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FOODfare: Culinary-Inspired Gift Ideas

Ron Oliver's drink charms.
Courtesy photo


Ron Oliver is best known for his masterful work as the chef de cuisine at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club’s long-revered Marine Room restaurant. But he has a creative side that stretches far beyond the culinary arts that you can put on display at home, courtesy of his signature Drink Charms. Hand-crafted by Oliver, this line of ornamental beverage accompaniments is available in sets of four ($38) or six charms ($48) shaped like fruits and vegetables the likes of which serve as base ingredients for some of the world’s most popular beverages.

Each is adorned with costume gemstones matching the color of the edible and look nice hanging from the handle or stem of everything from a wine glass to a coffee cup. Upping the return on investment is the beverage recipe book that’s included with purchase of the six-charm box. Small yet potent (like many a good drink), the book includes a slew of recipes for drinks both virgin and fully-leaded, many of which are as elegant and flavorfully layered as the delicious dishes he’s primarily known for. Check out Oliver’s official Website for more information on the chef and his wares.

A European Getaway

A whirlwind cross-Atlantic trip including stops in Spain, France and Italy would undoubtedly be rather pricey. Fortunately, La Jolla’s Trattoria Acqua is offering a more cost-effective multi-cultural option courtesy of a holiday promotion where diners can come in and sample dishes inspired by the cuisine of the countries mentioned above via a trio of three-course prix-fixe menus. Adding to the allure of this offer is the fact that guests can have all three dishes from one country’s menu or select, say, an appetizer from Spain, an Italian entrée and a dessert capable of garnering an ooh-la-la or two. The exact dishes being offered will vary from week to week, but menus from the first leg of this epicurean journey included Parisian five-onion soup with beer essence and gruyere cheese, Pacific sea bass served Puttanesca style (in a tomato sauce fortified with olives and capers), duck empanadas with pomegranate salsa and seasonal desserts like a traditional Buche de Noel and a chocolate chip bread pudding made with Panetone, a yeasty treat popular in Italy during the holidays.

1298 Prospect Street, La Jolla, 858.454.0709

Celebratory Suds

The holidays are the best time to go out and grab some special craft beers. And it'sthe only time to get your hands on varieties that are produced once in year in honor of the yuletide season. In general, these Christmas beers (sorry to be so un-PC, but this is the industry term—please hold your incensed emails for when I’m legitimately blasphemous or insensitive…it’s bound to happen sooner or later) are full-bodied, darker, higher in alcohol and brewed with spices and other ingredients that are true to the season (clove, nutmeg and even spruce). They tend to be complex on the tongue and, like Aunt Peggy’s famous eggnog, hard on the head if consumed in too great a quantity. Typical styles range from bready, raisiny Belgian ales (Affligem Noel, Delirium Noel, St. Bernardus Christmas Ale) to thick, viscous stouts and porters (Port’s Santa’s Little Helper, Karl Strauss Parrot in a Palm Tree), Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, especially in the rogue universe of craft brewing. Case in point is AleSmith’s YuleSmith, a mega-hopped red ale that’ll keep you from nodding off while waiting up for St. Nick. And for those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas (see, I’ve got your back), Samuel Adams has a good New Year’s Eve option, a collaboration beer brewed in tandem with Germany’s 970-years young Weihenstephan called Infinium that has the effervescence of champagne matched up with a sweet, bready maltiness and overall flavor profile featuring apple, apricot and allspice. This is the only time this timeless brew will be available and what better occasion than the toasting of a New Year to pop the cork on such a special beer.

A Rendezvous

The type that’s good for any group, not just the philandering extra-marital sect (after all, that’s not what the holidays are all about). My suggested site for such a get-together is a brand new spot in the Gaslamp called, aptly enough, Gaslamp Rendezvous. Originally slated to open over the summer, this combination wine bar and deli opened its doors for the first time this Wednesday and figures to provide an easygoing, casual-yet-lovely atmosphere for a quick yet thoughtfully prepared weekday lunch (options include sandwiches, salads, flatbreads and pastries) or a malingering after-work glass (or two) of vino. With the nicely lit trees lining the sidewalks of the Gaslamp and the jovial spirit of the folks walking along them, the holidays are easily the best time to give this place a whirl.

587 J Street, Downtown, 619.546.5060

The Nectar of the Gods (or Encinitas)

If there’s one thing I can say about San Diego’s food enthusiast sect, it’s that they’ve grown to be very locavores; consuming a diet made up with as many edibles plucked from the expanses of our county as possible. Therefore, no guide of this sort would be complete without providing a locally-manufactured product that will appeal to the tastes and trendy sensibilities of our population. Enter, Nature’s Agave, an Encinitas-based company making organic agave nectar. What’s agave nectar? I can hardly believe you’re asking me this. It’s only one of the hottest food trends of the year nearly gone by. Clearly you’ve been living under a rock (or a cactus), so I’ll help you out. Agave nectar is an all-natural sweetener that’s gluten free and a healthful alternative to good old sugar, primarily in drinks like tea, coffee, lemonade and even cocktails. This homegrown operation debuted this March and is already available in over 2,000 retail outlets across the country. Such success speaks to the quality of the product, which will look right at home peeking out from the rim of a freshly-stuffed stocking.