Sunday, January 27, 2008

Get Into the Real Estate Game!

Right now, the ever-changing world of real estate is presenting wonderful advantages for buyers. If you're looking for a home, now is an ideal time to be in the real estate game. Why are you still renting? When you rent, all you're doing is paying someone else's mortgage. You're not building any equity or getting any price breaks -- it's crazy! Build anest egg right now and start taking a real close look at real estate. It's time to take a gander and consider your options. It just makes good financial sense. Find a good location, take a shot at getting a good loan with an attractive rate, and then go for it. Get in the game, baby. Be in it to win it!!

"Just Quit, Baby!"

The Raiders denied a report Friday that owner Al Davis had asked Coach Lane Kiffin to resign.
Citing unidentified sources, ESPN reported that Davis had drawn up a resignation letter for Kiffin two weeks ago but that the coach had refused to sign it. Kiffin, 32, has two years left on the contract he signed in January 2007."There is no issue here," Raiders senior executive John Herrera said. "There was never an issue here. There's nothing to it."

Yes, unfortunately, there is an issue here. In fact, there are a ton of issues here. The Oakland Raiders have long been the laughingstock of the NFL. Their “Commitment to Excellence” has changed into a “A History of Incompetence.” There are entire generations of Raiders fans out there who have known only losing year after year. The team’s long list of bad moves and stupid decisions goes on and on.

And everyone knows what – or rather who – the problem is. His name is Al Davis. The once brilliant owner has deteriorated into an old, bitter, litigious geezer who is incompetent, overbearing, stubborn and just plain cranky. His beloved Raiders have been out-of-control for so long that putting them on the right track is probably going to take at least a decade.

Long ago, George Steinbrenner, owner of the NY Yankees, pulled this same kind of guano. But, even Georgie Porgie eventually figured out that it was a better idea to hire good people and let them run the team. When he did that, he won a lot more world championships, and even though he can still be obnoxious at times, the Yankees are a much better team when he’s in the background.

No one in their right mind will want the Raider’s job now if Kiffin does indeed get the boot. Who wants to work for a boss who is constantly up your derriere? Anyone with any talent who wants to have a future coaching in the NFL will run from this job like the plague. Remember – Davis fired Mike Shanahan and John Gruden couldn’t get away from the man fast enough.

Davis doesn’t want a coach. He wants a bitch, a yes man and a lackey who will do whatever he says without displaying a backbone or voicing an opinion.

Speculation about Kiffin's status began three weeks ago when reports surfaced after the season that he wanted to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Raiders dismissed those reports and announced that Ryan was staying on as coordinator.

There were also reportedly problems between Kiffin and Davis during the season. Kiffin was upset when Davis didn’t get JaMarcus Russell, the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, signed and into training camp. Instead, Al haggled with Russell and his agent, which meant the rookie was pretty much not available for the entire season. When Russell did get into a few games late in the season, he looked unprepared and overmatched. The team went 4-12 in Kiffin's first season in Oakland, doubling the team's victory total from the previous year.

Stand by to see how this plays out. The sad fact is that the Oakland Raiders will be terrible until Davis lets someone else run his team. The man should be forced to sell, but the NFL is afraid to get sued, so it will never happen.

The sadder fact is that you can fire a coach or cut a player. But, you’re stuck with an owner, whether you like it or not. And that is why the Raiders will suck until Al Davis decides to “Just Quit, Baby!”

(Portions of this article courtesy of
Oops - I messed up. Instead of a photo of Al Davis, I accidentally inserted a picture of Bette Davis!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Great Charity

I found a great charitable organization called Car Angel ( It's a wonderful non-profit company that uses car and other donations to make videos for kids and teens. They have given away over 2.4 million videos, so these people don't just talk the talk; they walk the walk. A lot of these car donation places just take your vehicle and sell it and pocket the majority of the money. But, not Car Angel. They're the real thing and are doing really valubale and special work. It's a win-win situation if you have a car that you want to donate to a good and useful charitable cause. Check out this video from Do something special -- make a car donation to them today!!

Budget Software

Organizations must possess the specialized ability to fully and effectively manage very complex and highly intricate financial functions. A significant number of these functions include consolidation, job costing, budget control, cash flow analysis, costs tracking, purchasing processes, major and minor allocations and currency management. PROPHIX has the budget software that allows you to easily handle the many variables involved in performing these complex financial analyses. If you are a member of even a small organization, you need budget software that will help you stay ahead of the game.

HDMI Switches

With the high-definition boom at full strength, people are more interested than ever when it comes to obtaining high-end (High Def Multimedia Interconnecting) HDMI switches. And the thing is -- there are a lot of inferior (most produced overseas) HDMI switches, and it you don't know what you're doing or looking for, you could really get reamed on the deal. If you're going to go HD, why not get the very best switches available. I mean, that would be like buying a brand new Rolls Royce and putting a Radio Shack radio in it. That just does not make any sense at all. If you want the best, forget the rest!

Engraved Plaques

If you're awadring someone with engraved plaques, there's a great Web site where you can order high-quality, very affordable plaques and trophies online. It's called and I am going to be ordering a few plaques from them myself for my annual charity event, The Yuletide Yuckfest. Engraved plaques are great, because people can hang them on their wall, and it's a great way to recognize someone for doing something special. Plus, if they're not too intricate, they won't cost you an arm and a leg!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dog Portrait

Gabriele Bungardt, an amazing dog portrait artist who I highlighted in an earlier article, is working on a painting of our dogs, Ratdog (left) and Shelly (right). Here is an early look at what the portrait will look like. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mark Your Calendar: 12-21-12

What would you do if you knew with certainty that the world would end in less than five years? I mean, not just speculation or conjecture -- but what if you really knew the exact date on which our entire civilization would cease to exist? How would it change your life?

I know what I’d do. First, I would tell my rather annoying boss to shove it (which would undoubtedly lead to my eventual termination), withdraw all of the money from my bank account and head to Europe to party and travel and just hitch hike around. I would probably make Amsterdam my headquarters, journeying from time-to-time to places like Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Greece, depending on the season.

I’d run with the bulls, hit Oktoberfest, spend summers on the beach in Greece and along the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I’d eat the best food and drink the best wine and meet great people and live a carefree life right up until doomsday. Or until my cash ran out.

The reason I am mentioning this is because lately I have heard a lot of talk about the end of the world. The date everyone is targeting is December 21, 2012. The main reason for this particular date is that’s the very last day listed on the Mayan calendar. The Mayans were a bloodthirsty race that was very adept at building extremely sophisticated astrological equipment when they weren’t killing other tribes and sacrificing virgins.

The Mayan calendar, created thousands of years ago, is uncannily accurate – scientists and astronomers have marveled at its precise nature for centuries. The achievement is even more incredible when you consider the fact that the Mayans did it all without telescopes or satellites.

One of the most amazing things about the Mayans is their calculation of the lunar moon. They came up with the number of 329.53020 days, which turned out to be only 34 seconds off. That is incredible when you think about how long ago they lived on this planet. It also makes you wonder if they had any help from extraterrestrials, but that’s a whole other topic.

Then, when you add in several other factors besides the Mayans, 12-21-12 starts to look even more possible, if not probable:

Sun storms: Our sun has been acting quirky lately, bombarding the Earth with so much radiation energy that it’s been knocking out power grids and destroying satellites.
The Atom Smasher: Scientists in Europe are constructing the world’s largest particle accelerator – a 27 km tunnel designed to smash atoms together in order to determine the origins of our universe. But, some experts are saying that using this device is not a smart move and could eventually lead to some catastrophic results, like creating tiny black holes, capable of crushing our planet like an empty beer can.
The religious factor: Even the religious prognosticators agree that 2012 is a probable date for the end of the world as we know it. The Christians say that Armageddon, the definitive war between good and evil, is going to occur on or around 2012, and the Hindus are on board as well. If you read the I Ching (aka The Chinese Book of Changes, which you won’t find on Oprah’s Book of the Month Club), you’ll also see that they are predicting the same.
Super Volcanoes: Yellowstone National Park is home to the world’s biggest volcano, one that has a pattern of exploding every 650,000 years. Well, it’s way overdue and scientists are starting to worry about an eruption that could send us into a winter that could last for approximately 15,000 years. When it does blow, it will make Mt. St. Helens look like a small fart.
The Pole Dance: The North and South Poles like to switch places every 750,000 years or so, and right now they’re about 30,000 years behind schedule. Scientists have noticed that they’re drifting slowly apart (approximately 20-30 kilometers per year), much faster than ever. A pole shift is eminent, we know that. But, will it cause havoc by 2012?

Many people have predicted the end of the Earth in the past and, of course, they were wrong. A group of people in the Philippines predicted the demise of the planet in 1999. They went into a cave for a month or so with rations, etc. Boy, they must have really felt dumb when they emerged from that cave and saw that not only was the planet still around – but someone had built a new Wal-Mart in Manila!

12-21-12. Will it be the end of the world? Or just another big shopping day? I don’t want to be in a position to say I told you so, because it will be the last thing I will ever say. But, as all my friends will tell you, I enjoy getting in the last word.

Were the Mayans right? Will 12-21-12 be our last hurrah? We’ll know in about 1,797 days, now won’t we?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Veloce is Molto Bene!

This weekend we had an opportunity to try an amazing spirit called Veloce. We were amazed at its wonderful and unique taste. We loved it!

If I had to describe Veloce, I would say that it’s a nutty, clean-tasting and very refreshing liqueur that goes down smoothly and warms the soul. We’re going out to buy some – to both drink it and attempt to cook with it.

Originally sold many years ago as an elixir, Veloce is a northern Italy winter wheat grain spirit, infused with a 100-year-old Sperone family herbal recipe and a new infusion of peach and apricot flowers.
SFGate recently gave Veloce a great review, saying:
“Another Italian infused liqueur has hit the market, and it's a blend of old and new. Antonio Sperone married the Sperone family's 100-year-old herbal recipe and peach and apricot flowers, and a touch of red wine grappa, resulting in Veloce, a double-infused wheat grain spirit that is light on its feet. The Venetian-themed Ducca restaurant shows it off in the Veloce Sport, a sprightly blend of Belvedere vodka, Veloce and grapefruit juice that might just be the modern-day incarnation of Herb Caen's Vitamin V (vodka).”
If you want to find out some other great drink recipes using Veloce, visit their Web site at:

Treadmills Can be Part of Your 2008 New Year's Resolutions

Have you kept your 2008 New Year's resolutions so far? I have, but man, it's been tough. I am trying to do what half the population is also attempting -- to lose weight in a big way and get my health back on track. I'll be 50 this year, so it's time. Anyway, getting on the treadmill is not an easy thing to do, but once you get on it you can get some momentum and then it becomes a lot easier. I have been looking at a lot of treadmills to try and find one that will work well for me. I will keep you posted to let you know which one I decide on.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Platform Shoes Put You on a Whole New Level

This message is for the ladies: What is is about platform shoes that guys like? It's hard to say, but one thing is for sure -- they're the newest rage. There's a Web site out there called that has one of the largest selections of platform shoes that you'll find anywhere. They are just amazing! I am definitely considering getting some for Angelina, maybe for her birthday or our anniversary. Platform shoes are sexy, unqiue and do something for guys that they just can't put their finger on!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Recent Restaurant Reviews for

Here are three places I recently reviewed for
Roy's (575 Mission Street, (415) 777-0277/ is a seafood legend, because they know how to do it right. Executive Chef Ty Mahler is a magician with fish and the place is an adventure in how to do seafood to perfection. The place is very service-oriented, and although Roy's is not inexpensive, they feature things like a Prix Fixe menu, seasonal menus, vegetarian meals and a children's menu. Dishes that stand out in my mind include the Hibachi Grilled Salmon ($25) with a sprout salad and Japanese citrus ponzu; the Nori Wrapped Halibut Banana Leaf en Paillote ($30) with shiitake mushrooms, mussels and roasted lobster rose water and the Mochi Crisped Whole Snapper & Sautéed Mussels for Two (market price) with soy braised shiitake, tofu and bok choy. Everything is fresh, flavorful and memorable. The service at Roy's is fun and efficient, and I would give this place five stars (out of five) overall.

Masa's (648 Bush Street, San Francisco (415) 989-7154/ (see photo) is a wonderful place with some really incredible food. They have a Prix Fixe menu that makes it really affordable to go there. Executive Chef Gregory Short cooks contemporary French/Japanese cuisine, and some of the dishes are really fascinating. Some of the more unusual items include a Celery Root Ravioli, containing braised celery branch, Himalayan truffles with a fontina cheese sauce; a Crispy Skin Wild Sea Bass, with organic German butterball potatoes, baby leeks and whole grain mustard; Crispy Medallion of Veal Sweetbreads, with russet potato gnocchi, cippollini onions, those same Himalayan truffles with a roasted chestnut puree; and a Lemon and Olive Oil Sorbet with candied cherry tomato and basil ice. I would recommend the Chef's Nine Course Tasting Menu at $120 per person -- featuring some of Chef Short's special dishes using seasonal ingredients. Masa's has a great atmosphere, with a lot of earth tones and a very calming environment. The restaurant's Sommelier Alan Murray is one of the most highly regarded in The City. This place is very popular, so I would suggest making reservations way in advance.

If you're ever traveling to the South Bay, I would strongly suggest that you try Le Papillon (410 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose (408) 296-3730/ Le Papillon features contemporary French food that is spectacular. Chef Scott Cooper has helped make this restaurant a top-rated Zagat Survey spot. The place has also won awards from Wine Spectator, and is a DiRoNA Award Winner. Some of the famous dishes at Le Papillon include a Pan Seared Foie Gras with Tomato Molasses and Caramelized Avocado ($24); Dungeness Crab Soufflé with Lemon, Saffron and Caviar ($21); Truffled Hamachi Tartar with Avocado, Lemon and Pea Shoot Emulsion ($23); Lobster Bisque with a Sweet Corn Timbale ($14); Spice Seared Duck Salad with Black Mission Figs, Belgian Endive, Tart Apple and Hazelnut Vinaigrette ($13); Noisettes of Red Deer with Cabernet-Truffle Reduction with a Parsnip Tart ($36); and a Grain Mustard Crusted Rabbit with Golden Chantrelles with Tarragon Jus ($31). You won't find a special tasting menu here -- everything is a la carte and very pricey, but worth it. Le Papillon has been serving amazing cuisine for nearly 30 years in an elegant, quiet setting. Food prepared and served with passion -- that capsulizes Le Papillon perfectly.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pocket Watches are In!

Everyone, both men and women are very excited about new pocket watches. They're hot and hip and totally in. A classy alternative to wrist watches, pocket watches say, "Hey I'm different. I'm cool and in tune with fashion and style." The pocket watch market is explosive right now with a plethora of styles available. And the great thing is that anyone can own one -- if you want an expensive one, you can get one. But, you can also get a pocket watch at a very reasonable price.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

He Played With The Yankee Clipper: Dario Lodigiani

Dario Lodigiani enjoyed a 17-year baseball career from 1935-1954, playing parts of six seasons in the majors and 14 in the minor leagues, losing three years while serving in military from 1943 to 1945. Lodigiani played at Lowell High School in San Francisco, with his lifelong friend Joe DiMaggio.

At age 19, Lodigiani began his pro career with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and later joined the Williamsport Grays of the Eastern League. He entered the majors in 1938 with the Philadelphia Athletics, the Toronto Maple Leafs of the international League in 1940. He returned to the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1941 and 1942 and later served in the US Army Air Force during World War II (1943-45). After discharge, he rejoined the White Sox for one more season in 1946.

In a six-season career, Lodigiani was a .260 hitter (355-for-1364) with 16 home runs and 156 RBI in 405 games. Over 14 minor league seasons, Lodigiani hit a .301 average with 74 home runs and 589 RBI. His best minor league season was with the 1937 Oaks, when he hit .327 with 35 doubles, 18 home runs and 84 RBI.

Following his playing career, Lodigiani scouted for the Chicago White Sox, discovering or signing players such as Dave Frost, Rusty Kuntz, Jack McDowell, Rich Morales and Ken Williams. He also coached for the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Athletics, and eventually gained induction to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame in 2006.

At age 91, he is recognized as one of the oldest living major league ballplayers.

I interviewed Dario at his home in Napa, California.

On Joe DiMaggio’s competitive nature: “We were playing the Yankees when I was with Philadelphia and it was just a normal day, not a big game or anything. And I was playing second base when Joe came sliding in real hard, knocking me ass-over-teacups. Then, he got up, brushed his pants off a couple of times and never said Doo, hello, s—t, or nothing – he just ran off to the dugout. He had a real hard look on his face and was just staring straight ahead. You would never have known that we grew up together by the way he was acting.”

On playing baseball while in the U.S. Army: “It was a real piece of cake assignment, because all we did was play ball and drink. They shipped us off to Hawaii and we played games every day. All of the top players were out there playing – DiMaggio, Ruffing, Judnich, McCormick, Charlie Silvera, Joe Gordon, Bob Dillinger, the Big Cat Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese – he was just a kid then. It was a big party and we had a helluva time, let me tell you.”

On meeting Marilyn for the first time: “We were playing in a golf tournament at the Merced Country Club, and afterwards all of the guys went to a bar in San Francisco. Dominic DiMaggio was partners in this bar. And our buddy Reno Barsocchini was serving drinks – just to help out. ‘Hey, Dario!’ Barsocchini called out. ‘Go down that hall and turn left, the first door you come to. There’s a guy down there who wants to see you.’ So I walked down there and sitting in a chair was Joe DiMaggio. And sitting on his lap was Marilyn Monroe. I was shocked to see her there, I did not expect it. I said ‘Good Night! Oh my God!’ Talk about a beautiful girl!”

On nearly halting DiMaggio’s hitting streak in 1941: “It was when I was with the White Sox several years later and the Yanks came into Comiskey Park. I was playing third base and the first time Joe came up to bat, he hit a shot down to me and I fielded it on one hop and threw him out at first. The next time he came up, the Yankees had a guy on first, and Joe hit another hard shot to me at third and I threw the runner out at second base for the fielder’s choice. Then, he came up again in the seventh inning, mad as hell, kicking the dirt around home plate and cussing to himself, and he hit another rocket down to me, which I knocked down with my body and threw to first, where I beat him by a hair. But, the umpire called him safe. They did that a lot with Joe – he was such a huge star that they gave him the benefit of the doubt a lot, kind of like they did with Ted Williams on ball and strikes, you know? Anyway, that kept his hitting streak alive at 25 games, that one call. And, of course he went on to hit in 31 straight more games that season and set the record. Pissed me off like hell!”

On a fishing trip with Marilyn and Joe: “Joe asked me if I wanted to go out fishing with them. It was Joe’s boat, The Yankee Clipper – the one they gave him on Joe DiMaggio Day. We motored back and forth in the Bay all morning – nothing was biting -- and then Marilyn hooked a big one – a striper that grabbed her line and took off with it. ‘Hold on,” I told her. ‘When the fish lets up, that’s when you reel him in a little, see?’ That fish was just eating her up and you could tell she was getting real tired. She could barely hold on to her pole. The fish seemed to be twice as strong as she was. So, I told Joe, ‘You better help her, Joe. She’s having a hell of a time with that fish.” Joe said, ‘She hooked it. Let her bring it in.’ And boy, was Marilyn struggling. She had that pole jammed up under her arm and she couldn’t hold on to it because her hands were so tiny, so she was hugging the pole to her body with her left arm and trying to reel it in with her right hand. She had the pole pushing up against her bosoms real hard. It was pressing against her breasts quite a bit. So, I told Joe, ‘You better take that pole. She’s going to pop one of those things!’ Joe got a kick out of that. We all laughed and laughed. But, damned if Marilyn didn’t bring in that fish.”

Saturday, January 12, 2008

For the Finest in Fabrics, Think Robert Allen

Robert Allen fabrics are some of the finest in the entire world, because they search the planet for the very highest quality desginer fabrics on the planet -- from places like Italy, Turkey, Taiwan, Peru and the good 'ol USA. They offer all kinds of great styles, designs, patterns and prints -- from floral collections to still life scenes. For window treatments, upholstery, tablecloths and so much more -- Robert Allen fabrics are top-of-the-line and all the way live!

We'll All Be There at Some Point

As we get on in years (I will be 50 this year), we have to think more and more about aging and all of the things that come along with getting older. It's a fact of life -- there is really nothing any of us can do about it except embrace it. That's why I'm not afraid to write about, a web site that sells things we'll need once we get older. They sell things like stair lifts, incontinence supplies, walkers, etc. Old age shouldn't be something to be afraid of. I am personally going to be a cool old geezer!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I'm in Bat Heaven!

Yesterday, I got to drive the original Batmobile. Having grown up on the TV series, it was a thrill I will not soon forget. What a car! What a day! What an experience. In case, you aren't familiar with the history behind the Batmobile, here is a short item that I took from Wikipedia:
The Batmobile is the fictional personal automobile of comic book superhero Batman. The car has followed the evolution of the character from comic books to television to films.
The standard features of the vehicle include a laser beam, chassis with heavy armor plating, a nuclear bomb strapped to the back, a button for calling in Superman for backup, a high performance engine, sometimes with rocket boosts for increased speed, special devices to improve maneuverability, and mounted weapons to disable vehicles and remove obstacles. In addition, the vehicle typically carries the highly intelligent computer that is remotely linked to the Batcave's main computer, a remote control function, a field forensic kit and a personal small helicopter held in the trunk called a whirlybat.
The vehicle has changed frequently over the decades. In the early stages of Batman's career, the Batmobile was a modified sedan with armor but it has evolved into a technologically advanced custom-built automobile.
The Batmobile has sometimes been described as being powered by nuclear generation of electricity. It was part of the launch checklist from the 1966 television show ("Atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed!"). And, in Batman Returns, one of the Penguin’s schemes to kill Batman is to turn the Batmobile into "a H-bomb on wheels."
In addition to riding in the Batmobile, Batman's partners Robin (Tim Drake) and Nightwing (Dick Grayson) have had their own customised cars, the Redbird and Nightbird, respectively.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Gemstone Jewelry

I was looking for some gemstone jewelry for my lovely fiancee Angelina and I was so amazed out what's out there that I wrote a little song about it.

Have you seen what's going on with gemstone jewelry?
Have you seen all the great new styles and designs?
Have you checked into the latest in gemstone jewelry?
Take a quick look online and it will blow your mind.

The quality is really something to behold.
It doesn't matter if you're young or old.
All the different colors will make you smile.
'Cause gemstone jewelry goes the extra mile!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

4 Mini-Restaurant Reviews

Here are 4 mini-reviews I wrote for recently:

Rivoli (1539 Solano Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707/Phone: (510) 526-2542) is a great place in the East Bay that serves California/Mediterranean cuisine that is really outstanding. They specialize in using only seasonal, local and fresh, mostly organic ingredients, including naturally raised meats and poultry. The Chef/Owner is Wendy Brucker, and she is a really well-known chef who is described by many as being very creative and highly skilled. We were there during the holidays, and we had a great experience. The highlights of the evening were the Warm Goat Cheese Souffle, with proscuitto di parma, black mission figs and ambrosia melon; the Sonoma Liberty Duck cooked two ways with Roast Nectarine Jus, with polenta, pecorino and ricotta sformatino and braise Tuscan kale; and a Warm Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding with orange caramel sauce, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. We eat out a lot (obviously) and we're always looking for unique flavors. Ravioli has a ton of them. Prices are moderate, they have a quality wine list and kids are welcome. It gets loud when it's busy, but the food helps you forget about the added decibels.

Straits (San Francisco Centre, 4th Floor, 845 Market Street, Suite 597, SF 94103/Phone: (415) 668-1783 features food from Singapore expertly prepared and presented by renowned Chef/Owner Chris Yen. With a full menu of delights and an amazing Raw Bar, Straits is a cornucopia of incredible dishes that are pleasing to both the eyes and the palate as well. When we were there last month, we had their Hay Tuna Tower (sashimi jewels tosses with a ginger, kefir lime leaf and served for cassava chips -- $14); the Chow Kay Tow (wide rice noodles wok-tossed with prawns, fish cake, Chinese sausage and bean sprouts -- $12); the Banana Blossom Salad (banana flowers, grilled chicken and seasonal fruits with Asian herbs in a Vietnamese vinaigrette -- $9); the Origami Sea bass (baked in parchment with ginger, long an, shiitake mushrooms and rice wine -- $19); and the Tamarind Beef (wok-fired filet mignon and watercress with black pepper oyster sauce.) Everything was absolutely marvelous, with new exciting flavors and inspiring colors. One of the really great things about Straits is that they are open until 2 am every day, so that you can eat late after a night out on the town. They have a full bar and dancing as well. The decor can best be described as contemporary cool and hip. This is not the kind of place I would take young children to. Reservations are strongly suggested.

rnm (pictured above) (598 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94117/Phone: (415) 551-7900 is a American/French Bistro that really goes above and beyond when it comes to serving inventive, inspired food. They walk the walk when it comes to their passion for this cuisine, featuring vegetarian meals, seasonal menus, chef's tasting menus and prix fixe menus. There are a lot of fine dining establishments out there that have the same things on their menu every time you go there, but not rnm. Each experience there is different and unique, which makes eating there exciting. Last time we went there, we ordered items exclusively from the small plates section of the menu. We sampled the Brentwood white corn chowder with chanterelle mushrooms, house smoked bacon and truffle oil ($9): What an amazing blending of deep flavors. The bacon with the mushrooms created a really unique taste; the Parisian style steak tartar with sweet baguette crostini, micro greens and a quail egg ($13): Wow! The soft texture of the hyper-fresh tartare complemented the crunchy baguette perfectly; and the Charcuterie plate with pate, duck rillettes, smoked prosciutto, coppa salami, house made andouille, marinated olives, Dijon and upland cress ($11): a filling and completely satisfying array of wonderful meats and a real value at just $11. rnm also features pizzas, larger plates and from what I have heard, a great selection of desserts. Chef/Owner Justine Minor has put together a great space here. In 2005, the San Francisco Weekly named rnm the "Best Unsung Restaurant" in the Bay Area. But, good news travels fast -- rnm is crowded most nights and reservations are strongly recommended.

Cyrus (29 North Street, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 433-3311; is a two-star Michelin Guide recipient, and one of Gourmet Magazine's "Top 50 Restaurants in America". It also received a 4-star rating from the San Francisco Chronicle. The place features world-class dining in the vineyards of Healdsburg. The Executive Chef/Owner is Douglas Keane, who was chosen as Food & Wine magazine's "Best Chef 2006," offers a very flexible prix fixe format that makes the place a little more affordable. They also have some wonderful wine pairings that are quite reasonably priced. Some of the signature dishes at Cyrus include the Thai Marinated Lobster with Avocado, Melon and Hearts of Palm; the Duck Breast with Tamarind Glazed Eggplant and Edamame with Keffir Lime-Kecap Manis; Bacon Wrapped Pork with Sweet Corn and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and the Truffled Red Wine Risotto with Parmesan Broth. Reservations are always suggested here; the place is usually booked a month in advance. Cyrus describes their food as "contemporary luxury," and that probably capsulizes it best. It's food people who really care about food.