Monday, November 23, 2009

Chai Tea with Wild Fennel Seed

I had to get up early this morning to take my car in for maintenance in Mill Valley.  On the 45 minute walk back home, across the marshlands of Richardson Bay, past the cranes and other water birds making a quick breakfast of the grubs and bugs in the deep grasses, I had a few moments of respite, the kind that help us catch up with our thoughts, remembering those emails that we haven't yet tended to, or the projects we are aching to begin.  A sort of  "mental accounting time" I guess you could say.  It was just then, wondering about the grasses and plants of this wild land, that I began pondering the Chai tea recipe my friend Linda sent me just yesterday.  You see, Linda was the only friend of 20 or so that complied with my forwarded recipe-exchange email. I had gotten it from a friend's mom and it seemed simple enough: Type up a quick recipe, the kind you can recite off the top of your head, send to the #1 person on a list of 2 people. Move the #2 person into the #1 position, and place your name into the #2 position.  In a few days I should receive 20 recipes, sort of exciting, really.  Well apparently my friends and family are way too busy for this sort of thing, as I received multiple emails saying they just "didn't have the time". (my thought was, "what-everrrr," in the best valley girl accent I could come up with).  I did receive one recipe though, for chicken breast sauteed with noodles and garlic, and heated through with DiSorrento Alfredo Sauce.  The recipe said it was optional to serve this dish with Texas Cheese Toast. I was about to be judgemental, using terms like WT and the like, but considering it was the only recipe I recieved, I was thankful for the effort (despite the fat cells I imagined expanding on my thighs).  I managed to rattle off an easy version of Butternut Squash Gratin, layering Bechemel with a sprinkling of parmesan, nutmeg and thyme, and topping with gruyere cheese.   (Yes, my thighs are expanding at the thought of that calorie-laden dish as well).  So, back to Linda, who facebooked me that she did participate by sending a Chai Tea recipe to the first person on the list (thanks Linda).  To date, she hadn't received any recipes in return...
Chai Tea?  "Can you forward me the recipe?" I called out over the airwaves.

After I arrived home, after a quick inventory of the cupboard revealed I had all the ingredients except fennel seeds, Foeniculum vulgare.  I had hardly ever used them, and seriously could not remember if I had ever used them in my cooking before (although eaten plenty of them in restaurants).  After having wondered about unidentifiable marsh plants just moments before, I felt confident and proud that I could solve  the no fennel problem in a matter of minutes. Wild fennel is practically everywhere in the SF Bay Area that's not deliberately landscaped. After a little online research, I found the ideal time to pick is when the seed pods start to turn slightly brown. Of course one should choose a patch away from traffic and the overspray of neighboring gardeners' weed killers. (an important point as I witnessed just today a neighbor spraying small grasses in her driveway with Roundup just feet away from the Fig tree I had been sneaking fruit from a few weeks back.) Oops, back to the fennel.  So, after picking , rinse the seed pods off, spread them out (on a screen or sheet pan) and let them dry naturally for a few days. When dry, the seed on the inside of the pod releases easily. These are exactly the same seeds you will find in a fancy jar in the spice aisle but instead are FREE. I strolled up my street and clipped a few fronds, some in later stages so I could use them immediately.

Here's her recipe:

Chai tea

3 pods cardamom, cracked
1 (3-inch) stick Ceylon cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1/2 tspn whole coriander
1/2 tspn fennel seeds
1 tspn black peppercorns
2 (2-inch) strips orange zest
1 tblspn black tea (or 5 decaf tea bags)
1 cup plain regular soy milk
2 tblspns honey

In a medium saucepan, combine the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves,coriander, fennel, and peppercorns with the orange zest. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. Add the black tea. Cover and remove from heat. Let steep 30 minutes.Strain the spiced infusion. Pour it back into the pot. Add soy mik and honey. Heat, pout into cups and serve. Serves 4.

I must admit, being an avid tea drinker, the idea of steeping my PG Tips for 30 minutes was offputting.  Usually more than 2 minutes and the tea is bitter and tannic as hell.  Somehow that didn't happen.  Don't forget to crush open the cardamom pods though, as the flavors just don't extract if you leave them whole (I forgot the first time).  I used a few extra cloves and wasn't anal about the measurements of the other spices.  Also, I highly recommend using organic oranges, as the zest is the semi-permeable barrier between the pesticides the grower used and the fruit inside.  If your fruit is not organic, these creepy substances will be released into your delicious concoction, making it not so delicious seeming after all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Grass for Dinner

I had a rare Saturday night off last weekend and headed up to Napa to see an old favorite of mine at the Napa Valley Opera House, Greg Brown.  "Greg Brown?," you're asking.  Yeah, Greg Brown, got a problem with that?  I got tired of explaining to people that he's a great guitarist and blues/folk singer, probably at his height in the 80's and 90's; okay, his height amidst the coffee house crowds.  I'm sure he's popular somewhere, like in the backwoods of Ohio where he toils in the dirt on his Grandmother's farm.  And opera, "Napa has an opera?", was another common response.  So anyway, that's how I found myself in Napa on Saturday night, my friend Kimberly in tow, a free ticket as the lure.

Where to dinner, where to dinner?  That's an exciting question for me always.  Downtown Napa, Old Town, has experienced a revival in the last few years with Main Street being, well, the main street through this part of town.  The Opera House sits smack in the middle with restaurants dotting the road and side streets between 3rd Street and Pearl.  We were surprised how hard it was to find parking at 6 pm along this stretch, with many public parking lots to choose from.  We sneaked into the Wells Fargo parking lot, and the attendant turned a blind eye as we scampered away from the car.

I had been (happily) pondering our dinner option all day, having checked online for any I may be missing.  I had narrowed it down to a couple of choices:  Zuzu, on Main at 3rd, a favorite of mine and pretty much the only place I ever eat in Napa proper.  I was hankering to branch out though, and looked at Bounty Hunter's menu online, thinking their famous beer can chicken could be the ticket.  I had heard great things about their menu and wine list, but was a little offput when I noticed they didn't mention anything about organic or sustainable on their menu.  I've never been that much of a food snob, but the more I know about factory farming, the more I don't want to know about factory farming.  As a matter of fact, just last night before bed I was reading Michael Pollan's "Omnivore Dilemma" and found, to my dismay, that even Rosie chickens from Petaluma Poultry are factory farmed.  Whaaa!  Speaking of blind eyes, I really can't turn one this time.  I'm actually sort of pissed, but I'll explore that tangent in another post...

Another viable option for dinner could be Ubuntu, the Michelin Star appointed vegetarian restaurant and yoga studio which is literally right next door to Cole's Chop House, an old style steak house where Kimberly and I decided to enjoy a cocktail while we pondered our options.  I hadn't remember hearing much about Cole's before, but then again, I realized I didn't know jack about Napa dining when it really came down to it.  My friend Laura was to be celebrating her birthday there in just a few hours and had invited us to meet she and her husband for drinks after the show.  That's the only reason it was on my radar. 

The drinks almost didn't happen, as Kimberly was grumpy that there wasn't a seat at the bar, and I was trying not to be the pushy I-must-have-cocktail-now type friend.  Just then, a couple got up to be seated in the dining room and voila, we had seats.  Nowadays most cocktail lists are fancified with infusions and syrups and herbal concoctions.  Not that I'm against that, anything that masks the alcohol artfully is okay in my book - otherwise, I'd just be ordering a Hendricks Martini up, please.  But no, I'm a wimp when it comes to this stuff, so I chose a ginger-y vodka concoction (as they didn't have my current favorite, Pisco Sour); Kimberly chose a pomegranate vodka concoction and all was good, finally.

It was only 6:15 and we still hadn't decided where to eat.  A phone call to Zuzu reassured us there would be plenty of seats at 6:30, Ubuntu was still an option, but I was in the mood for some meat and as much as I did want to try it, I wasn't very excited by the idea of going there.  Kimberly had eaten a late lunch and was only up for a salad.  Once the steak was placed in front of the guy next to us, my canines began watering, and the longer I sat there staring at his steak, the more I wanted a bite.  Okay, let's look at the menu here, I thought.

Their menu boasts "21 Dry Aged Prime Steaks".  But how many of the 21 would I feel good about eating?  I'm no purest, just last year I had a quite delicious ribeye at the Outback Steakhouse near my house, and I'm pretty sure the Mongolian Beef from the place down the block came directly from a Sysco truck, but everything I've read (thanks a lot, Michael Pollan) makes me cringe at the idea of factory farmed, corn (and other ingredient) fattened prime beef.  Don't get me wrong.  Corn fattened beef is delicious:  Well marbled, fatty goodness. But these days when I'm going to eat a solid piece of meat, a big, deliciously charred slice of heaven, it's going to have to be grass fed, damnit.  So, after perusing the menu, and nixing the Chicago dry aged porterhouse (awwww) and New York, I decided on the Five Dot Ranch's ribeye.  Not only is it my favorite cut, but also "naturally raised" and 28-day California dry aged.  I'm not prepared to argue on the merits of California vs. Chicago dry aging processes.  But just the fact that they were aged in Chicago, didn't have natural or grass fed in any description, recalled the factory feed lot mentality of most ranches in the midwest and pretty much grossed me out.  A quick check by the bartender reassured me it was prairie fed, as up to that point I had never heard of Five Dot Ranch.  The guy next to me seemed a little put off that I cared that much anyway, being completely oblivious to the corn fed, antibiotic ridden, feedlot nightmare his hunk o' meat had gone through. (ignorance is bliss)

I ordered a 1/2 bottle of Mi Sueno "El Llano" Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend, an almost sacrilege combination but something I've seeing popping up more often nowadays.  I love the story around Mi Sueno, owned by the son of migrant vineyard worker who got his start in the food and wine business as a dishwasher at Auberge du Soleil, then worked his way around the valley, finally making wine at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.  The "American Sueno" at its finest. (that's American Dream for you gringos).  Not to mention, the wine was spectacular, rich, very extracted, leathery, slightly tannic, with a hint of spice from the Syrah.

The steak and caesar arrived simultaneously as requested, with the 12 oz ribeye practically covering the whole plate.  Perfectly medium rare (or "mid-rare" as we say in the biz), there was nothing separating the rich flavors of my steak from my neighbor's "unnatural" counterpart (in my opinion, of course).  And there was nothing separating me from my steak, save for a few bites I regretfully gave Kimberly in between sips of unctous Napa Valley juice.  "Grass for dinner" you may be asking yourself?  Why yes, haven't you been paying attention?  With the caesar, the croutons (made from bread, which is made from wheat, which is, of course, a grass) and my prairie fed steak, what wasn't grassy about it?  Watch out Ubuntu, you may have some competition. - for a true steak house experience - for a heartwarming story and some great wines, located in the southern end of town. - located in Lassen County, they graze their herds in several open grasslands around California, even making it to Napa Valley. - you may be surprised to know a few of his songs. - using only organic and sustainable ingredients and Argentine grass-fed beef. - one of the best wine lists around and despite my issues, I still wanna try the beer can chicken! - not mentioned in my post, this is the sister restaurant to Cole's and has a great wine list and asian/world fusion style food. - my next stop in Napa when I'm feeling forage-y.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Peruvian Feast

I can't believe my right running shoe still smells of paprika, even after the washing machine and dryer?  How the hell is that possible? 

Please allow a recap:  I stopped by my friend Gary's birthday party on the way home after a day out on a boat.  That explains the running shoes.  I was the dorkiest dressed (well at least I thought so):  a white hoodie, banana republic jean shorts (the tighty kind that go to your knees), and running shoes (no socks).  I guess my choice to not change before the party sort of backfired as the other guests arrived in cleanly pressed dress shirts, cutey patootie shoes, make-up (imagine that) and blow dried hair.  I had blow dried hair alright, the kind that is naturally messy from the wind and salt water.

Okay, enough said about that.  I was clearly uncomfortable, so proceeded to try each and every fine wine that Gary opened.  I was surprisingly impressed with the Coppola Claret, the kind of wine that one can sip without food.  So impressed that I had a wine epiphany. It may not sound like much of an epiphany but here goes:  there is wine that goes with food and wine that goes alone;  often the wine that goes with food is not very good without food (too acidic), and the wine that goes alone can be overly cloyying, (too much fruit, high alcohol etc.)  But, there is a definitive place for both.  Being in the industry, many of the wine geeks I have the pleasure of knowing (quite a few by the way) don't like those big Napa County Cabernet blends that sometimes have the tendency to hit you over the head with their bold flavor profiles.  The snobs that have been at it for a while look down on the "less refined" nature of these wines, opting for a leaner style, "food friendly" they call it. I can appreciate those too:  A gorgeous Cote du Rhone, a juicy Nebbiolo, a true Burgundy.  However, sometimes there is a need for a wine that stands alone, one that doesn't require a bite of food to enjoy, one that lingers like dried plums, dusty earth, and bittersweet chocolate.  That's how I felt about the Claret:  dusty, dark fruit, coco powder, raisins, balanced goodness.  Like a good Guinness beer, almost a meal in itself.

Oh that's right, I'm supposed to be talking about food here, hence the "Peruvian Feast" title.  And my shoe, what the hell happened there?

Michelle, Gary's adorable half-Peruvian wife, had whipped up a huge batch of Chupa for the birthday celebration, a Peruvian cream based stew of potatoes, onions, hominy, chiles, tons of paprika and fresh shrimp.  Her mother had made the most delicious Papas Rellanas I had ever had:  mashed potatoes folded into a disk and stuffed with a mixture containing hard boiled eggs, ground meat, olives and spices (secret recipe I'm told).  The papas are then topped with vinegared red onions to give them a little zap and zing.  I was so overjoyed with the flavors that I threatened to sing at the top of my lungs (which my tablemates staunchly prohibited).  The shrimp stew was perfectly seasoned and texturally stunning with the crunchy hominy, sweet shrimp and just enough chile to make you want to eat a bite of the papas.  The papas rellanas were crispy on the outside (from the fryer, I imagine), soft on the inside, with that hidden pocket of seasoned meat that would make any mashed potato lover run off to the wilds of Peru forever.   I had a second one, as Michelle's mother had made a load of them.

Due to my weirdness at parties (or at least at this party), I insisted on helping serve the guests, passing around plates of food like the professional that I purport to be.  After I had my fill, I helped with the clean-up, "bussing" everyone's plates into the trash (okay, they were paper and why not, as who wants to be washing dishes for days?).  This is where the shoe fiasco came in.  In my overzealousness, I  had several bowls stacked on my arm at once (just call me "Flo").  I aimed into the trash, and just then the wine must have gone to my head, as I missed the bag and slid the bowls right onto the kitchen floor, and my right shoe. Well, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to imagine remnants of Chupa broth soaking directly into the soft fabric of the Asics.  (I can't believe I was wearing running shoes at a party!)

Instead of tracking Chupa all over the apartment's white carpeting, I decided it best to remove my shoes to the outside.  This final layer of embarrassment and humiliation got the best of me, walking around the party barefoot as if I were hanging on the beach in Maui. I scooted out the door, no regrets for having helped a bit and of course having partaken of this incredibly memorable feast, but vowing to never come to a party without properly coiffing again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Taste of the Bay Food Event October 2009

I wasn't sure what to expect as I headed over to Pier 3 a  few weeks back to represent Terzo in the Taste of the Bay Event, an annual fundraiser put on by the Hospitality Management program at San Francisco State University. 

Chef Mark was out of town, and I was told I'd have an intern to help, so I went alone, the solo flyer that I prefer being (or control freak, you choose).  My dish was simple with no need for cooking or much fussing:  Marinated Feta with Lemon, Mint, Oregano and Olive Oil on Crostini.  He planned it perfectly. Even though I'm no rookie in the kitchen, getting ready for the guests translated to smearing feta on toast and schmoozing with the other restaurateurs, chefs, former colleagues and wine industry professionals.

Positioned between Paragon Restaurant who was serving housemade sausage and Luce, where chef Dominique Crenn was putting together pork belly mini-burgers with red cabbage (yum), I couldn't have asked for a better locale.  The Bay Bridge loomed behind our boat, the docked San Francisco Belle, donated for the event by Hornblower Dinner Cruises. 

It was readily apparent after the 10 minutes it took to decorate my table and set up the mis en place that I would need some vino, as the event was still an hour away from beginning, and was slated to last 3 hours!  I perused the other vendors, many still an hour away from being ready (and some not even yet arrived), but was a little shy to ask if any would start popping their corks this early.  Who moi?  I have a small amount of restraint, sometimes. My intern, Monica, was a bright eyed freshman, having never worked in a restaurant, but in the hospitality program nonetheless.  When proded about why she chose this major, she responded that she wanted to be an event planner "because I helped plan my senior prom and loved it".  Awww, the naivete' of youth!

As Luce set up I marveled at their almost life-sized poster of Dominique, fresh from the set of Iron Chef, and all of their propaganda promoting her pending television appearance.  This was perfect fodder for giving her shit, as she was clearly incredibly embarrassed by their insistence on the large poster.  She slipped me a pork belly mini burger to keep me quiet, piled on the most delicious brioche buns that she "had a friend make, as the brioche here in the states is just not as good as in France".  Well, that friend should work at Luce with her, because the brioche was incredible, and judging by the fact that she had just earned a Michelin Star that very day, I must be seriously missing out on a great place.  Another one to put on the list.

Dominique loves Terzo and promised to come in and give me an equal dose of shit the next time she had a moment free.  I couldn't wait.

Once the event got rolling, my intern well trained in swiping the proper amount of  feta on the crispy toasts, I cruised around the room again to see (and sample) the other chefs' goods.  Damn, I was sad I had a late lunch at Le Garage (yes, I went there again...), as there was ample food to be had.  I sampled anyway:  Delicious chili from Henry's in the Hotel Durant (Berkeley), a place I once worked for a week over a decade ago while finishing my degree.  Lark Creek Steak had its famous Butterscotch Pudding, a dessert I've had more than my share of during my time with their organization, One Market, and Isaac, the nicest chef one has ever met and who has worked there over 10 years, had delicious crab cakes on little spoons.  Kuleto's was serving little toasts with incredible duck liver and marmalade. Oyaji, a Japanese restaurant far into the Richmond, was serving sushi, but wait, they were already gone.  Why is it that sushi at these events disappears as if it were the latest thing to hit the dining circuit?

I circled back to my table, Peju being right next door,  my wine needs met.  The beer at this event was crisp and perfect too:  Pyramid was pouring their Snowcap seasonal ale and Heifeweisen;  Anderson Valley was pouring their famous Boont Amber.  The  room was hot and full of people who couldn't get enough crammed onto their small plates.  I was watching the cocktail style high tables fill with unwanted food morsels and the restaurant manager in me couldn't look the other way as I motioned to the interns to bus the hell out of them.  Once a boss, always a boss, I suppose.

As things wound down, Dominque admitted she was drunk which was another opening to give her a hard time.  I reminded her she had to stay in top shape to sign all those autographs that were certain to be solicited.  I packed up my table a few minutes later, loaded up the cart and said goodbye to all, and then proceeded to scoot around the line of culinary students who were, you guessed it, lined up for autographs at the table next door.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Osteria Stellina - Pt. Reyes Station - Worth the Drive

Plugging this restaurant's name into the Google search engine to check their hours of operation, I was surprised by Tom Sietsema's (of the Washington Post) description of the "scenic and sometimes hair-raising (the twists! those turns!) 90-minute drive from San Francisco." 

"What??" I asked myself.  I don't know what back alley route he took, but I made the comfortable and, yes, scenic drive from Sausalito (just 10 minutes north of the City, and if you are all the way across the city, well, maybe 20 minutes to the bridge) in 38 minutes.  Just 36 miles door to door.  Tom, you should be ashamed of yourself for not knowing the insider way to this lovely little hamlet, having worked as a food critic for The Chronicle all those years.  But then again, you probably didn't have much reason to venture into Marin for a food review, and especially to Point Reyes Station, because back in your day the only reason for traversing the Golden Gate was to get to Napa or to do an occasional mountain bike ride on Mt. Tam.

Well, things have changed, or let me put it differently, they are changing s-l-o-w-l-y.  Any reason to take a leisurly drive out to Point Reyes Station, through oak studded rolling hills, still green from early fall rains, warmed by the lovely November Indian Summer sun, is a good reason. In my world the landscape doesn't get any better than this.  Every time I make this drive, I plot and fantasize about how to move out here, a single woman, living on these amazing pastures, waking daily to the wingspan of hawks circling for their breakfasts, the steam rising off Tomales Bay as the sun warms the surface and feeds the creatures within.  The term "spinster" just may be in my future, like it or not. Besides being one of my all time favorite places, this is the heartland of Marin Organic, a local organization committed to an organic Marin and dedicated to the local producers that supply the Bay Areas top restaurants with their produce, cheeses and meats.
It is really hard to not be in a good mood after taking the easy drive up 101 north to Lucas Valley Road, turning left past quiet subdivisions, and further on past the secretive Big Rock Ranch (3838) and Skywalker Ranches (5858).  You can't see either George Lucas enterprise from the road, so don't even slow down, as their private fire department/security force won't even let you past the front gate, trust me.  It's a mild wind out to Nicasio, a tiny town that has a festive restaurant and bar, Rancho Nicasio, as well as a quintessential little red school house.  Driving through this one block town and roughly north past horse pastures and pumpkin patches lands you at the corner of the Petaluma-Point Reyes Road.  Nicasio Reservoir will be on your left as you make the turn.  I got stuck behind a landscape truck that was filled to the brim with cleared pampas grass and often spit out stray reeds from the back.  Not to worry though, just a few miles down is the "bridge" in some state of local colorful paint (graffiti to some) where you will turn right, Point Reyes Station just 3 miles further.  By the time you arrive, you will have been transformed into a hungry traveller, a little over half and hour later and seemingly a world away.
I had been wanting to try this restaurant for a while now, as it opened at some point last year.  I had read a few reviews in my searching for hours (their website is which were spotty and spoke of poor service.  I always take these with a grain of salt, as my restaurant background gives me an eye for the not so obvious and I am often more forgiving than most "yelpers" and other recreational reviewers that have an unrealistic expectation if their salad is over $5 and their entree over $10.
For Monday at 1:00 pm, I was genuinely surprised that the place was over 1/2 full, with a lot of locals: farmers and merchants and people like me.   A few bed and breakfasters were there lingering over their last moments before heading back to reality. 
I sat down in the empty left half of the dining room, as the only table available to the right of the partition was in the middle of the floor and I preferred to have my back to the wall.  No one was in this section, but I could see the kitchen perfectly past the neat row of low bar stools bordering the counter for more casual dining.  I usually like the counter, but I was wearing jeans and not really in the mood to be monitoring whether or not my butt crack was showing.  A couple of tattooed hipsters were dining at the bar and as I sat down, a tall, weathered and sturdily built customer (on a first name basis with the staff) negotiated his bill, clearly on trade, for the wild arugula, the beets or the beef he most likely dropped off earlier that morning.
A couple of minutes later my server approached my table. Wait a minute, I know this guy, I thought.  A look of recognition also lit up his face, and we soon realized it had been many years, and many restaurants ago.  Mark used to date a friend of mine, and is the lead man for the band "Death Angel".  He used to pal around with Metallica back in the early 90's.  The early 90's!  Geez, I should feel old, but his unlined face and eponymous dreadlocks made me feel that we both hadn't aged a day.  Considering I had just safely entered my mid 40's a few days earlier, this was a good thing.
I am usually pretty quick in deciding what to eat (usually) and this time was no different.  I didn't need much help navigating the not too big menu, and Mark suggested a couple of his favorites:  GBD Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (I'll have to get back to you on what the GBD  means) and the Saffron Stew with Tomales Cove clams, mussels, Lunny's hot links, shrimp and potatoes.  Had I not been dining solo, I would have definitely had the soup as a mid course, but unfortunately, the curse of having friends that work during the day (ho hum) and my skinny pocket book, limited my foraging to two things:  The Star Route beet salad with Marin Route Farm wild arugula, ricotta salata and aged balsamic ($9); and, pizza with Roasted tomatoes, fontina, basil, and crushed chiles ($15) with added Italian Sausage for $2.  Yes, these may seem like somewhat middle of the road selections, but I actually like to try the basic stuff my first time at a place so I can get a snapshot of what they're about. 
It was a few days post birthday, and I thought, what the hell, so ordered a glass of 2007 Margerum Pinot Gris ($8) from the Colombia River Valley (WA), a crisp wine with a slight hint of pear and medium body, served Italian style in a rocks glass.  I have to say, I do prefer regular stemmed wine glasses, but I also appreciate design particulars of places, and the italian style glasses gave the place the casual feel they are going for. 
A few minutes later my salad arrived.  I declined the bread offering considering I was having pizza, but I'm sure it would have been great, as it is from Brickmaiden Bread Company, a local bakery sporting a huge, wood-fired, brick oven.  Next time, next time.  The beets were thinly sliced and arranged on the bottom of the plate with a pile of lightly balsamic dressed arugula neatly on top.  Shavings of Ricotta Salata garnished it, the sheepy dry Ricotta cousin enough to carry me through each last bite of the delicously fresh salad.  I love Ricotta Salata on salad, enough said.
As I waited for my pizza to arrive I admired the surroundings, hardwood tables, silver plated, mostly matching flatware, linen napkins, leather chairs.  Like going to a friend's warm house for Sunday supper.  A little while later my pizza arrived, about a 10 incher, not that huge and if I was being a glutton, I could have wolfed the whole thing down.  The first thing that popped into my mind when I viewed this plump looking disc studded with roma tomatoes, basil and sausage was the Pizzeria Uno from my childhood.  No, not the one that was on Lombard Street for years, but the one from my southern California town, El Toro, a place where the crust was made with olive oil and a hint of sugar, where the crunchy doughyness gave way to oodles of cheese.  Of course, I was only 17 at the time, and the experience was heightened by appetite enhancing recreationals and the several pitchers of beer that we somehow got away with being served (well, there was one person with us who was 21 - that pedophile!  ha). 
Flash forward to the present and my premonition wasn't that far off.  The puffy crust was olive oil infused, maybe just the smallest amount of sugar (to help those yeast) but the perfect amount of salt.  The pizza was amply dressed with the fontina and tomatoes.  The sausage was mild and fresh, as if they ground it that morning.  The chiles, what chiles?  They must have forgotten them, as I didn't get even a hint of any chiles anywhere near this pizza.  Unlike the current trend in neopolitan pizza with their uber-thin crusts and minimal toppings, this pizza was a definite knife and fork affair.  The crust was so flavorful, I may be easily converted back.  Not that it was a thick crust, Chicago style pizza, as this was not.  Let's just say the leftovers were just as good and the crust held up to being refrigerated without that crackery, cardboardy texture that often requires a zap in the microwave (no zap needed).  The owner cruised by my table and noticed I was out of wine.  I ordered a delicious glass of 2006 Unti Dry Creek Valley Grenache  ($10) (I love those guys), and my meal was complete.  Service was a little bit slow, but as I mentioned before, I take it all in stride, as I wasn't in any hurry, and other staff helped out when Mark was bouncing off the walls in another direction - he is a musician after all. 

With guests still walking through the door at 2:15 pm on Monday afternoon, its hard not to notice that Osteria Stellina has found its niche. The dinner menu boasts an oyster pizza, slow cooked octopus, Marin Sun Farms goat, and seared Bodega black cod - a who's who list of the local bounty bordering these parts.  I'm putting it at the top of my list of things to look forward to.  And don't mind me if I borrow the overused, yet to-the-point phrase from our Governator: "I'll be back".