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Category Archives: Dinner

That The French Laundry is painfully difficult to get into is not exactly news. So, when I had a chance to go last week with someone else handling all the logistics, well, the decision was easy. The story is a little funny. It sounds like one of those “cab driver’s brother’s next door neighbor kind of stories” but here you go.

A former colleague is dating someone who works for a very nice woman whose oldest daughter is now at the CIA (the food, not espionage one). Only 4 degrees of separation — not so bad. Anyway, the daughter is getting ready for externships and has been visiting top restaurants in the Bay Area. She’s been to Manresa, Chez Panisse, La Toque and others. Her parents have been celebrating this research by organizing dinners at the target restaurants. Supporting your kids’ efforts isn’t always hard, I guess.

So, they’d booked the private dining room at The French Laundry and wanted to fill 12 seats. Not a hard problem, but the it was a Monday night and people have crazy work schedules and have to go out of town and, and … So, at the last minute, I was a seat filler for one of my friends who had to go to a business meeting. Sad for her, but happy for me.

Indian Springs Spa in Calistoga, CAI decided that if I was going to go up there, I might as well enjoy it fully. So, I began with an all too important pre-blow out dinner detoxification ritual. I headed straight to the Indian Springs Spa in Calistoga for a mud bath. I love Indian Springs. It reminds me of what I imagine some funky, retro LA spa would be like. If you haven’t tried it yet, what are you waiting for?

The idea is simple. You go, get undressed and then get into a big concrete tub filled with hot mud. And the mud is the critical thing here. Other places use some peat based mud mixture that is smelly. At Indian Springs they use a volcanic ash based mud that doesn’t smell.

Its very hot — they’ve warmed it up with the hot water from the geothermal spring. Its very plastic. And its great. You spend 10 or 15 minutes relaxing and just roasting in the mud. Then, you get out scrape it all off, shower and get into a hot mineral bath to poach. The last step is heading into the eucalyptus scented steam room for a little more heat. When you’ve had enough, you come out, shower again and then head out to cool down by the Budha garden.

Fully relaxed, I was ready for the evening of serious eating. So, I hopped back into the car and headed to the southern end of the valley. Met up with my friends and headed over to the restaurant for our 7 o’clock reservation.

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It was great, of course. Here’s what we had:

Salmon tartare mini-cones

Cauliflower “Panna Cotta”
with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Russian Sevruga Caviar

Truffle CustardBlack Truffle Custard
with Black Truffle Ragu and a Potato Chive Chip

“Carnaroli Risotto Biologico”
Shaved Perigord Truffles and Truffle “Emulsion”

Sauteed Filet of Wild Columbia River Sturgeon,
Toybox Tomatoes, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Bok Choy

Maine Lobster Tail “Cuite Sous Vide”,
Sweet Corn and Caramelized Fennel Bulb “Ragout”
With Perigord Truffle “Coulis”

“Aiguillette” of Liberty Valley Duck Breast,
“Cassoulet” of summer Heirloom Beans and “Pancetta”
With Jacobsen’s Farm Blackberry “Gastrique”

Snake River Farm “Calotte De Boeuf Grillee”,
Yukon Gold Potato “Mille-Feuille”, Grilled Kind Richard Leeks
And Sweet Carrots “Vichy”

“Chabichou de Poitou”
Thompson Seedless and Zante Grapes, Celery “Ribbons”
and “Verjus Gelee”

Hayden Mango Sorbet,
Yuzu-scented “Genoise”, Goma “Nougatine”
and Black Sesame “Coulis”

“Tentation au Chocolat Noisette et Lait”,
Milk Chocolate “Cremeux”, Hazelnut “Streusel”
With Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream and Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts


Oh, and there was wine, of course. But that will have to wait for another day.

After dinner we walked downstairs to meet some of the people who had prepared the meal. It was late, they still had work to do, but they took the time out to chat with us. Very nice. And the kitchen is unbelievably spotless, even just after dinner service.

Despite the fact that the day began as just about every Saturday does for us, at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, we gave the cook the night off.

Instead, we went with a few friends to one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Incanto is great Italian food in Noe Valley. It’s the kind of place I love: people who are completely into the food — they make their own salumi in house — but in a pretense-free atmosphere. Like it says on the menu, free bottle of Hetch Hetchy on every table. (That’s tap water.)

But this is not a review. For that, look here, here or here.
Razor clam
Instead, you just get a glimpse. Manila and razor clams in brodo with chorizo.
A beautifully composed dish, executed flawlessly. And, it’s as the title above says (cribbed from chef Chris Cosentino), the place isn’t trying to do Italian food just as you’d find it in a particular region of Italy. That’s a fool’s game here — you just can’t ever get it just right. Instead, take the spirit of great Italian food — the most perfect ingredients, balanced just so and use what’s here, what’s great and what’s available now. It will not be what they’re serving tonight in Sicily or Orvieto or Bologna. But at Incanto, it will be good.

And with it we drank a Sudtirol Eisacktaler Kerner DOC 2003. From way northern Italy, almost in Austria. It’s a relatively new grape. And no, I hadn’t heard of it before last night either. As a UK wine dealer says, “Nose is intense and aromatic.” Umm, yeah. Intense is the word. If you can find some, try it.

Where’d you go Saturday night?

Zuckerman's Asparagus -- See another appreciation at:
Zuckerman’s Asparagus (this photo and another appreciation)

There are lots of great things about spring. One of the greatest, and I mean that in both the quality and size senses, is the jumbo asparagus from Zuckerman Farms. The Zuckermans grow delicious asparagus. They come in ultra thin, regular and jumbo. I am not an expert on a lot of things, but trust me on this: buy the jumbo. They are tasty, substantial and only here briefly. We’ve prepared them a bunch of ways this season, but simple is best. Cooked in heavily salted boiling water and then dressed with just a little butter and lemon.

Tonight we had our jumbos with Autogrill chicken. A couple of years ago we were in Italy. We’d just spent a week on Sicily and were headed north. It was a crazy American style day. You know — we were trying to make good time. Sicily to Positano in a day. Nuts, but anyway. So we’re making surprisingly good time on the Autostrada. But we’ve got many km to go, so in the interest of time, we stop at an Autogrill on the Autostrada. Here, it would be a Burger King. There, it was something completely different. Chicken cooked to order on the grill with just a little olive oil and rosemary. A big, big bowl of fresh strawberries for desert. Now that’s my idea of fast food.

So, the full menu: Autogrill chicken on a bed of peppery wild arugula with jumbo asparagus. Tasty and quick for a Friday night. And drank a great Zinfandel with it. Rosenblum Cellars is our house wine. This one was the ’99 St. Peters Church Vineyard from Sonoma. A big, fruit driven wine.
Rosenblum Cellars 1999 St. Peters Church Sonoma County Zinfandel

What was good at your house tonight?

Green garlic from Mariquita Farms
[Picture from Mariquita Farms. Don’t just look at their pictures; buy their vegetables.]

I must never have really understood green garlic. It’s such an amazing thing. It looks like a scallion, but has a milder garlicy flavor and is spicy at the same time. We’ve been really enjoying the green garlic this season from two different vendors at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Tonight we did trout with green garlic, Meyer lemon and parsely. Because it’s spring, together on the plate with the incredible, sweet, brilliantly green English peas from Iacopi Farm and asparagus ravioli from Zuckerman Farms. And to complete the market theme, we had a 2002 Muscat from Heidi Schroeck in Austria, bought at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. The floral and citrus flavors of the Muscat worked beautifully with the Meyer lemon. Oh yeah, and some strawberries and the first blueberries of the season with a little Straus Farms organic vanilla ice cream for desert. And it’s just a Thursday. This is why I love the Bay Area.

The wine is a story all by itself. We were recently invited to a wedding. The groom is from Germany. Stumped for a good gift, we decided to give wine, but not from California. While at the farmers’ market on a winter Saturday, we solicited some ideas from Peter Granoff. We’d been to Germany and Austria a couple of years ago and enjoyed the Rieslings, Gruner Veltliners, Muscats and more in their native habitat. We knew that Peter would have some good ideas for us. Boy, did he. It helps being a James Beard Foundation sommelier of the year winner. Anyhow, one of the wines he suggested for our gift pack was the Heidi Schroeck Muscat. He liked it so much we bought an extra bottle.

And that was dinner at our house tonight. What amazing, local thing have you had this spring?