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Farmstead – St. Helena, CA

29 Oct

After a beautiful morning at Conn Creek Winery, mixing my own bottle of wine (the fantastic KPizzle), and tasting about 19 different wines straight from the barrel, my party was in dire need of food. I planned ahead (something I never do) and had reservations for us at Farmstead. This was a recommendation of a girl I work with and as soon as I got there I thought, thank God I’m no longer Vegan…

 

I started out really healthy with the kale salad. Note to self, you never need an entire bowl of kale, no matter how much you like it. Word to the wise, share a salad if you’re getting an entree. The kale had a very nice, light lemon dressing and shaved parmesean. It was delicious, but too much food knowing the massive pulled pork sandwich that was coming next.

 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the best pulled pork I can remember having. Maybe it was that I was so hungry, maybe it was a slight bit of alcohol consumption, but I could have licked my plate I enjoyed it so much. The sandwich also came with a side of potato salad, which I liked, but I’m not a big mayo fan so the mayo-to-potato ratio was a bit high for my liking, but good nonetheless. Farmstead was the perfect stop on our day-long wine drinking extravaganza.

 

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch – 738 Main Street  Saint Helena, CA 94574
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Wente Winery – Livermore, CA

3 Jul

Way back in October, two of my colleagues and I bid on a golf lesson and dinner during our company’s community support campaign. This basically meant we paid $200 each for a some wine, dinner and a golf lesson at Wente Winery in Livermore with one of our colleagues who used to be a golf pro. The three of us hadn’t ever really played golf so we were really looking forward to our lessons (and the wine part). I have to admit that our beginning shots at the driving range were pretty bad (mine at least). By the end I could (actually) hit the ball decently. Please put the PGA on notice!

 

After our lesson and a few holes, we made our way to the restaurant at Wente. We started out dinner with a glass of the brut. Yum, yum celebratory bubbles! We decided to share an order of the oat fried cheddar pork sausages which had a caraway mustard sauce. These were quite tasty little sausages, essentially high-end cocktail weenies with fancy dipping sauce. We also shared the lamb pastrami which was very different than any other pastrami i’ve had and was served on rye crisps. Absolutely delicious.

 

For a main course I opted to go light with the cod served on a succotash of corn, garden squash, fennel and basil (pictured). It was the perfect summer evening dish after a round of golf. We took a look at the dessert menu (so full at this point), and I saw the peanut butter mousse cake, given my weakness for peanut butter, I had to try it out. It was a delicious layer cake with a really rich and creamy peanut butter flavor. The best I’ve had in awhile, and served with strawberries that were poached in bourbon (delicious). After all this yummy food and such a beautiful day we had to roll ourselves back to the city. Why can’t every Monday be this awesome? Do I really have to go to work tomorrow?

 

www.wentevineyards.com – 5050 Arroyo Road – Livermore, CA

 

Also, the lamb pastrami were reviewed by Diablo Magazine which can be found here: http://www.diablomag.com/Diablo-Magazine/March-2012/Pastrami-Goes-Upscale/
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Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

22 Jun

Thursday night was my first San Francisco Opera experience. I’ve made it to the Met in NYC and the Lyric in Chicago, but after living here for more than two years I finally made it to an SF Opera performance. My Aunt Liz flew all the way from Wisconsin to see (her favorite) Nathan Gunn play Papageno in The Magic Flute. Since she made such a long journey, I had to ensure that we had an equally wonderful dining experience prior to the performance. A colleague of mine recommended Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, which is very close by the opera house.

We arrived for a 5:15 reservation, and I felt like a grandma heading to a restaurant that early, but it gave us ample time to enjoy our drinks and food before the 7:30 curtain call. We started with wine (of course), a 2009 Cooper Mountain Pinot Noir and a 2009 Sandler Wine Co. Zinfandel. For a starter we decided to have the Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese which was really soft and creamy, just like butter. It spread deliciously on the warm walnut bread it was served with. We then moved on to share the Stonefruit Salad which consisted of marinated peaches, apricots, cherry puree, burratta cheese, watercress with a light vinaigrette. This was very refreshing and the peaches and apricots were absolutely delicious.

For entrees, I opted for the filet of sole with a red currant reduction on tiny potatoes, charred cauliflower and mini artichokes. The flavors of the red currant were absorbed really well by the fish and was one of the best pieces of fish I’ve had in quite some time. Liz is a huge fan of beef tartar and can’t pass up ordering it whenever it’s on the menu. This time was no different. Although it was a ‘share plate’, it served well as an entrée portion. While we already very full of delicious food we had to check out the dessert menu. We opted to try the strawberry tarragon pavlova which consisted of strawberries (very fresh), cocoa curd, tarragon ice cream (very refreshing) and pistachio crumble. It had quite an interesting presentation as you can see in the photo. This was an unusual dessert choice but tasty nonetheless. Our meal was great and I will definitely be returning the next time I head to the Opera or any other performances in the neighborhood.

http://www.absinthe.com/ – 398 Hayes Street @ Gough

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The Girl & The Fig – Sonoma, CA

18 May

 I had the pleasure of showing a couple of my dear friends from Wisconsin around Sonoma County a few weeks back and we had a great brunch experience at The Girl & The Fig in Sonoma. This place is always packed and very lively. We were lucky enough to have booked a table ahead of time, so we didn’t have to wait! There were so many things on the menu I wanted to try, but I opted for the duck confit and potato hash. It had two perfectly poached eggs on top of the potato and duck mixture. This dish really hit the spot before our long day of wine tasting.

In case you have to wait to get a table, I would recommend stopping by Roche Wines next door. They have a $5 tasting menu, and it’s definitely worth the money. Their wines are decent, but you get six tastes of your choice for only $5. They even had three different wines that you could taste right out the barrel, which my friend Zach was a big fan.

http://www.thegirlandthefig.com – 110 West Spain Street Sonoma, CA

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New Glarus, Wisconsin

31 Oct

country road

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to head back to Wisconsin to attend a couple of Brewers playoff games. Since the weather was so nice, I thought a trip to New Glarus, WI with my Mom would be a good idea. I had recently read a great article, entitled “A Bit of Switzerland in Wisconsin”, about the town in the New York Times travel section.

Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus

A link to the article can be found at the end of this post and was definitely much of the roadmap for our day trip.

We left Waukesha around 9AM and took the country route there via highway 59. After a two-hour drive through beautiful farmland with the trees changing to beautiful colors of yellow, orange and red, we arrived

New Glarus Brewery

in New Glarus. Our first stop was to the New Glarus Bakery to grab a late morning snack. This bakery has been around for more than 100 years, and still offers many of “old world” favorites. We opted for scones and some apricot pressed cookies for our ride home. The scones were delicious and hit the spot after our long drive.

tasting wristbands

Next we stopped over to the Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus. I don’t know how it is that I ended up getting out of there without any cheese, but we did try the pumpkin pie and dark chocolate fudge. We ended up taking the dark chocolate fudge home with us. The people who work there are really knowledgeable and can speak at length about the process used to make the different varieties.

Beer!

They have a whole bunch of interesting flavors you can try. Check out their full listing on their website.

The main reason for making this trip was to check out the Brewery, which makes the very delicious Spotted Cow, a tasty and popular ale among Wisconsinites. The Brewery offers three 3oz. beer samples for $3.50 and you get to keep your tasting glass. They had six beers available for tasting so my Mom and I decided that we would get different ones so that we

Bar at Puempel's Tavern

could try all of them. My favorite was the Moon Man and their Oktoberfest. On our way out, I was sure to stop by the store and pick up my own mixed six-pack to share with my family for the evening Packers game.

After spending some time basking in the sun and drinking beer, our final stop was to Puempel’s Tavern to try the

Cheese plate and beer

braunschweiger and limburger sandwich with raw onions on rye. The NYT article said that while it sounds not so tasty, it actually is. Now, I consider myself adventurous when it comes to food, but the thought of this sandwich, does not sound appetizing. When I was growing up, my grandparents would feed

Braunschweiger and limburger sandwich with raw onions on rye

me liverwurst sandwiches on rye bread, but never with stinky cheese! We decide to order the cheese plate to start with, which is a mix of cheddar, colby and swiss cheeses from around Green County (yay local cheese). What was hilarious about this was that this nice cheese was served with, wait for it, the equivalent of Ritz crackers. My Mom

View from New Glarus Brewery

 ordered a bratwurst and I ordered the sandwich. When our food arrived, I could already smell the limburger. I cautiously took the first bite and it didn’t taste nearly as bad as I thought, but the smell of that cheese was overpowering the entire experience. I ended up ditching the cheese and just finishing it with the onion and braunschweiger. I have to say it was an experience, but I won’t be ordering that one again! The even more wonderful thing about this entire lunch was that with our beer vouchers from the brewery, our total bill was $19.90. I have to say, New Glarus is an affordable spot to getaway in Wisconsin. The town has a lot to offer and the beer is delicious!

 

NYT Article: http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/travel/a-bit-of-switzerland-in-wisconsin.html

New Glarus Bakery: http://www.newglarusbakery.com

Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus: www.mapleleafcheeseandchocolatehaus.com  

Puempels Tavern: www.puempels.com

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Monk’s Kettle

22 Sep

Pickle Jar

My dear friend and past roommate, Beth was in town visiting last month and we made it to a number of interesting spots during her stay. The first one we checked out was Monk’s Kettle in the Mission. A few different people told me that this was definitely a spot to check out, and we’re glad we stopped in for a late lunch before hanging out in Delores Park for the rest of the day.

First on our radar was beer. We’re both Wisconsin girls, so beer is near and dear to us, not to mention that Monk’s Kettle has a serious beer list. I opted for the London Pride, a delightful pale ale. Next, we moved on to the actual food

Seared Scallops

menu. The first item I noticed was the daily pickle jar, I was intrigued and had to check it out. This little jar, pictured here, had pickles, as you would expect, but also pickled carrot, green beans and cauliflower. It was quite good, but you have to be a fan of pickled things to really enjoy it.
We decided to share small plates, and my favorite was the seared diver scallop, which was wrapped in apple bacon. It was absolutely to die for. First, I love scallops, but you wrap a plump scallop in bacon and you’ve got perfection. The other dish we got was the flatbread with heirloom tomatoes, ricotta and basil. The flatbread hit the spot, but I still can’t stop thinking about those scallops…

www.monkskettle.com – 3141 16th Street (between Gurrero & Valencia)

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Brass*Knuckle

8 Aug

The food truck craze is thriving in San Francisco and is personified by Off the Grid, which are these organized food truck parties all around the city. They’re even expanding outside SF to San Mateo and Berkeley. A couple weeks ago, Off the Grid hit the Financial District for lunch at St. Mary’s square. One of my coworkers had not yet heard of Off the Grid and was amped to check it out. We left the office early (11:30) to march up the hill and try to beat some of the lines. There are four trucks that come for lunch every Monday now at St. Mary’s park. Of the options available, we quickly decided that we needed to try Brass*Knuckle. I’ve seen this food truck at the Fort Mason Off the Grid events, but never tried it.

We all decided to get the same thing, although in hindsight, we probably should’ve diversified our choices so we could try more of the menu. We all ordered the Notorious P.I. G. This is one awesome sandwich. It’s a Cuban sandwich – roasted pork with a parsley herb spread, ham, swiss cheese all served on a rosemary waffle. Yes, a waffle sandwich. It’s absolutely delicious. We also indulged in the crack bar, which we split three-ways (thank God). This is one good dessert; A cocoa dusted peanut butter and salted caramel bar. Yes, it is like crack. This was quite a hefty lunch, afterwards we were all suffering from slight food comas and had to check in on each other to make sure we were all still awake at 2PM.

Brass Knuckle has music themed names for their dishes like Fryin Maiden (fried chicken), MC Hammer (pork sandwich with mac & cheese) and Prawns & Roses (prawn taco). They tend to be at Off the Grid – Fort Mason on Friday nights, and you can find out their schedule through their website or follow them on twitter @brassknucklesf. Given that my coworker is now into Off the Grid, I’m sure there will be many more food truck inspired posts to come from our Monday excursions.

www.brassknucklesf.com

 

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Mission Cheese

5 Aug

I know the title of this blog is Beyond Cheese, but for one post, I’m sticking to cheese. Mission Cheese recently opened on Valencia Street in the Mission and being the cheese obsessed Wisconsonite that I am, I had to check it out while I was in the neighborhood. I was ironically with my other born-and-bred-Wisconsin friend, Leah, and we decided that the Midwest cheese plate, was necessary. I mean, in my mind, anything that comes from Wisconsin (or Midwest for that matter), has to be good, right?

The cheese was downright good. We could taste that this was some good cheese and even better was that their cheese monger walked us through each of the cheeses, which made our experience even more enjoyable. There’s very few cheeses I come across I don’t like, but I’d give the selection high marks. All the cheese served at Mission Cheese is from the US, so you’re not going to find any French or Spanish cheeses on this menu, which is okay. Buy American. Along with your plate comes a hefty serving of bread and a nice little cup of pickles.We also decided to order the mac and cheese, which was good, but maybe put us into cheese overload. I also think that adding something to the mac and cheese or having add-in options would’ve made it even better.

For me, this is the kind of place you stop in for a snack and drink, not a dinner spot. It’s more a place for bites to be shared with friends than to indulge in a full meal.  Mission Cheese is a really tiny spot; so if you’re headed there during primetime, expect a wait. We snuck in early on a Saturday for a late afternoon snackafter spending the day in Delores Park, and the cheesy goodness hit the spot. Mission Cheese has a handful of beers on tap and wine, although I have to be honest and say I didn’t even look at the wine menu. I opted for the Drake Amber, which was really tasty and as an added bonus is served in a mason jar.

736 Valencia St. (between 18th and 19th) – www.missioncheese.net

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Sobelman’s Bar & Grill – Milwaukee

26 Jul

I know that on that Food Wars TV show, AJ Bombers beat out Sobelman’s for the best burger in Milwaukee. I find this ridiculously hard to believe. While I have not yet had the opportunity to head to AJ’s to try out their burger; in my mind there is nothing better than the Sobelman burger. Maybe some of the nostalgia I hold for Sobelman’s is wrapped around the numerous college memories this place houses. It is by all means, a Marquette establishment, which makes perfect sense as to why they would want to put a new location right on campus in the old Angelo’s location on the corner of 16th and Wells.

While their burgers are pretty damn good, they make an amazing bloody mary. I mean look at this picture, that is some serious garnishment to go along with the spicy liquid goodness that follows. Most times that there are numerous garnishments it’s because they’re trying to over compensate for the lackluster beverage. In the case of this bloody mary, that is not the case, thankfully. I like to think of it as a tasty appetizer to the enormous piece of beef I’m about to consume.

All that aside, I’m not writing this post to debate which burger is better, I’m here to inform the public that IF you ever find yourself in Milwaukee, Sobelman’s Bar & Grill is a necessary stop. The place is always packed. At lunch time you see the whole gamut of individuals here ranging from blue collar construction and factory workers to business suit executives. This really is the kind of place that reminds me of home; good honest food coupled with good people of all walks of life.

www.milwaukeesbestburgers.com– 1900 W. Saint Paul Ave. Milwaukee, WI

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Balzac Wine Bar – Milwaukee

24 Jul

I got the opportunity to travel back to Wisconsin for the wedding of one of my closest friends. While I was there I needed to indulge on some of the fine fare that can be found in Milwaukee. One of my (and the bride-to-be’s) favorite spots in town is Balzac. This spot was heavy in my rotation when I lived in Milwaukee but they have spruced up their menu quite a bit from what I remember.

While I waited for my cousin Shawn to arrive , I decide to hit up the happy hour specials which was (ring the alarm): half of everything from the bar, including wine flights until 6PM. I opted for a flight of red wines which included the following wines.

  • Kukkula “lothario” red blend – Paso Robles, CA
  • X Winery Nova vineyard Zinfandel – Lake Country, CA
  • Five H Heritage red blend – Columbia Valley, WA

Balzac offers a fairly extensive wine list (for Milwaukee standards), with numerous wine flights and bottle choices. On Wednesday’s, they offer ½ off bottles, which is an amazing deal.

What I love so much about this spot is that they always have the most friendly staff. They’re always willing to offer suggestions, joke with you and even give you a complimentary pour or two.

The menu has evolved a bit in the two years since I’ve lived in the city. With that said, while I did live their I probably didn’t even know what kimchi was, or know that it would make great quesadillas! We opted to share the Manchego Bruelee, which is a dip of baked Spanish Manchego cheese custard, topped with caramelized Serrano ham and garlic crostini. This was incredibly rich and delicious and went well with the wine and the crunchy crostini. For my main dish I went for, you guessed it, the Kimchi Quesadillas.

These quesadillas were packed with house made kimchi with manchego and pepperjack cheese and served with a chili sesame sour cream. There is nothing that I love more than a little Korean-Mexican fusion (see my John’s Snack & Deli post).

On my next trips back I am looking forward to trying the Roasted Duck Nachos (chips topped with shredded duck, bacon, three cheese blend, scallion crème fraiche and pico de gallo) and Sea Scallops (seared and served with citrus mashed sweet potatoes, garlic spinach and Dr. Pepper Molasses).

www.balzacwinebar.com – 1716 N. Arlington Street (@Brady St.)

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