire pits to nail clippers to golf shoes to fresh asparagus.

Jim was tempted by a remote-controlled helicopter, but resisted.

I could not resist one of these succulent dish gardens...let's hope it survives the week in our condo and the drive home.

We lunched in the Fair's food area...a bratwurst for Jim and Stuffed Grape Leaves for me.

We stopped at the small but moving Cancer Survivors Park in Rancho Mirage. It's been here about ten years and is a special spot right next to the Rancho Mirage City Hall, right on busy Highway 111.

The large sculpture at one end of the park depicts five people with cancer who are about to go through the maze of cancer treatment. On the other end of the maze are survivors. As a survivor, I had to walk through the maze and celebrate with the survivors.

Our Palm Springs weekend ended with dinner at Thai Smile, a very popular Thai restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood, about a block from Trio where we dined the other night.

We started with the Fresh Spring Rolls.

Our other dishes were Panang Curry with Chicken and Red Mountain. Red Mountain is one of the chef's specials. It is made with shrimp or chicken, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery, cashews and a "secret" sweet and spicy sauce.

We loved this meal. Everything tasted very very fresh and was delicious. It's a friendly place; we chatted with people at neighboring tables and had a lovely dining experience.

Hope we have a chance to come back to Thai Smile.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Getting oriented in Palm Springs

Today has been sort of a lazy day while I transition from "frantic at-home" mode to laid-back desert life.

I started my day swimming laps in our pool. Early in the day I usually have the pool to myself.

Jim was even more active, walking over four miles around town.

After his walk, he relaxed in the hot tub by the tennis courts.

After lunch, I walked into downtown Palm Springs to see what is new and what is the same.

En route, I admired the 50s architecture that is so prevalent here.

My best retail discovery was that Oh La La, probably the nicest store for women and children in Palm Springs, has just about tripled its size since last year. More nice stuff and they sell shoes and dog stuff too.

Of course I spent some time in The Alley looking for bargain treasures. Nothing too exciting today unless you need some new high-fashion reading glasses that were attracting many who were shopping there.

Planning for lunches out in the week ahead, I walked by Tyler's, a popular burger place in an interesting building. The aroma of fried onion rings was enough to draw me in, even at 2 p.m. In the afternoon. I resisted, but even at the off- hour, there was a line waiting to get seated. Best burgers in town!

Our day finished up with dinner with Mary and Bill, friends from home who now spend about half their year down here.

We met at Trio for an early dinner to take advantage of their Fixed Price three-course early dinner which is priced at $19 and served from lunch time until 6 p.m.

While many restaurants now offer an early dinner, Trio's is the one that most appeals to me.

Jim and I ate here last year when the restaurant was new. We loved the food and the hip atmosphere.

This was our first time for the early dinner.

From about a dozen first courses and entrees, all of which are on the a la carte menu, we had a wide variety from which to choose.

Our first course selections were Fried Artichokes, Caesar Salad, Fried Calamari, and Roasted Beet salad.

All our first courses were superb.

Then we went on to our main dishes. Again, each was perfectly prepared and so delicious.

In order above, they were Oven-roasted filet of sole, Pot Roast, Roast chicken, and St. Louis Spare Ribs.

The servings were so large that all of us, but Jim with his sole, took home some of our food.

I'm impressed that even with a bargain-priced meal, service was gracious and attentive. When Bill asked to not have the garlic mashed potatoes with his chicken, our server immediately suggested he be served a larger portion of the accompanying vegetables.

There were only two dessert choices on the fixed price dinner: Macaroon Bread Pudding or and Ice Cream Sundae. We all had the sundae.

Wonderful dinner with good friends.

Jim and I are planning to return again next week to try more of the menu.