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    The Gay Gourmet’s 2023 Culinary Holiday Gift Guide

    By David Landis–

    You can almost hear those sleigh bells jingling because it’s that time of year again. Holiday fever is taking hold! So, the Gay Gourmet has compiled some of my favorite gift recommendations for the foodie in your life. As a bonus, I’ve also included a treasured holiday family recipe that my sister Kate borrowed from my mom, LaVerne Shirley.

    One of my personal favorites is back in San Francisco: The Winter Wonderland at The Vault Garden on the Bank of America plaza downtown. Through January 10, guests can experience “a re-designed magical atmosphere adorned with glittering lights and a themed decorated outdoor restaurant. The fully tented, expansive outdoor space, lounge seating, outdoor bar, and expansive view of the 555 California Christmas tree, make Winter Wonderland a must-visit destination this holiday season.” Don’t forget to try some of rockstar mixologist Kate Bolton’s holiday-themed cocktails: “Let’s Get Jolly,” with vodka, spiced cranberry, pomegranate, rosemary, and winter snowball, or the “Sled Dog” with Appleton rum, roasted pumpkin, maple, sage, and lemon.

    How about a weekend trip to Sonora, that historic gold mining town in the Sierra foothills that’s a perfect holiday setting? You can stay at the gay-owned Sonora Inn or Hotel Lumberjack; book a chef’s dinner at The Branch in Twain Harte; dine at the Columbia City Hotel Restaurant, which I hear has a hot new chef, Jimmy Vela; visit the historic Railtown 1897 State Park in Jamestown; rappel into a cave at Moaning Caverns; and sip some Calaveras County wines at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys. Don’t miss the Sierra Repertory Theatre’s production of Sh-Boom, A Christmas Miracle. Set at a Christmas bazaar, this fun-filled show is filled with memorable “60s doo-wop hits and holiday classics.”


    One of the most celebrated and popular San Francisco holiday traditions is the Teddy Bear Tea at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, where guests (ages 2–11) receive a teddy bear while enjoying a children’s high tea. The festive entertainment includes animated elves, photo opportunities, and holiday “eye candy.” Hot chocolate, scones, teddy bear sweet treats, and assorted sandwiches are on offer. Children are also invited to bring a wrapped toy (to place under the holiday tree), which is then donated to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. The Teddy Bear Tea is available on select dates through December 23. A portion of the proceeds from the Teddy Bear Tea will be donated to both Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals.

    For those celebrating Hanukkah, One Market Restaurant is presenting “a special 3-course dinner featuring Mark ‘n Mike’s Matzo Ball Soup—a comforting blend of chicken consommé, celery, carrot, and fresh parsley. The culinary journey continues with the twelve-hour succulent smoked beef brisket, served with farro, pomegranate molasses glazed carrots, and a rich onion gravy. The sweet conclusion to this festive feast is the traditional sufganiyot, a golden-brown jelly-filled doughnut that encapsulates the essence of Hanukkah’s sweetness.”

    Over in the Castro, Mat Schuster of Canela will be preparing “a fixed Hanukkah menu with classics like potato latkes with herbs, cheese, and sour cream, applesauce, or both. The menu also includes arroz caldoso, a soupy rice dish, featuring mixed mushrooms and mushroom broth that is vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free. For the main course, chef offers wild white fish filet, accompanied by a zesty lemony chard salsa verde, poached potatoes, and roasted carrots, complemented by labneh and sesame. An option is an addition of a slow-cooked beef brisket with veggies. For dessert? A decadent black and white challah bread pudding, tres leches, and a medley of dark and white chocolate.”

    One of The Gay Gourmet’s favorite celebrity chefs, Kathy Fang of Fang Restaurant, is offering some great new holiday products from the new Fang Kitchen. Fang’s chili black bean sauce ($12) is a salty, savory, umami-bursting chili sauce with fermented black beans, garlic, and chili peppers that “give each spoonful a powerful punch.” This sauce has been a fan favorite at Fang Restaurant for the last 10 years and is now available to put in your pantry wherever you are in the U.S.

    For the daring and adventurous, Fang’s Sichuan chili shallot oil ($12) brings the heat. This chili oil was inspired by Chef Fang’s Biang Biang Noodle experience in Xian. Flecks of chili, red pepper flakes, shallots, and tingly numbing Sichuan peppercorns make it hauntingly good. Drizzle it on noodles, dumplings, or Mapo tofu, and feel the tingling Sichuan sensations. Crunchy, nutty chili garlic crisps ($15) are the perfect addition to noodles, rice, soups, salads, pizza, sandwiches, grilled proteins, eggs, and stir fries. The spiciness from the chili combined with umami flavors and crunch will elevate any dish you create at home, no matter if it’s Asian, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, or American. This chili oil was inspired by Chef Fang’s visit to a chili sauce emporium in Guilin. After bringing home her favorite chili sauce from the shop, she began making it at home to satisfy her addictive cravings—and now you can too. Can’t decide? Get all three sauces for $35 with the “Hot Sauce Pack.” Chef Kathy has also authored the Easy Asian Cookbook, with “100+ takeout favorites made simple.”

    The gay dynamic duo at Gentleman Farmer Wines has some great holiday ideas. “The Bungalow: A Studio for Gustatory Well-Being” is scheduled to open soon (call just to make sure) and will be the newest “wine with lunch” tasting experience in downtown Napa. The Bungalow, created by husbands Joey Wolosz and Jeff Durham, reimagines the traditional wine tasting experience through homemade meals paired with elegantly crafted wines. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or a food enthusiast, the partners plan to cook, host, and share wine, with stories of the Golden State, their history, and of the Napa Valley. With reservations offered by appointment, Wolosz and Durham will also offer a paired three-course breakfast and a six-course dinner, in addition to their flagship lunch experience. The couple plan to open The Bungalow to the public for ticketed events as well as paired tastings. A vibrant addition to the nightlife on First Street, their monthly “Salon Soirées” will feature live music, burlesque performances, adult magic shows, guest speakers, and other special events that speak to the inclusive, artisanal Gentleman Farmer ethos. This holiday season, customers can also purchase a gift card for an experience at The Bungalow. 

    Health-conscious dog owners can clearly show their holiday love by giving their dog delicious, sustainable, and healthy Farm to Pet dog treats packaged in fun, holiday-themed bags. Farm to Pet dog treats are made in the U.S., and are unique, crispy chips made from only one ingredient: 100 percent farm-fresh turkey breast or chicken breast that is dehydrated, not cooked, so they stay fresh and flavorful. There are no other ingredients—no unhealthy by-products, binders, fillers, additives, or preservatives: just the highest quality, 100 percent human-grade turkey or chicken in a crispy chip form.

    Signia by Hilton San Jose is this year’s exclusive host hotel for Enchant Christmas San Jose, bringing the spirit of the season to PayPal Park and a variety of fun sensory-forward activities for all ages to enjoy. Guests looking for the ultimate experience can book the hotel’s Enchant Christmas VIP package and receive two VIP tickets, roundtrip transportation via Lyft to and from PayPal Park, exclusive themed swag, and two signature cocktails at AJI Bar & Robata. Signia by Hilton San Jose will also feature an exclusive Enchant lighted display for complimentary photo opportunities adjacent to the main entrance of the hotel. Package reservations for stays are available through December 31. On Christmas Day, leave the cooking to the Signia by Hilton San Jose team, and enjoy a delectable Christmas Day feast. Buffet highlights include an array of holiday favorites, a carving station with glazed ham and roast goose, assorted pastas, smoked fish board, raw bar, sushi and sashimi, and a variety of indulgent desserts, including a chocolate fountain. Additionally, there’s a specialty kids’ corner for the youngest members of the family. 

    Castro favorite Kokak Chocolates’ yuletide collections feature two limited edition chocolate truffle boxes: “Celebration Pies” and “Under the Mistletoe.” The 9-piece “Celebration Pies” collection features fall, tropical, and California classic flavors: apple pie, coconut pie, and pumpkin spice. “Under The Mistletoe” is available in 9, 16, or 25 pieces and has a festive spread of yuletide flavors: 64% vegan dark, blueberry, sea salt caramel, pumpkin spice, and peppermint. The “Under The Mistletoe” collection is nested in a beautiful quilted red box fit for that special holiday.    

    What better way to celebrate the holidays than a great drag brunch? Beaux’s version is in the gayborhood, to boot. According to Eater, “Glam and glitter are on the menu, along with food from Taco Boys, at Beaux’s weekend drag brunches held every Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 and 2:30 pm. The brunch menu boasts creative ‘cocktales’ and a wide variety of Mexican favorites including tacos, burritos, nachos, and many vegan options. $8 cover.”


    This holiday season, Queerful, a social purpose startup, has officially launched with a mission to support, connect, and inspire the LGBTQ+ community. Queerful empowers visitors to support both LGBTQ+ small businesses and grassroots organizations by providing a platform for curated products, with a portion of sales going to vital community resources, including the Transgender Law Center. Queerful sets itself apart by spotlighting products exclusively from LGBTQ+ small business owners, offering a chance to shop with purpose this holiday season. The launch curation will feature brands such as Equator Coffees, Poured Candle Bar, Equality Vines, Omsom Asian noodles and sauces, Kafto clothing, Barb hair products, and a selection of branded Queerful merchandise.

    Finally, here is a holiday recipe from my sister Kate, who still makes my Mom’s holiday treats. Happy holidays and here’s to the New Year!

    LaVerne Shirley’s (and now Kate’s) Raspberry Bars

    Kate says, “Our mom used to make several batches of holiday cookies each year for us to give away to friends and family. This was always one of my favorites.”

    5 ounces sweet butter (1 1/4 sticks)
    5 tablespoons sugar
    raspberry jam
    1 light cup sugar
    chocolate shots (little chocolate sprinkles)
    2 cups sifted flour
    3 egg yolks
    3 egg whites
    3 ounces ground nuts (pick your favorite, Kate prefers pecans)

    Preheat oven to 350º. Work butter into flour. Add 5 tablespoons sugar and egg yolks. Line 9″ x 13″ pan with dough. Spread jam on top. Beat egg whites until stiff. Add 1 cup sugar, nuts, chocolate shots, and fold gently. Top dough/raspberry jam with egg white mixture. Bake 60 minutes or until meringue is toasted.

    The Vault Garden:
    Sonora Inn:
    Hotel Lumberjack:
    The Branch:
    Columbia City Hotel Restaurant:
    Railtown 1897 State Park:
    Moaning Caverns:
    Ironstone Vineyards:
    Sierra Repertory Theatre:
    Visit Tuolomne County:
    The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco:
    One Market Restaurant:
    Fang Kitchen:
    Gentleman Farmer Wines:
    Farm To Pet dog treats:
    Signia by Hilton San Jose:
    Kokak Chocolates:
    Transgender Law Center:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at: