Monday, August 30, 2010

80 North: Berkeley, Pasta Bene

Pasta Bene 2565 Telegraph Ave./Blake St., S of the campus, (510) 845-2363. L-D daily; $. No reservations. Simple Italian favorites are on the menu in this casual venue featuring wood ceiling beams, big windows for sidewalk views and natural light, a polished concrete floor, and an open kitchen with a wood-fired pizza oven. A banquette runs along one wall, and outdoor sidewalk seating is available. A cheery bustle rises as the sun sets. The forte is generous portions, fresh ingredients, fast and pleasant service, and reasonable prices. The menu includes starters, salads, focaccia sandwiches, pizzas, entrees, and desserts, and the bread, pizza dough, and most of the pastas are housemade. Choice items include the signature Pasta Bene (linguini with tomato, basil, garlic, capers, and seasonal vegetables in marinara sauce) and Penne Bolognese (penne with ground beef, garlic, mushrooms, and red bell pepper in a marinara sauce), but Tortellini Primavera, Chicken Picatta, and Gnocchi with Sausage are also tasty options. Two particularly delicious dishes are made with eggplant—Melanzane (with fettuccini) and Rustica (with penne and fennel sausage). Garlic bread and bruschetta topped with chopped tomatoes are both good choices, too. Surprisingly, crab cakes are also available and popular. For dessert, a light tiramisu garnished with berries is a no brainer. Simple beers and wines are available, and happy hour runs daily from 3 to 6 p.m.

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image c2010 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

Friday, August 27, 2010

80 North: Sacramento, Zocalo

Zocalo 1801 Capitol Ave., midtown, (916) 441-0303. L-D daily, Sat-SunBr; $$. Bearing the Spanish name for “central square,” this Mexican restaurant is situated within a repurposed 1930s car showroom and features a dynamite decor. Huge pots hold tall palms that reach up to the high ceiling, and giant windows provide an airy feeling. Patio dining is an option in nice weather. A margarita is a must—especially the gorgeous blackberry version—though many swear the corazon version is the best. Meals begin with a trio of dips with chips, and many dishes come with a side of black beans and cilantro rice. Choices include salads, burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and more--no one leaves hungry. The filling for the unusual tacos de cazuela--chorizo, onions, mushrooms and queso Menonita--is served in a casserole with housemade corn tortillas.

image c2010 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wine Country: Napa, Ubuntu--CLOSED


Ubuntu 1140 Main St./Pearl St., downtown, (707) 251-5656. L Sat-Sun, D daily; $$. Reservations advised. Situated inside a vintage 19th-century building, this striking restaurant features a large open room with a high trussed cathedral ceiling and stone walls. Items on the upscale, all-vegetarian menu have long names, and descriptions can be mind-boggling—marinated “ruby queen” BEETS with whipped sheep, SHUNGIKU*-s- carmelized “honey crisp” peach, LAVENDER conji, noyaux (this plate of delicious, colorful red and gold beets, accented with this and that, turned out to be my favorite dish). Other winners included a tasty bean stew—a signature dish--and a wonderful savory chocolate “financier” with goat cheese and green tomatoes. From his open kitchen, the talented chef sends out tasty items in lovely presentations. Organic vegetables come from local purveyors and also from the restaurant’s own biodynamic garden, and the menu changes daily. I suggest exploring the menu, sharing dishes, and letting your taste buds enjoy the fun. Do save room for dessert—perhaps nasturtium ice cream or white chocolate-and-lavender cookies. A large communal table usually has space for walk-ins. (“Ubuntu” means “practice humanity toward others” in Zulu.)

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image courtesy of restaurant

Sunday, August 22, 2010

80 North: Sacramento, The Firehouse

The Firehouse 1112 2nd St./K St., in Old Sac, (916) 442-4772. L M-F, D daily; $$$+. Reservations advised. Valet parking. High ceilings, chandelier lighting, elegant vintage oil paintings, half-moon booths, and white tablecloths all combine in this restored 1853 landmark firehouse to make for an old-time fine dining experience. And it seems that just about everything has a history--from the Cervantes bust in the courtyard flowerbed (it comes from a Market Street theater in San Francisco) to the main dining room fireplace (it comes from the Lathrope home at 7th and S streets)--and Ronald Reagan held both of his inaugural dinners here. The continental menu includes steaks and seafood but also more contemporary items. Because the restaurant is celebrating it 50th year, you can enjoy a three-course menu for two--it includes chateaubriand--at the special price of $50 per person. A five-course tasting menu is $68 ($98 with wine pairings) and includes a Peach Trio dessert with peach tarte tatin and peach fool among the delights. Bread is housebaked, butter is shaped like a rose, amuses and palate-cleansing intermezzo sorbets are inserted here and there, and chocolate truffles come with the check--making for a very special night out.

image c2010 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Monday, August 16, 2010

80 North: Sacramento, Amber House Bed & Breakfast

Amber House Bed & Breakfast 1315 22nd St./N St., midtown, (800) 755-6526, (916) 444-8085. 10 rooms. Some gas fireplaces. Full breakfast. No pets. Located midtown in a quiet leafy residential area, this lodging consists of two elegant vintage mansions. Five rooms named for poets are in the main 1905 Craftsman bungalow, and five more named for musicians are across the street in an 1895 Colonial Revival. Guests have choice of a gourmet two-course breakfast or a lighter option, and also a choice of having it served in the guest room, in the dining room, on the front porch, or in the garden. Non-alcoholic beverages and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies arrive with turn-down, and an early morning beverage is left outside guestroom doors before breakfast. Strawberries, rose petals, and a candlelight bath can be arranged at additional fee. I liked that the inn uses the European tipping style of leaving one tip in an envelope at the end for the entire staff to share.

image c2010 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Saturday, August 14, 2010

101 North: Marin Headlands, The Marine Mammal Center

published Aug. 14, 2010
updated Sept. 6, 2016

The Marine Mammal Center  1065 Fort Cronkhite, (415) 289-SEAL.  Daily 10-4.  Free; audio tour $10; guided tours $7, seniors & 4+ $5.  Staffed by volunteers, this is one of the largest wild animal hospitals in the world.  Injured, sick, and orphaned marine mammals are brought here to be nursed back to health.  Seals and sea lions are the most common “patients,” though sometimes a dolphin or porpoise is in need; whales are usually treated off site, on location.  When ready, patients are released back into their natural habitat.  Visitors see seals laying prone, some bleating like lambs, other swimming and barking.  The animals are fed and most active from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.  Do visit the fish kitchen, where you might see fish milkshakes being prepared in blenders for the babies.  Docent-led tours are available on weekends, self-guided tours during the week.   

elephant seal statue at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California
elephant seal statue at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California

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images ©2010 Carole Terwilliger Meyers
 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wine Country: Sonoma, Estate

update/p.413

Estate  400 W. Spain St., 3 blks. from plaza, (707) 933-3663; . D daily, SunBr; $$-$$$. Reservations advised. General Vallejo’s third daughter, Natalia, built this Victorian in 1864 with her husband, Attilla Haraszthy, whose family grew grapes in the valley. The house is beautifully renovated and adapted--with high ceilings, cabernet-colored walls, and large window cutouts in interior walls permitting seeing into adjoining rooms--and diners can choose from several seating spaces, including a porch and large patio area in good weather. The regional Italian menu offers several rustic-style pizzas, a delicious roasted chicken, and a popular four-course “La Cena di Famiglia" dinner. One recent evening this well-priced family-style extravaganza included wood-fired-oven-baked bread and a tasty spread; an assortment of four antipasti that included circles of polenta and a few thin slices of housemade salumi; a fresh corn, tomato, and arugula salad with fragrant truffle vinaigrette; wood oven-baked penne with pork shoulder-tomato sugo topped with delicious, very stringy mozzarella and a side of lemony kale; and an ending of roasted fresh peach halves with pistachio gelato. Cocktails, beer, and local wines by the glass are available, and a visit to the separate grappa bar can be fun before or after dining.

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image c2010 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Monday, August 9, 2010

San Francisco: Ramblas--CLOSED

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Wine Country: Yountville, Bouchon Bakery

Bouchon Bakery 6528 Washington St., (707) 944-2253. Daily 7-7. This yummy spot bakes baguettes twice daily. Pastries include croissants, sticky buns, and a signature broiche twist drizzled with chocolate. Cookies are exceptional, especially the oatmeal-pecan. In fact, you can pick up the makings for a supreme picnic—heavenly sandwiches, a gooey-centered Valrhona chocolate cake, and cold drinks from the cooler.

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