Pastry chef Deanie Hickox is known to Northern California diners for her work at Manresa, Ubuntu, Rubicon and her current post, Coi. This year, Hickox received a semi-finalist nomination for the coveted James Beard 2010 Outstanding Pastry Chef award. She worked with Jeremy Fox at Ubuntu and Manresa. The two were married but parted ways after Ubuntu. Her Beard nomination was for her work at Ubuntu in Napa. She is a grad of the San Francisco California Culinary Academy pastry program, and was a 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Rising Star Chef, a 2008 Best Pastry Chef and a 2009 Napa Sonoma Rising Star Pastry Chef.
Hickox's picks cover Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and Napa, with some good finds in between. Her comments have been edited for length.
THE CHEF CONNECTION
I have to admit I am biased when it comes to where I like to eat on my days off. I really enjoy eating at places where my friends are the chefs. I'm fortunate enough to know some really talented people so I eat very well! Commis and Aziza definitely top the list. And two of the best meals I had this year were at Cellar Door at Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz where my old friend, Charlie Parker, was the chef. He'll be moving on to Plum in Oakland soon so I'm really looking forward to eating there once he's settled."
One of the restaurants I'm most excited about hasn't even opened yet...Plate Shop in Sausalito. Kim Alter is a rock-star... she's definitely one to watch and I can't wait to see all her hard work pay off.
IT WAS SO GOOD…
Some random favorites: Gochi is an Izakaya-style restaurant located in a non-descript strip mall in Cupertino. I love their potato gratin with cod roe and the clay pot rice dishes...it has a pretty extensive menu so it's a great place to go with a large group and sample a bit of everything.
I'm still dreaming about a lardo pizza I had a couple of weeks ago at Oenotri in downtown Napa. It was so good I ate one and then immediately ordered another.
Favorite local drinking spot would be 15 Romolo in North Beach. It's a few blocks from work so it's an ideal place to start the weekend...and I have a little bit of a crush on the chicken wings and the Pimm's Cup with tequila.
MOM & POP SPOTS
I am currently obsessed with the Fremont Diner in Sonoma. I have to go there ever time I return to Napa. It's the kind of incredibly charming roadside, country spot that is really hard to come by these days. The food is exactly what I want to eat on my days off...non-fussy, comforting dishes made with great ingredients and care. I could wax poetic about the biscuits with ham, homemade jam and mustard. Or the chicken & waffles. And the mac & cheese. Not to mention the milkshakes served in Mason jars. I haven't tried the caramel cake or the fried pies, but they look amazing so they are definitely next on my list.
I currently live in Campbell so I have a few favorite places in the South Bay. I'm a big fan of Falafel's Drive In, which has been owned and operated by the same family in San Jose since 1966. The large falafel sandwich with a banana milkshake is my go-to cheap eat.
I think one of the best-kept secrets in the Bay Area is Stan's Donut Shop in Santa Clara. It's been around forever--possibly since the 50s--and hasn't changed one bit or lost its old-school vibe. They are ridiculously busy so the doughnuts are always fresh and still warm ever time I get one. I swear I haven't had a better doughnut anywhere in the entire country.
"My guiltiest local food pleasure would definitely be the glazed doughnuts from Stan's. I rarely crave or eat sweets, but this is something I never say no to."