Archive for the 'Sonoma Valley' Category

Seaweed Cafe – Bodega Bay

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

We stopped for brunch at the lovely Seaweed Cafe a couple weeks ago. From the food to the atmosphere, I liked how it balanced being casual and sophisticated. And a lot of restaurants talk about seasonal and local food, but Seaweed Cafe lives it. Even all of their wines are from west Sonoma County.

1

Oregon Shrimp Sandwich. AMAZING. I don’t think that Chad and I will ever stop talking about this sandwich. The shrimp were so velvety, and made just a touch creamier with mayonnaise and a little crunchy from some celery, but the masterstroke was the Portugeuse cheese melted on top, which was also just a little chewy and caramelized on the edges in the best way. This is definitely in the pantheon of perfect sandwiches.

The waitress said that their ham and cheese sandwich is made in a similar way, so get that if this isn’t on the menu. She said that the cheese is Portugal’s oldest and named it quickly, but I don’t remember it and will have to do some research.

2

Sand Dabs with Heirloom Tomato Salad and Potato Pillow. It’s a shame when bad things come out of good restarants. This wasn’t inherently bad — just very, very bony. You could get most of the bones out in one connected piece, but so many little ones lingered anyway that you spend most of the time trying to pick out the sweet, flaky meat. I liked the fluffy potato pillow and fresh tomatoes, though… potato-tomato works for me.

Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar – Healdsburg

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

We went to Willi’s for lunch on Sunday, and it was the most consistently good seafood restaurant that I’ve been to in a long time. Very fresh, well-prepared, and in interesting combinations. I also liked the quirky modern decor, with an emphasis on deep blue.

The only issue was that they serve small plates, and we were told to order with sharing in mind. I eat something like small plates at home, but at restaurants they kind of frustrate me. Usually, two aren’t enough, but three is too much… but you never know how big the serving will be until you get it anyway, as portion sizes vary wildly. And the small plates are usually just as expensive as a normal appetizer and main course, if not more. They’re meant to be shared, but as generous and sharing as my family is, we don’t like being forced to share. And who has fun trying to calculate the amount of a dish it’s socially acceptable to eat at one time before it’s been passed all the way around? And trying to get it back once it has?

So, we didn’t share any more than we normally do, which is actually plenty, but it wasn’t because we were told to.

1

Hamachi Ceviche with Rocoto Chili, Lime Juice, Pepitas.

2

Tuna Tartare, Jalapenos, Cashews, Ginger, Coconut. I had a single morsel of tuna, and loved the strong spice and tender meat, with the slight creaminess of coconut.

4

Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Smoked Chili Remoulade. There are some dishes that remind me how simply good warm food is. The warm, juicy oysters were so amazing with the crust and cool, crunchy cabbage.

6

Almond Crusted Mahi Mahi, Baby Spinach, Lemon Caper Butter. Tender, and I liked how the almonds didn’t dominate the flavor of the fish, as often happens with nut-crusted fish.

4

Warm Maine Lobster Roll with Garlic Butter and Fennel. Everyone else loved this, but I thought it was only okay. The viscous garlic butter got everywhere, and I couldn’t taste the fennel or lobster as much as I wanted to. My personal taste is for a chilled lobster filling in a warm toasted bun, so maybe that was why, too. The Pearl Oyster Bar version in NYC is still my favorite.

7

Sweet Corn and Crab Fritters.  Two types of sweet and two types of crispy.  We also ended up getting two orders.

2

Minted Lamb Skewer, Black Soy Sauce.

3

Bev’s Mud Slide Milk Shake, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Kahlua & Bailey’s Irish Cream. This was the dessert to beat. So creamy and chocolate-y, which the liqueurs lending an added bit of excitement. They didn’t overpower, though, which I find very admirable.

5

Warm Chocolate Cake Sundae, Toasted Almonds, & Mint Chip Ice Cream. A mixed bag. The whipped cream on top of this kind of spongy — maybe it had been frozen? The warm chocolate cake had a decent chocolate flavor (and had been cut in half after being baked in a round aluminum mold, from what I could tell). I liked the mint chip ice cream the most, but it melted so fast, and clumps of almonds kept dominating the melty bites.

1

Lemona Verbena Drop. Lived up to its name. I got a medicinal aftertaste after the first sip, but it mellowed out. I didn’t think it was as bright lemon-y as lemon verbena usually is, but everyone else liked it.

I also got the Lime Drop, but it was just sweet more than anything else.

2

Strawberry Limeade. I liked this best… such a fresh strawberry flavor.

the fig cafe – Glen Ellen

Monday, August 28th, 2006
1

In June, we went to Glen Ellen to have brunch at the fig cafe, which is a more casual offshoot of the girl & the fig in Sonoma.  It was odd, though, to be in a place that seemed similar and yet was quite different.  The decor has the same general style but is a little more modern and spare at the fig cafe (with a higher, pointed ceiling), the menu is a little shorter (including the drink menu), and the food veers maybe a bit more towards American comfort food.  We both loved the food and the friendly service, but we’re more likely to go back to the girl & the fig because it’s closer and more familiar to us.  So, whichever one you happen to be closer to, I don’t think you can go wrong.

1

To the best of my memory, this was a Pizza with Ham, Red Onions Olives, and Fontina, and it lived up to all of its flavors.  A really great pizza.

2

Smoked Salmon with Potato Pancakes, Dill Creme Fraiche, Poached Egg, and Fried Capers.  I loved this.  The potato pancakes were the anchor of it all (and terrific because they tasted like a crispy salted potato, not grease), with the salmon as the vibrant (and abundant) star.  Mixing together all the crispy, fried, smoked, sauteed, poached, and creamy parts could amuse me for hours.  This was a perfect version of a classic.

the girl & the fig Revisited- Sonoma

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

Another visit to the girl & the fig confirmed that it’s one of my favorite restaurants in wine country. If I knew more about unsugared food, I’d love to have a restaurant like this — quality Californian/French Bistro food in a homey yet elegant setting.   If I had a list of things I want to do in my life, two of them would be: try everything on the menu (including their cheeses and cocktails) and go to their fig cafe in Glen Ellen, which has some of the same dishes but is supposed to be even homier.  The second goal, at least, is a sure thing.

Rabbit

Rabbit Pappardelle w/ Braised Sonoma Rabbit, Fava Beans, Roasted Garlic, Peas, and Lardons. I couldn’t quite figure out what the sauce was – it turned out that the rabbit is braised in chicken stock, and then the juices released by the rabbit are mixed with mustard to make the sauce. I loved the whole roasted garlic cloves that are mixed into it all. Brilliant. And the lardons were just a perfect touch of elusive smokiness.  I like pappardelle a lot, too — how it’s ever so slightly meaty at first in strength, and yet breaks down so nicely.

Duck Confit

Duck Confit w/ Roasted Potatoes, Olives, Wilted Greens, Capers, & Sonoma Mustard Vinaigrette.

burger

And that Burger again.  Top Sirloin Burger w/ (Chad’s choice of) Cambozola Cheese, Grilled Onions, and Matchstick Fries.

Cyrus – Healdsburg

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

Quite a few reviews that I’ve read compare Cyrus favorably with The French Laundry, so given my imminent visit to the French Laundry, I thought I’d go check out this Cyrus upstart.

We had a bumpy start. Just a couple hours before, we’d wandered around Foppiano Vineyards, which leaves shoes looking like this…

Cyrus Feet

I wiped them off as much as I could, and felt that it would be okay walking into “business casual” dress Cyrus for dinner with jeans and mostly clean shoes… Except that the moment we walked into the elegant restaurant, I saw that everyone else was in much fancier and cleaner dress.

As I tried to blend into the dusty peach paint on the walls, we were led down a hallway to the dining room, where the hostess stopped at a table with a phone. She picked up the receiver, and informed The Chef that we had arrived. So, yeah, apparently, it’s a direct line to the chef (EDIT: that is used to introduce every party as they arrive). I was so tempted to try out this line to The Chef (who was referred to often during the meal as such; his given name is Douglas Keane) myself during the evening, but I figured my shoes had already used up my Get Out of Jail Free card for the night.

Anyway, we were seated, and a Caviar & Champagne Cart was immediately docked at our table and accompanying menus placed in our hands. Would we like to start out with a bit of champagne and caviar? Hmm…. champagne was sold by the bottle, 4 oz glass, and 2 oz glass (even that was about $25, I think), and I don’t even remember how the caviar was served. So… Uh, no.

At this point, we were a little bewildered and uncomfortable. I thought that the phone call to the chef was a little over the top. I suppose that it would okay if he were to personally come out and greet us, but he didn’t do that for anybody (and normally, of course, wouldn’t be expected to) — instead, everyone got Amuse Bouches (which are great in any case). But then, to be set upon by the outrageous cart, I felt like it was a bad way to start off the night to have to refuse something.

But then… things calmed down and ascended… We enjoyed a wonderful meal — one that Chad said was among the best of his life. Basically, they have a very flexible prix fixed menu, from which you choose courses out of such categories as soups, foie gras, poultry, pasta and risotto, dessert, etc. You can have any number of courses between a three course meal for $58 to the seven course Chef’s Tasting Menu for $95. Edit: We were told that they adjust the portion size depending on how many courses you get.  Faced with so many alluring options on the menu, we deferred our choices to The Chef for the 7 course menu.

The food was fantastic. I’ve spoken of the Craveworthy Test before in which I try to think whether to highly recommend a restaurant based on whether I’d crave dishes, but there’s also the Perk Up Test, which Cyrus also passed with flying colors. For all of the dishes I had, the tastes and textures made me perk up and enjoy how wonderful food can be. So, I highly recommend it. And as far as comparisons to the French Laundry go, I can’t speak to that completely, but I know that it’s about half the price of the French Laundry and much easier to get a reservation. So, if you can’t get a reservation at the French Laundry or just don’t want to pay the price, consider Cyrus instead. The French Laundry has a 9 course tasting menu, but Cyrus gives so many extra dishes that I don’t you’ll feel deprived of those roughly two courses (though I’m sure TFL gives extra courses, too).

And just looking back at that last paragraph, you can tell that I’ve given a lot of thought to the French Laundry recently, and after having read a bit of the cookbook, I couldn’t help comparing them during the beginning of the meal… but that wasn’t fair to Cyrus, so I weaned myself off with references to the “Spanish Firehouse” before I just concentrated on the experience as it was.

Also, our servers were also fantastic — very accommodating, efficient, and friendly… and there were no more disconcerting maneuvers after the bumpy start. There was just good food, which I think mostly speaks for itself… (I was told that I’d be given a transcript of our menu at the end, but it was vaguer than I would have liked for some courses, so excuse the vagueness with some descriptions since I didn’t try to memorize anything at the time)

Cyrus Amuse

Amuse bouche with Asparagus Tartar and Rabbit.

Cyrus Spoon Amuse

Lobster Amuse Bouche.

Cyrus Soup

Green Garlic and Buttermilk Soup. This — the third amuse bouche — was one of the best courses of the meal. I couldn’t believe how well the flavors came together. Genius.

Cyrus Runa

Bigeye Tuna and Uni with Daikon and Carrot.

Cyrus Lobster

Thai Marinated Lobster, Avocado, Mango, and Fresh Hearts of Palm.

We had a course of Seared Foie Gras with Crispy Endive and Gingered Rhubarb, Vermouth Reduction at this point, but I must have forgotten to take a pic in my zeal to eat it.

Cyrus Waverly

This was my second drink of the night. The Waverly Place Echo had Hangar One Mandarin Orange Blossom Vodka, Chinese Five Spice Honey, Lemon Juice, Pixie Mandarins, Orange Flower Water and Seltzer.

Before that, I’d had the Thai Boxer with Charbay Tahitian Vanilla Bean Rum, Thai Basil, Spearmint, Cilantro, Lime Juice, Thai Coconut Milk, and Ginger Beer. It went very well with the Thai Marinated Lobster course, and made me wish that restaurants did cocktail pairings as well as wine pairings for courses.

Cyrus Crab

Rice Flake Crusted Soft Shell Crab with Fingerling Potatoes, Thai Red Curry Sauce.

Cyrus Egg

Poached Local Egg with Fresh Grits, Asparagus and English Peas, Bourbon Verjus Sauce.

Cyrus Lollipop

Strawberry Verjus Ice Lollipop.

Cyrus lamb

Veal Loin with Sweetbreads, Leeks and Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Madeira Sauce.

Cyrus Cheese

Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses with Bread, Panforte, Grapes, and N. Cal Dates. Our server brought the awe-inspiring cheese cart to our table, and talked about each cheese as she selected them — after having first asked what types of cheese we like. We said every type, so we had a wonderful array of cheeses. She said that since I’m a student at CIA, she tried to pick interesting West Coast cheeses as well as some from further afield. As she placed the this amazing plate on the table, she said, “I may have overdone it.” Granted, we didn’t finish it all, but I’ll regret that for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I can’t remember any of the cheese except for the leaf wrapped cheese from Sally Jackson and an amazing goat cheese from Petaluma that was made by Dante Creamery (or something similar…? Aldante? I can’t find any info about it online)

Cyrus Mojito

Mojito Soda intermezzo, which didn’t have alcohol, but instead a mojito syrup that the server spritzed with seltzer tableside. I love the metal straw.

Caramel Soup and Crepes

Caramel Soup with Kettle Corn Sorbet and Chocolate Filigree and Crepes “Suzette” with Strawberries, Caramel, and Whipped Creme Fraiche. The Caramel Soup is a brilliant idea that I loved at the first bite, but got a bit weary of as I ate more. It basically makes the caramel sauce the main player of the dish, garnished with popcorn, chocolate, and sorbet. It was good and fun, but I think a bit too all out sugary. It needs more depth.

The crepes were a little odd. I didn’t really like having to navigate my spoon to multiple places across the plate to build a perfect bite. The strawberry component was good, but after the sorbet and caramel of the Caramel Soup, I wish that the crepes had different components than the whipped creme fraiche and caramel sauce; there could have been more contrast. Also, the crepes themselves were rolled into rather dry little spirals; I liked the moistening elements between crepe layers at Terra a bit more.

cyrus Mignard

Mignardise. I know that’s Gewurztraminer Jelly on the bottom, but the other two, I can’t remember the details. They were all very good, except the jelly was a bit too cloying for me.

With our bill, we also got a cute little gold bag with some treats for later, but they were a little odd: Ginger Tootsie Pop, A Mini-Palmier with Hazelnuts, and an Apple Hard Candy. The ginger was way too strong and the palmier was boring and looked sloppy, but the hard candy was great.