Hot, flavorful and soothing to the soul: all key ingredients of the perfect cold-weather dish. But what elevates a winter meal from satisfying to superb? Kicking off our new food column, we asked local chefs to share their best dish for the season—one that will lure you out of your slippers and into the restaurant to indulge.
Chef, Camellia Tea Room
As far back as she can remember, Brandie Wendt loved helping her grandmothers in the kitchen. This passion led her to the California Culinary Academy, where she trained to become a chef. At Benicia’s Camellia Tea Room, a staple menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts—along with more than forty loose leaf teas—is one that loyal customers rely on. Brandie adds flair with seasonal ingredients and specials.
Best winter dishes: Tomato Bisque Soup or Stuffed Potato “Our Tomato Bisque is a creamy tomato soup that will warm you from the inside out,” says Brandie. “Our Stuffed Potato is made up of cream cheese, chives, sour cream and butter mixed with mashed potatoes, stuffed back into the skin and baked until golden brown on top. It will fill you up and keep you warm for hours on a cold day.”
Sai Aung Min Qiu and Than Naing
Chefs, Aung Maylika
This family-run business in the Southampton Shopping Center features chefs Sai Aung Min Qiu and Than Naing, both born and raised in Myanmar (Burma). Between them they share more than 20 years of experience cooking Burmese cuisine—a fusion of Thai, Chinese and Indian. Aung Maylika co-owner, Nora Chan, says the restaurant’s focus is to introduce creative traditional Burmese food with a touch of Asian-influenced cuisine.
Best Winter Dish: Coconut Chicken Soup “When cool air comes out, coconut chicken soup is your best friend,” says Nora. “The broth is based with coconut milk and comes with egg noodles, chicken, fresh onions, cilantro and fried wonton skin. Adding chili powder and lemon makes this rich, creamy noodle soup perfect for winter.”
Chef, Bella Siena
Benicia’s newest eatery, Bella Siena, serves up classic Italian fare with a view of the Carquinez Strait. Owners and veteran restaurateurs Elizabeth and Yilmaz Kurt spent the better part of a year renovating its Tannery Building location, where diners enjoy world-class service.
Originally from Mexico, Omero Cordoso moved to the US in 1998 and found his calling to cook in the kitchens of A Tavola (San Carlos) and Allegria (Napa). As chef at Bella Siena, he creates Italian favourites influenced by the seasons.
Best winter dish: Braised Lamb Shank with Rosemary Polenta A recurring special, the lamb shank is slow cooked and braised for five hours with wild mushrooms, celery, carrots, and a rich merlot sauce. “The aromas fill you up and give you that warm feeling,“ says Elizabeth. “It’s a nice hearty dish—a labor of love.”
-Editor’s note: We were unable to get photos of Bella Siena’s lamb shank as they were not yet open