Stonefly: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I’m hanging out in Markleeville, California for a long weekend to do some scenic hikes and get some R&R. My friends have a cabin up here and I jump at the opportunity to visit. Markleeville is in Alpine County which is Southeast of Lake Tahoe and has a population of about 200. Its claim to fame is “The Death Ride,” a bike tour of the California Alps. It’s a 129 mile ride with elevation close to 9000 feet.

Normally we cook and prepare all of our meals when we visit. It’s really part of the fun anyway. My friend told me about a new restaurant in town called Stonefly which opened earlier this year. Other than that, Markleeville has one sandwich shop and one bar/restaurant where the motorcyclists like to hang out.
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Stonefly is a restaurant/pizzeria owned by a couple, Nick and Ali. Nick actually built the building and Ali is behind the pizza making in their beautifully tiled wood fire oven. As we walked in, I was introduced to Nick, Gordy, our waiter, and Linda, the prep cook. Ali instantly remembered my name from meeting me earlier in the day. I thought that was pretty cool.

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We sat at the bar which allowed us to see all the ins and outs of the kitchen. It was like a backstage pass. We began the meal with some salads to start. I ordered the beet salad which came with blue cheese, toasted candied walnuts on a bed of spinach and arugula with a lemon vinaigrette. My friend got the Caesar salad. They were both quite yummy. We watched as Linda prepared both salads. I learned that Linda is an artist and it showed as she carefully plated the beet salad and painted dressing on the Romaine lettuce.

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Gordy brought us some of their house made bread as well. They bake them fresh every day in their wood fire oven. The bread was good and was presented in a very cute way.

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There were a few things that I was contemplating for my entree. I did want to try one of their pizzas and I was pleasantly surprised that the steak on their menu was a NewYork strip that was grass fed. I decided on the wood fired wild salmon cooked on a cedar plank with a sweet rub. The salmon was great. The cedar brought about a smokey flavor which I enjoyed. Our dishes both came with grilled asparagus and polenta. I am not a fan of polenta because I don’t like that grainy texture. This polenta was formed into a mold and then cooked over a hot grill. It was the best polenta I have ever had.

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My friend got the lamb chop which was highly recommended. I had great visuals of the chops getting fired up on the grill. My friend shared some of the lamb with me and I thought it was delicious. Remember this is coming from someone who doesn’t like lamb very much.

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We saw all the desserts getting plated during the time that we dined and they all looked amazing. Being quite full, I thought I would just have a bite of something. I think those are my famous last words. We decided to share the strawberry rhubarb crostata with strawberry ice cream. Everything is homemade. The sweetness and tartness was an excellent combination. I had a few extra bites as expected.

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Stonefly serves amazingly great food. I kept thinking I was in a Bay Area restaurant, but I wasn’t. I was in the small town of Markleville that has such a great vibe. It’s where locals know each other, it’s where everybody knows your name. For those 3000 bicyclists coming to the area in a few weeks for the Death Ride, you better make a reservation now if you are looking for a great meal.

Coach Sushi: An All Around Winner

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The Bay Area has had some unpredictable weather this year. It is finally getting warm. Besides ice cream, one of my favorite things to eat in hot weather is sushi. My BFF and I recently went to a neighborhood sushi restaurant. Coach Sushi is famous for their bottomless saki, but I think they have some of the freshest sushi in Oakland and definitely the freshest in the Lakeshore neighborhood.

At Coach Sushi, you can design your own masu or square wooden box cup. The next time you come, they will retrieve your cup to use again. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to retrieve mine because it was too long since I last visited. My BFF got hers. The “Coach” comes around to make sure your “masu” is always filled to the top.

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One of my favorite things I’ve eaten at Coach Sushi is not even sushi. It left a lasting impression on me the first time I had it that I order it every time I eat there. Nasumiso is baked eggplant with miso. It is very soft and delivers a somewhat smokey flavor that is delicious.

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Another appetizer we ordered was chawanmushi which is shrimp, chicken, and mushroom steamed in egg custard. It was my first time having it and like the nasumiso, I will probably order it every time I go to Coach Sushi. It was that good. Chawanmushi is very delicate and offers a nice balance of saltiness and sweetness. It just melts in your mouth. It also goes very well with rice, especially the sauce which is a mixture of soy sauce and mirin.

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For sushi, I decided on the salmon sashimi. It was plentiful with eight pieces. I was a happy camper.

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My BFF ordered a spicy scallop hand roll and salmon roe. She really enjoyed her sushi.

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We shared the blue shrimp. Having the blue shrimp was a feat for me as I am not that adventurous. I decided to skip on the fried shrimp head and the BFF was happy to eat both.

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If you haven’t been to Coach Sushi, I highly recommend it. Coach Sushi serves delicious food, fresh sushi, and offers a friendly neighborhood environment.

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Chez Panisse Cafe: Birthday Fit For A Foodie

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Chez Panisse. My preference for the cafe over the restaurant is three-fold. 1). It’s a much more casual environment. 2). It’s not as expensive. 3). I get to order what I want.

It was my Food Companion’s Birthday and I decided to take the FC out for a nice meal to celebrate at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley. I was quite surprised that I was able to get a 7:30 reservation on a Saturday night about 10 days ahead of time.

I started with the avocado and marinated beet salad with citrus vinaigrette. It was simple and delicious. It is a dish that defines what Chez Panisse is all about – fresh and in season.

(excuse the photos: lighting was bad and I didn’t want to use a flash)
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My FC had the pizzetta with wild nettles, black olives, and ricotta salata. I’ve always enjoyed their light and crisp pizzas and this one did not disappoint.

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I was torn between ordering the chicken and the squid dish for my entree. The waiter convinced me to order the grilled Riverdog Farm chicken al mattone with fried onion rings, sweet corn, and basil. Al mattone means cooked under a brick and it makes the chicken skin crispy, crackling, and golden brown and the chicken remains moist. The sides were awesome too and provided for an altogether delicious plate.

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My FC ordered the ricotta and green garlic pudding soufflé with asparagus, morel mushrooms, and thyme. I had a taste and it was delicate and delightful. It reminds me that I need to master the soufflé!

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For dessert, the waiter brought my FC the Rhubarb and raspberry trifle with creme chantilly with a candle and a cute “Happy Birthday” tag. This was really good and the sweetness of the cream complimented the tartness of the fruits.

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Although my first thought was to skip dessert because I was so full, I ended up with the Irish whiskey ice cream with bittersweet chocolate sauce and a chocolate wafer. The flavor was quite interesting and I enjoyed it. The cookie was light, crispy, and yummy.

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Chez Panisse Cafe is a special occasion place and I look forward to more special occasions here.

Joong: Chinese Tamales

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Chinese people are making joong this time of year during the Dragon Boat Festival. Joong are glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. There are sweet versions, but they are not as popular as the savory ones which will be described in this blog. I grew up watching my grandmother make them. She knew the ingredients that I liked in my joong and made a few special ones for me which were distinguished by shaping them a little differently. Today my grandmother is ninety-three years old and doesn’t have the strength and dexterity to make joong anymore. Lucky for us, she has her home caretaker keep up with the tradition and I was there to help document this. Grandmother supervises.

Bamboo leaves can be purchased in Chinatown, but when you bring them home, they have to be soaked for about three days. This is the most time consuming of all the steps. They have to be washed with water, lemon, and salt; and then rinsed over and over.

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The ingredients inside the joong varies. Depending on the area of China of the maker, the fillings may be different. That is the reason that when I grew up eating them, I would only eat the ones my grandmother made or the ones given to us by our relatives. I guess you can call it “toisan joong”. Toisan is my dialect which is spoken in Southern China where my family is from. The base of all joong is sweet glutinous rice which is washed and seasoned with salt. Our joong would have salted duck egg yolk, lop chong (Chinese sausage), fatty pork, peanuts, and dried shrimp. This combination of ingredients add great flavor.

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While the cleaning of the bamboo leaves is most time consuming, wrapping joong takes the most skill. Starting out with two layered leaves you fold them in half and then bend about half of the side to form a pocket. You would first add some of the uncooked rice, then add each of the ingredients, and top it off with more rice. Using one more bamboo leaf, layer it on top of the joong and fold over. Taking the end of the leaves fold it down tightly to form a three dimensional triangular shape. Take some string and wrap it to secure the joong. While it might take me ten minutes to wrap one and not look tight and perfect, an expert can wrap one under a minute and have it look perfectly.

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The joong will be added to a pot of boiling water and covered completely. They need to be cooked in boiling water for about 4 hours, so it’s important to have additional hot water close by to add to the pot as needed. About halfway through the cooking, it’s best to try to move the joong around in order to cook evenly.

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When ready, remove the joong from the water and they are ready to enjoy.

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