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Jamie Lauren On Top Chef-dom

How my life has changed since I started appearing on national television:

Until I got a spot on this season’s Top Chef, my job at Absinthe has always been behind the scenes. For the past year and a half, I’ve been going into work and prepping, cooking, expediting and hand-holding for about 10 to 12 hours a day (on average) before heading home.

Olive-Oil Ice Cream Comes to the Mission. Really.

And what's even more surprising, it's good. What's not surprising is the fact that the place—Humphry Slocombe, owned by Jake Godby, formerly of Coi, etc. etc.—is using McEvoy Ranch olive oil. The result reminds me of times I've had real, super-expensive balsamic vinegar dribbled onto vanilla ice cream...not shockingly savory but subtly vegetal, in a good way.

Top Chef's Jamie Lauren: Why I'm Enraptured by the Pig

I am a huge hot dog fan, as many of you may or may not be aware. I grew up on them in New York and have spent a good portion of my life being ridiculously obsessed, so much so that I have even been tempted to tattoo a hot dog some place on my body. I have struggled with the absence of a delicious hot dog in San Francisco for the past seven years and I always look forward to repeated trips back home so that I can indulge … and there I was. Sitting in New York City, snowed in. Missed my flight back to San Francisco and got pretty much screwed. The only glimmer of hope was that I got to indulge in all sorts of delicious things to eat.

What's Up with Melissa Perello's New Restaurant?

This is the time of year when I start thinking about all the bests of the year—my favorite meals, the chefs I hope to see more of in the New Year, the best newcomers, restaurants I’m sad to see close. Melissa Perello is one of the young chefs I’m keeping my fingers crossed for in 2009. I finally got over to Sebo last Monday, where Perello’s been guest-cheffing periodically (her boyfriend, Danny Dunham, is one of Sebo’s chef-owners and was in the kitchen to help). The $45 four-course meal was a well-executed Cal-French mid-winter treat, featuring a caramelized scallop salad with celery root puree, kale-and-chanterelle risotto, and fork-tender Cabernet-braised pork cheeks.

Even a Bad Year Deserves Toasting - A Pomegranate Sparkler Recipe

Hey, this has been kind of a rough year, eh? The last couple of months have kind of made us want to hide under our desks. But as this year ends and the next begins, it would seem a shame to let it go by without a proper toast, something like “Thanks for nothing, 2008. See you on the flip side.”

The Eat and Drink List: This Week's Top 7 Events

1. Stock your holiday pantry with a visit to Cheese Plus—they’ve got panettone, Stilton, mince pies and Nordic glögg aplenty, perfect for whatever wintry celebration you have planned. For more information, visit cheeseplus.com

2. On December 24 Incanto will be hosting the annual Feast of the Seven Fishes, a four-course all-seafood menu that is the traditional Italian meal served the night before Christmas. The price is $55, exclusive of tax, gratuity and beverage, call 415-641-4500 to book your spot. For more information, visit incanto.biz

Cheers! Our Champagne Recommend

If you're looking for a fine, but reasonably priced Champagne for the holidays this year, I recommend this new-ish offering from the famous Champagne house Taittinger. It's made entirely from Grand Crus-rated vineyards (ones that score 100% in the Champagne AOC's system), and it's 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. it's got great structure and length, but is marked by an elegance and a citrusy juiciness that makes it hard not to guzzle. I think the price of $50, which you can find at K&L, is a bargain for Champagne of this quality.

Ode to the Vertical Rabbit

The Vertical Rabbit -- I pretty much exclusively use a simple waiter's corkscrew when opening a bottle of wine. Simple, compact and effective, it always gets the job done. Years ago, when the first Rabbit corkscrew came out with its lever and its single pump action to both extract the cork and twist it off the worm. It looked good, but was clumsy and difficult to use. I stuck to my waiter's corkscrew. But this year they came out with the vertical rabbit--it's much smaller and more compact and actually works much better than the original. With it, it's easier to obtain leverage and its general action is much smoother. For the individual bottle, I'll stick to my pocket-size opener. But if I'm going to be opening more than one or two, the Vertical Rabbit is the way to go.

American Cheeses: Clark Wolf Hates Intolerance

Sliding in one day too late for my unofficial holiday gift guide for the foodie is American Cheese: The Best Regional, Artisan, and Farmhouse Cheeses (Simon & Schuster, $25) by Clark Wolf. It arrived on my desk the other day and I finally got a chance to look at it.

Top Chef's Jamie Lauren on NY vs. SF (Who's Better?)

One of the things I've noticed over the past seven years that I have been in San Francisco is the clear differences between foodie culture here versus New York City—my hometown. Since I’m just finishing up a visit (snowed-in as we speak), I thought I’d weigh the benefits of two cities dear to my heart.

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