Archive for the 'Sonoma Valley' Category

Foppiano Vineyards – Healdsburg

Friday, May 12th, 2006

It’s a little awkward for everyone when guests go into a cozy, friendly winery tasting room and don’t like any of the wines from a free tasting. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but at Foppiano Vineyards, I had a nice experience where we went through about 6 wines that I was unimpressed by until I had one that was one of the best I’ve had in recent memory. So, don’t give up, don’t feel bad about pouring out a sample if you don’t want to finish it, and don’t make excuses… Just keep an open mind for every glass because you never know what will turn up.

Foppiano specializes in Petite Sirah wines, but we also went through recent merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and such during our tasting (they have whites, too). But then they brought out reserves for tasting. The 1986 Petite Sirah was amazing. Just a touch spicy, it had a rich, deep berry taste until it finishes with what I can only describe as a swirl of flavor in your mouth. It just seemed to develop and harmonize continuously for seconds after it left my mouth. And it made me realize just what seemed wrong for me with some of the wines we had tasted: they were too young and acidic. Even the 1987 Petite Syrah wasn’t quite ready yet. So, it turned out that the 1986 is peaking now — when I asked if it should age more, we were told “no” — and to have it with dinner that night. 🙂

By the way, we happened to randomly stop off here on our way from St. Helena to Healdsburg. It’s in the Russian River Valley area of Sonoma County, and it’s been a family run winery since 1896. You can take a self-guided tour of the beautiful grounds and vineyard, and I liked this picture in the tasting room (where they also have oil and sauce samples). And the grapes aren’t out yet, of course, but they’re in the works.

Fopp photo

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Fopp Taste

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Fopp Rail

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Fopp Vine

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Fopp Horiz

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Fopp Grapes

the girl & the fig – Sonoma

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

Edit: I have since revisited the girl & the fig.
In my recounting of our weekend eating adventures, I’ve saved the best for last: the girl & the fig in the town of Sonoma. Fantastic food. A comfortable and elegant setting. Creative and well-made drinks. Relatively reasonable prices. Great bread and butter. A friendly waitress. A cheese bar. An emphasis on the elusive fig.

This is how dining in wine country should be. Tasty, comfortable, and fun. We had a sunny window table that I wish I could rent as my second home.

Fig Crab

We shared the Dungeness Crab and Salt Cod Brandade with Crostini, Chevre and Grilled Lemon to start, and admired its sweet fishiness mingled with the creamy chevre and grilled lemon juice. Chad got the third crostini topped with it, and I was happy to spoon it out of the ramekin.

Fig Tuna

I had a special: Hawaiian Tombo Tuna Sandwich with Caper Mayonnaise, Rocket, and Applewood Smoked Bacon. Ever since I had Tombo Tuna at the Ferry Buiding in San Francisco, I’ve been smitten by its juiciness and sweetness. Ahi Tuna usually has an unpleasant, almost metallic flavor for me, so I’m happy that Tombo is available for my tuna fix. Tombo is also known as albacore and even “white meat tuna,” so says here; so… basically, tuna comes in white meat and dark meat (if not others that I’ve yet to encounter). It was fantastic seared in this sandwich, and the flavor combination of sweet tuna, bacon, capers, rocket, and mayonnaise makes for an exciting lunch sandwich.

Fig Burger

As much as I loved my tuna, Chad’s Top Sirloin Burger with Cambozola, Bacon, Grilled Onions, and Matchstick Fries made me jealous. So jealous. It was perfectly cooked to medium-rare, and so juicy and flavorful. And again, the combination of flavors of the whole sandwich made one swoon. I don’t know where they get their bacon from, but it’s phenomenal (I’d guess Niman Ranch, but it’s never tasted like this when I buy it). They get their Dutch roll from a bakery nearby, and they’re brilliant; not only naturally pre-cracked on top, they are somehow toasted so that they are just a little buttery all around. The onions were suitably soft and slightly sweet, and I liked that they are served on the side so that you can use them as you see fit, rather than having them arrive all piled up, dripping and slippery on the burger. And the crispy matchstick fries with herbs were the icing on a great dish.

Fig Cheesecake

Chad got the fabulously refreshing, creamy, and just heavy enough Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Blood Orange Sauce and Sweetened Creme Fraiche. We both fell in love with it (even though that sugar garnish is not good eating). Then he tried my dessert… and proposed a trade.

Fig Crisp

I wasn’t quite prepared to part with my Warm Fig & Thyme Crisp with Fig & Port Ice Cream, so we ended up putting both dishes in the center of the table and sharing. The crisp was so soft and buttery, and especially with the ice cream, had a mixture of deep and sweet flavors. The only problem was that we couldn’t taste the thyme, but we were okay without it. I admit I had a quixotic dream of having (terribly out of season yet amazing) fresh figs in this crisp (which I will try to make someday), but they are indeed dried and make for a dessert that all fig newtons only wish they could be.

They had each dessert paired with a liqueur on the menu, which I would have gotten if I hadn’t had two wonderful cocktails earlier in the meal. “The girl & the fig” had Kleiner Fig Vodka & Framboise for a sweet fruitiness, while my “the fig & the girl” had Kleiner Fig Vodka & Campari for a bitter fruitiness. Both came with brandied cherries on skewers. After a Kir Royale, Chad had this beautiful and delicious “the girl & the gaucho” mojito with a float of Myer’s Dark Rum on top.

Fig Mojito

I’d like to try the brunch and dinner at the girl & the fig, but it will long remain where I’d like to be on a sunny Saturday afternoon with only food and drink and pleasure on my mind.

A note on prices: while main courses for lunch, from sandwiches to Provencal seafood stew, are reasonably priced between about $10 to $22, the median of appetizers is about $13… I prefer it when starters are less expensive than mains, but I guess most, especially the cheese plates, are meant for sharing.

Add’l Edited Note: the girl & the fig reminded me of both Bouchon and Chez Panisse Cafe — I suppose because of their prominent French roots, but it was more casual than Bouchon (and with more California touches for a French Bistro) and more consistent than Chez Panisse Cafe (both seem to especially believe in letting great ingredients stand out for what they are).

Wild Flour Bread Revisited – Freestone

Monday, March 13th, 2006

My visit to Wild Flour Bread last month changed not only the way that I think about bread, but also the way that I think about my schedule. It’s only open Fri-Mon. If I plan on being in LA for two weekends in one month, my first thought is “That’s two weekends I can’t go to Wild Flour Bread.” (Though my next thought, which cheers me up some, is “That’s two weekends I can go to The City Bakery.“) I also think about every Friday and Monday coming up, and whether I can get there to try its pizza, which is served only on those days. I haven’t managed it so far. (6/5/06 Edit: I finally did manage it, but it turns out that they no longer make pizzas)
Anyway, with a lot of excitement and a slight fear that it might not live up to our first visit, Chad and I drove an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday solely to eat Wild Flour Bread.

We were not let down. We were just as amazed by the bread as we were during our first visit.

The newest revelation that we had, which I think even trumps their sticky bun, was the Egyptian.

Wild Egyptian

Its simple description of “pear, fig, ginger, walnuts” doesn’t prepare you for the fact that it’s an orange-tinged cousin of the sticky bun. Gooey, full of flavor, still warm, chock full of sliced pear and candied ginger and dried figs and whole wheat, about the size of a hardcover book, it was delicious. A thick kind of orange-colored syrup or jam also swirled through some of the pastry, much like the cinnamon swirl in a sticky bun, but this had the added effect of caramelizing into a chewiness on the edges, which was as prized as anything I can think of.

Wild Egyptian CU

And sure, it was sweet, but it’s not as sweet as its appearance or ingredients would suggest. It’s just sweet enough. I think that the whole wheat helps to mitigate the sweetness of the sugar from the fruits. It looks like this inside.

Wild Egyptian Inside

We also tried the ladder-shaped Goat Flat, full of goat cheese, herbs, and onion. Perfectly flavored, with a satisfying crisp crust and a chewy crumb.

Wild Goat Flat

Oddly enough, the cheese inside was orange… I should have asked just what kind of goat cheese they use.

Wild Goat Flat CU

Their orange and white chocolate scone was also great (I wish I had also tried their almond currant scone with rosewater icing). There were a lot of relatively large pieces of chopped orange peel, the orange flavor was mellow enough so that the white chocolate fit in well to complete the flavor of the scone.

Wild Orange Scone

It looks like this inside. It had a light texture, and was just buttery enough.

Wild Orane Scone CU

I think that their fougasse changes rather frequently, so this time it was a shitaake mushroom, cheddar, jack cheese, and onion. We took a loaf home (um, plus another goat flat).

Wild Fougasse Mush

The shitaake mushroom imbued a flavor that approached bacon, and the chunks of cheese and mushroom were satisfying in the dough. It was yet another amazing loaf from Wild Flour.

Wild Fougasse Mush CU

And so begins my scheming to schedule my next visit there…

And Sweet Mercy, We Went Home

Thursday, February 9th, 2006

And so concludes my 18 part expose of a single Saturday in Marin and Sonoma Counties.

All I want to do now is go to Wild Flour Bread to celebrate. Friday is one of their pizza days….

California Carnivores – Sebastopol

Thursday, February 9th, 2006
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Since it was almost 5pm, California Carnivores, in the rural southern part of Sebastopol, turned out to be our last stop. And it seemed fitting — why not watch another species eat for a while? It’s purported to be the world leader in quality carnivorous plants. I was looking forward to seeing Venus Fly Traps and expanding my ready knowledge of other carnivorous botanicals.

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Oh. They close at 4pm. Most stores and wineries close around 4pm or 5pm, so I wasn’t very surprised.

But I still looked inside…. and could make out two skeletons amidst some plants.

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I think that even carnivorous plants are in their winter phase this time of year. Their plants outside looked pretty recently pruned… but given my lack of teaching, these may or may not be carnivorous.

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