This week's tablehopper: the feminine mystique.
Part of Diego Rivera’s mural at The City Club, “The Allegory of California.” Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Happy International Women’s Day! Here’s a salute to all the women who do so much to make this world a smarter, kinder, better, and more beautiful place. “Festa della Donna” is one of my favorite memories from when I lived in Italy, the streets filled with yellow mimosa, women carrying bouquets of it in their hands, and sprigs in their hair. Fortunately A16 keeps this tradition alive stateside—am so looking forward to this evening, with the room filled with guest female winemakers, a guest chef, guest cheesemaker, and happy, feasting women. If you can’t celebrate tonight, A16 will be pouring exclusively women-produced wines by the glass for the month of March. Cheers!
More female powah: This week, I was happy to attend the annual EWIP (Exceptional Women in Publishing) Women’s Leadership Conference, which celebrated its 15th year. Always exciting and inspiring. (And holding it at The City Club meant I got to enjoy a viewing of Diego Rivera’s extraordinary mural, which always makes me weak in my knees.)
Guess who was a featured guest on The Travel Channel Wednesday night? I was talking about El Farolito on a new show about late-night dining, Feed the Beast (the segment is online). No comment on the host calling our fair city “San Fran” or the show’s writers getting their super burrito history facts wrong. (Ahem.)
A few more links for you: Here’s this week’s “You Gotta Eat This” segment on KGO Radio about the Manhattan milkshake (and more) at The Corner Store.
In case you’re looking for something new and fun to do around food, consider taking one of the many culinary tours offered in the Bay Area. Here’s my piece on 7x7.com about four kinds of culinary tours you can take.
Oh, and since a bunch of folks are at SXSW (South by Southwest), here’s a link to my Austin piece on where to eat and drink. It may be a few years old, but is still full of good picks! Oh, and if anyone brings me any fluffy flour tortillas back from Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop in East Austin (an easy pit stop for breakfast tacos on the way to the airport, I highly recommend it!), I will be your slave.
Best wishes to Alice Waters and the entire Chez Panisse crew, reeling from the terribly unfortunate early morning fire that damaged the front of the beloved restaurant. Here’s to getting back on their feet soon.
Enjoy the weekend—and today’s wino and 707 scout pieces. Cheers. Marcia Gagliardi
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Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
Cabernet Fries, the Great Gatsby in Healdsburg, Best Value in Wine Country
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
Cabernet fries, beet tartare (yes, beet), and salted caramel ice cream sandwich cookies are just a few of the tasty bites on the menu at PARTAKE, Kendall-Jackson’s “untasting room,” which is opening next month in Healdsburg. A cross between wine tasting room and restaurant, Partake features an à la carte food and wine pairing menu with luxe bites and Kendall-Jackson wines. In addition to dishes such as the wine-bathed cabernet fries, chefs Justin Wangler, Robert “Buttercup” Nieto, Tracey Shepos, and Eric Frischkorn will offer local cheeses, fresh-baked bread, estate olive oil, and grapeseed products from K-J Chairman Barbara Banke’s WholeVine line. Much of Partake’s produce will be sourced from K-J’s expansive winery gardens.
“We want you to sit down and enjoy the food,” said Wangler, of the 55-seat dining area, which includes a casual lounge on one side and custom-hewn ash tree tables on the other. ”We want people to pop in and have a bite, a drink, and hang out,” he said. Slated to be open from 11am-10pm(ish), I’m especially excited about the dessert and sweet wine pairings perfect for an après-dinner nosh. On the à la carte menu: luxe bites including a salad of shaved celery root, farro, and sea salt (paired with Vintner’s Reserve sauvignon blanc); beet tartare with black sesame; and chef Buttercup’s lemon curd with shortbread and ice cream sandwich macarons. Opening details coming soon.
You don’t often find dim sum, braised beef with celery root purée, and tarte Tatin on the same menu, but somehow it all works at the SANTA ROSA JUNIOR COLLEGE CULINARY CAFÉ. The student-run kitchen and restaurant is still one of the best values in Wine Country, with dishes ranging from sunchoke soup and goat cheese-stuffed pears to homemade pizzas, duck confit with cherry sauce, and a plate of steamed pork buns and shumai. There’s also amazing fresh local produce from the college’s own Shone Farm for a fraction of the cost of what you’d pay elsewhere, starting at $4 and topping out at $11. But don’t get your heart too set on any one item. Menus are ephemeral, changing up weekly to give students a chance to practice different preparations. The bad news? The current session ends March 20th (but don’t worry, it will be open after spring break). The restaurant is frequently booked solid, so call 707-522-2796 in advance for a reservation. 1501 Mendocino Ave. at Carr Ave., Santa Rosa.
Channel Nick, Daisy, and the rest of the Great Gatsby cast of characters at MADRONA MANOR’s ’20s-style lawn party on Sunday May 5th from 2-5pm. The Healdsburg Inn’s Great Gatsby Soiree pays homage to the forthcoming movie adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel with live music, dancing, cocktails, and lawn games, in addition to a luncheon inspired by passages in the novel. Michelin-starred chef Jesse Mallgren’s menu includes crispy oysters in spiced ham, Waldorf salad, suckling pig pork pie, lobster hash with caviar, and cold fried chicken with goat milk biscuits and dark ale mayonnaise. Tickets are $65 per person for the event with special rates for overnight accommodations. 1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg. For reservations, call 800-258-4003.
Guest Wine & Spirits Writers (in vino veritas)
Checking Lists: A Critical Look at Restaurant Wine by Alan Goldfarb (Kokkari)
Alan Goldfarb was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, where it is said that assignment must be akin to covering Catholicism in Vatican City. He was also the senior editor for AppellationAmerica.com. His work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter. He’s the contributor of the chapter “Chewing on Chile” in the Travelers’ Tales book Adventures in Wine. He was also the technical editor for California Wine for Dummies.
He’s a restaurant wine consultant and advises wineries on public relations projects. (For his “Checking Lists” column, he will not promote his clients.) You can listen to his latest appearance on iWine Radio. Have a question or a comment? You can email Alan. He’d love to hear from you.
Kokkari, a Bit of Greek Wine, and You Have Erotas
It all started on December 16th, 2000. I remember it well because Alice, my S.O. (significant other, to you) must have been impressed that I had scored one of the few coveted booths at Kokkari Estiatorio. She’d been there many times B.A. (before Alan) but never, ever, had she snared one of those large booths in the spacious Greek-Cali restaurant.
That was the beginning with our love affair, both with each other and Kokkari. Every year since, on December 16th, we celebrate our S.O.-ness there. We also go there several times during the year, too, so enamored are we with this huge, comforting restaurant.
So while the Greek used-to-be empire disintegrates yet again, Kokkari (as well as Alice and Alan) have managed to keep it together. That’s because the folks who run Kokkari have come up with a formula that keeps the place flourishing and as relevant as the day it opened.
For me, being the big food lover that I am and an even bigger wine lover, Kokkari has done it for me almost every time. The place is lovely, warm and inviting, and urbane. The food is smashing—enhanced by the open pit on which meats and fish are grilled and roasted. The service is almost always keen and sharp, and the wine program is spot-on.
Not because the wine list is comprised of great world-class bottlings, such as verticals from the great Burgundy producer Domaine de la Romanée-Conti ($700 to $6,500); or the magnums of J. Mommessin, Grand Cru, Clos de Tart 2004 ($900); or the Fumé de Pouilly, Buisson Renard ‘04 ($450) from Didier Dagueneau; or the Shafer, Hillside Select, cabernet sauvignon, Stags Leap ‘06 ($1,000). Nay, it’s the Greek wines—19 in all—that attract me.
It’s a dichotomy that while Greece burns, its wines—once considered some of the greatest in the world (during Greek times, one surmises)—is making a comeback after so many millennia (too confounding to count, what with all that B.C. stuff).
With more than 200 grape varieties that are often unpronounceable by us Americans, it’s a cliché to conclude that Greek wine is much more than retsina, that Pine Sol-like liquid that’s the Grecian answer to grappa. If the Greeks had thrown retsina to the Romans and the Romans in turn heaved grappa into the mugs of the Greeks, maybe there’d have been a draw and both empires might have survived.
Most of the wines of Greece are white (about 70 percent), which includes the beautifully opulent yet balanced assyrtiko (pronounced ass-SEER-tee-ko) from Santorini and from one of Greece’s best producers, Sigalas. Served at Kokkari for $11 by the glass, the wine has so much depth and texture that it pairs wonderfully with appetizers such as the restaurant’s rich, creamy, lemony tzatziki that I love so much.
But it was the red Porto Carras, limnio, Côtes de Meliton ‘10 that was a pleasant surprise. Almost like a good Willamette Valley pinot noir, the fruitiness and balance of the limnio (the grape variety) held up and augmented the fried zucchini cakes; the extravagant baked feta with brandy; and even the grilled whole branzino, the latter of which was a serendipitously perfect foil for the red wine.
There was a misstep along the way, as our server, who was a bit obsequious at first, but who knew her food menu, was somewhat in the weeds in regards to the wine. When I told her I was interested in some of the Greek wines, she immediately pointed me toward a merlot-syrah blend, to which I quickly responded that I was interested only in native Greek varieties. When I asked her to explain the differences between the aforementioned Porto Carras and the agiorgitiko from Driopi Tselepos, she didn’t hesitate (to her credit but to my dismay) to admit she didn’t know the wines and would “check my description list.” She was back in a flash and, again in her favor, explained them perfectly and was right on about the limnio, which we ended up ordering.
Later in the evening, our server removed my S.O.’s glass even though it had some wine in it, and there still some liquid left in the bottle. I think she was embarrassed, which resulted in comped desserts. In all my years dining at Kokkari, the wine service and knowledge of the staff have been consistent. I’m guessing our young waitperson was inexperienced in the sometimes obtuse business of wine; but I’m also surmising she’ll fare better next time.
As for Alice, we shared our very first kiss at Kokkari on that night in ‘00, in the elevator going down to the restrooms. Romantic, huh? Or should I say Greekmantic? Better still, it was erotas.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Porto Carras, limnio, Côtes de Meliton 2010 ($40)
So you want a red to go with the many grilled and roasted fish at Kokkari? This is the red for you. Not too heavy; in fact, it could be taken for a robust Oregon pinot noir. From a hillside vineyard in Macedonia—one of the largest in Europe—this limnio has beautiful fresh fruit, wonderful balance, and comes in at a very reasonable 13.5 percent alcohol.