Napa and Sonoma, Hand-Crafted
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it a hundred times: charcuterie is taking US kitchens by storm. There is perhaps no other region where this is more apparent than in Napa and Sonoma —particularly Sonoma. Restaurant menus in this wine-prolific region of the country are littered with terms like artisan, hand-crafted, and house-made. If it isn’t cured sausages or bacon, it’s pasta or cheese that’s being carefully crafted in the hands of these west coast chefs.
Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria takes their pizza and salumi skills pretty seriously. Chef Dino Bugica cures all of his own meats in house and built the menu at Diavola around his cured pig passion. Chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes of Bovolo and Zazu make all their own salumi—in fact, Stewart has dropped the title “Chef” for “Salumist” and the two have started their own line of cured meats under the brand Black Pig Meat Co. A sampler plate of fennel salumi, finocchiona, a hot and spicy picante, and country terrine took center stage at our tasting; we’ll be featuring Stewart’s house-cured bacon in an upcoming feature, too.
For now, check out our second installment of The Art and Economics of Charcuterie, Part 2 with Sonoma chef John Toulze of the girl and the fig restaurant and catering, the fig café, and Estate.
Chef Jude Wilmoth has one of the most consistently jam-packed restaurants in the region at his restaurant Cook in St. Helena. Wilmoth not only makes his own fettuccine, gnocchi, and tagliatelle, but also mozzarella and ricotta. This attention to detail pays off with the richness and purity of flavor that was practically jumping off of every plate we were served.
It goes without saying that we encountered a number of young and talented sommeliers in the last three trips out west as well. Given the region and its reputation for producing world class wines, you can only expect to be served top notch Napa and Sonoma wines, but that doesn’t mean those were the only pairings worth noting.
Sommelier Jim Rollston of Cyrus in Healdsburg went far outside the boundaries of the Sonoma AVA with his Kasumi Tsuru Yamahai Ginjo sake pairing with chef Douglas Keane’s Silken Tofu with Kombu, Scallions, and Yuzu. The pairing bordered on phenomenal for its ability to work with each component of the dish, as well as with the whole.
Bringing it back to the region, sommelier Gillian Ballance of Farm at The Carneros Inn (Napa) went as local as she could get when she paired a 2006 Patz and Hall Chardonnay with chef Christophe Gerard’s Pan-Seared Day Boat Scallop with Pixie Tangerine, Celery Root Puree, and Meyer Lemon-Brown Butter (the winery is literally next door to the restaurant property). Ballance went for complementary pairings with the matching citrus notes and vanilla/oak notes in the wine and the tangerine and Meyer lemon and brown butter in the dish; the end result was a mouth-watering citrus extravaganza.
We experienced another great local Chardonnay at Bouchon in Yountville with sommelier Kassidy Harris. Harris described the 2006 Kongsgaard Chardonnay (which she served with chef Philip Tessier’s Crispy Skin Fillet of Royal Daurade with Manila Clams, New Crop Potatoes, Chorizo, Spring Onions, and Spring Garlic) as a strong but elegant woman that could walk the line between being powerful and “light on her feet.” We couldn’t agree more.
Italy-by-way-of-Napa-Valley also got some attention at our tasting with sommelier Rom Toulon and chef Christopher Kostow of Meadowood. Toulon paired an Italian-style Ribolla Gialla by Vare winery with Steamed Fluke with Carrot Top Crust, Heirloom Carrots, and Ginger (see our Technique feature on this dish!). This gifted French-born sommelier went with the wine’s mineral and vegetal components to match the dish’s intense carrot and spicy chili flavors; the end result was refreshing and cooling.
We also had the opportunity to meet with one of Russian River Valley’s top vintners, Alex Davis of Porter Creek Vineyards, who has made a name for himself and his wines by bucking the bigger-is-better trend in regional wines—what he calls Robert Parker-style wines—and making Old World-style wines meant to pair with food. Read our interview with Davis here.
In other features, we continue trying to keep our finger on the pulse of the economy and what that means for chefs and restaurants. After meeting with and talking to dozens of chefs around the country and the world, we’ve picked up a few essential tips that have been helping to keep many restaurants afloat. Take a look at our 10 Ways to Beat the Recession and Stay in Business feature to get ideas for how to stay in the black and weather the storm.
Take a quick peek at five Japanese ingredients that we think you should check out to keep your dishes ahead of the curve: read about the mild Japanese fish sauce, ayu, that won’t send your fish-sensitive customers running out the door; still love your yuzu, but make room for some citrusy sudachi, too; get your umami going with dried shiitake mushrooms; find out more in Tastes of Japan: Japanese Exports to Import into Your Kitchen.