November 22, 2013

November 22, 2013
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A strawberry dessert on the menu at Napa’s Torc. Photo courtesy of Torc.

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Chef Sean O’Toole opens Torc in the former Ubuntu space in Napa. Photo courtesy of Torc.

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Chef Louis Maldonado of Spoonbar in Healdsburg will present the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Photo courtesy of Spoonbar.

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

Popular Napa chef Sean O’Toole opens the doors to ~TORC~ on Monday November 25, ending more than a year of speculation as to who would go into the former vegetarian restaurant and yoga studio Ubuntu. BiteClub is a big fan of O’Toole, who has roots in Sonoma County and has cooked at a number of high-profile Bay Area restaurants, including SF’s Cotogna and Quince and Napa Valley’s Bardessono and Hopper Creek Kitchen.

We’re especially excited to hear about his plans to showcase finds from superstar forager Connie Green (a Good Food Award nominee and author of The Wild Table) on his menu. His opening lineup includes Bengali sweet potato pakora with yogurt-truffle dip ($5), violet artichoke soup with chanterelle mushrooms, mint, and lemon ($10), jamón ibérico with grilled garlic crouton ($15), Dungeness crab salad with Buddha’s hand, satsuma mandarin, avocado, and herb ($14), housemade strozzapreti with pecorino romano, Tellicherry pepper, and dino kale ($13), Hudson Ranch heritage pork with cheddar grits, collard greens, and mustard sauce ($25), and roasted chicken for two with black spice, coconut rice, and spicy bok choy ($41). Dessert includes items like Mt. Tam cheese with piment d’Espelette marmalade and pickled chanterelles ($6), and Napa Meyer lemon tart with smoked hazelnut ganache and sable Breton ($9).

Insiders say not much has been done to the chic space since its Ubuntu days, including the open kitchen and soaring 30-foot ceilings. The former yoga studio has been converted to a private dining area.

The curious name, Torc, pays homage to O’Toole’s Celtic roots; it means “boar” in Gaelic. But to the chef, it’s an emblem of convivial feasting and hospitality. The restaurant will be open for dinner from 5:30pm-9pm nightly, with brunch service starting in January. 1140 Main St. at Pearl, Napa, 707-252-3292.

Rumors have been flying for months about Napa chef Darren McRonald taking over the now-shuttered Three Squares (formerly the much-lauded Syrah) in Santa Rosa. Until yesterday, owner Josh Silvers has been tight-lipped about the changeover, but an ABC “change of ownership” sign went up this week under the business name ~THE PULLMAN KITCHEN~. Silvers now confirms the potential owner is McRonald but says nothing has been finalized. McRonald has been a fixture in several of Napa chef Cindy Pawlcyn’s restaurants, including St. Helena’s Wood Grill and Wine Bar (formerly Brassica) and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, along with the now-shuttered West County Grill in Sebastopol and Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

There’s no moss growing under Silvers’ feet however. In addition to his other Railroad Square restaurant, Jackson’s Bar and Oven, he’ll be guest chef for a special Hanukkah dinner at Backyard Restaurant (6566 Front St., Forestville, 707-820-8445) on Wednesday December 4th. The four-course meal includes latkes, halibut quenelles (way better than gefilte fish!), matzo ball soup, brisket, farro-stuffed pumpkins, and a few more surprises. Reservations recommended. 6566 Front St., Forestville, 707-820-8445.

Pescatarians rejoice! Healdsburg’s ~SPOONBAR~ will once again celebrate the sea with the Feast of the Seven Fishes from Wednesday December 18th through Christmas Eve. This traditional Italian-American holiday, usually observed on the 24th, features seafood dishes on the Catholic holy night (when meat is verboten). Chef Louis Maldonado is taking this often-humble celebration to the next level by flying in fresh fish from Japan’s famed Tsukiji market.

Among the, ahem, fintastic dishes being served: oyster panna cotta with trout roe, sea urchin tartlets, abalone roasted in seaweed butter, cold-smoked yellowfin tuna, big-fin squid salad, roasted crab bouillon, hamachi collar, clam fritters, and, of course, plenty of clams.

Each of the dinners (which can include special wine pairings) is $75 and reservations are required. 219 Healdsburg Ave. at Mill, Healdsburg, 707-433-7222.

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Karen MacNeil. Photo from Facebook.

On Saturday November 30th and Friday December 13th, head up to the ~CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA’S WINE ANNEX~ in Napa for an afternoon or evening of wine education with Karen MacNeil. The first class is called What Makes Great Wine Great and covers characteristics that all great wines possess, regardless of their provenance. The class runs from 3:30pm-5pm and costs $50 per person. Then, in December, catch Eight Critical Tasting Experiences That Will Make You a Better Taster, where you’ll learn techniques to help you improve your ability to taste. The class is from 5:30pm-7pm and costs $50 per person. 500 1st St. at Juarez, Napa.