707 Scout

Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
August 21, 2015

The Farm to Fermentation Festival happens Saturday in Santa Rosa, featuring dozens of beer, cider, chocolate, cheese, and pickle purveyors. Photo: Heather Irwin.


Miminashi will open in Napa this fall, a project of chef Curtis di Fede.


Barbecued brisket sandwich at Heritage Public House in Santa Rosa. Photo: Heather Irwin.


Smoked chicken and greens at Heritage Public House in Santa Rosa. Photo: Heather Irwin.


Mac and cheese at Heritage Public House in Santa Rosa. Photo: Heather Irwin.

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

Farm to Fermentation Festival 2015: Bigger and badder (meaning better) than ever, this celebration of all that ferments happens Saturday August 22nd at Santa Rosa’s Finley Community Center. Taste and learn about homemade miso, turmeric fermentation, beet kvass, cheese, and chocolate along with VIP tastings of local craft beers and ciders. Tickets are $50 for VIP admission, which includes entry to the Libation Lounge, and $30 for general admission. Special classes range from $18 to $45. More details online. 2060 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-543-3737.

Taste of Petaluma: Eating + shopping = love. Also on Saturday August 22nd is the annual dining stroll through downtown Petaluma. Local shops pair up with more than 60 of Petaluma’s finest chefs, food purveyors, wineries, and breweries for a concentrated taste of what’s great in Petaluma. Best bets to check out: Bistro 100, Wishbone (at the Phoenix Theater), Sauced BBQ, and Seared. More details online.

New Restaurants in Healdsburg: Healdsburg Square is abuzz about the new Southeast Asian fusion restaurant, ~PERSIMMON~, that will be opening this fall. Executive chef Danny Mai, formerly of the Petaluma Sheraton’s Tolay, is still working on the menu, but told BiteClub that it will definitely include a few Vietnamese staples. “Of course, I’ll have pho on the menu. If it’s not there, people will laugh me out of town,” he said, adding that banh mi sandwiches with housemade pâté and “soulful” dumplings are also in the works.

Mai, who was a Vietnamese refugee, has embraced a variety of cooking styles throughout his career, including French food during his stint at La Folie in SF, and most recently…Mexican food. It turns out that Healdsburg’s Oaxacan culinary giants, the Diaz family (Agave, El Farolito, and Casa Del Mole) are the financial backers of Persimmon. “The only way we can grow is to diversify our cuisine. There are so many Mexican restaurants already, and we want to do something different,” said Octavio Diaz, of Agave. Until the restaurant opens, Mai is doing menu consulting for the Diaz family restaurants, which, he said with a laugh, often makes for some funny looks when he steps out of the kitchen. “They’re like, ‘Wait, are you the chef here?’ ” he said. We can’t wait to hear more.

Also noted, ~BISTRO RALPH~ will soon transition to Ralph’s Martini House. We’ve seen the menu, which focuses on smaller plates and lots of seafood. Yes, the chicken livers, fries, and chicken paillard are still on the menu, but we’re jonesing for dishes like ahi tartare, sweetbreads with brown butter, foie gras with nectaries, pork tamales, cauliflower steak with salsa roja, and a sundae with vanilla gelato, caramel, chocolate, espresso, toffee, and whipped cream.

“It’s more modern and more relaxed,” said owner Ralph Tingle. “That’s the way we’re dining now and we have to be competitive,” he said. The restaurant will feature a full bar menu to boot, rather than just the classic martinis they’ve served for 23 years. With a few odds and ends to still finish on the revamped restaurant, Tingle said they’re still in very soft launch mode, but will have a grand opening within a couple of weeks. 109 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-433-1380.

Former Oenotri co-owner and chef Curtis di Fede is gearing up for the opening of Napa’s first izakaya this fall, ~MIMINASHI~. Announced last week, the forthcoming Japanese pub is a far cry from his highly touted Italian fare, but di Fede is no stranger to the cuisine of the Far East, having worked at London’s Wagamama and with Hiro Sone of Terra restaurant in St. Helena. Miminashi’s menu is still in development, but di Fede said it will feature traditional izayaka-style fare, as well as ramen and yakitori. The chef is headed to Japan for another visit this week, according to his Facebook page. The restaurant will be located at 821 Coombs Street in downtown Napa.

Long story short: ~HERITAGE PUBLIC HOUSE~ has great pub grub. Finally. 
But the story behind the story? In April, veteran chef Josh Silvers took over the kitchen of the Santa Rosa bro-pub, which had great beer but somewhat lackluster dining. With 42 taps and their own recently launched Bloodline Brewing, the food wasn’t really the point. That’s all changed.

After some early fumbles taking over the three-year-old pub’s kitchen and management, Silvers has found his groove. With newly trained staff in the front and back of the house, Heritage Public House is worth a second look. Silvers isn’t a subtle when it comes to big flavors, and the new menu features a lot of them, such as smoked chicken with maple sweet potatoes, fried pig ears with aioli, burrata panzanella with heirloom tomatoes, pulled pork open-face sandwich with crispy onion straws on Texas toast, malt ice cream with peanuts and caramel, mac and cheese with a toasted Rice Krispies topping, pork belly with black lentils, and brewer’s yeast fries.

It’s a rare chef who will admit a stumble, big or small. But it’s their necks on the line, and Silvers doesn’t mince words when it comes to the close shave he got in taking over an existing kitchen and staff. Now, the bugs are worked out, and the food is worth another look. I’ll put my neck out on that one. 1901 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, 707-540-0395.

August 7, 2015

Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park. Photo: Heather Irwin.


Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park. Photo: Heather Irwin.


Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park. Photo: Heather Irwin.


Burger at Harvest Table in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.


Halibut ceviche at Harvest Table in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.


Chocolate and raspberries at Harvest Table in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.


Chefs from Meadowood’s 12 Days of Christmas in 2014. Courtesy of Meadowood.

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

A veggie burger as good as In-N-Out? No one believed me when I opined that the new ~AMY’S DRIVE THRU~—a vegetarian fast-food restaurant that recently opened in Rohnert Park—had a meatless “burger” that could give In-N-Out’s Double Double a run for its money. The laughter was deafening.

Created by the owners of frozen food giant Amy’s Kitchen, the healthy fast-food concept has been in development at the company’s Santa Rosa headquarters for years. A veggie burger (two meatless patties, lettuce, pickles, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, secret sauce—all on a freshly baked bun) that can stand up to giants like McDonald’s and In-N-Out don’t just magically happen.

But by late July, the first Amy’s Drive Thru was ready for prime time, with throngs lined up for a first bite. On the menu: the flagship Amy Burger ($4.29 with cheese), of course, and a burrito ($4.69), with beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and salsa wrapped in a whole wheat (or gluten-free) tortilla, which was a surprise favorite. Also available are vegan milk shakes ($2.99), chili fries ($2.99), broccoli mac and cheese (made in an oven, so it gets nice and crispy, $4.69-$4.89), the Super Salad (made with quinoa, hummus, tofu and other goodies, $7.99), vegan and vegetarian pizza ($5.89-$6.50), and homemade lemonade and sodas.

It’s the kind of place where your gluten-intolerant kid, vegan sister, meat-and-potatoes husband, and you, the GMO-concerned locavore, can eat in harmony. Breathe easy because all of the menu is non-GMO, 95 percent organic, and as locally sourced as possible. Every menu item can be made vegan and gluten-free. Why didn’t someone come up with this years ago?

Which leads to the (literally) million-dollar question: Where and when will they expand? Owner Andy Berliner confirmed that more Amy’s Drive Thru restaurants are in the works, but only expect one or two more in the next year or so. Since many communities in Northern California have bans on new drive-thru restaurants, Amy’s can only open where (and when) an existing fast-food locations shutters. Daily 10:30am-10pm. 58 Golf Course Drive West, Rohnert Park, 707-755-3629.

It’s hard to reconcile the fact that Charlie Palmer is the force behind the Wine Angels—acrobatic showgirls who fly around his four-story Mandalay Bay glass wine tower in Las Vegas—and the meditative culinary gardens of ~HARVEST TABLE~ in St. Helena, where the only aerial theatrics are in buzzing beehives.

But it’s also not by accident that white-coated kitchen staff can frequently be spotted walking by the dining room with precious handfuls of fresh basil or microgreens from the restaurant’s herb and lettuce garden (one of several gardens on the property that are overseen by culinary horticulturist Laura McNiff). Or that executive chef Levi Mezick and his kitchen are perfectly framed inside a portrait window overlooking the restaurant’s alfresco dining terrace. Or that the extensive wine program includes a match-your-wits game of “blind” wine selections from the sommelier that let the diner guess what’s in the glass.

As you’re seated, all of these things will be pointed out to you. After all, Palmer isn’t afraid of a little entertainment value. Housed inside Palmer’s new Harvest Inn, a picturesque Napa Valley retreat, the 110-seat restaurant feels intimate and friendly, especially when you’re sitting cross-legged on a cozy pillowed corner seat on the sheltered patio.

There’s no doubt, however, that food is the real celebrity here. Noting that St. Helena has played culinary second fiddle to nearby foodie meccas like Yountville and Healdsburg, Palmer sees the restaurant’s focus on hyperlocal ingredients and talented staff as a way to bring back some of the town’s foodie luster.

Most recently hailing from the acclaimed Restaurant 1833 in Monterey, Mezick said Palmer had only one request when it came to planning the Harvest Table menu: shrimp and grits. Raised in Virginia, Mezick’s roots are in Southern cooking, and this signature dish ($14) was a perfect fit for Palmer’s progressive American style of cuisine. Made with Anson Mills grits, shrimp, bacon, andouille sausage, cheddar cheese, and a secret blend of Mezick’s favorite herbs and spices, it’s heartbreakingly good.

Mezick’s burger ($18) is another dish that’s got to be eaten to be believed. This two-patty, brioche-bunned beast is easily one of the best hamburgers in Wine Country, which is saying a lot, since burgers are something of a religion in these parts. You’ll also want to leave room for savory starters that include pommes dauphine ($7) with goat cheese fondue, crispy pork head “tater tots” ($6), petite sashimi of whatever’s fresh (we had halibut) with a sweet-tart cactus pear emulsion ($13), the most pillowy potato gnocchi we’ve ever had, with ramp butter and charred favas ($21), and if you’re there on a lucky day, Mezick’s whole truffled chicken, one of the daily “share” plates for two or more.

Former Dry Creek Kitchen pastry chef Andrew Di Clementi has crossed the mountain, and his signature peanut butter bar is on the menu, along with a selection of housemade ice creams and sorbets.

Service, of course, is five-star—one of the hallmarks of a Palmer restaurant—and the vibe is upscale-casual Wine Country, meaning you’ll find winemakers and winery owners rubbing elbows with tourists and neighborhood customers. “We have an enormous amount of work to do here,” Palmer said, “but we have an amazing situation here, and Levi really embraces what we’re trying to do.” Lunch Wed-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, dinner Tue-Sun 5:30pm-9:30pm, brunch Sat-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm. 1 Main St., St. Helena, 707-967-4695.

‘Tis the season to announce ~THE RESTAURANT AT MEADOWOOD’S~ annual 12 Days of Christmas extravaganza. Now in its eighth year, the St. Helena resort hosts 11 big-deal chefs from December 4th through December 19th.

The chefs collaborate with Meadowood’s chef, Christopher Kostow, who has earned the restaurant three Michelin stars. Visiting chefs include Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in NYC, Switzerland’s Nenad Mlinarevic of Focus, Copenhagen’s Christian Puglisi of Relae, Jorge Vallejo of Mexico City’s Quintonil, Joshua Skenes of SF’s Saison, Matt Wilkinson of Pope Joan in Melbourne, Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan of One restaurant in Chapel Hill, Isaac McHale of London’s Clove Club, locals Kyle Connaughton and his head farmer Katina Connaughton of the upcoming Single Thread (opening in Healdsburg this fall), Atsushi Tanaka of Restaurant A.T. in Paris, and Justin Yu of Oxheart Restaurant in Houston.

Save up your pennies, because this kind of star power doesn’t come cheap. Dinner-only tickets are $495 per guest and chef’s counter tickets (front-row seats to the kitchen action) are $750 per person. Ten percent of every ticket, plus $2,000 per chef, will be donated to Napa Valley charities. For reservations, call 855-304-8986.

July 28, 2015

Meat over the fire at Cochon Heritage Fire in 2014. Photo by Galdones Photography, courtesy of Cochon Heritage.

The outdoor, open-fire meat fest ~COCHON HERITAGE FIRE~ is happening at Charles Krug in St. Helena this Sunday August 2nd. The meat-tastic party is part of the Cochon 555 national tour, which aims to celebrate and promote chefs who are using responsible, sustainable, and quality ingredients in their cooking. The Heritage Fire party focuses on meats cooked over open fire, in a most idyllic Wine Country setting. Featured meat items include smoked duck, dry-aged beef, spit-roasted rabbit, and roasted goat. There will also be seafood, including oysters and clams, plus cheeses, grilled vegetables, and more. In all, more than 3,000 pounds of meat will be served during Sunday’s event.

As for who’s actually doing all this cooking, more than 25 local chefs will be participating, including Sophina Uong (Revival), Adam Sobel (RN74), Robin Song (Hog & Rocks), Chris Marchino (Cotogna), and Kim Weiss (Antica Napa Valley), to name just a few. This being Wine Country, of course, there will be plenty of wine, including selections from both California wineries like Clif Family, Cornerstone, and Charles Krug, as well as a selection of German wines from Wines of Germany. In addition to all the food and beverages, there will also be fun activities, including lawn games, butchery demonstrations, and more.

The party runs from 4pm-7pm, and tickets are $100 for general admission or $160 for VIP, which includes entry at 3pm, some exclusive dishes, and access to the magnum wine bar. 2800 Main St. at Deer Park, St. Helena, 707-967-2200.

July 17, 2015

Scallops at Restaurant Hazel in Occidental. Photo courtesy of Restaurant Hazel.


Braised short ribs at Restaurant Hazel in Occidental. Photo courtesy of Restaurant Hazel.


Branzino at Restaurant Hazel in Occidental. Photo courtesy of Restaurant Hazel.


Restaurant Hazel has opened in Occidental. Photo courtesy of Restaurant Hazel.


Chef Matthew Lightner will be taking over the former Thomas in Napa, which is being reborn as Ninebark. Photo courtesy of the chef.


Kouign amann at Pascaline in Sebastopol. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.


Caramel-filled brioche at Pascaline in Sebastopol. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

~RESTAURANT HAZEL~, the new Occidental restaurant from Berkeley chefs Jim and Michele Wimborough, has opened! For months, the former Bistro des Copains has been undergoing some serious interior updates. Both chefs have been teasing fans on their Facebook page with pictures of roasted branzino, curried scallops with Santa Rosa plums, cupcakes, and braised short ribs with polenta.

The rustic California-Mediterranean menu is centered around the restaurant’s two wood-fired ovens. Jim is a pro with the fire, after years working with it at Boulevard, Kokkari, and Evvia. Because working with temperamental coals isn’t for just anyone, Michele will head up the desserts, including sundaes, cookies, and cakes, and she will make a seasonal treat every Friday for Pie Day. The inside scoop: blueberry pie is up first.

Hazel (named after Jim’s great-grandmother, who inspired him to become a chef) will be doing dinner only its first week and then lunch and dinner seven days thereafter, as well as weekend brunch. 3782 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental.

After just three years, ~FAGIANI’S BAR/THE THOMAS~ is closing in downtown Napa. Ninebark will be its immediate replacement. The vintage Fagiani’s sign in downtown Napa has gone dark again. In fact, it’s gone altogether. After just three years, the upscale, retro restaurant is shuttering. Call it the curse of the building (which was the site of the town’s most notorious murders), the kerfuffle the Fagiani family made over the original name, the ever-changing lineup of chefs, or maybe just the need for something different in the Napa Valley dining scene.

Whatever the reason, the NYC hospitality group behind the restaurant, AvroKo, is reinventing it as Ninebark (the name refers to a woody bush native to the region).

What’s really captured our attention: AvroKo has partnered with Michelin-starred wunderkind Matthew Lightner, who will open the restaurant and handle all of their West Coast culinary operations. There are whispers of a second restaurant in Calistoga, and there will likely be other Wine Country eateries. Lightner rose to fame as executive chef of Castagna in Portland, Oregon, then received two Michelin stars in NYC after opening Atera.

The restaurant and rooftop bar will feature “California-focused, market-forward cuisine” based around “innovative preparation techniques,” with proposed menu items like scallops with bottarga, seaweed, and buttermilk; skewers of fatty tuna, shiso, peppercorns, and sorrel; and savory porridge with smoked fish, heirloom rice, and sourdough. 

The Thomas/Fagiani’s is slated to close at the end of July, and Ninebark will hopefully open in early August. Call us stoked.

Move over cronuts, kouign amann are the “it” pastry of the moment. With layers of puffed dough, caramelized sugar, and more butter than should be legal, they’re so worth whatever caloric damage inevitably follows.

And no one makes them better than Celine Plano, the new pastry chef at ~PASCALINE GOURMET SHOP~. It’s in her blood, after all. Having grown up in Brittany, Plano is well versed in the complex and unforgiving creation of Breton’s most famous cake. “These are from where I’m from,” she says, pointing the kouign amann among the meticulous rows of muffins, scones, breads, and cakes she’s made that morning.

Plano is just half of the dynamic French duo behind the newly opened breakfast and lunch spot along Gravenstein Hwy (next to Mom’s Apple Pie). The other half of the team is Didier Pascal Ageorges, the former culinary powerhouse of Chalk Hill Winery, SF’s Ritz-Carlton, and Hotel du Palais Biarritz in France. Plano worked with Ageorges at the Ritz-Carlton and is also chef and technical adviser to Callebaut, the world’s largest premium chocolate manufacturer.

Not that sweets are all you’ll find at Pascaline Gourmet Shop. Open just a few weeks, they’re open for lunch as well, with simple but luxurious salads and sandwiches (think croque monsieur). The team also does catering and events, and Ageorges said they plan on including pop-up dinners and other surprises as they settle into the space. Stay tuned for more tastes from Pascaline. Tue-Sun 7am-7pm. 4550 North Gravenstein Hwy, Sebastopol; 707-521-9348.