Northern California

dry-creek-kitchen-healdsburg-ca-95448-signIt was my 33rd birthday and I decided to treat myself to a nice trip to Sonoma Valley. Some call it the “Jesus year”, but I like to call it another excuse to play in wine country! With all the choices for fine dining restaurants, I had quite a task to narrow it down to one. We are talking about one of the culinary meccas, people! While I knew I’d stay multiple days in Sonoma Valley, most nights were allocated to be spent with good friends, so that left me with one night all to myself. At the end of the day, I was extremely happy with my choice: Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen.

Charlie Palmer has made a name for himself since the 1980s with his first restaurant Aureole in New York. Ever since then, he’s won award after award, including two restaurants with Michelin stars (Aureole: New York, Las Vegas). Included in the restaurant bank of awards is Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, California, which he opened in 2001, located in the northern Sonoma Valley. From the coat check to the final escort to my taxi, I was incredibly pleased with my dining experience.

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LuckyPigI am somewhat obsessed with a dish called the Lucky Pig, it’s served at Solbar in Calistoga and I order it almost every time I dine there. It’s basically tender roast pork served with a lot of other goodies—sesame pancakes, peanuts, jalapeños, herbs and lettuce, sauces, and even a little noodle salad.

SolBar is a Michelin star restaurant at the Solage resort, but it’s got an approachable menu that has both healthy light options as well as more indulgent food and the staff couldn’t be nicer or more accommodating. Speaking of accommodating, to order the Lucky Pig I have to cajole other diners at my table to share it with me. The size of the roast pork shoulder varies, but it’s quite a lot of food. I also have to convince someone to go to Calistoga with me and since it’s about an hour and half drive, !’ve been working on my own version of it to enjoy at home.

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tacos01.jpgFor several years now I'd been hearing about the taco trucks of Fruitvale, a section of Oakland known for having a large Latino population. After reading endless reports on Yelp, Chowhound and an article in the East Bay Express by John Birdsall, I was ready to hit the road, or rather, International Boulevard, where there's a high concentration of taco trucks. I didn't spend a month investigating like Birdsall did (thanks John!) but I did put together a hit list, based on recommendations and testimonials. A word about pricing, you'll spend more on bridge toll than you will at most spots along the corridor. Tacos ranged in price from $1 to $1.25 and the agua fresca I ordered was $1.

First stop was the Sinaloa complex, located in a parking lot at 2138 International Blvd. You can't miss this stop and frankly, it's one of the best. Here there are two trucks to visit--one has the standard kinds of tacos, while the other is devoted to seafood. The fish taco was good, but the shrimp tostada was outstanding. A crisp tortilla was topped not just with sweet, plump and juicy shrimp, but also chunks of cucumber, tomato, onion, slivers of avocado and fresh cilantro. Not to be missed!

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ImageI was invited – along with six other authors – to talk about my latest book, “Family Meals” at the annual Author’s Luncheon in Sacramento. It benefits the National Kidney Foundation and it’s a great event. Jill came along as Muse – I never travel without my Muse – so we made it a combination work and play trip, which we always try to do.

Our first stop was at our friend Caroline’s graduation from the Napa Valley Cooking School. Caroline is a great friend; she first worked for us as a personal assistant and sous chef in my kitchen (I taught her everything she knows about cooking, of course) – and now she’s a real certified chef on her own. We’re very proud of her.

Next stop was Sacramento for the luncheon and signing and then we decided to drive up to the Russian River area to eat and drink for a couple of days before we finish the trip with a reading and signing at Books, Inc. – a great independent bookstore in San Francisco.

Guerneville is an adorable town on the Russian River – foggy, but adorable. It’s nestled under the majestic coastal redwoods that thrive on the local fog and it’s surrounded by vineyards that turn out some of the best wines California has to offer.

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