Holiday Gift Ideas for Foodies

Aside from the classic gift card to any number of amazing Bay Area restaurants for the foodie on your list, here are a list of great local(ish) places from which to procure yummy holiday treats for all the stockings you’re preparing to stuff.

~~STOCKING STUFFERS (SMALLER GIFTS)~~

TCHO Chocolate

Touting themselves as “The New America Chocolate“, this locally made and conscientiously sourced chocolate is a delicious treat anytime. For the holidays, they have a few great gift options that are as cute as they are yummy.

Lai "Ornaments" Holiday Chocolate Gifts - Starting at $6.95

Lai “Ornaments” Holiday Chocolate Gifts – Starting at $6.95

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News: Michelin San Francisco Bay Area 2015

Michelin has recently released their annual listing for star rated restaurants in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, and once again my mouth waters with desire. The only place I’ve been on the SF list is State Bird Provisions, though I’ve certainly perused many of the other winners’ websites longingly in the past.

Deliciousness from State Bird Provisions

Deliciousness from State Bird Provisions

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Review: Sir and Star — Olema

Last weekend we took a trip up the coast for a short weekend getaway to Point Reyes where we stayed in nearby Olema and enjoyed some great food. We made a reservation for a Saturday night dinner at Sir and Star, which my bf heard about a while back on SF Gate. If Michael Bauer thinks it’s good, I usually do too.

A very nice man at Sir and Star

A very nice man at Sir and Star

The Saturday menu is a prix fixe for $75 per person (not including drinks). The theme of the food is “hyper-local” with nearly the entire menu procured from the surrounding area in Marin. The restaurant itself dates back to the 1800s and is decorated accordingly as a sort of upscale lodge with old, creaky hardwood floors, high ceilings with intricate crown molding, candelabra, and a myriad of taxidermy birds displayed on the walls.

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Review: Hog Island Oyster Co. — Marshall, CA

This weekend we took a trip up to Point Reyes for some hiking, some eating, and some general out-of-the-city time. It was awesome. The weather was mostly beautiful (save the extreme wind conditions on half our Saturday hike), and some of the food was spectacular. I’ll do another post for our experience at Sir and Star, but wanted to quickly recap the fun stop we made at Hog Island Oyster Co. on our way out.

oyster

Having been to the Hog Island in the Ferry Building in SF a number of times (omg, try the clam chowder; it’s out of this world), I was keen to see what their home base was like. Directly bordering the east side of Tomales bay on Highway 1 is a tiny town called Marshall which houses a number of oyster farms and retailers. Oysters are the “thing” on this stretch of land, as they are harvested right there in the shallow waters of Tomales Bay. And while I’ve never been an oyster person, I wanted to see what it was about.

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Services: Full Circle — Organic Produce Delivery

Oh! I just happened to see that Full Circle is having a LivingSocial deal right now and thought I’d take the opportunity to recommend them highly! Full Circle was kind enough to give me a six month subscription for free a while back, which was totally amazing. I hadn’t really done the CSA box thing (though Full Circle is apparently not a true CSA, which is ok), and Full Circle was an amazing introduction.

If you’re thinking about getting weekly fresh, organic produce delivery and you live in the delivery areas around the SF Bay, try them out. And buy their LivingSocial deal to get a discount!

full circle

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Nothing Bundt Cakes

Nothing Bundt Cakes stopped by my office a few weeks ago and gave us a free cake. A FREE CAKE. Let me tell you the tale.

A woman walked in with a cake in a box. She explained that someone on our floor had ordered some cakes. They had made one extra to give to someone else to try their cake. We were the randomly chosen winner of said cake. FREE CAKE.

I didn't manage to take a picture of the actual cake we received. But these beautiful cake photos are from their website http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com. I assume they don't mind me using them.

I didn’t manage to take a picture of the actual cake we received. But these beautiful cake photos are from their website http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com. I assume they don’t mind me using them.

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Celadon

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value:3/5
Times Visited: Once  ♦   Will I Return?:  If we’re in the area
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CeladonA few weeks ago when we were in Napa for a weekend, we had to make a choice: where to have dinner on our single night in the area. This was a daunting choice for a foodie such as myself — I really hate it when you are in a foreign land (of any degree) and you have one chance to choose an awesome place to eat. And you choose somewhere crappy and you’re sad about it. Granted, this can often not be avoided, but I like to hope for the best in my proverbial dice roll.

K and I wandered the Napa promenade on this brisk (read: freezing) February evening, peering in windows and reading displayed menus. We were evaluating a number of restaurants up and down the main drag for suitability (with the help of Yelp on my phone) when we stumbled upon Celadon. It looked promising. Modern decor in a converted warehouse-type setting, tucked away behind a hotel just off the riverbank. We decided.

Celadon Inside

"Industrial" interior area of Celadon

We underestimated how crowded it was. We had to sit at the bar lest we be subjected to a heinous wait. Which is better than a heinous weight, mind you. We took our opportunity and got cozy at the bar as all the pacing back and forth looking for the “perfect” restaurant had pushed our mealtime late into the evening.

While the room from which we entered was a converted warehouse-type area with concrete floors, exposed, wood-framed roof and a somewhat stark, open interior, the back area is warmly lit, filled with cozy booths, and trimmed in light wood fixtures and furniture. It was an unexpected contrast, but both areas were nice.

Celadon Bar

Celadon Bar

At the bar we ordered a couple fancy schmancy drinks that we ordinarily would have passed on to avoid the extra ding on our bill. But we were on vacation and my aunt had generously donated a few bucks to our culinary efforts, so we splurged.

Drinks

Fancy Schmancy Drinks

The menu was modern “American” fare with hints of Mediterranean and Asian flavors, and lots of things looked really good. The items we ordered were fabulous. See for yourself:

Calamari

Holy guacamole, this was the best calamari ever.

One of their specialties is “flash fried calamari with a spicy chipotle chili glaze and pickled ginger” which, whatever you may think of that description, was amazing. Tender calamari fried in a heavenly, flavorful batter and lightly covered in a shimmery coat of sauce that was a bit sweet and completely delicious, but didn’t take away from the crispiness of the dish. It was positively addicting.

Polenta Tower

Stacked tower of alternating polenta and veggies topped with cheese and drizzled with balsamic glaze. Mmmmm.

A vegetarian main that they offer is “grilled polenta napoleon with garden vegetables, fresh mozzarella and balsamic glaze”, which really did not indicate that the meal would look like the stacked tower of yummies pictured. The veggies were well grilled and soft while the polenta went with them perfectly. There was just enough drizzled balsamic sauce to make your mouth water but not overwhelm.

Everything was fabulous and I was so happy that we found a fab vacation restaurant!

Celadon on Urbanspoon

Olive Oil Tasting in Napa

When you think Napa, you probably think wine tasting and grape vines, right? I supposed that’s why most people visit the region, but it’s not why K and I trotted up to the tip top of the Bay last weekend. We went olive oil tasting.

Our pre-trip research found three spots where olive oil tasting is available near Napa. Figone’s in Kenwood, B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company in Glen Ellen, and The Olive Press in Sonoma.

B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company

B.R. Cohn is mainly a winery that dabbles in Olive Oil making. They source most of their olives from growers around the state and then actually hire out Figone’s facilities to process the oil. Their tasting area was modest, though their estate was beautiful. The wine tasting facility was booming and seems to be their main draw.

Olive Oil Tasting

The tasting area at B.R. Cohn's Estate.

The Olive Press

The Olive Press is located at the Jacuzzi Family Winery and is a bit more serious about their oil as they process all their olives themselves and create their own varieties of oil and balsamic vinegars (these two seem to go hand in hand — all three places had olive oil and balsamic vinegar). This place is also mainly a winery, with the main building (a beautiful stone-clad castle-like structure) split between the wine area and the olive oil area (the shops are not related and you can’t buy stuff from one shop in the other, though that seems strange).

The olive oil tasting is located in their gift shop and was extremely crowded when we were there. The oils come in many flavors and there were also a wide variety of olives from which the oils were made. One unique item this place had was smoked olive oil — it really tasted like barbecued oil. It was quite good.

The Olive Press Tasting Room

The Olive Press tasting room slash gift shop.

Figone’s

Ah, Figone’s. I’ve saved the best for last. If you want to go olive oil tasting and you don’t feel like bumbling about to different places, this is where you should go. Heck, if you’re just in the area for the wine or even just passing through, you should still go to Figone’s. This place is the real deal and I am so excited to find my new olive oil and balsamic vinegar source.

Figone's

Figone's Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar tasting area. And Frank in the background, hi Frank!

Figone’s is exclusively an olive oil and balsamic vinegar facility. Their tasting room is modest in size, but is dedicated solely to oil and vinegar (none of this pesky wine). It’s very boutique-ish and will be opening up a viewing area later this year where guests can see the oil being made right in the shop. Here are some of the reasons why Figone’s is the best:

  • Figone’s farms all its own olives on 260 acres throughout California.
  • Figone’s processes all its own olives in its facility just behind the tasting room in Kenwood.
  • Figone’s processing is all organic and is certified as such and the olives themselves are all grown organically (though they are not certified).
  • Figone’s has been around for 25 years perfecting their product and creating new and inventive infused oils.
  • Figone’s has over a dozen flavors of olive oil and about half as many balsamics to choose from.
  • Figone’s products are only sold at the tasting room in Kenwood or through mail order (or via the mail order club). No grocery stores, no farmer’s markets; they don’t even advertise. Their clientele can’t help but keep coming back for more.
  • If you visit the Figone’s tasting room, you may in fact be greeted by Frank Figone himself, as we were, who can tell you pretty much anything you’d like to know about every single one of his products. Awesome. Thanks Frank.

    Figone's Tasting Room

    Figone's Tasting Room -- don't judge a book by its cover, go there!

Of course, none of this would really make a darn bit of difference if their oil and vinegar didn’t knock my socks when I tried it. But holy moo, THAT is what olive oil and balsamic vinegar are supposed to taste like. To save hours of typing about each flavor, I will cut to my favorites:

Oil: Tuscan Herb is a mix of infused herbs in pure olive oil that tastes like a five-star restaurant in your mouth. This is not cooking oil (none of Figone’s oils are meant for high heat), but rather a garnish or flavor enhancer. Drizzled over some grilled fish or veggies, this oil would make any meal’s cook into an instant chef.

Vinegar: Plain old 20 year traditional balsamic was my favorite. It is sweet and viscous and I could literally drink it like water. It puts grocery store balsamic to shame. It’s $28 per bottle and I’m never going back to the other stuff.

This is not even to mention the strawberry vinegar, orange olive oil, cinnamon-pear balsamic or truffle infused oil (their most expensive item — $40 for 100mL — it was also SOOO good) and the dozen of other world class products that Frank makes. Seriously, there’s not much else I can say besides try it or buy it. Yeay for Figone’s!!

A Scrumptious Weekend in Marin

For Mother’s Day this year, broccoli and chocolate took a voyage with mom to Point Reyes in Marin County.  Though only about an hour and a half away from the East Bay, the Marin coast is as rural and beautiful as just about anywhere in the world.  We had a fabulous time and mom was glowing.  But, back to the point—we had some excellent food that B&C needs to know about.

First Stop: Marin French Cheese

Forget Google when you want good cheese—she will only mislead you when you get directions to Marin French Cheese Company.  Using the directions on the website, find this lone establishment in the rolling greenery of Marin County.  Established in 1865, this place has some serious history.  It’s still going strong though, even though it’s surely out in the middle of nowhere-ville, USA.  The drive over is beautiful, the grounds are welcoming and have picnic areas around a small lake, and let’s not forget the cheese, which is delish!  If you show up at the right time, you can even see a tour of their cheese making facilities or have a look around their art gallery.  A great stop if you’re having a lazy weekend in the country.

Marin French Cheese

Cheese, wine, and the great outdoors at Marin French Cheese.

Second Stop: Nick’s Cove

Highway 1 is dotted with small shanty restaurants all up the Marin Coast (and probably the entire west coast), and Nick’s Cove is one of these seemingly run-down landmarks.  On the outside Nick’s looks like a standard wood framed, one story shack that may have come straight from the early 1900’s, but the inside is something quite different.  While certainly not uber-fancy, it’s a step above what you might expect from a wind-blown fishing area.  The valet parking is mandatory and complimentary, so don’t freak out and drive right by like we did.  Just let the friendly gentleman take your car away; Cal Trans has required Nick’s to do this, probably to keep customers from having to walk across the highway.

Nick's Cove

Fresh seafood and delicious salads at quirky yet tasteful Nick's Cove.

Situated right on Tomales Bay, Nick’s offers gorgeous views along with it’s upscale, albeit somewhat limited, menu.  We were there for dinner and were offered a variety of oysters, about a dozen starters including salads, soups, and shellfish, and a handful of main dishes.  The mains were mostly surf and turf and you can tell by the wording that it’s not cheap.  That said, it’s not outrageous either and, judging from what we had, it’s worth the money.  We only had appetizers and drinks but everything was really top notch in quality and taste.  The shrimp Louis was fresh and perfect, the grilled hearts of romaine were like a Caesar salad with a twang and were excellent, and the oysters were…oysters.  If you like oysters, I’m sure these were top notch, and they came with sauces that can make them tolerable even to the rest of us. The waiters knew everything about the menu by heart and without hesitation and the bustling staff refilled waters and sodas and removed empty plates with lightning speed.

Along with masses of old gas pumps, anchors, and other fishing equipment scattered around the place in a way that gives it character rather than lawsuits, they also have a dock behind the restaurant that goes out onto the bay and ends at a small shack.  This shack has a couple tables and a few chairs and accommodates probably no more than 10 people.  But if you make it to the shack in time to grab a seat, you can order from the restaurant via a provided phone and they’ll bring you food while you enjoy the rustic nautical decorations (or stored items?) and scenery from your own private cottage. On warmer nights (if that happens in Marin), there is outdoor seating on the dock as well with a large fireplace.  What fun!

Nick's Cove Dock

The dock at Nick's Cove with the surprise cottage at the end.

Third Stop: Farm House Restaurant at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

Since we stayed at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge on this trip, we also decided to patronize their restaurant—The Farm House—for our Mother’s Day lunch.  The website listed a Mother’s Day menu that looked good, but we were very surprised to find that that menu was just the specials list, offered in addition to their standard lunch menu which is huge!  The selection of food here is immense—almost too large—and includes a large variety of oysters, starters, soups and salads, and entrees, which are again mostly surf and turf but often in sandwich form for the lunch menu.  The specials list was almost white noise against all the other food on the menu; none of us ordered from it that day.

The food we ordered took a while to arrive, but was really delicious.  At our table were two grilled crab and cheese sandwiches (slight modification from the menu to include melted cheese), fish and chips, and a blackened rockfish sandwich.  Everything came with hand cut fries, or you can substitute their delicious and sweet onion strings.  Mom also received a complimentary glass of sparkling wine just for being  a (good*) mom. Overall, the food was satisfying and tasty and was pretty reasonably priced for a nice Mother’s Day lunch.  I think the Farm House is doing good business and makes a great addition to what the Seashore Lodge offers to patrons.

Farm House Restaurant Collage

The front of the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge and adjacent Farm House Restaurant (at the far end), along with three of our delicious Mother's Day dishes.

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Overall, we had a great and tasty weekend, and were even graced with mostly beautiful weather.  It rained a bit on Sunday morning, but it didn’t hinder our beach walk or our trip out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.  Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

*They did not verify that she was a good mom, but she is, so I’ll say that’s why she got it.