Just relaxing on an islet in the Caribbean

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Birthday Blog - Part I

I’m taking it upon myself to force just a little bit of my personal life upon my loyal followers out in blog land. After all, one can only experience so many good restaurants, write about them and expect everyone to stay interested. Therefore, I decided to throw a little coal on the embers to keep the flames red-hot and my readers somewhat interested…I hope it works. Please enjoy!

My birthday was in July but during the week of that glorious day, my family and I journeyed to Lake Tahoe for a family wedding and reunion. Hubby and I decided since we were driving (I just love long drives: naps, reading, introspection, Reiki self-treatments, more reading and naps!) why not make a long road trip out of it, wining and dining along the way.

With much fore-thought and planning the 10 day trip was in the bag with hotel and dinner reservations, day spa appointments, tee-times, trails to be hiked, etc. We were leaving the beauty of “So Lag” (South Laguna) to drive to a different type of beauty only to discover later that my soul deeply longed for this particular trip.

On Thursday, July 15th my spouse and I arrived at the lovely Ritz Carlton Resort at Northstar in Lake Tahoe where we met up with our three adult children (“adult children”, is that an oxy-moron?). After morning hikes on the Ritz Carlton hiking trail (I LOVE hiking) which led to a view of the very pretty Sawmill Creek Lake, workouts in the well-equipped fitness room, good food, and hot, lazy days by the pool with pool side cocktail service (my kids and their cousins managed to buy out Ritz Carlton’s supply of some tasty concoction of ice tea flavored vodka!!) it was time to switch gears and head out to the next destination on the agenda…misty and cool San Francisco, aka “Bagdad by the Bay.” With all the fabulous dining establishments in the city, it made sense to stop in the quaint little town of sweltering Auburn for a fresh country home-style lunch and an ice cold brew before venturing out to the big city.

We arrived in San Francisco in the early afternoon and checked into Joie de Vivre’s very boutiquey, “Hotel Drisco”. Located in the Pacific Heights residential area and built in 1903, the hotel lives up to its standard of excellence with luxurious personal service, a fancy breakfast buffet and extremely comfortable goose down beds. For the fitness enthusiasts (remember guys, I am a ‘fitness enthusiast’ whose always on the lookout for an out of town exercise session), the hotel is within walking distance of Golden Gate Park. Should you decide to do a challenging stair workout walk or jog over to the Lyon Street steps (Lyon and Broadway streets). The start of the training steps is a couple of blocks from the hotel which allows time for a nice warm up and an opportunity to trek right past Diane Feinstein’s grand pad…worth seeing with its lovely garden sculpture!
One of my favorite restaurants in the City is “The Slanted Door” at the famous Ferry Building. Although most locals consider this spot very “touristy” each time I travel to the city, it is imperative that I get my feast fix of The Slanted Door’s wonderful, low-fat and fresh cuisine of Vietnamese and Asian fusion. On this particular trip, I did not hesitate to stuff my face for fear of not returning soon enough for my next fix! I indulged myself with “Wild California Uni” (sea urchin) with avocado mousse and black tobiko caviar. It melted in my mouth with a familiar sweet ocean flavor. The “Caramelized Tiger Prawns” were caramelized, plump and cooked moist to perfection making them along with the accompanying garlic slivers and onions slices naturally sweet and juicy. I had many more courses during that satiating meal…way too many to mention at this time but did enjoy my ‘fix.”

The highlight for dinner my first night in the city was “Flour & Water” a very small Italian restaurant nestled in the heart of the Mission District with Chef Thomas McNaughton specializing in local, seasonal foods. Chef Thomas (trained at CIA at Hyde Park in New York and in European kitchens) creates such taste treats as the famous “Thin Crust Neopolitan Pizza” (cooked for a couple of minutes in an imported Italian Valoriani oven at 800 degrees farenheit), house made pastas and “Salumi” – house cured and smoked meats. My dining group of four shared many items from the very interesting menu and each was equally fabulous! One fact I must mention - the Italian whole grain “Farro Radiatore” with anise braised pork cheek and fennel pollen was utterly marvelous. The farro was nutty and al dente and the pork cheeks moist and fork tender. Although, the reastaurant sets half the seats aside for walk-ins, you would be very wise to make a dinner reservation at Flour and Water since without one you, like Steve Jobs, would be turned away at the door like a sad pooch with his tail between his legs!

After sleeping in late and a day trekking around the city, I eagerly anticipated my maiden voyage to “Spruce” in Presidio Heights. Informally trained chef, Mark Sullivan, rocks with his contemporary American cuisine of organic produce, line caught fish and naturally raised beef. Spruce is the place to hang for those who want to see and be seen….hip and trendy. The large glass wine locker behind the bar, brilliant Baccarat Crystal chandeliers and overstuffed faux ostrich benches with chocolate mohair walls are all pretty damn impressive and a site for sore eyes.
This special birthday repast was celebrated with four dear friends, allowing us to order plenty of lovely dishes for communal sharing. A starter course was “Seared and Preserved Foie Gras” atop fresh strawberry chunks, pink peppercorns in a strawberry broth. Chef and staff did a great job of pan searing my foie gras perfectly since even the slightest overcooking would have ruined this dish. I was fortunate to enjoy this first course with a Chateau Roumieu La Coste Sauterne. Guys, foie gras without sauterne is like the desert without rain…unbearable and just plain painful!

My main course was “Honey Lacquered Duck Breast” on a bed of spicy fresh arugula with cinnamon spiced foie gras and poached apricot halfs. This dish may have been one of the best duck breast courses I have ever tasted! I have had duck liver served with sautéed apples or peaches but never fresh apricots and they were a pleasant fresh fruit alternative. Given an opportunity hubby brings wine from his cellar and on this particular night we were fortunate to imbibe a 1999 Kistler Chardonnay and a 1995 Araujo Eisele Vineyards Syrah. Both wines would have smacked a crisp smile on Bacchus’s chubby face. They were wonderfully delightful. I finalized my meal with a sampling of the four desserts our table ordered and I will not list all of them but allow me to inform you that Spruce’s beignets would rival those of New Orleans any day. Steamy hot and sprinkled with sugar, served alongside a chocolate sauce and cream anglaise, they are sinfully yummy!

After two days and two nights of gourmet gluttony I should be ashamed to divulge that before departing the city hubby dragged me out to “Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop” in the Castro district for the “best ice cream in all San Francisco”. The ice cream is handcrafted in small batches using local, organic and sustainable ingredients and I must admit it is pure decadence. For my sweet tooth (and I hardly ever indulge in sweets) I choose “Honey Lavender”, “Balsamic Strawberry” and “Chocolate/Coconut Vegan” (made with creamy coconut milk). All of the above flavors and the consistency of my frozen taste treats were worth every calorie and fat gram they embedded in my thighs…bring it on baby, bring it on!

Stay tuned for Part II of my Birthday Blog Journal which will take you to the serene Santa Rosa foothills and Healdsburg- soon to follow.


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