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July 27, 2006

Heading: Talk of the Table by Bob Doran, photo of chocolate cake

Steaks, Cakes, Wine, No Cabbage


This week we'll talk of many things, although I'll steer clear of shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings, touching instead on a number of upcoming food-related events.

We'll start with the Chuck Wagon Steak BBQ Saturday, July 29, in Willow Creek, where Ed Duggan is the self-described "main cook." "We serve 10-ounce New York strip steaks with beans and salad and a beverage of your choice, then we have dessert — all for 12 bucks for adults and six for kids," said the genial Ed when I called him on a very hot Sunday afternoon.

The dinner (at Don Cave Park just off Hwy 299) is one of four annual events that pay the utility bill for the adjacent China Flat Museum, where, as you might guess, you can learn about local history. "I'm in the process of finishing up the blacksmith's shop," said Ed, a 71-year-old who obviously still has plenty of energy. "We have a miner's diorama cabin where you can see how the miners used to live. We have a few local Indian items, just one case, then the rest is things from the local area." And of course, being Willow Creek, one of the main attractions is the Bigfoot Wing, where you'll find the world famous collection of Bigfoot/Sasquatch research material assembled by the late Bob Titmus.

But I digress. Getting back to the food: Ed told me he cooks the steaks over an open pit fire. "I start the fire at around noon using oak and madrone," he explained, "and they really come out good. I use lemon pepper and garlic spice and just a tiny bit of season salt. I try to stay away from too much salt because for a lot of people, salt's not good for them."

Ed noted that they've switched beans. "We used to get the cook that won our chili cook-off to give us a big pot, but half the time the ones that won made chili that was too hot for some of the ladies. So now we cheat a little bit and get two kinds, chili beans and baked beans [canned] 'cause it tames down the hot chili beans."

"Are the desserts homemade?" I wondered aloud. "Oh yes ooh, yesss delicious," Ed replied, with dramatic pauses, and I could imagine his mouth watering from the very thought of the pies and cakes. "There's one lady, I've been begging her to make more of her chocolate cake. She makes the most delicious chocolate cake you've ever set your teeth to. You gotta come on out and try this cake." I'm guessing the steak's pretty good, too.

In a different part of the county, this Thursday, July 27, the Mateel's Southern Humboldt Restaurant Skills Internship Program presents their annual Graduation Café, an elegant dinner prepared by young students working under Executive Chef Tom Frazier and the culmination of an intensive four-week restaurant skills internship program.

The five-course dinner begins with a salad of mixed greens with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes, moves on to French onion soup en croute and mushrooms stuffed with crab and shrimp followed by a mint sorbet palate cleanser. For your entrée, choose between medallions of beef with Béarnaise sauce and eggplant parmesan, then finish with chocolate torte for dessert.

Service begins at 6 p.m. in the Redway School multi-purpose room. Advance tickets, $25 each, may still be available at The Bootleg and Madrone Realty in Garberville, at Redway Liquor, or by calling Carole Clark at 223-2909. Don't delay. It only happens once a year.

Coming up on Friday, July 28, it's "A Taste for Kids Sake," a Wine, Cheese and Chocolate benefit for Big Brothers, Big Sisters at the Adorni Center, offering another opportunity to sample our many fine local wines, cheeses and chocolates, with food donated by North Coast Co-op. They also promise live music, and of course there's the requisite silent auction. That's from 5-9 p.m. at the Adorni, 1011 Waterfront Dr., Eureka. Sorry, I'm not sure how much it costs, since they did not actually send us a press release. Call the Co-op at 822-5947; they should know.

photo of a bottle of Toad Hollow wineThe note from Beverley Wolfe of Avalon began with the word "Ribbit!" — and for a reason. This Saturday, July 29, Toad Hollow Winery owners Todd and Francine Williams are in town for their annual winemaker's dinner. If you remember the wine story I did earlier this year ("Drinking with the Connoisseurs," Feb. 23, 2006), you might recall that Todd, aka Dr. Toad, half-brother of Robin Williams, is, IMHO, a very entertaining guy who makes damn fine wine. And the meal planned by Chef Ron Garrido to go with Todd's wines sounds good too.

It begins with a chilled shellfish salad with wild spot prawns, scallops and black mussels, heirloom tomatoes, curly endive and orange zest dressed with olive oil, basil and sauce vert, paired with Eye of the Toad Rosé. Then it's ravioli stuffed with roast pheasant confit and sweetbread-green peppercorn fava bean puree to go with Todd's Pinot Noir. A rich Merlot is offered with the main course, blackberry-marinated leg of lamb filled with wild mushrooms, served with roast baby potatoes, English peas, aioli and mint jus. Another course combines Tallegio cheese with fresh fruit, Italian triple cream cheese and organic lettuces dressed with berry-infused vinaigrette, while Todd pours his Cacophony Zin. The meal concludes with fruit from the Farmers' Market (where I almost always see Avalon chefs in their white coats) with a puff pastry star, Marsala sabayon and "Martini" sugared almonds paired with Risqué, a yummy sweet and fruity Toad Hollow "methode ancestrale" sparkling wine.

Avalon asks that you arrive at the restaurant (3rd and G sts., Eureka) by 6:30 p.m. to meet Dr. Toad and Frankie. Dinner begins at 7. "Reservations a must!" Call 445-0500. Vegetarian and seafood menu available for the less omnivorous (with advance request).

Still speaking of wine, Art of Wine in Eureka's Old Town has been holding a regular series of wine tasting events for months, but they typically sell out before I get around to mentioning them. This weekend's are different, as noted in a recent e-mail newsletter: "On Thursday and Friday, July 27 and 28, we will be hosting [a] somewhat less formal sparkling wine tasting, much requested since we hosted the last one just before the New Year. We will chill down and open up five or six diverse `champagnes' (we're not strictly allowed to call them champagne unless they come from that region of France) and will pour them with accompanying hors d'oeuvres." The tasting runs from 5-7 p.m. and costs $20 per person. You don't need a reservation since they don't have a specific start time, but they ask that you let them know if you think you'll be there so they can gauge how much food to prepare.

Coming up at Art of Wine next month, on Saturday, August 26, "just before everyone disappears under the weight of crush," the skilled vintner John Cabot from Orleans presents his organically grown Humboldt County wines. Twenty dollars gets you half a dozen wines, appetizers and a discussion with the winemaker. Warning from the proprietors, Byron and Hilary: "Sign up soon as space is, as always, limited." Call them at 268-0626, stop by 308 Second St., Eureka (between D and E sts.) or drop them a line at and get on the list. Check for more on the wines.

An e-mail came in the other day announcing that HomeTown Buffet, the smorgy-type operation in the Bayshore Mall, marks its 10th anniversary this coming Tuesday, August 1. They're planning a food sculpture contest (advance applications, please), crafts and face painting for the kids, plus visits from stuffed walking-around versions of a few cartoon characters: Mickey Mouse, Goofy, McGruff the Crime Dog and H.T. Bee, who is apparently the Buffet mascot, although I'm not familiar with him (or her, or it). The fun runs all day long (8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.) with a peak at 6 p.m. when everyone will sing "Happy Birthday" to the Bee and eat unlimited portions of what they promise is "a very large cake" — although I'm betting it won't hold a candle to the one made by that lady out in Willow Creek.

your Talk of the Table comments, recipes and ideas to Bob Doran.


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