The restored 1954 Gaggia lever machine at Iron & Steam Espresso Bar. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Greetings from Lake Tahoe, which is offering plenty to watch: from a crazy downpour and thunderstorms when I arrived yesterday to the always-charming chipmunk TV. Oh yes, and entertainment from my parents’ cats (Merna and Sophie), who also get to enjoy our summer cabin—although they are not digging on the hailstorms. I have been coming to this cabin since I was two, so it’s aways a special feeling to pull into the driveway, the one I remember riding my Big Wheel into, and then my Schwinn, and many happy years later in the Alfa Romeo (gawd, I miss her in the summer), and now, the feisty Fiat (meep meep). Looking forward to a weekend of kicking it with the fam here, one of my most cherished summer rituals.
Today I have a very overdue review of Hard Water (man, I am so behind in my writeups, it makes me kuh-razy), plus Heather Irwin styled us with some 707 news too. Oh, and we announced the winners of the West of the West Wine Festival ticket giveaway, so if you didn’t get an email from us (me lo siento!) maybe you should think about getting a ticket about now…
A few more items for you: on 7x7.com this week, I did a round-up of five recent cafés to open in the city—I had to go over and see the gleaming Iron & Steam Espresso Bar lever machine for myself (a 1954 beauty by Gaggia, and during its loving restoration, its owner Olyver even tricked it out with special lights that change color and blink, hello!).
And since you’d probably like a little dessert, I wrote up a deeeelicious coconut-tapioca number at Hakkasan in my weekly Tablehopping column for the Guardian, check it!
Have a beaut of a weekend—I’m planning on the same. Cheers. Marcia Gagliardi
Don’t miss the third annual West of West Wine Festival showcase of acclaimed West Sonoma County and Sonoma Coast wines at this weekend-long event at The Barlow, a brand-new food and wine mecca in Sebastopol.
Forty top producers and growers will host the trade and public to a two-day event of wine tasting, seminars, and award-winning cuisine Friday August 2nd-Sunday August 4th, 2013. Here are some of the great wineries that will be participating: Freeman, Red Car, Failla, Peay, Littorai, Gros Ventre, Hirsch, Martinelli, and Patz & Hall.
The West of West (or WOW) Festival is an unparalleled opportunity to experience the extraordinary wine, food, and culture of West Sonoma. The Grand Tasting on Saturday August 3rd is sold out, but tickets remain for Sunday August 4th, offering a stellar lineup of more than 40 producers and growers pouring some of their most coveted and hard-to-find gems, all pure expressions of the West Sonoma County and Sonoma Coast. Both wine lovers and the wine trade can experience an insider taste of some of the most acclaimed cool-climate pinot noir, chardonnay, and syrah wines produced today. There is also a seminar series and vineyard tour over the weekend; get your tickets here!
The first time I walked into HARD WATER, I was like, wait, that’s it? It’s not a large space by any means, but it packs a big wallop, in the form of its absolutely insane whiskey collection. There’s a back wall, lit from behind, that illuminates bottle after glimmering bottle of some of the finest whiskeys you could ever hope to splash down your gullet. Whether you just have $5 for one ounce of Smooth Ambler “Old Scout” seven-year rye, or $100 for a two-ounce pour of out-of-production Hirsch Select 25-year rye, you are way covered. Flights, yeah, they got that. This is what happens when bar beastmaster Erik Adkins releases what he’s been bunkering for the past 10 years. (You can read more about the whiskey program here.)
The cocktails are charmingly priced at $11, and I recommend starting with the Manhattan-like Cocktail à la Louisiane, made with Rittenhouse 100 rye, Carpano Antica, Benedictine, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters. The crisp bartenders in their ties also make a mean mint julep, and you should peek at the Bourbon Lift for a liquid dessert—it’s a solid match for the banana-butterscotch fried pies ($8) that taste like bananas Foster inside (although the banana notes of the Lion’s Pride four-grain whiskey make for an notable pairing too). The staff is so good at recommendations for what to drink—I have been impressed at their depth of knowledge.
But Hard Water is not just a whiskey bar. Far from it. Chef de cuisine Melissa Perfit [UPDATE: she has since departed] is doing a bang-up job in the kitchen, with an updated Southern menu that is quite smart: whether you want to put the hurt on yourself or just snack, you have options, baby. There are selections from the raw bar, or go the decadent path with a half dozen of the baked oysters ($22), which are the color of mahogany. Try all three kinds; everyone I know has a different favorite. Perfit did some kitchen duty at Hog Island and Bar Crudo—you’ll note the seafood here is tops.
You gotta try the ingenious (and golden) milk-braised celery hearts ($12) fried in panko (be sure to give ‘em a couple shakes of the spicy vinegar on the counter to make things pop), and a bowl of the meaty pork belly cracklins ($8) are built for bourbon sippin’.
I would order the fried chicken ($20). Every. Single. Time. Fried in rice flour, the exterior is ethereally light, crisp, and well seasoned, and it’s damn juicy too. And gluten-free! Three pieces of piping hot Mary’s chicken for $20, whatcha waiting for? On a misty SF night, the silky, creamy, herbaceous braised rabbit ($22) should be strongly considered, while the perfectly cooked wild Gulf flounder ($24) is a hearty (and spice-sparked) plate. Perfit rocks Southern classics too: seafood gumbo ($24), dirty rice ($8), and big leaves of collards ($8), all so good.
Give me a horseshoe bar and I am happy, and the marble one here under the big, barnacled, buoy light is alluring, although I wish the dang wood seats hurt my heinie a little less. (I’m not tall enough to sit comfortably on them.) There are some other seats at high-top tables, but try to avoid the ones near the door if you can—you’ll be buffeted with wind every time the door opens. (Just keep drinking bourbon.)
Hard Water has an upbeat vibe (with LCD Soundsystem and Led Zep and Miike Snow playing), and is equally appealing during the day for lunch (it looks great in the light), after work, or in the evening. Charles Phan, Olle Lundberg, Erik Adkins, and their talented team have created a cool addition to the waterfront—stylistically, it feels like a good fit. It’s just the menu that poses the significant challenge of how you’re going to fit everything in your belly.
Update: chef de cuisine Melissa Perfit has left.
Hard Water - Pier 3, The Embarcadero, San Francisco - 415-392-3021
Lobster corn dogs. Fried avocados. The Krispy Kreme hamburger. The annual Sonoma County Fair has become a pilgrimage for culinary adventurers who can’t wait to challenge their palates (and gullets) with the good, the not so good, and the calorically questionable concoctions that grace the midways each year.
Sure, there are the tried-and-true standbys: planked salmon at Johnny Garlic’s, comforting polenta at the Pasta King’s Spaghetti Palace, pozole at Old Mexico, and of course, Pronto Pups, Willie Bird turkey legs, and Pennsylvania Dutch funnel cakes.
But are you adventurous enough to tackle a bacon cheeseburger nestled between two halves of a glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut? Longtime fair concessionaire Phil Delahoyde says this heart-stopping marriage of beef and yeasty goodness has long been a favorite at East Coast fairs, where Krispy Kreme doughnuts are a familiar sight. Inspired, his family has introduced it to Sonoma County at Stuffie’s Char-Broiler (on Magnolia) to moans of delight—or horror, depending on your nutritional perspective.
Pace yourself for Delahoyde’s other devilish creations, including the Lobster Dog (lobster salad dipped in corn dog batter and slathered with lemon aioli), the Frilly Chips (a foot-high pile of curly fried potato chips), and the fried avocado (an acquired taste) at Sharky’s Fish Fry (Shade Park).
But wait, there’s more. Just a day into the fair, Delahoyde said he’s still working on a few ideas, including a chocolate-dipped banana wrapped in bacon that is yet to debut. And the much-anticipated hot dog sundae advertised in fair flyers? It’s a no-go this year, but you can find it at Don Delahoyde’s (that would be Phil’s dad) concession stand at the Sacramento Fair. “Maybe I’ll do it next year,” said Phil.
Here are a few more new bites to search out at this year’s fair, which will be at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds until August 11th…
- Bacon Macaroni and Cheese (Sliders Gastro Pub & Sports Bar): A hefty plate of penne pasta doused in white cheddar sauce, topped with bacon, potato chips, and green beans. My favorite dish of the year, by far.
- Lagunitas Imperial Stout Brownie (Sliders Gastro Pub & Sports Bar): One of three brewery-inspired desserts, this one has fudgy cream cheese icing, berries, and whipped cream.
- Make a Stand Lemonade (Grace Pavilion): More than a tasty bottle of lemonade spiked with yerba maté and ginger, Make a Stand “Kick” lemonade helps raise awareness about child slavery. Read about nine-year-old North Bay student Vivienne Harr’s journey to raise more than $100,000 to help enslaved children at Makeastand.com.
- Tostilocos (Pepe’s Aguas Frescas near the Community Theater): Chips with cucumber, peanuts, pork skins, jicama, and bacon. Need something without the guilt? The stand also sells heaping fresh fruit cups you can top with lemon juice and chile salt.
- Garlic Corn Dogs (Garlicky’s, Shade Park): Corn dogs, but with way more garlic.
Planning to go? The fairgrounds are at 1350 Bennett Valley Road (the fairground exit of eastbound Hwy 12), open Tue-Sun from 11am-11pm through August 11th. Directions online.
Forestville’s FARMHOUSE INN has been ranked one of the top 50 hotels in the world (and number 3 in the United States) by the readers of Travel + Leisure. Among the distinctions: Giving visitors an “insider” experience of Sonoma’s Wine Country with six concierges, a top-ranked restaurant, an in-house sommelier, and a spa. BiteClub heartily concurs.
In Napa news, former Angèle chef, Scott Ekstrom has been tapped to head the kitchens of nearby FISH STORY, part of the Lark Creek Restaurant group.