Jun 24, 2008

A Working Lunch in San Francisco

Hyatt Regency atriumThis past weekend in San Francisco I had a working lunch in the Hyatt Regency’s Eclipse Café. The experience turned out to be delightful on two very different fronts.
First, the Café is located in the hotel’s vast, soaring atrium lobby, which has been featured in major films. Completed in the early 1970s and designed by architect John Portman, this 300-foot long by 170-foot high room still has the capacity to stun with its sleek modernity. A bank of streamlined, capsule-shaped, glass-enclosed elevators zoom silently up and down. Touches of brass reflect sunlight from the narrow skylight, a zero-edge fountain surrounds a free-form gilded aluminum sculpture by Charles Perry. In this space, asymmetry doesn’t just rule—it makes sense. I live in the Bay Area and have been in this atrium a good many times over the years, but each time it’s a revelation.
The second delightful aspect was lunch itself. The menu was a masterpiece of updated, slightly innovative comfort foods: Fritto Misto (crispy Monterey calamari, Pacific shrimp, Blue Point oysters, Mediterranean vegetables, chipotle aïoli); a Grilled Cheese Sandwich made with aged cheddar and Sonoma pepper jack on thick-sliced sourdough; a trio of French-Vidalia Onion Soup (you got all three, separately topped with Gruyere, Provolone, Pepper Jack).
lounge at Hyatt Regency in San Francisco
I almost went for the Hobbs Prosciutto & Grilled Fulton Valley Chicken Panini, but in the end opted for a “Build Your Own Lunch” selection. That’s where you get to choose an entrée and select two sides from a tempting list. My choices: the Mini Jumbo Lump & Dungeness Crab Cake Sandwiches on toasted brioche, French Onion Soup, and Sonoma Greens with Goat Cheese, Bacon, Tomato, Cucumber, and Pesto Vinaigrette.
All this, against the dramatic backdrop of soaring atrium, space-age elevators, brass and chrome and light. If only more meetings were like this!
The Eclipse Café is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., serving three meals a day. San Francisco Hyatt Regency, 5 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco 94111 • 415 788 1234

Jun 18, 2008

Happy 25th Birthday, Mustards!

Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustard's Restaurant

I’ve never forgotten the first time I walked into Mustards Grill in Napa Valley. This was back, oh, 24 years ago, when the food revolution was beginning to take hold. In those days, when it came to food, much was new, being invented, and being-reinvented. I was living in San Francisco, and everybody kept saying, “You’ve got to come to Napa and try this new place, Mustards.” So I did.

Entering Mustards that first time I was blown away by the new-to-me combination of smells: meats grilled over woods, home-made BBQ sauce and other condiments, oysters, fine wines (oak-heavy chardonnay then predominated). The Grill wasn’t even a year old, but that fabulous scent already seemed imbued in the very wood of the building.
This past Monday, June 16, founder/owner Cindy Pawlcyn (pictured above) threw a 25th Birthday Party for Mustards, and what a scene it was! The party took place entirely in the surrounding vegetable and herb garden, and something like 1200 people turned out to celebrate. Forty or so local wineries—Far Niente, Trefethen, Joseph Phelps, the Hess Collection, Silverado, Groth, Beringer, Robert Mondavi, Caymus, to name a few—were pouring. Musards was closed for the night to the public, but the kitchen churned out vast amounts of ribs, pulled pork, sliders, and chicken wings for delighted party-goers. Two huge heaps of ice were covered with Hog Island Oysters. There were small cups of Crab Gazpacho, a table groaning with fruits and cheeses, cones filled with onion rings. A lively bluegrass band, Poor Man’s Whiskey, played into the night. And all around were the pale yellow summer hills and green vines of Napa Valley.
Mustard's 25th Birthday Party
As we stood waiting for our car at the end, my friend Karen said “Let’s look inside the restaurant for a second.” It was empty, since the party was raging in the garden, but the doors were open. I hadn’t been inside Mustards in many years, and I was curious to see if it had changed.
We wandered inside, and there it was: the scent of grilled meat, sauce, fine wine (now predominating toward Zins)… Despite the years, that smell was so familiar and evocative, so very Mustards, that I might have stepped back 25 years in time. Before it all got too Proust-like, the car came and we whisked ourselves off to the future.
Thank you, Cindy Pawlcyn, for 25 years of Mustards Grill–and for knowing how to throw a great party.

Mustard’s Grill: 7399 St. Helena Highway, Napa, CA 94558 •707-944-2424 •

Jun 11, 2008

Kids'll Love 'Em!!

Baked Idaho Pommes Frites

The Idaho Potato Commission sent me a recipe they think will get kids involved in summertime cooking. I don’t know about that, but the recipe’s pretty nifty and kids and adults alike are going to scarf these things right down: Baked Idaho Pommes Frites and Simple Dipping Sauces.
Yeah, you got it: french fries. But they taste so good your kids may not even suspect that these particular frites are heart-healthy and nutritious. Here goes:

Baked Idaho Pommes Frites (Serves 4)

  • 4 large Idaho Potatoes, well scrubbed
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 450° F.
  2. Cut each potato into eight lengthwise wedges. Place potatoes in an ungreased baking pan. Spray potatoes evenly with cooking spray.
  3. Bake 20 minutes. Remove potatoes from the oven, turn them over using a spatula, and return the potatoes to the oven to bake an additional 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
  4. Season with salt and serve hot.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 278 calories, 1 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 154 mg sodium, 6 g protein, 64 g carbohydrates (does not include optional ingredients).

Tex-Mex Ketchup

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon mild chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Stir until evenly blended. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 34 calories, 0 mg cholesterol, 366 mg sodium, 0.5 g protein, 0 g fat, 9 g carbohydrates

Bacon-Cheddar-Ranch Topping

  • 3/4 cup light ranch salad dressing
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped (use green part only in this recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons 2% Sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons packaged 50% reduced-fat real bacon pieces
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Stir until evenly blended. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 75 calories, 12 mg cholesterol, 285 mg sodium, 1.5 g protein, 6 g fat, 4 g carbohydrates

Easy Microwave Cheese Sauce

  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  1. Combine the milk and cream cheese in a small microwave-safe bowl with handles. Heat on high for 1 minute, 30 seconds. Use a whisk and stir until smooth.
  2. Heat another 30 seconds on high, then whisk again.
  3. Add grated cheeses and stir constantly until smooth. If necessary, heat at 10-second intervals, stirring in-between, until an even consistency is achieved. Serve immediately.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 76 calories, 20 mg cholesterol, 95 mg sodium, 4 g protein, 6 g fat, 1 g carbohydrates

Jun 9, 2008

2008 James Beard Award Winners

James Beard Award medalsLast night the annual James Beard Awards—known as “the Oscars of the food world”—were handed out in New York City’s Avery Fisher Hall. Below you’ll find a list of chef, restaurant, and cookbook winners. To learn more about the awards and the other category winners, visit the James Beard Foundation website. Of interest to me: there is no award given as yet for food blogging.
Best National Chefs & Restaurants
  • Outstanding Restaurateur: Joe Bastianich & Mario Batali, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, New York
  • Outstanding Chef: Grant Achatz, Alinea, Chicago
  • Outstanding Restaurant: Gramercy Tavern, New York
  • Outstanding New Restaurant: Central Michel Richard, Washington
  • Rising Star Chef: Gavin Kaysen, Cafe Boulud, New York
  • Outstanding Pastry Chef: Elisabeth Prueitt & Chad Robertson, Tartine Bakery, San Francisco
  • Outstanding Wine Service: Eleven Madison Park, New York
  • Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional: Terry Theise, Terry Theise Estate Selections, Silver Spring, Md.:
  • Outstanding Service: Terra, St. Helena, Calif.
Best Regional Chefs
  • Best Chef: Great Lakes–Carrie Nahabedian, Naha, Chicago
  • Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic–Eric Ziebold, CityZen
  • Best Chef: Midwest–Adam Siegel, Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro, Milwaukee
  • Best Chef: New York–David Chang, Momofuku Ssam Bar, New York
  • Best Chef: Northeast–Patrick Connolly, Radius, Boston
  • Best Chef: Northwest–Holly Smith, Cafe Juanita, Kirkland, Wash
  • Best Chef: Southwest–Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colorado
  • Best Chef: South–Michelle Bernstein, Michy’s, Miami
  • Best Chef: Southeast–Robert Stehling, Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.
  • Best Chef: Pacific–Craig Stoll, Delfina, San Francisco
Best Cookbooks
  • Cookbook of the Year: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book
  • Cookbook Hall of Fame: Paula Wolfert, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco
  • Asian Cooking: Niloufer Ichaporia King, My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking
  • Baking and Desserts: Peter Reinhart, Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor
  • Cooking from a Professional Point of View: The French Culinary Institute w/ Judith Choate, The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine
  • Entertaining: Trish Magwood, Dish Entertains
  • Americana: Jean Anderson, A Love Affair with Southern Cooking
  • General: James Peterson, Cooking
  • Healthy Focus: Jean Harvey-Berino w/ Joyce Hendley and editors of EatingWell magazine, The EatingWell Diet
  • International: Anne Willan, The Country Cooking of France
  • Reference: Rowan Jacobsen, A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America
  • Single Subject: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book
  • Wine and Spirits: David Wondrich, Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar
  • Writing on Food: Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
  • Photography: France Ruffenach (Photographer), The Country Cooking of France (Anne Willan, author)

Jun 2, 2008

Watermelon Summer

Watermelon SlicesI’d never heard about the National Watermelon Promotion Board until last week, when a cheery CD Press Kit—filled with photos, facts, and recipes—arrived via snail mail from the folks at NWPB. And just in time for summer…
Most of us eat watermelon because it’s delish (and is there anything more refreshing on a hot day?). It’s also good for us, filled with more lycopene than tomatoes (15-20 mg per 2-cup serving), and it’s an excellent source of vitamsin A, B6, and C. Also, thanks to amino acids citrulline and arginine, watermelon helps maintain a healthy heart.
The press kit offers a few tips on picking the best watermelon available:
  1. Choose a firm, symmetrical watermelon free of bruises, cuts, and dents.
  2. Lift it up. It should feel heavy for its size—watermelons are, after all, 92% water.
  3. Turn it over. On the underside should be a creamy, yellow spot (the “ground spot”) from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.
Best thing in the kit was this recipe for Watermelon Cherry Mojito:
Watermelon Mojito

Watermelon Cherry Mojito

  • 3 fresh mint sprigs, chopped
  • 1/4 cup watermelon puree
  • 1 tsp cherry syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz light rum
  • Chilled sparkling water
  • 1 sugar cane stirrer
  • 1 lime wedge
Using a fork, press the mint with the back of a fork to coat the inside of the glass and leave it in the glass. Add the watermelon puree, cherry syrup, lime juice and rum. Stir well. Top with ice. Top-off the glass with sparkling water or club soda. Add the sugar cane stirrer and lime wedge to the glass and serve. Serves 1...but you, of course, will be making 2.