October 20, 2005
Bright and beautiful
by BOB DORAN
Bright, beautiful and most important, really tasty --- Marla's glistening fruit tart was the perfect dish for a garden party, or for a Sunday brunch. The potluck party last Sunday was both. The occasion: A birthday celebration for our friend Gabby Aragon and a house-warming for the Eureka bungalow she shares with Mahmoud Shaheen, who just happens to be an amazing chef.
A pot of strong, fresh-brewed coffee of the organic, shade-grown, fair trade variety sat on a corner of the crowded buffet line. Someone made the Mimosa rounds with a jug of Odwalla orange juice and a bottle of decent champagne (or o.j. and ginger ale for the kids). An abundance of choices meant that there was too much to eat. As the party wound down there were even remnants of Mahmoud's assemble-it-yourself Eggs Benedict left behind; in fact, there were plenty of leftovers, including my Comice pears, Mission figs and candied ginger poached in Gewurztraminer.
The tart? Completely devoured. As compliments poured forth, a humble Marla claimed that it was actually "easy to make," then proceeded to rattle off the recipe from memory. An e-mailed version leaves out asides like her warning that the crust, essentially a big cookie, may attract raw cookie dough eaters, who must be shooed off
Astute readers may remember Mahmoud's name from a Journal food column earlier this year. At the time he was chef at La Casita Internationale, a Eureka establishment that he was trying to buy from his employers --- and which, unfortunately, has since been disestablished. While he's waiting for the ideal place to do his thing, Mahmoud put together something he calls Food for Design. He did well at the North Country Fair with falafels and baklava, but with the fair season over, he's looking for indoor work, specifically in that already crowded field: catering in-home dinner parties. Give him a call at 442-6930 if you want to impress your friends with a deluxe holiday meal.
The next event on last Sunday's social calendar was another sort of birthday celebration --- and not a garden party, a garage party. Serge Scherbatskoy of Brio Breadworks had invited me to the event scheduled to mark the 7th anniversary of the Arcata-based bakery, held in the garage at the corner of the Arcata Plaza that once housed Arcata Muffler. Serge noted that his ace pastry chef, Leah Stamper, had suggested using the garage, which will soon be the home of Café Brio. "We're already paying rent," he added, "so why not?"
The party was just getting going when I showed up. Folding tables held a spread with an elegant array of food (including some great bread). Huckleberry Flint was playing bluegrass and Serge had turned the muffler shop office into a makeshift bar, where he was opening bottles of good French wine.
He had been looking for the right place to create a café for some time, so when muffler master John Peterson headed into retirement, he jumped on the space. It was just what he wanted --- a high volume downtown location with morning sun.
After signing a long term lease with the property owners a few months back, Serge enlisted architect Kash Boodjeh and the planning process began in earnest. The floor plan and preliminary sketches were tacked up on the wall at the party; Leah had translated the plans into a chalk layout on the shop floor and walls.
Serge's concept is inspired by cafés he frequents in Paris, with outdoor seating and a menu including what he describes as, "quality pastries and baked goods," food for breakfast and lunch and, of course, "good coffee and good service." If all goes as planned and the city signs off on the designs, service will include a walk-up window in the wall right behind the current location of Renáta's crêpe truck.
For a hint at the type of pastries they'll offer, try some of the tasty morsels Leah has been creating for the Brio booth at the Arcata Farmers' Market. My personal favorite: the puffy Gruyere cheese rolls.
Speaking of Renáta, she will be long gone from the Plaza corner by the time Café Brio opens (projections are for March of next year). The last day for her mobile crêpe wagon is Nov. 19, when the Arcata Farmers' Market shuts down for the season. Then, just after Thanksgiving, on Nov. 30, she opens her new crêperie at 1030 G St. in Arcata. And if you're among those who have always dreamed about getting into the food biz, her "beloved little truck/eatery" is looking for a new owner.
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