Monday, May 24, 2010

My 40th Birthday Party at Boulette's - San Francisco

Dinner at Boulette's
The first time I tried to visit Boulette's Larder at the Ferry Building, I was too late. They were closed, but the door to the Ferry Plaza was open, and I could see them inside setting up for a private party. It was a scene to behold with the long table down the middle of the room set with beautiful linens, flowers and crystal, the beautiful copper kitchen, the fireplace, the high ceilings and the open setting on the waterfront plaza.
Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder
Over the intervening years I've been to Boulette's many times for breakfast and lunch, and I stop by for salts, spices and little cookies on just about every trip to the Ferry Building. But I never forgot that beautiful table, and never stopped thinking (read: scheming) about how I'd manage to throw a party there someday.
Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder
On May 1, 2010 - my 40th birthday - I got my wish.  My husband friends threw me the party I'd always wanted with about 15 of our closest friends.   Lisa and Luis flew up with us, and we had an absolute blast staying at the Hyatt directly across the street from the Ferry Building. The whole weekend was a non-stop whirlwind of eating, drinking, and eating some more. Zuni, Pizzeria Delfina, Hog Island Oysters... I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!
Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder
As far as the party itself, I hardly know where to start. I have, quite simply, never had a better time. The food was incomparable and it was so nice to be surrounded by my best friends and people I don't get to see often enough.
Sam taking photos at Boulette's
One of those people, my good friend Sam Breach, joined us and took the beautiful photos you see here.

Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder
These were the party favors - little baskets of their tiny cookies I love so much...

In lieu of a cake we had a croquembouche - a traditional French celebratory dessert made from a tower of cream puffs filled with pastry cream and held together with burnt sugar caramel. It was beautiful and I was delighted by the lilacs.
Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder
This shot really showcases Sam's eye for color and composition, and my elegant friends Susan and Moira. My friend Jora said it looked like a shot from Gourmet magazine.
Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder
Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder
Speaking of gourmet, on to the food!  I knew Boulette's would do a good job, but they truly exceeded my expectations. We started with passed hors d'oeuvres, served with Perrier Jouet Champagne. To prepare these, they asked for a list of things I like and they really nailed it. Pictured below is a bit of hamachi sashimi with Japanese pickled vegetables. We also had shrimp salad served on little rye toasts, braised lamb on gaufrette, and a braised pork belly that was just beyond.
Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder
The first seated course was a salad of roasted asparagus, wild watercress, arugula, artichokes, pickled ramps, and burrata cheese with a green ramp vinaigrette. It was delicious and so beautiful, with its vibrant green color. With this we had warm rolls with butter and a light and buttery 2008 Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay.

The main course was a Wild Alaskan Halibut, with Oregon foraged mushrooms, beurre rouge and fava beans. The beurre rouge - a traditional French concoction of red wine, butter and shallots - had everyone at the table moaning. Literally. Several people said it was the best fish dish they had ever tasted. With the main course, we had two pinot wines - a 2007 Sean Thackrey Andromeda from Devils Gulch Ranch Vineyard in Marin, and Freeman Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast. Both were marvelous, but the Andromeda was especially nice. Special thanks go to our friend Tom for supplying all of the wines for the dinner!
Alice's 40th Birthday at Boulette's Larder

The croquembouche was served with whipped cream and a citrus ice cream and paired with a really nice Tokaji.  I had to eat the top puff off the tower, but the rest went home with Sam - they had plated cream puffs separately with the sauces. It was certainly a more civilized approach than tearing into the heap of puffs, if maybe not quite as much fun.  After the dessert, came mignardise (chocolates and jelly candies) and coffee service.

The dining room was ours for as long as we desired, and we stayed for about an hour after the meal, sipping coffee and Tokaji and chatting. It wasn't until the end of the night, when Chef Amaryll Schwertner was getting ready to leave, that we realized her and Lori's Hungarian Sheepdog Boulette (for whom the restaurant is named) had been under the table the entire time!

After the dinner a few of us went on to Bourbon & Branch, a speakeasy style cocktail bar in the Tenderloin/Union Square area. I loved it, and plan to return sometime when I'm a little less saturated with cheer and good will to sample more of their multi-volume cocktail menu.

For me the 40th birthday felt like a milestone to be marked - a halfway point of sorts and a beginning of my true "grown up" life. This was a fantastic way to celebrate it, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to do it. Cheers and thanks to everyone who joined me, and to those who couldn't make it, you were missed!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ten Things I'm Excited About This Summer

1. Tom's Wedges - I've always wanted to like these shoes, but the flat espadrille style just doesn't work for my feet. This more lady-like version is coming this summer - you can sign up here to be notified when they're available. (I've got my eye on the navy ones.)

2. Scotty's Green Salsa - I discovered this at Whole Foods a couple of months ago and I just haven't been able to get enough. It's vibrant green and fresh - and I don't know exactly why, but it just tastes better than your usual salsa verde. Look for it in the salsa cooler in the chip aisle.

3. Aperol Cocktails - The other night, I opened a bottle of some cheap fizzy Pinot Grigio. It tasted a little sour on its own, so - inspired by Zuni Cafe - I added a splash of Aperol, a slug of gin and a couple of ice cubes. Voila! Something I will make over and over again this summer.

4. Trina Turk Loop beach towels - I picked up a couple of these (in the blue/green print) at the Trina Turk boutique in Fashion Island a couple of months ago, and have been waiting to use them with bated breath. I finally got my chance this weekend and I absolutely love them.

5. New music - I just had to re-load all of my music onto my laptop after a crash, which inspired me to freshen up my collection a bit. I bought a few new albums and unearthed a few that I'd purchased earlier but never really listened to and made a new play list for Summer. It includes albums by Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird, Neko Case, Feist, Cut Copy, Caribou, The Temper Trap, a few Carla Bruni songs, some Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and the Up in the Air soundtrack. I'm loving The Reminder by Feist, which I just rediscovered, and Conditions by the Temper Trap.

6. Garage Sales - This is prime garage sale season, and I'm dying to get up early some Saturday morning soon and hit up a few. There really is no point in going if you can't get there early though, so I will definitely need to plan ahead.

7. Rosé - this is the summer of rosé wines - it's been brewing for a few years now, but I think the trend is really ready to hit its stride.

8. Cherries - I saw the first ones coming into the market last weekend. This year I'm really hoping to get my hands on some sour ones, even if they're frozen - and make the Sour Cherry Frozen Custard I made a few years ago.

9. Portland - we are visiting this fair city for the first time this July, and I cannot wait. We're flying in on a Thursday, spending the night at the McMenamin's Kennedy School, then moving to the Ace the next day, since the Kennedy School is booked for weddings over the weekend. We're going to a birthday party on Saturday and I have a feeling the rest of our time will be pretty well absorbed with checking out the Pearl District (Powells Books for sure) and trying to snarf up as much of the local food scene as we can - including the food carts, Clyde Common and Pearl Bakery. If you have any special recommendations, please let me know!

10. The Food 4 Kids Summer Fundraiser! - Those of you who have been reading for a while may remember that back in December, several local bloggers got together to do a fundraiser for the San Diego Food Bank's Food 4 Kids program, which provides backpacks filled with food to kids on the weekends who would otherwise not have enough to eat. Our efforts allowed the Food Bank to add two more schools to the program, and we collected over 1000 pounds of food. This year we're moving the fundraiser to the Summer, so we can directly impact the program for the coming year. We're targeting an August date for our food drive at the Little Italy Mercato, and we have a couple of other surprises up our sleeves, so watch this space for more announcements! You can also like us on Facebook at for all the latest information and updates.

photo via the Huffington Post

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mariscos El Pescador - Chula Vista

The timing on this post is interesting, considering we just lost one of our star fine dining chefs, Jason Neroni of Blanca - who sniffed that "all San Diegans wanted was fish tacos." Well, yes and no, Jason. San Diegans can be provincial - but in other ways we're surprisingly finicky and demanding. My two recent meals at Blanca suffered from both seasoning and preparation problems - not something you can attribute to the diners' palates. I also just think it's bad form to blame your audience for your shortcomings. We have some amazing ingredients to work with here and I have no doubt that Jason could have put together an interesting and crowd pleasing menu with them that would have satisifed food fanatics and fish taco lovers alike.
But I digress. This post is about tacos. Fish tacos that I had been told were the best in town, from a truck located in a Chula Vista parking lot just off the 5 freeway. Were they good? Yes, but I've said it before and I'll say it again - my feeling about fish tacos is that they're almost always good when they're fresh. These, of course, were very fresh. They were crisp, tempura fried and made with good fish. I would eat them again. Whether I would drive all the way to Chula Vista to stand in the Toys R Us parking lot and eat them again is an open question.
I would probably be more likely to drive all the way down there to eat the Campechana - the mixed seafood cocktail. I ordered one for myself after seeing them being passed out through the window of the truck, like this one below.
It took for-ever to prepare, and when I received it I knew why. They were shucking fresh shellfish in the truck. Peeking out from under the avocado, you can just barely see a large, quivering oyster. There were also scallops, shrimp, and of course tomato juice - along with the giant slice of buttery avocado on top. The timing was actually a bit of an issue though it was worth the wait. The tacos are fairly fast coming out - but the cocktail took a good 15 minutes to make.

They also offer the other usual Mariscos dishes - consomme with shrimp, aguachile (spicy seafood ceviche) and gobernador style tacos - with peppers, onions and cheese. I didn't get to try those, but they seem to be highly recommended. One drawback to this place vs. some of the other trucks is that they don't (at least as of the time I was there) have any table seating. You are either standing, sitting in a chair or eating on the hood of your car. Since it's grab & go food it's ok for the most part - but not very comfortable. Maybe they'll solve that problem if they haven't already.

To get there, take 5 to the L Street offramp - it's just East of the freeway, in the Toys R Us parking lot. Not sure of their hours, but they're definitely open for lunch. Just be prepared for a bit of a wait.