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Open Table sold for $2.6 billion; Holy holes! Aventine to open June 24; Last Wednesday Food Group meets at Readers’ Books; Olive Press wins more medals

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill

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If you make restaurant reservations online, you helped this sale happen: Priceline Group just bought OpenTable for $2.6 billion, with a ‘B.’ Is anyone else suffering whiplash from all these billions flying around? Chuck Templeton founded OpenTable in 1998 in San Francisco to help locals make restaurant reservations online. It now includes more than 30,000 restaurants worldwide.

It used to be that “real money” was in the thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions, and now billions are casually passed around like nickels. Do they mean anything to anyone? What to the do with it? What does it look like? Certainly no one ever sees that in cash.

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Holy donut holes! Dunkin’ Donuts seems to be fighting off Tim Horton’s move into the northeast by planning to jump west and open “1,000 units” in California, with the first “unit” invading Santa Monica.

Jumping to the assumption that “unit” in this case means store, it turns out the deep fried carb vendor also intends to open restaurants that offer non-breakfast savory sandwich options. CEO Nigel Travis protested, “We’re not moving into lunch. We’re in snacking. We never talk about lunch.”

Apparently Dunkin’ does most of its business before 11 a.m., and the snack sandwiches of fried chicken, tuna salad and grilled cheese on “Texas toast” (400 to 600 calories) are intended to draw customers in during the afternoon and are designed to “eat on the go.” Dunkin’ Donuts is based in Canton, Massachusetts.

Spare us.

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Sweetwater Spectrum Farm Stand opens tomorrow, Saturday, June 21, for the first of farm manager Rachel Kohn Obut’s Saturday sales. Expect squash, carrots, lettuce, strawberries, garlic basil, parsley, radicchio and potted herbs and more. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 730 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 494-9210.

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Many of us are trying to grow vegetables for lots of reasons this summer, and almost all of us are hoping to succeed with very little water.

The expense of vegetables transported over long distances, or even of local farmers’ market vegetables, motivates some of us to grow our own. Or maybe nurturing our own food to nurture others and ourselves is just fun therapy.

Whatever it is, Master Gardener Stephen Albert will give a talk at the fabulous Quarryhill Botanical Garden, Saturday, June 21, to show attendees “how to have a rich garden through the seasons.”

Albert has been a Master Gardener for 12 years, taught landscape gardening via UC Berkeley Extension for 20 years, and wrote the book, “The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide.” Check him out at harvesttotable.com. Free. 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. 12841 Highway 12, Glen Ellen. Space is limited. Reserve your seat at 996-3166.

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Aventine Glen Ellen is scheduled to “soft open for the public” on Tuesday, June 24, at Jack London Village’s old Grist Mill location.

To restaurateurs, “soft opening” means that they are trying things out and ask the public to be flexible and non-judgmental in case anything isn’t up to expectations. It tells us to try it but be patient and allow any new restaurant to correct “kinks.” Any activity there sooner is strictly for family and friends, pending last minute approvals.

Chef Adolfo Veronese Jr., brother Gian-Paolo Veronese, and partner Rodrigo Nevado are opening the Italian restaurant, featuring a modern take on classic Italian cuisine. Once it opens, Aventine will offer dinner six days a week (closed Monday) from 4 to 10 p.m., and Happy Hour from 4 to 7 p.m. daily. They will also serve brunch Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 14301 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen. 934-8911. Aventineglenellen.com.

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Let us not forget our good friends Catherine Venturini and John Burdick at Olive & Vine, or everyone at Yeti, both also in Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village. Let’s keep them thriving as well.

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The Last Wednesday Food Group cookbook club will meet next Wednesday, June 25, at 7 p.m. at Readers’ Books. We will share stories and discuss Luke Barr’s book, “Provence 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and The Reinvention of American Taste.”

Barr is the grandson of Mary Frances’ sister, Norah Barr, with whom she often traveled and lived in France. Jim Olsen, an interesting winemaker who makes his wine at Naked Wines in Kenwood, will share some tastes with us. Anyone who wants to bring nibbles to share, from any books whatsoever (or no books), is welcome to do so. Free. 7 p.m. 130 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 939-1779.

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Joan Riebli and other locals will present a “VOICES in the Vineyard” fundraiser Sunday, June 29, at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards to raise funds to provide housing, education, employment and wellness services to youth, ages 16 to 24, who have aged out of foster care and have little support. Many young adults are suddenly put out on the street, so to speak, because their foster parents don’t get paid after the kids reach 18.

VOICES has been organized by former foster youth to help others. You will enjoy hors d’oeuvres prepared and donated by Chef Todd Thompson of The Red Grape, himself a graduate of the fabulous Worth Our Weight (WOW) culinary training program in Santa Rosa. Music Works!/Sonoma will perform classic American tunes. Jacuzzi will offer wine for sale. Sponsors include Sonoma Raceway, TricorBraun WinePak, and the Press Democrat. $60. 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets at voicesyouthcenter.org/voicesinthevineyard or 486-8805.

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Sonoma State’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) has launched a summer lecture series that includes a group of talks under the “Taste Matters” banner to demonstrate how agriculture and viticulture contribute to our sense of place. All presentations are on Tuesdays, starting July 1 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Speakers will include, in order, Duskie Estes of Zazu restaurant and farm, with Evan Pontoriero of Fogline Vineyards and boardmember of Petaluma Gap winegrowers Association; Clark Wolf of Guerneville, who developed the Food Studies Program at NYU and has written several in-depth food books and John Haupt; wine expert and public relations guru George Rose and me; and Michelle Anna Jordan, of the Press Democrat and Karissa Krause, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers. Registration fees: 1 to 3 events $50, 4 to 6 events $75, seven or more events $95. Find out all about it at Sonoma.edu/exed/olli or call 664-2394. Or pick up a pamphlet at the Index-Tribune, 117 W. Napa St., Sonoma.

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Reserve now for Wild Thyme’s bargain Dining Club Rive Gauche on Thursday, July 10, at FAHA’s gazebo under the oak trees on West Verano Avenue. This month’s event, featuring Boogie Woogie star Windy Dewitt, sold out a week ahead.

July’s musical treat will be King of Western Swing, Tommy Thomsen, who will play following Chef Keith Filipello’s “swinging summer menu” of a stuffed Anaheim chili with green sauce, watermelon salad with corn muffins, BBQ baby back ribs with summer slaw and spicy country potato salad, and classic summer fruit shortcake with coffee. $40 or 35 euro. BYOW, no corkage. 7 p.m. 197 W. Verano Ave., Sonoma. Reservations required at 996-0900 or wildthyme@vom.com.

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The Olive Press just bagged more medals in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair olive oil judging, done way before the actual fair opens to the public.

It won Best of Show for the Sevillano Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Double Golds for the Sevillano and Ascolano, Golds for their Arbosana and Jalapeno oils, plus seven silver medals and one bronze.

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Carolyn Wente, the CEO of Wente Family Estates in Livermore, who was in Sonoma Valley with her mother, Jean, recently for the Audubon Canyon Ranch Preserve fundraiser to which she donated all the wine, was just elected chair of the Wine Institute for 2014-15. Carolyn, a sister member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, is the fifth member of the Wente family to serve as chair of the Institute, formerly known as the California Wine Institute.

Greg Coleman of E. & J. Gallo, Margie Healy of Korbel, Steve Lohr of J. Lohr and Chris Indelicato of Napa, were also elected officers.

Members of the board from Sonoma County include Julie Pedroncelli St. John of Geyserville, Louis M. Foppiano of Healdsburg, Hank Wetzel of Alexander Valley Vineyards, and Steve MacRostie of Sonoma.

Locals Anne Moller-Racke of The Donum Estates and David Oliver of Ram’s Gate serve as alternate members.

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Craving British sweets? HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, has created Duchy Originals, a brand of organic shortbread and “biscuits” now available at Whole Foods. Expect three shortbread varieties and Oaten Biscuits baked by the family-owned Walkers Shortbread in the Scottish Highlands.

All ingredients are made with organic ingredients using “sound animal husbandry and traditional crop rotation, contain no GMOs, are OU Kosher and are suitable for vegetarians, and no antibiotics or bovine growth hormones are used to produce the butter used in Duchy recipes.”

Apparently a bit of each purchase goes to The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation.

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Firecracker Fourth:

Ramekins will again prepare a barbecue and buffet dinner at The General’s Daughter, with views of the fireworks from its shaded patio and sidewalk. Expect grilled chicken, BBQ ribs, Caesar salad, wood-fired beans and veggies, potato salad, grilled corn with queso fresco and lime, wood-fired beans and veggies, Early Girl tomato Caprese salad, housemade potato chips, homemade cookies and strawberry shortcake.

Beer on tap by the glass and wine will be available for purchase. “Open seating” means get there to grab your table. Tickets selling fast. $55 adults, $25 kids 11 to 18, 10 and under free, plus tax. 6:30 p.m. until end of fireworks. Reserve at 933-0450.

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With one of the most beautiful restaurant settings in town, the Depot Hotel Restaurant will host its annual Fireworks Party and Buffet Dinner on July 4, featuring an appetizer buffet of barbecued oysters and housemade focaccia on the pool’s terrace. The buffet dinner served in the dining room will include porchetta stuffed with garlic and herbs; calamari, Gulf prawns and scallops salad; Tuscan fried chicken; porcini mushroom frittata, housemade pastas, grilled zucchini, cannellini bean and tuna salad; watermelon salad with basil and ricotta salata; loads more salads; and an Italian and local cheese platter. Servers will pour wine, serve dessert and coffee at your table, and cater to most of your other needs while you watch the fireworks. $85 adults, $35 ages 12 to 20 years; free 11 and under. Price includes a bottle of wine per couple, tax and tip, as well as a donation to the Sonoma Valley Volunteer Fire Association for the great show. 7 p.m. Call Gia at 938-2980 9 a.m. to noon, or email her at gia@depotsonoma.com.

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Hanna Boys Center Ag Program will contribute to Hanna’s annual barbecue with tri-tip and chicken dinners on Saturday, July 12, at the center. The agricultural program, led by specialist Dave Redden, is part of the Hanna High School curriculum, which includes breeding sheep, growing sheep and steers and competitive livestock judging.

Especially important for many of Hanna’s boys from urban settings, are the new viticulture program, the horticulture project to grow and cultivate organic produce, and meal preparation, as well as watershed restoration and other environmental stewardship projects. $50. Cocktail reception and silent auction 6 to 7 p.m., dinner and live auction 7 p.m. For tickets contact Tamara Stanley at 933-2504 or tstanley@hannacenter.org.

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Restoration Hardware’s new paper catalogue stack weighs in at 17 pounds, rationalized as the store’s “greener approach.” To what?

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Next week: Out-of-towner Topsy’s Kitchen in Petaluma. A must try.