WalMart chickens; New Zagat ratings
New winery approval; CIA Arc of Flavor; Amtrak food update
Each Friday (well, most Fridays) we will venture to an out-of-town restaurant just to tempt you with fun taste opportunities in surrounding communities. Hope you enjoy the trips.
Many of you recently saw a big white dirigible, a.k.a. blimp, floating around the Valley at about 1,000 feet.
Astronaut Rusty Schweikart called to invite me to join him and wife, Nancy Ramsey, on a very special Saturday flight. A friend of the Schweikarts’ searches the world for bits of meteor that fall, as did some when one flew over the Bay Area a few weeks ago.
Ramsey said they saw Sonoma Valley, vineyards, redwoods and went down the Russian River “until we could see the western sun shimmering on the Pacific … it was magnificent. Among the most amazing things is the quiet, unlike the noisy blimps.”
“Seeing it come in and land before you board is awesome. There you are on the runway under a white whale the size of a football field that is held down by one person holding a line, and then the maneuvers of the awesome only Zeppelin woman pilot in America.”
The gather-no-moss couple are off to Saudi Arabia for the annual meeting of the Association of Space Explorers (which Rusty founded), this time hosted by astronaut Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Saud. Apparently he flew in one of our shuttles, is minister of tourism and his father has just been made crown prince.
WalMart chicks: Sonoma Market has nothing to fear from WalMart’s spit-roasted chickens. On my way home a week ago I stopped to return something for my daughter and noticed the good-smelling chicks marked just off the spit 10 minutes earlier, and priced at under $3. So I risked my life to tell you about it.
When I opened the plastic box at home, I gasped. This long, skinny baby looked more like an over-worked (or chased) road runner. But looks deceived. There was so much fat on those extended bones that it was terrifying, at least by my expectations. A couple of bites and I dumped the whole poor thing. Back to the Rockies – Sr., Jr. and Rosie.
Rumor Department: Anyone passing or hearing a rumor that The Depot Restaurant has closed should stop the rumor in its tracks and correct it. According to co-owner Gia Ghilarducci, they have had some of their best months ever recently. Apparently the problem is with AT&T, whose service tells about every 10th caller that their phone is “no longer in service.” Gia’s many calls to AT&T got her nowhere, because every time they call, it works, of course. Keep trying. If you get that recording, go to the restaurant anyway. They are there and serving. 241 First St., W., Sonoma. 938-2980.
Pamela and George Hamel Jr. of Kenwood and San Francisco and three of their children got approval last week for a winery on the east side of Highway 12 at Madrone Road, formerly the Harry Parducci/Valley of the Moon Winery property. Watch for an organic wine production facility, tasting and hospitality building and a wine cave. Hamel is an investment counselor with ValueAct Capital. Son John is winemaker and George III will run the business.
Organizers have lowered ticket prices to $75 for the “Breaking Bread” fundraiser on Sunday, Nov. 11, at Sonoma Community Center to complete a documentary movie being made by Colin Blackshear based on Mike the Bejkr and tracing bread baking from locally grown wheat to Mike’s oven-on-wheels and our tummies.
Guests will see a sneak-peak at the film, enjoy food from Chez Panisse alum Charlene Nicholson Cannard and local beer and wine.
Attendees will enjoy Mike the Bejkr’s flatbreads; antipasti such as pickled cucumbers, carrots and roasted peppers in jars, mozzarella and pickled Chanterelles, a rabbit terrine with homemade mustard; Oak Hill Farm cauliflower soup with curry oil; and a main course of braised pork shoulder, roasted pork loin and sausages from a pig raised by Nick of Nix Chix with coco bianco beans, kale and chard; followed by dessert of an apple/walnut crêpe with caramel ice cream. $75. 5 to 10 p.m. Tickets at brownpapertickets.com. Visit thebejkr.com for more info.
“Zagat 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants” guide is just out. Remember that Zagats are compilations of restaurant customers’ ratings. It is possible to game the results by having your friends vote, but probably not likely.
Zagats rate according to food, décor, service and cost. Here I will just give you the food rating for this year and tell you how many points each is up or down from 2012, with no plus or minus meaning they stayed the same. Both Zagats and Michelin Guides are available at Readers’ Books.
Café LaHaye earned the highest local rating of 27. The fig café got a 26 (+1), Harvest Moon Café (+1), Hot Box Grill (+2), Kenwood Restaurant (+2) and Santé at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn (-1) all got 25s. Boon Fly Café (+2), Café Citti (+2), Carneros Bistro, Della Santina (+2), Fremont Diner (+3), the girl & the fig (+1), Glen Ellen Inn (new), La Salette and the Red Grape (new) all received 24s. El Dorado Kitchen got a 23 (+1), Swiss Hotel (new) rated a 21, while HopMonk Tavern (+2), and Sonoma Meritâge (-2) earned 20s. Glen Ellen Star was nicely reviewed but apparently too new to rate. Absent again were Olive & Vine and Breakaway Café.
Speaking of the Fremont Diner, Michael Bauer seems to be in lust with the place having raved about its burger last week and having written a great profile on the diner in Sunday’s Chronicle special Sonoma section. While praising Fremont’s burger, Bauer left it out of his story on the top six burgers in the Bay Area in the Chronicle’s Sunday magazine.
Bonnie Tempesta’s Boncora Biscotti received a great mention from Florence Fabricant in the New York Times recently. Tempesta, who brought biscotti to the U.S. and sold her San Francisco company 15 years ago, now bakes her light and crispy biscotti with Guittard chocolate at Studebaker Cheesecake’s facility on West Napa Street. Get yours at Sonoma’s Best. Tempesta gives 5 percent to Pets Lifeline and Share Our Strength.
The Jewish Winemakers’ Tasting and Nosh a week ago was a huge success, again. The event celebrated some of Sonoma’s greats such as Emmanuel Goldstein and Bernard Dreyfus, who planted the now famous Monte Rosso vineyards in 1885, Ambassador James Zellerbach who founded Hanzell Vineyards and Hanns Kornell who opened a Sonoma winery in 1952.
Alexandra Allen, who used to own Shenson’s Delicatessen in San Francisco and now works at Sign of the Bear; and Mara Kahn headed up the fabulous volunteer crew of cooks including Gwen Watson; Reva Metzger; Carol Marcus and her mom Hanna Marcus; Judy Evans; Myra Thomas; Amy Kitay; Judy Miller; Amy Leader; Lori Goldman; Rickie Roark; Maddy Leader; Terri Kaplan; Muriel Robbins; Bonnie Lasky and Cyl Levy, Mara Kahn’s 96-year-young mother.
According to NYU professor of nutrition, food studies and public health Marion Nestle, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, the soda industry spent “more than $2 million to successfully defeat Richmond’s soda tax initiative, outspending tax advocates by 87 to 1.”
Vintage House holds its annual elegant “A Vintage Evening” Saturday, Nov. 17, featuring donated Charles Creek and Madrone Ridge wines and a great dinner from Park Avenue Catering, along with Sheila Whitney singing and John Simon at the piano.
Passed hors d’oeuvres will be Vietnamese shrimp and vegetable rolls, pastry filled with chicken and pecans, duck confit poppers and eggplant “caviar” on pita crisps. Dinner includes warm goat cheese salad, grilled tenderloin of beef with balsamic glaze and herbed potato terrine. Wild mushroom ravioli available as a vegetarian alternative. $200. Cocktails at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. 264 First St. E., Sonoma. Limited reservations available at 996-0311 or email email@example.com.
Wild Thyme’s next Dining Club Rive Gauche will be Wednesday, Nov. 28, at FAHA Hall. The Caribbean menu of shrimp fritters, avocado salad with cornbread, pineapple coconut chicken with sweet potatoes and mango flan will be accompanied by Haitian Diego Jameau’s 12-string guitar, vocals and flute-like whistling. $35 or 25 euro, service not included. BYOW, no corkage. Reservations required (vegetarian option must be pre-ordered) at 996-0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you shop at Sonoma Market or Glen Ellen Village Market and sign up for their new eScript Community Card, you can designate that 5 percent of the money you spend there will go to La Luz Center, a bilingual, bicultural family service provider for disadvantaged Sonoma Valley residents.
Last weekend’s “Arc of Flavor” themed Worlds of Flavor Conference at the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Helena campus might have been the most fun and instructive of those I have attended. Somehow it seemed more relaxed, with more collaboration and sharing among chefs, including many newer, younger chefs from around the world.
The conference followed the spice routes through the Mediterranean and Middle East to Asia, with highly respected chefs from Syria to China. The tastes were phenomenal, from Thomas Keller’s dungeness crab salad to Jiro Lida’s sea salt salmon and Dr. Niloufer Ichaporia King’s spicy chick peas. China’s Yu Bo created his famous 40-course dinner.
Next year’s conference will be called “Kitchen Connections,” in which chefs from around the world will show what they do with similar ingredients.
Anyone who has had terrible food on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train between Seattle and Los Angeles might try it again. With a vast array of consulting chefs from Seattle to New York restaurants, Amtrak no longer gets its food from national caterers and has culinary school-trained chefs on board.
Menus now include a “fork-tender Hoisin barbecued short rib of beef,” and it is that tender, a shrimp Louie entrée salad, flat iron steak with excellent bordelaise sauce, their always reliable herb roasted half chicken (much better than previously) and an array of vegetables and desserts. The latter may include good cream puffs, cheesecakes, chocolate decadence cake or Haagen-Dazs chocolate peanut butter ice cream or gelati. If you splurge on a room of any size, all, and I mean all, of this is included. Room passengers also get to partake in a free wine tasting of wines produced along the route, whether in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo or Oregon and Washington.
I got to St. Helena ahead of the conference start to have lunch in the CIA café and bakery, which no longer serves lunch, it turns out. That led me back to downtown St. Helena, where I let available parking dictate where I dined, which turned out to be right in front of Market, the pride and joy of Eduardo E. Martinez. He started as a dishwasher in Napa and worked his way up to sous chef at Rutherford Grill, Silverado Brewery, the CIA’s Greystone restaurant and now this.
In a hurry, I sat at the bar where charming women served drinks and food. I ordered the Market burger, a half pound of Niman Ranch beef with Fiscalini cheddar and grilled sweet onions and fries ($14), and brought half home. It was among the best I have ever eaten. Specialties include mac ‘n’ cheese, Alaskan halibut, filet mignon, lamb shanks, baby back ribs, fried chicken and champagne battered tempura-looking fish and chips. Full bar. 1347 Main St., St. Helena 963-3799. marketsthelena.com.