January 20, 2012

January 20, 2012
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Drool-worthy MANO FORMATE selections with homegrown, housemade pickles; photo by Deirdre Bourdet.

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Winter tastes like apple, endive, pomegranate salad with Fourme d’Ambert, candied walnuts, and pomegranate vinaigrette; photo by Deirdre Bourdet.

By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.

~THE GIRL & THE FIG~ helped put Sonoma on the map as a dining destination when it opened 14 years ago, and partners Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze continue to push boundaries on California wine country cuisine. They invited me over recently to check out their restaurant family’s latest ventures and seasonal specials, which, predictably, are legion.

It’s clear from the produce-driven menus I saw that the fig empire is making great use of its new biodynamic vegetable garden, located at Imagery Estate Winery. Their garden blog now shares the seasonal developments throughout the year as well, with plenty of pictures at every step of the planting, cultivating, harvesting, and feasting process.

In addition, Sondra and John are rocking their MANO FORMATE charcuterie, which does an award-winning coppa, a fantabulous lardo-like pancetta rubbed with sage, nutmeg and pepper, and many, many others. Charcuterie making is a highly addictive pastime apparently, and chef John told me he’s constantly experimenting with different paste mixes, curing pressures, and meat cuts throughout the year. Look for lots of neat cured meats nestled among the produce this year.

Somehow, Sondra and John have also just released a new cookbook entitled Plats du Jour, which is a glorious full-color homage to the artisan food and wine producers of Sonoma County. As you might guess from the title, the book celebrates the homey seasonal dishes at the center of French daily cooking, which the girl & the fig creates every day as part of their prix-fixe menu ($34 for three full courses). This cookbook would be just as appropriate on a coffee table as in the kitchen, thanks to its gorgeous photos, interesting sidebars, and overall philosophy.

To celebrate the book’s release, the fig empire is running a special plat du jour promotion through March. If you order a prix-fixe dinner at all three restaurants between now and March, you can present your receipts to collect a fourth free Cena or plat du jour dinner at the restaurant of your choice, anytime you like. Not too shabby.

the girl & the fig, 110 W. Spain St. at 1st St. W., Sonoma, 707-938-3634; the fig café, 13690 Arnold Dr. at O’Donnell Ln., Glen Ellen, 707-938-2130; ESTATE, 400 W. Spain St. at 4th St. W., Sonoma, 707-933-3663.

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Cozy lounge and cozier prices at ESTATE’s bar; photo courtesy of ESTATE.

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Oh, the places you’ll go after a ride on the magical grappa cart; photo by Deirdre Bourdet.

By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.

~ESTATE~, the lone Italian member of the girl’s family, has always been known for its fun promotions, like Pizza & Pinot happy hour ($15 for a pizza and glass of local pinot noir), Sunday Bubbles & Brunch ($3 prosecco and mimosa bar, holla!), and the uh-mazing four-course Cena di Famiglia ($26). In my humble opinion, this place has some of wine country’s best—and most delicious—deals on evening feasting, bar none.

In addition to its usual crowd pleasers, though, ESTATE has just added a new party theme called Negroni & Nibbles. Every Tuesday night in the bar from 5pm on, you can score a Negroni and some complimentary nibbles from the chef (with your first round) for only $6. In addition to the classic version of the cocktail, ESTATE does a Negroni Sbagliato (prosecco, Punt e Mes, Campari), Aperol Negroni (gin, Aperol, Carpano Antica), and the Cin Cyn (gin, Cynar, sweet vermouth) to mix things up, Sonoma style.

They’ve also introduced an artisanal grappa cart with a mind-boggling array of different options. I was floored (both figuratively and literally) by the enormous range and variety of styles. A delicate little chamomile-infused number by Distilleria Marolo (made from nebbiolo grapes) bore absolutely no resemblance to the peaty, bourbon-like Spirit of the Harvest grappa produced by Sonoma Valley Portworks from petite sirah grapes. The obscure citron-infused grappa (“di acqua di cedro”) from Nardini was a fresh and true palate cleanser, totally unlike the gut-searing grappas of hellfire that most of us have tried. My server also hooked us up with a taste of the “Mirtillo Martini,” a tasty concoction of blueberry-infused grappa, honey-infused grappa, and grenache verjus that deserves a permanent spot on the drinks menu.

If you like grappa, or if you think you don’t like grappa, you need to take a trip on this grappa cart and grab a cab home.

ESTATE, 400 W. Spain St. at 4th St. W., Sonoma, 707-933-3663.

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The lovely Ledson Hotel houses Centre du Vin and its amazing duck confit biscuits; photo by Deirdre Bourdet.

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Behold, The Exalted One; photo courtesy of Michael Volpatt and Big Bottom Market.

By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.

There’s a lot of tasty action going down in Sonoma these days. The gorgeous and historic Ledson Hotel on the Sonoma Square recently began offering Sunday brunches at its ~CENTRE DU VIN~ restaurant, with a mostly French-inspired menu of Benedicts, quiches, crêpes, and omelets. They also have a very naughty plate of biscuits and duck confit gravy that MUST NOT be missed. This is franglais at its finest, seriously one of the best brunch dishes of recent memory. The chef confessed that he eats this bad boy every Sunday before he starts service, and you should too. No, seriously. 480 1st St. E. between E. Napa and E. Spain Sts., Sonoma, 707-996-9779.

Up in Guerneville, ~BIG BOTTOM MARKET~ has added a new celebrity sandwich to their lineup for the month of January, honoring Sister Sparkle Plenty, one of the founding members of the Russian River chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. “The Exalted One,” as this month’s offering is named, combines roast beef, caramelized onions, arugula, and blue cheese spread on a brioche roll from Sebastopol’s Village Bakery. The market is also offering three healthy salad options in its deli case throughout the month of January, and a new selection of $15 wines to help people stick to their resolutions for 2012. 16228 Main St. between Armstrong Woods Rd. and Church St., Guerneville, 707-604-7295.

Now that Sheana Davis has moved ~THE EPICUREAN CONNECTION~ just a few steps off the Sonoma Square, it’s even easier to score her award-winning Delice de la Vallee and Crème de Fromage cheese (served at French Laundry and other discriminating establishments), bacon maple syrup, pinot noir verjus, Black Pig pork, Community Grains pastas and flour, and a million other awesome gourmet groceries. No food-loving individual can go in that store and not find something they want to devour. The little café in the back of the store also serves a small breakfast menu and lunch, with ample community table seating inside. 122 W. Napa St. between 1st and 2nd Sts. W., Sonoma, 707-935-7960.

The 11th annual ~FEAST OF THE OLIVE DINNER~ will take place on Saturday January 28th at Ramekins Culinary School. This year, 18 of Sonoma’s top chefs are joining forces to create a multi-course family-style dinner honoring the region’s second largest crop. The team includes chefs from such delicious establishments as the girl & the fig, ESTATE, Santé, Café La Haye, La Salette, El Dorado Kitchen, Depot Hotel Restaurant, Hot Box Grill, and many more—including Jason Rose of Ram’s Gate Winery, who came to Sonoma after stints with the Delfina and TyFlo restaurant groups. The dinner will showcase olive as the star ingredient, as well as olive oils from The Olive Press and Figone’s of California, and wines from local wineries like Imagery, Gloria Ferrer, Jacuzzi, Cline, B.R. Cohn, and Akóma Zoúme. Tickets are $150 per person, available by calling 707-996-1090 ext. 108.

According to the Kenwood Press, French Laundy alum Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger (Mike Benziger’s daughter) will be opening a new restaurant called ~THE GLEN ELLEN STAR~ this spring in the space formerly occupied by Saffron. The restaurant will feature local produce—as is now practically required in Sonoma—but in a refreshing twist will be emphasizing the wood-fired traditions of Argentina. Should be an interesting addition to the dining scene in Glen Ellen. An 8-seat counter overlooking the open kitchen, patio seating for 20, and dining room for 32 means lots of options for the lucky few who get in. 13648 Arnold Dr. at Warm Springs Rd., Glen Ellen.