Williams-Sonoma update; going nuts: pecan shortage; sweet Suite D pop-ups; halt the hot sauce; hilarious Rachel Ray quote

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill


Late-breaking: Only two Sonoma Valley wineries just made Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Most Exciting Wines of 2013” and Biggest Bargain lists, and they are sort of related. Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2011 came in number 14, with 95 points ($37), among the Top 100, and Joel Peterson, his father, got an 87 in the Biggest Bargains list for the Ravenswood Zinfandel, California Vintners Blend Old Vine 2011 ($9). Must be something in the blood and brains. Congratulations!


Williams-Sonoma has informed tenants of the original Williams-Sonoma store and building, next to the post office on Broadway, that they have to move out by Saturday, Feb. 1.

Sunee Petprasert is the only one with a new location and a well-planned departure. She will close her 599 Thai restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 25, and reopen eventually in the Marketplace shopping center. The new restaurant will be called Bangkok 9 and will be “two doors from Whole Foods” in the space once occupied by Barking Dog’s only former outpost.

Framer John Brians and Broadway Catering have yet to find the perfect locations for their businesses. We certainly hope they do.


Speaking of Whole Foods, they were sampling a Quinoa Vodka Tuesday evening for a crowded geezer day (12 percent discount).


Sonoma GayDar will host its holiday party tonight, Friday, Dec. 20, at Restaurant Rudy’s, with small plates, wine, sparkling wine, beer, rice vodka drinks, dancing and reservations for dinner. 8 to 11:50 p.m. 522 Broadway, Sonoma. 938-7373.


Murphy’s Irish Pub just announced that Pappy Van Winkle American Bourbon had a huge burglary earlier this month at its Kentucky distillery, where $26,000 of its fine bourbon was stolen. Luckily for bourbon fans, Murphy’s snagged (legitimately) several of Pappy’s releases, including the super-rare, 20-year-old and 23-year-old bourbons, and is the only restaurant or bar in Sonoma County to have these behind the bar, among 80 whiskies on its shelf. Can’t wait to try this one and, according to Murphy’s manager, Hunt Bailie, it should be sipped “as is, no ice.” 464 First St. E., Sonoma. 935-0660.


Going nuts:

Some readers have complained about prices of pecans and walnuts lately for their holiday pies and other goodies.

Well, guess what? There is actually a shortage of pecans, for more than one reason. The crop is down, the weather is up, and foreign customers dominate.

Apparently feral pigs are feasting on pecans in Georgia, our leading pecan producing state, as well as in South Carolina. Record rains knocked blossoms off in the spring and resulting humid moisture led to a disease romantically called “scab.”

In Texas, fall rain soaked the fields to the extent that heavy equipment usually used to shake the nuts from the trees couldn’t enter without sinking to a halt. But apparently feral pigs could muddle in and enjoy a feast, wiping out the crop.

Similar to olives, pecans tend to come in heavily one year and not the next. Experts in these states estimate they only got half of what they normally rake in.

Enter the Chinese: Randy Hudson, whose Hudson Pecan Company is reportedly the largest pecan grower in Georgia, told the New York Times he sells more than 90 percent of his crop to China, where pecan marketers have sold the little nut as a delicacy. Hence, China is paying him 600 percent more than he can get in the U.S., and has become his new best friend.

Beyond pecan pies, might this be a trend for all American crops? Buy your food locally from people you know.


Sondra Bernstein’s sweet Suite D has become a tremendous venue for friendly and fun pop-up dinners, which usually sell out. Friday, Jan. 10 brings an Estate pop-up, revisiting the foods of executive chef John Toulze at the former restaurant. Guests will enjoy Toulze’s house-cured meats and breads, fennel and baby lettuce salad, saffron risotto with coppa cotto and grilled radicchio, housemade sausages, ricotta gnocchi and roasted root vegetables, followed by Meyer lemon budino, broken pine nut biscotti, meringue and more. $62 includes dinner, wine pairings, non-alcoholic beverages, tax and gratuity.

From what I hear, the paella pop-ups are scrumptious, and there will be two of them on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24 and 25. The dinner begins with tapas and moves on to honey-poached quince and field greens salad with smoked ham and Manchego cheese, and paella of clams, shrimp, sausage, duck confit, saffron rice, grilled leeks, fennel and rainbow chard.

The cheese course features Idiazabal and Troncho cheeses with quince paste and fig cake, followed by milhojas de meringue, churros with chocolate dipping sauce and caramel flan. Also $62. Tickets available via eventbrite.com.


St. Francis Winery just got named “Number One Restaurant in America” by Open Table readers, which is only slightly puzzling, but warranting huge congrats to Chef David Bush. Glad to say we ChaChas get to sample his food for our holiday dinner early next month.

St. Francis apparently got enough votes (get your friends and supporters to help, like with many websites) to beat restaurants previously thought to be the best in the country, such as the French Laundry and many others. The press release shows St. Francis as getting three stars for Diners’ Choice for Best Overall, Best Food and Best Ambiance.

They serve three mid-day seatings Friday through Sunday, and two Monday and Thursday. Offerings might include mushroom and ricotta agnolotti, bouillabaisse, grilled bavette of beef and peanut butter mousse. $45 or $36 for wine club members. Reserve at opentable.com/st-francis-winery-and-vineyards or (800) 795-6674.

St. Francis Winery plans to launch a new “Sonoma Tastemakers” program in 2014, “bringing local vendors and producers to the tasting room each month to educate visitors on food and wine pairings, including Petaluma Pie Co. and Dry Creek Olive Oil Co.” More to come.


Did you know that Sonoma Valley Moose Lodge on Broadway serves breakfast on the first and third Sundays of every month?

Following Sonoma Rotary’s holiday party, featuring big slabs of prime rib accompanied by big sounds of BackTrax, the kitchen manager gave me the breakfast menu on my way out. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will. The prices are outrageously inexpensive and range from French toast or a short stack of pancakes at $3 and à la carte toast or potatoes at $1.50 to full breakfasts that top out at $8.50 for three-egg omelets or eggs Benedict. Two eggs any way you like ’em, with meat, potatoes and toast or biscuit runs $6.25. If you get there before I do, let me know how it is. 20580 Broadway, Sonoma. 996-3879.


Not only did a judge tell Huy Fong Foods to stop making their Sriracha Hot Sauce because the vapors were bothering the eyes, noses and throats of its Irwindale neighbors, but now California regulators have told them to stay closed for 30 days to treat “microorganisms present in the product” according to Forbes.com. Wouldn’t you think all those chiles would kill the microorganisms? But I am not a scientist.

But wouldn’t you know, within minutes of that news surfacing came Roland Foods’ ride to the rescue with a press statement announcing that you can “Get Your Hot Sauce Fix with Roland Sriracha.” The press release includes a mention that it comes from American Roland Food Corporation, which is an international food distributor. I guess as opposed to, maybe, a Thai or Thai-American food company.


Shiso Sushi & Grill owner Ed Metcalfe has again opened his restaurant for lunch, serving 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and dinner 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Don’t forget Shiso is near Lucky market.

Shiso’s new lunch menu includes seaweed or house salad, miso, edamame and bento box lunches that all come with miso soup, steamed edamame, cucumber sunomono salad and steamed rice with chicken ($9) or grilled salmon ($13). You can also enjoy sushi boxes, and other specialties. Back corner of Maxwell Village shopping center. 933-9331.


 For your backyard farming pleasure, Sonoma Mission Gardens offers bare root strawberries, blue and blackberries, boysen, logan and goji berries, raspberries, asparagus, artichokes, rhubarb, horseradish and loads of onion and winter vegetable starts. Personally, I am going to plant my annual fava beans to pull nitrogen out of the air and into the soil totally naturally, since they got weed-eaten last year by a noisy machine.


Plan way ahead:

Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau’s Olive Season, thankfully shortened to two months of events, highlights “Martini Madness” on Friday, Jan. 10 and culminates with its annual “Feast of the Olive” at Ramekins Culinary School on Saturday, Jan. 25.

Martini Madness and its co-chairs, Gary Saperstein and Bill Blum, return this year to its birthplace, MacArthur Place’s “barn.” A new feature will be that the sponsoring vodka will be extremely local: Fred and Amy Groth’s Prohibition Spirits and Solano Vodka.

The event features a martini-making contest in which there must be an olive featured in some form, not always recognizable. Competing for best martini this year will be bartenders from MacArthur Place’s Saddles, the girl & the fig, Murphy’s Irish Pub, EDK, Carneros Bistro, Steiner’s, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Sonoma Meritâge, Burgers & Vine and Hopmonk Tavern. Saddles restaurant serves substantial nibbles to keep guests’ systems functioning somewhat soberly, with dinner available afterward. $40, $85 with three-course dinner at Saddles. 29 E. MacArthur, Sonoma. Call 9382929 for tickets.


Then the Feast of the Olive dinner is, indeed, a feast, in which every course features olives in some form, with each room-length table enjoying a different menu. Local chefs collaborate by creating a course and then helping the others “plate” (a newish verb) theirs.

So far chefs Ari Weiswasser of Glen Ellen Star, Bruno Tison and Andrew Cain of Santé Restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze of the girl & the fig and Andrea Koweek and Moaya Scheiman of Crisp Bakeshop will prepare the always-spectacular, olive-centered feast. $150. 6 to 10 p.m. Reserve at 996-1090, Ext. 108.


  The same evening, Jan. 25, the Native Sons of the Golden West Sonoma Parlor #111 stages its annual Surf & Turf dinner with BackTrax music, rib eye steak and shrimp, tossed salad, dinner rolls and cheesecake, wine, coffee, live auction and a 50/50 raffle, all of which benefits their scholarship fund. Opens 6 p.m., dinner 7 p.m.  Veterans Memorial Bldg., Tickets $40 at Steiner’s, Eraldi’s, Town Square.


Words to watch:

Affluenza is an unofficial, non-diagnosis label or excuse for spoiled wealthy teenage kids who drink way too much and manage to drive so as to kill four people. Ethan Couch’s lawyer blamed his reckless behavior on his parents’ wealth and neglect of him. In Texas, said kid got off, basically, with probation.


And from Rachel Ray on cooking a one-hour holiday dinner: “The trick to cooking this meal in one hour is to start the day before.”

Those of you have watched her conveniently pull already measured and chopped ingredients from her fridge might enjoy knowing that her cooking show is now produced by “Pre-sliced Productions.” How appropriate. Merry Christmas to all!