Oct 10, 2011

10 Steve Jobs-style lessons for the restaurant industry

I really wasn't going to write about Steve Jobs again, but this article from FastCasual, an online pub for the restaurant industry, is just too clever to pass up. Written by Alicia Kelso, it offers 10 tips for restaurant owners based on Jobs' life and work:
  1. The customer-user experience trumps everything else.
  2. Keep the brand simple and contemporary.
  3. Get inspired by the small things.
  4. Embrace technology.
  5. Innovate past failure.
  6. Anticipate trends.
  7. Business is more than the bottom line.
  8. No man or woman is an island.
  9. Employees reflect the brand.
  10. Keep it in perspective.
 Read the article for yourself

Steve Jobs, a new book by Walter Isaacson (CEO of the Aspen Institute and former chairman of CNN), will be released on October 24. Order it in advance on Amazon for $17.88.

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.

Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.

Oct 7, 2011

Steve Jobs narrates "The Crazy Ones"

Not food, not wine, not travel.

Today it's just a simple video. A 1972 Apple commercial that never aired, it's narrated by Steve Jobs.

If you're one of the world's Creatives and sometimes feel out of step, you'll get the message.

Oct 4, 2011

Preserving California's ancient vineyards

Dino Amantite of Sonoma County's Pagani Ranch, kneels beside a vine planted in the 1880s.

 This past Sunday, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat ran a feature story by me entitled Preserving Vines of Yesteryear.

California's Napa and Sonoma counties are home to many historic vineyards. Some—such as Sonoma Valley's Bedrock Vineyard, Pagani Ranch, and Old Hill Ranch—were first planted in the 1880s. Ancient vineyards such as these not only tend to produce grapes of great intensity, concentration and flavor, but also harbor rare and even near-extinct grape varieties.

However, the economics of wine today are contributing to the gradual disappearance of these heritage vineyards. Like other commodities, wines move in and out of fashion. When a hot new varietal comes along, these historic vineyards are sometimes replaced by the more profitable grape.

In the article I discuss the work of a new organization, the Historic Vineyard Society, which is working to keep these slowly-dwindling ancient vineyards intact.

Here's a link to my article.

Sep 20, 2011

California wine history on Christie’s auction block

Earlier this year, California wine expert James Laube wrote that “Inglenook is to Napa what Margaux is to Bordeaux – one of wine’s crown jewels.”

This Saturday, September 24th, Christie’s New York will offer wine collectors a unique opportunity to bid for some of these “crown jewels.” The auction house will present a selection of rare bottles from the private cellar of Inglenook owner Francis Ford Coppola, including two bottles of the legendary 1941 vintage. All wines in this special offering were acquired by Mr. Coppola when he purchased Inglenook in the 1970s and have remained undisturbed all these years.

Inglenook Vineyards was founded in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain who used his enormous wealth to import the best European grapevines to Napa. Over the next several decades, under the guidance of the legendary John Daniel, Inglenook built a reputation as the source of some of the finest wines ever made.

By 1975, however, when Francis and Eleanor Coppola first purchased part of the famed property, the Inglenook Estate had long since been broken up and its name sold off. The Coppolas spent the next twenty years reuniting the vineyards and restoring winemaking to the historic Inglenook Chateau. Today, in addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon that dominates the Estate, the Inglenook acreage is also planted with Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and six acres of white Rhone varietals that produce the estate's flagship white, Blancaneaux. Inglenook is now completely restored to original dimensions and is once again America's great wine estate.

The Christie’s auction now offers fine wine collectors the opportunity to purchase bottles so rare that only a handful remain in the original cellars at Inglenook. To mark the occasion for posterity, successful bidders will receive a handwritten note from Francis Ford Coppola with each bottle purchased, in custom-made wooden box designed specifically for this sale.

Here are some highlights of Christie’s day-long September 24 auction:
  • One  bottle of the rare 1935 vintage from the “Golden Era” of John Daniel Jr. wines (estimate: $600-800).
  • A two-bottle lot of the celebrated 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon (estimate:$8,000-12,000). Christie’s wine specialists note that the 1941 vintage can rightly take its place among legends like the 1945 Mouton-Rothschild, 1982 Lafite Rothschild, 1900 Margaux, 1961 Latour and 1989 Haut Brion, some of the most celebrated, most valuable and longest lived Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines in the world today.
  • A vertical of 12 key vintages from the years 1946 – 2008 presented in a bespoke wooden case signed by Mr. Coppola (estimate: $3,000-4,200). Proceeds from this lot will be donated to Shigeru Ban Architects + Voluntary Architects Network, a charity that helps build temporary housing for tsunami victims in Japan. 
To view the complete e-catalogue for this sale, please visit this site.

Sep 12, 2011

Simple pleasures

Yesterday after a 6- or 7-mile hike through classic Northern California landscape -- rolling hills, oak trees, killer views from  the high spots -- I ended up in the garden of my hiking companion.

A landscape gardener, he has the kind of extensive, highly-productive garden you might imagine: eight different kinds of tomatoes, and a few different kinds of everything else (eggplant, squash, peppers, citrus, herbs, beans, and on and on).

But it was the melons that amazed me. I've never been able to successfully grow a melon, but David's garden contained at least half a dozen varieties. The dense vines sprawled across the ground, strong and healthy, with the fruit hidden below.

For about half an hour we tasted melons, slowly making our way up and down the rows. David would reach down, pluck a melon, cut it in two, and empty the seeds onto the ground. Then we'd stand there, straddling the melon vines, the late-summer sun nicely warm on our backs, tasting and comparing notes.

The most remarkable was the banana melon, which resembles and smells like it's namesake. The French charentais wasn't ripe enough; given the cool temperatures in Sonoma this summer, it may never get there. The honeydew needed another week, but was still excellent: crisp, clean, sweet. The yellow-skinned watermelon was a total winner.

I came away with a honeydew and a watermelon, and a few perfect veggies.

Sometimes the simplest things are the best things.

Sep 8, 2011

California Foie Gras ban is months away

It's delicious, but... Where do you stand on Foie Gras?

This week Bloomberg took an interesting look at both sides of California's Foe Gras ban, which is set to take effect next July. The law was passed in 2004 and signed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, enforcement was put off for eight years to give producers time enough to find force-feeding alternatives. Those alternatives haven't appeared.

Opponents of forced-feeding include major animal rights organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), famous chefs (e.g., Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter), and high-profile celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Alicia Silverstone, and many others. All cite the cruelty and inhumanity of forcing feed into the esophagus of a duck or goose through a funnel, a process that takes only 2-3 seconds but is thought to be painful. Studies have shown that mortality rates among force-fed birds can be elevated in the latter stages of fattening.

Those in favor of forced-feeding -- chefs, foie gras purveyors, and gourmands of all stripes -- say that the forced-feeding process is not painful, and that it imitates the gorging behavior of birds in the wild as they prepare to migrate.

Force-feeding is not new. Evidence exists that, as early as 2500 BC, ancient Egyptians force-fed geese. The process spread rapidly across the Mediterannean and into Europe and has been widely used ever since.

The Bloomberg article by Allison Vekshin, Foie Gras Lovers in California Will Soon Become Victim to Rights of Ducks, interviews people on both sides of the issue. Among them are chefs who serve Foie Gras, some of whom intend to ignore the ban, and others who plan to reluctantly comply.

Perhaps the most interesting factoid in the article is this: San Francisco chef Gary Danko, who has won a Michelin star for his namesake restaurant, usually sells 40 orders of Foie Gras each night, but when protesters show up the foie gras orders double.

Where do I stand? I've enjoyed Foie Gras perhaps a dozen times in my life, mostly in France. It's always delicious, whether prepared and served simply or gussied up with a fancy sauce and other ingredients. No matter how it's prepared, it tends to melt in your mouth.

However, I stopped eating it long before I realized there were ethical issues involved, because it's one of the foods highest in choleseterol -- a whopping 255mg per 100g.

But even if I didn't have to keep an eye on my cholesterol level, I still wouldn't eat it now. I'm not sure that forced-feeding is painful, but it might be. That's enough reason to kill my appetite.

Sep 6, 2011

A dinner where all pairings worked

Getting settled in for dinner at Arrowood Winery
Last Friday night I enjoyed a dinner of extraordinary pairings—every combination worked exactly right, with sip and bite interacting in ways that brought out the best in each other. Nothing unusual about an excellent pairing, to be sure; but it is rare, for me at least, to sit through 5 courses in which each pairing is a winner.

The event was a winemaker dinner at Sonoma Valley's Arrowood Winery, part of the annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend—a three-day, blowout affair that includes dinners and lunches throughout the county on Friday and Saturday, Saturday afternoon's impressive "Taste of Sonoma" (160 wineries, 60 chefs) on the grounds of MacMurray Rarnch, and a mega-fun auction on Sunday at Cline Cellars. Proceeds benefit charities, so it was nice to see that, going into the weekend, events were sold out (gross proceeds for the weekend amounted to $1.4 million).

Arrowood's winemaker, Heidi von der Mehden
Our host at dinner was Arrowood's convivial winemaker, Heidi von der Mehden, who did a nice job of introducing each wine as it was poured. I was having such a good time that I forgot to take note of vintages, but all were either 2006 or 2007.

Dinner, catered by Sonoma's the girl + the fig, was splendid, incorporating the best in local foods. Here's the menu, with accompanying Arrowood wines:

First Course
Chilled Corn Soup with Crab and Basil Oil
Wine: Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

Second Course
Frisée and Mâche salad
Asian Pear, Toasted Hazelnuts and Pear Verjus Vinaigrette
Wine: Viognier, Russian River Valley/Saralee's Vineyard

Third Course
Tea-Smoked Squab Breast with Black Pepper Spaetzle, Mushrooms and Pomegranate Reduction
Wine: Syrah, Dry Creek Valley

Fourth Course
New York Steak with Caramelized Ratatouille, Bread Salad and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Wine: Cabernet Sauvignon, Smothers-Remick Vineyards

Summer Dessert
Grilled Peach Tart
Cream Cheese Pastry Cream and Brown Butter Crust
Wine: Late Harvest Riesling, Russian River Valley/Saralee's Vineyard

The impeccable chilled corn soup with crab and basil oil!
My favorite course was the steak. A perfect piece of meat grilled medium-rare, it was familiar in the best of ways. Ratatouille is familiar, too, but it was made new again by being caramelized, and then enhanced with the way-out inclusion of a small bit of bread salad. The combination of all three resulted in a taste that was totally new and, to be precise: scrumptious. And chasing it with that perfectly-balanced Cab with its black fruit overtones...

My favorite surprise pairing was the grilled peach tart with the Late Harvest Reisling. The peaches were the kind you buy in early July in a small outdoor market in an out-of-the-way village in the south of France—that is, they were absolute perfection, exactly what peaches should be but so rarely are. They were grilled so little that they were practically raw. The tart crust was light and airy. The reisling was fruity, with a hint of sweetness. The whole course was a sip-and-sigh. I don't normally even like dessert, but I sure liked this.

Eat local and be happy.

Sep 2, 2011

Food really does affect your mood

This black bear may not know it, but she's warding off pessimism and depression by chowing down on that chum salmon.
An article in U. S. News summarizes various findings about the way in which the food you eat affects your mood, ability to ward off depression, and a lot more.

Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietitian and the author of Eat Your Way to Happiness (2010), notes that most people understand the link between diet and physical health. “But,” she continues, “the link between what you eat and your mood, your energy, how you sleep, and how well you think is much more immediate.”

The article looks at various ways diet could affect your mood. A few brief highlights:
  • Not eating regularly can make you feel “tired and cranky.” That’s because not eating causes blood sugar to sink, which in turn creates mood swings.
  • Being carb-phobic reduces your body’s production of the “feel-good” brain chemical, serotonin. According to research, low-carb eaters are more likely to feel tired, angry, depressed and tense.
  • Not getting enough Omega-3s, found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, can lead to pessimism and depression.
  • Eating too much fat doesn’t just add pounds—it can lead to depression and even dementia!
There’s more, and it’s all interesting. Check out the article.

Sep 1, 2011

Just in: Top 3 Fast Food Chains in USA

2011 has been a very good year for Five Guys Burgers and Fries, as it again tops consumers’ favorite quick-service restaurant (QSR) list, according to the annual consumer restaurant chain survey conducted by Market Force Information. It's followed by long-time West Coast favorite In-N-Out Burger (#2) and Chick-fil-A (#3).

The study also revealed that each of the top three restaurants excelled in friendly service, the category with the most differentiation among all contenders.

More than 4,500 consumers across North America participated in the survey conducted in August 2011. It examined which QSRs consumers prefer and which attributes are most important to them. Market Force first calculated the favorites based on pure number of votes, and then factored in the number of locations for each chain for a more level view of the results (see chart below).

 The bottom three QSRs on the list are McDonald's, Subway, and, in last place, Burger King.

The study also asked respondents to rate QSRs by attributes such as food quality, taste, speed of service, cleanliness and value. Friendly service was the category with the most differentiation, and it was dominated by Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys. The least variation was found in the taste category, which suggests that consumers see the most differentiation—and value—in those restaurants with the best service and friendliness.

While consumer-favorite Five Guys didn’t dominate any of the categories, it performed consistently well across most of them. Similarly, In-N-Out Burgers scored highest in food quality and second highest in friendly service and value. Other chains were less consistent. For example, McDonald’s scored poorest for quality of food, but ranked second for speed of service behind Sonic. Similarly, Taco Bell was lowest in cleanliness, but highest in overall value.

Aug 31, 2011

Wine & beer tie in US consumer preferences

What's your preference?

For the first time since 1992, wine and beer have tied as the top choice among U. S. drinkers asked in a Gallup poll whether they most often drink liquor, wine, or beer. The poll found that nearly as many named wine (35%) as beer (36%). Liquor came in third, with a 23% preference.

That 36% preference for beer is the lowest recorded by Gallup since the poll began in 1992. Poll findings indicates that younger adults have a decreased preference for beer compared to their elders -- something the beer industry is no doubt paying lots of attention to.

If you'd like to read a detailed article about the study results, visit this Gallup page.

Aug 26, 2011

An online Q&A with a champagne expert

This 1891 poster is an early work by Pierre Bonnard.
If you've wanted to learn more about France's gift to the world--champagne--here's a great opportunity. Thibaut Le Mailloux of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the trade association representing the houses and grape growers of Champagne, France, is taking questions online through Google Moderator from now through Wednesday, August 31. 

So ask away! Want to know more about this year’s Champagne harvest or learn which Champagne tastes best with poultry? Or maybe you'd like to know what makes Champagne different from other regions that produce quality sparkling wines. You'll get answers to all your Champagne questions directly from the vineyards in France. 

Follow this
link to submit your own questions or to vote on questions submitted to Google Moderator by other Champagne fans. You can also send questions through Twitter or Facebook, or email them directly to (they'll be posted to Google Moderator for you). Use the hashtag #Champagne for all questions submitted via Twitter. 

Submit questions no later than Wednesday, August 31, and check back at the CIVC site for Thibaut’s answers during the week of September 5.

Aug 25, 2011

September is California Wine Month

For many of us, it's always California Wine Month, but that doesn't prevent the Guv from declaring September as the official month of wine -- something that's been done by governators for the last seven years.

And why not? After all, the state's wine industry accounts for an estimated 20.7 million yearly tourists, has created about 330,000 jobs, and brings in revenue from $18.4 billion in retail sales, including exports to 122 countries.

To celebrate California Wine Month, special consumer wine events are being held throughout the state, from special tastings and harvest tours, to wine education classes and wine and food festivals. You can find these events at Discover California Wine.

Aug 17, 2011

Two fun Bordeaux infographics

Snooth's "Most Prized Wines"
Curious about Bordeaux wine? The two infographics here are worth checking out. Click on each to get a larger, easier-to-read version.

The top infographic, "Most Prized Wines," was compiled by Snooth. It shows per-bottle auction value for various vintages of the top five Bordeaux wines (Mouton-Rothschild, Latour, Lafite-Rothschild, Haut-Brion, and Margaux). At $284.66, the 1985 Mouton-Rotschild is the bargain bottle in the bunch. The most expensive, at $12,551.36, is also a Mouton-Rotschild (1945).

According to the Anniversary Vintage Chart, which sums up good/bad years for Bordeaux vintages, 1985 was a "lovely year in Bordeaux, Port & Champagne, top Burgundy still good." On the other hand, 1945 is described as a "fabulous vintage. Candidate for 'vintage of the century', including Port." From lovely to fabulous is worth about $12,300!

My only quibble with the Snooth graphic is the cutesy way they tell you what various combinations of value could buy you in real-world goods. It would work much better if they gave specifications for those goods.

They say, for example, that you can "trade the combined value of every vintage of Lafite-Rothschild for 3 thoroughbred horses." When I visited EquineNow, the value of a thoroughbred ranged from $650 to $12,000. And if you're talking about a top-of-the-line thoroughbred such as Secretariat, the value is in the mega-millions. So that's basically a useless comparison.

EnjoyBordeaux's "Organic Wines 101"
 I like this infographic from EnjoyBordeaux because it gives a nice overview of Bordeaux's organic, biodynamic and sustainable winemaking.

Aug 15, 2011

My interview with Jean-Charles Boisset

Jean-Charles Boisset and his bulldog, Frenchie, at Buena Vista. Photo: Crista Jeremiason/PD.
 A couple of weeks ago I visited Sonoma's historic Buena Vista Winery to talk with its new owner, Jean-Charles Boisset. You can read the resultant article here.

As president of family-owned Boisset Family Estates, the 41-year-old has overseen the expansion of the Burgundy-based company into California, where it also owns Amberhill Wines, California Rabbit, DeLoach Vineyards, Fog Mountain, Lyeth Estate, Raymond Vineyards, Sonoma Cuvee and JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset.

Boisset first visited Buena Vista at the age of 11 on a trip to the U. S. with his family. He fell in love with the beauty and history of the winery, never forgot it, and ended up buying it 30 years later.

His plans call for returning Buena Vista to its past glory while showcasing its magnificent history--founded in 1857, it was not only the first commercial winery in California, but the first to do a great many important things in the state's wine industry. For example, more than a century before the famed 1976 "Judgment of Paris," Buena Vista wines were winning gold medals in France.

Often described in the wine press as "one of the most powerful people in the world of wine," and the possessor of countless awards and honors in France and the U. S., in person Boisset is friendly, engaging, and highly energetic. During our interview we sat for a while at a picnic table, and he took great delight from chatting up visitors to the winery who strolled by.

Boisset is married to winemaker Gina Gallo (the couple became the parents of twin girls this past May) and divides his time between Northern California and France.

My article about Jean-Charles Boisset appeared yesterday in the newspaper of Sonoma County, the New York Times-owned Santa Rosa Press Democrat. You can read the story here.

Jul 19, 2011

A fun new twist on Manhattan sightseeing

Getting the yen to spend a week or so in NYC this autumn, and while doing a little research I've discovered a new way to see the place.

New York Water Taxi and Bike and Roll NYC have joined forces to let you bike across the Brooklyn Bridge and take a Water Taxi back. The companies describe it as "part instant adventure and one part jaw-dropping views. It’s easy, safe and fun, and you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to do the ride--all levels of riders can enjoy this excursion."

The package includes an 8-hour bike rental, a Water Taxi hop-on/hop-off pass, a four-color route map indicating sights along the route, and a helmet and bike lock.

Highlights include a close glimpse of the Statue of Liberty as you cruise by on the return trip.

  • Excursions available at two Bike and Roll locations: Pier 84 (West 43rd Street) or Battery Park (just west of Pier A). 
  • Pick up your bike as early as 9 a.m. and get a nice early start.
  • Get the return water taxi ride at Fulton Ferry Landing at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. It will take you to Manhattan's South Street Seaport, Battery Park, or Pier 84/Weswt 44th Street. 
  • Price: $49/adults, $29/kids
For more info, visit the Water Taxi website.

Jul 13, 2011

Food cost: healthy vs. junk

New research from the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) points to an interesting geographic variation in the relative price of healthy foods, which may give some Americans “an economic incentive to consume a less healthful diet.”

The study started with seven healthy food groups. Then, using data from the Quarterly Food-at-Home Price Database, it compared prices for 100 grams of healthy groups with prices of less healthy alternatives:
  • Whole-grain products were compared with refined-grain counterparts
  • Dark green and orange vegetables were compared with starchy vegetables
  • Whole fruit was compared with commercially prepared sweet snacks
  • Low-fat milk was compared with whole and 2% milk, and with carbonated nonalcoholic beverages
  • Bottled water was compared with carbonated nonalcoholic beverages
  • Fruit juice was compared with noncarbonated nonalcoholic caloric beverages (fruit drinks)
What the study found

Well…it’s complicated:

1. Some healthy foods were more expensive than less healthy foods, but in other cases, healthier options were less expensive.
  • Whole grains were more expensive than reined grains across the United States, with prices ranging from 23 percent higher (San Francisco) to more than 60 percent higher (nonmetro Pennsylvania and New York) than for reined grains.
  • Fresh and frozen dark green vegetables were more expensive than starchy vegetables in all markets (prices ranging from 20 to 80 percent higher than starchy vegetables), but orange vegetables (e.g., carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash) were less expensive than starchy vegetables in some markets, including metro New York, San Francisco, and Florida.
  • Low-fat milk (skim and 1%) was between 10-20 percent less expensive than whole and 2% milk in most markets.
  • Low-fat milk was more expensive than nonalcoholic carbonated beverages in some markets, but less expensive in others.
  • Bottled water is the same price or less expensive than soda in all but one market (urban New York), with a price ranging from 6 percent (Boston) to over 33 percent (San Francisco) lower than the price for soda.
2. Prices of healthy foods vary widely across the United States.
  • Whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, low-fat milk, and fruit juice demonstrate the largest geographic price variation.
  • The geographic variation in the price of whole fruit when compared with sweet or savory commercially prepared snacks is generally smaller than that of other comparisons. On a per-gram basis, whole fruit is 60-70 percent less expensive in all markets.
Download the entire study, “Geographic Differences in the Relative Price of Healthy Foods.”

Jul 6, 2011

Best Beers in America for 2011

Since 2003 the American Homebrewers Association has polled readers of its members’ journal, Zymurgy, to get a list of their 20 favorite beers. The only rule for including the beer is that it must be commercially available somewhere in the USA. AHA compiled the results to arrive at a list ranking the most popular beers. In other words, the beer in the #1 position was included on the most lists.

There were an amazing number of ties, but who cares? This list is a minefield of beers worth trying. I’ve never had the #1 beer, Pliny the Elder, but summer’s a good time to try it. If I can find it, that is.

Here’s the list:

1. Russian River Pliny the Elder
2. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
3 (tie). Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
3 (tie). Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
5. Bell’s Hopslam
6. Stone Arrogant Bastard
7. Sierra Nevada Celebration
8 (tie). Sierra Nevada Torpedo
8 (tie). Stone Ruination
10. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
11. Stone Sublimely Self Righteous
12. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine
13. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
14 (tie). Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
14 (tie). Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
16 (tie). Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
16 (tie). New Glarus Belgian Red
18. North Coast Old Rasputin
19. Bell’s Expedition Stout
20 (tie). Deschutes The Abyss
20 (tie). Left Hand Milk Stout
20 (tie). Odell IPA
20 (tie). Samuel Adams Noble Pils
20 (tie). Surly Furious
20 (tie). Troegs Nugget Nectar
26 (tie). Rogue Dead Guy Ale
26 (tie). Samuel Adams Boston Lager
28. Anchor Steam
29 (tie). Bear Republic Racer 5
29 (tie). Ommegang Three Philosophers
29 (tie). Oskar Blues Ten Fidy
29 (tie). Three Floyds Alpha King
29 (tie). Three Floyds Dark Lord
34 (tie). Avery Maharaja
34 (tie). Dogfish Head Indian Brown
34 (tie). Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
34 (tie). Three Floyds Gumballhead
38 (tie). Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
38 (tie). Lost Abbey Angel’s Share
38 (tie). New Belgium La Folie
38 (tie). New Belgium Ranger
38 (tie). Oskar Blues Old Chub
43 (tie). Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
43 (tie). Great Divide Yeti
43 (tie). New Belgium 1554
43 (tie). Russian River Blind Pig
43 (tie). Ska Modus Hoperandi
48 (tie). Alesmith Speedway Stout
48 (tie). Dark Horse Crooked Tree
48 (tie). Green Flash West Coast IPA
48 (tie). Summit EPA
48 (tie). Victory Prima Pils

Other rankings:
  • Best Brewery: Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery had the largest total # of votes received by readers.
  • Best Portfolio: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, with 28 beers entered into voting by readers.
  • Top Import: Rodenbach Grand Cru, from Belgium.
  • Best “Spirit of Homebrew” (brewery’s total # of votes divided by annual barrel production, giving very small breweries a chance to shine): Alpine Beer Company in Alpine, California.

Jul 1, 2011

4th of July watermelon ideas

From the National Watermelon Promotion Board come some fun and colorful ideas to brighten up your Fourth of July celebration. For more information about watermelons, including recipes and health/nutrition data, visit

Red, White & Blue Watermelon Sundaes
Serves 4
4 cups watermelon balls
2 cups fresh blueberries
4 dollops prepared whipped topping
Red, white and blue star sprinkles

Gently mix together the watermelon and blueberries. Divide among 4 bowls or cups. Top each with a dollop of whipped topping and decorate with red ,white and blue sprinkles. Serve immediately.

Watermelon Almond Tart
Serves 6-8
1 cup sliced almonds
1 seedless watermelon sliced into 3-5" pieces, rind removed
1 cup low- or no-fat vanilla flavored yogurt
1 cup blueberries
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon chocolate syrup

In a non-stick sauté pan over medium heat, toast the almonds while constantly stirring to prevent burning. When they are golden, remove them to a heatproof tray or foil to cool. Cut the watermelon slice into 6 to 8 pie-shaped wedges. Dip the back (curved) side of each slice in the yogurt and then the almonds, re-assembling the pieces on a serving platter as you complete each piece. When finished, it will look like a piecrust of almonds around the watermelon slices. Frost the top of the reassembled watermelon with the remaining yogurt and decorate the top with the berries. Drizzle the chocolate syrup over the top. Serve cold.

Patriotic Petit Fours (in top photo)
Makes 12
12 1-inch cubes of seedless watermelon
1 cup cream cheese frosting
12 red and/or blue candied almonds
Red, white and blue star-shaped sprinkles

Arrange watermelon cubes on a serving platter. Place the frosting in a Ziploc bag and trim off a bit of one bottom corner. Decoratively pipe the frosting onto each watermelon cube. Place an almond at the top of the frosting on each petit four. Decorate with sprinkles and serve on red, white and blue table decor.

Jun 28, 2011

2011's "Best Restaurant in the World"

Chef René Redzepi of Noma
The annual S. Pellegrino/Restaurant Magazine list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants was released earlier this week. There are many "best of" lists around, but this particular list is one that the culinary "cognoscenti" pay attention to. That's probably because over 800 big names in the restaurant world weigh in on these choices (read more about how selections are made).

Topping the list in the #1 spot for the second year in a row is Denmark’s Noma, where Chef René Redzepi brings the idea of local sourcing to an entirely different level by serving only foods of the Arctic region (the name Noma stands for nordatlantiski mad, or North Atlantic food). S. Pellegrino's official statement about Noma:
Noma is best known for its fanatical approach to foraging but there is much more to this ground-breaking restaurant than the mere picking of Mother Nature's pocket. It's the entire package, from its ingredient ingenuity to flawless execution, that makes it a beacon of excellence and which leads to an emotive, intense, liberating way of eating, unlike any other. Many have copied chef Rene Redzepi's approach, most have failed. For the best in class, Noma really is the number one place to go.
If you'd lke to know more, you can watch a video about Noma at the end of this post.

The U.S. has 6 restaurants in the top 50, and all but one are in New York City. In order they are: Alinea (#6, Chicago), Per Se (#10, NYC), Daniel (#11, NYC), Le Bernardin (#18, NYC), Eleven Madison Park (#24, NYC), and Momofuku Ssam Bar (#40, NYC). In 2010, eight U.S. restaurants made it into the top 50.

Thomas Keller's Napa Valley (Yountville) restaurant, The French Laundry, was #1 on the list in 2003 and 2004, but has fallen over the years to the position it holds this year, #56. However, this year's #10 position, Per Se, is also a Thomas Keller restaurant.

2011 World's Top 50 Restaurants
  1. Noma, Denmark
  2. El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
  3. Mugaritz, Spain
  4. Osteria Francescana, Italy
  5. The Fat Duck
  6. Alinea, USA
  7. D.O.M, Brazil
  8. Arzak, Spain
  9. Le Chateaubriand, France
  10. Per Se, USA
  11. Daniel, USA
  12. Les Creations de Narisawa
  13. L’Astrance, France, (3) +33 (0)1 40 50 84 40
  14. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, France
  15. Hof van Cleve, Belgium
  16. Pierre Gagnaire, France
  17. Oud Sluis, Netherlands
  18. Le Bernardin, USA
  19. L’Arpège, France
  20. Nihonryori RyuGin, Japan
  21. Vendôme, Germany
  22. Steirereck, Austria
  23. Schloss Schauenstein Switzerland
  24. Eleven Madison Park, USA
  25. Aqua, Germany
  26. Quay, Australia
  27. Iggy’s Singapore
  28. Combal Zero, Italy
  29. Martín Berasategui, Spain
  30. Bras, France
  31. Biko, Mexico
  32. Le Calandre, Italy
  33. Cracco, Italy
  34. The Ledbury, UK
  35. Chez Dominique, Finland
  36. Le Quartier Français, South Africa
  37. Amber, China
  38. Dal Pescatore, Italy
  39. Il Canto, Italy
  40. Momofuku Ssäm Bar, USA
  41. St John, UK
  42. Astrid Y Gastón, Peru
  43. Hibiscus, UK
  44. Maison Troisgros, France
  45. Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, France
  46. De Librije, Netherlands
  47. Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville, Switzerland
  48. Varvary, Russia
  49. Pujol, Mexico
  50. Asador Etxebarri, Spain
 Photo courtesy of William Reed Business Media 2011.

Video: René Redzepi and the story of Noma (7 minutes)

Jun 24, 2011

Senator seeks new meat safety legislation

According to a recent issue of Food Safety News, Sentator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has asked Congress to fund the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and pass new meat safety legislation that helps reduce high-risk pathogens:
Gillibrand's bill aims to reduce "all high-risk pathogens" as well as all unregulated strains of E. coli found in the meat supply "that have been proven to cause food-borne illnesses... How many more outbreaks will we allow, and how many more lives will we lose, before we wake up and take real action," said Gillibrand in a statement Tuesday. "We've known the hazards of E. coli for years. It's time we get serious, and keep contaminated food in check before it ever reaches a grocery store shelf or kitchen."

According to Gillibrand's office the bill would require plants that produce the cuts and trimmings that make ground beef to test their products regularly before it is ground and again before all the components are ground together.

Under Gillibrand's plan, habitual violators have to be listed on a public website and any slaughterhouse or processing establishment that produces or distributes trim with positive E. coli test results for 3 consecutive days, or more than 10 times per year, will be deemed a "habitual violator."   
It's about time someone in Washington is willing to go against the powerful meat lobby to require such regulations. Unsanitary conditions in many U. S. meat plants has resulted in E. coli outbreaks on numerous occasions. Outbreaks of illness and even death have been directly traced back to offending factories, but regulations still don't get put on the books.

To learn more on this subject, read the Culinary Gadabout's October 5, 2009 post, or view a shocking NYT video entitled Tainted Meat: The Sickening of Stephanie Smith (about 10 minutes long).

Jun 17, 2011

A trend against high-alcohol wines?

The Washington Post reported Tuesday on “a very real trend against…rising alcohol levels” which is “changing the way we think about wine and the way wine is made.”

The alcohol trend over the last decade or more has definitely been upwards, particularly with California wines. Twenty years ago the average bottle of wine was 13% alcohol; today levels range between 14-16%.

But complaints about high alcohol have been mounting steadily, and a revolt has begun. One example cited is film director/vintner Francis Ford Coppola, who is scaling back the alcohol level on wines at his Inglenook winery (formerly Niebaum-Coppola).

The Washington Post article cited a few lower-alcohol California wines that merit top marks:
  • Arcadian Syrah 2006, Santa Ynez Valley, $30
  • Alma Rosa Chardonnay 2008, Santa Barbara County, $20
  • Copain Syrah Tous Ensemble 2007, Mendocino County, $25
  • Qupe Syrah 2009, Central Coast, $20
  • Au Bon Climat Chardonnay 2009, Santa Barbara County, $24
Read the entire article, Bucking the Trend of High-Alcohol Wines, by Dave McIntyre

Jun 13, 2011

Another first for the Robert Mondavi Winery

Here’s something new from Wine Country, a streamed-round-the-world birthday toast to Robert Mondavi. A same-day Open House at the winery includes live music and a free glass of wine. And there’s more.

Details straight from the press release:

WHAT: Together with the entire staff of the Robert Mondavi Winery, Margrit Mondavi and Genevieve Janssens, director of winemaking, will celebrate Robert Mondavi’s birthday on Friday, June 17, 2011, with a special open house and global toast at the winery in Napa Valley, which is open to the public. The occasion honors the vast contribution the late vintner made to the California wine industry. At 2 pm, the winery will join together for a global toast to Mr. Mondavi, streamed world-wide on the winery’s Facebook page via livestream.

All visitors to the winery on June 17 will receive a complimentary glass of Robert Mondavi Winery 2009 Napa Valley Fumé Blanc. There will be live music from 12:00-5:00pm.

WHO: Margrit Mondavi and Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens, with winery staff, friends, and colleagues.

WHERE: Robert Mondavi Winery, located on the west side of Highway 29, just north of Oakville Cross Road in the heart of Napa Valley. And worldwide via the internet.

WHEN: June 17, 2011 at 2:00pm.

WHY: Robert Mondavi’s pioneering vision placed California wines among the finest in the world and made them an integral part of a gracious lifestyle. On June 17 friends and fans from around the globe will gather to celebrate his passion and vision by raising a glass and sharing the stories that created his legacy.  (Although the toast and celebration is on June 17, Robert Mondavi’s birthday is on June 18.)

In honor of Robert Mondavi, with every new “LIKE” received on The Robert Mondavi Winery Facebook page during June 13th -17th, Robert Mondavi Winery will donate $1 (up to $10,000) to Days of Taste, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating children about the food we eat. Days of Taste is the community action group of the American Institute of Wine & Food, which was founded by Julia Child and Robert Mondavi.

Want to learn more about Robert Mondavi? Read him in his own unvarnished, often surprising, words:

Harvests of Joy by Robert Mondavi

From Publisher's Weekly: In 1965, Mondavi and his brother were doing well running the Charles Krug Winery, which his family had bought some 20 years before. He was 52, hardly the age to start grand schemes such as an entirely new winery; and by his own admission, he's something of a monomaniac, which obviously helped him to establish Robert Mondavi Vineyards, a powerful and revolutionary force in the American wine industry.

This book is a fascinating blend of autobiography and the story of how a nascent winery became a formidable challenger to the greatest names in wine making the world over. It assuredly has a place in the Mondavi marketing strategy of educating potential customers about wine. Mondavi also fashions himself a homespun Peter Drucker, dispensing advice on achieving excellence and management success.

Despite occasional efforts to acknowledge his overpowering ego, Mondavi is portrayed as a thoroughly driven, egocentric individual who has destroyed much on his road to success. Yet the descriptions of his parents and their immigrant life, the transformation of Napa Valley from sleepy backwater to tourist and boutique winery haven, his relations with many celebrated names in wine and the insider track on 50 years of the American wine business are well worth reading. Buy Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business

Jun 10, 2011

Alaskan wild canned salmon is delish, inexpensive & good for ya

The current USDA Dietary Guidelines advise Americans to eat at least 8 ounces weekly of seafood rich in omega-3s to improve heart and brain health (most Americans eat less than half that amount). As you no doubt know, wild salmon is particularly high in the kind of long-chain omega-3s that contain generous amounts of vitamins D, B6, and B12, as well as selenium.

About ninety percent of wild salmon in North America comes from these 5 species found in Alaska:
  • King (Chinook) – King salmon has a high oil content. Kings are prized for being firm, succulent and flavorful.
  • Sockeye (Red) – Known for its distinctive deep red meat color, abundant antioxidants, and full flavor.
  • Coho (Silver) – Low in saturated fat and mild in flavor, Coho has excellent color-retention during the cooking process.
  • Keta (Chum) – Keta salmon have a mild flavor. Due to lower oil content, they should be cooked at lower temperatures.
  • Pink – Commonly used in cans or pouches, Pink salmon is also available as fillets. The low oil content requires careful cooking. Treat pinks as you would a trout.
I love salmon just about any way it's prepared, but especially barbecued. For various reasons, mostly my concerns about the environmental dangers of farmed fish, I only buy wild salmon.

When it comes to salmon steaks and filets, we're talking a big expense. However, I've also been utilizing inexpensive canned wild salmon for years (a 15-oz can at Trader Joe's goes for about $3).

I particularly like making canned salmon burgers. I don't really have a recipe, so the burgers turn out different each time. Basically I just combine salmon with cut up veggies (green onions and a little cooked spinach, for example), perhaps some leftover brown rice or quinoa, maybe a dash of wheat germ or some oatmeal, an egg (or egg substitute), and seasonings. Form patties, and either oven bake or saute in a cast-iron pan lightly moistened with grapeseed or other oil. A tip: allow a solid crust to form before turning, otherwise the burger will fall apart.

The Alaskan seafood industry has an entire subsite devoted to canned salmon, with lots of recipes. Here's the site's recipe for Alaska Salmon Mini-Loaves (photo at top):

Alaska Salmon Mini-Loaves


1 egg OR 2 egg whites, slightly beaten
2 Tablespoons fat-free milk
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 to 1 teaspoon lemon pepper or Cajun seasoning
1 cup soft multi-grain or whole wheat bread crumbs (about 2 slices of bread)
1 can (14.75 oz.) or 2 cans (7.5 oz. each) traditional pack Alaska salmon
    OR 8 to 10 oz. skinless, boneless salmon (canned or pouched)


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray-coat a shallow baking dish.  Drain and chunk salmon.
In mixing bowl, blend egg, milk, dried onion, dill weed, and seasoning.  Blend in bread crumbs, then salmon.  Divide salmon mixture into 4 pieces.  Shape each piece into a 4 x 2-inch mini-loaf, and place in baking dish.  Bake for 20 minutes.
To serve, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of your favorite sauce.

Cook’s tip: Excellent with Béarnaise sauce!
Nutrients per serving: 254 calories, 10g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 36% calories from fat, 119mg cholesterol, 26g protein, 16g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 878mg sodium, 291mg calcium and 1800mg omega-3 fatty acids.

Jun 8, 2011

Food & Sex

A surprising sex symbol
 Some interesting facts about food and sex to liven your dinner conversation:

1. According to a 2010 study, food odors can influence sexual arousal in both men and women. Researchers at Chicago’s Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found that the combined odor of lavender and pumpkin pie increased penile blood flow by an average 40% (penile blood flow affects the ability to get and maintain an erection). The next most effective odor was another combination, black licorice and doughnut (31.5%). At the bottom of the heap was cranberry, with only a 2% increase. Read the study results here.

For women, the highest increase in vaginal blood flow (13%) came from the combination of cucumber and the licorice candy Good & Plenty.

2. Many ancient cultures considered the apple to be a feminine symbol, probably because the two halves of a vertically-cut apple resemble female genitalia.

3. In ancient Hawaii, women were forbidden under pain of death from eating the banana, which probably had something to do with its phallic shape. Ironically, despite the banana's suggestive shape, a banana tree is sterile: no fertilization takes place with banana flowers.

4. Some cultural anthropologists believe that kissing may have originated when early human mothers orally passed chewed solid food to their infants during weaning.

5. Some foods are thought to have sexual powers because they resemble human genitals. Casanova was said to offer oysters to his potential partners to whet their sexual appetite. In many cultures, the fig is considered a fertility symbol.

Along those lines, here's a fun cookbook that may interest you:

The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook: From the Amazon review: "If you want to get your lover in the mood, look no farther than your local supermarket. Strawberries, chocolate, asparagus--even coffee--have long been considered stimulants for the romantic appetite. For centuries, folk wisdom held that foods either rare or resembling a sexual organ had tremendous power over the libido. Modern science has since debunked that theory, but there's no denying that a meal lovingly prepared and properly presented with just the right ambience can precipitate the most passionate encounters." About $18. Learn more about or buy The New InterCourses.

Jun 6, 2011

Seafood Fraud: What you need to know

Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, has released a report about seafood fraud, which boils down to misleading consumers about the seafood they're buying in order to increase profits. Aside from ripping off shoppers, seafood fraud can also have negative impacts on marine conservation efforts and human health.

One type of seafood fraud involves substituting one species for another without changing the label. Other types include:
  •  less seafood in the package than indicated on the label;
  • adding too much ice to seafood to increase the weight; and
  • shipping seafood products through different countries to avoid duties and tariffs.
In the U. S., consumers are routinely given little or no information about where their seafood is from. Plus, the information provided on seafood labels is often misleading or fraudulent. Consumers are frequently served the wrong fish – a completely different species than the one they paid for.

Among other findings, the report reveals that, while 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, only 2% is currently inspected--and less than 0.001% is specifically inspected for fraud. In fact, recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25-70% of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available.

 “We can track organic bananas back to packing stations on farms in Central and Latin America, yet consumers are given little to no information about one of the most popular foods in the United States – seafood,” said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, the organization's chief scientist. “With imports representing the vast majority of the seafood eaten in the United States, it’s more important than ever to know what we are eating and where, when and how it was caught.”

The report, entitled "Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health," can be downloaded as a free PDF. It explains the problems associated with seafood fraud and outlines steps you can take to know where your seafood comes from. Download "Bait and Switch." 

Read the Culinary Gadabout's earlier seafood posts: Seafood Watch , Sustainable Fishing Can Work, and Best/Worst US Supermarkets for Sustainability.

Jun 2, 2011

What's your burger personality?

 A few days ago, while doing some research into winery websites for a client, I ended up on the Sutter Home site. My eye was caught by the winery's "Build a Better Burger Contest"--the 21st year it's run--and I soon stumbled onto a quiz entitled "What's Your Burger Personality?" According to those quiz results, I was a Type-A Burger personality:
You have a strong sense of yourself and are very confident in all you do. Your extroverted personality gives you a wide circle of friends, who admire and respect our taste in everything from fashion to food. If a friend, relative or co-workers need a restaurant tip, you are their go-to person. You are always in-the-know on the newest restaurants to open. When it comes to entertaining, you take great pride in hosting partiest at hotspots and introducing your crowd to the latest food and wine trends. Your burger recipe is "Best of the Best Burger." Your wine pairing is Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Type-A Burger sounded like a younger version of myself--the me I was in days when I really did care about hitting all the latest restaurants, etc. (something that ceased to matter after living in Paris for a year, dining in fabulous joints that had been around for generations--sometimes centuries).

The only question I had fudged was the car question: "If you were a car, what kind would you be?" There were five possible answers (Silver Jaguar convertible, Suburu Outback, Motorcycle, Hybrid, and Volvo wagon). I chose the car I would have done just about anything to drive in my 20s (the Jag) over the car I actually drive now (an Outback) or will buy in the future (a hybrid).

In other words, I saw my car persona as the risk-taking, in-the-fast-lane version of me that I was (and still am on occasion) rather than the person I tend to be now, who just wants to get in a car, start the engine, and have a comfie, safe, reliable ride to wherever I'm going with no surprises thrown in.

That racy choice probably explained why I didn't like the "Best of the Best Burger," with its excessive amounts of mayonnaise, 4 ounces of cream cheese, bacon. and truffle oil mixed into Kobe-style ground beef. The Kobe beef is grand, but as for the rest? Ugh.

I took the test again, with all answers the same except one: this time I chose the Suburu Outback and turned out to be an "Adventure Burger."
You have a great appreciation for cultural differences and embrace them with great gusto. People are drawn to your undying curiosity about life. You seek excitement and are always open to new experiences and food. On more than one occasion, you've been called a risk taker. You are happy to cook a Moroccan dinner for 12 at our place or try the local fare from a far-off land. From Sangria to sake, you regularly tempt your taste buds with flavors of the world. Your burger is Rainforest Zip Line Burger. Your wine pairing is Pinot Grigio.
What a difference a car makes! It's scary how much that Adventure Burger personality sounds like me, not to mention the fact that I've loved my half-dozen or so zip-lining experiences. I love my Subaru Outback, too.

Here's the recipe for my current "burger personality:"

Rainforest Zip Line Burger

  • 3 pounds Ground Chuck
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 14oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 serrano chili, finely minced
  • ½ red bell pepper, small dice
  • ½ red onion, small diced
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3/4 cup mayonaise
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 tablespoon lime Juice
  • 6 whole wheat burger buns, split and toasted
  1. Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
  2. Gently combine the chuck, salt, and pepper. Shape into 6 patties to fit the bun.
  3. Create the salsa by combining the beans, tomatoes, serrano chili, red peppers, onion, vinegar, oil and some salt in a small bowl. Refrigerate.
  4. Combine the mayonnaise, chili powder, cayenne, lime juice and some salt. Refrigerate.
  5. When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover and cook, turning once, until done to preference.
  6. To assemble the burgers, spread equal portions of the chili lime mayonnaise on each bun bottom followed by a burger patty. Top the patty with a scoop of salsa, add the bun tops and serve.
Enter Sutter Home's Build a Better Burger Contest
Find out what your "Burger Personality" is

May 31, 2011

Will and Kate to visit California in July

The young Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are making their first official visit to California on July 8-10, during what California's Travel & Tourism Commission (CTTC) is gleefully calling "The Royal Summer."

While the newlyweds will touch down on California soil for a mere three days, the market-savvy execs at CTTC know a good thing when they see it.

“We are thrilled to welcome the royal newlyweds to California this summer,” said Caroline Beteta, the CTTC's President and CEO. She considers the visit a "once-in-a-generation occasion."

With admirable marketing acumen, the CTTC is making the most of the royal visit, launching a global “Three Days Isn’t Enough” campaign in June and August to encourage the royal couple (not to mention travelers around the world) to take an extended visit throughout the Golden State. As the press release states:
The Royal Summer is a statewide celebration and collaboration among California’s travel industry partners and destinations around the state. Be it following in Will and Kate’s footsteps, embracing their active lifestyle or booking a holiday fit for a king, travelers can enjoy California’s diversity and abundance with a distinctly regal twist throughout July and August. Hotels, attractions and venues statewide will be offering special Royal Summer packages and playfully-themed experiences, giving everyone the opportunity to bask in the royal afterglow. From over-the-top luxury and British-inspired to value-driven and quirky, the People’s Prince and Princess, as the down-to-earth couple are often referred to, would surely approve of the inclusive nature of California’s Royal Summer.
No details yet about packages, because the news of the visit was just released over the weekend. But you can bet that hotels, restaurants and even amusement parks are scrambling like mad to come up with Royal Visit Specials.

For updates about the "Royal Summer," go to While there you can also download a free copy of the California Visitor's Guide.

May 17, 2011

San Francisco's new Friday-night "must"

The crowd lines up at Bao Bun -- Photo: Jim Shubin

"Off the Grid" is a fun, fabulous and inexpensive new food adventure that will spice up your Friday nights in San Francisco. It ramped up in mid-April, and I blew by there with a couple of friends last Friday night to check it out. We loved it!

Here's the scoop. At least two dozen food trucks and tented vendors form a circle in the parking lot of Fort Mason Center. Chairs and tables are set up inside the circle, along with a sound system for the free live music. The trucks open for biz at 5 (Friday nights only), but the lines start forming early. That's because the food is deliciously ethnic, doesn't cost a fortune, and offers some unexpected suprises (e.g., the Creme Brulee Cart).

It's hard to make decisions when confronted with such bounty, so--just like everyone else--we walked around and seriously studied the menus, deciding what to spend our dollars on.

Yummy! -- Photo: Jim Shubin
BTW, there's also a tented bar on site, so you can wash down that hot curry or those sizzlin' kabobs with a nice chill brew.

Some people stay here for a couple of hours, turning the experience into an evening out--maybe strolling along the water after leaving Fort Mason. Others, like us, eat and head elsewhere. That's easy to do since you're close to lively areas like Chestnut Street, Ghirardelli Square, and Fisherman's Wharf. Public transportation is nearby, as well.

As for us, we headed over to Pier 43-1/2 and embarked on a new Red & White Fleet cruise to Treasure Island for a spot of wine tasting. But that's another story.
  • Where: Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Laguna Street
  • When: Friday nights, 5-9 p.m.
  • More Info: Off the Grid website.

May 10, 2011

James Beard Winners in SF, Napa, Sonoma

Last 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. This prestigious award carries no monetary prize, but it's hard to think of a greater honor in the culinary/beverage world.

This year I took particular interest in winners and nominees from my part of the planet--San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Sonoma. I'll list those, with their designations, below. Except for Michael Tusk, winner in the category of Best Chef in the Pacific Region, those below were all among the 5 nominees in their category. But being nominated for a James Beard Award is akin to being an Oscar nominee--it's a huge honor just to be nominated.

To learn more about the awards and the other category winners, visit the James Beard Foundation website. or download a PDF of the winners.

The 2011 James Beard Award winners and nominees from San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Sonoma are:
  • Best New Restaurant: Benu, San Francisco
  • Outstanding Restaurant:  Boulevard, San Francisco
  • Outstanding Wine Service: A16, San Francisco, Shelley Lindgren
  • Best Chef, Pacific: The winner in this category was Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco; local nominees were Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Daniel Patterson of COI in San Francisco, and Richard Reddington of Redd in Yountville.

May 5, 2011

Discovering California Wines

California's Wine Institute, an advocacy group representing more than 1,000 of the state's wineries, has produced two giveaways, a video and a brochure, both entitled "Discover California Wines." They're both beautifully done (the video will make you want to hop into your car right away and go touring wine regions).
  • The 54-page Discover California Wines brochure covers all the state's major wine regions and highlights several varietals. It also discusses sustainability, regional cuisine, wine/food pairing, and includes statistics, a map, and a list of appellations. The photographs are simply gorgeous. You can download a free copy.
  • The 3-minute video, below, covers some of the same territory, but brings it vibrantly to life.
Here are books about California wines written or photographed by friends of the Culinary Gadabout:

The Wine Seeker's Guide to Livermore Valley

The California Directory of Fine Wineries: Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino

Compass American Guides: California Wine Country, 6th Edition

Apr 20, 2011

Fabulous Facts: Wine in Ancient Times

As we know, wine is popular. What most of us don't realize is just how popular wine has always been. Did you know that wine jars buried with Tutankhamen were labeled with such detail that they could meet today's wine labeling laws? There's much more, so read on.

I am indebted to the website Random History for these fascinating facts about wine.

  • The standard wine container of the ancient world was the amphora (something which can be carried by two), a clay vase with two handles. It was invented by the Canaanites, who introduced it into Egypt before the fifteenth century B.C. Their forebears, the Phoenicians, spread its use throughout the Mediterranean.
  • Wine facilitated contacts between ancient cultures, providing the motive and means of trade. For example, the Greeks traded wine for precious metals, and the Romans traded wine for slaves.
  • Archaeologists found grape pips (seeds), usually considered evidence of winemaking, dating from 8000 B.C. in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The oldest pips of cultivated vines were found in (then Soviet) Georgia from 7000-5000 B.C.
  • In the whole of the Biblical Old Testament, only the Book of Jonah has no reference to the vine or wine.

  • In ancient Egypt, the ability to store wine until maturity was considered alchemy and was the privilege of only the pharaohs.
  • When Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922, the wine jars buried with him were labeled with the year, the name of the winemaker, and comments such as “very good wine.” The labels were so specific that they could actually meet modern wine label laws of several countries

  • Winemaking is a significant theme in one of the oldest literary works known, the Epic of Gilgamesh. The divinity in charge of the wine was the goddess Siduri, whose depiction suggests a symbolic association between wine and fertility.
  • One of the most quoted legends about the discovery of wine is the story of Jamsheed, a semi-mythical Persian king (who may have been Noah). A woman of his harem tried to take her life with fermented grapes, which were thought to be poisonous. Wine was discovered when she found herself rejuvenated and lively.
  • The first known illustration of wine drinking is found on a 5,000-year-old Sumerian panel known as the Standard of Ur.

The Standard of Ur
  • Romans discovered that mixing lead with wine not only helped preserve wine, but also gave it a sweet taste and succulent texture. Chronic lead poisoning has often been cited as one of the causes of the decline of Rome.
  •  The world’s oldest bottle of wine dates back to A.D. 325 and was found near the town of Speyer, Germany, inside one of two Roman sarcophaguses. It is on display at the town's Historisches Museum der Pfalz. 
  • Early Roman women were forbidden to drink wine, and a husband who found his wife drinking was at liberty to kill her. Divorce on the same grounds was last recorded in Rome in 194 B.C.
  • Ancient Romans thought seasoning was more important than the primary flavor of wine and often added fermented fish sauce, garlic, asafetida (onion root), lead, and absinthe.
  • “Toasting” started in ancient Rome when the Romans continued the Greek tradition but started dropping a piece of toasted bread into each wine glass to temper undesirable tastes or excessive acidity. 

  • At the center of Greek social and intellectual life was the symposium, which literally means, “drinking together.” Indeed, the symposium reflects Greek fondness for mixing wine and intellectual discussion
  • In ancient Greece, a dinner host would take the first sip of wine to assure guests the wine was not poisoned, hence the phrase “drinking to one’s health.”
  • Thucydides wrote that the people of the Mediterranean began to “emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the oil and the vine.”
  • Plato argued that the minimum drinking age should be 18, and then wine in moderation may be tasted until 31. When a man reaches 40, he may drink as much as he wants to cure the “crabbedness of old age.”
  • Hippocrates, widely considered the father of medicine, includes wine in almost every one of his recorded remedies. He used it for cooling fevers, as a diuretic, as a general antiseptic, and to help convalescence.