Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful to Live in San Diego

‘Tis the season to give thanks.  While I’ll always be a San Francisco girl at heart, I am very thankful to have relocated to the splendor of San Diego six years ago.  What’s not to love about 70 degree year-round weather, swaying palms, and beautiful ocean breezes?   

I am frequently asked for advice on where to eat in the San Diego area and what the best accommodations are.  Here’s my list list of the don’t miss places.

Where to drink:

La Valencia Hotel (La Jolla).  It doesn’t get any better than a glass of champagne on the hotel’s gorgeous terrace.  If the fog has rolled in don’t despair as the inside parlor, overlooking the same view, is uber comfy.  Old-world charm at its best.
                                             La Valencia small terrace is a charmer.                               

The Del Coronado (Coronado).  This beach-front grand-dame hotel appears in nearly every travel poster on San Diego.  The “Del,” offers a perfect spot to enjoy an aperitif at the outdoor bar downstairs.  Over the holiday season you can watch ice-skaters on the rink that is brought in every Christmas---with the beach and breaking waves in the background.  Southern California at its finest.
                                    The "Del" is a San Diego landmark.

Mr A’s:   If you want a view of the city of San Diego along with some panache, head to this roof-top restaurant located just above the central business district and waterfront.  You’ll have front row seats to watch jets landing at the downtown airport, and a glorious place to view the setting sun over the city.  Excellent restaurant, and a delightful brunch.

                                             Mr. A's gets an A for sunset libations.

Island Prime:  Should you be looking for a place to imbibe or dine near the airport, this is without a doubt the best spot.  First, you’ve got jaw-dropping views of the harbor and the entire city skyline.  Moreover, the food is very good.  This is an extremely popular place that operates on a first-come-first served basis so plan accordingly.

                 Island Prime's "C-Level" is one of the best ring-side seats in town.

Where to eat: 

Market Restaurant (Del Mar):  For a fine-dining experience, look no further in all of San Diego county.   I especially love the short ribs.   Although we always bring our own, there's a fabulous wine list.  Keep in mind that reservations are essential.  Pricey but worth it.
                      To duplicate your magnanimous meal, you can buy the chef's cookbook.

Sbicca (Del Mar).  I love this spot, especially their outdoor terrace with peeks of the nearby sea.   Mid-week this spot is all locals chowing down.  Sundays and Mondays there is no corkage.  Happy hour prices are a steal. Love, love, love their burger.
                                           A definite OMG moment at Sbicca.

Jake’s ( Del Mar).  Right on the beach, this place has it all---  killer views, tasty food and friendly service.  Parking is difficult, but use their valet which is a good bargain for only $4.  Highly suggested for brunch or lunch.

                    Jake's windows open allowing so that diners can feel & smell the sea.

Flying Pig (Oceanside & Vista).  This retro-type diner serves up terrific food.  Using a farm-to-table concept, the immensely popular place is usually filled mid-week by 6:30 pm, so go early.  Fun atmosphere and super-duper food, especially their double pork chop raised from local piggies, as well as their freshly made pasta. 

                                     The 2nd Flying Pig just opened in Vista.

Where to stay:  
  • La Valencia Hotel (La Jolla).  If you’re looking for old-world character, it doesn’t get any better.  Located right in the heart of the village, their one bedroom “villas” are one of the most romantic places on the southern coast.  Expensive and worth every penny.
  • The Del Coronado (Coronado).   Coronado’s beach is one of the best in the area, and the Del is world-famous.  Be sure to ask for a room with a view…otherwise don’t bother.  If you can tear yourself away from the beach, there’s also a fabulous pool which is one of the best places I know for people watching.  5 stars with 5 star prices.
  • L'Auberge (Del Mar).  If you’re looking for a smaller and more intimate experience, the Auberge has your name on it.  Located near the beach, their well-outfitted rooms are the perfect spot for a secluded get-away.  Bring plenty of do-re-mi.

                                      L'Auberge offers  quiet elegance.

Giving thanks for all of the above very special places in my backyard.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Foodie Gifts to Bring Home from Paris

Like many, I can’t stop thinking this week about beloved Paris.  Rather than to dwell on the obvious, I’m changing the paradigm and paying homage to the fantastique food-related products that this gourmand’s paradise offers.  And, for those of you attending next year’s trip to Bordeaux, I’m including only items that can be brought home in your suitcase.

                                                           Fauchon's pastries are art.

If you’re looking for one-stop shopping, the area around the Madeleine church is a gold mine for foodies.  Within a few blocks, you have culinary nirvana.  Let’s start first with the food emporium extraordinaire, Fauchon (Place Madeleine #24-26).   Fauchon has become so popular that it has purchased a nearby property and expanded.  The original location serves up Paris’ best window shopping for gastronomes…if you can possibly find a space to window-watch.  (It’s not unusual to wait several minutes in a line just to be able to photograph the window.)  Fauchon’s window display is mind-boggling:  everything from an Eiffel tower shaped foie gras studded with truffles to baked lobster on the half-shell topped with a small mountain of beluga caviar. Inside you’ll find a mind-blowing cheese department and cases of prepared food products for the most discerning gourmands. There’s even a small restaurant.

                             The makings for a perfect take-out lunch in the nearby Tulleries.

A second Fauchon (just a few doors down at #30 Place Madeleine), is a large grocery store.  Inside you’ll find packaged food products from all over France such as black truffles, lentils from Puy, candied chestnuts, and a mind-boggling selection of fleur de sel.  There’s also a good selection of kitchen gadgets and even cookbooks in English.

                       Who wouldn't be pleased with a small tin of pate as a souvenir?

Also on Place Madeleine (#17) is Caviar Kaspa.  You have to ring to be buzzed in the door of this spot, but don’t let that deter you.  For those who want to splurge for lunch, try the attractive restaurant upstairs with lovely windows that overlook the Madeleine.  Last, there’s even a mustard boutique (#6 Madeleine) where you can sample many different blends...several of which are unknown outside of France.

For serious cooks there’s a serious kitchen store that is frequented by many of Paris’ Michelin star chefs.  Don’t miss Dehillerin (18-20 Rue Coquilliere) but also don’t expect a lot of help from the staff. While there are sauce pans larger than a human,  there is also a great variety of small gadgets that make perfect gifts for foodie friends.

                                                Dehillerin is a chef's dream.

Last but not least, if you’re a tea lover you are obliged to make the trek to Mariage Freres.  While Fauchon carries Mariage Freres products, there’s nothing as special as visiting the original Mariage Freres shop at 30 Rue du Bourg Tibourg in the charming Marais district.  This old-world style boutique offers a mind-boggling selection of teas and a professional staff that are exceeding helpful.   My favorite is their Marco Polo blend but there must be over 50 to choose from...and the staff will let you smell them all.  If it’s lunch time, their jewel-box tea salon is a gorgeous spot to dine.   Better yet, take an afternoon tea break here---it will be one of your highlights.

                  Tea at Mariage Freres is one of the most sublime experiences in the city.

Viva Paris.  Viva la France.  You are in our hearts.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How a Wine Barrel is Constructed

One of the most interesting excursions Wine-Knows Travel organizes on several of our wine trips is an outing to a barrel-maker.  I’ve visited numerous ones around the globe and each time I continue to be mesmerized by the process.  Below is a recap of how a barrel is produced.

The procedure begins outside where cut planks cut from oak wood ("staves") are dried and aged for periods of 18-36 months.  This seasoning rids the wood from water and tightens the grains.
                                     Drying of the wood is a critically important first step.

Next, the aged staves are cut with precision using a computer.  As there are no adhesives used, it is critical that all parts of the barrel fit together perfectly to ensure a faultlessly tight seal. 
                       Dried staves & a metal hoop begin to form the neonatal barrel.

Additional metal hoops are used to apply pressure in the shaping process:

The "head" of the barrel is next carefully prepared.
            The barrel's head is also cut using laser-beam accuracy to prevent any leakage.

The barrel is now placed over a fire.
                                         Heat is used to further bend the staves into shape.

Heat is also used for “toasting.”  Winemakers can order “light,” “medium,” or “heavy” toast.
                                      Different toasts add different flavors & aromas to wine.

The charred barrel is now ready for the final phase of finishing by the addition of new metal rings.
                      The final shaping is extremely labor intensive & requires great strength.

But, the barrel's interior also undergoes intense final scrutiny.
                                            A toasted barrel is prepared for its other head.

Exterior decorative touches such as a chestnut rim may be added.
                 Traditional chestnut rims are expensive but are thought to protect against pests.

Bottom heads are finally added to complete the package.
                                This Bordeaux barrel is almost ready for sale.

Everything in the barrel's construction is expensive---from the aging of the wood to the skill required by numerous artisans who are involved in its birthing.  Now you know why France's oak barrels sell for nearly $1,000 each.  If you're among the lucky travelers who are coming on the harvest tour to Bordeaux next September, at Chateau Haut Brion you will be able to view the barrel-making process as this chateau has its own workshop. 


Friday, November 6, 2015

Magnanimous Membrillo

                         Membrillo paired with Manchego is a perfect appetizer or dessert

If you don’t know Membrillo you should.   Although it is popular in Europe, my first exposure to this over-the-top edible was in Argentina.  I remember the exquisite setting, with whom I was dining, and the very moment its wondrous flavor made its way to my mouth---the earth moved.  

Membrillo is made from quince.  In fact, it’s a gourmet rendition of a very dense quince jam.  In Spain it is served as a dessert, but you can also find it on Spanish breakfast tables used as a topping for toast.  As a dessert, however, it is typically paired with cheese.  In my Argentine introduction to Membrillo, it was served with a mild local, soft cheese.  In Spain, however, it works beautifully with the country’s salty Manchego.   Add a few nuts and you have the perfect autumn dessert.

                   While it is difficult to find quince in stores, farmers markets often have them

I so love Membrillo that one of the first things I did upon moving to the San Diego area was to plant a quince tree.  I can now see why this beautiful fruit captivated European artists in the 18-19th centuries when botanical prints were so popular.   Quince blossoms are beautiful, its fruit is interestingly shaped, and its inside is an artist's dream.  Regrettably, quince has fallen out of favor in the US.  Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that quince cannot be eaten without being cooked---the fruit is very astringent raw.   

                                                                     Quince as art

It’s quince season so I’m making Membrillo this month.  It freezes well so that my freezer will soon hold the 2015 “vintage” of this luscious delectable.  Below is the recipe I use.  If you don’t have access to quince you can buy Membrillo online.  Also, if you’re coming with us in 2016 to Spain, you can be assured that it will be served on probably more than one occasion.

  • 4 pounds quince, washed, cored, roughly chopped  (not necessary to peel)
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 2 strips (1/2 inch by 2 inches each) of lemon peel (only the yellow peel, no white pith)
  • 3 Tbspns  lemon juice
  • About 4 cups of granulated sugar (exact amount will be determined during cooking)

Place quince pieces in a large saucepan (6-8 quarts) and cover with water. Add the vanilla pod and lemon peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince pieces are fork tender (30-40 minutes).

Strain the water from the quince pieces. Discard the vanilla pod but keep the lemon peel with the quince.  Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or by using a food mill. Measure the quince purée. Whatever amount of quince purée you have, that's how much sugar you will need.  (So if you have 4 cups of purée, you'll need 4 cups of sugar.)

Return the quince purée to the large pan.  Heat to medium-low.  Add the sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Add the lemon juice.
Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the quince paste is very thick and has a deep orange pink color.

Preheat oven to a low 125°F. Line a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper (do not use wax paper, it will melt). Grease the parchment paper with a thin coating of butter. Pour the cooked quince paste into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the oven for about one hour to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool.

Store by wrapping in foil or plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator (or freezer).

Viva membrillo!