Much Belated 2009 Retrospective

February 22, 2010

Champion Sleeper

As most of you are already well aware, I can never seem to get my act together in sufficient time to pen or distribute that most notorious of missives – the Christmas card/Holiday letter. This year is no different; yet I do feel compelled to offer this simple retrospective of events from 2009 because, while there was plenty in the world to gripe about, it wasn’t all bad – some of it was downright wonderful.

 Out with a Crash not a Whimper
Topping my list for 2009 is the wellspring of mirth and madness that is Crash, our seven month old chocolate Labrador puppy. We brought him home in August and since then he has grown from an eight pound cuddle of fudge into a forty-plus pound marauder intent on mastication. Constantly curious and ever the adventurer, he has recently thwarted our ramshackle defenses by leaping a series of regrettably low-slung baby gates and ransacking the house on several occasions.  I suppose when you name your eight week old puppy “Crash” you are setting in motion a self-fulfilling prophesy for which you have only yourself to blame, but still I insist I did not see it coming.

 

In fairness to Crash, we have had a very easy time of it as puppies go and most of the collateral damage results from our stubborn determination that he should not be able to sprout wings and fly over obstacles in the way that he evidently does (repeatedly).  And, frankly, if we’re being honest, I’m not sure it’s a fair fight to begin with. In addition to being a handsome devil, he is coldly calculating, unsettlingly observant and stealthy as a thief in the night. I imagine he has Stewie Griffin’s sardonic wit and the studied diction of Frasier’s brother, Niles.  Of course, earlier this week I watched him urinate on his own paw with evident enthusiasm, so despite my own imaginings there’s no forgetting he’s a dog.

 

Whether for good or for ill (or somewhere in between), I look forward to another year of watching Crash come into his own.  I only hope he continues to carve out a hollow in his bold new world for me.

 

A Blessed Bounty

2009 was the first full year that Michael and I spent back in the Bay Area following our sojourn to Australia and in the past 12 months we have harnessed the boundless natural wonders of our adopted home and wrestled out every morsel of enjoyment we could get. We ate well. We drank well. We relaxed. We hiked in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We hosted backyard barbeques. We reveled in those quiet interstitial moments that buttress the peaks and valleys of life’s more notable events.

 

Many of my fondest memories are set in the kitchen where I found I suddenly had the time and the tools to cook on a reliably regular basis. I love nothing more than an afternoon spent in the kitchen with sauces a-boiling and meats a-braise.  It was this year I made myself a nuisance at K&L Wines, a stone’s throw from our house, where they always seem to have the right bottle at the right price (whether I’m feeling defeathered or flush). It was this year I discovered the farmers’ markets in Menlo Park and Redwood City offering wild mushrooms for Michael’s favorite “Late Night Chitarra with Wild Mushrooms and Cognac Cream” (recipe to follow), broccoli di ciccio (a treat sautéed with sliced garlic and peperoncino), fiery orange thistle blossoms, tender spring shoots, a beautiful bevy of summer fruit and countless other treasures. We are spoiled rotten for produce in this neck of the woods and I will continue to do my best in 2010 to take advantage.

Recent recipes include papardelle with duck ragu, boeuf bourguignon and red beans and rice. Hearty fare for cold rainy days

 

Tantalizing Tastes and Culinary Adventures

We had many great meals in 2009 – I even like to think I cooked some of them myself – but a few stand out from the crowd and are worth mentioning (again) here:

 

Cyrus (Healdsburg)

This restaurant is a revelation. See my previous review in an earlier blog post for the full scoop. If you’re looking for a serious meal but are not quite ready for the grandeur and gravitas of The French Laundry, this is a perfect warm-up.

 

Perbacco (San Francisco)

Offering great modern Italian food and a laundry list of house-made pastas.  We were overwrought trying to decide which pastas to try when our server recommended the two or three item “pasta tastes” allowing us to sample as many pasta treatments as we liked.  Seems simple, but it made me very happy nonetheless.  I kick myself for not posting a review at the time – the finer details of the meal now escape me – but I suppose that means I’ll have to return for further reconnaissance. Twist my arm! The feather-light gnocchi with ricotta and fines herbs were the standout for me – simple but refined and flawlessly executed.  We will be going back, so stay tuned for a full review.

 

Chez Panisse (Berkley)

Alice Waters’ flagship operation is finally crossed off the list! A special meal with great wine. See my previous review in an earlier blog post for the menu and details.

 

Front Porch (San Francisco)

Recommended for not-your-ordinary-fare in a setting that MK tells me is straight out of Louisiana.  They feature Abita on tap (appreciated by at least one Louisiana native), shrimp grits (with more butter than shrimp or grits) and fantastic fried chicken.  Also they have a cool logo emblazoned on T-shirts for sale.

 

Limon Peruvian Rotisserie (San Francisco)

I don’t know what they put on their rotisserie chicken, but I cannot get enough. The prices are even better!  MK routinely picks up a whole chicken with sides (I recommend the tacu-tacu and vegetales salteados) and zesty dipping sauces for under $20.  Incredible!  You have got to check this place out.  The restaurant proper – also called Limon – recently re-opened following post-inferno renovations to rave reviews, so it’s officially on my list!

 

The Village Pub (Woodside)

This place continues to be our go-to destination when we want a reliably good meal in the neighborhood. On a slow night in winter I love the restive low lighting and crackling fireplace (the experience is a bit different on a busy night when things can get a bit loud for my taste). The service is always good.  We have eaten here on numerous occasions – whether at the bar or in the restaurant – and have never been disappointed.  On our most recent visit there was a crab flan on the menu that was an unqualified success.  It was completely fantastic.  I could have eaten that flan all day.

 

I happened to come across a list fashioned by Michael Bauer, SF Chronicle food critic, of 2009’s top new restaurants and discovered – to my shock and disbelief that I have not been to any of them. How does a thing like this happen? This simply will not do, so stay tuned for more reviews as I wend my way through a new list of restaurants for a new year.

 

Onward and Upward

As great as 2009 was in our little microcosm, I am already looking forward to the coming months.  MK gave me the BEST present for Christmas that I think I have ever received – a butchery class at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in St. Helena.  It is a one day class at the end of February and I just cannot wait!  Next week you will be able to read all about it here.  Stay tuned.

As if that were not enough excitement, we will be spending the night of February 27th in St. Helena to celebrate MK’s birthday and dining at The Restaurant at Meadowood, recipient of two Michelin stars, four stars from The Chronicle, and wine country’s latest culinary darling.  You have my promises to conjure and share that dining experience with all the evocative detail I can manage.

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One Response to “Much Belated 2009 Retrospective”

  1. the dad Says:

    You continue to amaze and entertain. What a gift you have for painting a picture in prose. Of course these blogs will one day have to become a book of short stories and then the basis for a novel…Crash Course. Love to all.

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