Monday, April 30, 2007

Hometown Food Scene

I just read a New York Times article about the emerging food scene in the Twin Cities. Several notable chefs, like Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, have recently opened their doors in the burgeoning downtown restaurant scene. I'm definitely looking forward to checking things out the next time I'm back home.

Coming soon... "The List"

As you can probably tell from reading this blog, my girlfriend Karen and I enjoy eating out. We are truly fortunate to be in a situation where we are able to go out and enjoy so many of the culinary delights that the Bay Area has to offer.

One evening a couple of summers ago, Karen and I were talking about the various restaurants that we had visited together, both in the San Francisco area and during our travels. At that time, we had been dating for about nine months and had checked out quite a few places around town. I asked her if she had any idea of how many places we had dined. She did not. I was a bit curious and started combing though my old credit card receipts (yes, I'm a bit of a pack rat) to jog my memory on the places that we had visited. I opened an Excel spreadsheet to help me organize this information. Thus, on that warm evening a couple of years back (July 6, 2005 to be more precise), "The List" was born.

As you can imagine, "The List" has grown quite a bit since it was first created. We came up with a few loose rules to determine whether or not a restaurant qualified for inclusion in "The List":

  • Both Karen and I must have eaten a meal there at the same time; therefore, a restaurant does not get included if we have each eaten there separately but not together;

  • No national chain restaurants (e.g. TGI Fridays, Chili's, etc.) - not that we go to those places very often anyway; smaller or local chains, like Il Fornaio are okay, but we'll make a judgment call;

  • No fast food places (perhaps redundant due to the national chain rule).

I should mention that there are a couple of restaurants where the service was so gawd awful, we have banned them from inclusion in "The List". If any of you want to know the restaurants-that-shall-not-be-named, please let me know; hopefully you can be spared from experiencing the crapola service that we received. Also, despite my best efforts, I know that the list is not complete. I'm sure that I've forgotten a few places that we've visited over the years. In fact, if any of you could tell me the name of the little place about a block away from the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof that we visited on November 20, 2005, I'd sure appreciate it...

Over the past couple of years, a number of friends and colleagues have requested access to "The List", which I gladly shared with them. While most of them have been happy just to have "The List", a few people have complained about the lack of restaurant ratings. So, attempting to meet this need, I have tried to go through the exercise of assigning ratings, with an emphasis on the word tried. Actually, I've tried several times to do this, but have yet to be satisfied with the set of ratings. You can probably imagine the difficulty of assigning ratings to a collection of restaurants you have visited over the past two and a half years well after the fact. Well, assigning the ratings is quite easy, but assigning them in a consistent way is a tad more difficult.

Nevertheless, "The List" is nearing a milestone, one that will probably be reached in the upcoming weeks. Once that milestone is reached, I plan on publishing "The List" on the blog, with or without ratings (most likely without). So, stay tuned and keep your eyes open for the grand unveiling of "The List".

Friday, April 27, 2007

Getting That Elusive Reservation

Tired of hitting redial and waiting on hold to get a coveted dinner reservation at that hot spot in town? The Wall Street Journal recently published a list of tips and tricks. Now there might be an easier way. I recently came across the new online booking website: Tablestalker.

Billing itself as an "online concierge" service, Tablestalker is a mashup of, the online reservation system, and Dapper, a new web service that "allows anyone to extract and reuse content from any website". To use Tablestalker, you simply enter the name of the restaurant where you want to dine along with your selected reservation date and time, the size of your party, and your contact information. The information is submitted to Dapper, which then crawls the openings in OpenTable. If and when a table opens up, the Dapper service sends an email informing you of the available seats. Of course, you will still have to act quickly to reserve the table, but at least you won't be sitting around guessing when a table might open up. Hopefully in the future, the service will be able to book the reservation automatically instead of sending out an email.

Currently, the Tablestalker service is limited to the collection of restaurants available through OpenTable in a small number of selected cities. Perhaps one day, you can remove The French Laundry phone number from your speed dialer.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dining Out For Life

I didn't get a chance to blog about this earlier, but I hope that some of you were able to visit a local restaurant tonight in support of Dining Out For Life, a national project seeking to raise funds in the fight against AIDS. Participating restaurants are donating 25% of the food bill tonight to benefit HIV prevention programs of the STOP AIDS project.

Karen and I chose to dine out at Moose's, a restaurant located in North Beach featuring American cuisine with an emphasis on local ingredients. We started out our dinner with the tuna tartare, which was accompanied by toasted quinoa. The quinoa had a hint of citrus that added a nice layer of complexity to the dish - a very fine appetizer. For our main courses, we had the carnitas risotto, which was an odd-sounding, but tasty blend of Mexican and Italian cuisine, and the porterhouse pork chop, which was flavorful, tender, and cooked to a nice medium doneness. We had a nice dinner which was made even better by the fact that we helped raise money for a good cause tonight.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Beetcause of You

In response to the email that Karen sent out last week, her dad penned the following story:

     A certain elderly person eventually passed from this life and found himself at the so-called Pearly Gates. There he was confronted by St. Peter, who asked him to account for himself.
     “Well, I guess I’ve led a reasonably decent life,” the balding, salt-and-pepper- haired late departed said. “I’ve been a faithful husband, a good provider, a tolerant and loving father, a—”
     “Say again,” St. Peter interrupted abruptly. “A what father?”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Your documentation” (and he paged through his celestial laptop) “indicates that you were an abusive father.”
     “I may have yelled at the kids more than I should. Spanked, perhaps, on occasion….” His voice trailed off in embarrassment.
     “No!” St. P. thundered. “Abusive in the worst of ways.”
     The late but clearly not lamented old guy wondered what St. P. knew that he could not recall. Had he buried some horrible behavior deep in his brain, actions that were now to be recovered memories?
     The recently departed remembered that, always had. “But it was decades ago.”
     “Yes, but for them: The horror, the horror.”
     “Why are you channeling Joseph Conrad.”
     “Sorry,” St. Peter said. “But you have some explaining to do. Why, why did you force them to eat beets? Make them stay at the dinner table for hours until your patient, loving and ever-sacrificing wife and their mother finally persuaded you to relent? The experience has scarred them all for life. If you hadn’t done that they could have been somebody. They could have been contenders.”
     “Why are you channeling Marlon Brando?”
     “Sorry. He knocked at the door here a few years ago. No dice.”
     “You know how sometimes you do irrational things?”
     “Are you referring to me?” St. Peter said with a scowl.
     “Well, not you perhaps, but most people.”
     “OK, I’ll give you that.”
     “That’s my defense.”
     “That’s not much of a defense.”
     “Let me ask you something,” the not-so-dear departed said, “are there any foods you don’t like?”
     “Well, in my condition I don’t eat.”
     “Before. Before you got this job.”
     “Mollusks. I hate mollusks. Especially oysters. Slimy, disgusting things.”
     “Let me tell you about those children who hate beets. They looove oysters. One time in Boston we came upon a cart selling oysters near Fanueil Hall and they couldn’t get enough of them, grabbing at them and sliding them down their throats like there was no tomorrow. And if I recall correctly, that was before the beet incident. And their loving mother, who despises oysters, just smiled tolerantly.”
     “Good woman that.”
     “Yeah, but my point is, they’d eat oysters, which should turn them off, but not beets. You can buy Gerber beets as baby food.”
     “Trust me, even Gerber doesn’t sell processed beets.”
     “How do you know that.”
     “I know,” St. Peter said, pointing to his laptop. “Celestial Wifi, super-duper-broadband. “So give me the real explanation.”
     “Well, heritage.”
     “Our people—not yours: you split—come from the shtetls of Eastern Europe and the ghettos of Western Europe. We had almost nothing to eat, and when we did it was often beets. Beets to make borscht. Beets to color and flavor horseradish on the special nights like seders when we ate brisket. Pickled beets. Yumm. So they needed to eat beets to be aware of their background, their origins.”
     St. P. paused briefly. “That’s a lot of B.S.” he said.
     The recently departed bowed his head. “I thought I’d give it a try.”
     “I don’t think you’re qualified to get in here,” St. Peter said. “By the way, do you know how you died?”
     “Heart attack.”
     “Do you know what brought it on?”
     “An email from my daughter.”
     “Bad news?”
     “She said she had, after all these years, eaten beets. And they aren’t so bad.”
     “Why would that give you a heart attack?”
     “It was yellow beets.”
     “Yellow beets? Yecch. Who ever heard of such a thing? Clearly the product of vile genetic drift.”
     “Don’t they sound just awful? I’d never, ever eat them, not in a million years.”
     “As I said, you can’t get in here, given your horrible record.”
     “So am I going to hell?”
     “Worse,” St. Peter said decisively. “I’m sending you back. Given your delicate condition you must completely change your diet. You will be a vegetarian. And a staple of your diet will be yellow beets.”
     A look of horror suffused the face of the newly now-non-departed. “Anything but that,” he pleaded. “Hell is other vegetables.”
     “As you are channeling Sartre,” St. P.’s voice echoed as he vanished in the misty clouds, “you will learn that there is truly No Exit from this fate of yellow beets, no matter how much Nausea you experience.”

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dr. Strangeroot or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Beets

As I implied in a previous post, Karen is not someone you would call the biggest fan of beets. Her virulent dislike of this root vegetable stems from an incident in her youth when she and her brothers were involved in a dinner-time Mexican standoff with her parents over a plate of beets.

Ah, but how times change! Today, I received the following email:

From: Karen
To: Karen's family
Subject: My horrible yet true confession

I have a confession to make. Last Friday, I went to the Old Oakland Farmers' Market and (of my own free will and volition) bought a bunch of yellow beets. I am not entirely sure what came over me. Years of refusal to eat the vile root vegetable suddenly melted away. Perhaps it was a recent yellow beet recipe I saw that looked delicious. For the first time, I began to think of beets as an edible possibility worth seeking out and buying. It didn't hurt that not only did I not gag, but even enjoyed the small bit of beets I had at a recent dinner at Manresa. One of the dishes on the tasting menu was smoked sturgeon over red thumb potatoes and beets.

Earlier this week, after coming to terms with the beets I had brought home, I actually made them. I roasted them with some salt, pepper, olive oil, and rosemary. Once cooked and cooled, I threw a splash of basalmic vinegar on top. The initial bites brought back brief memories of that beet taste I so despised in the past. I mean, the beets were OK but they still tasted like beets. I think I didn't let them cool enough before eating. Yet as the flavors melded and I ate some more the following day, I realized they weren't too bad. In fact, they tasted like a sweeter version of roast potatoes (with tons more nutrients).

After decades of recovery, I think I am finally able to deal with my beet issues. I still recall (with horror) the awful beet experience of our childhood. But I think beets and I may just be able to co-exist.

Will I cook and eat beets again? - Probably
Will I do so on a regular basis? - Probably not


Her brother Jon replied almost immediately to this email with the following comeback:
You are going against everything the beet revolution stood for. We did not have a sit-in at the dinner table 20 years ago for you to betray the cause. You should be ashamed of yourself.

I was just talking about this occurrence with one of my colleagues two days ago. He talked about his absolute dislike for asparagus (which I really like) and that got me going about my hatred (possibly unfounded) of beets.

To think, my twin, not long before our shared birthday, has given up the fight. Maybe it is that crazy weather in San Fran that's done it to you. "You've changed Dutch, you've changed..."

Your disillusioned twin,

For some reason, I'm seeing visions of Slim Pickens on top of a giant yellow beet, riding it like some bronco-busting cowboy, whooping and hollering as he falls into oblivion.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Say Cheese!

It only took me three weeks, but I finally realized that April is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month. I guess that's the reason why I've been seeing a number of stories about these sandwiches in the New York Times, Slashfood, and other various sites on the web over the past few weeks.

In honor of this month, I decided to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. My bread of choice tonight was Wonder Bread, my favorite bread with which to make grilled cheese. I normally use some sort of cheddar cheese or Kraft singles (yeah, yeah, I know it's American 'cheese'); tonight, I went with two slices of sharp Tillamook cheddar that I had on hand. As an added twist, I cut up a Campari tomato and inserted the thin slices between the layers of cheese. I set the sandwich down on a non-stick pan coated with sweet butter on low heat. Fifteen minutes later, my patience was rewarded:

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Manresa: A Culinary Experience (with pictures, of course)

Last week, as I was wandering from John Wayne Airport to the office, Karen called me and asked if I would have any interest in going to Manresa this weekend. She had just taken a quick look on OpenTable and saw a couple of available seatings. We had talked with Tesha and Jeremiah about going to Manresa, which they had never visited and which we had visited previously for our one year anniversary. Unfortunately, our friends were unable to join us, but we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to pay another visit to the two-star Michelin destination.

Yesterday afternoon, we made the hour-long trek from the City down to little town of Los Gatos, nestled near the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Though we arrived a bit early for our reservation, we were warmly greeted at the door and promptly seated at a window-side table. We didn't even really need to look at the menu, as we both assumed that we were going with the chef's tasting menu. Once again, we would leave our dinner in David Kinch's very capable hands. We also ordered the wine pairing for the tasting menu, splitting one flight between the two of us.

Our dinner started out with several amuse bouche offerings. First we were presented with some petit-fours: olive madelines and roasted red pepper gelées. Our previous dining experience at Manresa started in the same fashion and once again, Karen loved the madeline and I really enjoyed the gelée. It was a nice way to kick off our dinner.

Our next amuse bouche was a garden green croquette, of which I did not get a picture. Similar in appearance to a tater tot, each croquette is filled with a liquid center and meant to be eaten in a single bite. Our croquette was bursting with the essense of seasonal spring vegetables from the Manresa garden, though it was not quite as good as the corn croquette that we had during our previous visit, which was utterly amazing.

After the croquette, we were served oysters with uni and sea water gelée. As you might know from reading past entries in this blog, we love raw oysters on the half-shell. With the uni and gelée, I was expecting a very briny tasting dish, but the tasty was more subtle and really brought out the flavor of the sea without overwhelming the palate.

The next amuse bouche was a kohlrabi and foie gras royale served with apple cider. The custardy foie gras mousse was velvety and rich, which went very well with the cider and the wine pairing. Karen thought that this was one of the best dishes of the evening.

Our last amuse was the famous Arpège egg. As some of you may know, I've made these eggs myself at home with the help of a Clacker. It looked like they also use a Clacker or another similar device in the Manresa kitchen. I also noticed that they sliced open the bottom part of the egg as I did, probably to help keep the egg balanced while it is coddling on the simmer water. The egg was fantastic as always, just a great balance between sweet, savory, sour, and bitter flavors.

Our first main course was a preparation of twice-cooked foie gras with strawberries over a strawberry-Pedro Ximénez sauce. The foie gras was unbelievably rich and absolutely exquisite. (You can probably guess that Karen and I both love foie gras.) This was definitely my favorite dish of the evening.

Our second main course was a fatty blue tuna belly salad over a seaweed pistou. The toro salad also contained a few tender leaves of Ficoïde Glaciale, an ice plant harvested from the Manresa garden. The salad was very rich and extravagent - two thumbs up.

The next course was a smoked sturgeon over red thumb potatoes and beets from the garden. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo until we had eaten the plates clean. The dish was very good, much better than a similar dish that I had on a Lufthansa flight a few months back. Karen even admitted that she liked the beets, which is quite a statement if you know her feelings about that root vegetable.

Our next dish was a Monterey Bay abalone with peas and asparagus and a vanilla soubise. This was fantastic. It was the most tender plate of abalone that I've ever had. The vanilla foam was quite subtle and enhanced the flavor of the shellfish without overpowering it.

The last fish course was slow-roasted monkfish with exotic Indian spices, naval orange, citrus foam, and spinach. While the flavors of the spices and citrus worked well in this dish, the fish was less tender than I expected, as was the spinach. While the taste was quite good, this was probably my least favorite course of the evening.

Moving on to the white meat course, we were treated to some slow-roasted pork belly of suckling pig in a green garlic stew with a fava bean maro. A fabulous dish, the pork tasted as good as it looked.

Our final main course of the evening was milk-fed spring lamb, prepared two ways, with a carrot puree and carrots from the garden. We were treated to a nice slice of loin, roasted to medium-rare doneness. The lamb was quite tasty but we both really liked the braised lamb, generously portioned and falling-apart tender. Another excellent dish.

Having finished the main dinner course, we had an intermezzo of strawberry sorbet with rhubarb soda. It was very refreshing and cleansed our palates in preparation for dessert.

Our first dessert course came in two parts. First was a caramel soufflé that was simply ethereal.

Accompanying the soufflé was a shot glass filled with butterscotch, espresso, and caramelized banana. This dessert was stunning. Even I, the non-dessert guy, really liked this offering. The flavors melded extremely well together to form a delicious and decadent dessert.

The final dessert was chocolate marquis, which our server described as a "deconstructed Rocky Road". It was okay, but as I'm not a huge fan of Rocky Road, it didn't do that much for me.

The end of our evening was bookended the same way it started, with madelines and gelées. This time, we were presented with a chocolate version of the madeline and a strawberry gelée. I enjoyed this course, especially the gelée, which tasted like an intense strawberry jam, but Karen liked the olive madeline better.

Once again, we had a fantastic evening at Manresa. Tim, our server, was great, as was the rest of the staff. They did a great job with the pacing of our meal, slowing things down as the courses became heavier, and were very attentive to our needs. Tim effusively answered our many questions about the restaurant, the food, and the wine. It was another fabulous dining experience, one that we hope to repeat with our friends in the near future.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Angus Third Pounder

Yesterday was a bit of an unusual work day for me. I started the day at home, flew down to Irvine for an afternoon meeting, and then returned to the Bay Area on an evening flight. Unfortunately, the hour-long segments were not long enough for me to sample the airborne cuisine offered by American Airlines and compare it with the fare from United and Lufthansa.

However, as I was waiting for my return flight, I took the opportunity to try out an Angus Third Pounder, a new sandwich being test-marketed in Southern California by McDonald's. The burger, a premium offering rolled-out to compete with other high-end fast-food sandwiches like the "Six Dollar Burger" marketed by Carl's Jr., comes in three variations: the Angus Deluxe, the Angus Mushroom & Swiss, and the Angus Bacon & Cheese. I opted for the bacon version.

It was okay - par for the course for a fast food burger. Honestly, it wasn't all that different from the other burgers that I've had at Mickey D's, though the burger patty seemed a bit drier than their other offerings. Perhaps this was due to a leaner cut of Angus beef, but don't kid yourself - it has around the same number of calories as a Quarter Pounder, plus or minus a little depending in the version. Good thing that I did a lot of walking today. (I actually walked from the airport to the office and walked back after the meeting.) However, at $3.99 a pop for an Angus burger, I'll probably just stick to Quarter Pounders.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Perfect Bacon Sandwich

Today, my ever-vigilant girlfriend pointed out an article describing the secrets to a perfect bacon sandwich. Apparently, a few British scientists are leaving other important academic research on topics such as quantum chromodynamics, cancer research, and the Riemann hypothesis to other luminaries while they focus on unsolved problems more important to the common man.

The Leeds University researchers were kind enough to share their secret formula on the Grand Unified Theory of Bacon (GUToB) with the rest of the world:

N = C + {fb(cm) · fb(tc)} + fb(Ts) + fc · ta,

where N is force in newtons, fb is a function of the bacon type, fc is a function of the condiments, Ts is the serving temperature, tc is the cooking time, ta is the time to insert the condiments, cm is the cooking method, and C is the breaking strain of the uncooked bacon (in newtons).

I do, however, have a few questions about the function fb: What is its domain? Is it time, as the expression fb(tc) would suggest, or is it temperature, which one would infer from the expression fb(Ts)? Could it be a multivariable function of time and temperature? Is it continuous or even perhaps differentiable? The world wonders.

While we are on the subject of bacon sandwiches, allow me to take the opportunity to right a wrong. In a previous post discussing the perfect BLT, I neglected to give proper kudos to the BLT sandwiches that were the centerpiece of Sunday brunch at lovely home of Jeremiah and Tesha during their stay in Germany. The combination of Alsatian bacon, garlic mayo, and fresh basil on crusty German bread was amazing. Now that they have made their return back to the Bay Area, I hope to partake in one of their bacon-filled brunches again soon.

Monday, April 09, 2007

2007 F&W Best New Chefs Announced

My sweetie pointed out that Food & Wine Magazine recently announced the selections for their annual list of Best New Chefs. The ten winners will be profiled in the July issue. One of the winners is Sean O'Brien, who heads the kitchen at Myth (470 Pacific Avenue; 415-677-8986), the eclectic French/Californian restaurant located in San Francisco's Financial District.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

An Entree and Dessert in One

I'm not sure why I haven't come across this culinary creation before, but it combines an entree and 'dessert' into one wonderful, savory, mouthwatering package: Meat Cake!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Good Eats Wins a Peabody Award

Earlier today, Good Eats, the Food Network show hosted by Alton Brown, was named a winner of a George Foster Peabody Award. The Peabody Awards, administered by the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia, recognize distinguished achievement in radio and television broadcasting and are generally recognized as one of the most prestigious honors in the field of broadcast journalism and educational programming. With regards to Good Eats, the award press release cites:

Rarely has science been taught on TV in such an entertaining – and appetizing – manner as it is in Alton Brown`s goofy, tirelessly inventive series.
Kudos to Alton, the Good Eats crew, and all of the folks at Be Square Productions that make it all happen week after week!

29 out of 100

This past Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle published its annual list of the Top 100 restaurants in the Bay Area, as selected by its resident critic, Michael Bauer.

Inspired by a post on Becks & Posh, I decided to go through the list to see how many restaurants at which Karen and I have eaten together in the past two and a half years.

  1. A16

  2. Ad Hoc

  3. Amber India

  4. Bouchon

  5. Boulevard

  6. Canteen

  7. Cetrella Bistro and Cafe

  8. Cyrus

  9. Delfina

  10. Firefly

  11. Foreign Cinema

  12. Gary Danko

  13. Greens

  14. Hog Island Oyster Company

  15. Junnoon

  16. Koi Palace

  17. Kokkari Estiatorio

  18. La Taqueria

  19. Manresa

  20. Nopa

  21. Oliveto

  22. Park Chow

  23. Pizzaiolo

  24. Quince

  25. Range

  26. Sushi Ran

  27. Swan Oyster Depot

  28. Ton Kiang

  29. Yank Sing

Not nearly as many places as Sam from Becks & Posh has been, but I suspect that the list will continue to grow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Getting the Reservation

The other day, my friend Terence, the renown expert on Midwestern cuisine, pointed out a Wall Street Journal article about how to land a reservation at the culinary hotspot.

Perhaps I will try some of the techniques mentioned in the article the next time that I attempt to land a reservation at the French Laundry or at El Bulli...

A Foodie Friday

Last weekend, my sweetie and I headed up north to Mendocino to enjoy another long and relaxing weekend, one during which we were able to unplug from the outside world. Yep, no cell phone coverage and no internet access. It was a much needed break from the Bay Area hustle and bustle.

On the drive up, we decided to check out a couple of Marin County's many foodie destinations. Our first stop was in Point Reyes Station, where we paid a visit to the Cowgirl Creamery at Tomalas Bay Foods (80 4th Street; 415-663-9335). Founded by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, the Cowgirl Creamery is known throughout Northern California for their handmade, artisanal cheeses. Every Friday morning, the creamery hosts a tour in the refurbished barn that houses Tomalas Bay Foods. Having gotten a late start to our morning, we arrived just in time for the tour, which led by ex-park ranger Nan Haynes.

The word 'tour' is a bit of a misnomer; the 'tour' consists of a presentation giving a brief overview of the making of cheese along with a sampling of their products. Part of the presentation involved a short demo of the cheese making process, in which Karen and I were selected to assist Nan (mainly because we sat at the end of the table closest to the demo cart due to our tardy arrival). While Karen stirred a bowl of organic milk from Straus Family Dairy, I drizzled in some rennet, which immediately coagulated the milk. It was very cool to see how quickly the milk separated into curds and whey, though admittedly we used far more rennet than would be used in practice. In the actual process, the curds are scooped up and put into perforated plastic molds, which are pressed together to force out more of the liquidy whey - you can find more details on their website.

We sampled seven different cheeses during the tasting, including four fresh cheeses and three aged ones. The first fresh cheese was their clabbered cottage cheese. I normally despise cottage cheese - it's a texture thing. But, I figured that I would give it another try. To Karen's surprise (and my own), it was actually okay, though I'm not positive that I would actually pay money for it at the grocery store. Next, we tried some fromage blanc, which is their version of cream cheese, followed by a sample of their crème fraîche. Both of these cheeses were very tasty. The final fresh cheese was a paneer, a cheese used extensively in Indian cooking. We both loved the paneer, enough to purchase a container at the end of the tour.

While the creamery's fresh cheeses were delicious, they are known better for their aged cheeses. The first aged cheese we sampled was the seasonal St. Pat, a double-cream cheese made with stinging nettles leaves, which are in season around the middle of March - hence the name. Next came the Mt. Tam, their award-winning triple-cream, which was followed by the final cheese of the day, the Red Hawk, the Best in Show winner at the 2003 American Cheese Society annual conference. All of the aged cheese were fabulous, especially the full-flavored Red Hawk. We added a round of the St. Pat to the shopping cart, as we figured that we could get either the Mt. Tam or Red Hawk year-round.

After completing our purchase, we packed the cheese into the cooler and took a short drive up California Highway 1 to our next destination, the Hog Island Oyster Company farm (20215 Coast Highway One, Marshall; 415-663-9218). Having visited the oyster farm last year, we were excited that we had the opportunity to make a return trip. The fun thing about the oyster farm is that you can purchase a variety of oysters, which have been fresh harvested from Tomalas Bay, and shuck them right there yourself in their picnic area. Shucking an oyster is pretty straightforward: hold the oyster with a gloved hand (gloves are provided), insert the oyster knife (also provided) between the top and bottom shells at the hinge at the back, and then run the knife around the oyster to cut through the muscle holding the shells together:

Then, twist the blade of the knife to separate the shells (carefully so that you don't lose any of the briny liquor inside), lift off the top shell, and voilà:

To be honest, it does take some practice to perfect the shucking technique. During our first visit, it took us a long time to open each oyster, but I guess that practice makes perfect, as we were able to shuck the oysters in rapid succession this time. You need to do trial-and-error to figure out the amount of force that you need in order to insert the blade - you definitely need to force it between the shells.

That afternoon, we started off our lunch with a dozen Sweetwater oysters (pictured above). We fired up a grill (several are available at the picnic area) and took turns shucking the oysters. After the charcoal was ready, we threw on some Beddar than Cheddar sausages that we picked up to accompany the oysters. The combination of cheese-laden sausages and fresh oysters, washed down with some Bordeaux that we picked up a few weeks ago, hit the spot.

After finishing off the first round of oysters, we were ready for some more. I went back, picked up a half-dozen Kumamotos and, after asking what went well on the grill, a couple of Cowboy oysters. The Cowboys were massive, easily several times larger than the Kumamotos and roughly the size of my hand. We put the Cowboys on the grill for about 10 minutes or so, shucked them, and slurped them down with the Kumamotos. For a size comparison, check out the Kumamoto sandwiched between the Cowboys:

After all of the sausages and oysters, we were pretty stuffed (especially after the Cowboys). Once we polished off the last Kumamoto, we packed up the cooler, loaded up the car, and proceeded on the drive up to our weekend destination. It was definitely a good way to start our restful and relaxing weekend getaway.