By now you know we camouflage a lot of Southern food with Bay Area ingredients, none more so than in the two dishes we put on the menu last night. This is a grilled pork loin (brined with rosemary and brown sugar) served over peach coleslaw with corn griddlecakes, green tomato compote, and black pepper gravy–not a milk- or roux-based gravy, but actually a sugo, an Italianate meat sauce made with fresh ground pork shoulder, browned off, then deglazed with wine and dozens of slow reductions of veal stock, all subtly infused with thyme, garlic, and bay leaf.
The green tomato compote I made up as I went along with fresno chiles, shallots, brown mustard seed, ground clove, salt, sugar, and cider vinegar. I was happily surprised when I tasted the finished product–it tasted exactly like my grandfather Albert Graham’s pickle chips! Something about the ratio of vinegar to sugar was right on the money.
This combination (of pork/cornbread/cabbage/sweet and sour) may not hit home for everyone, but I would eat these ingredients (with the addition of baked beans) in some form for my last meal, were I forced to choose one (about which see a provocative passage in [the otherwise forgettable]The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte, concerning the oft-greasy choices of real-life-fictional death row inmates, based not upon socioeconomic tendencies or even upon favorites, but upon proximity to their prisons of available restaurants).
Now for a shorter sentence. And a photo.
The other item is peach-driven as well: peach ice cream with pecan-dark rum-brown sugar caramel and pecan sandies. The pecan sandies are based on the french sable (picture an accentegue, sah-BLAY), or “sand” cookies, known for their almost-shortbread crumbliness. The peaches are Red Haven peaches from Josh Anstey over at St. Supery (check out their Sauvignon Blanc).
Lots of menu changes this weekend. We tasted the first good sun gold tomatoes today; those went on a pizza with mozzarella, roasted shishito peppers, and fresh basil. Watermelon is here, and we are compressing the flesh with nam pla and pickling the rind. Those are served with blackened hamachi and cucumber-sake gelee, avocado puree, and puffed rice:
The second, and more dependable, crop of black mission figs has also arrived. We are roasting them in a 500-degree pizza oven as part of a panzanella with pepperonata, goat cheese, pickled fennel, and arugula:
This might be the first salad we’ve ever served whose appropriate accompaniment may well be a syrah or zin with just a hint of RS . . . well, it takes all kinds.
Also new on the menu is a boneless petaluma chicken a la plancha all’arrabiatta with handkerchief pasta, borlotti bean puree, and broccoli rabe. We bend a lot of brainpowed in this kitchen toward making chicken exciting and enticing. Handmade pasta usually goes a long way in that regard.
Allez Tom Danielson!
When I moved out to Napa Valley for the first time in 2000, a waiter I worked with invited me over to his house for a barbecue. I was homesick for Southern food, North Carolina chopped barbecue in particular–and the thought of this guy having a pit smoker at his apartment blew my mind a little bit. So imagine my disappointment when I showed up salivating for coleslaw, hush puppies, vinegar sauce, and white bread, only to find M____ on the porch of his apartment, grilling Hebrew Nationals over match-light briquettes, with ketchup and yellow mustard at the ready.
Here’s the point: a grill is a grill. When you cook food on a grill, it’s a cookout and nothing more. BARBECUE is not an event, not a spice, not a cooking apparatus, but a quasi-religious means of transforming animal flesh, usually pork but sometimes beef (if you’re in Texas), that is full of heritage and tradition and patience. Don’t be one of the Philistines who misuses the word “barbecue”—to my ears, it’s akin to pouring wine for a guest and saying, “Here’s your fruit juice, bud.”
Summer finally arrived over the weekend. 96 in the shade in Calistoga on Tuesday and about 128 on the hot line over the stoves. I think I drank a gallon of water while cooking lunch. No one sat out on the patio that day . . .
With the heat, hopefully we’ll taste the first great peaches of the year soon. Yellow corn is already very good, but I’m yet to taste a ripe tomato. We have two different fried green tomato dishes, one each for lunch and dinner. Very crispy, very exciting.
Tim from K&J orchards brought in great Rainier cherries last weekend, along with Katy apricots. Most apricots benefit from cooking, but these went straight onto our fruit plates at breakfast and cheese plates in the evening. Barney Welsh is bringing us strong, springy genovese basil so intense it almost tastes like cloves. And we’re getting in calendulas, pansies, and cornflowers to sprinkle on our Forni-Brown Gardens salad.
This is my favorite time of year to eat at work–almost every day it’s a salad of Forni greens, corn, pickled red onions, and chili-lime vinaigrette. It can only be improved by the onset of cherry tomato season. And a peach for dessert.
It was nuts here, rainy as could be. Not a good thing, especially for the Meadowood golf course.
I cooked at Beth Nickel’s house at Far Niente, the gorgeous winery you can see about a mile off to the west of 29 as you drive north between Yountville and Oakville. Storied Chardonnays and Cabernet. I traded courses with Trevor Eliason, the winery chef.
Back at solbar it was business as usual, crazy numbers, a fun crowd, lots of bocce (in spite of the intermittent rain) but not a lot of poolgoers.
Lots of top-secret press goings-on here, stay tuned. Hopefully you saw the generous piece in Wine Spectator’s June issue about solbar.
Ave atque vale, Macho Man.
Last night we held a “Meet the Maker” diner with Joe Wagner from the Caymus family of wines. Great turnout, lovely guests, amazing setting–the sun falling behind the Mayacamas mountains, casting an orange glow over our lawn and spring flowers and the first roses.
I’m not a pastry chef by trade or training, but my favorite pairing of the night was the Caymus Conundrum (whose varietals and percentages are famously secret) with a parfait of lavender-poached apricots, goat’s milk cheesecake mousse, almond streusel, and lavender gelee. The white Rhone notes and varietals of the wine were PERFECT (IIDSSM–to coin a text-message abbreviation?) with the apricot, almond, and lavender, and the cheesecake mousse added just the right amout of richness to the parfait without being too sweet, because the Conundrum is more of an off-dry wine than a true dessert wine.
What a pleasure and a treat to cook with those wines in mind–something as unique as the Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay, as unctuous as the vineyard-designate Belle Glos Pinot Noirs, and as iconic as the Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Flaubert, who I’ll go ahead and say was wrong about a great many things, tells us that “Idols are made to be seen and not touched; the gilding comes off on the fingers.” I’m not saying you should touch Joe Wagner, but his wine is made to be enjoyed. IIDSSM.