Sunday, May 30, 2010



Well, not literally.  Though if Richard did fish, I might have understood his fish fixation...  because for a while now he's wanted to make a whole fish - I mean a whole, whole fish - head and all.

I tried to discourage him by telling him about my first big Manhattan dinner date in an upscale NY restaurant.  I was nervous.  I was fresh out of college and hadn't been to many 'fancy' restaurants in the city.  I wanted to play it safe and not order anything too expensive or too difficult to eat (lobster would fit into both those categories).  I like meat, but since I also like it 'bloody,' I thought that might not make the best impression on my date, so I opted for fish.  I can't remember what kind of fish, but I know I was thinking along the lines of a sole almondine, poached salmon or pan fried filets -- so when the waiter brought my entree and placed it in front of me I was sick.  Literally.  Sitting on the plate, one eyeball looking right up at me, was my dinner.  I waited a moment to see if its tail was going to wave before I gagged and hurried to the ladies room.  By the time I got back to the table, the fish had been removed and I sipped water for the rest of the evening.  I really don't like my food looking up at me.  My date wasn't all that pleased, either.  At least not w/ me.

When I finished my sad little story I expected sympathy, empathy and every other applicable "thy," but Richard wasn't moved.  He still wanted to make a whole fish. He was heedless!  But he proposed a compromise - he promised to remove all its offending parts before serving it to me.  From heedless to headless... Needless to say, it was delicious.

This is how he made it -- a variation of Alton Brown's recipe from the Food Network site.

1 (2 to 3-pound) or 2 (1 to 1 1/2-pounds) whole striped bass, gutted and scaled
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large bunch fresh parsley, plus extra, for serving
1 large bunch fresh dill
1 large lemon, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Trim the fins from the fish, rinse and pat dry. Set aside.

Rub the bottom of a roasting pan with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place 1/2 of the parsley, dill, lemon and onion in the center of the roasting pan. Make sure that this mound of aromatics is high enough to prevent the fish from touching the bottom of the pan. Rub the fish inside and out with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Season the fish inside and out with the salt and pepper and lay on the bed of aromatics.

Richard also cut slits in the skin and inserted thin slices of garlic.  He didn't have dill, so he made do w/ lots of parsley and marjormam from our herb garden.  He added cherry tomatoes to the pan to serve as a side dish.

Place the second half of the aromatics on top of the fish and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil and cook for 30 to 35 minutes or until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 120 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes...

then transfer the fish to a platter lined with the additional fresh parsley. Serve immediately w/ your choice of veggie or salad.  We had broccoli.

Note:  Next time he makes this dish, Richard says he will flash sautee the fish in a little olive oil in a frying pan first to make the skin crispy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


To Egg Or Not To Egg
That Is The Question

You never forget your first love…

When I first hit Manhattan to tilt at windmills, I didn’t know foie gras from liverwurst. I was raised to eat healthful, balanced meals and Mom’s dinners were the traditional three-point plates: meat/chicken/fish, a starch (rice or potato) and a veggie. ‘Fancy’ food was not part of my parents’ everyday food lexicon (we did have caviar and/or ‘lumpfish’ on toast points for holidays and special occasions, though – but that’s a Finnish thing)…

Salads consisted of iceberg lettuce w/ tomatoes, sometimes chopped onion or green pepper and “store bought” croutons. Bottled Italian dressing was the dressing of choice in our house. Blue cheese dressing was something you got in a restaurant. I’d never heard of romaine lettuce and, as far as I knew, parmesan cheese only came in a cylindrical green container w/ holes on top so you could shake it onto spaghetti and meatballs. Pasta was mac & cheese or spaghetti w/ red sauce. In fact, I don’t think I even knew the word ‘pasta’… It was “spaghetti” or “lasagna” or “ravioli” (usually from a can – but only for lunch)… not “pasta.”

So, even though I was out of college and on my own, I was still food ignorant. But my education began to grow. One of my first food lessons came when I ordered a Caesar salad at Kenny’s Steak Pub, a popular ‘joint’ on Lexington Avenue usually filled with the Friar’s Club crowd of theatrical agents, comics, nightclub singers, et al.

What a revelation! My first taste of romaine! Freshly grated parmesan and shaved slices of parmesan! Homemade garlic croutons! Anchovies! The taste of fresh lemon in the dressing! Olive oil! And more garlic! Raw egg! (What?!?) A whole new salad world was opened to me! I loved it! I had to have the recipe for the dressing.

A zillion varieties of salads later, including a zillion variations on the Caesar salad alone, I still think Kenny’s Steak Pub Caesar was the best salad I’ve ever tasted… It was a first love that didn’t break your heart.

The question now is, w/ all the controversy over raw eggs… To egg or not to egg? I don’t know about you, but I still egg.
However, if you have qualms about using raw eggs because of the possibility of salmonella, then don’t.
But if you have qualms but want to use the egg yet lessen the risk, I suggest you ‘coddle.’ Coddling will cause the yolk to become slightly thickened and warm, which when whisked in the dressing gives it a creamy texture.

Coddling Directions:

Bring a fresh egg to room temperature by immersing it in warm water. If you don’t, the egg might crack when coddled.

Place the egg in a small bowl and pour boiling water around the egg until it’s covered, then let stand for exactly one (1) minute. Immediately run cold water into the bowl until the egg can be easily handled. Carefully remove the egg from the shell, then whisk it into the rest of the Caesar salad dressing (recipe below).

If you want to “coddle” you egg in a microwave, crack the shell and put it into a small bowl. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat for 15 seconds. This will cook the egg slightly, yet leave it runny.
Put the egg in some ice water to stop cooking, then carefully remove it from the shell and whisk it into the Caesar dressing.

Note: If you want to learn a method for pasteurizing your eggs to make them safe, Check out



Romaine lettuce
Parmesan cheese
Anchovies (drained of all oil if from a can – pat off excess oil w/ paper towel)
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 peeled garlic clove minced/chopped/smashed
1 egg


Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and garlic in a bowl. When mixed well, add the egg and whisk till it’s completely blended into the dressing. (If you want to make the dressing earlier in the day, do NOT add the egg till it’s time to dress & serve the salad.)

In the salad bowl grate fresh parmesan (as much as you want) onto the lettuce and toss. Add the dressing and croutons and toss again. Top w/ shaved parmesan slices and anchovies.

If you want (this is what I usually do if everyone likes anchovies), you can cut up the anchovies and toss them in the salad when you add the dressing and croutons. This allows that salty fish flavor to permeate the salad. Yum!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

STICK A PORK IN IT - Zucchini-Wrapped Pork

Zucchini-Wrapped Pork

As much as I love to eat new and delicious food, I never read cookbooks unless I had to. I never sought out recipes in magazines unless I had to. And I never searched the web for new dishes to prepare unless I had to. I still don’t have to, but since Richard has fallen in love w/ cooking, all that has changed. I have my own personal chef to prepare new tasting delights. Who am I to ignore this gift from the culinary gods? Not I. So now I read, tear-out and google… and this zucchini-wrapped pork dish is a tasty ‘tear-out’ I found in the May issue of Better Homes and Gardens. And if you’re on NuAtkins or South Beach or Weight Watchers, etc. – this is dieter heaven.


1 small zucchini
1 pork tenderloin (12 oz – 16 oz)
Olive oil
1/3 cup purchased (or homemade) pesto
Small fresh basil leaves (optional)
Watercress or arugula (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a 15x10x1 inch baking pan w/ foil; set aside. With a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, cut zucchini lengthwise in thin slices (you’ll need 8 slices) – A vegetable peeler works great for making the slices. If you’re using a knife, first cut a thin lengthwise piece off so the zucchini lies flat and doesn’t roll on the cutting board, then slice thinly.

Cut pork tenderloin crosswise into 4 equal portions. Press meat down w/ the palm of you hand to flatten slightly.

2. Wrap each tenderloin portion w/ two zucchini slices (reserve remaining zucchini for another use). Place in prepared pan. Lightly brush w/ oil; sprinkle w/ salt and pepper.

3. Roast, uncovered for 18-20 minutes (12 oz tenderloin) or 25-30 minutes (16 oz tenderloin) or until meat registers 160 degrees F. Spoon some of the pesto over each tenderloin just before serving and sprinkle w/ basil leaves.
4. Serve w/ remaining pesto and watercress or arugula.

Makes four servings
Each serving: 203 calories, 11 grams fat, 62 mg chol, 382 mg sodium, 4 grams carbs, 1 gram fiber, 21 grams protein

Sunday, May 23, 2010

ONE SPEED - Peddling for Pizza in Sacramento

Peddling for Pizza
in Sacramento

Last year in a fit of pizza euphoria, I blogged about the marvelous Hot Italian Pizza & Panini Bar (“Pizza Is Art”) in Sacramento and discovered that there’s a friendly ‘smack down’ among Sac pizza lovers… some favoring Hot Italian - others arguing for One Speed. I immediately wanted to do a taste test and got my chance to “pick a side” when we recently were back in Sac to visit my brother Bob and his wife, Nguyen.

It was Sunday when the four of us sped off to One Speed, a self-described pizza “joint” that lists its address on the menu as “4818 Folsom Road – next to E. Sac Hardware.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a restaurant give a “credit” to a store where you can buy nuts (not the eating kind) and bolts. But, perhaps, this place has special meaning to Sacramento-ites.

Like Hot Italian, One Speed’s kitchen makes more than pizzas.

Breakfast/brunch on weekends includes a Belgian waffle & chicken apple sausage w/ bananas, pecans and maple syrup – but we didn’t order that even though it was ‘brunch-time.’ Also listed on the menu: house-made corned beef hash w/ onions, peppers, sage butter sauce & two poached eggs. But we didn’t order that, either. Nor did we order the French toast made from ‘grateful’ Challah bread w/ orange-honey butter and real maple syrup.

We didn’t order the bacon cheddar biscuits & country gravy or even a Onespeed Burger made from Corti Bros. (a terrific Sac gourmet market) prime beef w/ sautéed onions & peppers, tomatoes, sheepsmilk cheese, rosemary mayo & fries! (Richard was so stunned I didn’t have the burger he wanted to alert the media)…

But, I love pizza almost as much as a good juicy cheeseburger and I was there for the PIZZA!

To start, we decided to share a couple of salads… the mixed greens vinaigrette & croutons w/ goat cheese and hazelnuts

and the hearts of romaine, radicchio & watercress, walnuts and parmesan w/ a citronette dressing.

Both were excellent, but only served to whet my pizza appetite.

Bob and Nguyen went for the house-made sausage w/ mozzarella, sautéed onions, sweet peppers & tomato sauce (I, of course, had to have a couple of bites).

Richard and I picked the four cheese pie w/ mozzarella, fontina, sheepsmilk, goat cheese and a broccoli rabe.

Both pizza crusts came slightly burnt which wasn’t a good sign… but the blend of cheeses w/ the broccoli rabe made up for the crust. I liked the sausage pie, too, but it didn’t have enough cheese for me and, then there was that burnt crust thing. Blackened pizza? Nah.

Bottom-line. I did like One Speed. It has a fun room w/ a wall of windows, a cool bicycle theme (and bike rack outside), a great looking pizza oven,

whimsical art including a sculpture that shows you the way to the loos

and an interesting menu w/ a few pasta entrees, as well an Italian sausage sandwich and a Vande Rose pork tenderloin w/ creamy polenta, braised greens, pancetta & salsa verde that sound delish.

Do I think One Speed pizza is better than Hot Italian? No. But, if it weren’t for the burnt crusts, it might be in the running. So, since Sunday is a day of forgiveness, I’m looking forward to giving this place a second chance.

4818 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento CA 95819

Thursday, May 20, 2010

THE LONG & WINE-ING ROAD - Day 6 Wineries

Day 6

Full from our lovely lunch at The Girl & The Fig, but wine-deprived -- Bob, Richard and I hit the wine-ing road in search of a liquid remedy.

Our first stop: Kunde, a winery established in 1904. It was still raining when we parked the car and ran past the beautiful reflecting pool into a lovely modern structure… a 21st century take of the original Kinney Brook Ranch & Farm cattle barn, now the site of the tasting room.

The interior did have a ‘barn-like’ feel and was very welcoming. Highlights included areas to lounge and a private tasting room where you can get 3 cheeses & crackers and truffles while tasting Kunde’s ‘Grand Estate” selections ($20 tasting fee). We chose to ‘saddle-up’ to the long bar and handed over our free tasting coupons for the $10 per person tasting.

As we sipped, we learned that Kunde is a ‘green’ winery

and is still family-owned after all these years.

(the family)

The winery’s 850 acres (700 of which are planted) surround the winery and the vineyards and are sustained by recycled water collected on a reservoir on the property. The tasting room was built in l989 from recycled materials and by incorporating other environmental considerations. Once a year, Mary, the tasting room’s petite manager, gets into a cherry picker and is lifted high in the air to vacuum the rafters whether they need vacuuming or not.

(the rafters)

Six wines were on ‘our’ flight – all were good, but two made my mouth sing, “Hallelujah.”

The 2007 chardonnay – Kinneybrook Vineyard ($26) boasts of baked apples and butterscotch w/ a hint of toast. I usually just smile in skepticism when I hear people say they taste these kinds of flavors in wine – but I really tasted the butterscotch. I love butterscotch!!!

Of the red wines, the 2004 cabernet sauvignon – Drummond Vineyard ($60) was a wine to write home about. Described as having black raspberry and boysenberry flavors w/ a hint of cedar and a rich chocolate ‘accent’ – my skepticism returned – I always taste berries in wine. Don’t you? But that chocolate ‘accent’ was there! Yum.

(hand-etched bottles)

And, because Bob’s’ name is… well, “Bob,” Mary poured us a taste of “Bob’s Red” which is 51% syrah. At $15 a bottle it was the buy of the day and naturally, Bob being a “Bob,” bought a few bottles (so did we).

The rain had stopped, so when we left the tasting room, we spent time reflecting by the reflecting pool,
and noticing the beautiful flowers, fountains

and the wine caves where you can book a tour. I love touring wine caves, so I’m definitely making a return trip to Kunde.

Our next stop was St. Francis Winery & Vineyards named after St. Francis of Assisi in homage to his ‘role’ as the heavenly protector of the natural world and a nod to the Franciscan order believed to have been the first to bring European grape growing to the new world. 

As we drove up a rainbow appeared in the sky.  A welcome from St. Francis?

At the entrance of the Wild Oak Vineyard, the winery’s tasting room and visitors center was designed to look like a Spanish mission.

The gardens were ‘dotted’ w/ abundant lavender plants giving the air a wonderful scent reminding me of my childhood and my mother’s Yardley Lavender soap.

The room was crowded w/ ‘tasters’ – but the three of us found a spot at the far end of the bar. The winery is called the “house of big reds” and the list of reds from winemaker Tom Mackey is impressive.

We gave Jonathan and Mary, our two terrific ‘barristas,’ our tasting coupons and started sipping. Tasting fees are normally $10 - $15, depending on the flight.

The 2008 Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($15) from the Classic Series flight – ‘aged’ in stainless and oak, was a nice wine for the money. I also liked the 2006 Claret, Sonoma County, a Bordeaux blend ($22), the 2007 Old Vine Zin, Sonoma County ($22) and the 2006 Merlot, Sonoma County ($22).

From their Artisan Series flight sold only at the winery and online, I really enjoyed the 2005 Red Wine, Cote Du Sonoma, Sonoma County ($35) – a Rhone blend, and the 2004 Meritage, Anthem, Sonoma Valley ($60) – the winery’s Bordeaux blend.

So on a delicious high note, we ended our sixth day on the long and wine-ing road.

On the seventh day we rested “our tasting buds” and left beautiful Sonoma County. I really could live there!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

THE LONG & WINE-ING ROAD - Day 6 - The Girl & The Fig

Day 6
The Girl & The Fig

You know those annoying Carl’s Jr. ads where the poor guy who wants a grilled cheese instead of a burger is given a kid’s meal while the waitress and his ‘macho’ buddies snicker… the ad then goes on to claim that a ‘real’ grilled cheese eaten by ‘real’ men is just another one of the chain’s endless burger variations. Well, pooh on them! Real men really do like grilled cheese sandwiches. Real women, too, and I had a great one on day 6 of our long & wine-ing road trip through Sonoma county.

We saved this day for the town of Sonoma where an old friend of Bob’s lives. She recommended The Girl & The Fig for lunch

but there was a half-hour wait, so we decided to explore this lovely village w/ high-end shops surrounding the town square (I love town squares), but soon the drizzle turned to rain so we rushed back to the restaurant to wait in its comfortable lounge surrounded by two ‘bars’...

one for liquor… one for cheese. What’s not to like about a cheese bar? But, before I could “start a tab”…

… we were led into the first of three cozy dining rooms. Ours was decorated w/ warm mustard colored walls atop dark wood ‘craftsman-style’ wainscoting & chair rails that surrounded the tables and banquettes. One entire wall was covered in the dark wood behind a display of wine bottles. Describing the art on the walls I’d say ‘a little bit country, a little bit rock’n’roll’… translation: a little bit Matisse, a little big Gauguin (w/ Picasso faces). Dark green drapes added to the warmth of the dining rooms.

The Girl & The Fig is decidedly French w/ cheeses from Bearn and Macaye, Nantes and Franche-Comte, plus an artisanal cheese plate from the Pascal Beillevaire farmstead, one of France’s best fromagiers. Local cheese makers are also represented w/ selections from Sonoma County, including cheese made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk. Pick one or go for the ‘big cheese’ - a fromage tower of six cheeses, fruit, mano formate cured meats & sausages w/ house-made charcuterie, nuts, olives, fig food condiments & a baguette – wow!

Note: “Mano formate” means hand-formed and is the name of the restaurant’s in-house cured meat program.

But cheeses are only the starting point on this wonderfully diverse menu.

Bob’s friend chose a soup made from a chicken broth base w/ kale, roasted tomato and pancetta. Perfect for a rainy day.

Bob ordered the fig & arugula salad w/ Laura Chenel chevre, toasted pecans, mano formate pancetta and a fig & port vinaigrette. To quote Fanny Brice (well, Streisand’s version)… “Hello, gorgeous!” It tasted as gorgeous as it looked.

Richard originally ordered the open faced roast lamb tartine sandwich. But, surprisingly (at least to us) the lamb was served cold so he switched to the duck confit w/ garlic & parsley, roasted French fingerling potatoes & frisee salad. He was glad he did. (This was his 3rd duck confit on the trip… insert lame quack joke here.)

And what did I order? You guessed it - the grilled cheese w/ tomato confit & matchstick frites. Now this was a grilled cheese sandwich! The bread toasted to golden perfection, the cheeses oozing ever so slightly over the edges… the tomato confit a delectable addition… And the matchstick frites?  Matchless!

Loved the town. Loved this restaurant and we spent almost the entire day w/o any wine. It was time to fix that.

The Girl & The Fig
110 West Spain Street
Sonoma CA

Friday, May 7, 2010

THE LONG & WINE-ING ROAD - Day 5 - AIOLI, a Gourmet Delicatessen

Day 5
AIOLI – a Gourmet Delicatessen

Richard, Bob and I left the Woodenhead tasting room and headed for Aioli, a gourmet deli in the nearby town of Forestville that was recommended by the winery’s “bar”tender. We were hungry from our 'rigorous' afternoon of fine wine tasting and were looking forward to a thick corned beef & swiss w/ Russian dressing on rye, or maybe real (not packaged or pressed) turkey & swiss on rye, slathered w/ that Russian dressing, both favorites of mine at the Stage Deli in Manhattan and Jerry’s in LA.  Boy, were we in for a surprise!

We drove up Front Street and found the store ‘front’ that was Aioli. This is an unimposing, tiny little deli, w/ a couple of tables out front, a small glass display ‘case’ inside hosting a few housemade “take home” deli offerings, a small bistro table w/ two chairs and a tiny counter w/ 3-4 stools in front of an open “kitchen” which reminded me of a lunch-counter kitchen. We were ‘under’whelmed.  But we soon got over that.

When we walked in the place was empty, but after a moment the young chef, Autumn Opitz, came out from “the back” to greet us (though the place is so small, I wondered if there was a “back” to the “front”). Turned out she’s also the owner, along w/ her husband, Nicolas (another chef) who was home babysitting.

She handed us menus as we perched on the stools and told her we’d just come from Woodenhead. Coincidentally, she had just uncorked a Woodenhead red and we decided to join her for a glass. You really can’t be too rich, too thin or have too much fine wine!

As we glanced at the menu, we realized that this was not your everyday “Jewish” deli or your everyday “German” deli or your everyday “Main Street (or in this case, Front Street)” deli, but something quite different. Something “gourmet.”

Yes, it had your ham & cheese sandwich, but Aioli’s was not your ‘traditional’ ham & cheese sandwich, but a ham and brie panini w/ Dijon mustard, caramelized onions and arugula on sourdough. Yum. And, yes, it had a Reuben sandwich, a deli staple, but this Reuben was made with thinly sliced housemade corned beef (not pastrami), sauerkraut, 1000 island aioli dressing, w/ swiss on rye. Double yum. The chicken sandwich was walnut chicken and gala apple w/ lettuce and tarragon aioli on multigrain bread. Triple yum. My mouth was watering… then my eye caught the housemade pulled pork sandwich w/ bbq sauce, housemade slaw on a seeded bun… then the veggie panini, the eggplant panini and the cheese steak and Greek sandwiches. What to choose? I sipped some wine as I pondered my decision.

What caught Richard’s eye at the bottom of the page was “Housemade Duck Confit.” Why a duck? Well, one of Richard’s favorite meals evah was a duck confit entrée in a multi-star, multi-priced restaurant in Florence, Italy. He looked at Autumn wondering if this young chef was up to the task. He decided he’d take the chance. And when she told us that one of her specialties was her crab cakes when crab was in season, Bob and I threw caution to the wind and decided no matter how wonderful the sandwiches sounded, it was crab cakes for us. We are New York/New Englanders after all.

Speaking of New England, while Autumn cooked our dinners, we learned that both she and her husband are graduates of the Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont and that they are their only employees. Consequently, these young entrepreneurs alternate their parenting chores at home and running/cooking at the deli. This was truly a “mom and pop” enterprise.

Our suppers in front of us, we dug in. Bob and I were immediately sent to seventh heaven or eighth or ninth… maybe even tenth. The crab cakes served on a bed of organic greens and golden beets w/ a pesto aioli truly sent us to a food galaxy far, far away… super fresh w/ no discernible fillers, these cakes were that good.

(OK, OK - I took a bite before I took the picture... a big bite)

We looked over at Richard who was totally ignoring us as he quietly savored every bite of his slow-roasted duck confit w/ crispy skin and tender, succulent meat on a bed of frisee and gala apple w/ a pomegranate balsamic drizzle. He reluctantly gave me a taste. It’s dishes like this that answer that age old question, “Why a duck?” This is why!

The sun was setting when we finally left Autumn w/ a spring in our steps and headed back to the condo… But not before realizing we had met a true ‘artiste.’

So guys, if you find yourself somewhere in Sonoma, make a bee-line to Forestville… eating there is a true gourmet delight. A real “food find.”

6536 Front Street
Forestville, CA 95436

A PS – If you have kids, not to fret – there’s a kids' menu – grilled cheese, hot dogs, peanut butter & jelly, even a ‘design your own sandwich’ option. The Opitzs are young parents after all.

However, if you’re giving a dinner party in the area, Autumn and Nicolas also do catering… The selections are amazing. Check ‘em out at:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

THE LONG & WINE-ING ROAD - Day Five Wineries

Day Five Wineries

How many times do you get a chance to sip a sparkling wine that helped end the Cold War? That treat was waiting for us as we left the Howard Station Café and headed straight for Iron Horse on Ross Station Road in Sebastopol. The winery, founded in 1979 by Audrey & Barry Sterling, is now run by CEO Joy Sterling, a college friend of a friend who knew we were coming.

We drove the long and now winding country road and crossed the wooden bridge that led to the winery perched on a hill. No walk-ins here! The views from the rugged outdoor tasting room were breathtaking.

(love this tasting "room")

Joy welcomed us and took a break from a media interview she was doing to spend some time w/ us.

Both Iron Horse’s flight tastings are $10… one is a “still” flight which consists of some lovely chardonnays and pinot noirs, but what really puts this winery on the ‘wine map’ for me is the “sparkling” flight of 5 ‘tickle your nose’ tastes. All were delish… not too sweet – not too dry. My favorite was the 2005 Brut Rose ($50) and the 2005 Russian Cuvee ($33), the sparkling wine Reagan served Gorbachev at their Summit Meeting in Geneva in 1985 which led to the end of the Cold War (the meeting or the wine – who can tell?) This wine has become a White House staple ever since.

Reluctantly, we said good bye to Joy and the winery views and headed down the hill. Next stop: the Merry Edwards tasting room (named for the owner and winemaker), also in Sebastopol. We walked through a lovely garden filled w/ irises

 to an office building/tasting room next to one of Ms. Edwards’ vineyards.

This award-winning winery, opened in 2007,

makes only pinot noir and to say they were absolutely delicious would be an understatement. The tasting is free and poured in the office “conference room.” The 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($42) and the 2007 Tobias Glen Pinot Noir ($54) tantalized our taste buds, but the 2007 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir ($54) and the 2007 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir ($57) sent our buds into orbit. Wine doesn’t come much better than this. I wanted to taste there forever. Sadly, this wine is not sold in your local super market or wine shop… but you can find it online!

Next stop – Woodenhead (one of the owner’s nicknames in his high school days). How can you not love a winery named ‘Woodenhead?’

This tasting room has yet another stunning view

and a rustic ambience, almost a tree house feel, but the wines were far from ‘rustic’. There were two $5 flights and one for $10. The three of us shared the “Zintensity” $5 flight and were very happy to find some of the best zins that we had tasted to date. The ’07 Braccialini Vineyard, Alexander Valley zin ($34) – terrific! The ’06 Guido Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County zin ($30) – 4 stars from Richard and my two favorites: the ’06 Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge zin ($30) and the ’06 Martinelli Road Vineyard Old Vine (127 years), Russian River zin ($45) – truly spectacular!

We moved on to the “Pinot Love” $10 tasting, and again, the wines were ‘fine’ – my favorites in this group: the ‘07 Humboldt County pinot ($42) and the ’06 Wiley Vineyard, Anderson Valley pinot ($60)… Then there’s a pigs and pinot ‘theme’ for this varietal where the ’07 Buena Tierra Vineyard pinot won a website pig ‘tasting’ contest. I was afraid to ask, but the wine was terrific.

While we sipped, we chatted w/ a fellow taster who is involved in growing medicinal roots from the “lost crops of the Incas” that are also ‘fun’ to eat… He even gave my brother a couple of ‘roots’ to grow – “Yacon” a Bolivian sun root and, “Mashua” a tuberous nasturtium (no I really don’t have that good a memory for lost Inca roots – I take a lot of notes).

Bob’s going to give the roots a try to see if they take root (pun intended).

As the 5:00 closing time neared, Zina, one of the winery partners joined us. Outgoing and fun, she allowed us to ‘revisit’ our favorite ‘tastes.’ Since that was nearly every wine, we did a lot of revisiting. Thank you Zina!

The witching hour finally arrived and the tasting room was locking up for the night. It was time for supper, so we decided to take the recommendation from our Woodenhead friendly pourer and check out Aioli… a place the owners call a gourmet delicatessen. What a misnomer! Aioli is a major gourmet-food food find!  Stay tuned.

Monday, May 3, 2010

THE LONG & WINE-ING ROAD - Day Five - Howard Station Cafe

Day Five
Howard’s Station Cafe

Bob rallied on day five and the three of us headed out in search of wonderful back roads, good food and some fine wine. The scenery was pastoral. The trees lush and full and the rolling green hills w/ cows grazing reminded me of Ireland…

...of course, I’ve never been to Ireland, but – hey – that’s what movies are for.

After touring the Sonoma landscape, we decided to stop and have lunch in the tiny town of Occidental. The “fine-dining” restaurant was closed, so we chose the Howard Station Café.

A bit of Occidental lore I got off the menu (who needs Wikipedia?): William “Dutch Bill” Howard who wasn’t Dutch, nor was he really William Howard, was, in fact, a Dane named Christopher Thomassen Folkman who was born in 1823.  He became a seaman. When he docked in San Francisco Bay in 1849, he jumped ship, stole a small boat and headed north in search of gold. Along the way he managed to acquire an unclaimed plateau that was to become the town of Occidental. When the North Pacific railroad was proposed, Howard granted it free access through his property. One of the perks of that ‘good deed’ was ole Dutch Bill’s ‘immortalization’ when the railway station was named “Howard.”

So there we were in front of this beautiful old painted lady about to enter a bit of California history.

Everything about the place was turn-of-the-century charming… the creaky floors, the station windows, the Victorian-era touches that remained… the inside reminded me of a cross between an old-style western movie restaurant/luncheonette (you know - that one restaurant in town where ‘ladies’ could go) and an old-world ice cream parlor (and there on the menu were old-fashioned malted milkshakes and a 3 scoops of ice cream super sundae). It was comfortable and homey and filled w/ patrons… hip looking, young ‘artist-types’ you might find in a Greenwich Village coffee shop (or are they all Starbucks now?), upper-middle class families in pretty pastel Polo polo shirts, and your average tourist from Anywhere, USA. I loved it.

The Café only serves breakfasts and lunches, but has a huge breakfast variety of eggs, cereals, griddle food, etc. - from biscuits & gravy to pancakes stuffed w/ toasted coconut and macadamia nuts to tofu rancheros! For lunch there’s a good selection of soups and salads, burgers and sandwiches.

Always searching for the perfect hamburger, I, of course, chose “The American Broiled beef ‘pattie’ served on a Kaiser roll” w/ melted cheddar cheese. Like every burger I had in Sonoma so far, it was love at first bite. Grilled exactly the way I ordered.

The boys decided to be more healthful and ordered egg white omelets. There were specific omelets on the menu and a “create your own” choice. Bob opted for the ‘specific’ – a vegetarian omelet w/ sautéed mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, sprouts, red onion and melted jack cheese or soy cheese (he knows jack about soy cheese so he chose the jack). Along w/ his eggs (which he praised), he ordered tea which came in its own press. Cool! I never saw tea pressed before.

Richard decided to design his own omelet w/ sautéed mushrooms and spinach (he liked it) and, since the omelets all came w/ a choice of buttermilk biscuits, toast, or grilled potatoes, my “son of North Carolina husband” had to have the biscuits (no gravy). He thought they were quite good, but so far, no one makes biscuits like his Mama did.

Lunch over, we hit the loos in the back ‘room’ and smiled when we saw a world map outside the bathrooms w/ pushpins put there by diners indicating the town, state or country they came from. NY and LA were so crammed w/ pins we couldn’t add ours (though I think Bob was able to get one in for Sacramento where he moved shortly after graduating college). But what was so surprising about the map was the many people who literally have come from all parts of the globe to eat there. Very cool! We had to take a picture.

Our appetites sated, we left… It was time to find that fine wine.

Howard Station Cafe
3611 Main Street
Occidental CA
FYI - cash only