Diavola: Maybe the best restaurant in the World?

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Dino Bugica has something incredibly and edibly special going on in Geyserville, California.  Dino is the Chef owner of Diavola, one of my favorite places to eat in the world.  What I like most is that it is a regular spot featuring amazing farm to table cuisine with an Italian touch.  The food is mind blowingly simple yet so rich and textured in it’s flavors and combinations.  The menu offers everything from amazing pizzas baked in his wood fired oven, like our perennial favorite the Cha Cha Cha, a house smoked pork belly pizza to pan seared Iberico pork loin in a white miso and mustard sauce.  Even dishes I would rarely if ever order, like tripe or tuna heart, are brought to majestic new heights at the Chef’s talented  hand.  If it is on the menu, I am ordering it.

Next time you find yourself in Northern California and you are wondering where to eat go visit Dino at Diavola Pizzeria http://www.diavolapizzeria.com/

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braised Beef Tripe alla Fiorentina with a sauteed Farm Egg

Here is a gallery of photos I have taken over the last few years of eating there, enjoy!

WHOOSH! and they are GONE!

“Get Up.  Beau needs food for school”

Those were the exact words that shook me from a deep, heavenly dream of walking through the Sunday market in l’Isle sur la Sorgue with a rustic baguette from the wood burning oven bakery and transported  back to my bed in La Quinta.  “Honey, get up, Beau needs lunch.”

Half awake, sipping my morning cafe au lait, holding communion with distant plantations and tranquil pastures as Antoine St. Exupery once wrote, The joy of living.  Those first swallows of steamed milk and espresso.

“The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth.”

The smell of garlic and red chili flakes sizzling in olive oil.  I have been up four minutes and the house is filled with the sensual aromas of magic happening on my stove.  The act of transforming raw ingredients into the poetical act of love.  Fresh basil splatters and sputters. adding to the amazing bouquet in our house.  Two little feet running circles around me, still only half awake, I stir the pot.

Chopped fresh onion from the La Quinta farmer’s market and some San Marzano tomatoes and just let it simmer.  AS I do, I look over and notice Beaumont is mimicking me, cooking on his little fire engine red toy kitchen range.  He notices me glancing over and brings a spoonful of imagination for my me to taste and compare to my tomato sauce.  Shit, his is better.

I finish preparing his lunch of Spaghetti AOP with freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan and a drizzle of Mere Goutte olive oil lovingly known in my kitchen as “Mother’s Milk”.  Within three seconds they are gone…  The house is empty except for the sweet memory of preparing something so simple, with so much love, for someone I love so deeply.

Whoosh, they are gone!

Tonight’s Specials: OK, sorry Kitchen Crew, I had too much coffee and want to CRUSH IT TONIGHT at FIGUE

Figue+Desert+Smash+hi+res-106-2399067727-Opictured is my opening Kitchen Crew, some have moved on and some are still with us!

SMALL PLATES

Soupe de Poissons $10

Marseilles’ famous puréed Fish soup, Rouille, Parmesan

Little Flamenco Dancers $12

Pork, Serrano Ham and Fontina Cheese involtini; Tomato, Olive and Caper sauce

Margherita Pizza $14

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella

Amatriciana Pizza $16

house cured Guanciale, San Marzano Tomatoes, Pecorino

Pizza alla Diavolo $16

shaved Salumi, Garlic and Red Chili Flakes

Scallop Crudo with Piquillo Pepper Granite $16

Mint and Citrus cured diver Scallop, organic Sicilian Citrus Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper Moroccan Calamari and Octopus $18

deep fried Calamari and Octopus with Harissa powder, Green Charmoula

AMERICAN BERKSHIRE PROSCIUTTO AND BURRATA $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Aioli, Arugula, Asparagus & Truffle Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

New Caledonia Sweet Blue Prawn Crudo $18

Sashimi grade Spot Prawns, Tomato Confite, Artichokes, Basil

Papillon of New Caledonia Blue Prawns and Burgundy Truffles $30

crispy Butterflies of sweet Blue Prawns, Cabbage Salad, Truffle Beurre Blanc

Paleta Iberica de Bellota $42

Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years

Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese

BIG PLATES

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, hand cut Squid Ink Pasta

BUCKWHEAT PASTA WITH RABBIT RAGU $28

hand rolled Buckwheat Pasta, Rabbit Ragu, Sicilian organic Citrus Olive Oil, aged Pecorino

Crispy John Dory $32

New Zealand St. Pierre, Chorizo Croquette, Saffron Aioli

SPIT ROAST JIDORI CHICKEN $26

Chickpea Fries, Ratatouille, Preserved Lemon Jus

Daube of Slow Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

Filet of Beef with Artichokes and Truffles $48

Potato Puree, caramelized Onions and Bacon, Artichokes & Burgundy Truffles

SWEETS & TURKISH COFFEE

Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

Turkish Coffee $10

Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee prepared and served in a copper Ibrik

When asked by a social-climbing Paris hostess how he liked his truffles, Curnonsky replied,
“In great quantity, Madame. In great quantity.”

 

~ Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland), French writer (1872-1956)

Epic LA Champagne Tasting: The Terry Theise Estate Selections

Noodles 06If you have never been to a Terry Theise tasting than you never have experienced a great Champagne tasting.  Terry has been described as several things but I like best what wine importer Michael Skurnik had to say “The Man, the Myth, the Legend! If it is true that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, Terry Theise has been there and back. A brief perusal of his writing makes it quickly apparent that the man has no reservations about conveying his thoughts and feelings on wine, life, sex, philosophy and general cosmology. In Terry’s world, it’s all inter-related. So, without further ado, we encourage you to jump headlong into the wonderful world of Terry Theise German, Austrian and Champagne Estate Selections. Prepare yourself for a psychotropic experience.”

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scan0042Wow!  I think Terry kind of covers his philosophy on his own.  Needless to say the event is simply amazing.  Lisa, Frederic and myself drove to Los Angeles to attend the tasting at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Noodles 01 Noodles 02 Noodles 10The Roosevelt is a historical hotel near many Hollywood landmarks.  Here is a history from their website: “Bringing glamour back to the Boulevard, Thompson Hotel’s Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel reincarnation resonates with the opulence of its fabled past. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has a long history of catering to the show business elite. The hotel was founded in 1927 by a syndicate of Hollywood luminaries (including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Sid Grauman, and Louis B. Mayer) to house east coast movie-makers who were working on the west coast. Hollywood Roosevelt hotel’s “Blossom Room” hosted the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, on May 19, 1929. That was also the shortest Oscar ceremony ever, lasting just five minutes, as Douglas Fairbanks and Al Jolson helped give away 13 statuettes. Marilyn Monroe was a resident at the Hollywood Roosevelt for two years when her modeling career took off. Her first magazine shoot was taken on the diving board on the pool behind the hotel, which was recently removed. The hotel’s remodeled pool contains an underwater mural painted by David Hockney.”

The Roosevelt is slightly faded from it’s former luster years but still worth visiting.  The tasting was in their Public Kitchen and Bar (http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/hollywood-roosevelt/eat/public-kitchen-and-bar)

Noodles 08The Champagne tasting itself featured 105 great sparklers.  The standouts for me included a simple and inexpensive Greek organic sparkler called Karanika.  Here is what Tom Stevenson had to say about the domaine  “I shall be keeping a very close eye on Laurens Hartman in the future. He has the potential to produce a world class sparkling wine and of all the budding new sparkling wine superstars I am currently following, Hartman is the only one not using classic Champagne grape varieties. Xinomavro’s naturally high acid and intrinsically low colour makes it the obvious choice for anyone trying to craft a sparkling wine that is expressive of its Greek roots, but seldom have I come across any artisanal sparkling wine that is as polished as Hartman’s 2010-based second release of Domaine Karanika Xinomavro Brut. It has a silky-smooth mousse that most champenois would die for. Okay, I could quibble about the wine, and I did face to face with Hartman, but it is already the best sparkling wine produced in Greece. With his 2011 on yeast and 2012 still base wine both show promise, it is only a matter of time and experience before Hartman crafts something truly world class.”  A decent bottle worthy of a spot on our by the glass offerings at Figue.

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Frederic was simply gaga over a Portuguese sparkler whose name eludes me.  The jewel of the tasting, however, is the offerings from Vilmart et Cie, an absolutely stunning grower/producer.  Here what Terry had to say In the early days when I first approached Vilmart and started working with Laurent Champs, I had mixed emotions about some of the Champagnes. Please note what “mixed emotions” actually means. It doesn’t mean I doubted the worthiness of the wines or thought they were mediocre. It means I had different opinions about different aspects of the wines. I was thrilled with some, intrigued with all, and wondered whether a couple were too oaky.

Earlier in his career, I think Laurent was flying blind on the matter of oak, and his recent Champagnes have wisely—presented a more integrated and elegant  profile. Yet he is adamantly a vintner first, before he is a maker of Champagne: “We do wine first, then afterward we do Champagne,” he says. Every base wine, without exception, sees at least ten months in casks of  varying size and newness. Once in a while there’s a brief disconnect between fruit and wood immediately after disgorgement, but 2-3 years on the cork make for a dramatic metamorphosis. Matter of fact, I’ve found Vilmart among the most food-friendly of all my Champagnes, because they’re so gracious, so vinous, so lordly in their carriage. It’s clear to me Vilmart is a Champagne estate of unassailable consequence, a must-have for anyone Interested in the possibilities of this most suavely powerful and graceful of all wines. Casks are hardly the point anymore. Organic viticulture, (truly!) low yields, remarkable polish of fruit, and the deliberate patient pursuit of a vision of perfection make Laurent Champs’ estate a gemstone gleaming among the chalk. ”

The tasting is amazing in many respects like you pour your own pours for all the wines except Vilmart.  Last year, Lisa and I resorted to donning costumes and adopting strange accents in our vain attempts to fool the pourer into giving us more.  The 2004 Coeur de Cuvee was absolutely stunning in it’s elegance.  Probably one of the best Champagnes I have had the privilege to drink.  The 2005 was amazing too but lacked the strength of vintage that 2004’s presented.  Other notables from Vilmart et Cie included the NV Grand Cellier brut and the magnum of 2006 Grand Celler d’Or.  I strongly suggest visiting their property in Champagne and drinking their wine whenever the opportunity presents itself.  http://www.champagnevilmart.fr/

The other stars of the show included NV Cuvee Julie from grower/producer Henri Biilliot (beautifully floral fragrances),The rose brut from Chartogne-Taillet; the 2008 Millesime brut from Vallee de la Marne and the 2006 Grand Vintage Blanc de Blanc from Varnier Fanniere.  I want to thank George Pavlov of Wine Wise for the invitation.  It truly is a spectacular event.

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PBS Filming ” Hello Paradise with Joni Ravenna” at Figue

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Diver Scallop, Piquillo pepper granite and Lime Crudo $16

Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette

Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil

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Squid Ink Chitarra pasta with uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto

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Joni’s Daughter enjoying our Halibut Tajine, halibut tagine│ Moroccan spiced Halibut, roasted Summer Vegetable Couscous – 32PBS Filiming 14

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PBS Filiming 16Please visit Joni’s webpage at http://www.raventv.net/helloparadise.html

 

Sunday Family Day Part Deux, Apples, Pear Tart and Hard Cider

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“It was definitely a Sunday tart, gazed at with admiration and eaten with relish on those Sunday noons, with the narrow street outside on the same level as the room and the sky purplish-blue when the weather was stormy, or aflicker with gold when the sun was shining.” – Proust

How could I not make it?  We began the day with the chief goal of not leaving the house and enjoying the bounty of foods bought from small farmer’s and ranchers at the Palm Springs Farmer’s Market the day before.  By eight a.m. we were dunking slabs of Phillippe’s rustic boule slathered in hand-beaten French butter into our plate of Oeufs a la Coque, made from De La Ranch eggs cooked precisely three minutes.  Beaumont was intent on copying our actions verbatim, deliberately piercing the runny yolk with his bread spear splashing saffron hued eggs onto his fingers and plate.  He seemed like a miniature gourmand trapped inside a small child’s body frustrated by the new bodies inability to follow the old minds thought.  For a flashing moment I saw Beau as an old man deliberately enjoying his meal.

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I looked over to the wall of books in our dining room and “Dining with Proust” just caught my attention as if it were meant to be.  I flipped through the pages and immediately stopped on this line:

“The chief reason for going to the farm when they felt the need of a little refreshment was a wish to see her and to be in her home, much as some people frequent certain restaurants, though the reason they give may be that the cider is better there than elsewhere or the cheese particularly good.”

That line set about a catalyst of food dreams inspired by books needing to become realities.  The first food dream manifested itself as apples bought from the Asian woman at the market stuffed with a mixture of leeks, creme fraiche and goat cheese.  Lisa and I both read Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis.  Rue Tatin is the kind of book that is so graphically written that you feel like you are there eating with her at her home in Normandy.Ultimately Lisa, Beau and I will live in France and this book accelerates the process.

Baked Apples stuffed with Leeks and Goat Cheese (paraphrased from Susan Loomis)

4 Apples, I used Fuji – peel and core creating a large cavity to stuff

5.5 ounces fresh Goat Cheese

2 T. Creme Fraiche

2 Leeks – use mostly just the white part.  I cut into large dice and soaked in salted water to remove dirt and grit that hides in the layers

4 T Butter

2 cups hard Cider

Directions:

Saute washed leeks in two tablespoons of butter till super tender.  You want to cook the leeks slow so they do not color.  Mix with goat cheese and creme fraiche.  Pour into apple cavity.  Top with remaining butter.  Put into baking dish with cider and cook for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.  Enjoy with a beautiful green salad.

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After a long walk in the Desert with Lucy we rested and prepared for round two.

Proust’s Pear Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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Ingredients for one nine inch tart

One sheet Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Sheets

Four Pears

2 ounces Butter

1 c. Powdered Sugar

Directions

Roll puff pastry sheet out slightly larger on a floured surface.  It should drape over your tart tin by two inches.  Fold over edge and crimp with fingers.  Quarter pears and remove core with paring knife.  Cut each quarter in half and arrange in a circular pattern in tart shell.  Brush pears with melted butter and sprinkle with half of the powdered sugar.  Bake at 400 till tart is brown and pears are lightly browned.  Cool slightly, sprinkle with remaining sugar and serve with powdered sugar.

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Barlata: My Spanish Tapas Diner

I love Barlata.  I am not sure exactly what tickles my fancy about the place.  I have eaten better tapas, had better service and seen better decor but yet something still pulls me to the place.  The last time I was there was a few short Image

hours after gorging at Cotogna.  I decided on Barlata as I can sit outside with my dog and my two year old son can run around without offending any serious diners.  Lisa and I were meeting dear old friend Jim Laffer and hopefully Cindi and Jackson.  We were the first there and immediately commenced ordering food and two bottles of Spanish wine.  We plowed through the menu of familiar dishes and laughed with Jim.  I love going to Barlata because it feels like putting on an old comfortable well worn shoe.  No surprises – you know exactly what to expect.  A perfect place to enjoy being.

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One of my favorite category of dishes there are their Latas.  They use old tin cans as serving dishes.  It is a novel concept in our country where everything is disposable and we certainly dispose of it.Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 164After stuffing ourselves for a second time we headed to our car completely sated… I chuckled at the Beer is Good sign and thought of all my beer making buddies who would raise a pint at such a sentiment!

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Barlata is located at 4901 Telegraph in Oakland.  Reservations can be made at: 510.450.o678 and you can see their menu at: http://www.barlata.com/index.html

Getting Cheesy

Everytime I make cheese I am reminded of Gareth Blackstock in the absurdly excellent BBC sitcom ‘Chef’ talking about raw cheese (see the entire episode ‘The Big Cheese’ here).  In particular, when his cheese monger Sebastien comes to sell him cheese and he is looking for real, unpasteurized Stilton.  Before you read on watch this clip about unpasteurized cheese. Hilarious!  It is even worse in the USA where we are scared on real cheese.  Today I bought five gallons of raw milk in a dark, back alley.  As I made the transaction I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching.  Five nerve wracking miles of driving back constantly eyeing the rear view mirror to make sure no one followed.  The joys of running illegal raw milk.

IMG_20130731_171450_826I hadn’t made cheese in a long time and I needed to reference the words and confident advice of cheese maven and guru Ricki Carroll vise a vis her excellent tome on cheesemaking simply called “Home Cheese Making”.  A few years back I had bought a cheese press and enough bacteria to convert rivers of milk into curds.  Now I was dusting off the press and refreshing my memories of house made tangy cheddar, creamy Camemberts and perfect Mozzarella.  Here is a pictorial of today’s efforts, note Ricki’s book on the work counter.

IMG_20130802_141742_881Heat milk, mixing with mesophilic starter and letting the milk ripen.

IMG_20130802_141742_881 IMG_20130802_142311_081After adding the rennet and letting the milk set till the curd gives a clean break you cut the curd into 1/2 inch slices and slowly heat the curd.

IMG_20130802_143417_057 IMG_20130802_144357_961Afterwards I ladled the curds into camembert molds and let the whey run out.  For the next five hours I flipped the cheese every hour till it compressed the curds into the traditional camembert shape.  Now the cheeses need to rest for a few weeks and ripen into heaven.  I should mention for cheese making purists that I combined three processes into one here.  While initially cheesemaking is the same regardless of cheese, the starters added are different.

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