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Kathleen Hill: Cookbooks, restaurants, PJ Clark and more


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Cookbooks bring hugs, tears and smiles

Having had nightmares of no one showing up at all, Girl & the Fig owner Sondra Bernstein and I and her staff were somewhat astonished when hundreds and hundreds of fire victims, many from Kenwood and Santa Rosa, showed up at Bernstein’s Girl & the Fig warehouse Sunday morning.

The Delicious New Chapters free giveaway party had arrived. Some stopped at the entrance to get a cup of coffee and one of Andrea Koweek’s chocolate chip cookies or a brownie, and then some of our 40 volunteers guided them to paper bags and boxes, made orderly by Sudan Idell, and then on to the cookbooks organized by category, famous chef’s name, or region.

So much emotion. There were lots of hugs and screams among neighbors who hadn’t seen each other since their homes burned exactly six months earlier on Oct. 8. Then came the tears, a few giggles and more hugs.

Whether they are currently living in a borrowed trailer, RV, on someone’s couch, or in a large rented home, they had all lost their cookbooks to fire, and their cookbooks were among their ties to the past.

While a cookbook might have looked strange or esoteric to one person, it could evoke a shriek of thanks because it was a precious gift passed on by someone’s mother – exactly what that person was hoping to find. And she did.

Kudos to Bernstein, her staff, many volunteers, many cookbook drop off sites, generous book donors, including authors and publishers, and to the drivers who roamed three counties picking up book donations, as well as Laura Havlek who brought us elegant metal bottles of ice water, and Megan Morphy Moll who dropped off a Red Grape pizza that three of us devoured.

A great day to slightly improve the lives of many who have suffered.

Restaurant and tasting excitement

Sigh bubble lounge owner Jayme Powers will host Jacob Talbert and his Sushinoma and a special sushi menu paired with Champagne and sparkling wines on first and third Sundays starting this weekend, April 15. Talbert will prepare some of everyone’s favorites such as a Sashimi Fantasy (nine pieces), Butterfish carpaccio, Tahitian poke with Ono, shrimp, ahi and more, his Sonoma and Vallejo rolls, “The Bubble wrap,” “Baby Maker in the Sheets,” and seaweed or edamame salads. ($4 to $22). 6 to 9 p.m. 120 W. Napa St., Sonoma. 888-2106.

Mi Ranchito Restaurant opened last week to rave reviews at the old Plaza Tequila site. Lots of salads, soups, a “cevicheria” with nine ceviche choices, nine burritos, tortas, tacos. ($3.99 to $19.25) Beer and wine. 19315 Highway 12, Sonoma. 933-9496.

West Hamburgers finally got its building permit and now can begin construction on the highly anticipated burger joint.

HopMonk to lose, Monterey to gain PJ Clark

P.J. Clark, manager of Sonoma’s HopMonk Tavern, will preside over her last evening there tonight, Friday, April 13. She will move to Monterey where she and her business partners will open Alta Café and Bakery after renovating the Cooper Molera Adobe. The 2.5 acre property is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Partners include restaurateur and realtor Kirk Probasco and Monterey pastry chef Ben Spungin.

Clark learned restaurant management from Cyndi Pawlcyn at Mustards Grill in Napa Valley, opened the Piatti in Montecito, came home to manage the Piatti in the El Dorado Hotel, managed the General’s Daughter, and started Maya on the Plaza.

As opening manager of the General’s Daughter. “I was seven months pregnant driving (then-owner) Suzanne (Brangham) crazy because I wouldn’t stop running up and down those stairs. I worked until the day before Riley was born and had my 3-year-old son Jess there with me playing in the garden out front and chasing Bob’s (Cannard’s) chickens around. I directed the first few events at Ramekins as well before Craig and I left to open Maya.”

Clark said, “I am still overwhelmed when I think about leaving Sonoma – and get choked-up on a regular basis. This has been my home since right after college when I moved here from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I raised my family here. Mine was always that house where all the kids hung out. I loved that.

“You can’t imagine how thrilled and excited I am that Maya is now owned by a handful of people that worked for me there. To walk into Maya and see the tables that we built, the Temple of Tequila that we designed, the walls that I painted (with spotlights before we even had any light fixtures) – and Veronica, Carlos, Francisco and Juan taking such great care of my baby – makes me smile every time.

“I took six years off from the restaurant biz after we sold Maya until I got my two amazing sons through high school, and eventually became GM at HopMonk. It has been such a great experience and so much fun for me for the last five and a half years. My staff – my “Hopmonkies” – are my family. I love these guys so much and wish I could take them all with me. Or at least clone them.

“I really hate leaving Sonoma but this is the opportunity of a lifetime. And luckily for me it is in Monterey which is not too shabby. I actually have always spent a lot of time in Monterey and Carmel and am sure that I will be happy there. I will now just turn it around and visit Sonoma often instead.”

Snack Wars, Sonoma style

In the same week came news of David Viviani’s new marketing style for U Gottabee Nutz, part of the Sebastianis’ “Sonoma Kitchen Collective,” which now includes the Nutz, Mia’s Kitchen, and Aqua Kola. We also heard from Sonoma Creamery about its new Crispy Cheese snacks.

Confused yet? Here goes: David Viviani’s grandfather, Celso, started Sonoma Creamery with Joe Vella and then split off to form Sonoma Cheese Factory while the Vella family created Vella Cheese in 1931.

Decades later the Vivianis sold the Sonoma Jack cheese brand, which moved on to various owners and then to John Crean, who now calls it Sonoma Creamery. David Viviani’s sisters own the Cheese Factory store where Steve Carlin hopes to develop an Oxbow-style marketplace.

Crean just launched a new line of Sonoma Cheese Crisp Bars, which come in Parmesan and bacon cheddar gluten-free bars that were available for sampling in the Back Lot Tent during the Sonoma International Film Festival.

Crean also makes Sonoma Jack cheeses in various flavors, which you can find at several grocery stores. He also produces Mr. Cheese-O’s, which we used to see David Viviani enthusiastically “demo-ing” at Sonoma Market, always re-atranging displays and chatting with old and new friends. Mr. Cheese-O’s are those intensely flavored cheese crunches in bags.

Now Viviani has just as enthusiastically embraced his new position as Brand Ambassador for Don Sebastiani’s U Gottabee Nutz, and more. The Viviani and Sebastiani families have been friends in Sonoma for many generations, and feel “comfortable like family” working together.

Viviani’s entertaining “staging” of his food demos has increased sales so much that Don, Sr. and Mia Sebastiani Coakley have expanded his duties to include Mia’s Kitchen products and Don Sebastiani & Sons wines. sonomakitchenco.com.

Bubbles & Blooms Festival coming

Tickets are on sale for this year’s breathtaking Bubbles & Blooms Festival at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards on Earth Day, April 22.

Gardeners and beauty fans will enjoy learning from experts on rose care, floral arranging and container gardening, and lots of bubbles and nibbles as well.

Main stage lectures will include “Caring for Easy Rose Garden” with Barbara Ellis of Redwood Empire Rose Society, “How to Plant a Thriving Cut Flower Garden” with Lennie Larkin of B-Side Farm, and “Containers as Garden Art” by Deborah Thomas of Sonoma Mission Gardens. Others will find DIY floral workshops and loads of wine and food.

Chef Beth Sogaard will pair smoked salmon crostini with Gloria Ferrer blanc de noirs, lavender crusted duck confit coins with Sonoma Brut, a Pork Belly Bao Taco Station with Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée, truffle potato chips and Gorgonzola dip and hummus, and Famous Potato Chips.

Also watch for curried chicken endive boats, fig and goat cheese risotto bites, lemon tartlets and an antipasto station, plus just released sips of 2017 Gloria Ferrer Estate Pinot Blanc. $80 club members, $90 public. Noon to 4 p.m. 23555 Highway 121, Sonoma. 933-1917.

Plan ahead for Tailwags & Handbags

The Pets Lifeline “ladies luncheon” that includes a few brave men has grown from the General’s Daughter to the terrace at Buena Vista Winery in the last few years.

Ladies from the Bay Area donate interesting and elegant vintage purses and bags that guests bid on in a silent auction before sitting down to an April 27 alfresco lunch prepared this year by Ari Weisswasser and Bruce Riezenman, who combine efforts with their Stellar Catering.

$95. 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 19000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma. Tickets at 996-4577, Ext. 110. Petslifeline.org.