One of my favorite drinks of all time: the Cherry Bounce at Comstock Saloon. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Oh yeah, our city is getting one hell of a bath right now. Loving. In case you’d like a little something to warm you up, I just posted this piece on 7x7.com on locally made hot sauces (collect all five!). Here’s the previous post on kimchee and sriracha, in case you missed it. I am so pleased with my current stash o’ hot stuff now—I could practically open a store over here at Hopper HQ.
Last night I hit up a couple of parties, starting with a preview of Charles Phan’s The Coachman, opening Monday (wait until you try their prime rib—they cook it in salt for eight hours, and the horseradish cream has a fun Vietnamese ingredient in it). I also headed to Kitchit headquarters for a party hosted by Williams-Sonoma to launch their new Open Kitchen line of affordable kitchenware and tools. Llano Seco suckling pig three different ways by Nick Rappoport (previously a sous at Outerlands), mmmhmmm, that was a tasty party.
Today’s column includes a jetsetter post on Napa—for those of you looking for a quick getaway, here you go! I’ll be posting a couple more Wine Country overnight trips in coming weeks, stand by. We also have a bunch of Wine Country news for you from Heather Irwin in the 707 Scout. Lastly, Collin Casey has a wino for us on wine importers Cory Cartwright and Guilhaume Gerard of Selection Massale. Cheers!
I’ll be on KRON4 tomorrow at 9:15am with my tablehopper hot list segment on some of my favorite local sandwiches. The timing is perfect, because you can go out and grab one for lunch after you see me talking about them and making you hangry.
Have fun watching the Oscars on Sunday, and in case you don’t want to drive or ride in the rain this weekend, here’s a discount link from this month’s sponsor, Flywheel, offering tablehopper readers $10 off your first ride. Check it out! Be safe.
See you on Tuesday. Marcia Gagliardi
A version of this piece previously ran in my Tablehopping column in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
Sometimes you just need to get out of town, and look at that, we have Wine Country right in our backyard. Winter and early spring are an ideal time to visit: there are fewer crowds and better room rates, and it’s easier to make reservations. So let’s hit the road.
When exactly was the last time you stayed in downtown Napa? Exactly. Things are a-changin’. Check in to the ANDAZ NAPA, which has an ideal central location, and while it’s a bit on the larger side, the hotel is aiming for boutique style. Go for one of the loft or terrace rooms if the price is right, and ask for a room that faces the back, not First Street (it’ll be quieter). Plan on getting some sleep, because the beds are a pillowy dream. When warm summer temperatures are back, the terrace (complete with fire pits!) will be open for drinks and hanging out.
Book a reservation for dinner at the recently opened TORC in the former Ubuntu. The handsome, spacious dining room contains 90 seats, with 17 at the bar. I recommend you start with a glass of the Charles de Cazanove Champagne ($16); the Euro-centric wine list is gonna make you thirsty.
Chef-owner Sean O’Toole (Quince, Cotogna, Bardessono) is one hell of a cook: his menu spans both the inventive and the traditional, ranging from Bengali sweet potato pakoras ($5) with yogurt-truffle dip to an elegant violet artichoke soup ($10). He is definitely rocking an international pantry. The Asian-inspired free-range chicken for two ($41) is a standout (it’s made with a vibrant farce of brioche, cardamom, cumin, clove, Tellicherry, star anise, cubeb pepper, allspice, pork fat, and butter), and it comes with creamy coconut rice. There are also some housemade pastas ($14-$19) you should strongly consider (remember, he has that Quince pedigree). One night we had the wild boar bolognese with bucatini—it was like an Italian molé, with cocoa and orange, and a hit of lime.
Dessert is truly a must. The pastry chef, Elizabeth Gentry, is so very talented; try the citrus-praline tart with lemon curd, caramelized hazelnut sablé, and smoked praline ganache (plus kumquat salt!), while chocolate lovers should get the Manjari chocolate bombe, rich with jasmine (both $9).
If you desire a nightcap, you can head to MORIMOTO for what is usually a lively scene in the lounge and bar, or enjoy a digestivo or grappa (my pick!) at the small bar inside OENOTRI, conveniently within stumbling distance of the Andaz.
The next day, if you’re a biscuit lover, you’ll want to hit up the popular NAPA VALLEY BISCUITS, a Southern diner serving biscuit-y breakfasts that will hold you until dinner (and help soak up any extended wine tastings later in the day). There’s also fried chicken and waffles, or you can go for the Yardbird: fried chicken, bacon, and gravy sandwiched inside a biscuit. Uh-huh.
Another option is to visit the OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET. Start the day at the Ritual Coffee stand, and then take a seat at CA’ MOMI, an enoteca featuring dishes from all over Italy (owners Dario De Conti, Valentina Guolo-Migotto, and Stefano Migotto take the authenticity of their dishes very seriously).
Order the Ca’ Momi Ca’ Rosa Frizzante to go with the flatbread with lardo di Colonnata, a rare treat. In fact, they’ll do all kinds of great wine pairings here, or you can go for a Venetian spritz or an Italian beer (like Baladin!). Piadine (Rimini-style flatbread sandwiches) also rule, especially the Giorgio ($12) with radicchio, prosciutto cotto, and creamy stracchino cheese filling.
Ca’ Momi’s blazing pizza oven cranks out about 20 kinds of pizza, from a classic (and VPN-certified) margherita ($16) to the Momi, with porchetta, taleggio, and caramelized onion ($17). If the carbonara with egg and pancetta isn’t a perfect brunch pizza, I don’t know what is. Plus there are nine kinds of vegetarian pies for those on a healthier tip. All ingredients are organic, and some even come from Ca’ Momi’s own garden for the restaurant.
If you’re in a lunchy mood, the pastas rock, like a northern Italian dish of spatzle allo speck with cream ($16), or the Roman rigatoni ($22) con coda alla vaccinara (with oxtail, pine nuts, and soffritto). Who can say no to gnudi ($16)? I usually can’t. For dessert, get the bigné—cream puffs with a variety of fillings.
THE THOMAS AT FAGIANI’S has a tasty, casual brunch—think corn pancakes, good egg dishes, and a quality Bloody Mary—and if the weather is nice, the rooftop terrace is where you want to be. When tomato season is back, the BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato sandwich) is tops.
From there? Check out wine tasting rooms like Vintner’s Collective, 1313 Main, and Carpe Diem. The Culinary Institute of America is offering new Napa wine education classes at the CIA Wine Studies Annex in the former Copia, listed here. Oh yeah, and there are always the Napa Premium Outlets if you’re in a shopping frame of mind. (Dangerous after wine tasting, btw.)
For more Napa tips, check out my previous piece here.
On Sunday March 2nd, award-winning chefs Justin Everett (Murray Circle) and Brandon Sharp (Solbar at Solage, Calistoga) will host a dinner at MURRAY CIRCLE restaurant at Cavallo Point Lodge. The six-course meal benefits the Conscious Kitchen Food Program—the first local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable food program in the Sausalito Marin City School District. Its goals are to ensure children have access to nourishing food as part of a nationwide strategy to promote healthy lifestyle choices and reduce obesity, diabetes, and weakened immune systems in underserved communities.
The dinner includes a canapé reception, with an exclusive opportunity to see the chefs in action in the cooking school kitchen, along with a six-course dinner with wine pairings. The event begins at 6pm, and the cost is $150 plus tax. Guests may purchase tickets online or call 877-322-0731.
New Rosso Rosticceria: it’s a threepeat for Sonoma’s award-winning ROSSO PIZZERIA crew. Co-owners Kevin Cronin and chef John Franchetti are planning a new Italian-style rosticceria for this spring. The forthcoming eatery will be open for breakfast, lunch, and happy hour, featuring house-baked pastries, breads, Roman pizzas, sliced meats, oysters, porchetta, espresso, and a variety of sandwiches and appetizers. “It’s slow food fast,” said Cronin, who was inspired by the famous Peck deli in Milan and childhood memories of San Francisco’s Liguria Bakery. Final details are still in the works, but expect a super-casual walk-up bar, a small but well-curated wine and beer list (and lemonade bar), and a lively patio for after-work gatherings. So far, no dinner service is expected. The space will be shared with Rosso’s expanding catering business. 1229 N Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa.
I’ve been hearing all sorts of great things about new breakfast/brunch/lunch spot TOPSY’S KITCHEN in Petaluma. With a focus on Southern comfort food, making a beeline to P-Town became a hot priority. The former Punjabi Burrito on Kentucky Street has been completely remodeled, with a warm whitewashed interior, crisp tablecloths, and an eye-catching window into the kitchen. Fresh pies sit temptingly in a nearby case, and the menu is, well, stellar. Breakfast is a well-curated mix of sweet and savory that includes beignets with jam ($5), buttermilk berry pancakes ($6), and healthier fare such as organic quinoa with seasonal veggies ($7.50).
Lunch includes their journey-worthy buttermilk fried chicken sandwich ($11), along with shrimp and grits ($14) and a grass-fed burger ($12.50). Also watch for daily specials of gumbo and brisket. The only misstep was the much-anticipated sweet potato biscuit, which was hard and cold, though honey butter improved things. I also missed out on the bacon in my cheesy grits, but hey, no one’s perfect. Two can’t-miss items: Lucy’s chicken-fried deviled eggs (yup, deviled eggs smashed back together, dipped in batter, and fried, $9.50) and streusel-topped caramel apple pie (drenched in salted caramel, $6) that can feed two with a hearty chunk left over for a midnight snack. 131 Kentucky St., Petaluma, 707-773-4743.
I’m in love with avgolemono. I mean really in love. The Greek version of Jewish chicken soup, it’s a hearty, soul-nourishing stew of rice, lemon juice, and shredded chicken fortified with beaten eggs. On a cold, rainy day at Sarah Piccolo’s tiny FORK CAFE, you’ll be convinced its truly heaven-sent. As owner of Fork Catering, one of Sonoma County’s most-loved food trucks, Piccolo has honed the art of simple, nourishing dishes that never fail to hit the spot. And now, you can find them Monday through Friday from 8am-3pm in her Sebastopol catering kitchen/cafe.
We’re loving the healthy yet decadent menu that changes up frequently, but includes savory bowls of polenta, goat cheese, and greens; quinoa with braised greens, tamari pumpkin seeds, and a poached egg; a Greek yogurt bowl with orange and ginger stewed prunes; and housemade granola. Lunch gets even better with blue plate specials (griddled naan bread with coconut curry lentils, raita, and Liberty duck confit) and grilled panini with Clover cheese, roasted sweet pepper puree, and caramelized onions. Then there’s the soup, which also changes, but includes vegetarian options like ginger-carrot as well as swoon-worthy tortilla and the avgolemono I’m considering starting a serious relationship with. 330 South Main St., Sebastopol, 707-861-3081.
As Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa continues its reinvention, three significant restaurants are slated to open this spring and summer: JACK’S URBAN EATS, CODDINGTOWN GRILL, and SEA NOODLE GRILL. The first to open will be SEA Noodle Grill, from the owners of SEA Thai Bistro (with locations in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Corte Madera). The restaurant is slated for an April opening in the former Fresh China location after an overhaul of the interior. Jack’s Urban Eats, a Sacramento-based fast-casual chain, is slated for May. The popular salad, sandwich, and “carved meats” restaurant has nine other locations mostly in the Sacramento/Davis/Roseville area. Coddingtown Grill will also be opening this year (likely in late summer). Details are still vague, but the restaurant owner is currently developing a similar grill concept at Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton (also a Simon Mall) that will open this spring.
Mike’s at Petaluma: Sonoma County’s favorite burger spot, MIKE’S AT THE CROSSROADS, will open a new location in Petaluma this spring. The current Cotati restaurant will remain open. Hiring is in progress, and it looks like the new burgery will be on Petaluma Blvd. North.
The corner of Mendocino and Seventh Street in Santa Rosa is about to become home to two Latin-inspired restaurants, featuring the cuisines of Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil. Opening in the former Franco’s (previously Acapulco) is BRASA CHURRASCARIA AND BREWPUB. Details on the restaurant are still a bit sketchy, but BiteClub caught the new restaurateurs this week outside the space. They described the food as “churrasco,” or traditional Brazilian grilled meats served on skewers. Think barbecued beef, pork, chicken, or fish cooked and served on long swords—dinner and a show. The restaurant is being backed by local attorney Henry Huang.
Taking over the former Seven/Vine bar and nightclub is OLE. Opening chefs include Jose Luis Nunez (Auberge, Solage) and AJ Lockwood (Safari West, Frank & Ernie’s), who are featuring a mix of Latin dishes that include Puerto Rican mofongo (green plantains with chicharrones), Cubano sandwiches, and pollo al horno (chicken with oregano and garlic), as well as Mexican staples such as red snapper ceviche, carnitas, and cochinita pibil (a BiteClub fave that includes pork, achiote, and pickled red onions). Owners Yanet Ramirez, Patricia Rodriguez, and Levi Rodriguez hope to add additional dishes that include influences from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean cuisines. What we’re especially excited about: cocktail king John Burton (owner of the Santa Rosa Bartender School and bar consultant) has crafted a spirits menu that includes caipirinhas, pisco sours, piña coladas, micheladas, and upscale margaritas. Both restaurants are expected to open this spring.
Curious about the whole Rancho slaughterhouse situation? Here’s a look at what the closure could mean to small artisan meat producers in Sonoma County.
Collin-Peter Casey has worked in the wine business for 16 years. The last 10 years, he has worked as a sommelier. He has worked for many of the Bay Area’s best restaurants and currently resides at Namu Gaji in the Mission. This column is CPC’s opportunity to say nice things about winemakers, sommeliers, wine directors, and importers who get the admiration of the (jaded) professional wine community. Full disclosure: Collin sells wine part-time for a wholesaler/importer. Anytime he mentions a client of his or a wine he sells, he will mention it.
Who: Cory Cartwright and Guilhaume Gerard
What they do: Co-owners of Selection Massale, a wine import and wholesale company based in the Bay Area and New York City.
Where they learned their craft: Guilhaume hails from France, where he began his wine path the way most do: by spraying graffiti and eating plenty of McDonald’s. In 2005, having serendipitously tried a 2002 Foillard Morgon “Cote du Py,” 2004 Peyra “Les Roches,” and Gramenon “Poignee de Raisin,” he discovered a love for what he describes as “drinkable wines.” The timing of his wine revelation could not have been better, since his graffiti habit had left him with the choice of leaving France or going to jail. He came to San Francisco and landed a job at Chez Spencer, where he worked a few years as a server, and further developed his appreciation and knowledge of wine.
It was through Chez Spencer that he met his future business partners, Luc Ertoran and Dagan Ministero, with whom he opened Terroir Natural Wine Merchant, which at the time of its opening was probably the only wine bar/retailer of its kind in the U.S. Terroir became the hub of this (weird) community of so-called natural wine aficionados. It was likely the first business in the U.S. to wholeheartedly bite on the whole “natural wine” thing as the phenomenon unraveled. Some argue that Terroir even gave the natural wine phenomenon its crucial push toward the national stage. What is not up for debate is that when Guilhaume, Luc, and Dagan opened Terroir, the conversation about natural wines became quite a lot louder. It was after some years at Terroir that he left to begin Selection Massale with Cory.
Cory’s story is no less interesting. He was making a killing as a video game designer, and was getting more and more into wine. Following an epiphany brought on by some Domaine de Belliviere “Rouge Gorge” (Pineau d’Aunis) came his decision to begin blogging about wine. His blog was called “Saignee” and it was easily one of the most heavily read wine blogs of its time. A look to the comment section would regularly yield the names of virtually everyone who was involved in the world of natural wine, from the wine writers to the growers to the importers to those selling them in retail and/or restaurant settings. It was an influential blog for hundreds, if not thousands of wine professionals. Following the success of the blog, Cory sought to ditch video games to work in the wine business, and having been what Guilhaume describes as his “best customer” at Terroir, he easily landed a gig pouring wine there. It was at Terroir that he and Guilhaume hatched their plan to import wines together.
Why I like them: When you’re buying wine professionally, something to be mindful of is that you generally want to buy as large a quantity of wine per wholesaler/importer as possible. In California, wine can be discounted based on quantity purchased, so buying in big drops is the best way to pass on real value to your guests. Moreover, those positive relationships yield allocations of the more rarefied stuff in your wholesalers’ respective portfolios, which can mean a ton for your restaurant or retailer.
It is not every importer/wholesaler from whom I find myself willing to purchase multiple wines for my lists, but Selection Massale is one. I don’t like all their wines, but I understand every wine in their portfolio. They aren’t buying wines that they do not want to drink. And that is bold as hell, considering that they’ve got bills to pay.
Something else that matters to me is that these guys make no secret of their opinions. The internet gives everyone an opportunity to make their perspective known, but the nature of these forums is such that most people seem to hang back and wait until someone they respect has registered an opinion to register their own. Fascinatingly, the thoughts of the many tend to be recycled from the few. Not so with Cory and Guilhaume. Even if they’re wrong, they care enough about what they do to register an opinion and draw whatever ire comes to them. They belong in the ongoing conversation about wine more than most, if you’re asking me.
What to buy from them: In addition to operating a wholesale business, Selection Massale offers their wines consumer-direct, via their newsletter. Wines to look for include, but are not limited to, the wines of Belluard and Dupasquier in Savoie and the brilliant Chablis of Lilian Duplessis. Literally buy any of the wines of these houses. They are great, and all of them are available through their website.