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Year-End Bargain:
Tempting ways to upgrade gastronomic techniques

By Christina Waters

As one year folds into another, it's time to make plans. Plans for something special, a dinner, maybe some dancing. Possibly a kiss at midnight. And, of course, you can get a head start on all those plans you kept putting off in 1995. Like really taking your love of food seriously enough to enroll in a Culinary Arts Class through the University of California Extension, in Santa Clara.

January and February are loaded with tempting ways to upgrade your own gastronomic techniques. For example you could sign up for a one-shot intensive, three-hour study of Fabulous Fragrant Breads, held Feb. 15, 6:30-9:30pm, at the Mon Cheri Caterers/Cooking School, 461 S. Murphy in Sunnyvale (408/427-6620; $85, includes food). Or you might want to get involved in a longer-term commitment and set aside each Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm, Feb. 21-Mar. 13, to learn about making soups, stews and breads, at a workshop series titled After-Five Stress-Relief Cooking, also held at Mon Cheri Caterers, for a fee of $165. The Winter schedule at UC-Extension includes workshops on everything from chocolate desserts to cutlery & cookware, so contact Denise Viereck at 408/748-3211 right after the holidays and find out how to sign up.

About New Years

And just to prove that 1996 won't be simply a clone of 1995, Gordon Biersch Executive Chef Jeffrey Anderson has added a few new dishes to the menu just in time for the holiday season. Orchestrating the rich flavors that seem so in sync with cooler weather, Anderson has added grilled Five Spice Veal Ribs served with a fresh mint salad, as well as a prosciutto and spinach combo accompanied by butternut squash and roasted shallots. We like the sound of seared Maple Cured Pork Chop served with sautéed winter greens and smoked bacon, and for dessert, look for pumpkin bread pudding, apple caramel tart and a terrific concept: maple and cranberry brûlée.

If you've got a date but still haven't decided what you're doing for New Year's Eve, here are a few of the choicest last-minute ideas we know of--but remember, next year you really need to get out of this last-minute rut! On Dec. 31, you can feast Italian-style, right up until midnight at Los Gatos' vivacious Valeriano's, 160 West Main St., Los Gatos, 408/354-8108. For a small extra charge, there's a limousine service available for late-night diners. Serious gourmets can indulge their finicky tastebuds, as well as their sense of the romantic, by making reservations for the New Year's Eve dining celebration at The Plumed Horse, in Saratoga. A limited menu of special creations begins at 5pm. The beautiful dining rooms will be decorated with tasteful abandon and a live band should be able to move you from your espresso and cognac right on to the dance floor by the stroke of midnight. Call quickly to reserve your table, at 408/867-4711. ... Margherita di Roma in Cupertino launches its Seventh Annual New Year's Eve Party Extravaganza (whew!) involving nothing less than a seven-course dinner with wine, live music, dancing and those silly-but-popular party favors. For reservations, please call 408/996-0666. ... In downtown San Jose, there's loads to choose from. A molto bene Italian meal at Pasquale's will set you up for whatever party you've got planned for later on (408/286-1770). Or you can enjoy a lavish New Year's dinner ($45 per person) at glamorous Eight Forty North First (408/282-0840), complete with a glass of champagne the minute you walk in the door. ... And if you're looking for something schmoozy and cocktaily, you might want to make reservations at Johnny Z's in Cupertino, where you can savor a five-course dinner starting at 8:30pm, followed by piano bar music, hats, noisemakers and a midnight champagne toast (408/257-1120). Whatever you do, don't forget to raise a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne! Happy New Year!

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From the Dec. 28, 1995-Jan. 3, 1996 issue of Metro

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