Dining Ambiance Up the Wazoo

20151229_181126My Auntie J and Cousin April met me and Lulu at the Doubletree Sonoma County in Rohnert Park. I was craving chowder so we went to a place in Cotati near Oliver’s Market. Alas, it is now a falafel place. I was not feeling like middle eastern food, so we decided to try the new Jaded Toad in the same shopping center. (So new that it is not in TripAdvisor yet.)

Most of the seating is outside near heaters or around fireplaces. There is a bar focal point. It was 50 degrees so we were not sure if we could last eating outside. The fire added enough warmth and so we shared a firepit with another group.

Protein platter at the Jaded Toad

Protein platter by firelight. It is like camping out without having to sleep in a tent or sleeping bag.

The food is pub food, with local beers and an attractive wine list. My half chicken was delicious and moist with a choice of cajun or Memphis barbeque. (Memphis of course.) My Aunt ordered the protein platter and April enjoyed the drumsticks and a green salad.

 

The food was yummy and the company was terrific. The service was a little slow, and we did not notice so much because we were busy talking.

It was a memorable evening and it would have been epic if it was just a little warmer outside.  There are a couple of indoor tables without nearly any fun ambiance.

Lulu stayed in the car but dogs are welcome outside.

Leadership Lessons from Chef’s Table

You can follow the links to make reservations at the featured restaurants, or to order Mallman’s cookbooks.

leader's compass

Chef's Table

The original Netflix series Chef’s Table is six delectable leadership lessons. It starts with a profile of Mossimo Bottura, a three Michelin star chef in Modena, Italy. He is so full of life and creative energy. He is also generous and orientates his life around his family. His family includes his restaurant employees. As he shares, “If you live an incredible moment of happiness, the happiness is much more deep and big if you share with others. And you get to the point together—the happiness, the feeling is exploding. It’s doubled.”

As a chef, Bottura transcends mere cookery and creates art. He also demonstrates how an artist’s best work often emerges from mistakes. One day he and his sous chef broke one of the two remaining lemon tarts on the counter and in that moment he began his postmodern departure from traditional Italian presentation. He created “Oops I Dropped the…

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3 Reasons for Girls Weekend in Sonoma

Recently I spent 2 days with girlfriends in Sonoma, California. We had a great time.

We got to eat everything he prepared!

Chef Pierre explaining how to prepare filet mignon. He shops at Costco!

  1. We took a cooking class at Ramekins. This class was not “hands on” except when putting food and wine in our mouths. We sat classroom style and watched Chef Pierre make amazing French holiday food. We left with recipes and very full tummies. Excellent.
  2. Readers Books is a wonderful local independent bookstore.

    Readers Books is a wonderful local independent bookstore.

  3. We made a dent in our Christmas shopping lists! We shopped in Sonoma where there are lots of great shops (and places to stop for tired feet). On the way home we stopped at Yountville and were surprised that the shopping was anemic compared to Sonoma.
  4. We ate fabulous food at Osos, and the El Dorado Kitchen. We also recommend the Girl and the Fig if you get reservations in advance. So much good food! On the way home we stopped at the Oakville Grocery to get a few treats for loved ones at home.

We stayed at the Inn at Sonoma, a Four Sisters Inn. It was very comfortable and more affordable than many other places on Booking.com. The Inn’s location is excellent–walkable to the Plaza, and to MacArthur’s Spa.

Yum, Yum: Huckleberry Cafe

Huckleberry Cafe on Wilshire Boulevard

1014 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA

I love traveling with my children. Sarah Harriet and I just got back from a 28 hour trip to Los Angeles. We got tickets to see Rob Bell perform Everything is Spiritual; he was taping it in Santa Monica. (The movie will be available in a few months.) So off we went on our adventure.

Coffee and breakfast egg sandwiches.

Sarah Harriet taking a sip of really good coffee at Huckleberry Cafe.

I keep a file on Los Angeles because it is an epicenter for terrific food. On I’ll Have What Phil’s Having (pbs.org) he spotlighted Huckleberry Cafe on his Los Angeles episode. I wrote Huckleberry, Santa Monica on a National Geographic Traveler article from November 2015. We took our time getting up on Friday morning and arrived at Huckleberry about 9:45 a.m.

20151218_095750There was no line when we arrived and a friendly staff person greeted us and helped us figure out where to order. The menu is on a big chalkboard and at first we thought it was too hipster for us. We both landed on the breakfast egg sandwich. I also ordered a maple bacon biscuit.

The plentiful staff works together really well to the benefit of the customer–the mood is light and bubbly.

20151218_095745We sat down with two delicioso cups of coffee–mine decaf, Sarah’s regular. The biscuit arrived first and I dove in. Yum. The bacon enhanced the experience without overwhelming. The maple frosting was just enough to make it sweet, not too sweet.

The real awesomeness was yet to come. As Sarah said after taking her first bite of the breakfast egg sandwich: “This is the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever eaten.” Super good toasted bread with over easy eggs, gruyere cheese, aioli and arugula. It was a perfect accompaniment to great conversation.

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Best Breakfast Egg Sandwich Ever!

We watched the line expand and contract as a regular stream of diners came in, were served, dined and left. (We figured out there is parking behind the building as people came into the back entrance.)

We were reluctant to leave. The chalkboard menu featured Mary’s Fried Chicken–a reason to return soon for lunch.

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Swatch: Knit Culture Studio Closing

I bought my next project (after Christmas gifts): a sweater for Sarah Harriet.

I bought my next project (after Christmas gifts): a sweater for Sarah Harriet.

I love checking out new yarn shops when I travel. The last time I was in Santa Monica I checked out Knit Culture Studio and enjoyed the selection of yarn. I bought a kit for a monkey toy and an issue of PomPom.

20150829_152256The owners of this shop on 3rd Street in the Fairfax District also operate a website that offers knit kits called Kitterly.com.  They are closing the Studio to focus on the website. There are some good deals available. Go today.

Celebrating Light and Santa Lucia

Tonight I enjoyed my first Festival of Light, also known as Santa Lucia Festival. I have been attending St John’s Lutheran Church and when I saw the announcement I decided to host a party.

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Selecting children’s book for kindergarteners at the Avid Reader.

First we met at the Avid Reader and bought books for Ms. Watson’s kindergarten class in Loleta, CA. It is always fun to browse storybooks and to choose a book to match a child’s interest. My friends and their children were such enthusiastic shoppers that we had extra books.

We returned to my house for a light supper and finished wrapping the books. Then we walked to St John’s for the service. The sanctuary was full of beautiful lights. We were all given a candle on our way in. I was full of excitement!

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Festival of Lights at St John’s Lutheran Church. Santa Lucia is in the center.

The service was chock full of special music from the children’s choir, young adults, and Celebration Singers. The last song was the most catchy as we sang:

Deep in the north’rn sky bright stars are beaming;

Christmas is drawing nigh, candles are gleaming.

Glad in her garment white, wearing her crown of light,

Sank-ta Lucia Sankta Lucia.

Glad in her garment white, wearing her crown of light,

Sank-ta Lucia Sankta Lucia.

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Santa Lucia was so graceful with her crown of real candles

Our procession was led by Santa Lucia with her blazing crown of candles, followed by her court of attendants–all in white with red sashes. The littlest girl in white looked like she was less than 4 years old.

The festival is still a very popular tradition in Sweden where at this time of year it is dark almost all day. A festival of light does not have the same impact in California. In the USA, it is remembered by Swedes in Lutheran churches and at Sons of Norway meeting halls.

It is a lovely reminder of the hope that our faith offers and a big dose of beauty.

San Francisco Hilton Blues

I am a Hilton Honors member so it pains me to use my points and have such a rocky start to my stay. I drove up to the front of the Hilton near Union Square and the Bellman accepted my bags. Then I walked across a giant ugly lobby doing a great imitation of 1970s SFO to a 4 person deep line at the HHonors counter–a large group of airline employees queued with one woman handling all the requests at 10:30 p.m. I had checked in on-line but that apparently does not speed the process. I actually do not know what the advantage this option is to me.

20151207_230507Then I had to drive around the block to the parking garage in Tower 3 and spent 20 minutes winding my way up to the 10th level to park. Then find my way back to Tower 2 through the Lobby Level, then go up to level 14 to my room.  By now it is 11:00 p.m.

As I enter my room the phone is ringing but the light next to the door does little to illuminate the interior. However, I am in a room equipped for the hearing impaired so a bright light is flashing in tandem with every ring of my phone and it is blinding. I fumble to turn on the light and the switch on the side nearest the door does not work. I simultaneously try to answer the phone and neither of the 2 lines connects me. I call the front desk because I suspect it was the Bellman calling. The first attempt lands me on hold hell. In the second attempt the front desk clerk says he will check and call me back. “No, no I will wait on hold! I do not want to experience that light flashing in my face again.” It was that disorienting.

While I wait for the Bellman to bring up my bags I grab a glass and collect some tap water. There seems to be a film on the water, so I rinse the glass and try again. The water is almost milky white. I show the Bellman when he arrives and he agrees that it is strange. He offers to send up some water and I decline since I want to go to bed. There are two bottles of water, which I generally prefer not to use for ecological reasons, but tonight I am thankful to have as a back up. I send him off with a glass of water to show his supervisor.

I lose the back to my earring down the sink and I take out the plug and I can see the back of the earring but cannot reach it. This is not on Hilton Hotel–it is just how my night is going. My other back to my earring also falls onto the carpet and this draws attention to how old and worn the furnishings are–circa 1980. The beds look naked. I always thought the Hilton chain had a pecking order: Hampton Inn, then Garden Inns, and so on to the top HILTON. Alas all of the Hampton Inns I have stayed from San Diego to Des Moines have been more elegantly appointed than this hotel.

Finally I decide at least I can watch the Tonight Show since I am rarely up this late. Hah! Either the television or the remote is broken. I called the desk and again demurred at the idea of someone coming up right now to fix it. I wanted to get in my jammies and get in bed.

I can hear two men having a conversation next door and there is consistent traffic noise even on the 14th floor. I thought I was so clever using my points for a 2 night stay while I am in San Francisco for training. This is an inauspicious beginning.