• So We Opened A Bar And Restaurant….

    Timber&SaltFinalWhite….it’s called Timber & Salt. It’s in Redwood City California (a very cool town). We serve craft cocktails and artisan comfort foods with fresh seasonal ingredients (sound familiar?). We have a strong, experienced team and are off to a great start with plenty of regular customers. And we are more than a little tired…but very, very happy.

    So now back to blogging. Please pardon our silence of the last few months, but at least we have an excuse. There are few things quite like opening a restaurant. It is a very involved process to build a restaurant from the ground up- normally you buy your first restaurant but we couldn’t pass up our location. It is in the center of town, next to the movie theater, a block from the train station and across from a new office development with parking, oh, and did I mention the sidewalk seating area? Yup, just had to do it….


    Rio Star Cocktail

    So you wanna know what you need to do to build and open a restaurant? Here we go: take a very deep breath, convince your spouse it is a good idea, get a decent lawyer, form an LLC, recruit your core team of experienced bar and restaurant managers, build a deal structure that works for all stakeholders (takes a while), scout 15+ locations, buy a place and have the deal fall apart, find a better location but you need to build, negotiate the lease terms for eight months (yes, eight months and that is considered “fast”), match the concept to the location and size of the space, get a good architect / builder, get an interior designer (you need one, you really do), do a real business plan with financials, sign the lease (deep breath, avoid panic), raise money, make sure you have an accountant, submit plans to the town and landlord, revise/repeat, select your builder, start buildout, buy furnishings, buy equipment and smallwares, start real menu development with team, set up accounts with multiple government agencies, finish basic buildout, start recruiting your staff, select and install a good POS system, select a merchant payment solution, fill out dozens of credit applications for suppliers (be ready to sign your life away), buy a ton of food and booze, buy all sorts of extra stuff you didn’t expect, train your team, install your furnishings and fixtures, do a few weeks of warmup and catering events, pass all of your inspections, tune the menus, set an opening date (another deep breath), open the doors and say a little prayer…..then smile, welcome your guests and make them feel at home.


    Smoked Trout & Salmon Salad With Ecopia Microgreens

    And that last one is key. We are in the hospitality business because we truly believe that time spent breaking bread with our friends and family is the most important time in our lives. We opened Timber & Salt because nothing is better than sharing that feeling of hospitality and welcome with our community. Every time a customer walks in to a welcoming host, smiles at the look of the room (a room without a TV, btw), relaxes with a cocktail at the bar, waves at friends when they arrive, then shares a good meal mixed with laughter and conversation is a small victory for civility. Our hearts rise. (Of course, we are crushed when we fall short, but we never stop trying to improve). In our minds, there is no better business to be in, even if it is hard work. And let’s face it, anything done well and with real commitment requires hard work.


    Bacon-Wrapped Dates, One of our most popular dishes. They go great with cocktails.

    Moving forward, we will be blogging and sharing more stories, images and recipes from here at the farm, but also the restaurant. We hope you join us “virtually” here at the blog, but also visit us in the “real” world at Timber & Salt. Now for some photos of the food and booze, and look out for more posts with new photos and recipes!


    Black Pepper Quail Salad. Moving off the menu now, but will come back with warmer seasons.


    “Ham & Cheese”. Cheddar gougeres and ham consomme.


    Aged Rum Old Fashioned. Our flagship cocktail. Aged rum, Mauby Syrup (house made Caribbean spiced syrup), twist, big rock. Perfect.


  • Mixology Monday XCIX Cocktail: The Reef Pass

    reefWe had to laugh out loud when we saw this month’s Mixology Monday theme was “Ice” (kindly hosted by our friend the Muse of Doom at the excellent Feu de Vie Blog). You see, as our bar/restaurant Timber & Salt nears its opening in September, we are spending a lot of time on ice. Ice is a key ingredient in cocktails, and there is no substitute- you need the right ice for the right drink. But more on that later, here is the rundown for the 99th (!) Mixology Monday:


    And in all this time there hasn’t once been a theme dedicated to that undersung-yet-essential part of nearly any cocktail: ICE. The word says it all. Big ice cubes for Old Fashioneds, pellet ice for juleps and cobblers, shaved ice for adult snowcones, crushed ice molded into a cone for a classic Navy Grog. The art of the blender. Tell us why your selected or invented cocktail needs this particular ice usage. Show us how to make perfectly clear ice at home or what you get to work with as a professional drink-slinger. It doesn’t even have to be pure H2O, either. Flavor it up! Teas, juices, liqueurs, bitters, other frozen edible objects serving as ice. Tell us the nuances of a properly-made Il Palio. Show us why a decorative approach takes your recipe to the next level. Whatever tickles your tastebuds and refreshes you this summer.

    reef4Perfect. In this summer alone we compared all commercial ice machines in mind-numbing great detail, made crystal clear ice (using the igloo method, it works very well), made almost-instant ice balls using a Japanese mold (a great show), used long ice sticks for Collins-style drinks (very cool) and experimented with the best way to get crushed ice for summer tiki drinks. And since crushed ice is our latest experiment, that’s what we will use here.

    reef1reef2And while some tiki drink recipes specifically call for blenders (and at the restaurant we may go this way), we usually prefer to use our cheap (about $20) manual ice crusher at home. Ours does both fine (tiki) and coarse (juleps and cobblers) chop, works well enough and is easy to clean. The blade apparatus comes apart occasionally, but it is easy to reassemble and it makes for a rocking tiki drink without fussing with a blender. And you really do need crushed ice for a good tiki drink, that frosted glass (along with a good dose of rum) just seems to make everything better.

    So what drink did we make? It turns out that we have tons of mint and basil in our garden this summer and we tend to freely substitute both in many of our savory preparations, so why not try it in a tiki drink? We already know that a touch of herbal flavor can enhance tiki drinks, so we took the next step.

    reef3The Reef Pass is basically a Mai Tai variant using amaro instead of simple syrup and basil instead of mint. We went with one of our favorite amaro, Santa Maria al Monte, a bittersweet and heavily herbal amaro similar to Fernet Branca, but with less overt mint/menthol notes. We also went for two strong, funky rums (Appleton V/X and El Dorado 15) that have enough flavor to match the amaro.

    How did it turn out? Extremely well. The Reef Pass does make you think Mai Tai, as the rum, lime, orgeat and Curaçao all shine through. But the basil on the nose and the slightly bitter and herbal finish of the amaro make for a very clean refreshing sip. (Surprisingly, the lime and amaro play particularly well together and we will continue to experiment here.) If you think tiki drinks are too sweet or cloying after a few sips, the Reef Pass is a good antidote. This one we are still making and enjoying. And we are always using our perfectly crushed ice…..that frosty glass never gets old. Continue reading

  • A Gift Guide For The Home Cocktail Enthusiast

    danger9So let’s say you have a friend or family member who is into mixing cocktails. And let’s go a bit further and say they are worthy of a gift. What should you get them? Well, we guess you could get them a bottle of their favorite booze. But since it is their favorite booze they probably have it already. And, truth be told, making drinks doesn’t require much fancy gear.

    Nope, what we suggest here at the Farm is a bit of creative thinking and perhaps giving cocktail gifts that will last. Cocktail gifts that inspire. Cocktail gifts with some “legs”. Gifts that might lead to better drinks…and perhaps even a few more of them. Yup, that’s what we’re talking about. And here are a few suggestions:

    Really Good Vermouth:

    What? Vermouth? The stuff that’s been sitting on the shelf for years for when aunt Edna comes by and wants a Manhattan? Or the bottle you glance at while making a dry Martini? Yes, that stuff. But it can be so much better.

    It turns out that there is some delicious vermouth out there. Vermouth you can happily drink on its own, but also makes for delightful cocktails. (And, by the way, you need to keep vermouth in the fridge after you open it- that’s why that old stuff tastes so bad). Try a few classic cocktails with good, fresh vermouth and you will stop asking for super-dry Martinis and you may rediscover the glory of a good Manhattan.

    So what to buy? There are a lot of choices, but for sweet vermouth we suggest a bottle of Carpano Antica. This is the “grandaddy” of sweet vermouth and it packs a lot of big flavors. Carpano ain’t cheap, but it is good. It also comes in half bottles that are less expensive and fit better in the fridge. The bottle is quite beautiful and will “wow” anyone who is lucky enough to get Carpano as a gift.

    Carpano Antica Bottle-Low-ResOther good sweet vermouth include Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and Dolin. If we got either as gifts we would be very happy.

    vermouth-dolin-dryWhat about dry vermouth? There are a number of good, affordable options, but we suggest a bottle of Dolin Dry vermouth. This stuff simply rocks. Dolin will make for a great Martini, but also adds herbal depth and bittersweet notes to classics like the Scofflaw. And Dolin also happens to come in nifty half bottles. Heck, you could even give a combo pack of Carpano Antica and Dolin Dry to that special someone. Excellent.

    Continue reading

  • Farewell Judy Rodgers

    fires11When I told Carolyn that Judy Rodgers had died of cancer, her face showed the same level of shock, sadness and confusion that I felt upon hearing the news. “How old was she”?, Carolyn asked, “just 57”, I relied. “That’s terrible….too young” said Carolyn “too young”.

    A few hours later, my good friend Chad texted “RIP Judy Rodgers”. Chad knew Judy, as he was a chef in San Francisco in the 1990’s when Rodgers, and her Zuni Cafe, were at their height. Chad, his wife Monica, Carolyn and I spent a number of magical moments together at Zuni. Chad was deeply saddened. So was I.

    I didn’t know Rodgers personally, and only occasionally saw her at Zuni. She was famously private and didn’t crave the limelight, even at the restaurant. There are many more “famous” celebrity chefs out there, but few have the influence or lasting success of Judy Rodgers. She was a hidden treasure, and yet one of our greatest inspirations.

    We are most influenced by those we know. I have both my parents to thank for a love of food, and perhaps more importantly, a lack of fear about food. Food was good and to be enjoyed….period. Carolyn gives me an understanding and love of entertaining and hospitality that is at the core of our lives together. My friend Chad Callahan gave me some of my first exposure to what fine dining really meant, the importance of sourcing the right ingredients and using good technique. Hiro Watanabe, our favorite sushi chef, showed me that it’s best to serve just a few great dishes, and not many average ones.

    When I think about cooking these are some of my touchstones.

    But of the broader influences I have, Judy Rodgers, and the Zuni experience, show up in my cooking almost every day. Her cooking was simple, flavorful and well executed. She used the best ingredients and was unafraid to let them stand on their own.

    These days, many chefs like to tell you what plot at the farm the kale came from, how “heirloom” the seeds are and then use every piece of offal from a pig- just to make an impression. And that is fine. Judy Rodgers would do that if it made the dish better. But if a simple bowl of polenta with a bit of parmesan or mascarpone was the best dish, that is what she would serve.

    And it wasn’t just the food. Zuni was a restaurant that felt, and still feels, like the heart of San Francisco. A strangely shaped, airy space with hidden corners, big windows, a huge wood-fired oven and walls full of art, Zuni captured the city like few other spaces. And it reflected in the customers. From pre-opera suburban diners in their finery to young couples on dates, you saw every age, gender, color and persuasion. Almost all of them with smiles on their faces. Zuni is still that kind of place. I hope it remains that kind of place.

    Many chefs are known by their “signature dishes”, and they are something of a mixed blessing. Most chefs tire of making the same dish, no matter how good or how popular, every day. Judy Rodgers had many signature dishes. The roast chicken, burger, caesar salad, polenta and espresso granita are still standards of San Francisco dining to this day. Rodgers expressed frustration, at times, that she couldn’t take these dishes off the menu. But regardless of her feelings, the dishes were always perfectly executed. When we took the boys to Zuni a few years ago, the burger was just as good as it was when we first went. Rodgers was a pro.

    Ironically, when we moved out of the city and eventually came here to the “farm”, Rodgers became an even larger influence on our cooking through the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. To be honest, it is a dense, detailed cookbook. At times it’s a hard read. It is not entertainment or food porn. But the recipes truly work. And, more importantly, if you want to understand how flavors come together and compliment each other in a dish, then this is the cookbook you need. When we want to learn about a fresh, seasonal ingredient, we most often look to Alice Waters. When we actually cook it or pair it with another ingredient, we look to Judy Rodgers.

    A number of years ago we stopped cooking just by recipe, but by looking at ingredients, flavors and techniques. We jokingly say that we “graduated” and become cooks who can think, and experiment, on our own. Judy Rodgers was a big part of that, and we owe her our thanks.

    We also owe her our thanks for her recipes and techniques that we make here all the time. We pre-salt or “dry brine” our beef, pork and poultry- and it is still one of the most important techniques we use. Her asparagus and rice soup fills our bowls each spring, sage grilled cheese puts smiles on faces at cocktail parties. And Rodgers’ caesar salad is still the best, even if our attempts don’t come close to the original. It is a beautiful dish. A memorable dish.

    So thank you Judy Rodgers. Our prayers go to you and your family. Godspeed.