Chef Cindy Pawlcyn recovering from bad accident; Lady Gaga’s soup at Sonoma’s Best; Rachel Ray to Sonoma? Croissant City?

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill


Popular and widely awarded restaurateur Cindy Pawlcyn and her husband, John Watanabe, both of St. Helena, were injured when a Chevrolet Equinox SUV crossed the double line and slammed head-on into the Pawlcyn-Watanabe Lexus RX 450 on Highway 12/121 near di Rosa Preserve and Domaine Carneros Winery.

Tragically, the 4-year-old boy riding in the back seat of the Chevrolet died following the accident, and his mother is still hospitalized at Santa Rosa Memorial. Pawlcyn and Watanabe were taken to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa.

A native of Minneapolis, Pawlcyn has always been a giving and sharing resource and teacher. Currently she owns Mustard’s Grill and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. She also founded Fog City Diner in San Francisco and played dominant roles in opening Tra Vigne, Pizzeria Tra Vigne, Bix, Roti, Betelnut and Buckeye Roadhouse.

Another automobile accident in 2000, in Mill Valley, led Pawlcyn to reevaluate her life and separate herself from the Real Restaurant Group’s consulting firm.

Prayers and good thoughts are with everyone involved.


If you want to make a quick trip to France, today, show up at Ramekins Culinary School at 11 a.m. for their “Springtime in France” class. Learn to make Roquefort and leek quiche, marinated squid salad, cauliflower gratin, skirt steak with caramelized shallots and red wine sauce, and lemon tarts from chef Pierre Lagourgue. $90. 11 a.m. 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 933-0450. Ramekins.com.


Lauren Benward Krause, of Beltane Ranch, will pour their 2012 sauvignon blanc and their 2012 zinfandel tonight, Friday, April 11, at Enoteca Della Santina. Since Beltane doesn’t have a tasting room, this is a real chance to try their prize-winning wines. $10, refundable with $50 purchase. 127 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 5 to 6:30 p.m.


Sonoma’s Best will serve grilled cheese sandwiches and Lady Gaga’s favorite tomato soup tomorrow, Saturday, April 12, in honor of National Grilled Cheese Day. She loves the place. This Wednesday, Orvis outdoor stores filmed a commercial at Sonoma’s Best, following one by Honda.


Hilda Schwartz, originator of Sonoma’s Great Zucchini Races, was contacted recently by Rachel Ray’s Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine staff for a feature article on the yearly event, a hilarious evening held at Sebastiani Winery for the past few years. Entries have included squashes disguised as dragons, whales, penguins, clowns, a mermaid and some unmentionables. Start growing your zucchini and think about decorating them for this year’s Friday, Aug. 1 contest. Or just come for fun and watch.


Sondra Bernstein’s Suite D hosts a unique evening Thursday, April 17, honoring designer Patti Britton with a pop-up dinner where each course will be paired with wines whose labels Britton designed. A rare chance to taste Sam Sebastiani’s new Sonoma wine effort, La Chertosa, the girl & the fig’s Très Bonnes Années, plus Haywood Estate, Galante Vineyards, Plata Wine Partners’ Venue and Naggiar Vineyards wines. $85. Tickets at figsuited.com and eventbrite.com. For more info contact Britton at 938-8378 or pb@brittondesign.com.


Sonoma Home Winemakers will host a novel “Spanish Nights” best wine awards dinner on Thursday, April 17, at Vintage House senior center, featuring a tapas bar and the yummy paella made by Steve Rose of Kenwood’s Vineyards Inn, where he and his wife grow all of their own organic vegetables.

Sonoma Valley Teen Services’ Lovin’ Oven cooks will make desserts and serve, as they always do.

Anyone who makes wine at home, is thinking about making wine, would like to learn, or would just like to enjoy some terrific homemade local wines and a good dinner, is welcome to the party. $35. $240 for table of 8. 6:30 p.m. Reservations a must. Send checks to Sonoma Home Winemakers, P. O. Box 590, Sonoma.


B&V update: A couple of friends report having tried the burger and fries at Burgers & Vine at lunch during the Sonoma International Film Festival and said it was “really good.” Marisela Rodriguez of La Casa Restaurant, next door on East Spain, says Burgers & Vine are great neighbors. “We trade things all the time, if one of us runs out of something.” As we hoped, La Casa’s business has been helped by the active corner.


After good friend Andy Weinberger, of Readers’ Books, talked me into trying his son’s girlfriend’s croissants at the Friday farmers market, I began to think about croissants in general and how many bakers are making them in Sonoma. A lot.

So what is a croissant, and by whose definition? First of all, croissant is the French word for crescent. We already have Crescent City in Del Norte County, home to Pelican Bay Prison and lots of fishing vessels, and New Orleans, La., sometimes referred to as “The Crescent City” when not called “The Big Easy.”

“Larousse Gastronomique” (1988) defines a croissant as “a crescent-shaped roll made with puff pastry or with a leavened dough.” According to Larousse, “This delicious pastry originated in Budapest in 1686, when the Turks were besieging the city. To reach the centre of the town, they dug underground passages. Bakers, working during the night, heard the noise made by the Turks and gave the alarm. The assailants were repulsed and the bakers who had saved the city were granted the privilege of making a special pastry which had to take the form of a crescent in memory of the emblem on the Ottoman flag.”

The “New Food Lover’s Companion” (Barron’s 2013) dictionary takes the story further, saying that, “Originally the croissant was made from a rich bread dough. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that a creative French baker had the inspiration to make it with a dough similar to puff pastry …”

Our taste in croissants, or anything else for that matter, depends on our past experience and what we consider to be the standard by which we compare other croissants, what kind of toothpaste we used or juice we consumed, whether we get one from the front or back of the tray (sometimes day old or fresh), whether we taste it with butter and jam, and other variables.

My personal, first, great croissant experiences were as a student in Paris, of course, where it seemed as if they were always served with butter and preserves. But maybe my memory embellishes.

Let’s look at croissants alphabetically, by bakery name. They range in price from $2.15 at Scandia Bakery to $5 with ham and cheese at the Friday farmers market.

Basque Boulangerie Café offers whole wheat and standard croissants, both formed into a full circle with points, rather than a crescent. The whole-wheat version felt and tasted like bread dough, while the conventional one was properly flaky on the outside and doughy inside. Weirdly, the conventional one was still edible a week later.

Crisp Bakeshop’s croissants were smaller and more concentrated than others. I tried both the plain and almond and enjoyed them immensely. They come plain, and with various fillings from chocolate to mascarpone and strawberries.

Joanne Fusco bakes croissants in the Studebaker Cheesecake kitchen. Locals have raved about her croissants, but I had trouble hitting a day when there were some. One of the days I dropped in she had already left. Both the plain and berry croissants that I bought were overly singed on the bottom.

Scandia Bakery’s croissants were the largest, lightest and possibly most appealing, while also the least expensive at $2.15. The others were all in the $3 to $5 range.

Yanne Campbell’S Foxfire Bakery makes four kinds of croissants and nice, gooey, sticky buns, using organic flour, Straus cream and Petaluma butter. Campbell also rents baking time at Studebaker Cheesecake. Hers are available only at Friday’s farmers market, and they weigh and taste heavier than others, but she says they are meant to, that “they are American croissants, not French ones.” I guess that means with organic ham and cheese ($5). Her whole display is fun, borrowing a wood and glass case from Roger Rhoten, heating croissants to taste slowly in an old iron oven, and keeping her supplies in a vintage suitcase.

Once again, I sacrificed my body for your vicarious tasting pleasure, and was happy to do it.


Speaking of Readers’ Books, more than 60 people showed up and enjoyed Mollie Katzen and her new vegetable cookbook, “The Heart of the Plate” at our Last Wednesday Food Group on Wednesday. Several attendees made delicious foods from the book and brought platters to share, a real delight for everyone that adds to the experience. To say nothing of Betsy Spann’s wines and Genevieve Ladha’s organic chai teas.

Readers’ sold out of Katzen’s books and had to dip into her reserve bag from her car. Katzen, Marcy Smothers and I treated ourselves to an early dinner at Café LaHaye, where everything is always perfect, this time meaning the swordfish and salads.

April’s Last Wednesday Food Group will feature Glen Ellen’s Marcy Smothers and her new book, “Snacks,” also available at Readers’ Books at a 15 percent discount. If you wish, find something in it that appeals to you and bring it to Readers’ on Wednesday, April 30, 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Chef John Ash will bring his new book, “Culinary Birds, The Ultimate Poultry Cookbook,” to our May 28 Last Wednesday Food Group at Readers’. This book just made the finals for the 2014 James Beard Awards.


Sam and Carol Morphy, at The Red Grape, have a new manager in training, Nick Mendelson, who has been working there for a couple of years and will return to college in the fall.

Executive chef Todd Thompson has created some terrific April specials and new menu items. April brings asparagus soup with crème fraiche, chives and truffle oil, raw kale salad, veggie jumbo-shell fagioli pasta shells, and prosciutto crudo pizza with a crème fraîche base, mozzarella, gouda, shaved Brussels sprouts and capers ($5.95 to $7.95).

New lunch favorites include the Italiano pizza loaded with pepperoni, salami, pepperoncini, black olives and two cheeses; a grilled salmon entrée, porcini mushroom ravioli in a mushroom sugo.

Check out the creative pea pesto and burrata bruschetta on grilled sourdough topped with watercress, which, with a salad to share, could make a great meal. You might try the grilled artichoke with new wedge salad with baby iceberg lettuce, piquillo peppers, blue cheese, Zoe’s bacon and blue cheese dressing; a housemade quinoa burger with gruyere cheese, sweet potato fries and caramelized onions and a side of house-cut fries; spring pea ravioli, cavatelli pasta with asparagus, and chili garlic crab capellini made with blue crab $6.95 to $17.25.

At dinner try the new roasted airline chicken breast with whipped scallion potatoes and grilled asparagus, the new Deluxe Burger of eight ounces of wagyu beef, Bel Paese cheese, a tall stack of beer battered onion rings and a secret sauce on a brioche bun – good to share, believe me.


Wild Thyme’s next Dining Club Rive Gauche will feature the cuisine of Morocco with Sonoma’s Belly Dance Superstar, Natalie Tedrick, on Wednesday, April 23, at FAHA Heritage Hall. Chef Keith Filipello will make a savory filled filo, a trio of Moroccan salads with traditional Moroccan bread, lamb tagine with vegetables, couscous and chickpeas, seasonal fruit with flower water and Moroccan cookies. Moroccan food expert Paula Wolfert said Filipello’s salads were “perfect” at her Vintage House fundraiser. $35. BYOW, no corkage. Reservations required at 996-0900 or wildthyme.com.


Sommelier Christopher Sawyer has a great lineup of tasting events Tuesdays, and winemaker explanations and wine samplings Thursday evenings, at Carneros Bistro at The Lodge. April’s events include Joe Otos, Trecini Cellars and Glen Lyon/Two Amigos wines on Thursdays.
Enjoy Happy Hours at Bean & Bottle to 6 p.m. on weekdays and in Carneros Bistro every day, featuring draft beer and wine specials, as well as $6 Skyy vodka drinks. 1325 Broadway, Sonoma. 931-2042.