Monday, October 29, 2007

Daring Bakers - "Bostini Cream Pie"

bostini cream pie
I have to say that after the events of this week and a busy weekend - I'm a little bit numb - but I've missed a couple of challenges lately, and I had a good excuse to make this one since we hosted my parents for dinner tonight. We don't cook for them too often, so we wanted to do something nice. They brought steaks, and I made an heirloom tomato salad and some corn - sort of a "last hurrah" of summer. For dessert, we had the bostinis.

I have never made boston cream pie before, but I have always thought it reminded me of a doughnut - with the thick chocolate glaze on the top and custard filling - or an eclair, possibly. Essentially it's a chiffon cake, flavored with a little bit of orange, layered with a custard cream and a chocolate glaze.
chiffon cutouts
I baked my cake in a sheet pan, and cut the rounds out with a knife, which worked fairly well. I am glad I took it out of the oven when I did - one or two more minutes and it would have been dry. We were allowed to substitute in a couple of areas - I didn't have orange juice, but I used orange oil and a little lemon juice - making up the difference in the liquid with 1/2 a cup of milk, and I thought it had nice flavor. The custard was also really good. I used vanilla paste instead of the bean, and I improvised with a mixture of cream, half and half and nonfat milk to make up the whole milk and cream called for, since I could only get my hands on one pint of organic cream at the market and already had the half and half and nonfat milk at home. It worked just fine and I had LOTS left over. (Then again, I only served four and the recipe is for 8.)
bostini cream pies
The cake layers were about one inch thick, so to plate the dessert, I spooned some custard into the cups, added a layer of cake, more custard, another layer of cake, and the chocolate sauce. (Actually, my mom and I had only one layer - as you can see on the right - but we got the gist of it.) There was double the amount of custard that I needed, but I would have had a hard time getting enough cake out of the recipe to fill eight ramekins.

There was nothing wrong with this dessert, and the chocolate sauce, the cake and the custard were each great on their own, but I'm not sure the dessert was more than the sum of it's parts. In fact, it might have been less. The cake soaked up the liquids and became a bit soggy, and I wasn't crazy about the look of the chocolate poured straight onto the cake. Maybe if it were a bit thicker. James thought the chocolate was overwhelming and suggested the cake and custard would be better with some fresh fruit or berries. It was a LOT of trouble to make, and is one of those recipes that uses up nearly a dozen eggs - 9 yolks in the custard alone.

Regardless, I have nothing but love and respect for Mary, the kind and generous administrator of our Daring Bakers site and pro baker who selected this recipe for the challenge this month. At least it was something that could be completed in a single afternoon, which is more than I can say for some challenges. Not that involved baking projects are a bad thing, but when you're as short on time and concentration as I was today, less is definitely more!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Per Se Is Good People

Bar Snacks at Per Se

I am just a giddy girl right now. I have had about the best three days that any food lover could reasonably expect to have here in New York City. Not only did I gain a new respect for and understanding of the workings of Gourmet magazine, I learned a lot, met some of my culinary heroes, and made some new friends. It was a very good time indeed.

Picking up where I left off earlier, it all started with the cocktail party at the Time Warner Center on Friday night - home to some of the fanciest restaurants in the City, not the least of which is the famed Per Se. We'll get to that in a minute.

The party itself was on two floors (unfortunately not contiguous - no champagne on the elevator I'm afraid) where free flowing beverages (including Moet White Star) were served. The food included Shrimp Po Boy Sliders with Tamarind Glaze from Cafe Gray, cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen in Boston, pulled pork shoulder with coffee glaze on brioche from Porter House New York (Michael Lomonaco's restaurant), profiteroles and short rib tartelettes from Landmarc and Cafe Gray, and last but not least, the famous smoked salmon cornets with sweet red onion creme fraiche and white truffled popcorn from Per Se.

Starting around 8:00, they broke out the Chocolate Bouchons (delicious cork shaped brownies) and creamy/salty "Nutter Butters" from Bouchon Bakery - and started passing trays of exquisitely tiny jewel-like mini desserts - which I can imagine them serving as mignardise at Per Se.

The food was good and the party was lively, but after a while it was just a little overwhelming. It was very crowded, I hadn't yet met very many people, and was having a hard time getting into the groove, so to speak. Needing a break from the action, I stepped on the escalator up to the fourth floor where Per Se is located, hoping to get a photo of the famous blue door and maybe peek inside. The door is really quite impressive. As you approach it - you expect it to open - but then the glass panels on either side simultaneously slide away. I walked in and boldly asked, inspired by this article, if they could accommodate a single. The answer was no - and they don't serve food at the bar, but they welcomed me to have a drink.

I walked across the dim and luxurious space and perched uncomfortably at the bar for a little while. When a little settee cleared, I moved closer to the window, where I was much more comfortable sitting and observing. I started with the house "Per Se" cocktail, a martini made with Ciroc vodka, 100 year Grand Marnier and Pineau de Charentes. It was icy cold and very nice, but a little bitter - I assume from the Pineau. They do have the nicest Riedel Martini glasses that sit in your fingers just so - instead of sliding around like some oversized cocktail glasses do.
Vodka Tonic at Per Se

I chatted with the bartender (or Salon Server, as he is formally titled), about the party downstairs, and he asked me if I would like for the kitchen to send out "a little something." Of course I said yes. A short time later, he returned with a promising little silver napkin holder, followed by a basket of fresh truffled potato chips, a dollop of truffled creme fraiche, and a bowl of still warm fresh-roasted peanuts. I really hit the jackpot when I finished my first cocktail and asked to try a vodka tonic, having noticed on the cocktail menu that they make their own tonic. It came out in a glass that must have weighed at least a pound, with a long silver zeppelin-like stirrer, and was truly one of the most delicious cocktails I've ever had. It was also absolutely huge. I stood up and looked out the window just in time to see the bus back to the hotel pull away from the curb, then sat back down and took my time with it.

The staff could not have been more polite or welcoming. At one point the front desk manager came up to me and said "Vodka or gin?" "Vodka," I replied, and she said "That's what I'll be doing when I get off." She asked me about the truffled potato chips, and I said I'd be happy to offer her one - but of course she couldn't. It was refreshing to just be treated like a fellow human being by the staff. Judging by the attitudes of some of the patrons walking around in there, they might have felt the same way.

When I neared the end of the second drink, I started to steel myself for the bill. The total would likely be about $50.00 for two cocktails and some bar snacks - the price of dinner anywhere else - but I consoled myself with the fact that I'd had a little adventure, and they had been very nice to me.

When the bill came, I was genuinely touched. It was $21.68 - the price of one cocktail (gratuity and tax included). I thanked my server and gave him a generous tip. (I already had a little crush on him - since he reminded me of David Tennant.) On my way out, I was given a bag of three Parisian macarons, tied with a ribbon. Best I could tell, the flavors were pumpkin, hazelnut with blackberry jam filling - and cranberry, if I'm not mistaken. (It was red, but not strawberry or raspberry.) By the time I made my way downstairs they were breaking down the tables and cleaning up after the party.

I had planned to get a cab when I left, but when I walked outside it was a balmy evening and the streets were crowded, so I decided to walk back down Seventh Avenue.   It was a lovely "only in New York City" kind of evening, and I wasn't in any hurry for it to end.  

Friday, October 19, 2007

New York, New York!

I'm here! I'm in town for the weekend for the Gourmet Institute, a three day program put on by the magazine with lots of food, book signings, socializing, cocktail parties, classes and a dinner at a choice of Le Bernardin, Aureole or the Four Seasons. (I chose Le Bernardin.) I also signed up for classes with several of the magazine's editors - Zanne Early Stewart, Kemp Menifie, Romulo Yanes and Ruth Reichl - and some celebrity chefs - including Tony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Jose Andres and Masaharu Morimoto.

Yesterday's flight was quite an ordeal - first we had scary turbulence on the landing in Chicago. I'm not one of those white knuckle fliers but even I was holding my breath on this one. The plane pitched, dropped and bounced around while we were coming in, and the pilot got a well deserved round of applause when we actually touched down.

The storm that caused those winds then trapped us in Chicago for three hours - on the runway no less. When they finally turned around and let us off the plane it was like one of those scenes you see on the news - with people camped out on the floor with their computers or sleeping. I was surprised though - I barely had time to eat a (rather disappointing) Chicago-style hot dog before they called us to re-board the plane and we took off. We landed at 1:10AM - the scheduled time had been 8:30. I was sort of amused by the people around me complaining. One guy bellowed into his cell phone "I'm going to give Southwest Airlines a piece of my mind about this" - about what, a thunderstorm? Would you rather fly through it?? I'm kind of impatient about some things, but I'm relatively sanguine about travel delays. It was clear that everyone was doing the best they could, and they did ultimately get us there safely.

Today I got up late (still on West Coast time) and had breakfast at Sarabeth's on the Upper East Side with a good friend on her lunch break, and then walked from there to the Whitney, where I took in the Kara Walker exhibit, "My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love," which just opened here, and comes to LA in the Spring. It's fascinating, thought provoking, beautiful and pornographic. I find it especially interesting that the huge wall-sized silhouettes are destroyed after each exhibit, and reproduced again. I'm not an art critic or a psychologist, so I will spare you my analysis - but the work is definitely a deep mine for plumbing in that regard.

On the walk, I stopped in at Dean and Deluca and Vosges and picked up a few things. Gifts, you know. I even got one of those Doughnut Plant doughnuts. Sorry to say, but it wasn't any better than any other stale doughnut would have been at that point. Humid weather is particularly unkind to glazed doughnuts, I think. It rained on us today - those storms that wrought such havoc yesterday in the Midwest are now overhead.

Tonight is a cocktail party at the Columbus Circle complex, with passed hors d'oeuvres from Per Se, Bouchon Bakery, Cafe Gray and some of the other places. Some luminaries are allegedly joining us, including Tyra Banks and Kelly Clarkson (ooh yay) and Ruth Reichl. I am looking forward to meeting her and the chefs - especially Morimoto. He just seems like such a nice guy. I did meet John Besh this afternoon, and he is quite handsome and charming in person.

I'm taking pictures but I'll probably have to post them when I get home since the USB ports on my laptop are fried. So far it looks to be a great event though.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a little nap before the cocktail hour!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

When in Big Sur...

You know the rest....

And boy, did we ever.

Big Sur was the end of the road, so to speak, for us - we drove up from San Luis Obispo on Wednesday, stopping at Hearst Castle along the way. We did the Number 2 tour there, which takes you through the upstairs rooms and kitchen. It's mindboggling how much effort and wealth has been poured into this place. The fact that it exists at all is sort of amazing. The grounds and gardens are beautiful - if I go again that is the next tour I would take.
Deetjen's Library
In Big Sur we stayed at Deetjen's, a little inn tucked into a small canyon by the side of the road. The place is adorable, but so close to Hwy 1 you can hear the traffic in your room. The one cool thing about it is that it makes the highway look like a Disneyland ride - the way it crosses the canyon on a little trestle bridge. Our room, "Faraway," was ironically the closest to the road. It was very private though compared to some of the other rooms, where people walk by and are above and next to you. We shared only one wall with another unit in the same cabin. Their walls are famously thin but we had no problems. On the next trip we will probably spring for the Creek House, near the back of the property, just to be away from the road with more space, and to be closer to the lovely little creek that runs nearby. It boasts a full brick fireplace and small antique kitchen and sleeps at least four, assuming you rent the whole thing (upstairs and down are also available separately.) The whole house goes for about $385 - our single room was $200, and had a woodstove and bath. Be warned - Deetjen's is booking six months in advance, due to this piece in the New York Times last January. We noticed lots of New Yorkers in the guestbooks in the rooms - known for their - shall we say - "revealing" portraits of the room's previous occupants....

Deetjen's Dining Room

We ate breakfast and dinner in Deetjen's dining room. The food is solid and hearty and the dining room is cozy with atmosphere galore. It's something that just has to be seen to be appreciated - worth a stop even if you aren't staying there. The pancakes at breakfast, served with real maple syrup, and the pork chops at dinner were especially good. I was a little disappointed in the duck confit special (too small and a bit overcooked) but I think I ordered poorly. The heirloom tomato salad was wonderful though, with some perfect fresh mozzarella - and the crabcake appetizer was fine as well. The chocolate cake we received would have been good had it not been just the slightest bit overbaked.
Andrew Molera State Park
On our first full day in the area, we went to Andrew Molera State Park and did the short hike to the beach. It was only a mile each way, but walking on the sand made it seem farther. On the way back we stopped at the Big Sur Bakery and devoured some sandwiches, chips and cookies. I had a different impression in mind based on what I had read, and was expecting something more casual and store-front like. It's actually a very nice little restaurant in a house perched over the road, next to a tiny one pump gas-station. They have a huge open fireplace and serve dinner in the evenings - I was sorry we didn't have time for one - reservations are a must. Their cookies and brownies are to die for - especially the espresso double chocolate chip and macadamia chocolate chip. The next day I went back for pastries and coffee for breakfast, which was eaten next to the little creek at Deetjen's - it was so pretty it was almost unreal. (We experienced that a lot actually, in these parts.)
Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn at Sunset
Dinner on the second night was at Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn. We had considered staying here, but I just couldn't wrap my brain (or budget) around the $800.00 per night rates. I think I see it now, after visiting - but at the same time it's easy enough to go there and eat and enjoy the atmosphere, etc. without the tab. The main thing they have going for them is that it is far enough away from the highway that you can't hear the cars whizzing by. The constant highway noise elsewhere can be really distracting elsewhere - even on a hike or at the beach. The architecture at the Inn is really spectacular - organic and sort of a timeless modern style.
Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn
Sierra Mar just recently moved back into their space overlooking the ocean after a kitchen remodel, and the view is nothing short of amazing. I was a little surprised to see that the menu is fairly conservative - but it serves the upscale resort clientele well. They offer a four course prix fixe for $95.00, which includes six choices for the first course, and four for the remaining three courses. Our "amuse" was a tiny quail egg with caviar nestled in a spoon with a dollop of creme fraiche - perfect with a glass of champagne.

I loved the "lemongrass crusted lobster" with coconut juice and green papaya salad. It had all the freshness of the green papaya salad and only a hint of heat - perfect with the sweet, fresh lobster. James had the foie gras trio - a seared bit, a terrine with apple and a creme brulee. It was a little over the top in terms of sweetness, but well prepared. For the second course, I chose the heirloom tomato "panzanella" salad - with croutons, heirloom tomatoes and shaved parmesan, which was perfectly pleasant. James ordered the butternut squash and pear soup with vanilla oil, which surprised me because he doesn't normally order sweet dishes. It was fine, and the vanilla-bean flecked oil was a good accompaniment, but I can never escape the comparison to baby food with these type of soups. A little curry or spice would have helped.

James had wine pairings with three courses of his meal, and together we polished off a bottle of Dampierre Champagne, which we discovered earlier on this trip at the Hungry Cat. (There a bottle was $55. at the Sierra Mar, $75.) I also had a glass of Cabernet paired with my main course - and at least one sip of each of James' pairings. A Sauterne for the foie gras, an unoaked Chardonnay with the soup, and a Pinot - I believe - with the lamb. We aren't exactly wine experts, but they seemed to work very well.

My main course was the Deconstructed Beef Wellington, which was delicious. The first bite might well be the best single mouthful of food I've ever eaten. The plate consisted of two slices of perfectly seared rib eye draped over a small mound of chard - topped with a quarter-inch thick, barely-seared slice of foie gras. Next to that on the plate was a small square of puff pastry topped with a mound of duxelle. The plate was sauced with a "truffle madeira jus." The meat was well marbled and tender, had good flavor and was seared perfectly. The foie gras was rich but not overpowering and the duxelle and sauce were balanced just right. The chard was a nice tart counter to the richness. As much as I loved this dish, I turned it over to James after a few bites, because he wasn't crazy about his.

He had ordered the rack of lamb with Indian inspired accents - a curry carrot nage and mint oil drizzle, and a eggplant millefeuille. The eggplant component was mushy and tasted overwhelmingly of garlic, and they had burned the bottom crust on the "gnocchi" cake that the lamb was served on, but we were able to peel it off. The chop itself was thick and juicy and the mint and curry carrot sauces were delicious, but that eggplant dish and the burnt gnocchi really should not have been served.

The dessert offerings were a little disappointing, with four choices including Sticky Toffee Pudding, Warm Chocolate Cake and cheeses. I should have tried the Strawberry Sorbet with Biscuit and Rose Creme Fraiche, which was the only truly interesting option among them - but I let our server talk me into the Sticky Toffee Pudding. It was just as expected, topped with a nice vanilla housemade ice cream. We also received four little petit fours - a chocolate chip cookie, mini brownie and financier, and a diamond of apricot gelee. It sounds like they are flying without a pastry chef - which surprises me given the caliber of the restaurant. They serve three meals a day, and between the breakfast, breads and desserts I really think they could use one.
The view from our room at Esalen
After two nights at Deetjen's, we moved on down the road to the Esalen Institute, which offers "personal retreats" on a limited basis for non-workshop takers. The Institute is a new agey sort of camp for grownups, with classes in art, kinesiology, psychology, relationships and other endeavors. Most visitors attend courses there for a weekend or a week - but some live and work there (paying for the privilege.) They serve meals buffet style three times per day, and residents can take "movement" classes - yoga, tai chi, etc., enjoy the cliffside baths, and wander through the gardens. The personal retreat rooms cannot be reserved more than a week in advance (call Sunday for rooms during the following week) and cost $150.00 per night per person, with a $50.00 membership fee per person.
Cliffside at Esalen
The grounds at Esalen are breathtaking - several acres on the edge of the cliffs at Big Sur have been transformed into a campus, with patio/dining hall, pool and gardens scattered across the landscape. The cliffside baths are carved into a hillside about 500 yards downhill, just over the surf. If you've been looking for an experience akin to the Roman baths, this is where you'll find it. The board-formed concrete, sandstone and rock structure is open to the ocean, and the facility is divided into two sections - silent and quiet. A pool upstairs is also open to handicapped access. Massages are performed throughout the area by therapists trained in the unique "Esalen" method. (Ask for Chloe!) When not in use the tables are open for lounging or cooling off.

The sulfurous spring water can be let into a line of cast iron tubs for private baths and mixed with hose water for the perfect temperature. There are four communal baths, two of which perch over the ocean - and you can also climb into a small space nearby where the water is at about 117 degrees. The baths are drained and disinfected several times a day by staff members. The showers have what may be the most spectacular feature - large sliding glass doors open to the surf. If you can't get a retreat, book a massage which gives you access to the baths for an hour before and after - or the baths are open to the public by reservation between 1 and 3 AM. The night-time experience is completely different from the day, with dim lighting and fantastic stargazing.
The Esalen Gardens
The food at Esalen is good - it's quantity food, but much of it comes from their gardens and it is made with care. A "Bread Bar" is available all day with housemade breads, peanut butter and spreads. Dinner on the night we visited was Braised Short Ribs. Seitan was also offered along with a decent vegan corn and potato chowder. Steamed corn on the cob, artichokes and a full salad bar were also offered along with more bread. Nobody goes hungry, that's for sure. Another little tip - if you visit for a massage around mealtime - you can eat there. You line up and get served, and nobody checks your ticket, so to speak.

We got lucky with our last minute room request, and received a room with a little deck looking out to the ocean. The room was nothing extra, just dorm-like with a Motel 6 level bathroom, but the surroundings made up for it. It sounds like they may also be doing some capital improvements over the next few years, so hopefully they will update them eventually.
Waterfall Beach - Julia Pfeiffer Burns
One of the highlights of our trip to Big Sur was a tiny little "hike" - a short walk, really - that you can easily do even if you're just driving through. At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (pictured above), pull off the road and take the easy quarter mile trail down to the overlook. On one side, a waterfall falls on a beach where the water looks like a swimming pool, and on the other side are gorgeous turquoise coves. The short trail is so easy to navigate that it's actually wheelchair accessible. There are benches for picnicking or just contemplating, and the view is much better than any of the vista points along the road. With a picnic from the Big Sur Bakery, you'd be a happy camper indeed.

Deetjens Big Sur Inn
48865 Highway 1
Big Sur, California 93920
We stayed in "Faraway" - the only room with tub, deck and woodburning stove. Most accommodations have showers and many have shared baths. Make reservations for dinner - breakfast is conveniently served from 8 to noon.

Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn
(831) 667-2800
Recommended Dishes: Deconstructed Beef Wellington, Lemongrass Crusted Lobster

Esalen Institute
55000 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA 93920-9616
831-667-3005 for reservations. Check the website though, they have different numbers depending on what type of reservation you are trying to make.

Big Sur Bakery
Bakery Open Daily at 8 AM - check website for meals
Reservations 831.667.0520
Recommended Dishes - It was all good - but the espresso chocolate cookie was a trip highlight. Make a dinner reservation if you're spending the night in the area.

Also recommended - Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, Nepenthe for cocktails, the Phoenix store for gifts.

Friday, October 05, 2007

One last post before I go (with Clafoutis!)

jora's clafouti

Tomorrow we set off for Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, San Luis Obispo and Big Sur. On the itinerary: A "day of decadence" at the Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito - with massages and Sunday Brunch (unlimited sparkling wine - woo hoo!), a dinner at the Hungry Cat, and a meal at La Super Rica. The rest is flexible. On the way up I'm hoping to stop in at the Malibu Getty Villa - I haven't been there in years and they recently reopened it.

From Santa Barbara we'll drive through Santa Ynez - doing some wine purchasing along the way - and on up to San Luis Obispo, where we are staying at the Madonna Inn, in a room with rock walls, a waterfall shower and red leather furniture. It should be interesting. We're also planning to eat there at their steakhouse, since I want to get in at least one Red-Oak fired Steak dinner.

From there, it's on up to Big Sur - where we will be spending three nights at Deetjen's - soaking up the quietude. We have a dinner reservation at the Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn for one evening, and plan to play it by ear for the rest of the time. We might go to Esalen for massages and/or the hot tubs, we're hoping we can get in through a friend - so we'll see how that goes. A short hike or two are also in the cards, maybe lunch at Cielo - there's also Nepenthe, Big Sur Bakery, Big Sur Roadhouse, and Deetjen's apparently has quite a good restaurant on the property. It's said to be the place to go for breakfast - one of the reasons why I chose it.

Before I go though, last week I hosted supper club at my house, and we had a new member, Jora - who brought the best clafoutis I have ever tasted. I have only tasted a couple, to be fair, but I am confident in saying this one was good. She used pears, which made it a perfect fall dessert. She used a Barefoot Contessa recipe, which can be found here. She swears it's easy, but you'd never know it.

A few other random notes - last night I ate at the Linkery and let me tell you - this joint is jumpin! They were recently mentioned in Gourmet Magazine, which is fabulous, but I don't think that was the reason they were so crowded. People are really starting to appreciate the effort that goes into their food, and the lively atmosphere can't hurt. The special Moonlight cask conditioned ale they are serving right now is worth a trip by itself - highly highly recommend.

I also drove by two new places on the way over there - Urban Solace, which I'm hearing good things about, and the Commonwealth Cafe. The Commonwealth looks good - but they probably shouldn't have bathed the whole place in that neon green light. It's a little off-putting actually. Urban Solace is serving up fancy-ish "New American" comfort food in a cute location on the East Side of 30th in the heart of North Park. When I get back from all my traveling, I'm going to make it a point to get over there.

The rest of my traveling means the Gourmet Institute - which starts on Oct 19 and runs through the weekend - I'll be in New York City from the 18th to the 22nd. I cannot wait - and I could not be more excited. I have a feeling when I get back I'll forget all about the posts I have backed up about stuff like homemade mustard and the Celebration for the Critters, and go straight to the good stuff - like lots of pictures of me with famous chefs. ;-)

Today is also Tracy and Brian's wedding day and I just have to give a little shout out - we are so happy for them. Happy enough that we can ALMOST forgive them for moving away from us to the East Coast. Congratulations you guys - I hope it's wonderful!!!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pizzas, People and Places to See, San Francisco, Part 4

(Continued from this earlier installment, which was continued from this one, which was continued from this one.)

Saturday - day three of my recent San Francisco trip - brought new possibilities, because my dear friend and host Tommy was free for the day. You might think it odd that I fly up to the Bay Area to spend time with my husband's best friend - but really, he's like family. If you knew him, you'd understand!

When I used to live in the Bay Area, I loved to drive out to Point Reyes to eat at the Tomales Bay Food Company, all the way from the East Bay. I've been wanting to go again, but just haven't had time on recent trips - it's really a full day to drive up there and back from the City. This time though, Tommy and I had friends we wanted to visit in Mill Valley - so we decided to drive out there just for the heck of it, and stop by for a visit on the way back.
Morning Bun (orange and cinnamon - so good...)
Before departing the City, we stopped by Bay Bread Boulangerie on Pine in the Fillmore to fuel up on coffee and pastries. Their version of a morning bun was one of the best I've ever tasted - flaky, croissant-like layers of pastry coiled with cinnamon and finely grated orange zest, all coated with granulated sugar. Thus fortified, we headed out of the City in Tommy's 911 convertible, a great car for a fun little trip.
On the way out of the City
The weather was still spectacular, and the drive out to Point Reyes on Lucas Valley Road was gorgeous. Point Reyes itself was buzzing with activity - the farmers market was going on, and there were more people on the streets and in Tomales Bay Foods than I recall seeing before, but that was several years ago (actually, try ten!)
Our Destination - Tomales Bay Foods in Point Reyes
We had a nice little picnic on the back lawn, with sandwiches and a tuna confit salad that honestly wasn't quite as good as I had hoped it would be. For some reason, the food didn't seem quite as interesting or unique as I remember.
Picnic Lunch
We had sandwiches - roast chicken with capers and lemon for me, and roast beef with cheddar and peppers for Tommy. They were good, but I remember some amazing simple salads with fresh ingredients - served in paper boxes - and I didn't see any of that in evidence here. It was really just like what you can get at Dean and Deluca, or Oakville Grocery. It used to have that sort of artisanal-hippie Chez Panisse vibe, if you get my drift.
Roast Chicken with Capers and Lemon
After lunch, we wandered around the shops in Point Reyes, and I was thrilled to find a basket identical to one I had seen in the De Young Museum the day before. It was a smallish basket woven in Africa of multicolored telephone wire. When I saw it in the museum I thought "Wow - that's cool, I sure wish I could buy one of those!" Lo and behold, there they were in a gift shop in Point Reyes the very next day. I don't have a picture of mine, but you can click here for some fabulous examples.

After moseying around the town for a bit, we hit the road and headed for Mill Valley to meet up with friends Janine and Gregg and Nate and Sarah, who live over there and have babies under a year old - making it much easier for us to go to them than it is for them to come to us.
Nate and Sarah at the Depot
We met up on the square in Mill Valley for some coffee and conversation at the Depot, then moved the party over to D'Angelo's for some wine and a light supper of appetizers and pizza. It was really fun to see everyone and meet the babies. From D'Angelo's we continued on up to Cici Gelateria, owned by a friend of Sarah's from high school - for some dessert (this group is nothing if not enthusiastic about eating and drinking!)
Cici Gelateria in Mill Valley
Cici is the real deal. They imported their equipment from Italy, and make the gelato with organic ingredients including dairy from Straus Creamery and local produce. The flavors are heaped in the modern display piled with fruits and other garnishes, and look delectable. I had coffee and chocolate - several in our group also enjoyed the hazelnut. There is a complimentary posting on Chowhound here.
Gelato at Cici in Mill Valley
After gelato, exhausted from our day of eating and driving - Tommy and I headed home

Sunday morning was our last chance to see Tracy, who was in town for a conference from the East Coast. She had a short window for brunch, and I really wanted to take her to Boulette's. I forgot though that the last time I went there was on a Monday morning - not a Sunday - and the wait was much longer than I expected. It forced Tracy to miss the second half of her morning - but hopefully it was worth it.
Beignets with plum jam - they were worth the wait.
We had a gorgeous meal - starting with Beignets, continuing with the "Eastern European Hot Chocolate" which we all sipped, and moving on to entrees -
Boulette's - Poached Eggs with Roasted Tomatoes and Peppers
Poached Eggs with Piperade for Tom and Tracy, and Pork Chile Verde for me with pureed cranberry beans.
Pork Shoulder Stew at Boulette's
Luckily I was able to give some of my pork to Tommy- I certainly couldn't eat it all.
Inside Boulette's
Before leaving, I bought the requisite cookies (the chocolate ones with sea salt and some little baby thumbprints) some smoked paprika and Welsh Sea Salt. I also bought a couple of bags of their Blue Bottle blend coffee - which was strangely disappointing - maybe because they use french press pots, and I tried it in a regular drip coffee maker. After dropping Tracy off, I took Tommy home and finished packing, and flew home that afternoon.

I'm already thinking about the next trip - but before I go back to San Francisco, I'll be taking two trips in the next three weeks - one to Santa Barbara and Big Sur, and another to New York City for the Gourmet Institute. I can't wait to report back on those!