People often ask me to name my favorite restaurant. Many come to mind in New York and beyond, but if I really had to choose one place, it would be Manka's in beautiful Inverness, California.

When I heard that Manka's burned down the day after Christmas, I was completely shocked. I thought of my brother who has worked there for the past six years and how he is now out of a job. I thought of the owners Margaret and Daniel, two of the most inspiring chefs I've ever met. I thought of all the people like myself who have been lucky enough to visit and all of those who still have not.

I first visited Manka's three years ago for my Mom's 53rd birthday. Although she, Daniel and I were taking the red eye back to New York later that night, we decided to drive the 45 minutes from San Francisco to Inverness for one final meal. Together with my brother we feasted on King Crab legs dipped in butter, devoured fatty lumps of housemade bacon set atop watercress from a local stream, drank one of the best white wines I've ever tasted, ate a dizzying amount of dessert and so much more. On our way to the airport, I was giddy, certainly from all that wine, but also because of the meal I'd had. It was the type of eating experience that makes a person feel truly happy to be alive.

But it was the place itself, which I can hardly believe is no longer there, that made Manka's so special. It was rustic and cozy and always made me feel instantly soothed. Food quotes were painted on the walls and the floors creaked. And meals often started with mugs of spicy apple cider in front of a big, roaring fire.

When I worked on Food Network's first web series Eat This with Dave Lieberman, I pushed hard for us to visit Manka's for a segment on holiday food (if you watch the clip, click on episode 3).

As we spent hours huddled in the kitchen filming, Margaret fed our crew mini rolls stuffed with that housemade bacon. And they, as I had hoped, instantly fell for the place.

I've been reading about the fire since I arrived in Brazil last week and just saw in this New York Times article that Margaret and Daniel have vowed to rebuild. And when they do, I urge all of you to go and visit. You´ll be so happy you did.

Aside from that, things are good here in Rio even though it's been raining for the past 6 days straight. I have many stories to share of our New Year's Eve celebration in the mountains with 21 people, 4 babies and 3 dogs and our marathon eating in the cidade maravilhosa. But I'm kind of getting used to this whole relaxation thing, so I think you might have to wait till I'm back to hear about all of that.

Happy New Year!

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