Some of my favorite places to celebrate and/or stock up on yummy food for Thanksgiving, besides my mom's house
When I mentioned to a friend that I was going to buy my cousin's birthday cake from Zanze's after seeing a gorgeous picture of one of their cheesecakes on the web, she had some advice to prepare me for the iconoclastic cheesecake I was about to experience. First, I should be aware that this cheesecake has a dusting of Graham cracker crumbs on the top rather than a "real crust," and second, I should be ready for something that was not a heavy cheesecake, but a light one. When she said "light" I never imagined that any food that could be as light and fluffy as Zanze's cheesecake. Nor had I ever bought a cheesecake that comes with its own piece of fishing line so that you can cut it without crushing it. (The Zanzes even teach you how to use the fishing line - you must pull it out the side after cutting rather than pulling it back up through the cake.) Please go out of your way to pay a visit to the Zanzes' small family bakery on Ocean Avenue. Mr. Zanze bakes the cheesecakes on the premises as he has been doing since Zanze's opened more than 30 years ago. For a first-timer, I strongly recommend the plain cheesecake (go ahead and call it by its true name: "Angel Cake") so that you can focus on the textureâ€¦ described on Yelp as "eating a cloud" and by my cousin as "better than sex." You can also experiment with their other flavors, such as blueberry, chocolate, or kirsch topped with cherries, or hold out for pumpkin which is available only around Thanksgiving. Speaking of the holidays, Zanze's is so popular that they tend to sell out then, so please plan ahead - call them and place your order in advance (+1-415-334-2264). They are open only Wednesday through Saturday and don't take credit cards. But believe me, when you are slipping the fishing line through your beautiful cake and then drifting away on your happy cloud, you'll be glad you took the trouble to track down this very special delicacy.
n.b. The holidays provide the perfect excuse to eat pumpkin cheesecake. lonestar
Fresh, local, seasonal are ideas typically associated with the Bay Area's food scene but at Spoon Bar they come to life in every cocktail you order. Bartender Scott Beattie muddles ripe berries, garnishes with local flowers, and whenever possible uses locally batched spirits. Certainly worth a stop if you're near Healdsburg and probably worth the trip even if you're not.
n.b. Check out this menu for Spoonbar's "casual three-course Thanksgiving dinner" - "Mixed game terrine with date compote; Redwood Hill goat cheese salad; Ras el Hanout scented breast of turkey with pinenut and currant stuffing; ribeye steak with potato gratin; prosciutto-wrapped sturgeon; breast of duck with Gravenstein apple gastrique; Gleason Ranch porchetta with root veggies; sweet potato pie, pecan tart, brown sugar creme caramel." Can you say "DAMN!!" lonestar
You have to love a place called Mom's that has an actual mom involved in the business. At Mom's Apple Pie in Sebastopol, "Mom" is Betty Carr, who has been making and selling pies on these premises since 1984. Now her shop offers sixteen flavors, including apricot, strawberry/rhubarb, and banana cream, along with a variety of basic lunch options. If I were you, I'd keep it simple and go for the apple pie, which is made with local Gravenstein apples when they're in season -- sometimes these come directly from Mom's own orchard next door! You can have your pie boxed up if you want to have a little picnic at any of the nearby beaches in Bodega Bay, but when the orchard is in bloom it's very nice to stop right here and eat the pie on Mom's comfortable patio - just be sure to sit so that you're facing the trees rather than the highway :)
n.b. Mom's Apple Pie is open for restricted hours on Thanksgiving Day just in case you burn your own pies. Order ahead if you want anything but pumpkin lonestar
Bay Area wine lovers say the name "K&L" with the utmost respect. K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco and Redwood City really know their stuff. The stores are arranged geographically, so that you can peruse all the red wines of Spain at once, for example, and there are also special sections such as "Old & Rare." The staff at K&L are exceptionally helpful and I trust their judgment. On my last visit to the San Francisco store, I asked for a recommendation for a light, crisp white and left with a 2009 Forlorn Hope Torrontes from Lodi and a 2010 Skouras Moschofilero from Greece - both of which were new to me, delicious, and perfect for summer.
If you're not in the Bay Area, please avail yourself of their wonderful website, which will deliver to all the legal US states and many locations overseas: http://www.klwines.com.
n.b. I love a wine store that designs its own Thanksgiving cocktail: <a href="http://blog.klwines.com/httpblogklwinescomuncork/2010/11/24/a-thanksgiving-cocktail.html">K&L cocktail recipe</a> lonestar
This place sucks the dollars straight out of my wallet, but I love it anyway. From the farm-fresh flowers outside to the lovingly assembled cheese assortment inside, there are a million ways for me to go broke here, and I would do it with a smile on my face. They also have a wonderful wine section (and a very helpful staff, one of whom recommended a beautiful Sangiovese when I mentioned that I was about to watch the final episode of "The Sopranos"). They have a lot of my favorite goofily essential products, such as Virgil's Root Beer and Mo's Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar. I'm also a sucker for their deli sandwiches and homemade cookies (lemon gingersnaps, anyone?), and their produce makes me want to cry with happiness!
So save up a few beans and treat yourself to something from Bi-Rite. You can't shop there all the time, but it's the best if you've done something that deserves a party.
n.b. The turkeys they sell at this place live better, more fulfilling lives than I do lonestar
As an American living in London, I found myself most homesick for certain things I didn't even appreciate that much at home - such as brunch. This wonderful dining concept barely exists in London, and I would wake up on the weekends with a strange malaise that can only be described as brunchlessness.
Then I found Christopher's and my life got better. Christopher's has been slinging wonderful "American" food in the middle of Covent Garden for twenty years now, and they know what they are doing. They are justly famous for their burgers, steaks, and outrageous martinis, but my secret soft spot is for their weekend brunch. Start with the grilled grapefruit and banana with brown sugar, prunes, and rum. I'm not convinced this is particularly American, but it is one of the nicest things I've ever eaten. Homesick Americans should try the blueberry buttermilk pancakes. And make sure you get some of the maple-cured bacon - this is particularly tasty dipped in the dregs from the grilled grapefruit and rum business. They also serve a mean pot of Earl Grey.
Best of all they serve you in a beautiful light-filled dining room so lovely that you won't want to leave. Just linger with your Earl Grey, get extra bacon if you've been good, and savor the grey area between brunch and actually having to get on with your weekend activities. Thank you, Christopher's!
P.S. They also serve a crazy-good turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.
n.b. For American ex-pats in London, the Thanksgiving dinner at Christopher's is a godsend lonestar
I don't know about you but I am very sorry that we don't eat more lamb here in the US of A. After ten years in England eating exquisite lamb almost everywhere fancy dinners were served, I was sad to come back to the States and find so many menus bereft of any kind of lamby goodness. Not a single spring lamb or even a hoggett anywhere... alas!
If you find yourself in this predicament whilst visiting southern California, I strongly recommend a trip to Nine-Ten in La Jolla. I didn't expect it, but they served one of the most perfect racks of lamb I have ever eaten in my life, and I was even more impressed that this lamb came from California rather than Australia. I credit Jason Knibb, their chef since 2003, who really seems to know his way around a plate of meat - whether it's lamb, steak, duck, or short ribs. He is good with the vegetables too. I also liked Nine-Ten's offer to shave a few truffles over anything for a small fee per dish - extremely decadent, but also delicious, and the strange pricing arrangement made me appealingly aware of the rarity of what I was eating.
Please don't judge this place based on the décor, which I'm afraid I found sub-80s-airport-lounge; instead, focus on your gorgeous plate and the polite, attentive service. Don't skimp on dessert or dessert wine, plus they have great cheese too - make it a sheep's milk one if you are pursuing the lamby theme. Gosh, it's good - I wish I could go there right now!
n.b. Three-course Thanksgiving dinner, all three of them divine. Get the wine pairings. lonestar
I'm a bit of a fool for Rules. For years I was far too intimidated by the brass-buttoned greeter outside and its claim to be "London's oldest restaurant" to ever set foot inside, plus I guess I had a peculiar fear that it was some kind of Ye Olde English Theme Parque, but thank goodness I finally got over all that.
Rules really has been in business since the 1790s (Mozart died in 1791, just to put some perspective on this) and they have been providing a vital service to the capital ever since. The beautiful dining rooms are lined with hunting prints and caricatures that look like something out of Hogarth. Apparently everyone from Charles Dickens to H G Wells to Buster Keaton has eaten here - sign me up! And what were they eating?
Rules serves so-called "traditional British food" - I must say I feel that they are a one-restaurant rebuke to the sad idea that British cuisine stops at fish and chips, yet nor is their food a moldering historical curiosity. They specialize in game, and what's on the menu depends what's in season at their special game park, Lartington Estate, up in the Pennines. This includes wild duck, hare, venison, and even crayfish. I find their game calendar fascinating: http://www.rules.co.uk/gameguide/79 (warning: this link is not safe for vegetarians).
I will never forget my experience with a Red Grouse at Rules, which was served like a Thanksgiving turkey but with a ruff of feathers around its tiny little ankles - not for the faint-hearted, surely, but it really was delicious. They also serve a mean steak and kidney pie. If the Morecambe Bay potted shrimps are on the menu, go for those too! And OK, OK, fish and chips is available too if you just gotta have it, but I certainly hope that would be your last resort in a place as special as Rules.
So please, bring your volume of Dickens and your bone-handled umbrella, and have a culinary experience worth writing a novelette about at Rules.
n.b. If you want to eat a grouse with the feathers still on it, like the Pilgrims probably had to do, try Rules. lonestar
I love L'Auberge Chez François. Going there feels a little bit like stepping into a fairy tale - what is this cute little whitewashed Alsatian building draped in fairy lights doing in the middle of the woods in suburban Virginia? It all begins to make sense when you learn that there really was a François, François Haeringer, born in Alsace in 1919, who decided after a lifetime of running a successful French restaurant in downtown D.C. that he wanted to open one of the countryside family inns that he missed from his native France.
Sadly, Chef François passed away in 2010, but his family heritage continues to animate L'Auberge Chez François, from his eldest son Jacques running the kitchen to the murals of his hometown, Obernai, on the walls. And of course the spirit of Alsace is present in the remarkable food. Those of you who know me can imagine that I'm a sucker for "La choucroute royale garnie à L'Alsacienne, cuite au crémant d'Alsace" - an "Alsatian feast" featuring sauerkraut, foie gras, duck, pork sausage, and goose confit! And save room for dessert - L'Auberge Chez François is famous for its soufflés as well as its Baked Alaska. Sure, the price tag runs high, but you can attempt to offset the cost by trying to score a free meal by entering the monthly drawing competition - embellish a postcard of the chef's profile with your own scribbled fripperies, and win! The winning entries are prominently displayed in the foyer. It's these quirky details that keep me coming back to this family-run gem.
n.b. Not a single piece of turkey or serving of cranberry sauce to be found anywhere, but perfect if your idea of Thanksgiving focuses on the family feast atmosphere rather than the specific dishes on the table! lonestar
I must admit that I fell a little bit in love with Back Forty before I even went there. The trigger for my original infatuation was a small write-up in the New Yorker by Ligaya Mishan. Mishan explained the wonderful name ("Back forty" refers to the out-of-the-way part of a farm where a farmer can plant whatever he or she feels like planting, rather than worrying about the main crops) and also blew the restaurant's cover by saying, "Back Forty proclaims itself, somewhat disingenuously, to be a mere burger joint—but the burger is made of grass-fed beef that’s thrillingly juicy and the impeccably crisp fries are sifted with rosemary-laced sea salt." Those of you who know me know that this sentence is to me as a nice fresh mess of chum is to a shark. Inconveniently, I lived in England at the time, so I filed the information away in the lower Manhattan of my brain. A year or so later I wound up dragging my whole family to Avenue B in the middle of a giant downpour just so we could try this "thrillingly juicy grass-fed burger." Imagine my joy when Mishan's review proved to be 100% reliable, and fresh doughnuts (served with a little bottle of milk) had been added to the menu since her visit! I gazed at my drenched family with nothing but happiness & sugar on my face. Luckily, they are as devoted to burgers and doughnuts as I am.
So, should you find yourself in lower Manhattan, do make the trip to Back Forty. The rustic dining areas will make you a feel a bit as if you've wandered into an eccentric and only slightly hipster farmhouse. If you're sleepy, have a cocktail - the Losaida Sling will smack you awake with cachaca, ginger beer, and chipotle. You'll want to be alert because the burger really is that good. Of course it comes with "heritage bacon," God bless it. (True bacon aficionados should also try the melon & bacon bits appetizer... about ten times better than it sounds.) But save room for dessert, right? If you're lactose-intolerant, take your pill and have the doughnuts and milk - I swear it's worth it.
n.b. Local turkeys served family-style from 2pm to 7pm. If I were in NYC, this would be my top pick for a chilled-out, delicious T-day. lonestar
I find myself gravitating to Artisanal every single time I'm in New York. To those of us for whom cheese substitutes for organized religion, Artisanal could perhaps be compared to the Vatican. I am not sure I have ever seen so many types of cheese gathered together under one roof, including (on very rare and possibly even mythical occasions) cheeses so good (read: unpasteurized) that they have a little sign stuck in them: "Get this before the FDA does!"
If you are very lucky, Artisanal will seat you at a private table inside the so-called "cheese cave," where you can ogle multitudes of cheeses behind glass while you indulge in, say, macaroni and cheese, the four-cheese French onion soup, or the cheese fondue. Don't miss the opportunity to have the gougères, sumptuous little cheese biscuits that might be one of my favorite appetizers on any menu anywhere.
And even if you are not ordering the cheese (whaaat?!), do take the time to peruse the amazing cheese menu. I would like to bestow a writing award upon the person or team in charge of assembling the terse, poetic descriptions for every cheese - for example, try this one, for the Constant Bliss, a cow's milk cheese from Vermont: "Rich, sensual, milky." A fun game for a first date or family dinner is to choose the cheese that best describes yourself or your tablemates - I seem to recall someone once comparing me to the Doddington from England: "Sharp, sweet, fruity." No offense taken!
If you're not that cheese-minded, Artisanal might still have a trick or two up its sleeve for you. I am very fond of the "Chicken Under a Brick" (when did this dish become ubiquitous on urban menus?) and any old steak at all.
My only disappointment eating at Artisanal is that I am usually too full to try dessert. Of course they have cheesecake. That is on my list of things to try before I die!
n.b. I want everything on the prix-fixe Thanksgiving menu, especially the pumpkin bisque and the duck bourguignon. But why is the Coca-Cola glazed ham only on the kids' menu?? lonestar
If you love food and you're visiting the former Russian settlement at Fort Ross around late summer or autumn, make sure you pay a visit to the abandoned orchard just up Fort Ross Road (across Hwy 1 from the fort itself).
The orchard was started with a single peach tree back in 1814, then quickly was expanded with apples, pears, cherries, and quince - all of which helped curb the scurvy problem they were having at Fort Ross. Today the orchard has been allowed to grow wild, although the Fort Ross Interpretive Association is making efforts to bring it back to a more cultivated state. To you and me, this means FREE FOOD - heirloom varieties of apples and pears that are more or less unchanged since the Russians were eating them in the early 1800s! There are annual Harvest Days when everyone is encouraged to come and pick fruit for their own use and advisors are present to help you out, but you are actually free to go scrumping any day you wish. Stop by the information desk at Fort Ross first if you want a handy map of the different varieties of fruit on offer. And watch out for cows, which wander about the orchard at will!
The orchard is also of geological interest (and good for thrill-seekers) since it lies directly on top of the San Andreas fault. You can see "sag ponds" created by the 1906 earthquake, as well as damaged redwoods. It's a pretty awe-inspiring reminder of the power of nature.
n.b. Stock up on (free!) apples for your Thanksgiving pies at this ancient orchard lonestar
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