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Restaurant Month in California

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All around California, restaurants are celebrating the month of January with fabulous dining specials and savings for lunch and/or dinner. Splurge, savor, and save is the name of the game. See if your favorite restaurant or one you always wanted to try is on the list in the regions below.

Gold Country. You may not find gold, but with savings on food like these, you might as well have! Restaurant Week in Gold Country is January 32-30 with a grand finale on January 30th where the area's finest chefs will offer a unique opportunity to be an El Dorado Epicurean in a countywide progressive dinner. More Details

Monterey County. Catch some fresh seafood in Monterey during Restaurant Month. Participating restaurants are offering prix fixe dinner menus for $20.11 all month long. More Details.

Napa Valley - see our Food Writer's top restaurant picks for deals and steals. Or see the full list of Napa Valley restaurants and their specials here.

Santa Barbara Wine Country
  • Santa Barbara -Dubbed "Film Feast", the prix fixe restaurant program coincides with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival all happening January 27-Feb 6, 2011. Film goers and foodies are invited to choose from "Short" (two-course), "Feature" (three-course) and "Epic" (four-course) length seasonal menus at participating restaurants. MORE DETAILS.
  • Santa Ynez Valley - The foodie fun begins January 23rd and ends January 29th. It's this region's first time participating in Restaurant Month and they will be featuring special 3-course tasting menus for $20.11. A list of participating restaurants is listed, but you will need to contact restaurants directly for specific days, dining hours and to make reservations. MORE DETAILS.

Summer Love

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By Deirdre Bourdet

Summer romances are as old as time, and like clockwork, I find myself falling in love every year around this time. I speak of course of fresh salmon.

Nothing says summer more enticingly than a huge piece of barbecued wild salmon, charred and smoky from the grill, its succulent pearlescent flesh crying out to be devoured. Unless you consider sweet and toothsome and absolutely impossible-to-say-no-to grilled corn on the cob... ; or the intoxicating fragrance of farm-fresh heirloom tomatoes seducing the unwary into $30 salads... or hunks of cold watermelon so juicy that you need a napkin just to think about putting a piece in your mouth.

The Duck Stops Here

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By Courtney Cochran

Long the doyenne of the luxe food lexicon, foie gras appears to be on its way out.  This week's shuttering of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Cambridge following violent protests by anti-foie gras activists is just the latest in a string of retractions relating to sales of the delicacy.  To wit, top Chicago toque Charlie Trotter pulled the controversial item from his menus in 2005, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has approved legislation that will phase out foie gras production in the Golden State by 2012.

Made from the fattened livers of force-fed geese and ducks - the inelegant process is known as gavage - foie gras is a source of conflict for many diners who applaud its singular savory-rich taste but shrink from tales of how it's made.  But, with outbursts like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)'s recent vandalism in Cambridge - in response to which the restaurant pulled foie gras from its menu - it's a tale few are able to ignore at this point.  

Provençal Prodigy

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By Courtney Cochran

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Travelers who find themselves on the charming Central California coast are well advised to stop in to Corkscrew Café (corkscrewcafe.com), an almost unbelievably cute eatery tucked into the rolling hills outside Carmel.  With its early Monterey mission meets-Provençal farmhouse décor and vibrant gardens, this gem from the same folks behind Carmel's well-liked Casanova restaurant is almost worth a trip in and of itself.

Settle into a table on the popular terrace when the weather is nice, or dine in one of the spot's appealingly well-lit dining rooms, where colorful walls and cool tile floors act as antidotes to the sometimes scorching heat outside.  When it comes to food, the spot's a haven for diners who appreciate low-frills fare made with only the freshest ingredients (there's an on-site garden, natch).  Don't miss the signature pâté of duck and pistachio, the daily-changing selection of burgers and sandwiches made exclusively from hormone-free meats and the superbly simple desserts made in-house.  Wash it all down with a rich red from Georis Winery - located next door and owned by the same family - then linger to check out the café's impressive collection of antique corkscrews.

55 West Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley, CA 93921 * (831) 659-8888 * Open for lunch Mon-Sat & dinner Fri & Sat
 

Big Praise for Small Scale Dining

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By Courtney Cochran

Last year Healdsburg diners hit the jackpot when hot spot Ravenous moved from its digs next door the Raven Theater into a more spacious spot across the street, expanding its own business while leaving room for new favorite Ravenette in its pint-sized former location.  The new micro eatery - which seats no more than a dozen or so diners comfortably - has quickly won the hearts of locals who care more about delicious, simply prepared food and friendly service than they do about Michelin star ambiance.

But don't get us wrong - there's still plenty of ambiance at Ravenette, it's just more of the unstudied, bistro-around-the-corner type than the professionally airbrushed motif you see at some of the big-ticket spots.  And when it comes to food, Ravenette positively soars with an unfussy menu emphasizing seasonal ingredients prepared in small plates fashion.  Don't miss the decadent desserts made in-house, and wash everything down with a bottle from the short but well-edited wine list or a favorite from your own cellar.

All this, and you can catch a flick next door when you're done.  Two thumbs up, way up!

Ravenette * 117 North St., Healdsburg, CA 95448 * (707) 431-1770

Tastevin As the New Tiara

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By Courtney Cochran

I had to chuckle at a recent New York Times article that included the provocative assertion that "the toque is the new tiara."  And while the piece's subject matter - the surge of interest in so-called foodie culture in America, epitomized by the popularity of TV shows like Top Chef and films like Ratatouille - is fascinating, what I find still more intriguing is the parallel rise in enthusiasm for wine culture we're seeing in this country.
 
Hip To Be Somm
While the Times piece pointed up as proof of the foodie phenomenon many American youths' newfound aspirations to careers in the culinary realm, I offer as support of my theory about the advancement of wine culture the many emails I receive from would-be sommeliers asking me for advice about breaking into the wine business.  Wine's surging popularity is also evident in the beverage's recent media inroads:  Wine appeared as a key theme in 2004's Academy Award-winning film, Sideways, was the subject of the controversial documentary Mondovino (which also appeared in 2004), and draws tens of thousands of viewers weekly to WineLibraryTV, one of the web's most highly rated video programs.  

And while some may dismiss this new interest in wine as merely tangential to the much-hyped growth in foodie culture, I believe it's a movement with its own unique energy and implications.  To wit, the Wine Market Council announced last Friday that wine drinkers in their twenties - a group dubbed Millennials since most of them turned 21 after the year 2000 - are the fastest growing segment of the wine market.  Seventy million strong, Millennials are the first generation to embrace wine at such a young age - a phenomenon that can only signal a still brighter future for wine. 

So although it's unlikely that "sommelier" will beat out "chef" as the darling occupation of the new millennium, the appeal of the position, and the broader interest in wine it signals, is undeniable.
 

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