A sweet and savory Mother's Day brunch | May 10, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - May 10, 2013

A sweet and savory Mother's Day brunch

Recipes from local restaurant owners feature seasonal ingredients

by Audra Sorman

As a child in Germany, Esther Nio used to bake bread and pastries with her mother every Friday. Sitting in her Los Altos cafe recently, she recalled the aromas that danced around the kitchen.

Food is central to family tradition for many, especially on Mother's Day. Those looking to cook a Sunday brunch on May 12 can try out a sweet or savory brunch recipe provided by Nio, owner of Esther's German Bakery & Cafe in Los Altos; and Charlie Ayers, chef/owner of Calafia in Palo Alto. Both feature a seasonal fruit or vegetable.

Nio's dish, the German pfannkuchen (pancake), is akin to the French crepe, thin and slightly crisp. Pfannkuchen is more flavorful than the American pancake, which can be dry and lose its flavor because of its density, she said.

Nio and her husband, who opened their retail location in 2008, serve up German pastries, breads and dishes. She said pfannkuchen is one of the most well-known dishes in Germany.

"Everybody in Germany grew up with it. Everybody. And it's so easy to make, and you can put whatever on it you like," Nio said. Pfannkuchen is so easy to make that Nio's four sons, ages 10, 13, 15 and 17, often cook them at home, she said.

Nio's sons enjoy putting jams and chocolate-hazelnut spread on top, though Nio's cafe tops them with a strawberry and powdered sugar. For fans of California's seasonal berries, Nio said pfannkuchen would also be delicious with blueberries and blackberries.

Charlie Ayers, whose restaurant looks to provide a healthful take on Latin and Asian-inspired cuisine, knows plenty about local, seasonal produce. Asparagus is one of the ingredients included in a dish on Calafia's brunch menu. "Roasted Asparagus, Potatoes and Manchego Pizza" is a recipe created by Ayers, the former Google executive chef.

Although Ayers' restaurant makes its own pizza dough, he said people could simplify the recipe with pre-made pizza dough from a retailer. He noted that the sauce, made of shallots, vegetable stock, thyme and Parmesan cheese, resembles a Caesar salad dressing. People like the pizza because "the ingredients balance very well and the shallots create that wonderful sweet flavor profile," he said.

Of course, if people do not want to cook at home, Esther's and Calafia — along with many local restaurants — offer Mother's Day brunch.

People who visit Esther's may see Nio at work, although not in the early-morning hours. Nio said she usually has breakfast in bed on Mother's Day. This year, she plans to spend the first part of the day with her sons and then celebrate with her customers. Any woman who walks into Esther's on Sunday will receive a rose. "Every mother deserves to be spoiled," she said. "Being a mother is hard. I think it's the most demanding job there is."

Ayers said he will be at home with his wife and son on Mother's Day, likely cooking his wife her favorite salmon dish. He said his mother, who died last year, did not like going out on Mother's Day because restaurants are always crowded on the holidays. Instead, she preferred to stay at home, where he would cook her a meal.

Ultimately, Ayers said, his mother had a saying that likely applies to many other mothers on this day: "She would say the best meal was the meal that she never had to cook."


German Pfannkuchen


1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups milk

1 extra large egg

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Olive or canola oil

Berries such as strawberries, blueberries and blackberries

Powdered sugar


Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. In a 1-quart liquid measuring cup, whisk milk, egg, oil and vanilla until smooth. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk until creamy. Cover and let stand. (Tip: The longer the batter stands, the thicker the Pfannkuchen will be. Esther prefers to let batter stand only until oil in pan is heated.)

Heat oil in pan. Spoon a ladle of batter in pan and spread it out. Let it fry until crisp. Flip and fry other side. Eat with fruit and powdered sugar.

Serves 2-4 people.

Roasted asparagus, potatoes and Manchego pizza



6-7 shallots

1 cup vegetable stock

1/4 bunch thyme

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


1 ball of pizza dough

1/8 pound Yukon gold potatoes

1/2 bunch asparagus

1/4 cup Manchego cheese (shredded)

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup cornstarch

1-2 tablespoons of flour

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper



Toss shallots in oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Once shallots are soft, add to pot with thyme leaves and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer contents to blender and slowly add in Parmesan cheese. Puree until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.


Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick discs. Toss in large bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out evenly on parchment-lined baking sheet. Cook at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, making sure potatoes don't get too dry or crisp.

Snap off asparagus ends. Peel and place peels in bowl, set aside. Leave peeled asparagus whole and toss in bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out asparagus on parchment-lined baking sheet. Cook at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.

Toss peels in cornstarch. Heat 3/4 cup of olive oil on stovetop in heavy pan. Once oil in pan smokes, fry asparagus peels quickly and remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Season with salt.

Using a lightly floured surface, work pizza dough from center until dough is flat and even. If using a pizza stone, place on stone. If using a pizza pan, lightly coat pan in olive oil and sprinkle cornstarch onto oil to keep dough from getting soggy.

Spread sauce on dough, followed by potatoes, asparagus spears and shredded Manchego cheese. Place pizza on center rack of oven. Cook at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Garnish with crispy asparagus peels.

Serves 1-2 people.


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