Crushpad and harvest food in Healdsburg

Several early mornings, late lunches, and progressive eating evenings are the norm during the harvest. Eating a cup of chili or Cup O'Noodles on the crushpad spiked with one of the many hot sauces was a daily occurrence.

One of the surprise dishes was the duck fat popcorn. Hot duck fat was poured over a sage infused popcorn; add some salt and you're in business. Not a bad way to start the night in Healdsburg.

Chicken tenders and Selling Wine

The life of Owner/Winemaker is one that sounds glamorous, but with the amount of highway miles I travel, I'm often confronted with food choices that are less than spectacular.

Chicken tenders from a highway gas station are one of those less than spectacular choices.

For every picture on Facebook that gets posted of me eating a incredibly well prepared meal, the balance in the universe is restored by eating one more chicken tender. Perhaps, I should do a chicken tender pairing with my Proprietary White Wine and perhaps my Sangiovese...goals for 2016.

Lucky for me, I have a incredibly well developed palate, seeking out only the best road side chicken tenders in California. A freshly fried chicken tender from Popeye's located at the Travel Center in Livingston is very different from the McDonald's in Lone Pine. I'll take Popeye's chicken any day. 

There are some big upsides to chicken tenders over other highway food . Tenders only require one hand to eat; therefore, one hand is always on the wheel. Tenders do not ooze grease, mustard or ketchup the way an In-N-Out burger would, thus removing accidental stains on clothing and automobile interior. The downside to chicken tenders in the car while driving, no special sauce. If you want BBQ or Honey Mustard, you're best to dip at the pump.

Frequency of Visits for Chicken Tenders

Italian Wine Notes, Tuscany and The Veneto

I wanted to drink great Sangiovese in Italy. 

One must continuing trying wines. Great wines. Lesser wines. Wines that come from a jug. Wines that I'll never remember the name; but I'll remember the experience. I make wine for a living and I don't want to develop a "cellar palate".

The pictures below are the wines I've been drinking during my travels in Italy. I don't give scores; I give basic descriptions, often the impact of the wine and my personal outlook at the time. I was probably eating something while I was drinking. These tastings are not blind, ever.

I'm only looking and reporting on the score from the major critics after the fact. I generally didn't have any idea on scores while I was purchasing. A few wine stores did post the score at the point of sale. The descriptions are varied, sometimes without a single word regarding any of the properties often assigned by critics; a simple Up or Down vote from me might do.

This is NOT an exhaustive list of wines I consumed in Italy. Stuff falls through the cracks, but it's a good representation of what I've been drinking. I might be drinking with friends, restaurant staff, the winemaker, winery owner, or alone. The list is heavily Sangiovese influenced, that is the one purposeful item I injected into my overall experience. After all, I make Sangiovese for a living.

Ristorante Cocchi, dal 1925, Parma

I discovered this restaurant on one of my random walks down (or was it up?) one of the main thoroughfares of Parma. Located in the Hotel Daniel, Ristorante Cocchi has been around for some time.

To start, Insalata Mista with warm speck and potato. Speck is a smoked ham, usually found in mountain towns. The dressing was simple, a sweet balsamic and olive oil. Solid. Normally I wouldn't order salad but it was kind of nice considering its cold outside, around 38 degrees and I walked about 2 miles to get here. Good start.

Mixed green salad with warm potatoes and speck

Mixed green salad with warm potatoes and speck

Next up, pasta with potato filling and shaved truffle. Good crack of black pepper. There was a starchiness to the sauce, which leads me to believe the pasta was placed in a sauté pan with butter and black pepper with some of the pasta water and tossed through with extra butter. Notice a bit of a brownish sauce coating the tops of the pasta., super viscous.The potato filling was good and hearty, the truffles are all about luxury and perfume. A couple elements on the plate to produce a wonderful lunch.

Pasta with truffles

Pasta with truffles

Grilled steak. Let's get something straight. My server didn't ask me how I'd like my steak because there's only one way it SHOULD be prepared, THIS WAY! No medium or well. Medium rare to rare. No sides. The sauce is olive oil and the garnish is salt. The simplicity of it all. Yes it was tender, yes it was tasty. And if it makes you feel better, I went Paleo on this course.

Filetto di Fassona

Filetto di Fassona

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The mezzo of Sangiovese from Fattoria Zerbina went with everything. 100% Sangiovese Grosso, aged in stainless steel and concrete vats, no oak, and I'm guessing not aged for more than a year. Easy to drink but not weak or thin. The wine easily paired with this whole meal. This is why I make Sangiovese, because it's good and pairs with lots of things.

Zabaione with crushed amaretto cookies. We've got a Goldilocks moment here. Too much liquor whipped in with the egg yolks and the zabaione is ruined. Not enough and it tastes like mousse custard thingy. But the zabaione at Cocchi, just right. The magic of having a crushed cookie lurking in the depths of that yellow custard is a nice surprise to, not all creamy and luxurious, but with an edge.

Zabaione with crushed amaretto cookies inside

Zabaione with crushed amaretto cookies inside

Always some grappa to finish! 

Grappa to finish

Grappa to finish

Ristorante Cocchi, Parma

Ristorante Cocchi, Parma

I enjoyed my lunch experience at Cocchi and my 2 mile walk back home. 

Ristorante Parizzi, Parma

As I mentioned in my last post, I can't always start a multi-course meal at 9:00pm. I'll be up till 2am with a heart rate nearing cardiac arrest levels trying to digest 10 courses. Which is why there are multi-course lunch options with the same menu as dinner.

One of those options is the Michelin-stared Ristorante Parizzi. 

Lonely Waffle

Lonely Waffle

To start, compliments of the chef, a Parmigiano waffle. Tasty. A good waffle. The next level would have been to sauce it with balsamic as the "syrup" or Saba because basically it's a lonely waffle that needed a partner. Balsamic infused butter? Fried chicken? (too American) Gorgonzola honey? I liked the waffle, but it needed something to pair with it.

A second amuse was a mache salad with stuff I couldn't identify. It was very good and was perfect with the Pinot. It sort of looked like and tasted like cous cous spiked with saffron and sun dried tomatoes. But I can't be sure. It was all served cold....I liked it, I just wished I asked again what was in it.

Mache Salad

Mache Salad

Slovenian Pinot, wine highlight of the day

Slovenian Pinot, wine highlight of the day

The wine for my game bird courses was a Movia 2005 Slovenian Pinot Noir and it was outstanding. 92 pts by W&S at release, this wine drinks fresh, with full-palate depth, I wouldn't have expected. Cherry skins, licorice and completed integrated and well rounded tannin structure. I would have loved to try this wine at release to compare.

Cracker sandwiches of pheasant pate were next up. The Pheasant pate was uber smooth in texture, a fitting foil for the cracker crunch. In the middle of each pate cracker sandwich, there were caramelized onions waiting for you. The appropriate contrast for the rich smoothiness of pate.  Gelatin, placed as garnish, was made with white wine and offered yet more contrast and all important acid to pate cracker sandwich. Well done overall and visually attractive.

Pheasant pate cracker sandwich

Pheasant pate cracker sandwich

Surprise! Caramelized Onion! 

Surprise! Caramelized Onion! 

Roasted quail with winter salad. The quail was delicious, moist and well seasoned. The winter salad of persimmon, fennel and pomegranate seed is a combination I expect from a 1-Star establishment at this time of year. I could have done without the chickpea cake, don't think it added much. The dish was paired spot on with the Slovenian Pinot. And since I ate the bones with my fingers, they gave me a bowl of warm water with a towel in it to clean my fingers prior to the next course. Excellent attention to detail and unexpected.

Game Bird #2...Quail

Game Bird #2...Quail

Pasta with duck and a bit of broccoli rabe was a high point. I love my pasta. If you're worried about gamy flavors, broccoli rabe will get rid of that notion in a hurry. Sharp flavors of broccoli rabe that contrast the warm, rich, wild flavors that come with rich duck pasta. I like the dish very much and could easily see cauliflower or cabbage used as the contrast to the duck. Possibly a grilled item, such as fennel, as a further flavor development.

Time for Pasta

Time for Pasta

To finish the Degustazione di Terra menu, a grand presentation of loin with foie gras. The middle of the loin was punched out and foie gras was inserted in the middle. Three sauces or garnishes surrounded the main, true center-of-plate many a chef fail at creating. Not whispers and smears of sauce, but statements of sauce. The foie and loin were balanced out. I thought for sure the foie would have been the star, it almost always is, but there was harmony here.

Highlight of the meal, Loin and Foie

Highlight of the meal, Loin and Foie

Near the end of its life for my palate

Near the end of its life for my palate

Both the duck and the loin/foie were paired with Castello di Farnetella 2007 Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot from Sinalunga near Siena in Tuscany. The wine was beginning to give off a hint of oxidation and raisin notes on the nose after about 10 minutes in the glass, on a bottle that was poured to 3/4 empty. I'd say the wine was paired off better with the beef and foie than with the duck filled pasta, as the broccoli through it all off. More thought needs to go into the pasta and wine pairing because of the flavor profile.

Cheese, glorious cheese

Cheese, glorious cheese

Regional cheese selection focusing on one item and one region...Parmigiano Reggiano! Duh! 14, 24, 36 months from different areas of the province. I've experienced this type of tasting before a while back in San Francisco, when the Consortium for Parmigiano came to visit and presented to the trade. I liked the 24 month cheese for this tasting.

Pre dessert #1, Creme anglaise w lemon was light and easy dusted w chocolate. I like this Pre-Dessert compliment a lot. Refreshing, colorful and clean. Winner.

Pre-Dessert #1

Pre-Dessert #1

Chosen dessert...chocolate cannoli with candied orange and raspberry coulis. Cannoli shells are filled fresh, as they are crunchy, not soggy. Easy, one-bite cannoli. Candied fruit and crushed nuts are often served with cannoli, and there was no exception here. I don't like candied fruit inside my cannoli. I want the option to eat it separately; Parizzi gave me the option to explore the candied fruit on my own, which, I happened to really like. Great dish. Fun, exciting to look at, playful and well de-constructed.

I chose Dessert #2, Cannoli

I chose Dessert #2, Cannoli

Post dessert...In rapid fire and in order of how I consumed them: raspberry topped panna cotta was about as light and clean as Pre-Dessert #1; therefore it was devoured. Creme brûlée was not so good, I had one bite and finished. The 4 candied nuts were good so I ate them all, the single chocolate truffle was good, the single lemon ball was great. Done, done and done.

Dessert #3, Post Dessert, Dessert

Dessert #3, Post Dessert, Dessert

Sicilian Cab / Cab Franc

Sicilian Cab / Cab Franc

From the cheese course through the last dessert, the wine offered was a 2006 Planeta Burdese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend from Sicily. 92 pts by WE and one of their Top 100 wines on release and 91 by WS on release. Riper edge when compared to the other wines I sampled at Parizzi, with prunes, tobacco and spice. The bright fruit was gone, this was a wine that needs to be drunk sooner rather than later. I appreciate its longevity, but it was least favorite wine in the mix; Slovenian Pinot wins the wine award today.

Grappa to finish. No espresso today.

Grappa

Grappa

Service was solid, attentive but not intrusive. Everyone hustled and I never felt rushed or alone. Stemware replaced swiftly, silverware replaced swiftly, plates taken away 80% of the time by the time I placed the utensils down. Everything is brought on a cart or in a tray and placed away from the table and then brought to you from a service location in the center of the dining room. Michelin service standards here, professional.

A very good experience at Parizzi. The level of service, attention to detail, intricacies on the plate, and atmosphere all  lead to a professional dining experience in a restaurant that is expected to cater to a wider, international clientele because of their star rating. Is this better than some of the other places I've dined so far? No. Is it worse? No. It's apples and pineapples; very different dining experiences. Each with their own expectation level though. 

Noms.In, A travel guide for foodies

Eating out around the country has its advantages. New York, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and Portland are some of my favorite cities for food. But a town with only 10,000 people, Healdsburg, California has some of the best food in the country, on par with the big cities.

I was asked to write for Noms.In several months ago about the region that I live in, Sonoma County Wine Country. I believe Healdsburg is the locus of foodie activity for the region, not the actual town of Sonoma. Similar to Yountville being the epicurean center of the Napa Valley, rather than the town of Napa.

Here's to more Michelin Starred Restaurants in Healdsburg!

 Photo Courtesy of Chef Jeff Mall, Zin Restaurant, Healdsburg, California

Chiaroscuro and La Folie in One Night

I’ve already talked about how good I think Chiaroscuro is on The Cured Ham a couple of times.  I'm amazed how little coverage Chiaroscuro gets from the Bay Area food scene, especially for how authentic and consistent it is. I have a special place in my heart for pasta and I feel confident that Chef Alessandro will cook better pasta than I can most nights. I’m sure Chef has off nights, but my birthday dinner was not one of them. And considering Chef's Mother was also in the kitchen, everything had to be good.

I’ve attached the meal as presented that evening. On the cheese plate, a cherry leaf wrapped goat cheese from Basilicata was the standout. A house cured lamb prosciutto had a punch of pepper to it that was unexpected. The desserts that evening were a raisin gelato (that had absolutely no chewy raisins in it), strawberry shortcake, and profiteroles. The profiteroles a.k.a. cream puffs, had nearly the same density, texture, and softness as my Italian Grandmother’s. And yes, both pasta dishes were outstanding. The rigatoni was challenging to the palate with one secret ingredient (which we had to ask Chef about. He was being sneaky about that addition and no I'm not divulging it here).

 

What I didn’t plan for that evening was a special look inside La Folie. One of my cousins is close to Chef Passot. I was allowed to view kitchen operations at the height of service. Basically a step away from the pass, as I watched Chef inspect and arrange nearly every dish. The kitchen is small, efficient, and very busy. No room for idle chit chat, only communication about their stations and timing. What a delight to watch.

After service was over, Chef sat with my cousin, a good friend, and me for nearly 45 minutes. We talked about food of course, but also family, travel, and living in the Bay Area. Chef suddenly became another friend at the table. Way cool. Chef Passot was extremely generous with his time.

I couldn’t have had a better birthday. Welcome to 40 years on Planet Earth.

A Special Guest at Bottling

Living in Healdsburg has its advantages, great food and great wine. It also happens to bring chefs from around the country.

As it happens, Cousin Marco and I were enjoying a drink at Cyrus the night before bottling. We're talking with a couple guys from Pittsburg at the bar, when I catch some food chatter from the end of the bar. Sure enough, the other two gentlemen wrap food into the conversation and next thing you know, we're talking to a former sous chef from L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Jenny. Super cool, because I've eaten at both the NYC and Vegas establishments. While I don't think the food in Vegas is fantastic when compared to the original establishments, L'Atelier was quite an experience...expensive, but good.

Just so happens, Jenny is a good cook and can work a manual bottling press pretty well to. An absolute trooper, getting her hands dirty, helping out, taking pictures, and even sat on the ground with the rest of us and ate a sandwich and potato chips from Safeway. Thanks Jenny for all your help on bottling day. You're welcome in Healdsburg any time.