Archive for December, 2007

Persistent Question: Is Dine About Town a good value?

Posted in Food for thought, News, Restaurants with tags , on December 29, 2007 by Susannah


Dine About Town is one of the few things that Bay Area residents look forward to in January. After all, what is there to do in this rainy, cold winter month other than eat?

The first two out of the past three years that I’ve lived in the Bay Area, I partook in Dine About Town with a certain level of enthusiasm. It began to occur to me, however, that my meals had never amounted to anything above average. In fact, my track record seemed to demonstrate that the Dine About Town meals are unimaginative, generic and, quite frankly, not that great of a value. While I concluded that these average prix fixes were typical, I hoped that the subpar experiences at the restaurants I’d visited were atypical. Last year I decided that I would rather save my money and spend it on a standard meal at any of the participating restaurants.

I suppose the empirical action to take would be to visit all the restaurants I’ve gone to in the past for Dine About Town and have standard meals at all of them, to validate my suspicions. I’ve not had the time nor the budget to do that. However, given my renewed enthusiasm this year for exploring new restaurants, I’m finding that Dine About Town is tempting me again…

(For a complete list of restaurants participating in this year’s program, click here.)

Bouchon Bakery, Part Deux

Posted in Destinations, Restaurants, Reviews with tags , on December 28, 2007 by Susannah

Apologies for not posting sooner — I’ve just returned from vacation in Las Vegas.

It has been nearly two months since my first experience at New York’s Bouchon Bakery, so while vacationing in Vegas, I thought it only appropriate to pay a visit to the Las Vegas outpost of the bakery, located in the Venetian.

I only had a minute to stop by, so I grabbed the ham and cheese baguette and carrot cake on the way out.

Carrot Cake

The ham and cheese baguette was the best I’ve ever had. It had been briefly toasted, and the baguette’s crisp, warm exterior gave way to a soft interior. The ham wasn’t too salty but wasn’t at all lacking in flavor; the semisoft, Swiss cheese was mild. I could taste mustard and the slightest creaminess of mayonnaise, just enough to enhance the flavors of the ham and cheese — exactly the way condiments are meant to be used.

I don’t like traditional carrot cake, but tried the carrot cake that Andy purchased anyway. The cake was a twist on the sandwich cookie, with the icing was the filling, sandwiched by two cake “cookies.” Neither the cake nor the icing was cloying, and the batter had a rich orange peel and nutmeg flavor. I actually found it to be mildly enjoyable.

I’ve attached a blurry on-the-run photo of the carrot cake, but I was too hooked on the sandwich to even stop to take a picture of it. Honestly.

Bouchon Bakery, The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, Nev. 702.414.6200

Rachael Ray has replaced Emeril as the Food Network’s biggest star

Posted in News with tags , on December 19, 2007 by Susannah


(Photo: Businessweek.)

Like spending 30 minutes a day with Rachael Ray? If so, you’ll be happy to know that she’s just signed a 2-year contract with the Food Network, Reuters reports.

Rachael will film 60 more episodes of the wildly popular 30 Minute Meals, less than last year’s count of 80. She’s also expanding her Food Network repertoire with a new primetime show, Rachael’s Vacation, airing Jan. 12.

Whether you love Rachael or find her despicable, she’s here to stay, at least for a little while.  Personally, I credit her (and the Food Network) for cultivating my cooking skills.

Pizzeria Picco: Worth traveling for

Posted in pizza, Restaurants, Reviews with tags , on December 13, 2007 by Susannah

“The best pizza in the Bay Area,” San Francisco Chronicle‘s Michael Bauer proclaimed.

Mario Batali declared owner Bruce Hill’s cuisine “the best in the country…the margherita pizza is so good, it’s enough to make you cry.”

I had heard so much about the pizza at Pizzeria Picco that I had to go check it out for myself. My friend Jen and I settled into a table at the outdoor deck on a chilly but sunny Saturday afternoon for lunch. I ordered a plate of the house-made charcuterie selection, which included spongy, nutty mortadella, sweet soppressata and smoky, spicy salumi dusted with fennel pollen. The plate was accompanied by apricot chutney and pickled sweet peppers.

Charcuterie Plate

Charcuterie Plate. L-R: Lardo, Salumi, Soppresata, Coppa, Mortadella

We ordered margherita pizza topped with salt cod and arugula — the pizza of the day. It was a “wet” style pizza, with a sufficient amount of tomato sauce but not too much cheese topping. This was the lightest pizza I’d ever had — the crust wasn’t dense and chewy. Rather, it was soft, with an oh-so-slightly crispiness on the outside. The salt cod was used sparingly (a good thing) and the rocket added a slight bitterness. The tomato sauce was divine — the perfect amount and slightly sweet yet tangy. My only regret was that the pizza got cold too quickly sitting outside, and when it was cold it lost its luster very quickly, turning more chewy than crispy and soggy toward the middle.

Margherita with Salt Cod, Arugula

Pizza of the day: Margherita with Salt Cod, Arugula.

The meal wasn’t complete until we sampled the famous olive oil ice cream: organic Straus Dairy vanilla soft-serve ice cream, with DaVero extra virgin olive oil and sea salt sprinkled on top. “Go ahead…you can do this,” the menu urged. After hearing so many raves, I didn’t need any urging. It was the most unexpectedly delicious thing I’ve ever tasted: sweet, yet not cloying; slightly salty; and the fruity, herbaceous flavor of olive oil.


Straus Dairy Soft-Serve with Olive Oil, Sea Salt

So was this the best pizza the Bay Area had to offer? I have to say that I think it was, with crust so light it was ethereal. It isn’t as good in my mind as Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn, but they are in two totally different pizza categories: Picco’s is light, wet and subtly flavored; Grimaldi’s is smoky, chewy and loaded with toppings. Next time, I’ll be trying the margherita pizza (no toppings for distraction), making sure it stays warm, and savoring at least one of the olive oil ice cream desserts…

Pizzeria Picco, 320 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, Calif. 415.945.8900


Posted in Uncategorized with tags on December 11, 2007 by Susannah


Emporio Rulli’s Cialde

My friend Jen and I are both in love with food, so logically we would have seen the same Italian holiday special on the Food Network. It led us to the cialde at Emporio Rulli this past weekend.

Emporio Rulli in Larkspur is (as of 2004, when the special was filmed) the only place in the United States where one can find these cialde, or delicate wafers. They are filled with crushed almonds and sugar, and stamped with a pastoral scene from the town of Montecatini, Tuscany, where the wafer press originates. The wafers taste faintly reminiscent of caramelized sugar and pair perfectly with coffee or espresso.

Tomorrow — look out for my post on Pizzeria Picco!