We definitely don’t need a reason to celebrate here in Sonoma. Everyday is a celebration! That wine! That produce! These restaurants! Those views! But, right now, late autumn, early winter in Sonoma, there sadly just ain’t much happening. Sure we’ve got breathtaking fall produce — yes, I think that cabbage can be breathtaking — and we’ve got cozy nights, perfect to sip on all of the killer red wines we’ve been hoarding all summer. Although, did you know that now is actually our county’s “second harvest?” The olive harvest is an awesome reason to celebrate. And, it just so happens to be one of my favorite times of the year. Because, this is time for the fresh, green oil called “olio nuovo.” Oh boy is that stuff good on, well…on just about everything! Sonoma, in true Sonoma fashion, knows how to celebrate anything yummy and good: with wine and dinners and parties and classes and food and tastings and really just a whole lot of fun! Welcome to Sonoma’s Olive Festival sponsored each year by Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau, a whole season of fabulous events at many of Sonoma’s favorite wineries, restaurants and olive producers. Easily enough deliciousness to keep us busy all winter long. Find the complete schedule of delicious events at olivefestival.com.
It is crab season!
It is here, the beginning of Northern California’s Dungeness crab season, and it is easily one of the happiest days of my Sonoma year. I cannot think of a cozier evening then covering the dining table in newspaper, popping a bottle of bubbly, melting a stick of butter and digging into a big Dungeness crab. No side dishes are necessary, excepting perhaps an oversized Castroville artichoke (why not something else to dip in the butter?) simply steamed, and a lemon, Meyer lemon. I always let the charming guys at Sonoma Market’s fish counter choose the perfect crab for me. Now, where’ my bib?
Crazy for soup
Fall makes me crazy for soup. It seems all of my cravings consist of broth and beans, or beans and broth. I will inevitably be cold for the next four months and nothing seems to warm me up like a bowl of piping hot veggies, bobbing in stock, slivers of ham hock glistening amongst the tender white beans or little ears of pasta. I tend to whip up most of my soups at home, but there are plenty of great spots locally to fuel up on a bowl of soupy goodness. Here are my favorites:
Sunflower Caffé: typically bean and veggie loaded options, but always creative and hearty.
Fatted Calf: these rustic soups are more than worth the drive to Napa’s Oxbow
Marketplace: No matter the choice, each is always a rustic combination of heirloom grains, greens, and plenty of pork product.
Sonoma’s Best: the perfect spot to pop into for a cozy bowl of chili or any other of the house-made offerings, especially with a post-lunch latte and monster-sized cookie.
599 Thai: gargantuan bowls of curry and coconut-laden noodle soups are my go-to choice when our rainy days begin.
What I am drinking now
This week, I sat before my first-of-the-year crackling wood fire as our first fall rains were expected to begin their dribbling down the living room windows, my glass now filled with red wine. I love so many local wines, but for me, what I want in my glass is Pinot Noir. Oh, for me, Pinot Noir is seriously yummy. I’m not talking about those big, overblown, jammy Pinots. I am talking about a Pinot that when you take your first sip, the record skips and time sort of stands still. My tongue immediately softens and begs for more. My dream Pinots taste ancient and rustic, magical and elusive, with scents of rose and earth and attic and dust. The wines I turn to, especially for my fireplace sitting, I usually find from Anderson Valley, Mendocino, or Carneros producers; wines which are enchanting, spellbinding, bewitching, enthralling, utterly dreamy. Utterly Pinot Noir.
Best thing I ate this week
Portland, Oregon has easily become the foodie destination of the West. My girlfriends and I spent three days this past weekend eating our way around the city, nibbling on the flakiest croissants at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, digging into insanely gorgeous plates of pasta at Ava Gene’s, sipping on perfect morning-after Bloody Mary’s at Cylde Common, and sampling our way through Olympic Provision’s house-made charcuterie during a quick break from exploring the city’s best shopping. Each dish we ordered happened to be more scrumptious than the last; each restaurant unique, offering menus loaded with beautiful local ingredients, handcrafted cocktails, and thoughtfully chosen wines. It would be difficult to proclaim one dish ‘the best,’ especially when you take into account the addictive order of buttery soft polenta we all but licked from the bottom of the bowl at Ava Gene’s or the chewy-crusty baguette layered with paper thin slices of French ham and cold, salted butter at Ken’s. Although, dinner at the, now notorious, Thai restaurant Pok Pok, always manages to completely blow my mind. The food here is more authentically Thai, tastes more like Thailand, than any Thai restaurant I have eaten in outside of Thailand. The chicken wings are literally life-changing, an absolute must. They are super crunchy on the outside, the meat inside moist and steaming hot, and are coated in a thick, sticky-sweet crust, loaded with smoky chiles and pungent fish sauce; heaven especially when munched on with the girls between all the laughing and sips of the house tamarind-flecked whiskey sour. Here is the recipe!
Ike’s Fish-Sauce Wings
Recipe thanks to Pok Pok
(1) CHOP garlic finely, sprinkle salt, and chop together for about 15 more seconds.
(2) SCRAPE into a small bowl, add warm water, and let sit for a few minutes.
(3) POUR through a fine sieve set over a bowl, and use the back of a spoon to stir and smoosh garlic against the sieve, reserving leftover garlic.
(4) ADD fish sauce and sugar to bowl and stir until dissolved.
(5) PLACE chicken wings in a separate large bowl, add 1/2 cup of fish sauce mixture (reserve the rest in the refrigerator), and toss well.
(6) COVER and refrigerate wings for at least four hours, or overnight, tossing every hour or so.
(1) HEAT 3/4-inch vegetable oil in a small pan over high heat and add reserved garlic. (2) REDUCE heat to medium-low, fry until garlic is lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes, and transfer to paper towels to drain (set aside until final cooking stage).
(3) TRANSFER wings from refrigerator to a colander in the sink and let drain for 15 minutes.
(4) STIR together rice flour and tempura mix in a large bowl and toss wings until coated well.
(5) POUR enough oil into a wok or Dutch oven to completely submerge the wings, about 2 inches, and bring oil to 325 degrees (measure with a candy thermometer).
(6) FRY wings in two batches, gently knocking them against the bowl before adding to the oil.
(7) COOK each batch until evenly golden brown, about 10–12 minutes, prodding every few minutes.
(8) TRANSFER wings to paper towels to drain.
(1) ADD 1/4 cup water to the reserved fish sauce mixture.
(2) COMBINE 1/4 cup of the water–fish sauce mixture and half the chile paste (if you are using it), bring to a full boil in a nonstick wok, and reduce for about 45 seconds.
(3) ADD half the wings and toss every 15 seconds, until a caramelized glaze coats the wings, about 1 minute.
(4) ADD 1 tbsp of the fried garlic, toss well, and cook about 30 seconds longer.
(5) RINSE and wipe out wok, and repeat with the next batch of wings.
(6) SERVE wings with pickled vegetables, cucumber spears, and herb sprigs.
Foodie-event pick of the week
The first of this winter’s Cochon Volant dinners at the Wine Shack is this Friday! Rob’s “Prime Rib Dinner” sounds super cozy: chop salad of Romaine, tomato, avocado and Bermuda onion tossed with blue cheese vinaigrette, seared and smoked prime rib of beef with au jus and horseradish cream, garlic mashed potatoes, and sautéed spinach. The pear, sun-dried cranberry and quince crisp with crème Chantilly reason enough to attend! The price is $38 per and wines by the glass or bottle are available, of course. Call 938.7218 for reservations or more information, at the Valley Wine Shack this Friday, November 15, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.