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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Magnificent, Marvelous, Magical Martini Madness @ Monroe

Duncan Reyes, host (right) poses with his Master DJ, Jason Mitchell

This was certainly neither my first rodeo nor my first Martini Madness but I have to say it was one of the best. The crazy unseasonal rainy weather in June had all of the makings for a poor attendance but it just didn't happen. A great turnout at a very cool San Francisco nightclub called Monroe just had the best of vibe possible.

So I just snapped away and I apologize if I did not capture you in my photo montage of the evening but that could easily happen again on August 2 when we return for the special birthday edition of Martini Madness at Vessel. OMG! All this carrying on and smack dab in the middle of the busy wedding season.

Full house and yet still cool for rubbing shoulders, dancing and schmooze factor

Killer flat bread pizza with asparagus topping was difficult to resist

OK, so I couldn't resist! :-)

South Bay Trooper, Andy Mark, with the Host-With-The-Most

Long time friend and colleague, Rick Bacon, flanked by his girls.

From left: Amy Frugoli, Nicole Lisanne, Stacie Tamaki and James Burkhart

Robbie Schlosser (left) with Andy "Gotcha Babe" Mark again.

Our host was all smiles as he posed here with his mentor in the hospitality industry, Ken Deutsch

In a word Monoe is Cool.

My parting shot is of Duncan and Jason playing around in the DJ booth – Too Much Fun!
Thanks again Mr. Reyes for another great evening of Madness with Martinis or whatever you choice of imbibing happened to be. We look forward to a repeat on August 2.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June Food Excursion: Palo Alto Eateries Where New Meets Old

Stacie Tamaki enjoys her very first full cup of coffee – A mocha at Calafia

As much time as I've spent in Palo Alto I normally hit all of the many great spots for socializing instead of seeking out the culinary treats. This time my foodie friend, Stacie, and I set out strictly to taste during our June food journey. My opening photo here is rare on two counts. First, Stacie is super camera shy and normally ducks whenever you point a lens at her. Secondly, she avoids coffee like she does mushrooms so I had to catch this rare instance and pose she made with her very first cup of milky Joe at our last stop, Calafia.

So backing up our day in Palo Alto started off on a seriously good note at the special LYFE Kitchen Forklifting event on Hamilton Avenue. For the full story on that cool event see my post or Stacie's story on The Flirty Guide. Our line up for the rest of the day included a large variety of eateries all over town.

Shokolaat – 516 University Avenue (Downtown near Cowper)  650-289-0719
Fuki Sushi – 4119 El Camino Real 650-494-9383 (near Charleston)
Mediterranean Wraps – 322 California Avenue  650-321-8189
Cool Cafe – Lomita Drive and Museum Way (Stanford Campus)  650-725-4758
Calafia – 855 El Camino Real (Town & Country Village)  650-322-9200

Everything about Shokolaat spells appetizing. They took over a huge space which was previously an art gallery and you walk into an inviting semi-open air lounge area before you even get to the huge inside dining area and bar. One of the reasons we started with Shokolaat is they begin each day as a patisserie with freshly made sweets during the breakfast hour. Stacie chose an Opera Cake which was super rich layers of Jaconde Sponge, Coffee and Praline Mouseline, Chocolate Ganache and Expresso Sirop. It was garnished with an edible gold leaf. It felt both extravagant and decadent to eat but was only $4.99. Shokolaat evolves as the day progresses offering full lunch, dinner and lounge options with an impressive wine vault and full bar.

Opera Cake at Shokolaat

Our next stop took us south on El Camino back towards the Palo Alto/Los Altos border to the legendary Fuki-Sushi Japanese restaurant. It claims to be the first sushi restaurant on The Peninsula and I recall going there myself over thirty years ago.

Fuki-Sushi deserves high very marks for atmosphere and ambiance. You cannot help but relax from your first step onto their patio even before entering the front door. The peaceful gardens, rich colored woodwork, art and overall decor is very traditional Japanese.

Soothing fountain and Japanese gardens welcome you to Fuki-Sushi restaurant

After being seated our server brought us their complimentary bean sprout salad. It had a very nice marinade with a little spicy kick to it. It was a tiny portion with big flavor and a great starter to get our palates warmed up.

Bean Sprout Salad

Their menu is extensive but we both had vegetable appetizers on the brain so we order a pair of them. The first one shown here was my favorite bite of our entire trip, Vegetable Tempura Roll for $8.00. It was simply tempura carrots and and green beans wrapped with avocado, nori seaweed and lettuce in a reverse sushi roll where the rice is on the outside. It was superb. Stacie explained that the subtle touch of seasoning the rice is what really adds to the flavor profile. I could make a whole meal out of these.

Simple Vegetable Tempura is deceivingly deliscious

We also ordered a Konsai Age appetizer that was a beautiful array of colors and shapes. It included Kobacha tempura, Renken lotus root, Bamboo Shoots and Gobo root. The lotus root really reminded me of the texture of jicama. I think my favorite on the whole plate were the Bamboo Shoots. They were much thicker than the canned variety you find in the Asian aisle of the stores.

Even the green Shiso Leaf was edible garnish finished in a nice tempura batter

Our next stop was my choice because it is a long time favorite spot for me whenever I am cruising Palo Alto. I seldom miss an opportunity to eat a falafel so I have tasted more than my share. Mediterranean Wraps takes falafels to the next level with their Falafel Deluxe Wrap for $6.95 by adding eggplant and crispy "steak fries" type potato wedges. They pack all this goodness into a huge burrito size bundle. It was so large that we split only one-half of it and I got to take the other half home with me. :-)

Deluxe Falafel Wrap with eggplant and potatoes

We had to do some searching for our next stop but it was so-oo worth it. I am no stranger to the name, Jesse Cool. I have been a huge fan of her popular Flea St. Cafe for years and made many trips to Menlo Park especially for brunch there. My good friend, Chef Nikki Boyles-Frias, who is the Culinary Coordinator at the Sur la Table Los Gatos has worked at many of Jesse's restaurants. Jesse's motto is "local...organic...seasonal...sustainable...ultimately delicious" which is exactly what we found to be the case at her Cool Cafe. The only challenge was actually finding the place itself. It is cleverly tucked inside the beautiful Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford University Campus. How does this stack up for a front entrance? Needless to say our anticipation and expectations were as high as the pillars.

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

The Cool Cafe is a perfect partner to the art and gift shop at this prestigious museum. It is a clean and modern decor with just enough warmth to wet your appetite. We had arrived well after the lunch hour so the crowds had dwindled. The "chalkboard" menu gives you that really homey/handmade feel.

Everything about the Cool Cafe is cool.

Another first for us was Stacie trying an Arnold Palmer drink. I was surprised when she said that it was her first ever. I am a golfer and mixing iced tea with lemonade has been an after game routine for as long as I can remember. It is an especially refreshing beverage and a great alternative when alcoholic drinks don't work at the 19th hole. This photo shows the separation between the lemonade on the bottom and iced tea on top before she mixed it. These two beverages really compliment each other's sweet and sour flavors when blended. It's named after the golfing legend who loves the combination.

Arnold Palmer The Drink

We were knocked out by the flavors in our Balsamic Beet and Goat Cheese Salad ($9.50). The organic greens were perfectly dressed and the balsamic kicked up the intensity of the beets. A generous helping of spicy walnuts brought it all together with crunch and kick. This salad was a complete entree and one of the best bites of the day.

Organic Field Greens, Balsamic Beets, Goat Cheese and Spicy Walnut Salad

Since we opted for a healthy choice in the salad we treated ourselves to dessert too. The Warm Berry Cobbler ($5.00) was a difficult choice because they had so many tempting desserts. I also had my eye on the butterscotch pudding so I will just have for next time to try it. The cobbler did not disappoint at all. The topping was incredibly light and the berries were sweet with just a slight tartness too perfectly balance it all. This dessert would make me happy anytime and it didn't even need any whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche on top at all.

Cool Cafe Cobbler Comfort

Our final stop on the Palo Alto Food Excursion was Stacie's choice called Calafia in the Town and Country Village Shopping Center. The shopping center itself is really old school and one of the few like it still in existence. Calafia, however, is a hip new eatery concept and the brain child of owner and Chef Charlie Ayers. Chef Ayers is most widely known as the former executive chef for Google, Inc. His culinary point of view is "fine food for the fast crowd" and he brings that vision into Calafia. Stacie has not stopped talking about their Burrata and Potato Pizza ($13.00) she had there recently so I knew it was time to try it. I love fresh mozzella anything so I was what we call a "friendly crowd" in the entertainment business. My first photo is an aerial shot as I was about to dive in.

And then I just had to zoom in so you can see all the layers of creamy cheese, perfectly roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and thin slices of Zucchini. Oh My Goodness! This pie is heavenly.

Calafia won me over very early when I saw a menu with equal parts carnivore and vegetarian. One whole side of their menu is called "Vegetable Menu" and the other side is called "Meat Eaters Menu." Sheer brilliance on Charlie's part and a refreshing more-than-just-a-nod to vegetarians. At a place so veggie friendly I could not resist trying the Vegetable Soy Lentil Burger ($13.00). The patty itself was made of veggies, tofu, lentils, brown rice, quinoa and spices. The absolute highlight for me was the citrus beet relish and it was finished off with smashed avocado. I opted for the side salad. It was delicious although I might have preferred it open faced as the multi-grain bun was a bit thick to eat both the top and bottom.

Vegetable Soy Lentil Quinoa Burger with pickles and side salad

I could not resist showing you this cut away shot of the colorful stack.

This wide room shot shows one very impressive open kitchen. The vibe here is quick service for the fast crowd but at the same time it is so inviting that you yearn to hang out if you've got the time.

Chef Ayers is covering one more very important base during these times of face paced lifestyles with his Market A•Go•Go. Adjacent to the restaurant this market features an organic salad bar and a host of grab-n-go times like sushi, wraps, sandwiches, salads and drinks. Made-to-order items, custom party platters and pre-cooked meals completely round out the take out menu. It really is great food and one-stop shopping for busy foodies or just food lovers alike.

Market A•Go•Go means quality on the run for hungry but busy Palo Altans

There is something for everyone on the Palo Alto food scene. I especially enjoyed how new and old seem to thrive side-by-side. There are many distinct neighborhoods here with their own identities and eateries so we will return for more. To see Stacie Tamaki's version of our Palo Alto food experience click here.

More Food Adventures:

January - The Eats of San Francisco:
February - A Tasty Tour of Santa Cruz
March - The Cowgirl Creamery
April - Confessions of a Sushi Virgin
May - Best of the East Bay
June - Palo Alto Eateries
July - Cheap Eats & Secret Menus

Sunday, June 19, 2011

LYFE Kitchen: Finally Fast Food For Flavor and Fitness

Chances are you haven't seen this logo but odds are it will soon become very familiar. L.Y.F.E. is an acronym that stands for Love Your Food Everyday. It is a brand new quick service restaurant (QSR) concept coming to fruition quickly with some very formidable culinary and food industry experts behind it.

Healthy food and big flavors are not normally synonymous but LYFE Kitchen rallied two of the biggest names in both fields to create their tasty menus that are not only healthy but organic and primarily from local sources. My first photo is of the dynamic team of celebrated chefs, Tal Ronnen and Art Smith. This team packs a serious one/two punch with Chef Ronnen creating the vegan/vegetarian dishes and Chef Smith making sure the heartiest meat eaters will also be satisfied.

Chefs Ronnen and Smith pose playfully and cook up a storm for us.

Chef Art Smith has been called "America's Family Table Chef" because he is known for his southern style comfort food. He has been a personal chef for Oprah. His cookbooks, television appearances and philanthropy have lead to two James Beard Awards. He owns Table Fifty-Two restaurant in Chicago which is a favorite of President Obama as well as Art and Soul restaurant in Washington D.C. However, Chef Art Smith knows all too well the importance of diet and exercise as he struggled with diabetes himself. His personal wake up call at 50 years old lead to a fitness regimen that resulted in his weight loss of nearly 100 pounds. Chef Smith is also a ardent supporter of the less fortunate communities and founded his Common Threads organization in 2003 to teach low income children the value of nutrition. His combination of experience, celebrity and integrity are unmatched for the person leading the LYFE Kitchen project as Executive Chef.

Here Chef Smith is dusting a boneless, skinless chicken breast with Panko bread crumbs. This technique is one of several tricks to get more fried chicken flavor without the fat and calories.

Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts get a dusting of Panko bread crumbs by Art

Chef Smith's dish was finished off beautifully with roasted brussel sprouts, butternut squash,  some cranberries and a mustard sauce.

Chicken Breast with Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Butternut Squash and Cranberries

LYFE Kitchen's founders were genius to also bring on board Chef Tal Ronnen as consulting chef. Chef Ronnen is the rock star of the vegan and vegetarian culinary world. His credentials and story of rising to the top of his field just resonate. Here is just a sampling from his own website:

Chef Tal Ronnen is one of the most celebrated vegan chefs working today. In the spring of 2008, he became known nationwide as the chef who prepared vegan meals for Oprah Winfrey's 21-day vegan cleanse. He has since catapulted to fame, catering Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi's vegan wedding, Arianna Huffington's party at the Democratic National Convention, and the first vegan dinner at the U.S. Senate. A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, Chef Tal has worked at the top vegan restaurants in the United States, including Sublime in Fort Lauderdale, Madeleine Bistro in Los Angeles, and Candle 79 in New York City. He also assisted Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders in opening her restaurant, VegiTerranean in Akron, Ohio, in 2007.

While we watched with amazement Tal worked side-by-side with Art Smith and prepared a faux meat dish. I am very excited about tasting Tal's contributions to the LYFE menu. In this carnivorous world where meat normally takes center stage on the plate the vegetarian options are often just a nod by restaurants.  The folks at LYFE Kitchen plan to buck that trend and in a very tasty way.

 Tal completes his "beef-less" tips and vegetable stir fry in a ginger sauce

Although brown rice could be used Tal served his dish over a combination of farro and quinoa grains. These super food grains have had limited exposure mostly in the bulk food isles of health food stores but LYFE Kitchen is about to change that by bringing them into a mainstream restaurant menu as viable choices over more typical starches like potatoes.

I've sung the praises of the LYFE Kitchen culinary team. The other part of the formula which adds up to certain success is their A-List management group. Pictured here are several of the key players performing their very first "forklifting" on the sidewalk in front of their flagship store at 167 Hamilton Avenue in Palo Alto.

From the left are: Chef Tal Ronnen, Registered Dietician Karen Knoblaugh, LYFE Kitchen Founder Stephen Sidwell, CEO Mike Roberts, National Mom Advisory Panelist Olympic Swimmer Janet Evans, Dr. Anthony Cardillo , Dr. Armand Dorian and Chef Art Smith.

The Executive Team Line Up at LYFE is heavily loaded with talent and experience.

Mike Roberts, CEO – Former President and COO for McDonald's Corporation
Stephen Sidwell, Founder – CEO of Devante Capital
Mike Donahue, CCO – Former CCO and External Relations Officer for McDonald's Corporation
Matt Yahes, VP of Strategy and Execution, Restaurants
Todd Buchanan, VP Planning and Execution
Adrienne Weiss, Brand Strategist Consultant

What surprises and excites me the most is the part of their mission statement to emphasize local food sources. Although it has become a bit of a cliche at the high end restaurants nobody in the mainstream QSR world is dedicating themselves to local sourcing like LYFE. One such supplier of organic local produce we met was David Tuttle of Jacob Farms whose packaged herb products have been a staple in the produce drawers of my refrigerator for years.

David offered samples of produce, herbs and edible flowers from Jacob Farms

My parting shot is of a colorful bouquet of baby bell peppers that brightened this happy event. This whole LYFE Kitchen project just feels right. The time has come for affordable, healthy, food from responsibly sourced ingredients to be tasty and accessible to the masses. If anyone can pull this off, it is the people behind LYFE Kitchen. They also have big plans to bring their brand into supermarkets. They will expand to a neighborhood near you where you can love your food everyday and I cannot wait to see that happen. Their debut in Palo Alto, California is set for this August. The future for LYFE is as bright as this bouquet of baby bells!

Accompanying me on this fantastic Forklifting event was my fellow foodie friend, Stacie Tamaki.  To see her post of the festivities on The Flirty Blog just click here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Concert Review: Simon & Garfunkel Tribute Show

From the home page on their Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel site.

Right up front I will admit to not normally warming up to tribute shows. Although I admire the talent I generally opt for the original whenever possible. So what got me to drive all the way to Slim's in San Francisco on Sunday night for a tribute act? Well, a coupon offer of two tickets for the price of one did not hurt and being a huge fan of Simon and Garfunkel really made it a no-brainer.

What actually tipped the scale for me could do the same for you. I went to their website and simply clicked on the trailer tab. It's a collage of photos and audio clips that instantly dropped my jaw. I am a self-proclaimed junkie for anything Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel did together. I know every note and nuance of every song that Simon and Garfunkel ever released. It would take something special for me to appreciate someone other than Paul and Art performing their songs. And that something is A.J. Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle from Bethleham, Pennsylvania.

With just a quiet stage, only one acoustic guitar and two beautiful voices in harmony they recreate the magic of Simon and Garfunkel from their early years in Greenwich Village through their final project, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

We were treated to the following set of big hits and great obscure album tracks:

We've Got A Groovy Thing Goin'
Blues Run The Game
The Sound of Silence
A Hazy Shade of Winter
The Dangling Conversation
Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall
Homeward Bound
At The Zoo
Mrs. Robinson
Richard Cory
Bridge Over Troubled Water
A Poem On An Underground Wall
Fakin' It
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
Scarborough Fair/Canticle
The Only Living Boy In New York
Old Friends/Bookends Theme
Red Rubber Ball
Punky's Dilemma
April Come She Will
I Am A Rock
The Boxer

A.J. and Jonathan are remarkable. Their passion for recreating Simon and Garfunkel shines through on every song. Even the later Simon and Garfunkel recordings with more complex production by Roy Halee have a stunning simplicity to them in this acoustic tribute. Great back stories and side bars kept the audience completely engaged in the fitting coffee house atmosphere of Slim's.

I highly recommend this show but you have to move quickly as A.J. Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle's tour zigzags across the country this summer. You can be sure the venues will be intimate settings where you will be up close and personal with the next best thing to Simon and Garfunkel themselves.