707 Scout

Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
May 15, 2015

Shoyu Ramen at Ramen Gaijin in Sebastopol. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.


Smoked fish salad at Ramen Gaijin in Sebastopol. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.


Sesame ice cream with miso caramel at Ramen Gaijin in Sebastopol. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.


Torc restaurant in Napa has new happy hour offerings including the Midlife Crisis cocktail and the Face Melter quesadilla. Photo courtesy of Torc.


BYO dinner, decorations, and booze? Yup, it’s a Sonoma Valley pop-up from Hand Made Events. Photo courtesy of Hand Made Events.


Dungeness crab salad from new chef Andrew Wilson at Dry Creek Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.


Charlie Palmer’s Harvest Table opened this week in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Harvest Table.


Charlie Palmer’s Harvest Table opened this week in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Harvest Table.

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

~RAMEN GAIJIN~ chef Matthew Williams isn’t quite sure why his Sebastopol noodlery recently got called “white guy ramen” by the notoriously opinionated Richie Nakano of SF’s late Hapa Ramen. So, okay, Williams and co-owner Moishe Hahn-Schuman are white guys, and their restaurant is called Ramen Gaijin (the Japanese term gaijin refers to a non-Japanese person, or foreigner), but when you’re cranking out some of the best ramen in the Bay Area, well, people tend to take potshots regardless of how good your food is.

That’s unfortunate, because Williams and Hahn-Schuman are ramen savants, meticulous in every detail of this exceedingly complex noodle soup. In fact, the two just bought Nakano’s (allegedly) $60,000 Japanese noodle maker for their own Sebastopol shop, cutting their backbreaking six- to eight-hour in-house noodle-making process to mere minutes.

Additionally, Ramen Gaijin sources their vast lineup of ingredients from small local farmers and coastal fishmongers and craft everything from karaage to their signature shoyu ramen with patient hands. This ain’t no assembly-line ramen.

So what’s with the swipe? Meh. The guys take it in stride, saying that they stand behind every single bowl they serve as being as true to its regional inspiration as possible. Frankly, I’d be willing to bathe in every single rich, umami-laden, pork belly-filled bowl. Because I’m loyal like that. 6948 Sebastopol Ave. (near Main), Sebastopol, 707-827-3609.

Crack open Memorial Day weekend with a rocking and slurping good time at ~ROCKER OYSTERFELLER’S~ annual Oysterpalooza. With more than a hint of NOLA in its soul, this celebration of the bivalve features five bands on two stages along with a mollusk-heavy menu of barbecued oysters, fried oyster po’boys, red beans and rice, barbecued brisket, Hurricanes, and more surprises. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and kids 6-12 are $10. Tickets and details online. 14415 Shoreline Highway, Valley Ford, 707-876-1983.

Raise a glass to downtown Napa, which just got twice as happy with new happy hour menus. ~TORC’S~ daily happy hour from 5-6:30pm features $5 bites, including the “Face Melter” quesadilla with short ribs, Bengali sweet potato pakora, deviled eggs with pickled onions and bacon, and $6 cocktails like the Midlife Crisis (vodka, Dimmi, lemon, peach, and elderflower). 1140 Main St. (near Pearl), Napa, 707-252-3292.

~FAGIANI’S~ has a new Land and Sea happy hour Tuesday through Friday from 4:30pm-6pm, featuring $1 oysters; $6 plates of charcuterie, steak tartare, or Scotch egg; and weekly martini selections. 813 Main St. (near Third St.), Napa, 707-226-7821.

Eat for Nepal: Santa Rosa newcomer ~YETI RESTAURANT~ serves up a special prix-fixe meal on Tuesday May 19th to benefit earthquake relief efforts in Nepal. The cost of the dinner is $29.99 per person and half the proceeds will go to NEWAH, a nonprofit focused on providing access to clean water in Nepal. Call 707-521-9608 for reservations. 190 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa.

What do you call a pop-up dinner where you have to bring your own food, wine, and table decor? Hand Made Events, based in Sonoma, calls it a party. After sellout events in SF, LA, and Brooklyn, the company is bringing their unique concept to Wine Country on Saturday May 23rd. What makes the experience so much fun? It’s an exercise in creativity and community. Groups of guests are guided to a secret location (in this case somewhere in the Sonoma Valley) a few hours before the start of the event. Wearing chic all-white ensembles, friends collaborate on the menu, the table decor, and the drink list, with just two hours to set up before the 7pm dinner. The whole evening ends with entertainment and dancing.

“We are so happy to bring PopUp Dinner back to our hometown.” said Nicole Benjamin, co-founder of Hand Made Events. “Sonoma is a place known for its exceptional beauty, food, and wine, so it truly is the perfect location.” Tickets are $38 per person (remember, you bring all your own food and drink) for a night with hundreds of new (and old) friends under the stars of the Valley of the Moon. After the event, you get to truck out all your own stuff as well, leaving no trace behind. Details and tickets online.

It’s been a busy year for Charlie Palmer. First he installed Andrew Wilson as the new chef at ~DRY CREEK KITCHEN~ in Healdsburg (which btw is going swimmingly). Next it was the spring release of his new cookbook, Charlie Palmer’s American Fare, and yesterday, the opening of his second Wine Country restaurant, ~HARVEST TABLE~ in St. Helena.

So far, the buzz is hot for exec chef Levi Mezick’s take on Wine Country cuisine, with dishes like roasted carrots with buttermilk, vadouvan, and granola; the Harvest Table burger with fontina cheese; and whole roasted truffled chicken with Parmesan polenta and morel mushrooms. Pastry chef Andrew DiClementi, most recently of Dry Creek Kitchen, is turning out his signature chocolate peanut butter bar with dark chocolate marquise. Hours are lunch Wed-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner Tue-Thu, Sun 5:30pm-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10pm; and brunch Sat-Sun 11am-2:30pm. 1 Main St. (near Sulphur Springs), St. Helena, 707-967-4695.

May 1, 2015

Heritage Eats will open in Napa on May 8th. Photo courtesy of Heritage Eats.


Goose & Gander in St. Helena has hired a new chef. Photo courtesy of Goose & Gander.


Chef Howard Lee Ko of Goose & Gander in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Goose & Gander.

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

Another Napa restaurant to put on your to-do list? ~HERITAGE EATS~ is opening Friday May 8th at the Bel Aire shopping center in the town of Napa. With the tagline “Slow Meats Fast,” the owners describe it as “a globally influenced, locally sourced, and California-born destination with an emphasis on heritage-breed meats, produce from local farms, and housemade sauces.”

Diners can mix and match things like jerk chicken, cider-braised pork, pita bread, rice, edamame, Asian pickles, and a variety of sauces for an upscale fast-casual experience. If you’re not so great at the whole DIY thing, predesigned pairings—like a Banh Mi Dutch Crunch with lemongrass pork, Asian pickles, cilantro, and “boom” sauce, or Jamaican jerk chicken with steamed bao buns, and pineapple-habanero sauce—get you noshing in style. Chef Jason Kupper, the opening chef de cuisine at The Thomas, pairs up with fellow AvroKO vet Ben Koenig on the project. BiteClub’s got a front-row seat at the preopening bash, so stay tuned.

St. Helena’s ~GOOSE & GANDER~ has tapped chef Howard Lee Ko as its new chef de cuisine. Most recently from the kitchens of Michelin darlings The Restaurant at Meadowood and The French Laundry (as well as Picholine and Daniel in NYC), he’s some serious firepower for the nearly four-year-old restaurant. Opening chef Kelly McCown left last winter for an offer in Sacramento.

“We are thrilled Howard Ko is leading our culinary team at Goose & Gander. He brings his incredible talent, vast experience, and a fresh, new perspective to our restaurant and is excited to add his take on the popular style enjoyed by our many happy regulars. The timing is perfect as we embark on our fourth year of business…We feel very fortunate to have him with us,” said proprietor Andrew Florsheim.

The restaurant, which was formerly the Martini House, received solid reviews under McCown and got a well-needed face-lift when the new owners took over. The two-level space features a large dining room and an intimate and well-loved bar downstairs. The menu, described as “public house” New American cuisine, includes hearty dishes like steak tartare, roasted bone marrow, burgers, duck confit, and pan-roasted chicken. The restaurant and bar are open Sun-Thu 12pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 12pm-12am. Starting July 1st, the bar will be open until 12am nightly. 1245 Spring Street, St. Helena, 707-967-8779.

Sonoma County journalist Naomi Starkman of the popular food politics blog ~CIVIL EATS~ has been named a 2015 James S. Knight Fellow. The prestigious award is given each year to just 20 individuals to study a particular issue facing the media. Starkman will spend her time looking at how to make food-policy news part of readers’ daily diet. “My goal is to explore ways in which Civil Eats—and all online publications—will survive in this rapidly changing media landscape while making sure that award-winning, independent journalism stays alive,” she said. Amen, sister.

In an editorial on her website on Thursday, she wrote: “Journalism and agriculture are two sides of the same coin: Both have been made artificially cheap. We have come to expect free media, just as many expect to be able to buy a dozen eggs for under $3. But lack of social investment in both of these public goods is leading us down the wrong path…Buying healthier, sustainably produced food helps keep the environment cleaner, ensures that farm animals and workers are treated better, and leads to better personal health outcomes.” She adds, “Investing in well-crafted reporting and thoughtful commentary is equally important in a world of listicles, sponsored content, sensational headlines, and dumbed-down aggregation.”

The fellowship is based at Stanford, where journalism and technology are being carefully studied. Stanford’s Palo Alto location gives easy access to both the Central Valley and Silicon Valley. “This ideal location foments solutions to this food journalism question and is the perfect place for me to incubate Civil Eats as I mine its myriad assets,” she said. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

Food and tech innovation is also the focus of ~BITE SILICON VALLEY~, a three-day event featuring high-profile chefs Roy Choi, José Andrés, Michael Voltaggio, Tom Colicchio, Michael Mina, and local chef Louis Maldonado (of Healdsburg’s Spoonbar and Pizzando), as well as digital food movers Danielle Gould of Food + Tech Connect, Danielle Nierenberg of Food Tank, and Kerry Diamond of Yahoo! Food. The event runs from Friday June 5th until Sunday June 7th at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium and includes a Grand Tasting and cooking demos on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range from $149 for a one-day tasting to $499 for a three-day all-access pass. Details online at Bitesv.com.

People.com has chosen Bodega Bay’s ~THE DUCK CLUB~ as one of its 10 Most Beautiful Restaurant views in the United States. According to the magazine: “The stone fireplace is the centerpiece at this cozy, clubby eatery, but the panoramic views of Bodega Bay and the Pacific Ocean deserve equal billing. Nestled in a dreamy bay, the restaurant overlooks a wildlife sanctuary, adding to the serene, natural beauty.” Just another day in paradise.

April 21, 2015

Wine at BottleRock. Photo courtesy BottleRock.


Pizza in the oven at BottleRock. Photo courtesy BottleRock.

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

Food is the new star of music festivals, and this year’s BottleRock Napa Valley is no exception. From Michelin-starred toques including Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Mina, and Top Chef star Michael Voltaggio to “culinary mash-up moments” with celebs Snoop Dogg, Vernon Davis of the 49ers, and Wavy Gravy, food groupies have plenty to salivate about at the three-day music festival May 29th through 31st in downtown Napa.

In fact, organizers have added a fifth stage to showcase food and wine: The Williams-Sonoma Culinary Stage. The new culinary stage will be hosted by “Foodie Chap” Liam Mayclem of KCBS.

There’s also the food-truck lineup (Bacon Bacon, Curry Up Now, Kara’s Cupcakes), the gourmet food court (Morimoto to La Toque), and wineries (Silver Oak Cellars, Del Dotto Vineyards, Schramsberg Vineyards) that only Wine Country could roll out. If you’re a high roller, VIP sections will offer cult wines and upscale Napa Valley restaurants like Redd, Goose & Gander, and Atlas Social. Platinum VIP tickets will run you between $1,250 and $3,000 versus the general admission cost of $119 per day. Don’t stress if platinum isn’t your jam. However you roll through the festival, you’ll be eating like a rock star. Trust us.

Here are even more delicious details about the culinary lineup from the BottleRock organizers.

The (at least for now) full lineup of chefs slated to participate also include both Bay Area and national names including Iron Chef Marc Forgione, Larry Forgione of the Culinary Institute of America, Mei Lin of Top Chef, 11-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, Bryan Forgione of Buddy V’s, Rick Moonen of RM Seafood, Oenotri’s Tyler Rodde, and Dario De Conti of Ca’ Momi. There will also be Michelin-star chefs Brandon Sharp of Solbar, Ken Frank of La Toque, and Robert Curry of Auberge du Soleil, and the Williams-Sonoma Chef Collective featuring Sarah Simmons of Birds & Bubbles, Matt Jennings of Townsman, the Bon Vivants of Trick Dog, and Jason French of Ned Ludd.

Expanded food truck and culinary offerings throughout the festival include Morimoto Sticky Ribs, wood-fired pizzas, pork belly sandwiches, Vietnamese shrimp rolls, barbecue, fried chicken, vegetarian, vegan, and more. Culinary hot spots to be showcased include The Thomas at Fagiani’s, La Condesa, Tarla Grill, Taqueria Rosita, Eiko’s, Fume Bistro, Il Posto Trattoria, Eight Noodle Shop, Ristorante Allegria, The Q Restaurant and Bar, Bui Bistro, Napa Palisades Saloon, Smoke Open Fire, Jax White Mule Diner.

Wine and beer will be from Miner Family Wines, Robert Mondavi Winery, Rombauer Vineyards, Clos Du Val, Gia by Gia Coppola, Goosecross Cellars, Round Pond Estate, Aviary Vineyards, Hill Family Estate, Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, JaM Cellars, and JW Thomas Group.

Oh yeah, and there are about 70 bands and performers who’ll entertain you while you stuff your face. You know, if you’re into that. Like Imagine Dragons, No Doubt, Robert Plant (!!), Passion Pit, Cage the Elephant, Gipsy Kings, Capital Cities, Awolnation, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Portugal. The Man, Public Enemy, and more.

Details and tickets online.

April 17, 2015

Arriving at The French Laundry’s courtyard, guests will be greeted by the scent of California almond blossoms. A view through the stone wall will reveal the historic original building and its iconic blue door. Rendering: Snøhetta.


The French Laundry’s new landscape design will double the size of the existing garden and provide a new vehicular drop-off entry, extending the guest experience to the street edge. Framed views will orient guests to The French Laundry’s iconic blue door along a new path through the garden. Rendering: Snøhetta.


The French Laundry’s kitchen expansion will give guests a view of the chefs at work inside. The frit pattern on the exterior cladding was developed from layering sketches based on the choreography of a chef’s hands at work. Rendering: Snøhetta.


The French Laundry’s new kitchen ceiling will evoke a tablecloth being gently unfurled across a table, while also hiding the ceiling’s functional elements. The sweeping vaults will create large skylights, flooding the kitchen with natural light and mitigating ambient noise for a more comfortable workspace. Rendering: Snøhetta.


A dessert at Partake by K-J. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin, BiteClubEats.com.


Ahi tuna with olive oil “snow” at Valette in Healdsburg. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin, BiteClubEats.com.


Scallops en croute at Valette in Healdsburg. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin, BiteClubEats.com.


Studio Barndiva will offer bar bites and cocktails in a gallery atmosphere. Photo courtesy of Barndiva.

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

With the Louvre as inspiration, chef Thomas Keller’s ~THE FRENCH LAUNDRY~ kitchen redesign is in full swing.

The press release notes: “The renderings are in—and the design team chosen—for a historic renovation of The French Laundry, the first major overhaul of the landmark restaurant in 20 years. International design firm, Snøhetta, is the lead design and landscape architect, working in collaboration with California-based firms Envelope A+D as executive architect and Tim Harrison of Harrison, Koellner, LLC as kitchen designer. The renovation will result in a new and expanded kitchen and courtyard, an auxiliary building to house a wine cellar and support offices, and a new arrival experience to enhance the approach to the iconic blue door.”

The press release also quotes Thomas Keller as saying: “The French Laundry is being redesigned to be a backdrop worthy of the restaurant’s history….With the Louvre Pyramid as my inspiration, we wanted to find a way to juxtapose the historic and the modern while maintaining the high-quality cuisine and service our guests have come to expect from The French Laundry. The new design will be an innovative and functioning space that will allow us to continue to evolve as a restaurant and develop new standards.”

The press release further details the changes: “In addition to expanding the kitchen’s size by 25 percent, the renovation will make for more efficient use of space, creating one contiguous room for the entire culinary team with a visual connection from station to station. With walls, flooring and work stations all fashioned out of Dekton…the new kitchen will feature a white-on-white palette—a nod to the sense of promise and potential of a fresh start. The kitchen equipment will feature two unique Molteni suites by Electrolux and commercial ranges by Hestan Commercial. The ground-up construction of a new Kitchen Annex will house The French Laundry’s support functions including the prep kitchen, butchery, produce breakdown, and management offices. It is also home to The French Laundry’s regarded wine collection, with the storage capacity to hold up to 14,000 bottles.” Commence jealous sighs.

Chef Thomas Keller’s culinary team, meanwhile, has moved into a temporary kitchen space at the restaurant and have been serving diners since April 7th. The press release explains: “During construction, Envelope A+D conceived of using shipping containers as modular units for a temporary kitchen in the restaurant’s former courtyard, allowing for service to resume….Tim Harrison, chef Keller’s kitchen designer-of-record for the past 20 years, designed and adapted the temporary space as a re-creation of the former French Laundry kitchen, complete with its five stars mounted hood.” The restaurant is offering dinner seven nights a week and lunch on Saturday and Sunday. The grand reopening is slated for the end of the year.

Whisk and Spat: Here’s a chance to eat dessert first. On Monday April 20th, four all-star pastry chefs converge for a four-course dessert and wine tasting at ~PARTAKE BY K-J~. The lineup includes Manny Fimbrez of Madrona Manor, Corey Wright of Kendall-Jackson, Robert “Buttercup” Nieto, also of K-J, and Ramon Perez of Puur Chocolat in Sacramento.

This is no chocolate lava cake or crème brûlée phone-in, be assured. Expect some serious dessert porn, with sweet, savory, crunchy, and exotic plates that are good enough for competition. Each course is then perfectly paired with late-harvest chardonnay and port. To whet your appetite, the chefs are cooking up some savory canapés during the reception, so you don’t totally go into sugar shock. Tickets are $45 per person, $36 for wine club members. RSVP by April 17th to 707-433-6000. 241 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg.

Cinnaholic coming to Santa Rosa: As if the gooey, sugary cinnamon roll couldn’t get any more decadent, Berkeley’s ~CINNAHOLIC~ takes it one step further, by mixing and matching frosting and toppings on their vegan buns. Think fro-yo meets the bakery case. Santa Rosa is slated to be one of the next outposts, serving up Irish cream frosting with pie crumbles and chocolate sauce slathered all over their buns. Not into that combo? There are 39 other frosting flavors and 21 toppings ranging from marshmallows to Oreos. All of it is 100 percent vegan. (And yes, Oreos are vegan.) No word yet on the exact location or opening date, but we’ll be looking forward to the sweet smell of fresh baked buns somewhere in Santa Rosa.

Here’s a peek at the menu of one of the hottest new restaurants in Wine Country, ~VALETTE~, which opened five weeks ago in Healdsburg. The former chef of Dry Creek Kitchen, chef-owner Dustin Valette isn’t a guy who likes to take shortcuts or worry about gilding the lily. Kobe beef with foie gras butter; ahi tuna with olive oil “snow” and a 64-degree egg; fresh semolina pasta with walnut pesto and fresh peas; and a dessert of brown butter ice cream, rhubarb, and brioche.

Each dish is carefully constructed—and often deconstructed—with more unexpected twists and turns than an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Consider the charcoal-roasted potatoes—so blackened that they look like mussel shells (is that a hint of squid ink?) with a smoky quality that’s reminiscent of a campfire or an ashtray, depending on your outlook. 344 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-473-0946.

One of the curses of success in a small town like Healdsburg? Being too full to accommodate the locals. Which is exactly what’s happened to ~BARNDIVA~ over the years, as out-of-towners have flocked to this Wine Country destination. Not surprising considering chef Ryan Fancher’s spot-on dishes—lobster risotto, goat cheese croquette with wildflower honey, pork belly salad with poached quail egg—and the rustic, Cali-chic, indoor-outdoor dining.

Now, however, they’ll be offering a no-reservations option in their nearby gallery, Studio Barndiva, offering simple dishes and curated cocktails. Fancher’s sous chef, Andrew Wycoff, will handle the gallery’s kitchen, featuring plates of bone marrow tater tots, pork meatballs with fennel, Cuban sandwiches, and fish and chips. Hours are Wed-Sun from 3pm until close. 237 Center St., Healdsburg.

From grain to glass, Rohnert Park’s Sonoma County Distilling Co. is making some of the best small-batch whiskey in the country. Using in-house mashing, direct-fired alembic pot distillation (a fancy way of describing an ancient distillation process), small-barrel aging, and lots of of know-how, it’s a fascinating process. Tours are now being offered at the Rohnert Park location (which, trust us, is well hidden from prying eyes) that explain the process and, of course, offer a tasting of several of the company’s spirits. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with your booze. Tours are Thu-Sun, by reservation only. $20. Reserve online or by calling 707-583-7753.

April 14, 2015

Sing to us, Kevin Spacey! Photo: Festival Del Sole.

The Napa Valley Festival del Sole is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the region’s cultural vitality and their Annual Festival Gala at Meadowood is going to be a big one this year. It’s happening on Sunday July 19th at Meadowood Napa Valley, and the theme is Hollywood + Vine. It’s all about the nightclub scene of Hollywood’s golden age, with none other than the fabulous Kevin Spacey in attendance, performing standards from the Great American Songbook. (I know, we just need Christopher Walken to do a dance number for us.)

In addition to the megawatt entertainment, Meadowood chef Alejandro Ayala will be serving dinner along with wines from the cellar of Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines. It’s all happening on Meadowood’s newly designed croquet glen and fairways, and should be a glamorous alfresco evening. More details can be found here along with passes to the gala, the weekend, and the whole festival. Tickets to the gala are $1,000 per person ($700 tax deductible) and table sponsorships are also available. Email for additional details, or call 707-346-5052, ext. 4. 900 Meadowood Ln. at Silverado Trail, St. Helena, 707-346-5052, ext. 4.