January 9, 2015

January 9, 2015
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Fists of Foie Fury: Chef Doug Richey shows his foie gras pride. A new ruling makes foie gras legal to sell in California again. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Fork Roadhouse’s cozy and charming interior. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Quinoa, goat cheese, watermelon radish, and greens at Fork Roadhouse in Sebastopol. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Ritual Coffee Roasters pour-overs at Brew. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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

Foie gras has returned to California restaurants after a surprise ruling on Wednesday that overturned the 2012 ban against its sale. At least in theory.

In the 48 hours since a federal judge nixed the state statute that banned the production and sale of the fatty duck liver, Bay Area chefs have been scrambling to put foie back on their menus, since it’s almost impossible to procure.

“I’m going to try to get it on my menu as soon as I can, but we probably won’t be able to get it until next week,” said Brian Anderson, owner of Santa Rosa’s ~BISTRO 29~. Like others in the restaurant industry, he was taken by surprise when news of the ruling hit on Wednesday. “My wife texted me. I had no idea,” he said.

“No one knew this was coming down,” said Doug Keane, the former chef at Cyrus and a vocal foie gras proponent. While briefing other chefs who were trying to understand the impact of the ruling on Wednesday, Keane said he offered up the three lobes he had tucked away in his freezer.

For others, however, it’s still a mad rush to get foie gras. “I’ve called everywhere, and we’re having a really hard time getting it,” said Daniel Kedan of Forestville’s Backyard. He’s phoned a number of former Bay Area suppliers and even called down to Los Angeles to see if anything is available. “It will make an appearance on our menu—eventually,” he said.

Keane and Ken Frank, chef of Napa’s ~LA TOQUE~, who hosted a 10-course foie gras luncheon last July, acknowledged that for hard-core fans, foie gras never really went away. It just went underground, with restaurants offering the dish without charge.

“We never took it off the menu,” said Jesse Mallgren, chef at Healdsburg’s Michelin-starred ~MADRONA MANOR~, who recently served up the dish on a tasting menu, offering it as a “gift from the chef.” “I gave a lot of ‘gifts’ the last two years,” Mallgren said.

Chef Miriam Donaldson of ~WISHBONE~ in Petaluma also served the dish as a “special” from time to time, procuring it from sources that she, like most chefs, has kept under wraps.

There are only three American producers of foie gras. Sonoma Foie Gras, which has since relocated outside of California, was at the heart of the state’s debate about the practice of force-feeding ducks to create the enlarged livers so prized by diners. The other two producers are Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle Farm, both in New York state. Animal rights activists contend that the practice of force-feeding ducks is torture, while supporters and chefs who serve the delicacy argue the practice as carried out by Sonoma Foie Gras was not harmful to the animals. Activists and state attorneys are considering appeals.

In the meantime, other Sonoma County restaurants planning to put foie gras back on the menu include: — Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa, where owner Terri Stark hopes to have the once-popular foie gras “poppers” make a return to the menu next week. — Farmhouse Inn in Forestville. “Of course we’re putting it on the menu,” said Steve Litke, the executive chef. “A lot of our customers really miss it.” — Chalkboard in Healdsburg, where chef Shane McAnelly plans to have it on the menu next week. — Thistle Meats in Petaluma has incorporated duck livers into its pâté and terrine since opening last year, using livers (foie) from ducks that have not been force-fed rather than foie gras (fatty duck liver). Owner Molly Best said her staff of butchers is excited to bring foie gras to their terrines. But you probably won’t see duck livers in the meat case unless there is a retail demand for the lobes, Best said.

Fork Roadhouse Opens: It looks like 2015 will be a pretty tasty year, with ~FORK ROADHOUSE~ leading the charge. Chef Sarah Piccolo has rehabbed the roadhouse at 9890 Bodega Highway, turning it into a homey little noshery that’s open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. We’ve been a fan of Sarah’s food truck for years, and most recently at her interim kitchen/café on South Main Street in Sebastopol. With about a dozen tables and a wood bar running the length of the space, there’s more room to spread out.

The menu includes a polenta bowl filled with goat cheese, kale, and a poached egg; a pork belly taco; a grass-fed burger with tomato jam; and orange- and ginger-stewed prunes with Greek yogurt, honey, granola, and bee pollen. There are also a number of vegetarian options, and everything is made with local, seasonal ingredients—and a whole lot of love. BiteClub is especially excited to check out the back patio when the weather warms, with creekside dining and a toasty fire pit. Thu-Sun 9am-3pm. 9890 Bodega Hwy, Sebastopol.

Where to grabba cuppa: A few weeks ago, I did a construction report on ~ BREW~, the new coffee and beer joint on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. With a soft opening this week, BiteClub’s a little in love—okay, maybe a lot. The former Donut Hut has been transformed into a warm and charming hangout that the neighborhood has already taken to. There’s a cozy couch in the corner, a case full of incredible pastries, burritos, and quiche from Criminal Baking Co., along with items from Grateful Bagel and Village Bakery. To drink, there are Ritual Roasters pour-over and espresso drinks. The taps are coming in this week, so hold tight for beer. Meanwhile, enjoy a little morning sunshine at my new favorite spot. 555 Healdsburg Ave., Santa Rosa.

Best Sonoma County restaurant openings of 2014: Want to know my picks for the best restaurant openings of last year? Check them out here.