Funfeasts is about enjoying and exploring life - through food. It's an attempt to chronicle my feasts of fun and the many tasty bites experienced along the way.

The Tasting Menu at Michel-Schlumberger, Healdsburg

It doesn't get much better than this:  a tasting menu perfectly prepared and paired with some delectable wines at Michel-Schlumberger in Healdsburg CA.

The only complaint?  I can't stop dreaming about that burger!

Watermelon salad with a hint of mint on the left.
Burger in the middle (need I say more?)
Berries on the right were the bomb - and topped with coconut cream!

The very awesome tasting menu which is much better in person, of course.

While in Healdsburg, make a reservation and stop by!

Bowled Over by Ramen at Himawari, San Mateo

What's not to like about Himawari in San Mateo? 

This place has a fun, hip vibe with retro records on the walls and a bustling waitstaff to move your order along.  The order in my case:   a bowl of the Deluxe Ramen with pork, an egg and lots of corn.

The perfect mix of rich pork, salty broth and crisp corn helped me get to the bottom of the bowl. The reasonable price point (dinner for two under $30) will help remind me to come back soon.

202 E. 2nd Ave
San Mateo CA 94401

Eat Ethiopian at Cafe Colucci - Oakland CA

Looking for a new food experience with lots of flavor and the fun of eating with your hands?  Check out the popular Cafe Colucci in Oakland CA but take lots of friends because this experience is as tasty as it is social.

We ordered a few meat and a vegetarian combos but could have gotten by with just one of each. Our table of six was overloaded with food - no complaints from this eater - but we took a lot home!

For me this is a favorite experience because of the food, the scent of exotic spices in the air and the social vibe caused by the shared dishes. Overall, everything is fantastic, even the casual, relaxed ambiance.

The meat combo at Cafe Colucci in Berkeley CA
Cafe Colucci
6427 Telegraph Ave
Oakland CA 94609

Wishbone in Petaluma and Wine Tasting in Healdsburg

It's hard to top a day in the Wine Country, especially when your destination is the ever-charming and laid-back Healdsburg.  Add in the warmth of a summer day, your favorite friends and voila! - the perfect mix and the best setting you can imagine.

As a starting point, we dropped by Wishbone in Petaluma for breakfast. Of course this wasn't just any breakfast with options like the farmers board (pictured below) the Queso-zilla (sooo tempted to order) and the not-so-standard items like eggs benedict.  The farmers board entailed fresh ricotta, an egg, toast and a homemade piquant tapenade.  Trying to pace myself seemed silly so I abandoned any such thoughts and then cleaned the board.

The Farmers Board at Wishbone in Petaluma
We lazily made our way to Merry Edwards where the wine's namesake made history as the first female winemaker in California.  Next stop:  Kokomo in Healdsburg where we sampled a variety of reds and whites - all pretty amazing (I'm a fan) and then the olive oil at Dry Creek Olive Oil next door.

Our best and final stop of the day was Michel-Schlumberger tucked away off Wine Creek Road (how fitting!)  Originally an organic winery, this is and always has been one of my favorites with its beautiful setting, fine wine and friendly personnel (that's you Quinn!)  In addition to the wine and ambiance, they now serve food that's on par with the wine.  I have to give props to the chef and recommend a reservation in advance.  Once word gets out there will be no space at this table!

Amazing menu and food at Schlumberger! 

Beautiful heirloom tomatoes selected by the chef.  

Summery, savory pesto pasta salad.

The cheese and fruit platter(s) at Michel-Schlumberger.
I feel like one lucky person to experience a day in the "country" with amazing food, my favorite friends and a setting like no other at Michel-Schlumberger.   Cheers to the end of summer!

Umami Burger Palo Alto CA

I have a new obsession with burgers and I blame the folks at Umami burger.  It's not enough to serve up truffle fries but a truffle burger too? 

As a I was ordering truffle fries and truffle burger I pondered whether that was too much truffle. Noooo.  It was perfect and the burger was cooked to perfection.

The only thing I didn't love was the setting amidst stacks of books and yes, I get it - we were near the University.  For some reason I don't equate a library with yummy food.  I guess if I really think about it the ambiance is quite the opposite of a library: noisy, organized chaos.

Delicious food amid the book stacks.

With a reasonably priced menu, we walked out at just under $20 per person with tip and tax.  While a bit more in terms of cost than a bundled meal at In-N-Out, the experience and flavor made up for the difference in price.   

Finally, I almost forgot to mention the bevvy of sauces (ketchup, garlic and a few others) served alongside the burgers and fries.  A small, but classy addition to the meal.  

Umami Burger
452 University Ave
Palo Alto CA  94301

SF Good Food Awards Volunteer Event

A rare sight:  rows of cheese lined up and ready to be tasted and scored. As a lucky volunteer I couldn't help but be amazed by the variety and quality at a recent Good Food Awards judging event.   

These made the initial "cut" and were awaiting a secondary taste.  

Always happy to see the "blues".
I don't know who won the top prize and bragging rights but suffice it to say, I felt like a winner in the end.  I tasted my share of delicious cheese and got to experience feeling truly foodie for a day.  Amazing!

Straight From the Farm: Ossau-Iraty Sheep's Milk Cheese

A year ago I had the luxury of a full month off work which meant the ability to chase down bucket list items at my own pace.  One thing that made the cut:  a trip to Patterson CA to gather sheep's milk for cheese.  While not a typical summer activity for most, it was, for me, a magical time of discovery and a reminder of how precious summer months can be.

While at the farm we found the sheep to be very inquisitive and really, really sweet. Once home and deep into making cheese I knew right away the quality would be impeccable.   A few facts here:   sheep milk has a higher percentage of fat (about twice as much as cow milk) but little effect on cholesterol due to short-chain fatty acids.  In addition, sheep milk is highly nutritious, rich in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium and easier to digest than cow milk. 

Of course, it's all about the cheese and the resulting Ossau-Iraty - a mild variety with a texture similar to Manchego -  turned out to be superb in flavor and consistency.


The big wheel - right out of the press. 

The final product after 6 months. 
Funny how quickly life takes over and more recent memories become like aged photographs:  still precious but fuzzy at the edges (and yes, how sentimental!)  I'm holding on to the last wedge of Ossau-Iraty and the reminder of warm nights, long days and the sun-kissed memories of that amazing summer last year.

Amazing Aatxe, San Francisco

Located on Market street in the Castro, this eatery has a name that's hard to spell and food that's hard to resist.  And like any hot spot in San Francisco, reservations are precious and not easy to come by. Luckily for me I was able to tag along with a friend who snagged a table and the dishes - and ambiance - did not disappoint.

My favorite, hands down was the halibut crudo with pimenton, peach and black olive oil.  This dish represents the perfect blend of cool spice, fresh flavor and colorful artistry.  I'd return to Aatxe for this alone.

Halibut crudo with toasted pumpkin seeds, peaches & chilies.

Of course we didn't stop at the crudo!  Rounding out the lineup: rich smoked salmon deviled egg, chanterelle croqueta, tomato and cucumber salad, patatas brava and pork bocadillo (pork belly - yum). The food is clearly the star and the impressive cocktail list - with gin taking center stage - supports the entire cast.

Currently one of the hottest new places, Aatxe is worth the effort and a must for any fine foodie.  In the event you don't have the patience to wait or secure a reservation, try Hecho which is located up the street.   They serve a mean melted cheese appetizer that's simply divine.  Either way you can't go wrong!

Pizza, Pasta at Pazzo in San Carlos

Pazzo embodies that rare gem of a neighborhood restaurant: walk-in casual, good service, killer food.  With a menu of expertly crafted dishes rolling out of the kitchen it's no surprise a short wait is often the norm.

The wood-fired oven churns out a variety of pizzas with my standout favorite being the simple Margherita.  You get the right balance of tangy sauce, luscious cheese and charred crust.  It’s a nice menu item that goes well with the spicy rigatoni.

The rigatoni with housemade fennel sausage definitely kicks it up with a generous amount of chili flakes but is balanced out by the butter in the background.  Another standout is the cavatelli with slow-braised pork which is both homey yet sophisticated in flavor.  And don’t forget dessert:  the ricotta cheesecake is delicate - but rich - and just sweet enough.

With the popularity of Pazzo there’s often a wait these days for one of the tables.  If time is short, there’s always Panda Dumpling next door (but a whole different atmosphere altogether).

Pizza at Pazzo

Caesar Salad
1179 Laurel Street
San Carlos CA 94070
650- 591-1075

The Healing Goodness of Food

Although it sounds superficial I’ve often said “I live to eat”, thinking of my next meal as more entertainment and less sustenance.  A recent hiking accident and broken ankle turned my motto on its head with food deliveries from friends and neighbors becoming not only sustenance but part of the healing process.

How do I say this?  I consider myself a fairly empathetic person but I had no idea what you experience when you break a bone. I always thought it meant a cast that transitioned into a work of art over time.  Wrong!

For starters, the duration of my “ordeal” I didn’t have a cast but a “boot".  Really a fancy term for a bandaged leg in a clunky, chunky, uncomfortable velcroed creation.  At least it beat the earlier wrapped version that was not only hot but unwieldy (and not shower-friendly).  My memory of those first days is falling into everything:  the hamper, the garbage can in the office, the flat floor (!).  You name it.  Everything was a mountain when trying to maneuver with that appendage.  (Don’t even ask about the time I overslept for an important meeting and tried to “run fast”.)

Looking back on the past few months a few things stand out in memory:
  • The kindness of strangers.  I was amazed by the number of doors opened and chairs given up for me.  (I’m not worthy!)
  • The genuine concern from family and friends.  It seemed like my world slowed to a halt for two months and yet those around me definitely hung on for the ride.
  • Food from friends.  Soup (tomato, Thai), chocolate cake, crab cakes and all manner of salads.  But soup was key to climbing up and back out into health.  

The healing process is probably different for everyone.  But if you have a friend or loved one going through a surgery, sickness or extended illness, food is a welcomed gift.  

And to all my friends and family, there aren’t enough words to convey the gratitude I feel for turning words into action, and food into healing my body and mind.  Suffice it to say I love - and feel loved - by you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Bits and Bites from the Corkscrew Cafe

Monterey and Carmel are classic getaway spots here in the Bay Area and it's easy to see why.  With views of the ocean peering out from between the many tourist spots you don't need to veer far from the basic footpath to enjoy your stay.  But you will be rewarded if you take a detour and see what the
rest of Carmel Valley has to offer.

For me, I love the area off West Carmel Valley Road with its less-hurried wineries, cafes and shops all tucked away in what feels like a secret hideaway.  Some of my favorite afternoons have been spent lingering over a late lunch with the golden glow of summer sun peeking through the trees.

Am I a bit of a romantic?  Maybe, although being recently single may be prompting such a feeling. But truly, if you want a path-less-travelled feeling, do check it out.

Corkscrew Cafe
55 West Carmel Valley Road
Carmel Valley CA  93921

The goat cheese, garlic and bread sampler is beautiful to look at and wonderful to nibble on!

More Marlowe

It seems like destiny that my current (new) job is located almost directly across from my favorite restaurant, Marlowe.  And with the close proximity you'd think I'd visit every day.  But unfortunately it's a favorite of many and the long line out the door for lunch prohibits a lot of drop-in behavior on my part.  Fortunately, when I do have a break and can scoot out it's across the street I go.

Not only does Marlowe remain a favorite place for me but the mushroom soup has become a favorite dish. Who knew such simplicity (although I bet this is NOT simple to make) could be found in such a homey yet elegant dish?

To make this a truly decedent meal, add on a side of fries and aoli.  Oh, and don't take my spot in the lunch lineup!

Simple soup in fine form.  

500 Brannan Street
San Francisco CA  94107

Stoneburner in Seattle; brunch greatness

If you spend much time on this blog you'll notice the many references to Seattle and breakfast/brunch.  The two seem intertwined and something I always look forward to during trips back home.  A recent trip over Easter weekend was no exception...

When touching down in Seattle I've taken to spending more and more time in Ballard, an area undergoing a revival on it's way to becoming industrial chic.  The food - and restaurants - seem to be keeping pace.  My recent favorite is Stoneburner which is a modern take on Italian food.  And while the food is pretty stellar, like many locations in Ballard, it's the building, setting and aesthetic that do the trick.

Check out the bar when you're there (someone had a great eye for detail) and then dive into the food. Oh, and on Sundays the farmer's market is close and well-stocked with great vendors.

5214 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle WA

Poached eggs and polenta.  A truly great combination.

The dutch baby in cast iron.

The capitvating menu at Stoneburner.

Santa Cruz Cuisine - Lillian's, Gayle's

A recent spate of sunny weather spurred a weekend stay in Santa Cruz and some time at the beach.  With the sun setting we turned our focus to dinner and how best to answer the usual questions:  "What should we eat?" and "Where should we go?"

Turns out we didn't have to go far before we came across Lillian's, a family-style Italian restaurant where reservations are scarce,  the atmosphere is cozy, the service is attentive and the food is simply killer.  Don't miss the Sunday gravy and meatballs or you will experience food envy!

1116 Soquel Ave
Santa Cruz CA  95062

Italian food served up in a comfortable, casual setting.  Attentive, authentic service from the family-owned personnel.  Specialties:
  • Sunday gravy - tomato base meat sauce simmered slow with beef, pork, Italian sausage and spare ribs.  Your choice of penne, spaghetti, fettucine or polenta.  Don't forget the meatballs. Yum.
  • Black truffle stuffed gnocchi with white wine pesto cream sauce.

Bakery & Rosticceria
504 Bay Avenue
Capitola CA  95010

The glass display at Gayle's contains a bevvy of eye-catching pastries and cakes which beckon and confuse as you try make a decision.  In the end breakfast burritos and cookies won out and we happily started the day on a high.

7-Ingredient Whipped Cream Cake

7 ingredients = one great cake
It was one of those moments where buying whipping cream at Costco seemed rational and then...I got home and realized it was too much.  "Yes, you purchased a half gallon of cream" my friend politely reminded me when lamenting this impulse purchase.

Only recently did I notice the due date (this week) and the fact that I'd only really used about 1/3 of the container.   While putting the container back in the fridge some text caught my eye:  "Delicious Recipe" followed by "Whipped Cream Cake" and a short recipe on the side.

I chuckled when imagining someone saying "but we need a hook or recipe to get people to buy this in bulk" only to realize later on that no one (but me) reads that stuff.  So to honor the effort - and use up the remaining cream - I made that recipe.  And what do you know...the cake was indeed delicious. And easy.

What I love about this recipe is its simplicity:  you only need seven ingredients which you probably already have on hand. The resulting cake is a moist, delicious canvas you can dress up or down according to the occasion or the state of your pantry.

Me?  I split the cake in half, brushed the center with a little lemon/sugar water and then added whipped cream for richness as the "frosting".  A simple garnish of fruit and there you have it, dessert in very little time-to-table.

Delicious Recipe
Whipped Cream Cake
1 cup cream
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whip the cream until you have stiff peaks.  Drop in each egg and beat until light, fluffy.  Add the sugar and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Add to the whip cream mixture.

Pour the mixture into a greased 9-inch baking pan.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick, inserted in the middle, comes out clean.

When the cake has cooled a bit, turn out onto a wire rack.

- Optional for garnish -
1 cup whipping cream (whipped until you have stiff peaks)
Sugar, vanilla, fruit

Crater Lake blues...and greens

It feels odd writing about my summer road trip in the middle of December and especially on Christmas Day.  But I can't resist taking a moment to think back on the vivid blues of the water and the cool of the breeze coming off the lake.

The original plan was a four day trip to Crater Lake over the July 4th weekend.  Missing from the planning calculation was the 8-hour drive from the Bay Area.  Oh, and confirmation of our hotel stay!
It's never a good sign when you check into your hotel and the desk person responds with an elongated "ohhhh...did you book through our website?"

Turns out we booked our room but failed to notice that both nights weren't actually confirmed.  I highly recommend - if you book a room via the Crater Lake Lodge website - make sure the nights you request are actually available.  Road trip rookie mistake!

We lucked out and found a room at the Historic Prospect Hotel about 40 minutes away.  The hotel itself is clean and welcoming and guests receive breakfast in the morning. 

Crater Lake, a view from the rim.

A view from the visitor center.
We spent the following day driving around the rim and stopping at various points to snap photos.  My favorite part?  A mini-picnic of cheese, bread and fruit on a quiet ridge where we could take in the scene and relax.  My biggest regret?  Not planning an extra day to hike the many trails available.

As for the Crater Lake Lodge, nice ambiance and a restaurant with good food and service.  Hint: when booking you might ask which side of the hotel your room will be on and also which floor (yes, I know this sound picky!)  Ours was top floor with a sloped ceiling and very little air circulation.  Not exactly a deal-breaker but something to consider if you're staying more than one night.

Historic Prospect Hotel
391 Mill Creek Road
Prospect OR  97536

Crater Lake Lodge
565 Rim Drive
Crater Lake OR  97604

As I look back on the past year this trip and adventure definitely stands out.   The clear blue of the lake and peace-of-mind lingered even after the bags were unpacked and we'd checked back into our everyday working world.

 And with that's now on to the new year!

How to easily roast the perfect chicken

Think you need fancy equipment to roast the perfect chicken?  I did too, and then a friend gave me a small contraption that has come to be my favorite item in the kitchen. 

How it works
  • Clean your chicken and season with salt/pepper and herbs of choice.
  • Set over the vertical roaster (see photo below).
  • Add to a 400 degree oven or grill.
  • Roast for approx. 1 hour (depends on the size of chicken).  Otherwise, check the internal temp with a thermometer. 
  • Basting:  use the juices that collect at the bottom during cooking...yum!
Cooks' note:  I use my Weber Grill which results in less mess and keeps the kitchen cool.  If you set the dials to "low" you will get an even 400 degrees which is about what you need.  Otherwise you can use the oven but it will be a bit messy - and still tasty of course.

When you pull the chicken out of the oven/off the grill,  have a tray handy for the roaster.  Let the chicken rest for approx. 20 minutes and you're ready to cut up.

A few obvious added benefits of the vertical roaster
  • Fast clean up.  Simply remove the fat collected in the tray and wash the rest as usual.
  • Less space for storage.  I fold up the roaster, throw into a plastic bag and into a drawer.
  • Inexpensive.  You can buy a vertical roaster for about $5 on eBay.
  • Amazing chicken!

The best part:  everything is compact and lays flat.

Ready for roasting.

Could this be a little more beautiful?  I think not!

Connections over coffee; Philz, Radius and Coffee Bar in SF

What's percolating?

The recent disappearance of my job caused a jolt of concern and then a burst of excitement as I realized I'd be "on the beach" during the summer.  Note:  on-the-beach is my reference to a virtual vacation a la 'workforce reduction'.   Shopping?  Lunch?  How ever would I fill my time?

Well, nothing as exciting as a trip to an actual beach.  After all, bills must be paid so I decided to dust off my resume and start networking.  

Coffee, tea, and more connections than I can count

In the new world of job seeking in San Francisco it seems a lot of coffee connections - or tea - are now the norm.  Don't get me wrong, I do love coffee.  But for quick, casual meetings in San Francisco it's no longer Peets or Starbucks although I always remain a fan of both.

While out and about talking about my skills (so many, so varied) my expectations and the weather (yes, it can be a topic) I ventured into more cafes, coffee houses and bars than I can count. As my parking bills stacked up, here's how the various places I visited stack up...

The coffee list

  • Philz (San Francisco, Palo Alto and Cupertino) is not just about coffee, the size cup or the temperature of the milk, it's about your taste preferences and mood of the day.  The person behind the counter actually seems to care about what you want and attempts to align that with the offering(s) of the day.  A casually cool place with a process that can feel a bit intimidating at first glance.
  • Craftsman and Wolves.  Wins the prize for most interesting items behind the counter including the "Rebel Within" which is a gooey egg inside a bacon-y muffin.  Oh, and the coffee is good too.
  • Radius Cafe.  Great outdoor seating which allows for comfort and sipping in the summer sun (if available).  Love the deviled eggs!
  • Coffee Bar.  Clearly a top choice for the tech set with an abundance of laptops and buzzy conversations about the next best idea or company.  Chocolate chip cookies worth noting (e.g., delicious) and hip vibe.  
  • Mavelous - small, intimate and reminiscent of a wine bar which is perhaps because they also sell wine along with a bevvy of coffee beverages.  Located on Market Street.
  • Sextant Coffee (SOMA).  Quality coffee in a beautiful brick/wood setting.
  • Samovar Tea Lounge.  Samovar is a welcome break from all the coffee, plus they have outdoor seating and a decent lunch menu.  For some odd reason I felt like I was on vacation while here.  Fun!
For what it's worth, my next gig is scheduled and I have two more weeks of daydreaming and quiet mornings.  However, I might skip the coffee for now and head to the hills for a hike.  

Happy summer!

Cheddar cheese takes cake to a new level

The Cheese Cake Challenge

I love a challenge and I love cheese so when friends suggested a cheese "cake" for their wedding, it seemed only natural to step up to the plate.

Although I am confident in my ability to crank out a wheel of cheese that's edible, this project caused me to re-think some of the basics and plan carefully.  For example, I wasn't sure where the cheese would be consumed and the temperature of the room.  A small, warm room might cause the "cake" to permeate everything and everyone with the aroma of cheese.  I'm used to the smell of cheese - it hits me every time I open the refrigerator - but maybe not what others want to remember from a summer wedding.  

The Cheese Cake Challenge - Some Serious Considerations

Once cheese warms up sometimes there is a change in texture as it softens up.  Because of this I knew the bottom layer would have to be sturdy or I'd risk a cave-in.  For this reason I settled on a basic cheddar which would be sturdy enough despite any potential change in temperature and hardy enough to withstand an evening of...standing.    

The project started with multiple trips to the store - over a period of weeks - for supplies at which point the checker started to ask if I drank a lot of milk!  Once home with my precious 1% (and a lot of cream) the layers were crafted over a period of weeks.  The final product, below, is the outcome and pretty close to my original vision.  The fruit and ribbon - courtesy of friends - added the final, festive touch.

The bottom layer will be aged until the end of the year.  A perfect treat for the holidays!

The original inspiration from the California Cheese Festival in Petaluma.  

The Cheesecake Challenge - and Conclusion

Although not the vision for every bride and groom, this cake was the perfect gift for two friends who embrace and embody the idea of fun and unusual.  Perhaps there is a subtle metaphor here; something about the cake being something sturdy that will become better over time.  In any case, congrats to Tilla and Chris. I wish you the best life has to offer!

SF Favorites - Ananda Fuara, Craftsman and Wolves

Two favorite "eats" but with strikingly different, interesting offerings. 

Ananda Fuara 

Amazing food that's all vegetarian and totally delicious!  My favorites include the veggie burger - a mixture of seeds, nuts and other goodness topped with a wheat bun - and the neatloaf, a riff on traditional meatloaf.  Oh, and they add a really yummy, tangy bbq sauce to the neatloaf for added flavor and punch.

Ananda is a place where vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike can find their own favorite dish and some calm amid the storm that is Market Street in SF.

The neatloaf and broccoli soup at Ananda Fuara.

The veggie wrap from Ananda.

Craftsman and Wolves

The other notable here is Craftsman and Wolves located in the Mission. Don't let the eye-catching, almost artistic display of sweets and treats fool you.  They serve a mean coffee AND the Rebel Within (pictured below).  Try as I might, the guy behind the counter wouldn't give up the method for pulling off a perfectly cooked - but runny yolk - egg inside a muffin. 

I suppose this will require multiple trips and muffins to figure out!  Ahh...the research required for this blog :)

The Rebel Within:  a soft cooked egg surrounded by an asiago, onion studded muffin.
Additional information
Craftsman and Wolves
746 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 913-7713

Ananda Fuara
1298 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 621-1994

Fast food my way - cooking salmon to perfection

My easy, go to method for cooking salmon relies on a hot oven and smaller slices of fish for more even cooking.

Here are the steps:

1) Pre-heat your oven or grill to 400 degrees.
2) Cut salmon fillets into 2-3 in pieces
3) Drizzle olive oil on top, then a light dusting of salt, pepper and dill (if using)
4) Add a sliced lemon on top (extra flavor, moisture and beauty)

Once the oven / grill is ready, put the salmon fillets in for 10 minutes.  The fish should be perfectly cooked and delicious!

Copper River Salmon - grilled

BSide BBQ - Oakland

While surfing through the April issue of Sunset magazine I came across an article about BSide BBQ in Oakland and the owner, Tanya Holland.  Always on the lookout for my faves:  brisket, mac and cheese and a side of cornbread I just knew this was on my list of "eating to-do's".

As we were making our way to a concert in Concord (ok...Barry Gibb who was fantastic) we stopped and I found myself in my element.  Great sides, amazing sauce and a casual, clean vibe all made the experience such a nice treat.

The owner really knows her stuff when it comes to marinades and the meat itself (go look up point cut and deckle).  It's always impressive to see passion fused with knowledge because you can almost taste it in the end result.  Deeply flavored from end-to-end with solid execution.   A winner!

There's nothing better than cornbread and slowly melting butter!

Not sure this photo does justice to the mac and cheese, but trust me, it's good!
Additional information

3303 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94608
(510) 595-0227

How to:

Cambria crushes it with a laid-back vibe and tasty cuisine

When asked about the past weekend and a trip to Cambria I was surprised how many people had heard about Hearst Castle (it's nearby) but never ventured for a visit to this charming, coastal town.  I expected the usual:  beautiful scenery and ocean breezes (so romantic!) but the cuisine and coffee were the things that really surprised this traveler (ok, really more of a day-tripper.) 

Hearst Castle:  it's a must.  We took the 45 minute tour and then walked around to check out the views, art sculptures and pool.  Yes, it's a bit tourist-y but fun to take in a bit of history amid the grandeur.                     

Fried green olives stuffed with cheese.  The best of all worlds!

All that walking worked up appetites so we headed to dinner at The Black Cat.  It's hard for me to convey how much I really loved this restaurant except to say we ate here both nights during our stay.  The Black Cat serves "innovative fresh farm fare" which translates to almost everything on the menu is superb (the opinion of Funfeasts, of course!)  Here's our menu for two nights:

  • Fried olives - enough said!
  • Pork belly with gigante beans.
  • Black bean soup (who knew black bean soup could be THAT good?)
  • Cauliflower gratin.  This was definitely overkill but I couldn't resist.
  • Rib eye with black quinoia (drizzled with a ginger-scented sauce.)
  • Duck, risotto and bok choy (overall my favorite dish.)
  • Pesto pasta and prawns (this one disappeared really fast so no comment.)
  • Dessert the first night was a salted chocolate pot de creme, good but...
  • The sticky toffee pudding and caramel sauce really took the cake (no pun intended)  the second night. SO rich and flavorful it was hard to keep spoons from colliding in the bowl.  
Pork belly and gigante beans - giant flavor

The rib eye with quinoa. 

For breakfast and coffee here are a few options: 
  • Allocco's Bakery, next to The Black Cat, for housemade cookies and pastries with friendly service.
  • Redwood Cafe for breakfast outside on a sunny day.
  • Cambria Coffee - Main Street - serves house-roasted blends and items from the French Bakery up the street                                                                                                                                 
Should you venture out to a few wineries in Paso Robles, check out Penman Springs Vineyard (loved their Syrah), Sculpterra with amazing gardens and the Red Soles Winery.  Red Soles was my favorite and most laid-back in atmosphere but there are many places to stop and taste from Cambria to Paso Robles.

Finally, for places to stay, check out the Chamber of Commerce website.  We ended up at San Simeon Pines which is a bit retro but easy on the budget and very clean.  Plus, the location is perfect for a stroll on the boardwalk and a view of the ocean.

This was a long post but there is a lot to love about Cambria and the surrounding area.  Thanks for reading!

Don Pistos Mexican in North Beach

Located in North Beach, Don Pistos is an under-the-radar place that serves really good Mexican food.   Signage from the street is very subtle and only the people standing outside give away the fact that something great is going on inside.

That "great" is a delicious take on Mexican street food from tacos to tamales and a whole host of other items we didn't get to.    What we tasted - the fish tacos, tacos al pastor and tamales with charred green chile and cheese - all divine.  Oh, and we also downed a boatload of those super crispy, salty chips.   Try as I might, I just could not stop eating them (and they kept magically appearing too!)

I absolutely cannot wait to go back.  Hint:  if you don't have reservations the cozy bar is a nice option.

Good food, bad photo, but I'm posting anyway so you'll have to try Don Pistos on your own! 
Don Pistos
510 Union Street
San Francisco CA

Oakland dining at Lungomare

Jack London Square in Oakland boasts an impressive lineup of places to dine with brunch being one of my favorites.  It's the perfect time of day to take in a view of the water and relax with glass - and fork - in hand. 
A recent visit found us at Lungomare where the tantalizing descriptions made food selections difficult.  We settled on ricotta pancakes (robust in flavor but light in texture) and scrambled egg panini. Both were delicious.   
The menu at Lungomare

Although I stuck with my usual beverage, coffee - I prefer to take my calories in hearty food! - I couldn't resist this photo of my friend's mimosa.  It's like a wonderful work of art - in a glass. 

Great start to the day;  a beautiful, inspiring mimosa

Fluffy ricotta, blueberry pancakes.