Category Archives: Holiday

Finding Food, Friends, and Conversation On The Road – My Most Memorable Meals of 2015

This is a memorable guest post from Penny Sadler, blogger at Adventures of a Carry-On. 

My best meals of 2015

I grew up in a big family, but as a teenager there was a period of time when it was just my dad and I living together. Neither one of us was a whiz in the kitchen, so we often ate dinner out. Those early dining experiences ingrained in me a love for delicious food and conversation. They shaped who I am today – a good listener and a good conversationalist, with a penchant for excellent food (preferably cooked by someone else), with a healthy dose of listening and sharing by all parties at the table.

Writing about my top five most memorable meals of 2015 was easy…except that I had so many memorable meals. When I really thought about the meals that stood out for me, I noted that I was always traveling. From San Francisco to Piedmont, Italy, 2015 was a year of new food experiences and wine pairings. Another reason these meals were memorable…all of my favorite meals this year included reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances or dining with new friends. And of course, great conversation.

Cacio e Pepe at Locanda - one of my favorite meals this year
Cacio e Pepe at Locanda – one of my favorite meals this year

California: Locanda – The Mission: Let’s begin in San Francisco, voted the best food city in the USA by Bon Appetit Magazine.  I can’t disagree. I had several memorable meals in San Francisco. but the one that really stands out for me was dinner at Locanda  in the Mission District. Owners Craig and Annie Stoll have turned to Rome for the inspiration behind Locanda – and for this reason, I was eager to try it.

Aside from being some of the best Italian food I’ve eaten in the US or Italy (there’s an Italian who is going to argue with me about this I know), what made this meal special was my dinner companion. I met Jody on New Year’s Day in Cambria, California, under not the best of circumstances. I fell on the beach and couldn’t get up. Jody rescued me. Jody lives in Mill Valley, I live in Dallas. We met up in San Francisco almost a year later, and had an amazing dinner and wine pairing at Locanda.

Locanda - home to one of the best meals I ate in 2015

I decided to try the Cacio e Pepe for a primi. It’s about as basic as you can get – pasta, cheese, and pepper with some olive oil. And yes, it did remind me of Rome. For an entrée, I had the Pancetta-wrapped Mary’s Chicken with Anson Mills polenta and grilled turnips.  I rarely ever order chicken, but Mary’s Chicken is a family-owned business that has been raising free-range, organic chickens for three generations.  The dish had the perfect blend of flavors – slightly salty, savory, and the perfect portion size. The sommelier paired it with a Francesco Rinaldi Barbaresco. The dark red fruit and licorice flavors of the wine were a perfect balance with the savory notes of the pancetta and chicken. Jody had the Berkshire Pork Saltimboca paired with a lovely Beaujolais. She left with a doggie bag. For dessert, we had a Barolo Chinato. It’s a dessert wine with aromas of stewed fruit, but not too sweet. Lovely.

No matter what you order at Locanda, you can’t go wrong. We loved everything.

Locanda chef making pasta - one of my best meals of 2015
Locanda chef making pasta

Since I’m a recent WSET (Wine Spirits Education Trust) graduate, I did take note of the excellent wine list at Locanda. Many Italian wines from Piedmont were included, and I was pleased to see I’d visited several of the wineries on the list. One of them is part of this article, as I also had an amazing meal there. Read on.

Locanda, 557 Valencia (San Francisco)


Acquolina - location of one of my best meals of 2015Aquolina – North Beach: I spent Thanksgiving Day in San Francisco mostly walking around the North Beach neighborhood.  There was a place right on the corner facing Washington Square with lots of windows and sidewalk seating that looked inviting. I grabbed a seat at the bar, ordered a spritzer, and watched the crowd for a while. I was scouting for a place for myself and a friend to have Thanksgiving dinner, but we didn’t want to spend a fortune on a pre-fixe menu.

Aquolina was serving their regular menu, casual Tuscan-style Italian,

Pizza with speck and mozzarella from Aquolina - one of the best meals I ate in 2015
Pizza with speck and mozzarella from Aquolina

in addition to holiday specials. I saw a few pizzas being served and decided that was where we’d have dinner later. We ate a wonderful thin-crust Roman-style pizza, with mozzarella and prosciutto. Delicious! It was the perfect antidote to a traditional Thanksgiving meal…and I got to dine outside on a crisp San Francisco night with a friend who happened to be in town that week.

Aquolina, 1600 Stockton St. (San Francisco)

Courtesy. Harmony Cafe
Courtesy. Harmony Cafe

Harmony – San Luis Obispo County: South of San Francisco, just off of Highway 101, is the tiny town of Harmony,  population: 18. I was starving, so stopped to see what I might find in such a small place.

The moment I stepped foot inside the Harmony café, I felt like I was in Italy. And guess what? Chef Giovanni is

House-made butternut squash pasta with a light marinara sauce at The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough - part of my best meals of 2015
House-made butternut squash pasta with a light marinara sauce at The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough

indeed Italian. He made me a butternut squash pasta with a light marinara sauce, which paired well with a glass of pinot grigio. While I waited, I chatted with other customers who told me they were regulars there – they return every year on vacation from New York. That’s how good Chef Giovanni’s food is. For dessert, I had the house-made tiramisu.  Pasta and tiramisu in one meal is an indulgence I don’t often allow myself. But tiramisu made by an Italian is the next best thing to going to Treviso, the home of the original tiramisu.

Chef Giovanni, The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough - location of one of my best meals in 2015
Chef Giovanni, The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough

Note: Harmony Cafe has relocated to Cambria, and is now called The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough. Chef Giovanni is still cooking in the kitchen.

Harmony Cafe, 824 Main St. (Cambria)


Piedmont, Italy: Barolo

why go to Barolo, Piedmont, Italy @PennySadler 2015
Photo by Penny Sadler

In September, I toured the wine country of Piedmont, Italy. I completed my Wine Spirits Education Trust certification in August (you can read about it here), and the time seemed right for this trip. Many of the wineries in the area also have dining rooms and tasting menus serving regional dishes paired with the local wines. I recommend La Foresteria at Cantina Marchesi di Barolo, in Barolo,

Angelo, Me, and Valentina Abbona, the Marketing Manager and owner's daughter at Marchesi di Barolo, location of one of my best meals of 2015
Angelo, Me, and Valentina Abbona, the Marketing Manager and owner’s daughter at Marchesi di Barolo

Italy. Here I met up with an Italian friend who had hosted me at his home in Italy over two years ago. A reunion over food and wine in Barolo doesn’t sound too shabby, does it?




Marchesi di Barolo - the location of one of my best meals of 2015
Dining room, Marchesi di Barolo

There are three menu options, and depending on how hungry you are, you can chose three to five courses. Whatever you do, you must try the veal with tuna sauce (veal con tonnato). I thought it sounded disgusting until I tried it. Buonissimo! It was paired with the Gavi di Gavi, a wine I enjoy drinking on its own – it was perfect with this dish. The desserts were to die for, as well.

The Moscato jelly with fresh fruit served with Moscato d’ Asti

The Moscato jelly with fresh fruit at Marchesi di Barolo -dessert from one of my best meals of 2015
The Moscato jelly with fresh fruit at Marchesi di Barolo

Zagara tasted crisp and fresh. I could have eaten a gallon of it. The ambiance was very elegant, with white tablecloths, delicate stemware, and enough silverware to make me feel like I was in a scene from Pretty Woman.

Marquesi di Barolo, Via Roma 1


Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography
Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography

Santa Fe, New Mexico: Now, believe it or not, I do have one amazing dining experience to tell you about that was not Italian, nor in Italy or California. This memorable meal was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, another well-known foodie city. It was, and remains, the most unique dining experience of my life so far. Yes, I think I can honestly say that.

Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography
Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography

Prepared in the parking lot at the Santa Fe Opera, the locals call this dining a tailgate party. We had our table set up under a beautiful white tent.  Executive Chef Todd Hall, from La Posada de Santa Fe, prepared a four-course meal for us while black tie waiters served us grilled bacon wrapped peaches, lobster in little gem lettuce, and ahi tuna, paired with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Those were the appetizers.

The second course was a salad of Sicilian burrata, asparagus, boiled

Salad of Sicilian burrata, asparagus, boiled egg, and lemon curd aioli, La Posada de Santa Fe ©Amiel Gervers Photography
Salad of Sicilian burrata, asparagus, boiled egg, and lemon curd aioli, La Posada de Santa Fe ©Amiel Gervers Photography

egg, and lemon curd aioli. To die for. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Ever. I could have made the main course out of that.

Next up was Prawn and Diver Scallop Brochette on a salad of chilled

lemon mint tabbouleh, icicle cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, and yellow watermelon, paired with a buttery chardonnay from Walt vineyards. Wait, did I say the second course was the best thing I’ve ever eaten? Honestly, the entire meal was a work of art. The combination of flavors and textures was sublime. I will never forget this meal.

Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography
Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography

And then there was dessert: a dark cherry tartlet with Kahlua salted caramel ice cream. Swoon! The sad news is, we barely had time to inhale this heavenly creation because we were being swept off to see the opera.

My suggestion: go to the newly remodeled Julia,  at La Posada de Santa Fe. Todd Hall is a James Beard-recognized chef and Julia is a beautiful, warm environment. The experience may not be the same as a tailgate party at the opera, but the food is sure to be five-star, and the warm and inviting atmosphere at Julia is pretty swanky, too.

La Posada de Santa Fe, 300 East Palace Ave. (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

The End. Go Eat. Happy 2016.


i8tonite: Gratitude with a Corn Goat Cheese Savory Pudding

A Facebook “friend” asked that ubiquitous question the other day, “What are you grateful for today?” A lot.

Six years ago, I walked away from a car crash involving three big rigs and nine other cars on California Interstate 5. It was caused by a dust-storm that felt whipped up by Hades himself, near Bakersfield. Three people died. Whether it’s the grace of God or the fates intervening, I removed myself from my car before it exploded. Only seconds before, I sat in the driver’s seat…. breathed a sigh of relief I hadn’t hit the truck in front of me. In the passing of another second and almost on the second inhalation,  a 1975 Dodge pickup plowed into my SUV’s backside turning it into an accordion. To the side, there was a fireball that hurled towards me. Produced by a car driven by a young family man as he rear-ended the truck’s trailer, the one I narrowly avoided had jack-knifed across two lanes.  His exploding engine instantly cremated him, destroyed his vehicle and crafted an explosion pointed towards me from the 18-wheeler’s reserves tanks. There were milliseconds between the collision of automobiles and my ability to open my car door and get out. Had I not – I wouldn’t be in the Sonoran desert, hiking to the top of peaks, eating superb food, receiving kisses from my dogs, and love from Nick. I suffered a minor concussion and two cracked ribs.

After experiencing a trauma of that magnitude, it’s not uncommon for an accident victim to discover their life situations not working anymore.  The next six months after the crash, I implemented changes. I left a toxic relationship which should have ended years before.  I moved back to a city where I had support and love. Items that can never be bought.  I even discovered a new relationship I wasn’t planning on having but am grateful that I’m alive to experience it.

Not one day passes I don’t think about the accident.

This past weekend marks the anniversary of that experience  and the beginning of something new. As someone said to me recently, “You moved to Phoenix because you have risen from the ashes.”

At the end of 2013, former San Jose Mercury food editor, Carolyn Jung published her first cookbook, San Francisco Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from The City by The Bay (Lyons Press). I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with Carolyn over the years.  As a journalist and via her website, she’s been supportive of my clients and their food endeavors. For me, I always think it’s important to recognize the writers who have helped along the way. A journalist’s life can be thankless especially from a public relations perspective.

To support the publishing of her book, I attempted to create a cooking and book-signing experience at a former San Francisco client. Unfortunately, the event never happened because the restaurant closed. I’m doing a little shout out about her book — saying thank you, hoping I can help sell even more cookbooks. I adapted this recipe from one of the many delicious dishes she curated in her cookbook from Bay Area chefs. This particular dish, from the owners/ chefs of Ame, I turned into a one dish casserole.

Goat Cheese Bread PuddingSweet Corn-Goat Cheese Bread Pudding (adapted from Carolyn Jung’s San Francisco Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from The City by the Bay).



  • 1 whole baguette. Cut into approximately one-inch pieces.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon sage
  • ½ cup of chicken stock
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup of sour cream
  • 2 cups grated Parmesan-Reggiano
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • Corn cut from 2 ears.

Let’s make this puppy:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees to toast the croutons. Bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven but keep the oven on to bake the final product.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and crisp the chopped bacon. Once the bacon has been slightly browned. Add the vegetables and sage. Stir until soft. Stir in the croutons, letting them soak up the fat.

Pour in the chicken stock and allow the bread to become saturated. Season well. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the milk, egg, sour cream, and cheeses. Mix well. Assemble everything – croutons and wet ingredients including the corn.

Pour everything into a small casserole and place into a larger roasting pan creating a water bath. Pour water until halfway up the side of the casserole dish.  Dot with extra goat cheese and grated cheese.Bake for about 30 minutes until golden. Serve warm.

(Recommendation: If there are leftovers, reheat in the morning and top with poached eggs. Awesome!

The End. Go Eat. 


No Cook Thanksgiving But If I Were…..

I stopped cooking Thanksgiving meals about 5 years ago. I know, I know. It’s one of the big days that all caliber of cooks want to shine showcasing their adeptness in the kitchen, commercial or home. If you know anything about me, cooking is one my favorite of the things. Therefore, you would think that I would be all over this but I’m not. Not anymore. I stopped cooking for the holiday when I was ending a decade plus relationship that entailed my work and my personal life. I also moved from San Francisco, where I lived for 3 years, back to Los Angeles at the same time. (Hey, no one ever said that I liked to do it easy). That first Thanksgiving, as a single man, turned out to be a horrible experience as I was invited to eat at one of my ex’s friend with their 30 plus dinner guests. My only excuse for going was I that I was still delirious from the break-up.

With each progressive year, I feel less and less like big festivities. This year, I think it’s just Nick, Holly, JJ and my mother. I don’t really think of the holiday as exceptional anymore but I celebrate it quietly with people who love me and I, them.

At the heart of it all, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday and New Year’s Eve clustered together in a 6 week period, is that I really just want to spend quality time with the people whom I cherish. I don’t want to wrapped up in a kitchen anymore for the entire day. Let someone else shine and enjoy learning about cooking. (To brine or not to brine? Fried or not to fry? Oysters in the stuffing or sausage?) I’ve made a lot of turkeys, roasts and hams in my life and I’m now willing to give up the “big star” turn to others. Cooking quietly, simple easy meals on a daily basis.

However, if I were to cook for a dinner of 8 to 10 (LOL), this is what I would make and why:

Butternut Squash Soup: Simplicity. Ease and elegance. Besides, Butternut Squash Soup screams fall!

Roasted Turkey Stuffed with Prunes: Mario Batali’s way of cooking a large bird is ingenious. Have your butcher remove the bones and use them for stock and gravy. Beautiful. Easy. Delicious and quick.

Homemade Bread: There is nothing in the world like homemade bread. Nothing. It can be made two or three days in advance and frozen. Just one of the most beautiful things ever. No Knead Bread is revelatory.

IMG_20140823_150336 (2)

Salad: If I were making the dinner, the recipe for this Kale, Fennel and Apple Salad would be it. And I would leave it at this. It feels very European this meal. A protein. Bread. Salad. Soup.

This would be the meal. You don’t have to do too many things. If you want to throw in a traditional dish of roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, go for it.

Oh, but don’t forget for dessert. HA! I don’t make a lot sweet things and there are reasons for it. I don’t want it around because I will eat it…ALL…but if I find something sweet and light.

Sparkling water and flat. Always.

White Wine: Duckhorn or Cade Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley. Both are perfect wines for cocktails and for the first course. Lovely and herbaceous.

Red Wine: Oregon’s Sokol Blosser Pinot is lovely for this dinner. Light, bodied, earthy red with hints of cherry.

Beer: Brouwerij West “Saison”. Not to hoppy, excellent flavor, Belgian-style beer. Craft beer made in Los Angeles.

Happy Turkey Day. Enjoy your family, friends and food!