Is Olive Oil Really Good for You? Oleavanti Says “Yes!”

About a decade ago, I found myself working on a project with a wine grower who had a deep background in horticulture and arboriculture. When I told him we had an olive farm with about 185 trees, he asked “How old are they?

15-25 years“, I said.

Why would you want to do  that?” he asked “So your grandchildren will have a viable crop?!

He had a point. Almost 12 years later, Lila Farms is only productive as an Airbnb property, not as an olive farm. For now it is a farm of passion, not profit, a farm offering hard lessons about the vagaries of agriculture. It’s given us a venue for outdoor activities, sunburns on our necks, poison oak on our legs, stiffness in our backs, and constant battles with machinery and maintenance – all of which are struggles that come along with the daily joy of our own oil. 

Harvesting olives in the rain
Lila Farms, Boonville CA. Mother nature says “today you pick olives in the rain…”

It’s also given us an appreciation for olive farmers around the globe. While on vacation, we’ve been known to pull over to take photos of ancient olive trees while driving in Spain and Italy. The activity brands us instantly as tourists, but we have accumulated an impressive collection of images!

So when I was contacted by an olive grower from Lebanon, the original source of olives (pre-dating the Phoenicians in 2,500 BC),  you can imagine my interest was piqued. And for good reason, it turns out.

Oleavanti Lebanese Olive Oils

The Oleavanti company is dedicated to working with other Lebanese growers, co-ops and artisan producers, lending their staff’s expertise and resources to help create a better product and a broader international market for their olive oil. Their mission is to create an economic justification for avoiding the creep of urbanization that has uprooted 100+ year-old Lebanese olive trees in favor of buildings.

But Oleavanti is also a grower in their own right as well. They sell their oil (buy it here) from two groves – the Ehden Grove is a blend of Souri and Aayrouni Olives, and the Qadisha Grove, exclusively from the unique Souri olives (believed to be the genetic origin of all olives), grown in a grove located at higher elevation on Mt Lebanon. 

Both oils are more robust than those from the Greek and Italian olive trees we grow at Lila Farms. But they possess that pleasing tang at the back of the throat that lasts long after swallowing the oil – a sign the polyphenols are still intact and that the oil is healthy.

The Oleavanti Team

Led by patriarch, Nakhlé Saadé, whose family has tended olive trees in Lebanon for over five centuries, the Oleavanti team includes his two daughters – Carol (who brings her PhD in Food Science to the table) and Marie, the firms’ designer and art director. They are joine by their brother Boutros whose mechanical engineering background is critical during harvest, and whose education includes studying olive oil internationally. To this family company is an Italian-American, Tony Gualtieri, a co-founder and a mathmetician/statistician in a very specialized field that is most useful for Oleavanti – the analysis of sensory properties of food.

The Oleavanti  Standards

  • Free Acidity < 0.3
  • Peroxide <7.5
  • UV Absorption Index (K232) <1.85
  • Free of sensory defects

What’s all that mean? Free acidity increases as olives oxidize prior to pressing (Oleavanti presses within four hours of picking) or when olives are exposed to the pulp and pits for too long during pressing.

The Peroxide number is a predictor of rancidity and should be kept low. Fresh olive oil smells of grass and herbs, rancid oil smells foul and stale and, well, like you don’t want it in your mouth.

The UV Absorption Index measures purity and quality. A high value indicates the presence of refined oils, adulteration, and rancidity, none of which are present in good olive oil. 

But Is It Good For You?

In answer to the opening question at the top of this post, yes, good, fresh oil is a healthy alternative to fats from animals such as butter or lard. 

As Oleavanti states on their website, olive oil is at the core of the Mediterranean diet shown to increase immunity, provide anti-inflammatory benefits, lower blood pressure, reduce cardiovascular diseases, prevent Alzheimer’s, improve the ratio of good and bad cholesterol and protect the skin.

Unlike oils from seeds, vegetables, and fruits, olive oil is a balanced blend of monounsaturated fatty acids (oleic acid), polyunsaturated (ω-6) fatty acids (linoleic acid), polyunsaturated (ω-3) fatty acids (a-linolenic acid). The presence of other compounds like polyphenols and tocopherols (vitamin E) are unique to fresh extra-virgin olive oil and have invaluable health-promoting properties. 

Thanks

One of the things I’ve learned as a nascent insider in the world of olive oil production, is that there are damn few global standards, and worse, there is no authority over the existing standards. Much of what is sold as EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil – is far from high quality and is frequently blended across vintages (perfectly legal unless there’s a vintage date on the bottle) and even from less expensive sources of oil such as safflower and other vegetables. It’s good to taste oils from producers dedicated to the craft.

And for that, I thank Oleavanti! 

Oleavanti Olive Oil
Packaged with small vials of Lebanese Za’atar, a blend of Thyme, Sumac and toasted Sesame Seeeds we found to be delicious when mixed with the oil and spread on Pita chips – recipe here https://www.oleavanti.com/zaatar-pita-chips/
Dave at the Wine Shop
Wine and Olive Oil – two great pleasures
Dave the Wine Merchant - Logo

Winter Recipe: Braised Beef Cheeks

Photo Credit: SteakSchool.com – click to see their great recipes!

This delicious winter dish used to be considered low-brow, and as a result, beef cheeks were inexpensive. But they became pricey about ten years ago after appearing on upscale winter menus at $35 per serving.  Even so, we found some in Whole Foods’ frozen meat section for $8.99/pound. Given there are no bones and little waste, that ain’t a bad price for pure protein (though the fresh version is preferable).

Sadly, the popularity of Beef Cheeks has made them more difficult to find – there are only two of them per cow, after all – so if your local grocer can’t keep up with demand, these alternative beef options work well:

  • Beef short ribs (boneless – ask your butcher to remove the bones if need be)
  • Pot Roast (Chuck) – may require slightly longer cooking time

BUT, if you have the time to search for the cheeks, you’ll find they assure a great meal. They are falling-apart delicate with a rich and delicious mouthfeel that begs for winter wines! Reach for big, fruit-driven, tannic reds such as Syrah, Zinfandel, the Bordeaux varietals or the reds of Portugal, Spain, Sicily, Calabria, and other warm, Southern climes.

Suggested pairings. Click the image to see all our Winter Wine recommendations.

Ingredients:

▢ 3 Tbsp olive oil
▢ 3 lbs beef cheeks, cut into (roughly) uniform size, if needed
▢ 1 Onion, diced
▢ 1 Celery stalk, diced
▢ 1 Carrot, diced
▢ 4 Garlic cloves, peeled and minced
▢ 6 Stems of fresh thyme, leaves left on stems (or 1.5 tsp dried thyme)
▢ 3 Bay leaves (or 1-2 smallish ones, if using the stronger California Bay)
▢ 1 Cup beef stock
▢ 2 Cups inexpensive (<$10) red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zin, etc.)
▢ 2 – 3 tsp salt
▢ Freshly ground black pepper

Cooking Instructions

  • Remove any large fatty membrane (Note: the silverskin is more easily removed after cooking). Cut beef cheeks into roughly identical sizes if needed, then pat dry and apply salt and pepper liberally to both sides. 
  • Pre-heat your oven to 325. 

 

 

The enamal-covered cast iron pot from Lodge is ideal for this dish, but any heavy-bottom pot wil do if it has a good lid that can prevent the liquids from evaporating.

  • On your stovetop, heat a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat for 2-3 minutes. When at full temperature, add 2Tbsp of the olive oil and immediately add the beef cheeks. Sear for ~3 minutes on the first side, then turn and sear for another 2 minutes. Aggressive, high-heat browning is key to the flavor development on the bottom of the pan – the fond.  You may find this step requires two separate batches to assure each piece of meat makes full contact with the pot – no over-crowding!
  • Once nicely browned on both sides, turn the heat down to Medium and remove the cheeks to a platter. Cover with a tent of foil. 
  • Drizzle a Tbsp of oil into the heated pot and immediately add the onion, carrot and celery, reserving the minced garlic for the next step. Stir lazily until the onion begins to become opaque – about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the minced garlic and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. 
  • Pour in the 2 cups of wine, scraping the fond from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula so it integrates into the liquid. Simmer for a good minute.
  • Return the cheeks to the pot along with any juices they’ve released. Add the remaining ingredients – beef broth, bay leaves and thyme sprigs – then cover the pot with a lid and place in oven for 2.5 hours (or until the meat is very tender), turning once about half way through the total 5-hour cooking time.
  • Some 2.5 hours later, remove the pot from the oven and the beef cheeks from the pot – careful, they may be falling apart – and set them aside again under a tent of foil. BTW, you can turn the oven off now.
  • Now it’s time to reduce the juices – this is where the magic happens!  Discard the thyme sprigs and Bay leaves and use a stick blender to carefully puree the braising liquid (wear an apron, this can be messy) until it becomes lighter in color and a bit frothy and thickened.  Return your pot to the stovetop on med-high and bring to a simmer. Continue reducing for ~5 minutes until it becomes darker in color again and forms the consistency of a light gravy (see photo). 
Shows consistency upon completion (additional Thyme sprigs optional)
  • Remove from the heat, return the cheeks to the sauce along with any of the released juices, cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

Side Dish Suggestions

  • Mashed Potatoes – The classic pairing for this dish is a generous heap of mashed potatoes topped by the beef cheeks and plenty of sauce.
    • Alternative A: Polenta
    • Alternative B: Creamy mashed cauliflower (recipe here)
  • Sauteéd Winter Greens: with garlic and bacon
    • Alternative: Roasted Brussels Sprouts
  • Whole  Maple-and-Brown-Sugar Roasted Carrots – no recipe needed, just roast the whole (the smaller the better) well-scrubbed carrots, the greens trimmed to within an inch of the top, at 400 degrees for 20 – 30 min. Toss with olive oil before roasting and Maple syrup immediately after roasting. Add a pinch of cayanne or garlic powder or herbs, as you wish!

Pairing Wine and Chocolate – What Works Best?

Gourmet Chocolates for Wine Pairing

Wine and chocolate. It sounds like a match made in heaven, but quite honestly, the pairing rarely lives up to expectations. Why? The natural tannins in red wines fight with the chocolate, and the sweetness of the chocolate make the wine seem more tannic – a visious cycle.

The solution? Pair dark chocolate with sweet wines.

Though Americans turn up our nose at sweet wines, the truth is they can be heavenly when part of the dessert or cheese course. It has always struck me as odd that the country that consumes Coca Cola (at 10 cubes of sugar per can) won’t touch high-quality dessert wines. I’m not talking about table wines with high degrees of residual sugar – please leave those on the bottom shelf at the wine shop where they belong. For pairing with chocolate, turn to wines made as dessert wines.

But before we get to the wines, let’s talk for a moment about chocolate. Because Mmmmmm.

The Ideal Chocolate:

While most of the chocolates you see on the market, especially around Valentine’s Day, are often milk chocolate, white chocolate, or cream-filled, I recommend pure chocolate bars – the darker the better. Those with almonds also work well, especially with the wines I’ve recommended here, which are known for their nutty characteristic (called Rancio by wine collectors- our wine geek word of the day).

Fortunately for all of us, there has been an explosion of artisinal, single-source chocolate producers in the past decade. Look for Dandelion Chocolate (“bean to bar” chocolates), Dick Taylor and many, many others. Melissa Clark of the New York Times, published a good article last year listing 13 of her favorite gourmet chocolate producers which includes these two favorites of mine plus 11 others.  I also recommend her article on chocolate tasting techniques –  we’ve found the approach she describes to have significantly elevated our tasting experience.

The Ideal Wine:

And now for the wine – the crowning glory in the whole affair!  While some have found pleasure in pairing dark chocolate with highly extracted/high-alcohol table wines (the reds from Rombauer come to mind, as do those from Frank Family, Biale, many Lodi Zins…) I skip this intermediate step in favor of wines specifically designed to pair with dried or baked fruits, nuts and dark chocolates – fortified wines such as these:

 

Value Option: Passagem Tawny Port. $19.99/500ml btl. ($0.04/ml)

Tawny Port

Port is the term for a fortified wine from Portugal’s Douro region. Wines made in a similar style that are NOT from Portugal can’t use the term “Port” (such as the one from the fun and jovial winemaker, Andrew Quady, who calls his Port-style wine “Starboard”). But the real thing is sufficiently affordable to justify a trial purchase. Look for a basic Tawny without any age indication for a deliciously satisfying and affordable Port. Passagem Tawny Port $19.99/ 500ml bottle.

All ports are part of the family of fortified wines – wines whose fermentation was stopped by the addition of a grain alcohol, thus preserving the grape’s natural sugars before they could be fully fermented into alcohol while also raising the alcohol level in the finished wine.

Ports are generally 18%-20% ABV, and because they are so rich on the pallet and high in alcohol, they’re served in smaller pours than regular wine. Most producers of high-end stemware have a line designed specifically for Port, and if you have sufficient storage space, Port glasses make a nice addition to your stemware collection. Otherwise, use the smallest wine glass you have and pour less than half full – about 4 ounces. Ideal serving temperature is “Cellar temperature”, or about 60-65 degrees.


 

Comparing the color of the 10-year Tawyny (L) and the Tawny (R). Passagem’s 10-year Tawny, $33.99 / 500ml bottle ($0.068/ml)

10-Year Tawny

Aged in smaller oak barrels than is a Vintage Ruby port (aged in huge, often century-old wooden casks), Tawnies age more quickly due to the higher ratio of wood-to-juice. A ten-year tawny like this one (left, above) was aged in oak for ten years, while the regular Tawny (right, above) still shows its youthful color and brighter fruit flavors. But it’s color is not the only difference – the older wine exhibits greater nutty, spice and Sherry-like notes that go quite well with chocolates of all styles. Passagem, 10-Year Tawny, $33.99


 

A delightful but obscure dessert wine – Rivesaltes Ambre. $25.99/750ml bottle ($0.035/ml)

Rivesaltes Ambré

Rivesaltes is a town in the South of France and a demarcated wine-making area known for sweet wines – this is one of six types produced there (Rosé, Grenat, Ambré, Tuilé and Hors d’Age). The Ambré style sees at least two years of oxidative aging that yields a deep golden hue upon bottling, and which darkens further with bottle age. The flavor is distinctly nutty with citrus peel spice notes. ~16% alcohol. Read more about this fascinating place here at – Domaine Fontanel 2008 Rivesaltes Ambré, $25.99


  

2003 Banyuls Grand Cru, Cuvee Joseph Nadal. A true treat! $47.99/btl ($0.064/ml)

Banyuls

La Cave de l’Abbe Rous is a co-operative of small growers from the best sections of Banyuls, producing wines at the highest quality level for the appellation. Among the best dessert wines I’ve tasted, but also one of the most obscure (the vast majority being consumed within France), the wine is similar to an aged Tawny Port in both alcohol (~20%), aging (9 years in cask) and flavor profile (nutty with a ginger and spice top note). Read more about it here – 2003 Banyuls Grand Cru Joseph Nadal, $47.99 

Whatever wine you choose to pair with chocolate, I encourage you to experiment with something new – new chocolates, new wines, and maybe, even new friends to share them with. Physically distanced, of course, as long as our health requires it, or even virtually if necessary!


About the Author: Dave the Wine Merchant has been involved in wine for four decades. He now enjoys discovering and sharing global wines that stretch the imaginations of curious wine lovers and encourages them to “discover a new favorite!” 

2021 – Your Best Valentine’s Day EVER!

Valentines Day 2021 – a celebration like none we’ve had before!

(Internal dialogue) “Valentines Day 2021? This is gonna suck! Stuck in the same rooms since COVID lockdown began? How do we even BEGIN to make Valentine’s Day enjoyable this year?!”

By re-imagining the entire evening! Here’s how…

Valentine’s Day “Before Times” – Think about it. Before COVID, things weren’t really that great, come February 14th.

We’d make reservations at a great restaurant, over-pay for a Prix Fixe menu and a temporarily-inflated wine list, then wait at the bar for forty minutes past our reservation time because the restaurant packed in “just one more turn of the tables”, until finally (tipsy after our second cocktail) we’d have to call the sitter to see if he/she/they could work an additional hour…

Valentine’s Day in the Before Times

Come on, friends. We can easily cook up a more enjoyable Valentine’s Day than that!

Here are some fresh, wine-themed ideas for a truly memorable at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

And remember, Valentine’s Day 2021 falls on a Sunday and is followed by a national holiday. Many of us will benefit from built-in snuggling and recuperation time on Monday morning!

Valentine’s Day 2021

Whichever activity you choose (ideas to follow), there are a few basic ingredients in our recipe for a memorable at-home Valentine’s Day. Start with the essentials listed here, then build on them using any of our ideas – or ones of your own:

The Basics

To begin with, we suggest these essential ingredients in our recipe for a memorable at-home Valentine’s Day. Bring in the basics listed here, then build around them using any of our event ideas:

  • Flowers: There is no better way to brighten your space than with fresh flowers. But before you resort to the standard – red roses – consider that many people have fallen seriously out of love with this old standard. Perhaps, in part, because rose prices get seriously inflated for Valentine’s Day! If you need creative ideas for flower arrangements, consult the florists at Foothill Flowers (800-742-2551) before placing your order.
  • Candles: Candle-making is now a common at-home business for many of the bartenders and waitstaff that once served our Valentine’s Day meals at now-shuttered restaurants. But as you shop for hand-made candles, note that the scented ones add unwanted flavors and aromas to your wine and food and often become over-bearing. Best to stick with unscented. You’ll find candles you like here on Etsy.

 

  • Play Lists: If your youthful dream was to be a DJ, you’ve probably already compiled a romantic playlist for Valentine’s Day. If not, just search your favorite streaming service for ‘Valentine’ or ‘Romance’, and find a list you like, one that will last… all night long.
  • Food: Whether your plans include cooking or ordering delivery/take-out, eating together is an essential part of a romantic evening. To make this night different from the prior 333 dinners you’ve shared during lock-down, why not dress up as if you were going out (when was the last time you did THAT?!) to make the evening more memorable… and the unwrapping more fun.
Visit Black Lapel, A Style Journey. Not an ad partner.

OK, Now Build on Those Basics! – build on this foundation with one or two of these ideas:

  • Wine and Chocolate Pairing – Contrary to popular belief, wine and chocolate don’t really pair very well. And many sparkling wines paired with chocolate can be downright offensive. But here’s my time-tested tip for making this fantastic – select an oxidized dessert wine (one with the nutty flavor also known as ‘rancio’) such as an aged Tawny Port, a Banyuls or one of the unique and special wines from the Rivesaltes. Pair these wines with three or four exquisite chocolate bars containing varying amounts of Cacao and vote for your favorite combination. Pure delight, and a great hopping-off point for one of the other activities below!
  • Spa Night – Grab some bath bubbles (our new favorite is from Alaffia – not an ad partner) foot scrub, lotion, face masks, massage oils and candles for an evening of pampering. If a good soak is how you like to begin your spa night, light loads of candles to enhance your relaxation and stress relief. Cap it off with a new pair of luxurious bathrobes to preserve the warm glow until bedtime. And to go with the bubbles for your bath, you’ll need some bubbles for your flutes of course! 
  • Movie Night – We’ve all watched a lifetime of movies during the pandemic, so suggesting yet another movie night for Valentine’s Day means we have to take it up a notch! Some ideas: 
    • Give each other a pair of luxurious pajamas to relax in as you watch the movie. Or as you don’t watch the movie, should distraction happen.
    • Pick a killer movie! Here’s LifeHack’s thoughtful list of the top 21 romantic movies.
    • Add plenty of popcorn and some great Champagne (trust me, this odd-sounding pairing works well!) If you can afford caviar, go for it!
    • Bonus Idea: Top this evening off with a gift of special Champagne glasses. My wife recently expressed an interest in the vintage Coupe glasses (see a non-vintage version, below), and I scored some points Christmas morning by presenting an unmatched collection I’d gathered from several vintage shops. Go ahead, draft off me.
12 for $77 at Bed Bath & Beyond. Not an advertising partner.
  • Bring the Valentine’s Day Heat! – Baking and icing heart-shaped cookies as a family provides a creative activity for any number of participants. And for wines to pair with sweet cookies or other deserts, remember the wine needs to be sweeter than the food. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

 

  • Become Immortal – Well, a small part of you anyway, by recording a brief video of each family member. So that this can be done in a single evening, limit your time to about 5 minutes per video, with one family member acting as the Host to introduce the “guest” and ask questions such as these:

For adult couples:

    1. How did you meet?
    2. When did you know there was something special, beyond just dating?
    3. Tell us about your first date
    4. What did your family think?
    5. What was the best part of your wedding?

And for kids of any age:

  1. What is your earliest family memory?
  2. When have you been the proudest of another family member?
  3. What do you think is the best part of being in Covid lock-down with your family?
  4. What are you looking forward to once lock-down orders are lifted and your life is back to normal?
  5. What do you think is the right age for getting married?

In advance of Valentine’s Day, create a private channel on YouTube or create a folder on a cloud storage platform so you’re ready to store your videos in perpetuity. Then share the link exclusively with your kids and/or friends and family members.

Chordboard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you use one of the ideas listed here or something you dream up on your own, we hope that Valentine’s Day 2021 becomes enjoyable and memorable for you and yours.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends!

Dave the Wine Merchant

Recipe: Chicken & (Variations on Bittman’s) Overnight Waffles

Delish Recipe - Chicken & Waffles

It may seem crazy to include waffles among my wine-friendly recipes. They’re usually a breakfast item and few wines pair well with the usual waffle toppings of fresh fruit, whipped cream and maple syrup. I can think of about one wine that would be up to the task (very sweet TBA Riesling, anyone?) but even that is far from a perfect pairing, at least to my palate.

No, the reason I include this recipe is because it is not only the best waffle recipe in the world (go ahead, make it and then try to argue the point), it is waaay better than most of the waffles they serve at even the best Southern restaurants that serve Chicken and Waffles. And adding chicken to a waffle creates a sweet-savory combination that expands the wine options significantly (see recommended pairings, below).

Pro Tip – The waffles need a little extra time in the waffle iron – about a minute longer than the  iron’s warning light thinks they need – to achieve the crunchy outside and soft inside that is the very definition of ‘waffle perfection’.  And while they are best when eaten within a minute or two, they freeze beautifully and come to life after a quick visit to the toaster.

Now if I could only bring my fried chicken up to the same level as my waffles (I’m trying this recipe from Delish now – see Bryce Johnson’s tempting food shot above!)

Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon Instant yeast
2 cups All purpose flour
1 tablespoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 cups Milk (use Buttermilk for a more savory version, or substitute 1C sour cream for 1C of the milk)
8 Tbsp butter melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract optional
Canola Oil for brushing on waffle iron
2 room-temperature eggs

Directions

The yeast will need 8-10 hours of fermentation to bring its full flavor and consistency to the batter, so advanced planning is required (but well worth it!). When preparing the initial batter, combine all the dry ingredients and then stir in the milk. Once combined, stir in the melted butter and vanilla. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside at room temperature for 8-10 hours.

When you’re ready to prepare the waffles, preheat the waffle iron as you separate the eggs, integrating the yolks into the batter and beating the egg whites to soft peaks before gently folding them into the batter – don’t over-mix or you’ll lose the critical airiness that creates the perfect waffle texture. 

Most waffle irons sold today are made for the deeper, Belgian waffles that are perfect for this recipe. Pour 1/3 cup of the batter onto the waffle iron and bake until the waffle is done, usually 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your iron. Serve immediately or keep warm in a low oven until the chicken is ready to plate.

Remember, in the unlikely event there are any left over, they freeze well for weeks and can be easily called into action by a good toaster.

Wine Pairings – Off-dry, aromatic white wines from cool-climate growing areas. Candidates include Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau or Riesling!  Shop our aromatic White Wines here

100 Things To Do In San Francisco Before You Die

My interveiw with Kimberley Lovato

S.F. Bucket List - Book cover

I first met the author, Kimberley Lovato at our home

when she was the guest of honor at one of my wine tastings. I interviewed her about her first book – Unique Eats and Eateries of San Francisco – and we all tasted wine and she signed books for everyone, and we all had a great time.

So when I heard she had published a second book with co-author Jill Robinson, I wanted to repeat the popular event. But it came out during the holiday season, and I had one or two other things going on and so did she, so… I had to settle for this Blog interview.

Co-authors, Robinson and Lovato

Dave: Kimberley, you and I both love our city and its fun, little-known (as well as well-known!) unique haunts. And I almost hate opening these great little secrets to everyone! But tell us, what did you and Jill want to do with this book?

Kimberley: We wanted to share some of our favorite ways to play in the city, and given the number of guests and tourists we’ll host this holiday season, this new book is a timely source of new activities and discoveries. Our book is loaded with tips for all readers, whether it’s their first time in San Francisco or they’ve been here for ages. It’s really just an idea generator. And I’ll let your readers in on a little secret – our book lissts way more than a 100 things to do!

Dave: Can you describe some of the things you decided to include in your book? That must have been a difficult editorial decision for the two of you!

Kimberley: We divided the book into sections – Food & Drink, History and Culture to lend some organization to our long list. And we enjoyed spending hours looking into the nooks and crannies of our citie’s four corners (we mean literally, since the city is pretty much a 7X7 square!) Some of our favorite places are well-known, others are hidden gems you’d only find by diving deep into San Francisco’s eclectic neighborhoods. We’re hoping the book will be popular as a holiday gift for that friend who keeps promising to visit year after year, or put it on your guest room’s bedside table.

Dave: That sounds like a great idea, you just solved one of my gifting challenges for this year!

Kimberley: My co-auther also uses it during her daughter’s school breaks. She asks her to choose a few things in the book, or turn to a random page, and then they do them together. It’s been a fun source of mother-daughter activities.

Dave: Kimberley, thanks for speaking with me today, but let’s close with a few of your favorite activities from your list. What are your top suggestions from your book?

What are some of the best things to do in San Francisco around the holidays?

San Francisco is great anytime of year but the holidays are lovely. Union Square has an ice skating rink beneath a big Christmas tree, and the Macy’s has SPCA Holiday displays where adoptable pets frolic in the windows. Ghiradelli Square also has a large tree and plenty of entertainment for visitors to enjoy. Plus, you can drink hot chocolate nearby.  The San Francisco Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker is a holiday tradition and this year is the show’s 75th anniversary in the city. The decorations inside the War Memorial Opera House are magical. San Francisco hotels really get in the spirit too in terms of décor – you could spend a fun day touring their lobbies and stopping in for tea (or wine, Dave suggests!) at each one. The Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill even constructs a massive gingerbread house in the lobby. 

Is San Francisco a fun place for kids? What can they do for fun?

Yes, and there are so many things to do. Since San Francisco is relatively small and easily walkable, kids of all ages can enjoy it.  The Cable Cars are a fun way to get around the city, and kids always love to hear the clang-clang as they move effortlessly up San Francisco’s steep hills.  If the weather is nice, we recommend getting out on the bay and we list several ways you can do that, both as active and passive participants, including ferry rides to nearby towns, such as Sausalito, or even kayaking.  One could spend a whole day in Golden Gate Park where you can rent paddleboats, romp in the playgrounds, count the buffalo, and ride a carousel.  Our museums are also really fun and interactive for kids, especially the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and the Children’s Creativity Museum. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge is a popular pastime, and ideal for teens who need to burn some energy and want to take really cool selfies.

A fun way to get around the city. A moving museum!

Where would you recommend going for the best holiday family photo?

Crissy Field is not only a wonderful walk along the San Francisco Bay, it also boasts one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the city. You can snap the family portrait with the entire span in the background. It’ll be a framer for sure!

Where should someone go for a celebratory glass of bubbly or holiday cocktail?

We write about how hotel bars in San Francisco are having a moment and we still think that’s true. Some of the best bars in the city are in hotels, and they feel especially fun and festive during the holidays thanks to twinkle lights and décor.

The former Starlight Room on the 21st floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel is now called Lizzie’s Starlight and it’s a chic spot for bubbly and some of the best bar food in the city. Make sure to go during daylight hours so you can enjoy the sweeping views.  The Palace Hotel, under its crystal atrium in the lobby, looks like a snow globe scene and is the perfect place for a celebration. And the Clift Hotel’s Redwood Room always feels swanky and luxe.  We already mentioned the Fairmont Hotel, and across the street atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel is Top of the Mark, known for its panoramic city views and martinis.   One of our favorite old stand-bys is Buena Vista Café, known for its Irish coffees, which hit the spot on a cold and foggy day.

The Buena Vist’s Irish Coffee. Expensive, but worth it?

What should people eat this time of year?

‘Tis the Season for Dungeness Crab in San Francisco.  You can get it at Fisherman’s Wharf at one of the stalls, or restaurants around the city will likely have it on their holiday and winter menus.   We like the casual Swan Oyster Depot, an institution on Polk Street. You’ll have to wait in line but it’s worth it.  Tadich Grill is another SF mainstay. They annually serve more than 20,000 bowls of Cioppino, a seafood stew considered by many to be the signature dish of San Francisco.

Read more about the authors or pick up a copy online at www.100ThingsSF.net or wherever books are sold.

Explore the popular wine discoveries from Dave the Wine Merchant at www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

New Book: “Unique Eats & Eateries – San Francisco”

I thought this book would be of interest only for Bay Area foodies, but as one of my wine club members explained “all paths lead to San Francisco eventually“.  So I post this review for perusal by all who want to be prepared for that next trip to San Francisco, even if that trip is yet to be planned!

Local author, Kimberly Lovato, was kind enough to attend a wine tasting I organized, and discussed her latest project. You’ll find it refreshingly unique among restaurant books in that it doesn’t provide reviews or ratings. Instead, its objective is to illuminate interesting restaurant history, local foodways, and tidbits unique to the city’s food scene.

It makes no attempt to document the city’s thousands of restaurants, or even to isolate its handful of “best”. To earn its way into this book, a food establishment had to be sufficiently unique and interesting to stand out from the crowd in one way or another – like the donut shop featuring a donut as big as your head.  Good ol’ “Bob’s“. Or the oldest continuously operating restaurant in California – the Tadich Grill – who doesn’t take reservations and whose white-coated staff proudly turns away the world’s rich and beautiful alike if they are unwilling to wait their turn.

These and many more discoveries await in this new book from Lovato. Crack the cover of “Unique Eats & Eateries” and you’ll find your brief perusal has quickly turned into many minutes spent flipping from one interesting feature to the next.

Enjoy!

New Cookbook from “Once Upon a Chef”

Available through Chronicle Books, $29.95

Online chef sensation, Jennifer Segal, has developed a considerable following for her home-tested recipes. Today she introduced the release of her first cook book – Once Upon a Chef, 100 Tested, Perfected, and Family-Approved Recipes.  I’ve subscribed to Jennifer’s email feed for years now, and though they include more desserts than I can feature with wine pairings, her savory dishes all replicate quite well in our home.

Because Jennifer also happens to be a talented photographer, she normally shoots her own food shots, and they are clear, simple and well-shot.  So I was surprised to see that her cookbook photos were shot by Alexandra Gablewski.  I can only presume Jennifer hired her for this project because Alexandra is even better than Jennifer, which only builds the anticipation for the release of this book, now avaialable for pre-order. And at just under $30, add this book to your short list of gifts for friends and family.

And, as always, let me know if you need help pairing wines with any of Jennifer’s recipes!

Cheers!

“Man that toast was too short!” (Said nobody, ever)

Want to show some appreciation for friends and family at upcoming Holiday events?  Read my ten tips for Toasting Success and you’ll be remembered as a pro.

  1. It’s not as hard as it seems.  Although public speaking is intimidating for many – telling someone “Thank You” in public is what most of us have been trained to do since we were three!  And a toast is just a formalized extension of that – just stand, clink your glass for silence, and say some sort of extended version of a simple Thank-You… “I think we all owe our hosts a big thank you for such a wonderful time, such great food, and for having the wisdom to invite such an interesting group of friends tonight!
  2. Know Your Audience.  You’re unlikely to give the same toast at a gathering of old school pals as you would at a work event, right? To avoid falling flat, or saying something inappropriate, remember those you’re inviting to raise their glass will be unlikely to do so unless your words are pleasing to their ear.
  3. Toast, Don’t Roast.  I once listened to a Best Man describe how he and the groom once stole a refrigerator from a neighboring apartment. It was the most inappropriate toast I’ve ever heard at a wedding, and was not appreciated by anybody, leaving many of the celebrants in a state of shocked protest when invited to raise their glass. This is not the time for the risky or risqué!
  4. 60 Seconds, Tops. One reason people can feel nervous before giving a toast is the false belief that every toast needs to be a speech. Quite the opposite – as long as your toast conveys your heart-felt gratitude, it’s a success. Your best bet is to shoot for 30-60 seconds, from the first word to the invitation “… so please join me in raising your glass to…
  5. Follow This Proven Outline. Having listened to and studied with some of the world’s truly great public speakers, I don’t think you’ll ever be disappointed when following their outline for a good toast:
    1. Thank the host and/or acknowledge the guest of honor
    2. (Totally optional, but recommended) Describe a shared experience from the past – light, and either humorous and/or touching.
    3. Invite all to join you in raising their glass to the honoree(s).
  6. Do It Early. Those who hate speaking in public find it preferable to procrastinate. But a toast is best when it sets the tone for an event early on – after everyone has been seated at the table and the first wine has been poured, for example.  Just before dessert is also a great time, but comes with the downside of, well, see below…
  7. Don’t Drink Too Much First!  For obvious reasons.  We are never as glib as we think we are after that second or third glass of wine!
  8. Eyeball-to-Eyeball.  Look each other in the eyes as you raise your glass. I learned this important lesson from an Italian winemaker who was aghast at my very American tendency to look at my glass as we clinked, instead of looking at the man who had just honored me with his toast. A toast is a sharing of our humanity, a celebration of it, and as we raise our glasses around the table, it will mean much more if each participant recognizes the others by looking them in the eye as they clink glasses. (This is easier when in a small gathering, of course)
  9. Standing Is Best. Standing at the dinner table as you propose your toast makes it easier to get started, as heads will turn to see what is happening. Clink a water glass (no, not the crystal one!) to gain attention, and dive in, or simply announce “I propose a toast!”.  If standing is not possible for any reason, simply raising your glass can be effective, though it does not convey the same gravity – which is often preferred for casual situations anyway!
  10. Sources of Inspiration. There is no substitute for speaking from the heart. But there is also a long history of wit and wisdom that may lend a humorous launch pad for your own creativity. I’ve collected some of my favorites over the years, and you are welcome to view them here

Recipe – Caldesi’s Six Elements for A Perfect Salad

I spend a fair amount of time in the air these days.  On one of my recent sojourns, the in-flight magazine featured an article on Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi, who run the eponymous restaurant/cooking school/cookery shop – London’s “Caffe Caldesi” (118 Marlybone Lane, W1U 2QF) and La Cucina Caldesi (4 Cross Keys Close, W1U 2DG) and the “Caldesi in Campagna” at Bray, Berkshire.

They’re also the authors of the cook book you see here – Around the World in 120 Salads.  While researching the book, Vietnamese chefs told the Caldesis that the world’s best salads sahre six key elements.  The result is a set of guidelines you’ll find useful for the rest of your salad-eating days (note, a single ingredient often checks off more than one of the six boxes):

  1. Dry – Salt, pepper, dried spices or herbs add a bit of kick
  2. Wet – Fresh citrus slices or other sources of juiciness
  3. Sweet – Often it’s a pinch of sugar, a drop of maple syrup or honey, or fructose from ripe fruits of choice
  4. Sour – Providing a counter-point to the Sweet element, citrus juice, vinager or other sources of tartness
  5. Soft – Examples include avocado, cooked beans, dried dates or edible flowers…
  6. Crunchy – carrots, sliced scallions, toasted nuts, fried onions or other toothsome textural ingredients

Wine Pairing Advice – It’s difficult to pair wines with a salad course until the details of the salad are known.  Here, the basics of food-and-wine pairing (match body weight, and be sure the acidity or sweetness of the wine exceeds that of the dish) don’t help much, as salads often feature sweet and acidic elements in the same dish. This makes your pairing task truly perplexing, as acidic wines rarely work well with sweet elements, and vice versa.

As a general rule, I opt for a wine on the acidic side but that also offers some richness of fruit – a very dry rosé, an Alsatian white, unoaked chardonnay, etc.  In general, the salad course is the domaine of white wine – in fact, I can’t think of a red that would pair well with salad, though as soon as I say that, someone will write in with a notable exception – please do so!

Cheers!

Dave The Wine Merchant