Paris EATS Part Two

Two of the best meals I ate in Paris were at the same restaurant!  It’s called Oenosteria – they don’t have a website – the address is 40 Rue Gregoire de Tours in the 6th arrondissement.  It just happened to be a couple doors down from Hotel de Fleurie where I was staying.  I went in there the night we ate at Astrance for lunch – and since the lunch was a multi-course feast I wanted something light and was very happy to have a simple plate of Italian meats and cheeses. It was just what I wanted!IMG_4617

There I met Marco and Silveria who were behind the counter –  they were fabulous and I loved getting to speak Italian in Paris!   The next night, because I had loved Oenosteria so much I decided to go back and eat something else.  This time the counter was full so I sat at a small table and had the special pasta of the day – Ravioli with a Gorgonzola sauce.  It was so delicious and rich and decadent!  I met a group of guys – Mierko, Danilo, Federico and Michael who work for Etro, an Italian apparel company.  They were really fun and we had a great time talking about food and fashion in Milan and Paris.

I enjoyed Oenesteria so much, the next night I decided to take a chance on another Italian restaurant in the area and found one that was packed called Del Papa.  I looked online and saw that it’s a chain which raised a red flag but it was so crowded I thought maybe it was so great they kept creating more places…wrong.  The fish appetizer was awful, I tried to leave but the waiter said he had already put in the entree order.  I replied that I hoped it was better than the appetizer… When a massive plate of mediocre pasta arrived at the table it was evident that Italians are not running the kitchen.  I’m sure there is great Italian food to be found in Paris but this chain is not in that group –  steer clear!

My last full day in Paris I went to the Paris flea market called the Marche aux Puces which is located in the outskirts of Paris.  It’s a great place to spend a day wandering amongst all the shops. Open Saturday and Sunday – some shops are also open on Monday.  There’s many groups of shops but my favorite is Le Marche Vernaison which starts at 99 Rue des Rosiers. There’s over 200 shops to browse through and you can get some great deals!  Highly recommend!  I went to another antique shop with vintage French ceramics called Au Bain Marie in the heart of the 6th arrondissement but it was Much more expensive than the Marche aux Puces. At mid-day I wandered down the street and found a place I’d read about called Le Bistrot Paul Bert. They don’t have an official website but the address is 18 Rue Paul Bert.  I had escargot and the pate de maison. I highly recommend this restaurant!  It was so good that after shopping I went back for dinner!

Next up – I just returned from Jazz Fest in New Orleans and I’m going to share with you some great places to eat in the Big Easy…


Paris EATS – Spring 2015

Parisians were still bundled up in their coats and scarves when I was there for 5 days of cooking classes a couple weeks ago but Spring was definitely in the air!  Forget jet lag – as soon as I got there I unpacked – or tried to in my tiny (but well priced!) room, and went exploring.  I stayed at the Hotel de Fleurie in the 6th arrondissement (St. Germain des Pres) and though my room was indeed small I came to love the location right in the heart of one of the best parts of Paris for great shops and restaurants.  I got this room for a great price on one of their promotions.  Tip – when making reservations online at a hotel check to see if they have any promotions going while you’re going to be there. I had to pay in advance and couldn’t cancel but it worked out well for me.

They told me the hotel served a delicious breakfast – for an additional cost of course –  and if I wanted to see the croissants (of course I did!) I could check out the place they got their pastries from which was right around the corner.  What an incredible pastry shop!  It’s Gerard-Mulot and it was the perfect gastronomic start to my trip!  I got a couple small quiche tarts and the very sweet guy at the counter warmed them up for me – Delicious!  Then I was looking at getting an eclair  – they looked fabulous – but a group of Italian high school students on a field trip to Paris (lucky them!) stood by me and I started talking to them (my Italian thankfully was not too rusty) and that was so fun and interesting I forgot all about the eclair – till a few days later!

I walked around and went to the Bonnard exhibit at the Musee D’Orsay (highly recommend!) and finally ended up on the Isle Saint-Louis looking for a restaurant called Nos Ancestres les Gaulois I’d been to years ago that I’d loved the ambiance of.  Believe it or not I found it –  but it wasn’t yet open so I decided to check out a brasserie I saw in my guide book called La Brasserie de L’Isle Saint-Louis.  Well I think it was jet lag or maybe I just ordered the wrong thing – at least I hope so – I ordered an onion tart appetizer and took one bite and it was awful!  Second bite was even worse.  Thankfully I hadn’t ordered anything else.    Uh oh – time to go –  I wasn’t going to eat a bad meal for my first dinner in Paris!  I asked for the check and the waiter couldn’t believe I was leaving but c’est la vie!  I decided to give the guide book one more try and ended up at a fabulous restaurant called Mon Vieil Ami.  As soon as I ordered a glass of wine and settled in I was SO happy I left the other place even though it was a bit uncomfortable to get up and walk out after only 15 minutes.  Tip – if you don’t like the food you get served – pay the bill, get out and cut your losses by not eating anything else there!

Next day was the first of the five days of classes with Patricia Wells at her kitchen/studio.  Had a great first day but I was so tired after class, I went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for a couple hours.  After deciding I couldn’t spend my few evenings in Paris sleeping I got out and walked to the famous Brasserie Balzar where I had dined as a student at the Sorbonne many years ago.  That place never changes which I guess is a good thing as you always know what you’re getting there – pretty good food and a bit of an attitude by the waiters  – but that’s fine.  I was craving escargot and some pate de maison so that wish got satisfied!

After class the next day I again went back to the hotel not sure whether to go out or not as it was raining.  At about 9 I couldn’t stand being in the room any longer and got in a cab and went to Willi’s Wine Bar which has been open forever (1980 I read) and is famous for their art posters. I’d loved it when I was last there and this time it did not disappoint!  The lamb daube I had was outstanding as was the hazelnut mousse dessert – Superbe!

The next day the cooking class went to Astrance for lunch.  Wow what a treat!  Dishes so inspiring you can barely describe them.  Suffice to say the food is so fabulous they don’t even need to be open on the weekends!  And if you’re there Monday don’t bother – closed then too.  So just Tues through Friday – that’s it.  Cost is sky high but for a meal that quite possibly will never be forgotten I think it’s worth it if you can afford one splurge…I’d say skip buying clothes and jewelry in Paris and go to Astrance instead!

We visited the famous bread and pastry shop Poilane as a group and saw their underground wood burning ovens where they cook all the bread and pastries for the store.  Amazing how much they put out with those ovens!  Highly recommend a visit there.

Next up – more great restaurants (and my worst meal in Paris!) and some Paris shopping tips!




Valentines Day – Sweet treats to share with your honey

There are some food items that I consider “Food of the Gods”(FOTG). I’m not even sure how it started but I have a list going in my head of foods that I consider in that category. Foods that rise to the level of deliciousness on their own that they need no accompaniment but can be even better in combination with something else.
So in honor of Valentines Day I want to share some of those foods. Honey and dates and almonds are foods that I think of as FOTG. And here’s a delicious and easy recipe that combines all three. Best of all it can be served either as an appetizer or dessert! Just take some dates and split them in half and take out the pit. Separate them so you have two pieces per date. Fill each cavity with cream cheese or goat cheese and make a little mound then press a raw unsalted almond into the cheese and drizzle honey over the top. You won’t believe till you taste it how rich and wonderful a combo this is! Now you just need something comfortable to lay back on while you feed your honey some honey with these fabulous little bites of heaven…
Other foods that I think of as FOTG are avocado and bread. The next recipe I learned from a friend after a late arrival in London many years ago and it was served as a midnight supper. I loved it so much I’ve been making it ever since. It’s basically an open face sandwich and they’re so easy to make. In this case I use dark rye bread and cut each piece of bread so I have 3 triangles. If I want to get fancy I cut off the crust, otherwise I don’t.
Then I spread a little sour cream or cream cheese over the bread and lay over that a piece of smoked salmon. On top of that goes sliced avocado and just before eating it I squeeze lemon over the top and add a bit of salt. Again – you won’t believe how good it is till you try it! Sometimes I serve this with caviar and all the trimmings or a luscious piece of Cambazola cheese and crackers. Olives, nuts and Champagne or wine (more FOTG), an aperitif or fun cocktail complete this light repast that leaves you feeling deliciously ready for all the OTHER things you want to do on Valentines Day!
The photo above is of the shortbread cookies that I made in honor of V-Day. The recipe for the cookies is on my holiday cookie blog. They also make a great V-Day dessert – especially chocolate dipped!


Strata – yummy comfort food and great use of day old bread!

The other day I wanted to make something delicious and different for my son.  As I started leafing through the  binders of all the recipes from the classes I took the last four years, I found one from Tante Marie’s Cooking School (now unfortunately closed).  It just so happened that I had all the ingredients for it, and it’s called a Strata.  It’s easy, delicious and can be made from leftovers.  What could be better!  See the picture on my Instagram page.  Here’s the recipe for a medium soufflé dish:

About 6 thick slices good 1-2 day old bread like an italian country style bread with the crusts cut off. I cut mine in slices on the third day and put it in a plastic bag in the fridge so I always have leftover bread.

About 2 -3 cups leftover meat or veggie mixture – I happened to have about 2 cups Joe Special leftovers in the fridge. I used them cold out of the fridge. You can make it fresh using 3/4 lb. ground beef or bulk country, breakfast or italian sausage, 1 cup sliced mushrooms and 1/4 c. finely chopped onions. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage for about 5 min. then add the onions and mushrooms and continue to cook for 5 min. stirring frequently then set aside. For the vegetable mixture just use leftover veggies or sauté a few cups of any combo you think would be tasty.

3/4 cup grated Gruyere or Cheddar cheese. I used Gruyere and it worked well with the Joe Special mix.

2 large eggs, lightly beaten in a bowl and then add 1 cup milk and mix until combined.

Butter the soufflé dish.  Place in the bottom a layer of the bread.  My soufflé dish used two slices.  Top with half of the meat mixture and sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese.  Repeat with another layer of bread, the other half of the meat mixture, and another 1/3 of the cheese.  Cover with a third layer of bread.  Slowly pour the milk and egg mixture over the top and sprinkle with the last of the grated cheese.  Let the Strata stand for at least an hour or cover and chill for up to 24 hours.  Set the casserole on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven and bake the strata until the top is nicely browned and bubbly, about 1 hour.  Serving size is 2-4.

Recipe adapted from Tante Marie who adapted it from the Joy of Cooking.







Good Eats in North Beach and Chinatown

A few days ago I did a culinary tour with some good friends from high school and it was so much fun!  We started off in Chinatown at the Good Mong Kok Bakery on Stockton for a steamed pork bun.  They’re the best I’ve ever had!  Then after checking out at the fabulous veggie stalls it was on to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Co. on Ross Alley.  I swear I’ll never eat another fortune cookie if it’s not from GG.  They also make sesame and almond cookies that are the best!  It’s a kick to see them making the cookies right in front of you.  But if you want a pic it’ll cost you 50 cents!

After we went to Giordano Bros. on Columbus for a sandwich I’ve never seen anywhere else.  They grill the meat you want and then add cole slaw and french fries to the sandwich.  Sounds strange but it’s fantastic! Since we were grazing we split one sandwich between the four of us plus a beer which goes perfect with the sandwich!  Everyone wanted some pasta so we headed to the venerable U.S. Restaurant on Columbus and split a couple plates.  Definitely old time North Beach.  We had the pappardelle special of the day and some spaghetti.  Both were delicious!

Along the way we stopped at Molinari for Pastina pasta (for soup) which is hard to find.  And I wanted to buy Baci Perugina to make the incredible Baci brownies I learned to make from friend and fabulous chef, Viola Buitoni.  But it was SO crowded we decided to skip it. They need more help on Sundays!  Then we went to Stella Pastry for pastries to take home and of course some cannoli to eat there.  They’re best when they’re just made as the shell gets soft after an hour or so.  They’re amazing, and they’re also famous for their light and airy Sacripantina cakes as well!

Next I had to take them to Golden Boy Pizza on Green St., for me the best deep dish pizza in North Beach and my go to take out pizza. It’s funky, there’s only a counter to sit at and the music is really loud, but the pizza more than makes up for the lack of ambiance!  We got some to go then we headed down Columbus towards the Bay and I showed them a new place to buy and eat fresh pasta called The Italian Homemade Co.  I got some tortellini to go and cooked it at home and served it with a very simple sauce of butter and Reggiano Parmesan cheese because the tortellini are SO spectacular I didn’t want to mask them under a heavy sauce!  See the pic here on the blog…

We ended the day at XOX Truffles. A sign in the window says it’s been voted one of the 10 best artisan chocolatiers in the country. I believe it!  As we sat outside drinking a cafe macchiato which comes with a free truffle of your choice,  we talked about how lucky we are to live near the City by the Bay… Hallelujah!



Holiday Cookies

One of the best things about the holidays are the special cookies that people make that remind them of their childhoods.

These shortbread cookies are from my Mom’s side of the family.  They’re incredibly delicious and so simple!  Just take 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup of powdered sugar, half cup of corn starch and 1 lb. salted butter, cream them together and then using wax paper – roll into a tube for easy cutting. Or you can roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter but I find the tube of dough easier and faster to make.   Refrigerate the dough for 30 min. for easier handling and then cut them in slices about a quarter inch thick.  Bake until golden brown in a preheated 350 degree oven.

Happy Holidays



Art & All That Jazz

I love making good food but there’s another thing that feeds my soul and that’s art. Ever since I studied in Florence I’ve loved going to museums.   Recently I was in San Francisco on a Friday afternoon and I looked up and saw a banner for the de Young Museum’s Keith Haring exhibit. I checked to see if there was a Friday night event that night and happily there was – the last one of the season.   Friday Nights at the de Young are after-hours art “happenings” that include a mix of live music, dance and theater performances, film screenings, hands on art activities and more.

This one was incredible – a visual feast for the eyes and ears with music and dance, theater performances and more – I even got to dance with one of the performers who was dancing on a platform with some headphones on.   There was another set of headphones at her feet for anyone to pick up and hear the music and dance with her and I decided to take the plunge and go along with her. The music was great to dance to and she was fun to play off of so we had a great time! I know she did too cause she told me after. Seeing great art and getting to dance at the same time – what could be better!   And of course the Keith Haring exhibit was fabulous!! I didn’t know much about his work – so it was great to get the audio tour and learn more about him – what an incredible genius he was! The Friday night series is finished for the year but will resume in 2015.   Meanwhile the exhibit is open through February 16th.   I went into the gift shop and bought an umbrella with a Keith Haring design emblazoned on it hoping the rain gods will come through and I will need it this year. I really want to use it! I also love the food at the café. McCalls Catering does a fabulous job – the food is top notch but the prices aren’t astronomical.

Art in Sonoma is alive and happening as well. The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is a beautiful museum and a great way to spend some time in the morning or afternoon.   I’m looking forward to seeing one of the current exhibits – Eleanor Coppola, a Retrospective Exhibition. A conceptual artist, documentary filmmaker, and writer based in Napa, she also happens to be the wife of Francis Ford Coppola.   The exhibit is open until January 25th.  Hours are Wednesday through Sunday 11-5pm.


Gundlach Bundschu

Favorite Wineries in Sonoma

Sonoma has many fabulous wineries so it’s hard to pick favorites but here are 3 that have great atmosphere as well as wonderful vino…

I have loved the wine at Gundlach-Bunschu for many years and I really like taking people there for a visit. Not only are their wines delicious, it’s got a great tasting room and you can buy some wine and picnic on the terrace as well.   They have tours Thursday through Monday, May – Oct you can take in a vintage Swiss Army Pinzgauer that seats 12.   So if you’re planning a trip to Sonoma next Spring, Summer or Fall it’s a fun way to see the winery and vineyards.

Sometimes on my way to Sonoma if it’s around lunchtime I’ll meet a friend at Ram’s Gate Winery which is located just past the Sears Point Raceway. In order to have food you need to be a member but it’s an incredible place, worth a visit just to see it and try some of their wines. The setting is fabulous with water views AND it’s pretty close to Marin and San Francisco if you want a quick getaway. They are also open until 6pm but keep in mind they’re closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Speaking of beautiful settings the third winery has been a favorite for a very long time. It’s Gloria Ferrer and they specialize in sparkling wines but they also make some great reds with their Pinot Noir and Merlot. It’s right down the road from Ram’s Gate across from Cornerstone. I try to meet friends there at about 3-4 for a late afternoon glass of their delicious sparkling wine. On a sunny day sitting outside on the terrace looking out over the valley, the setting is truly magical! And now they’re going to make it even better. It will soon get a makeover with a bigger terrace, more area in the Visitor Center, a private room and a new display area. It should be ready early June. In the meantime they’ll suspend tours during renovation and set up a special tented area for their guests for tasting.


How to Cook Pasta 101

My grandparents, Domenico De Domenico and Maria Ferrigno De Domenico, started Golden Grain Macaroni Co. back in the early 1900’s. It was her idea as her family had a pasta factory in Italy and she wanted to bring them over and start a pasta company in San Francisco.   I grew up watching my parents cook pasta so I thought everyone knew how to do it as it seemed so simple. But over the years I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t know how to properly cook pasta so this is for all of you out there who would like to know the simplest way to cook pasta so that it comes out right every time.

My aunt Katherine Reichert De Domenico wrote a cookbook many years ago called “Pasta with a Flair” and in it she details the proper way. I don’t think I can say it any better…

First of all you need a lot of water – 12-16 ounces of pasta requires at least 5 quarts of water. The difficulty usually results from trying to cook pasta in a pot that is too small or not using enough water. The smallest pot you should use is a 6-quart saucepot. The pasta must float free in the water in order to cook properly.

Once the water is brought to a rolling boil, salt is added. Since many people today are on salt-free diets, salt is an optional ingredient. Now I will add that it does produce a better tasting product to use salt. I put in about a tablespoon just before adding the pasta. Many people put it in when they fill the pot with water and turn on the heat – but that just dissipates the taste of the salt so that’s why it’s best to add it just before putting in the pasta.

Slowly add your pasta to the boiling water and stir gently until the water returns to a boil.   I cover the saucepot temporarily with a lid to let it return to a boil more quickly.   When it’s boiling again I remove the lid and leave it off for the rest of the cooking time. As my Aunt says “pasta products should be cooked to the firm but tender stage, which is called al dente or “firm to the tooth”.

I often use the Barilla brand of pasta and their cooking times are pretty accurate but I do start checking the pasta about a minute ahead of the cooking time they have on the package. I pull out a piece of macaroni or a strand of long goods (that was what we called spaghetti etc.) and cut it in half to see if there’s a white chalky looking area in the middle. If it’s there the pasta is not done – at that point I start checking it every 30 seconds. When the white chalkiness is gone it means the pasta is cooked throughout and is ready to come out of the pot.   NOW. Pasta waits for no man or woman.

Make sure you have a colander in the sink ready to go. Here’s a Tip to make sure your pasta stays nice and hot – put a large pasta bowl underneath the colander to trap the water – then lift out the colander and shake it once or twice, (not bone dry leave a little moisture) but don’t EVER rinse the pasta (unless you’re making cold pasta salad). Then drain the bowl with the hot water in it and pour your pasta into the bowl. Right away add some sauce to the bowl and toss it to coat the pasta.

Some people like to drain the pasta and add it to the sauce in the saucepan where they toss it and let it blend there for a minute or two. I don’t often do that as my saucepan is usually too full of sauce or I may not need all the sauce for the amount of pasta I’m cooking so I usually prefer to keep them separate.   I also put the individual pasta bowls I’m using in the sink and pour boiling water in them also to heat them.   Then I drain the bowls, add the pasta, which already has some sauce on it and add a bit more sauce on top. I like it covered but not smothered in sauce. Too much sauce is not a good thing. At that point if the recipe calls for grated cheese you add it freshly grated right then before you serve it. Now Mangia and enjoy before the pasta gets cold!