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[whitespace] All Salted Up

A designer trend that reigns and pours

By Christina Waters

According to last week's New York Times, natural sea salts--the big, chunky crystals even larger than kosher--are all the designer rage with East Coast elite chefs. But California takes a back seat to no trendsetters. At lunch last week in St. Helena's totally Tuscan Tra Vigne restaurant, I joined a team of writers who were the guests of Chef Michael Chiarello. The celebrated cook had provided trendy gift tins of grey sea salt from Brittany for each guest. "That other stuff is just sodium," scoffs Chiarello, who extols unrefined sea salt as loaded with organic minerals like magnesium and potassium. The stuff I tasted, pearly grey crystals packaged by Chiarello, were indeed delicious. They explode with mineral flavor when you dust a few grains on fresh melon or grilled chicken. And the cognoscenti claim that the minerals retained from natural evaporation techniques give the diner a healthy edge. Look for unprocessed sea salt at Draeger's, Oakville Grocery or Whole Foods Market. See if you think it's worth the extra 10 bucks or so.

The Grill Pours Forth

Not only is The Grill on the Alley a prime celebrity magnet--recently spotted amidst the dark wood and smooth leather were Peter Max, Jose Feliciano, Bob Newhart--but starting October 20, Grill GM Philippe Azoulay plans to kick off a series of monthly wine dinners at the gorgeous dining suite located within the Fairmont Hotel. "It's our first one, so we will make it big," Azoulay admitted last week. The plan calls for the creation of five- to six-course meals specially prepared to accompany the evening's wines. Something a little different: The Grill's wine dinners will emphasize region, rather than individual wineries. The first event spotlights Sonoma County, and the November wine dinner will feature varietals from Mendocino County. The Grill (408.294.2244) plans to hold wine dinners the third Friday of every month--skipping December, which the general manager admits gets a bit crazy.

Rolling in Dough

I love the sandwiches custom-made by Le Boulanger so much that I did a little homework. Le Boulanger is not only my pick for the quick-lunch-of-the-summer spot, but the Los Altos-based bakeshop is a serious family affair. It used to be La Petite Boulangerie, created by Roger Brunello, brother Dan and cousin Larry Ceccato from the baking dynasty founded by his dad. In 1981, the sourdough empire became Le Boulanger, with Dan as president and Larry as director of sales. Roger's son Scott and son-in-law Ray came onboard in 1995. With 22 locations all over the South Bay and beyond, Le Boulanger makes a killer cinnamon swirl raisin bread, unbelievable sourdough and our new favorite sandwich--the Tuna Niçoise. For $5.60 you get a mile-high filling of tasty tuna salad on your choice of bread. You also get your choice of side salad--I love the potato, but my sweetie prefers the tangy pasta salad. If you're reading this, you know where your local Le Boulanger is--go there now, and get fresh!

Take a Fall Viaggio

Continuing on the success of its summer series, Viaggio Ristorante in Saratoga unveils its Fall Wine-Tasting Series, starting Sept. 14 with a visit from Kenwood Vineyards. It happens on Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8:30pm, hosted by Viaggio's beverage manager and sommelier, Mark Grochowski. Expect some sexy cooking demos by Executive Chef A.J. Szenda, delicious appetizers and great prizes. In addition to Kenwood, Viaggio presents Cronin Vineyards, along with owner/Santa Cruz Mountains winemaker Duane Cronin, who'll pour some of the usual, delicious enological suspects. The series continues on Sept. 28 with special wines from Robert Mondavi of Napa Valley. Join Mondavi rep Lisa Weiss for a tasting of pinot grigio, sangiovese, fumé blanc, chardonnay and a few big reds. Price is all-inclusive, $20.00 per person--14550 Big Basin Way, Saratoga , 408.741.5300, www.viaggiorestaurant.com.

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From the September 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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