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Robin Abcarian
Commentary, news and analysis
The return of foie gras to California menus offers food for thought

Chef Ken Frank, one of California's most outspoken proponents of foie gras, opened the door of La Toque's walk-in refrigerator. All sorts of wonderful aromas hit me in the face — mushrooms, savory reductions, the iron smell of raw meat. Frank bent down next to a dangling pig carcass, looking for foie gras. No luck.

A few minutes later, executive sous chef Daniel Gomez Sanchez wandered over holding a small lobe of foie gras that he found in the prep kit of one of La Toque's line cooks. Wrapped in plastic, it was pale yellow, almost as firm to the touch as cold butter. The rest of the restaurant's stash had already been portioned out for the evening's $80 four-course tasting menu, where it would be served seared, with persimmon and cherry vinegar oolong broth, for a supplement of $15.

On Jan. 7, a federal district court judge unexpectedly ruled that California's ban on foie gras conflicted with federal law, which regulates poultry ingredients. And just like that, after an absence of two...

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Revisiting the Romneys' La Jolla beach house -- and its car elevator

You remember Mitt Romney's California beach house? If you don't remember the house, surely you remember plans for that infamous car elevator?

In March 2012, Politico revealed that Mitt and Ann Romney's renovation of their $12-million beachfront home, one of three they owned, would include a two-level, four-car garage with a mechanized lift: "The cars," Politico reported, "will have their own separate elevator."

Romney was a rich Republican presidential candidate already having trouble convincing voters he understood the struggles of everyday Americans. The elevator would feed that perception until the end of the race.

In reality, though, the car elevator was a nifty — if expensive — design solution for the house on Dunemere Drive, a narrow street of pricey homes jammed together on overbuilt lots with jaw-dropping ocean views. The location would have made for a picturesque Western White House, something the country has not had since the days of Ronald Reagan with his mountaintop ranch...

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Is Mitt Romney's La Jolla home fair game for a column? But of course.

If there was any doubt that the 2016 presidential campaign is already upon us, all you had to do was read about the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in Coronado over the weekend.

Not only did political reporters write reams about Mitt Romney’s last-minute appearance, but newspapers also wrote the sort of ancillary news features that are a staple of full-blown campaign season coverage.

My colleagues Mark Barabak and Seema Mehta interviewed dozens of Republican activists to gauge their response to Romney's newfound emphasis on fighting poverty and income equality. (While Romney has an admirable history of personal philanthropy and charitable giving, as a candidate in 2012, he was hardly a champion of the poor.  “I’m not concerned about the very poor," he said. "We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”)

The New York Times had an entertaining story about the importance of Ann Romney’s imprimatur on a new campaign, since she swore up and down after they...

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A bullet train from L.A. to San Francisco? Have a little faith

Tuesday's groundbreaking for California's bullet train was sort of like having a christening with the baby still in utero.

Strike that.

It was like having a christening for a baby that's still an embryo in a Petri dish.

As exciting as it is to think about whizzing between Los Angeles and San Francisco in two or three hours, we are still many years away from riding on a high-speed train.

How many years?

Let me put it this way: If you were in kindergarten right now, you would be able to expect to take your first ride on a bullet train about the time you were declaring your college major.

"I will make sure we do everything we can to get there quicker than that," said an ebullient Gov. Jerry Brown, 76, who popped down to Fresno for the groundbreaking the day after he was sworn in for his historic fourth term. "I'll be 92 in 2030. So I'm working out and pumping iron and eating vegetables."

Brown swatted aside the most potent criticism of the $68-billion project — that no one really knows...

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2014 in 3 acts: Cheerleader, ex-Marine, filmmaker provide the drama

An indignant NFL cheerleader. A politically savvy gay filmmaker. A directionally challenged former Marine.

As I look back on some of the California stories I covered in 2014, a few stand out as self-contained dramas — with a beginning, a middle and an end. Each had a compelling protagonist, raised important issues and got people's blood boiling.

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In January, a wage theft lawsuit was filed in Alameda Superior Court by a rather unusual plaintiff. It was the first time a professional cheerleader had decided to take on a pro football team — in this case, the Oakland Raiders.

The story made headlines around the world.

Lacy T., a member of the Raiderettes squad for the 2013-14 season, was appalled that the team did not even pay cheerleaders a minimum wage. Her lawsuit described working conditions that would have been familiar to cocktail waitresses or airline stewardesses in the pre-feminist 1960s.

I managed to get my hands on a copy of the super-secret Raiderettes handbook, and, frankly,...

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The older the better; let's hear it for California's geriatric pols!

Did I detect a bit of snark about Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement, after reporters noted that California’s top trio of politicians – our two long-serving U.S. senators and our four-term governor –are all well past 70 years old?

The trio has a combined age of 231.

If you toss in U.S. Rep Nancy Pelosi, 74, the cumulative age rises to 305.

In California, where youth worship is a major industry, it's kind of a relief to see men and women working in high-profile jobs well past the traditional age of retirement.

Golden State? How about Golden Girls State?

The 74-year-old Boxer's decision has opened the field to various good-looking California whippersnappers -- former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, 61; Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, 50; and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, 47 -- whose aspirations to higher office have been stymied by the career longevity of their Democratic elders.

A year ago, in a piece about the retirement of then-74-year-old Rep. Henry Waxman, my colleague Cathleen Decker...

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