Food & Wine

From Firestone Walker to Lost Abbey, a personal list of California's best beers

Courtesy of Derek Wolfgram
The Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale gets custom-blended in a new form each year.

In honor of my 25th column for the Town Crier, I thought it would be fun to share my top 25 California-brewed beers.

As with any such list, it’s quite personal, and I will likely leave off many readers’ favorites. For one, my tastes skew more toward dark, barrel-aged beers and sour brews than toward IPAs. There are a few hoppy beers on the list, but world-famous Pliny the Elder does not make my top 25, though other Russian River brews do. Most of these beers are released at least once per year.


Autumn visits the seaside at Cetrella

Courtesy of Eric Wolfinger
Cetrella’s seafood emphasis includes grilled marinated Spanish octopus with avocado purée, fingerling potatoes, romesco sauce, charred lemon and micro cilantro.

As summer markets close and autumn’s hard squashes and root vegetables begin to arrive, braises and comfort foods are starting to appear on executive chef Mike Ellis’ menu at Cetrella.

Ellis – known from Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Kitchen – arrived at Cetrella’s Half Moon Bay location in January, where he redid the menu at the Mediterranean-inflected restaurant from top to bottom. He brought the same seasonal, seafood-rich theme to Los Altos when Cetrella opened this summer.


The story behind rogan josh, an authentic Indian lamb curry

Courtesy of Amber India
Rogan josh lamb curry pulls passion from its whole and powdered spices, but not too much heat.

Rogan josh is a type of Indian curry distinguished by its thick, flavorful red sauce and tender meat.

“Rogan” means clarified butter or oil in Persian, or “red” in Hindi, and “josh” refers to passion – fiery or hot – so this dish is all about cooking in an oil-based sauce with an intense heat.


Unique Cleophus Quealy brews pair well with diverse local cuisine

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
Cleophus Quealy co-founders Dan Watson, left, and Peter Baker enjoy their new brewery venture.

San Leandro’s Cleophus Quealy Beer Co. opened in November 2014 in a light industrial neighborhood not far from Drake’s Brewing Co. and has produced 48 batches of unique craft beers on its seven-barrel system in the past eight months. In fact, Cleophus Quealy beers are not named other than being given a batch number and a style descriptor, such as Batch 36 Cherry Sour.


Seasonal spotlight: Reap the harvest

Photo courtesy of Cetrella
Tomatoes from local growers are inspiring dishes like Cetrella’s gazpacho.

Local tomatoes have kicked into high gear by this week, and beans and peppers are reaching their peak.

A Thursday afternoon tour of downtown Los Altos can take local residents from farm to table, with growers selling at the State Street Farmers’ Market from 4-8 p.m. and new restaurant Cetrella, 400 Main St., buying from some of those same growers for its September menu.


Trips with sips: Enjoy a winery getaway, picnic included

Courtesy of Christine Moore For those who enjoy wine tasting Livermore wineries offer nearby picnicking potential.

With vacation season upon us, wine-loving citizens from around the world make summer pilgrimages to California for our glorious weather and wine. Whether you’re entertaining a couch-camping second cousin, hosting a college roommate reunion or helping the in-laws explore, I’ve got some thoughts on how you can make this the best wine vacation they’ve ever had.

A wine welcome

Kick off your guests’ visit with a casual wine-tasting evening at your home. Road-weary visitors might not want a big feast. Serve instead a Tuscan-style meal of cured meats, cheeses, breads and salads for a tasty welcome dinner.


Grandma's meatballs help net $70,000

Photos Courtesy of “Food Fighters”
Los Altos resident Amber MacDonald’s spaghetti earned praise – and prize money – on the reality TV show “Food Fighters.”

Los Altos newcomer Amber MacDonald netted a total of $70,000 last month competing on NBC’s cooking reality TV show “Food Fighters.” She shared one of the family recipes that helped earn her the win – spaghetti and meatballs, à la her Sicilian grandmother.

“I know that my grandmother’s traditional recipes are going to knock the socks off them,” she said before facing off against British “bad boy chef” Brendan Collins.


Tips for dining out with dogs

Sana Khader/Town Crier
Heeding a few words of advice, dogs and their owners can ease into a more formal outdoor dining experience by first visiting a coffee shop or cafe.

Pets still can’t eat inside restaurants under California health code, but many local spots welcome four-legged companions at outdoor seating.


DIY shawarma wraps up a street-side classic

Photos by Blanche Shaheen/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos resident Blanche Shaheen and her brother Issa Araj, above, cook up a summery shawarma, right. To see them in action, visit this article online for a how-to video that covers shawarma step-by-step.

My most epic sandwich moment occurred years ago near Petra in Jordan.

I was determined to hike around the ancient city with my tour group in the 100-degree heat. A friend on the trip, John, was perpetually hungry, regardless of the blistering-hot weather.


California pale ales showcase America's homegrown hops

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
The rooftop beer garden at Whole Foods Market on The Alameda in San Jose is a great place to enjoy hoppy beers from Mission Creek Brewing Co., including the Solely Citra Pale Ale.

American pale ale was among the first truly American craft beer styles, with California breweries like Anchor Brewing Co. and New Albion Brewing Co. putting a distinctive American spin on traditional British bitters in the mid-1970s by using basic two-row malt and citrusy Pacific Northwest hops.

The defining example of the style is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, first brewed in 1980, which has served as the introductory craft beer for many beer enthusiasts. Showcasing a simple malt bill and Cascade hops, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is hop-forward without the intense bitterness of an India pale ale (IPA).


Wine cocktails prove an acquired taste for some

Christine Moore/Special to the Town Crier
Wine cocktails offer a refreshing respite from the summer heat.

Wine cocktails can be polarizing. Some people adore them, while others can hardly stomach the idea of using wine in a cocktail.


Los Altos native adds culinary flourish to customization

Photos Courtesy of PlateJoy
Chorizo stew is one of PlateJoy’s vegan recipes. The company customizes meal plans for busy customers – and shops for and delivers ingredients to their doorsteps.

In Silicon Valley, the Internet of Things has grown to encompass an internet of pantries, mashing up cookbooks, cooking shows, grocery lists and nutritional consultations. PlateJoy, a San Francisco startup with a Los Altos connection, aims to plan and shop for local eaters but leave the cooking up to them.

The startup has new customers take a personalization quiz, describing what and how they like to cook and eat. If you’re a vegan, for example, define your preferred milk – almond? hemp? soy? coconut? How long do you have to cook – 15 minutes, or 45?


New Los Altos shop brews milk tea for gourmands

Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Teaspoon, the milk tea shop at Village Court in Los Altos, above, serves a range of bubble teas and snow ice drinks, right.

Los Altos made it onto the milk tea map this spring with the opening of Teaspoon, a new bubble tea and snow ice shop in Village Court Shopping Center at 4546 El Camino Real.

Its tea makers use an espresso machine to brew each cup individually, aiming to reduce bitter aftertaste and prioritize freshness. The method uses tea leaves ground like coffee beans so that the high temperature and pressure can extract tea flavor like a (long) shot of espresso.


White wine: Sniffing out the unusual suspects for summer

ChriStine Moore/Special to the Town Crier Credit
White wines offer the perfect antidote to summer heat.

Some sounds make me long for white wine: the crack of a bat against its intended canvas-covered target, the swell and subsequent crash of an ocean wave repeated again and again and the wooshing of blossom-heavy branches swaying in the wind.


Saison strain produces uniquely flavorful beers

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
The Bruery’s Saison Rue, a Belgian-style, bottle-conditioned ale, features a complex flavor with subtle but distinctive hints of earthy barnyard funk from the wild Brettanomyces yeast.

Saison is a refreshing beer style for warmer weather, with origins in the farmhouses of Belgium, where it was brewed during the winter and stored until summer as part of the provisions for farmworkers.


Food Brief

Off the Grid, the Bay Area’s network of street-food markets, has scheduled its newest dinner market in Mountain View.

In partnership with the Computer History Museum, Off the Grid will bring 10 food trucks and live music to the museum 5-9 p.m. Fridays beginning this week.


Gateway brews for people who (think that they) don't like craft beers

805 Blonde Ale

Spring is a time for new beginnings, which means it’s a great time to introduce a friend or family member to craft beer.

While beer lovers might enjoy super-hoppy double IPAs, viscous imperial stouts or mouth-puckering sours, such beers can intimidate newcomers to the world of full-flavored beer.


Better bites with bitters

courtesy of Rita Held
Deviled eggs, a springtime tradition, take on a new twist with subtly flavorful Angostura bitters.

Los Altos resident Rita Held has spent her career in test kitchens and culinary consulting. She develops recipes for food companies in the Bay Area and nationwide, and blogs at This is her first column for the Town Crier – welcome, Rita!


Lions, lambs and Cab Franc for March

Christine Moore/Special to the Town Crier
Oven fries, a slice of feta cheese and the bite of harissa mayonnaise make for a late-winter, early-spring dinner perfectly paired with Cabernet Franc.

I can’t help but wonder whether March will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.

In an attempt to cover both bets, I’m planning ahead. My Lion’s Mane Ragout with Creamy Polenta kicked off the month. And I’ll close out March, and welcome spring, with Lamb Burgers with Harissa Mayonnaise and Rosemary Oven Fries.


Dim sum, ramen, artisan pizza and more: Four new Los Altos restaurants open or soon to debut

Ramen on State Street

Cho’s Mandarin Dim Sum, formerly a standby for the budget-oriented on California Avenue in Palo Alto, recently opened at 209 First St., next door to Tin Pot Creamery.

The eatery – open for an extended lunch for now, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – offers pork buns, egg rolls, Shanghai pork balls, shrimp dumplings and pork and chicken potstickers. A serving of three nibbles costs $2.50-$3.25, a dish of six runs $5-$6.25.


Pro and not-yet-pro brewers turn out for local beer events

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
Craft Artisan Ales’ Nebulous Imperial IPA is one of California’s latest small-scale craft ales to earn a place at local beer events.

While SF Beer Week is now behind us – and there won’t be another intense concentration of beer events until Silicon Valley Beer Week this summer – plenty of interesting events are still happening.

Steins Beer Garden in Mountain View is scheduled to celebrate its second anniversary March 28 with its first homebrew competition, which aims to become an annual event. With the theme “Spring into Beer,” the contest has official sanction from the Beer Judge Certification Program, and the beer selected as the best springtime brew will be professionally brewed and served at Steins, with proceeds supporting a charity of the brewer’s choice. Entrants must register on the Steins website by March 13. Visit for more details.


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