As all you regulars know by now, it was my birthday last week, and of course much of it was spend chowing.
As reported elsewhere, on Friday I had lunch with the 'hounds at Louie's (excellent), and had dinner at Dona Tomas (also excellent).
As for Saturday ...
In the morning I took a class at the California Culinary Academy. I had a gift certificate that was a present from last year, and I had spent much time pouring over the catalog until I finally settled on something both fun and practical: French Pastry Basics (I've always been terrified by pastry dough and been a total klutz with rolling pins and pastry bags). The classes are expensive ($175) but you get a lot for your money: Continental breakfast, four hours of hands-on instruction, and then lunch, plus you get to keep your nifty CCA apron. It was fun -- and confidence building -- to get to play in the professional instruction kitchen. There was an instructor, three student teachers and a dishwasher for a class of about 15, and Kitchen Aid mixers and gas burners for everyone.
At the end of class, everyone takes all the food that was prepared up to the main dining room for a surprisingly lavish buffet. In addition to two classes doing French pastry there were two classes doing classic sauces, and classes doing breads, Brazilian food and Thai food. The food proved that a good chef-instructor can turn out restaurant quality food even with amateurs cooks. Particularly impressive was Tornedos of beef with fois gras made by one of the sauce classes, and some excellent pork larb that contrary to my expectations hit the upper end of my fairly high heat tolerance.
Finally, after coming home and digesting for a few hours, I headed out to Zax Tavern in Berkeley for dinner with my family. Zax isn't the most exciting restaurant in town, but the food is reasonably priced and reliably good, two things that are very important for a family dinner, especially with my father -- a product of his birth in December 1929 -- picking up the tab. They currently have their housemade tangerine sorbet on the menu, which is a must-have for any tangerine lover.
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