Stevie

Ah, Burgundy! The name alone sounds so romantic. Even the French, Bourgogne, though almost impossible to say properly, is magical.

stunning rooftop at Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune

stunning rooftop at Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune

view of part of the famous Burgundian Côte-d’Or

view of part of the famous Burgundian Côte-d’Or

Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette as seen from across the vineyard

Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette as seen from across the vineyard

Last month, Hegui and I met some friends at a stunning resort in a refurbished château nestled in the village of Meursault, part of the famous Burgundian Côte-d’Or, or “gold coast.” Kay and Pascal live in a small city adjacent to Geneva, Switzerland, so visit this famous wine region often. It’s only a few hours car ride on the French autoroute for them. Since we’d never been, we let Kay plan the weekend of relaxation.

To start, everything is really pretty. All those lovely towers, castles, vineyards, colorful rooftops and gorgeous churches made Hegui a maniac with the camera. Our resort, Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette, was absurdly beautiful, situated as it was on a vineyard surrounded by gentle hills, a quaint view of the village, etc. Even the pillows were wonderful! Look for yourselves.

beautiful courtyard at Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune

beautiful courtyard at Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune

Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

cute car parked in Beaune

cute car parked in Beaune

La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot

La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot

pillows from Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

pillows from Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

Meursault from the back of our resort

Meursault from the back of our resort

Despite the frequent, unseasonable rain, we did lots of nice things. Hegui and I were enchanted by the Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune, where they have that famous wine auction every year. We bought tasty souvenirs at La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot. Naturally we ate a lot of French pastries, cheeses, butter, breads, and so on. One evening we drove to Dijon for dinner. I was really struck by how tiny this most famous of wine producing regions seemed. We went slowly, in the rain, through all the various world-renowned villages, like Nuits St. Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Gevrey-Chambertin, yet made it to Dijon in less than 45 minutes. Small!

enjoying my apple tart, baguette and cafe au lait at a small patisserie in Beaune

enjoying my apple tart, baguette and cafe au lait at a small patisserie in Beaune

Hegui slicing a country loaf with what looks like a machete

Hegui slicing a country loaf with what looks like a machete

the front yard at our resort, Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

the front yard at our resort, Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

more cool cars in Beaune

more cool cars in Beaune

Of course, we tasted some Burgundian wine, too. Kay arranged for us to visit the lovely Château de Meursault and Château de Cîteaux Philippe Bouzereau, the later, right across from the resort. Wine tasting in Burgundy was fun and seemed very glamorous. I was a bit underwhelmed by the wines themselves, sadly. Sure, we tasted reds and whites from the celebrated 2009 and 2010 vintages, plus a few older ones here and there. Don’t get me wrong. These were okay. The whites, with a single exception, tasted a lot like “new” low oak California chardonnays. The reds, generally, seemed too acidic and prickly to really enjoy. Perhaps they need more time? Maybe I’m a Burgundy rube? My real worry is that my Burgundian wine “a-ha” moment might be a lingering sense of mild disappointment. Alas.

an enjoyable, if forgetatable white from Château de Cîteaux Philippe Bouzereau

an enjoyable, if forgetatable white from Château de Cîteaux Philippe Bouzereau

me with our friends wine tasting in Meursault

me with our friends wine tasting in Meursault

posing in front of the world famous Chambertin vineyard

posing in front of the world famous Chambertin vineyard

Hegui and I wine tasting in the caves at Château de Meursault

Hegui and I wine tasting in the caves at Château de Meursault

Burgundy was an amazing experience and going there has completely changed my perspective. Now it remains to be seen exactly how.

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My aunt Mary Ann, came for a short visit last week. She lives in New Hampshire and has been overwhelmed by the brutal winter they’re having back East this year. Blizzard after blizzard would make anyone long for sunny California.

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

She’s only about 13 months older than me, so really we grew up together, almost like brother and sister. Unfortunately until last week, we hadn’t seen one another for about eight years. So this visit was a real treat. Since she had never been to the West Coast, there was a lot to do. In her four day visit we went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, touched the waters of the Pacific, admired the view from Sausalito, wandered through Chinatown, lunched in North Beach, dined at The Slanted Door and many other things. Of course a visit to Napa for wine tasting was de rigueur.

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

We started out at Artesa mainly for its gorgeous modern appeal. Then by chance drove by Michael Mondavi Family Estate, just down the road. The Estate has been there since its founding in 2004. Michael is the famous brother of the famous, now deceased, Robert Mondavi.

I tried learning more about the winery part of the Estate but had some trouble finding specifics. It sounds like it is a family run enterprise with Michael, his wife, Isabel, and two adult children, Rob Jr. and Dina. Aside from wine production, the family operates Folio Fine Wine Partners, an international wine importing concern (follow this link for an interview with Michael and Rob Jr. about Folio)and various members seem to offer winemaking consultation. Again, I’m a bit confused by it all so if any of you readers know more, please write in!

They produce an affordable line called Spellbound which I’ve seen locally in various supermarkets and wine shops, plus various more boutique labels.

do they still use this thing or is it only for show

do they still use this thing or is it only for show?

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

The winery itself is small and comfortable. We sat inside though they’ve a stunning back porch overlooking one of their estate pinot vineyards. We had perfect weather that day, so it might have been fun, but the porch had a large and somewhat rowdy crowd already. Two different tastings were offered: the Heritage Selection and the Gallery Selection. We tried one of each and shared them all.

Both of us really liked these wines. We impulsively joined two of their wine clubs on the spot, which is always a fun way to remember wine country.

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2001: This had a golden color with some oak on the nose. We detected some fruit and vanilla with a mildly buttery finish.

Isabel Mondavi Estate Pinot Noir 2009: This was a gorgeous red color with some red fruit and exciting earthy notes. It was smooth with a lovely almost bitter finish. Very different from the more fruity Russian River Valley pinots, I particularly enjoyed this wine.

Emblem Oso Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: The grapes for this wine come from Howell Mountain in Napa. In a word, delish. This dark wine was rich and lush, with lovely fruit, and a supple texture. Mmmmm.

Oberon Hillside Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: I understand that this is blended from grapes grown at three nearby vineyards. It had an intense cedar forest floor nose with refined tannins.

Spellbound Petite Sirah Reserve 2007: This is a Napa wine. The nose was rootbeer. It was very tannic and clearly needs a lot more time in bottle. Nevertheless, it too was quite enjoyable.

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2012: Pale with a citrus nose, it was crisp and good.

Spellbound Chardonnay 2010: Also quite pale with lovely yellow fruit.

Oberon Napa Valley Merlot 2009: Red with blueberry and chocolate, this was supple and very drinkable.

Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: I only wrote “fruit, tannins, chocolate, bitter” in my notes. You get the idea.

Spellbound Petite Sirah 2010: A deep color with a blueberry nose, it tastes like sweet ripe blueberries, too.

Needless to write, we had a great time here. No appoint necessary. If you have the chance to visit Michael Mondavi Family Estate sometime, I would definitely go.

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Benu, San Francisco

by Stevie on October 23, 2012

I wanted so desperately to adore Benu! This place is über-chic right now. Supposedly when it was reviewed by some really fancy and prestigious paper in New York a while back, the writer said it was worth hopping on a plane for the six hour flight just to dine here. That’s a spectacular idea, isn’t it?

here I am getting my eye-phone ready for a gorgeous meal at Benu.  Can you see the picture on the wall behind me  I love it!

here I am getting my eye-phone ready for a gorgeous meal at Benu. Can you see the picture on the wall behind me I love it!

Well, my friend, S has been talking about venturing here for the seventeen course tasting menu for what seems like forever. At least since around the time we scheduled Coi.

welcome to Benu

welcome to Benu

We’ve been putting it off terribly, mainly because this place is expensive. The tasting for one person is $180, excluding wine, tip, tax, etc. A visit here isn’t an everyday event for most. Certainly we’re in the 99% and this was a real splurge.

They’re located in the South of Market neighborhood near Union Square in the space that formerly housed Hawthorne Lane restaurant. (It’s funny. I’ve lived in San Francisco long enough now that I occasionally know what was there before…)

the Benu kitchen overlooks the calming courtyard in front of the quiet restaurant

the Benu kitchen overlooks the calming courtyard in front of the quiet restaurant

The décor is darker than in the last incarnation of the place, though quite elegant. Unlike some other very fancy dining establishments that I’ve had the good fortune of trying, Benu wasn’t stuffy (the staff, though impeccably dressed which sometimes seems forbidding, were quite approachable and even friendly) and the dining room actually had some things hanging on the walls (a decorating tip for you, Coi and Redd.)

We had a group of six and all arrived around the same time for a 6PM reservation on a Saturday. I ordered a 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape for John, Hegui and I to start. Two of the others had the wine pairing and the sixth, lovely Carey M, abstained. The wine was perfect and though it didn’t traditionally match the complex, frequently Asian-inspired menu, we enjoyed it well enough. Plus the sommelier said that it was the last bottle of this particular one they had, which made it seem that much more special.

thousand year-old quail egg, potage, ginger

thousand year-old quail egg, potage, ginger

oyster with kimchi

oyster with kimchi

We brought home the menu. We three had the pescatarian one; the others, the “regular.” I’ll list everything here for you to get the idea:

thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger
oyster with kimchi
potato salad with anchovy
sea urchin tofu with wild salmon roe
chilled porridge, abalone, matsutake mushroom, pine nut
monkfish liver, persimmon, turnip, mustard, brioche
celery, chestnut, green apple, yuzu
eel, feuille de brick, crème fraîche, lime
hearts of palm, date, ginseng
salt and pepper squid
lobster in two courses
xiao long bao
fresh noodles with fine herbes
salsify cassoulet with onion-black truffle bun
sea bas, cauliflower, sauerbrussels, pear
“shark”fin soup, Dungeness crab, black truffle custard
shiso, white chocolate, almond, pomegranate
spice cake, huckleberry, yogurt, oatmeal ice cream
chocolates

So there it is. Sounds mouthwatering, right?

potato salad with anchovy

potato salad with anchovy

sea urchin tofu with wild salmon roe

sea urchin tofu with wild salmon roe

chilled porridge, abalone, matsutake mushroom, pine nut

chilled porridge, abalone, matsutake mushroom, pine nut

The flavors were as diverse as they were exciting. Hegui and I skipped lunch as we knew that we’d be dining here. Turns out, that might have been a wee mistake. The portions are really small: a bite or maybe two for most. We’re used to eating a bit more heartily at home. And we eat starch at every meal. There really wasn’t too much of that to be had on this menu.

Other places have come up with elegant solutions to this problem. For example, our fave, the soon-to-be-closed-forever Cyrus, address the varying starch requirements of their patrons by offering incredible tiny rolls and breads, fresh from the oven, which they bring tableside throughout the meal. If you’re feeling it then by all means. Unfortunately there wasn’t something analogous here.

a random shot of my napkin which played such an important role later in the evening

a random shot of my napkin which played such an important role later in the evening

Too bad for me. We’d been dining away for about four hours by the time the fourteenth or fifteenth course, my nemesis, the “shark” fin soup arrived. I was positively ravenous by then, and though I’d been cheerily snacking along with the rest of the crowd on these micro-portions of over-the-top masterful presentations of food, I felt as if I hadn’t had a thing to eat the whole time.

monkfish liver, persimmon, turnip, mustard, brioche

monkfish liver, persimmon, turnip, mustard, brioche

hearts of palm, date, ginseng

hearts of palm, date, ginseng

John looking chic

John looking chic

xiao long bao

xiao long bao

salsify cassoulet with onion-black truffle bun

salsify cassoulet with onion-black truffle bun

And then the soup…

shark's fin soup, dungeness crab, black truffle custard

shark’s fin soup, dungeness crab, black truffle custard

My first thought was that it didn’t seem salty enough for my taste. And I don’t particularly care for truffle, so I wasn’t that excited. Though still very hungry, I slurped it down as best I could. Sadly my stomach had other ideas. I started to feel funny in a not very good kind of way. And I started to perspire… a lot.

Next came the shiso, white chocolate dessert. This had to have been frozen in liquid nitrogen and shattered. It was icy cold in the tiny glass cup. I don’t know about you, but I think shiso is a decidedly acquired taste. Usually I have it as a somewhat unwelcome ingredient in the occasional sushi roll. I’d never have thought of putting it in ice cream or white chocolate or whatever that horrid thing was.

shiso, white chocolate, almond, pomegranate

shiso, white chocolate, almond, pomegranate

Suddenly my stomach clamped down hard. That’s bad. I had to leave the restaurant, immediately. That was especially awkward since there were still two more courses, wine left in the bottle, we had yet to negotiate the bill and our friends were all there chatting away amiably, hopefully still oblivious to my abject misery.

I whisked myself out the door into the night. It was total hell. I’ll spare you the details of the next twenty minutes, but let’s just say, nature took its vile course. Hegui and Carey came to my rescue with fresh napkins (gorgeous heavy white cloth numbers). I painfully returned to table for the presentation of the stunning chocolate course but by then had lost all will to live. Hegui took me home and I went to bed immediately.

Despite the drama, I don’t regret going here (my credit card bill hasn’t yet arrived, so perhaps I’ll be singing a different tune later.) Dining at Benu was certainly a memorable experience. I think it is unlikely in the extreme that I shall ever return, but how knows? Stranger things have happened.

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Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma County

by Stevie on October 17, 2012

beautiful reproduction of a building in the Clos Vougeot in Burgundy

beautiful Hanzell reproduction of a building in the Clos Vougeot in Burgundy

I’ve been longing to visit Hanzell for ages! Really after I read Matt Kramer’s fabulous, New California Wine. He describes Hanzell as “Aesthetically, …one of the most elegant wineries in the state” and concludes his mini-history of the place:

It is difficult to over-praise Hanzell, as it has stood the test of making great wines continuously for decades. Few California wineries have so lustrous a track record and fewer still deserve to be called a true grand cru. But that’s what Hanzell really is, California’s first authentic and proven grand cru.

After all that fanfare, how could anyone wonder that a trip to Hanzell was a high priority?

view across the valley from the first Hanzell estate vineyard

view across the valley from the first Hanzell estate vineyard

a lone cluster of Hanzell chardonnay grapes on the vine

a lone cluster of Hanzell chardonnay grapes on the vine

modern art on the Hanzell property

modern art on the Hanzell property

Located in the Mayacamas Range on the Sonoma side, the site truly is marvelous to behold. We were in awe by the sheer natural beauty of the place. We had a super-individualized tour: just Hegui and me. Ryan Hortum was our Estate Educator. He was really pleasant and seemed genuinely to adore Hanzell and its wines. I thought it was awesome that we got to ride in a Land Rover to visit some of the more far-flung vineyards. I’d never done that before.

Hanzell produces mainly chardonnay and pinot noir though it sounds like in the past, they grew some cabernet sauvignon and recently they’ve replanted some more. There’s a smaller-scale though still quite grand reproduction of a building from the Clos Vougeot that the first Hanzell owner, James Zellerbach, found particularly captivating on a tour of Burgundy.

The name, Hanzell, derives from Zellerbach’s wife’s name, Hana. The winery has a long history that you can enjoy learning about on your tour or at their site, linked above, or in Kramer’s book. Strangely, there didn’t seem to be that many wines to try— only two chardonnays and a pinot. Somehow I had thought with all of the different vineyards, that they’d have individually designated wines to showcase the different micro-climates, but not so. These are blended estate wines. We preferred the chardonnays over the red here, which is odd for us.

Hanzell wine cave interior

Hanzell wine cave interior

modern winemaking facility

modern winemaking facility

amazing valley view from the balcony of the original Hanzell winery

amazing valley view from the balcony of the original Hanzell winery

a selection of Hanzell library wines

a selection of Hanzell library wines

ready to taste some yummy wine

ready to taste some yummy wine

The 2011 Sebella was crisp bordering on sharp, though pleasant. I liked the 2010 estate chardonnay as it seemed more well-rounded with the right balance of fruit and mineral notes. The 2009 estate pinot noir didn’t have much fruit though showed a lot of exotic spices with a lovely long finish.

Visiting Hanzell was great fun. This is the kind of romantic destination perfect for people in love and for dreamers of all ages.

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Quixote Winery, Napa County

by Stevie on October 10, 2012

I’ve wanted to tour Quixote ever since I saw a pic of their gorgeous and eccentric winemaking facility in Wine Spectator about a year or so ago. The place is incredible looking, isn’t it?

close up of one of Quixote's exterior walls

close up of one of Quixote's exterior walls

Claudio and me at Quixote

Claudio and me at Quixote

see Quixote's golden dome peeking over the lush grassy garden

see Quixote’s golden dome peeking over the lush grassy garden?

harvest was just starting during our visit to Quixote so we got to see the ripe grapes hanging on the vine

harvest was just starting during our visit to Quixote so we got to see the ripe grapes hanging on the vine

every detail was considered for the design, including the floor tiles

every detail was considered for the design, including the floor tiles

Designed by the Viennese architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, we learned on the delightful tour that this is the only building created be this colorful artist who didn’t believe in “straight lines.” Sadly he died shortly after the completion of the project, so never got to truly enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Not so with us.

They pronounce Quixote the Spanish way, rather than the American (“kwix-it”) or Portuguese (“qui-sho-tee.”) You must have a reservation for the tour and tasting. They’re very small, so it makes sense to call ahead. The entrance is past Shafer on a lovely country road that is extremely easy to miss from Silverado Trail. A map is essential.

We were thrilled when we got to the winery entrance and began to see the copper colored dome rising from the gently sloping hills. Our tour guide: was his name René or perhaps Andre? I believe he said that he was Swiss. I’ve misplaced my notes by now and Hegui and I couldn’t quite recall. Let’s call him Mr. X here. Or perhaps, for simplicity, merely X. Well, X was affable and very chatty. He regaled us with a long and charming (I almost wrote “colorful” again. This place really brings out that adjective) history of wine and grape cultivation from the most ancient times to the present in California.

X had lots of stimulating ideas regarding the lesser importance of the ancient Romans in the development of Burgundy (it was the Phoenicians who brought the grape that became pinot noir), was delighted with obscure genetic facts linking zinfandel to the Italian primitivo and an obscure grape from Eastern Europe (I also forgot that name), and how Americans simply drink wine wrong. Yeah, I know, we’re Americans on a tour of an American winery yet some European guy is telling us we don’t know how to truly appreciate wine. Not good for sales, but what a provocative conversation!

statuettes of Don Quixote and sidekick, Panza

statuettes of Don Quixote and sidekick, Panza

tasting some Quixote cabernet with Mr X

tasting some Quixote cabernet with Mr X

beautiful Quixote garden patio

beautiful Quixote garden patio

X’s idea was the old saw that “wine should be drunk with food” with his added complaint that we frequently drink it on its own in place of cocktails, aperitifs and digestifs. Thus we’re particularly fond of powerful fruity wines and have no sense of the subtleties. He completely dismissed pinot noir from the Russian River Valley with “who wants to drink raspberries and strawberries all the time?” Afterward Hegui and I talked about these interrelated ideas for over several days. It is true that American wines can be fruity and bold. But what’s the problem with that really?

It seems so natural to take a defensive posture against this Euro-superior view but I’ve decided that’s the wrong approach. It’s X’s basic assumptions about wine that I challenge. Is this a beverage that has a particular scripted role for all time or, as in my view, is it in fact a drink to enjoy in a variety of ways? For example, it can be had with food or alone, be bold or subtle, fruity or well, what’s the opposite for fruity in wine anyway, and why would you seek out such a wine? I reject the uptight traditionalist chauvinism in favor of a more liberal interpretation. X is charming but misguided to my way of thinking.

Anyway, enough politics!

some Quixote petite sirah

some Quixote petite sirah

We tried cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. Strangely, as this is the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, Quixote’s focus is on the later varietal. Unfortunately I misplaced my notes by the time I was ready to write my story, so I can’t be very specific. The cab tasted alright if a bit thin. Both the petite sirah vintages were powerful and rich with ample fruit, full body, with lovely spice and earthy notes. The older one, as X suggested, is more tamed (though I’m doubtful how much better it would “go with food” compared to the more recent vintage). After the tour we sat on a lovely garden patio behind the winery sipping and snacking on elegant cheeses and crackers.

A visit to Quixote will stimulate your intellect as well as all of your senses.

a perfect day in Napa Valley

a perfect day in Napa Valley

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I have always wanted to try making a salt crusted fish, really ever since Emeril Lagasse made it on his show about ten years ago. It was so impressive when he cracked the fish out of its salty shell. He didn’t even need that trademark expression to pique my interest.

salt crusted red snapper with lemon and olive oil

salt crusted red snapper with lemon and olive oil

This dish is simple—yes, simple. And it makes quite an impression for a dinner party, which is when I made this recipe for the first time. Two of our guests, Aime and Whitney, had just ordered this at an over-priced restaurant in Las Vegas for a whopping $150—for a single fish at that.

I used the recipe from epicurious which was much simpler than Tyler Florence’s. I made two since I had a group of five. This was perfect and even left a bit of fish for Clarence to enjoy later.

salt crusted red snapper with lemon and olive oil

2 pounds Kosher salt
1 cup water
2 pound whole red snapper, cleaned
1 lemon
Olive oil

here I am patting the salt over the red snapper

here I am patting the salt over the red snapper

it's time for the oven

it’s time for the oven

the guests are enjoying themselves as I work in the kitchen

the guests are enjoying themselves as I work in the kitchen

just out of the oven it looks like dirty snow

just out of the oven it looks like dirty snow

my first ever salt crusted red snapper

my first ever salt crusted red snapper

Pre-heat oven to 450F.

Cut lemon in half then slice one half into three or four rounds. Fill fish’s cavity with lemon slices.
Pour water into salt and mix. Press about half of the moistened salt in the bottom of a baking sheet. Place fish on top. Press remaining salt over entire fish to make a bright white mound. Bake 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove from oven and crack open salt crust with a wooden spoon, meat tenderizer or what have you. This is the most impressive part of the entire process though messy, too. I performed this step in the kitchen, made a huge mess, and delighted my company.

Place fish on serving platter. Drizzle with some olive oil and lemon juice from reserved half lemon. Garnish and enjoy.

I served this with a hearty lentil and caramelized onion rice as we were drinking red wine that night.

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Real Food Daily, West Hollywood

by Stevie on September 4, 2012

Real Food Daily is not the kind of place I’d have dreamed of when I was younger fantasizing about Hollywood. Vegan cuisine in West Hollywood? Does that even make sense? Well, yes it does.

Hegui poses on a balcony of the Getty Museum with a clear Los Angeles skyline in the background

Hegui poses on a balcony of the Getty Museum with a clear Los Angeles skyline in the background

Hegui and I stumbled upon this wonderful spot on a stroll back to our hotel on West 3rd after catching up with my long-time friend and former roommate, Gene, and his delightful boyfriend, Paul. Paul works at the Getty Museum in the photography department so regaled us about the opening bash for the current exhibit: Herb Ritts, L. A. Style. The show is a must-see and the party sounded incredible. As you might expect at a Ritts retrospective, it was full of stars and models. I thought it cute that Paul seemed so put-out Madonna hadn’t bothered to show up. Ah, LA! It’s such a different California.

stunning water feature at the Getty Museum

stunning water feature at the Getty Museum

whoa!  where did all my hair run off to

whoa! where did all my hair run off to?!?

Anyhoo back to Real Food Daily. The founder, Ann Gentry, has an amazing all-American dream story herself. According to the web site (how in the world did they get the address, “realfood?”) she’s originally from Tennessee, had a short stint in New York where she became fascinated with the relationship between food and health, then migrated to Los Angeles in the Eighties to work as personal chef for Danny DeVito. Things expanded into a home delivery service then she opened the first RFD location in Santa Monica in 1993. The West Hollywood restaurant opened in the late Nineties with a lot of fanfare and critical acclaim.

sunny RFD interior

sunny RFD interior

I'm waiting for the caffiene to kick in

I'm waiting for the caffiene to kick in

‘course I didn’t know any of that when we walked by the place on La Cienega Boulevard that night. I merely pointed it out to Hegui as a vegan curiosity. We ended up going there for their marvelous Sunday brunch after an abortive attempt to eat at the classic diner, Norm’s, up the same street.

We weren’t sure about RFD so somehow forgot to photograph the exterior. The inside was all clean lines, blond wood, skylights, gorgeous staff and flagrant displays of perfectly ripe veggies. Sort of like Golden Era in San Francisco, the menu uses meaty terms to describe its vegan offerings, though here it’s a bit more tongue-in-cheek. So though Hegui ordered a popular sausage scramble, I tried the no-huevos rancheros. I liked the name and the dish itself was wonderful. My favorite thing had to have been the cinnamon bun. I’ve no idea how someone might make one of those vegan but you sure couldn’t tell by its incredible taste.

RFD breakfast scramble

RFD breakfast scramble

my RFD no-huevos rancheros

my RFD no-huevos rancheros

The service was good; the food, great. This is a place I’d enjoy visiting again sometime soon. Perhaps Ann could open one in San Francisco as her next venture? That would be awesome!

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cashew and cardamom fudge

by Stevie on August 31, 2012

This tofu dessert… yes, you read correctly, tofu dessert, is another super recipe from Nguyen’s Asian Tofu. She touts it as a higher protein version of the Indian kaju barfi, typically made with milk, sugar and cashew nuts.

cashew and cardamom fudge

cashew and cardamom fudge

Mine was delicious but didn’t quite have the consistency of what I consider to be fudge. This was soft. Perhaps I should have simmered the sweetened condensed milk longer to have less liquid? In any event, the flavor was wonderful and unlike most tofu-bearing recipes, you’ll never even know it is there.

cashew and cardamom fudge

8 oz super-firm tofu, grated with your finest grater
3½ oz raw cashews
1 can sweetened condensed milk
¾ tsp cardamom—I used whole pods which I ground and removed some of the fibrous shells
2 tbsp chopped pistachios

Line a small pan (she recommends 8”x8” but I didn’t have one so improvised) with parchment paper.

Grind cashews in food processor to a coarse texture. Add to shredded tofu (shredding the tofu was the hardest part of this recipe.) Toss to combine.

In a medium pan on medium heat, add the sweetened condensed milk and the tofu cashew mixture. Cook, stirring periodically, about 15 minutes. Don’t let it boil. Remove from heat and add ground cardamom.

Press into prepared pan. Press chopped pistachios on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

When ready, cut into squares, bars or diamonds. Enjoy.

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