Summer is officially over, the first day of autumn arriving this week with a noticeable change in the air, a certain crispness that wasn’t here just a few days ago, a tinge of color dotting trees here and there that were all green yesterday, it seemed. I begin to panic right about now. I panic for the tomatoes, the corn, those tender little zucchinis from Paul’s, and sweet, delicate heads of butter lettuce from Oak Hill that make the perfect BLT. I panic that maybe, even though I tried my darnedest, that maybe I didn’t eat enough of these beautiful summer goodies and now it’s too late. I look back on my summer, this gorgeous Sonoma summer, and realize that I traveled through most of it. I realized, sort of sadly, that I was gone for so many Tuesday Market Nights and missed out on many of my most loved winery dinners and events. I may have missed out on many of my favorite Sonoma summer goings on this year, but one thing I can’t say is that this summer I missed out on good food. During my busy summer travels, in Sonoma and while away, I certainly ate well. Before I truly begin to look forward to fall, to winter, the unavoidable rains and cold, the holidays, and some of my favorite foods of the year -– wild pheasant, Dungeness crabs, and hearty pasta dishes, oh boy! – I thought I’d look back on a few of the most outrageous things I ate this summer, in Sonoma and beyond.
Octopus simply tastes better in Mexico. Or, maybe octopus is just more delicious when eaten in your bathing suit, poolside, overlooking the emerald green Sea of Cortez, under a bright white umbrella with the Baja sun toasting your bare shoulders? I just may have eaten my weight in octopus late this summer. Octopus ceviche so tender, so incredibly tasty, that I couldn’t help but order it over and over again. First cured in a marinade that was traditional, heavy with fresh lime and flecks of cilantro and, then comes the good part, charred over hard wood leaving the little tentacles crisp and smoky. What truly got me hooked though was the splash of dark, salty soy sauce and teeny cubes of cucumber that left my mouth ridiculously happy, leaving me to crave more even as I was in the midst of a bite. How was this octopus so insanely tender? I don’t even want to know, there is no way I will ever prepare it at home. I will just have to return to Mexico.
I have been wanting to share with you the news that I have fallen in love. Lust maybe. I am completely head over heels, passionately obsessed, crazy in love with Sushi Ran. I have been wanting to share with you this love affair of mine for quite some time, but never knew quite how to put into words how truly lovely, how impeccably procured, prepared, and presented the food at this tiny Japanese restaurant on a quiet side street in Sausalito is. How each time I dine here I fall deeper with each gorgeous bite. I have yet to find the appropriate adjectives to tell you how, as I place each piece of fish on my tongue, I swoon. This is beyond happy-dance inducing. Every, single bite is perfection. I adore everything about the food here: the handmade dumplings so delicate they’re practically see-through, a selection of locally sourced vegetable side dishes each more interesting than the last, and the sparkling fish, which is either pulled from the local waters mere minutes before or flown in overnight from the famous fish market in Tokyo. I love it all, but the dish that I anticipate most each time I visit, is the eel. There are usually no less than three varieties to choose from. A small sliver arrives luxuriously draped over perfectly cooked rice, skin crisp and bathed in either a sweet-sticky eel sauce or possibly nothing more than a sprinkling of smoked sea salt or a quick zest of exotic citrus skin. This is serious, it’s true love.
Sometimes, often times, the very best meals aren’t eaten out, aren’t prepared by trained chefs. More often, my favorite meals are enjoyed when a few good looking things are thrown together, when you least expect it. This is how I ended up digging into one of the most delicious meals of my summer, very unexpectedly, my Monday night dinner with Nina. My girlfriend Nina is one of those home cooks with an innate sense of what tastes good. She possesses a rare gift for taking a few things, tearing them up, toasting them or roasting them, splashing on some vinegar, maybe a glug of olive oil and always a sprinkling of salt, and creating something really yummy. This late summer night, a spontaneous dinner thrown together from things from the fridge and eaten by twinkling candlelight on the back porch was easily one of my favorite all year. A selection of farmer’s market goodies were the stars: fat slices of heirloom tomatoes were unadorned but for a generous amount of grey salt and a few scattered bits of fresh mint from the garden, Della Fattoria bread was brushed with olive oil and toasted to a state of golden bliss in Nina’s gargantuan cast iron pan, simply screaming for a smear of the Bellwether Farm’s ricotta I grabbed last minute from Sonoma Market. Nina roasted bright green Shishito peppers from Paul’s in that very same pan till they were practically black and utterly addictive! Figs from a neighbor’s tree paired with a few leftover slices of Prosciutto were possibly my favorite dessert ever. We sat on that porch downing a few glasses of the most crispiest, coldest, palest pink rose, talking, and laughing. I couldn’t stop eating. It was the epitome of dinner in Sonoma, in summer.
Grilled Octopus Salad
First, tenderize the octopus by simmering it at a low boil for about an hour. Then char it generously on the grill to crisp the skin.
Place octopus and wine in a large pot. Peel two garlic cloves; add to pot. Add enough water to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until octopus is tender, about 1 hour. Transfer to a plate; let cool. Remove as much of slippery outer purple coating as possible without removing suction cups. On a hot grill, grill octopus until generously charred. Let cool and cut octopus into one inch pieces. Make the vinaigrette whisking together the olive oil, lime juice, soy, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Add the vinaigrette to the octopus and toss. Add the rest of the ingredients and season with more salt, if needed. Serve with sliced avocado and tortilla chips if desired.
On The Menu
Sheana Davis, chef and owner of the fabulous, foodie-filled shop, The Epicurean Connection, leads her popular “Home Cheesemaking Classes” at the Sonoma Valley Inn once monthly. The upcoming dates are October 14, November 11, and December 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. Students learn to make a selection of simple, fresh cheeses during these small, fun classes. Call 935.7960 to reserve your space or for more information.
Mike [the bejkr] creates some of the most lovely, handcrafted breads in the Valley, selling them at both Sonoma farmer’s markets. Bread baking is truly an art that I have always wished to master, so I am hoping to attend one of his upcoming classes being held at the Sonoma Community Center. On Saturday, November 17, he teaches students how to bake “Holiday Breads,” on Saturday, January 12, it’s “Green Tea Brioche,” and Saturday, February 9, “Intro to Bread Baking.” For details or to reserve your space visit sonomacommunitycenter.org.
The Wine Annex hosts a “Winemaker Dinner with Peter Posert of Gain Bay Winery” this Friday, September 28, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Each of the four-courses will be paired with a different wine, while all Gain Bay Wines will be discounted that evening. For a complete listing of upcoming Wine Annex events, to make reservations, or for more information “like” them on Facebook or call 938.7779.
Join Acacia Vineyards and Chef Ed Metcalf for a “Wine and Sushi Event” at Acacia Vineyard this Saturday, September 29, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Ed will be preparing his fun, fresh rolls on site and each will be paired with Acacia wines. In addition, he is offering a 15 percent discount on all sushi to locals at this event. Acacia Vineyards is located in Carneros, has really lovely views, and pours fabulous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Visit acaciavineyard.com for more information.
Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond. Find her blogging daily as the Cook at thecardiganandcook.com or via email at [email protected]