Monday, April 12, 2010

THE LONG & WINE-ING ROAD - Day One In Sonoma


I first watched the old Hope/Crosby “Road” pictures on TV when I was about seven. I loved traveling to Morocco and Singapore, to Zanzibar and Utopia even though I was prone to motion-sickness when in the back seat of the family car on our own road trips. By the time “Two For The Road” came out, I was sold on road trips (and had discovered Dramamine) and was the first one in the car when Richard and I drove through Germany, France and Italy when he was producing shows for the Food Network… and first, again, when we took our road trips through New England, the Carolinas and, of course, California. So, when my brother Bob and his wife Nguyen invited us to share a condo time-share in California’s Sonoma County wine country, I couldn’t wait to jump into the car, picnic on the I-5 (see my earlier blog titled, of course: “Picnicking On The I-5”) and head north. We arrived in the town of Windsor just in time for ‘happy’ hour.

The next morning Bob suggested we follow the Russian River until it met the Pacific Ocean at Goat Rock Beach. Sounded like a plan to me. We drove through little towns, some that are flooded every couple of years when the Russian River rises from too much rain. We drove through redwood forests and through lush green hills (which turn ‘tan’ in the dry summer months) where sheep and black & white cows leisurely grazed, reminding me of Wallace Nutting painted photographs. And then we hit the beach where the river meets the sea. Breathtaking.

There were crashing waves, black sand and sunbathing seals, but they’d have to wait til we had lunch.

 Bob and Nguyen recommended River's End, a small motel/cabins complex overlooking the ocean where they had stayed some years earlier which had a restaurant w/ “views.” Sounded perfect.

The exterior of River's End looked like a roadside hash house.

This look continued inside. The restaurant’s bar, walls and ceilings in the main rooms were paneled in dark wood. And old-fashioned brass and glass chandeliers hung from the ceiling giving the interior that rustic ‘hash house’ feel.

The menu, however, was far from ‘rustic’ and definitely contained no hash. Among the dinner entrees were almond encrusted petrale sole served w/ ‘forbidden’ rice, baby seasonal veggies w/ a pomegranate sauce; smoked applewood filet mignon smothered in gorgonzola walnut butter and served w/ almond potato croquettes and roasted garlic mashed potatoes, finished w/ a port wine reduction; and North American elk w/ a red wine poached pear and blue cheese served w/ roasted garlic mashed potatoes in a green peppercorn sauce. See. Not rustic!

The lunch menu boasted “Bubbles & Oysters” which consisted of two ½ glasses of Scharffenberger brut and fresh oysters w/ a wasabi tobiko and lime ginger mignonette; an ahi poke – fresh sushi grade ahi served raw w/ an Asian vinaigrette and crispy wontons; and a trio of baked oysters – one in a garlic dill sauce, one in a pesto sauce and the third in a bbq sauce… And those were just some of the appetizers.

As we studied the luncheon salads, soups and main courses, our waitress brought us a copper basket of warm rosemary bread. As some of you know, I’ve been dieting – low carb - but I had to taste. Rosemary-y! Delicious! Big mistake! Like a recovering alcoholic who takes that first sip which can lead to a second, third and a fall off the wagon, I fell off the low carb wagon I’d been riding for weeks. I love bread! I love sandwiches. And, as many of my blogs have shown, I really, really, really love burgers…. So how could I resist the “West County Burger” made from all natural sirloin (ground daily), hand pressed and served w/ fried leeks, cheddar cheese and house bbq sauce – all on a Kaiser-style roll w/ baked cornmeal on top? Be still my heart! I ordered it (though I did pass on the bbq sauce). I ate it. I loved it! It was really, really, really good! The mouthwatering memory lingers.

Richard, always the healthier eater of the two of us, ordered the duck confit salad served over warm spinach tossed w/ beluga lentils and a bing cherry vinaigrette dressing. He was a very happy diner. I tasted. The duck was perfect.

Bob opted for the grilled portabella salad w/ mozzarella cheese, roasted peppers and tomatoes served w/ organic mixed greens and dressed w/ an almond garlic vinaigrette. The blend of flavors? Wonderful! And though he wished there were a few more mushroom slices, he, like Richard, was a happy diner. So much so, he plans to make this dish at home.

Nguyen is a fish girl so she decided on the fish & chips in ale batter (tempura-style) made of rock cod and served w/ fries and a cucumber dill salad. She loved everything about her meal, even the dill-tartar sauce.

(One quibble: I know restaurants need to make a buck, but unlike most I’ve been to, this one charged for Coke refills!)

Sated and very happy we went down to Goat Rock beach and walked off the calories while we watched the crashing waves and saw the seals play in the distance.

A great day! Delicious food and sightseeing. I love road trips.

Tomorrow?  The long and wine-ing road.


Richard said...

Lovely piece... wanna go back!
Ever since I had it three times in Sonoma, people have asked "what is duck confit?" It's a duck leg (usually) marinated in salt and herbs for at least 24 hours, then cooked very, very slowly in duck fat. The meat is fall off the bone. And I guess it fell off into my salad. Delicious!

bobsaari said...

What a great day! My type of Sunday drive! And a wonderful piece to savor the memories.

ilona saari said...

Thanx guys!