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Culinary Scene & Shopping in Marin County & Mill Valley, California: Postcard from Suzy Gershman

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Culinary Scene & Shopping in Marin County & Mill Valley, California: Postcard from Suzy Gershman
Dear Peter,
During the fall wine harvest season, I went to an event called Paso Glow held in the main square of downtown Paso Robles on the California Central Coast, where I live. 

The dinner was a multi-course parade, each presentation from a different chef at a nearby kitchen, with a different winemaker at every table. It was stellar!

The evening was hosted by celebrity chef Tyler Florence, who most people know from Food Network. Meeting the chef made me curious about his projects in northern California and all the new foodie happenings up here in Marin County.

Since I use San Francisco International Airport for my international travel, and am between an Asia and a U.K. trip, I decided to drive over the Golden Gate to the bedroom community of Mill Valley, where there’s a lot of cookin’ goin’ on.

CHEF COMES TO TOWN

Tyler Florence is only one of the area’s celebrity chefs and not the first to go into retail. The chain of lifestyle stores named NapaStyle are dotted across Marin County and into Napa and Sonoma—they are the brain child of Chef Michael Chiarello.

However, Florence has just done a lot of inventive things to bring even more style to the area—from his rotisserie chicken food truck to his stunning retail store devoted to table arts, physical and spiritual.

He’s also a handsome dude who looks more like a football player than a TV personality. He has just signed up as the newest contributing editor to House Beautiful Magazine.

Learn more in Suzy’s missive: Kitchens & Chefs of California Wine Country.

RETAIL DOWNTOWN

Downtown Mill Valley is one of those cutie-pie towns with few chain stores and many wonderful small finds. Another new store in town called Roots Collective—having nothing to do with food—sells hand-made crafts made by artisans from the area.

One former clothing stores downtown has become HQ for area foodies who mob the Tyler Florence retail store which is a large, homey space filled with cookbooks, ingredients and cookwares. There’s a lot of fancy olive oils and balsamic vinegars—some that cost over $100. But wait, there are many affordable gems here: this is a hands-on store that’s fancier than Pottery Barn but not as grand as, say, Gump’s.

There’s a library and a Ralph Lauren townhouse sort of feel to the sprawl of the space that is decked out for fall and the coming holidays, taking up a layout that must be created from a former farmhouse.

Prices can be high but the eye candy is so delicious, you forget the calories. Don’t miss the branded fork logo items for a with-it look.

Get more of Suzy’s tips in our Shopping section.

MORE WHOLE FOODS

Few small towns have two branches of Whole Foods, but Mill Valley is the kind of zip code where the rich and hip hang out and they care about their foods. On the edge of downtown, there’s a Whole Foods, which has been there a long time.

A brand-new branch of Whole Foods has opened closer to Highway 101 than downtown and also serves nearby Tiburon, a coastal retreat for the rich and richer. There was a weekly Mill Valley Farmers Market in the parking lot before the new Whole Foods opened, but that has now been shifted over to the parking lot at CVS (nearby) because the crowds coming to the new destination Whole Foods are densely packed.

This market has about two dozen vendors; many of them are the famous food artisans from the Bay Area. It’s not as large or as diversified as the Marin County Farmers’ Market; but it’s a fun way to shop any given Friday … it is open year-‘round which many of the farmers markets in Napa are not.

Find it in the CVS parking lot off East Blithedale Ave at Lomitas, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Headed to California? Visit our California Travel section.

GINGERBREAD BUILDERS

Because this area has so many well-off shoppers and food-conscious consumers, the most perfect pop-up store in the world has opened just for a few months in the Strawberry Village Shopping Center of Mill Valley—Gingerbread Builders (open until December 31, 2010 then puffff, it’s gone). The store offers three sizes of pre-fab gingerbread homes so you can build it yourself—you can do so on premises, or take all the parts and do it at home. You can also book a holiday part in the store. The houses are priced by size, then you buy the toppings and trims by the baggy. There are free samples of the gingerbread on the counter.

In January, the retail market in the area becomes more enriched when the award-winning Kentfield Market opens a branch in downtown Tiburon, the next town after Mill Valley. Now I’m off to Napa to buy and pack some California vintages to the wine-starved in England.

Ginger kisses with peppermint trim,
SuzyKG
By Suzy Gershman for PeterGreenberg.com. Suzy Gershman’s Born to Shop California Wine Country by Suzy Gershman & Sarah Lahey is now available on Amazon.com and in book stores near you!

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