Leaving La Quinta

“Man cannot discover new oceans

unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

–          André Gide

 

We are in the final moments of an impending major life change.  The material acquisitions of a hard working life have been sold, given away, discarded or packed neatly into labeled boxes lined up in what used to be our dining room.  Looking at the stack makes me contemplate how one’s hours are easily measured by the amount of stuff accumulated.  It’s hard to break away from these thoughts but my post isn’t about materialism it’s about choosing to live life deliberately and enjoying every second of it.

The first time I literally walked away from a restaurant in my prime was at Pili Pili, a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant near the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. I can vividly remember my bosses face changing to a ghostly white as the color left it when I told him of my decision.   We were at the top of our game, recently named top ten in the world by Food and Wine magazine, and I was leaving for reasons that astounded him.  I had to go for a walk, a very long walk, a 2,167.2 mile walk on the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

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Gastronomica magazine published my story chronicling the thought process of how I had lost the desire to trade my life for a handful of dimes and needed something more spiritually significant happening in my life.  At the time I was experiencing what Phil Cousineau described as soul loss.  “There is another call, the one that arrives the day when what once worked no longer does. Sometimes people need a shock; sometimes a tocsin call. It’s time for a wakeup call. A man fired from a job; a child runs away from home; ulcers overtake a body. The ancients called this “soul loss”. Today, the equivalent is the loss of meaning or purpose in our lives. There is a void where there should be what Gerard Manley Hopkins calls “juice and joy.” The heart grows cold, life loses its vitality. Our accomplishments seem meaningless.”  I craved more significance in my life.

Sometimes to find yourself you need to let go of your perceived safety net, float freely away and completely lose sight of the shore.  Only amidst the turmoil of a stormy sea can you rebuild your life and find your way to your island paradise.

“There are many things that seem impossible

only so long as one does not attempt them.” 

― André Gide

I am leaving the kitchens of Figue Mediterranean and hanging up my toque looking for new challenges and goals to strive for.  I could list one hundred valid reasons to go and perhaps another hundred reasons to stay, but none will repay time lost with my three year old son Beaumont and my wife Lisa.   I am thankful for all the cooks and dishwashers I had the privilege  of working with over the last two years.  I am thankful to Lee Morcus for bringing me on to help realize his dream.  I wish continued success to everyone there.  And my biggest thanks to all our customers… without you a restaurant can never be.

At age 50, following my lifelong passions of food and photography I am reinventing myself as a food photographer and blogger and am hopeful to one day write a book, maybe turn it into a TV series and continue to explore the world one plate at a time.

Join me on the journey at http://www.EatTillYouBleed.com  The journey beginsin July 2014.

 

Francois

 

Chef François grew up in a very French household in Chicago. His earliest attempts at cookery began with the filleting of his sister’s goldfish at age two and a braised rabbit dish made with his pet rabbits at age seven. He eventually stopped cooking his pets and went to the highly esteemed New England Culinary Institute where he graduated top of his class in 1985.

Chef François de Mélogue has over 20 years of cross-cultural culinary experience, Chef François brings an impressive culinary history and a unique Mediterranean cooking style. After graduating top in his class from the notable New England Culinary Institute, Chef François began his career in a number of highly acclaimed kitchens across the country, including Chef Louis Szathmary’s restaurant The Bakery in Chicago, Old Drovers Inn, a Relais and Chateaux property in New York and Joel Robuchon Gastronomie restaurant in Paris, before opening award-winning restaurant Pili Pili in his hometown of Chicago, rated in the Top Ten new restaurants in the World by Food and Wine magazine in 2003. While working with Robuchon, Chef François began to shape his personal culinary philosophy of “Cuisine Actuelle,” which showcases the natural flavor in the ingredients he uses to create his dishes. Chef Francois specializes in simply prepared Mediterranean-inspired cuisine that is enhanced by his appreciation and knowledge of fine wine, craft beer, charcuterie and cheese. In line with his belief that food should be prepared without unnecessary distractions or alterations, Chef François creates honest, healthy and delicious cuisine that is approachable and always delightful.

Specialties: incredibly focused cuisine actuelle mixed with a deep appreciation of fine wines, beers, charcuterie and cheeses

Alain Passard’s 90 Minute Asparagus

de6575217e6c288d0dec2276a018edfeAsparagus’s first shoots have been popping up all over fields and gardens in Southern California for the last few weeks. They are a food lover’s early Spring harbinger telling us Winter is almost done and soon our tables will be overflowing with morels, fava beans, ramps, Alaskan halibut and other culinary delights.  It’s especially good news for those who live in parts of the country still buried under mountains of snow not believing that Winter will actually end soon.

I pre-ordered Michelin three star Chef Alain Passard’s highly anticipated vegetable book “The Art of Cooking with Vegetables”  from Amazon as soon as it was offered.  When it arrived, I leafed through it, loved the simplicity, then put it on a shelf and promptly forgot about it.  That’s one of the problems facing a cookbook addict who owns more than 2,000 cookbooks.  There ought to be a 12 step program for book hogs like myself who cannot refuse new releases.  Just the other day I picked it up again and became enthralled with Passard’s recipe titled “Stand Up Asparagus”, a recipe genius in it’s simplicity though it sounds a tad like a dish DeNiro would have ordered in Goodfellas.

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The recipe called for “the freshest possible asparagus with tightly closed tips and firm stalks” so on Sunday we went to the La Quinta farmer’s market and picked up a few bunches of just picked asparagus.  I trimmed off the bottoms, wrapped them in buttered parchment and bundled them together with kitchen twine.  I clarified 5 ounces of fresh sweet cream butter and put it into a one quart pot along with the asparagus bundles and slowly cooked  it for 90 minutes on super low heat, basting every twenty minutes.

asparagus 41The result is asparagus nirvana.  The stalks are perfectly cooked and tender with the tips still bright green with a light crunch.  Alain suggests serving with a poached egg and all that delicious asparagus butter.  Certainly you cannot go wrong with the classic combination but if you are adventurous and your arteries are not in imminent danger of clogging, you could poach an egg AND make a Hollandaise with the resulting asparagus butter.  For those of us pushing the limit of rich dishes consumed over a lifetime of eating great food you may want to consider charging the defibrillator prior to tackling this dish!

Chef F… Eat till you bleed!

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/

Geyserville Diavolo and Coppola 15

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!

Moroccan Donuts with Harissa Hot Chocolate

Moroccan Donuts

Who doesn’t love a great donut?  Mmm, those sugary feathery light deep fried puffs rolled in sugar warming your belly and soul.  Donuts are pure magic.  They transport me back to an earlier time when food could cure all that has gone wrong in life.  Donuts, confectionery alchemy at it’s best.  Flour, sugar, butter and eggs transformed into sweet delectable pillows.  Donuts, proof that God does exist.  All this donut talk has nearly caused me to short out my keyboard from the anticipatory drool.  I do understand why I am fat.  I love food and quite honestly food loves me.

I won’t kid you, making these donuts at home will take some skill and patience.  Anyone can do it.  Just set aside some time, follow the recipe and prepare to enter Food Nirvana.

Makes Four Servings:

Moroccan Donuts

1 /2 cup        Milk

2 1/2 t.           active dry Yeast

3 cups            all-purpose flour

8 T.                  cold unsalted Butter, cut into 12 pieces

1/4 cup         Sugar

1 t.                   Sweet Paprika

1 t.                   Cinnamon

Pinch             Cayenne

1 t.                   Sea Salt

2 large           Eggs

2 large           Egg yolks

Heat milk in a small saucepan until it is just lukewarm.  Your body temperature is 98.6 degrees.  If you stick your finger into the milk it should be just slightly warmer then you.  Pour the milk into a small bowl and add yeast. Use a spoon to stir in 1 cup of the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until it is bubbly and slightly risen, about 20 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the butter, sugar, spices, salt, eggs and egg yolks. Pulse till butter is finely chopped and equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Add yeast mixture and pulse to mix. Add 1 cup of the remaining flour and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and pulse again until well-mixed. Let the dough rest in the food processor for 10 minutes.

Weigh out two ounces pieces and roll into a log shape.  Pinch the ends together, put in a warm place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and let rest till it doubles in size.

Deep fry in 350 degree oil till brown and crispy on both sides.  Roll in granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon.  At the restaurant we are lucky to have deep fryers.  At home I use a large heavy gauged pot filled half way with vegetable oil.  I use a deep fryer thermometer to check temperature.  Be careful not to crowd pot with too many donuts because they will cool the oil and cause the donuts to soak up more fat.  Drain donuts on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels.

Harissa Hot Chocolate

2-1/4 c          whole Milk

¼ c.                Water

4 oz                grated Valrhona bittersweet Chocolate (Manjari)

¼ c.                Sugar

1                      Cinnamon Stick

1                      Star Anise

1 t.                   Harissa, or to taste

Pinch              Saffron

Combine everything, boil, pour into a mug.  Caution this hot chocolate is rich and full of flavor.  Your favorite powdered version will not taste good anymore.

Panigacci: Ligurian layered Pasta with Pesto

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In my researching interesting dishes for the menu at Figue Mediterranean I came across this dish in Carol Field’s excellent book “In Nonna’s Kitchen”.  I was taken by the rustic simplicity that I had to try it right away.  I made it first for my sous chef Keith Schneider and former manager Frederic Watson.  All of us were consumed by the simple flavors of basil married with tomato married with the soft pasta layers.  I tried finding references in other Italian books and couldn’t really find much.  The only other reference to it was a form of ancient flat bread baked directly in the hot coals of a fire.

Making Panigacci is more like making crepes than rolling pasta.  The first step is making the batter.

9 ounces Flour ( I used all purpose)

pinch Sea Salt

2-1/3 c. filtered Water

Mix the ingredients and strain into a four cup glass measuring cup.  Heat a small amount of oil in a Teflon pan and pour just enough batter to make a “crepe’.  If you have never made crepes google it.  The technique is the same.  The recipe should yield enough crepes for one panigacci.

Next make a simple pesto with basil and pine nuts.  I never measure ingredients and go more on feel and flavor but I will offer these helpful tips.  Do not buy store bought pesto because it sucks.  I start with a small boiled fingerling potato, garlic, Parmesan and olive oil pureed in a food processor.  The addition of a small potato came from an Italian chef.  The potato keeps your basil from turning brown and adds a level of creaminess that is amazing.  If I had to guess quantities I would say one fingerling peeled, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, 1 cup Parmesan (I used Reggiano) and one cup of extra virgin olive oil.  With the motor running I add about one pound of basil leaves that were blanched and shocked and I puree till smooth.  To me pesto should taste creamy, basilly with a hint of garlic.

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Spoon one tablespoon of pesto over each panigacci till you are done.  Roast the whole panigacci in your oven, or wood burning oven as we do.  Cut into wedges and serve on a San Marzano tomato sauce.  Try this immediately.  You will absolutely fall in love with it.  Thank You Carol Field for publishing such a great recipe!  I strongly suggest finding her books and buying them all!

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!

Feeling Old… A Time for Reflection

As many of you have already read Charlie Trotter died two days again at the young age of 54, sadly found by his son, but that isn’t really the focus I am intending.  I talked to my sous chef about it.  Keith comes from the Chicago market and actually was the one who told me.  I talked to two cooks who work for me at Figue, one 37 and one 19, neither had heard of Charlie Trotter.  That shocked me.  Google Charlie Trotter and you will see very opinionated commentary on him.  People either loved him or hated him.  I found it fascinating that people who chose this career hadn’t heard of someone who was out there in the forefront, love him or hate him.

I first met Charlie a week before he opened his restaurant on Armitage.  We both had the same Edward Don rep, Wally.   Wally was so excited about Charlie and his project that he wanted to show it off to me.  I was contemplating opening a restaurant at the same time.  Charlie’s restaurant was well laid out and no expense was spared. Charlie’s career skyrocketed where mine just kind of went an average trajectory.  Back then I was bitter about that.  Today I have grown a lot and have no room in my heart for negative feelings or even hatred.

Charlie always struck me as a bit arrogant and over the years I grew to dislike him as a Chef. I could never comment about him as a person but as a Chef  I had heard many interesting stories about his background and claims he made.  I felt I owed it to him and to myself to eat at his restaurant and give it a fair try.  I ate with my mother and was unimpressed.  Too many ingredients on each plate.  I am more awed by minimalism.  We had had the grand tasting menu and two of the courses on the daily printed menu were substituted.  The waitstaff did not even think it necessary to tell us as they brought dishes different than what our printed menu stated.  The first course was very good and subsequent courses became less and less interesting culminating in the desserts scattered across the table that were mediocre at best. Only when I ordered a $400 bottle of a single vineyard Guigal did our table receive any attention.  Trotters was a bit pretentious.  Maybe it was an off night.  God knows I have had many of those.

I feel old because I am now sounding like my father in criticizing the youth of today.  It blows my mind that people do not know who he was.  I wanted to be a Chef so badly I used to go skiing with the Repertoire de la Cuisine firmly tucked in my pocket memorizing sauces and garnishes as I rode the lifts.  The binding came apart and I duct taped it back together.  Every spare second I studied food and Chefs, even ones I wasn’t in love with.  All of us who cook share a bond.  We all chose a career that is physically demanding and unyielding in it’s toughness.  We all have gone through the grind of trying to make it.  The weekends and holidays sacrificed for the art of the kitchen.  The divorce rates, suicide rates, alcohol and drug rates are astounding.  I have gone through a divorce and had my fair share of drug/alcohol related issues over time.  I definitely gave my pint of blood for this career and feel very much like a survivor.

I just read an interesting article about Charlie (read article here).  My favorite line is “I said, ‘From one Chicagoan to another, what would be your last meal?’ And he answered, ‘A 1900 Chateau Margaux,’ ”   I think I may have said the exact same thing.

I bid safe travels to Charlie and heartfelt condolences to his family, especially his wife and son.  I can only imagine the great pain they feel.  I raise a great glass of wine in your honor…  thanks for helping Chicago become a better known food town and thanks for doing your part in carrying le feu sacre…

 

The Story of Life

is quicker than the Wink of an Eye

The Story of LOve is hello and goodbye…

…until we meet again!

Gimme Sanctuary

sanctuary

Sanctuary

noun \ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē\

: a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter

: the protection that is provided by a safe place

: the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held

: the place where Beau MacMillan is a deity

About two weeks ago, I got this hair brained idea to get one last weekend before season begins at Figue Mediterranean and I will be too busy for anything except maybe nursing a Mai Tai next to my pool.  The restaurant world can be brutal and one needs a place of refuge where deities nourish your soul and stomach  I thought about a culinary tour of Los Angeles finest eateries or camping in the woods and sucking down a few choice bottles amidst legs of duck confit then it came to me…  go visit Chef Beau at the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, Arizona, even the name implies happiness.  We loaded our Jetta Sportwagen and headed through the desert to the Sanctuary.

The drive from Palm Springs is very easy and only took about four hours door to door, depending on how many playgrounds your three year old insists on stopping at.  We arrived at the Sanctuary and immediately felt the truly sincere and gracious welcome the entire staff gives.  I have been to many great resorts, hotels and inns in my life and sometimes have experienced staffs who are annoyed by your presence.  At the Sanctuary, they make you feel like your are a loved family member they haven’t seen in years.  Everyone from the valet to the check in attendant to the gentleman that shows you your room was beyond kind and helpful.

Sanctuary 01 Sanctuary 03We were given the Turquoise X Spa Room, a wonderful two room suite with a great balcony and many other incredible amenities.  Lisa took to the room like a fish to water.  We called room service and ordered two cocktails to quickly get us into the vacation mode. We were meeting Chef Beau MacMillan, Beau Mac, for a pizza party thrown at a friend’s house and I needed to shake the road off.

Sanctuary 05I have known Chef Beau for many years.  He actually started working with me several years ago at a small restaurant in Carver, Massachusetts called the Cranebrook Tea Room.  As a Chef you have many youngsters work for you and it is hard to keep track of all the people you meet.  I had forgotten about Beau till one day he called Claudia Springs Winery, where I was working in 2010, to track me down.  My boss, Bob Klindt, being the great boss he was, took Beau’s info and said he would pass it on.  Bob called my office and said some guy named Beau was looking for me.  Being cynical,  I quickly responded ‘did he say daddy or IRS or any other keywords that may help me remember why that name was familiar’.  Bob chuckled and had me call him.  It took two phone conversations before I remembered Beau fully who now had become a national celebrity and TV star.  Yes, 14 years of not owning a TV made me rather ignorant when it came to pop trivia.  We eventually hooked up and did a lunch and learn program at Elements, the Asian inspired restaurant at the Sanctuary and a few other events Beau was gracious enough to include me in. Sometimes being a Chef is like being a father, you take such a personal interest in those who learned the craft under your tutelage, they make you proud then they leave the nest to forge their own life and identity.  Over time, they call you either from a psychiatric ward after they’ve gone postal or when life is particularly good. Thankfully Beau called me because life had shined it’s lovelight on him and blessed him with a joyous career.   When I googled Beau and saw both the Chef and the man he became it made me super proud.  Anyone who knows Beau or is fortunate to cross his paths quickly realizes what a genuine and wonderful person he is and what an immensely talented Chef he has become.  The Sanctuary is far better off having Beau leading the culinary charge or as an employee told me this last trip  Elements is Beau.  He could not have been more correct.

ChefBeauMacMillan

We had a few hours to kill before the pizza extravaganza and tried fruitlessly to get our son Beaumont down.  Every time we got close he popped up.  Eventually we headed to the party and hoped for the best.  To our, and especially Beaumont’s delight, the house we went to was a child’s paradise with slides, pool and Thomas the train train set.  I am so embarrassed I did not remember everyone’s name because they all were so amazingly kind and wonderful.  We drank Champagne, downed a bottle of Beaumont’s wine.  In 2010, little Beau’s birth year, I made a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon with Bob Klindt to last Beau’s entire life and to have something to remember his Daddy by.

beaumontThe party was awesome.  Beau and I threw pies and I made some baked figs like we do at Figue.  I had a great time… thanks to all that were there.

Sanctuary 11 Sanctuary 12 Sanctuary 13 Sanctuary 14 Sanctuary 15At the end, or at least as long as little Beau let us stay before the inevitable meltdown, we watched Guy Fieri’s new Food Network show with some of the folks involved.  Here is my short shameless plug: make a food show about the son of a Chef who grows up cooking and his relationship with food – a kids cooking program.  I know most shows are reality based competitions and I don’t know crap about TV but my little son started his life eating Duck Confit with Truffles and helps cook whenever he can.  OK, plug over.  The other thing I feel compelled to mention is Guy Fieri’s twin works for me…

Figue July 2013 11

We drove back to the Sanctuary not the least bit hungry and thirsty but managed to do some damage at the Edge Bar. I wish I could say I took that picture below but I “borrowed” it from the Sanctuary’s photo collection online.

download (1)We indulged in a few cocktails before heading inside to eat.

Sanctuary 25We thought about eating at the newly renovated Jade Bar but decided upon sitting at a proper table.  It is not often we get to dine without our son.

Sanctuary 22 Sanctuary 28We enjoyed many fantastic dishes, shoo, they all were fantastic.  I apologize about the photo quality.  Normally I am a bit more anal about getting the shots right but somehow alcohol influenced mt skillset.

Sanctuary 30

Fire Roasted Oysters, Spinach, Lop Chung, Hijiki Aioli, or what is left of it.  This is one of the best dishes I will ever eat.  I am an oyster snob.  I want nothing more than an oyster and lemon, maybe.  I never eat cooked oysters.  HOLY MOLY!Sanctuary 31

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Shrimp Toast, roasted Scallop and Mandarin Teriyaki: a beautiful marriage of land and sea.  I order foie gras whenever I can because in California it is easier to buy Jamaican herbs than it is foie gras.Sanctuary 32

Octopus a la Plancha, pickled Mustard Root, Celery Hearts, Fingerlings and Smoked Paprika.  A great dish.  My only slam is now that at Figue we have a new way of cooking octopus it is hard to eat it any other way.  Beau’s was very good but our method is better.  Please do not take that as critical.  It is more like picking fly shit out of black pepper.Sanctuary 33

Artichoke Tart, local Goat Cheese, Preserved Lemon and Balsamic Chili glaze.  One word:  YUM!Sanctuary 34 Sanctuary 36

We ate the Char sui Pork Belly which was out of this world stellar yummo.  We were so stuffed I felt like that scene in Monty Python where a waiter (John Cleese) is trying to feed just one thin wafer mint to a guy who already has gorged himself on the food, see here.  Caution it is disgusting!Sanctuary 37We came back to our room to find Beaumont had fallen asleep sitting up…  Oh what a joyous and stupendous night.  Lisa and I thank Beau and his team at Elements and all the kind folks at the Sanctuary for giving us that safe haven for the weekend.  It was paradise.  I strongly urge any one of my three readers to venture to Arizona and enjoy Beau’s magic…  For reservations and more information please go to the Sanctuaries web site: http://www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com/index.html

2003 Paul Hobbs Richard Dinner Vineyards Chardonnay and Roast Chicken: a Match in Heaven

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Admittedly I am not a huge proponent of California wines.  Both my wife and I worked for wineries in California for several years and have drank our way through many greats.  I enjoy them.  Yes, there are great California wines, but if you asked me what my last drop of fermented grape juice to pass thru my lips would be, I would answer a great Bordeaux or Burgundy.  Please do not say anything about elitism.  It simply is preference.  I too wish those wines would be friendlier on my pocketbook.

Several years ago a close friend who works for wine distributor Michael Skurnik confided that I ought to check out Paul Hobbs Winery and invest whatever I could into bottles and cases.  I took note because Peter is a Burgundy hound and when he goes gaga over something I know it has to be special.

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After last night’s bottle of 2003 Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay I say with utmost confidence that Paul Hobbs’ wines are liquid magic. Peter was right and damn, I wish I bought a truckload.  I have gotten to the age in my life where I am more impressed by simplicity than overworked complicated things.    The less you manipulate, the better.  Making wine is no different than a Chef’s approach to food.  We met Paul’s brother Matt for a tour and tasting that included several barrels and bottles.  He was an incredibly knowledgeable and gracious host who conveyed his love of the family wines to us.  We loved them when we tasted them seven years ago, but last night was one of those rarefied moments of life when all the stars line up and bliss happens.  I adore wines with some age on them, even whites.  I cracked the Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay open and poured the straw colored ten year old Chardonnay into our glasses.  The nose was ethereal with the first taste bringing citrus and melon dancing on my tongue.  Pure magic!

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From their web site: ‘Meticulous vineyard management followed by minimally-invasive winemaking techniques allows us to produce wines that express their vineyard origins with finesse, complexity and authenticity. Paul Hobbs wines are fermented with native yeasts, aged in French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.’  Nature at it’s best.  When I cook, it is not about how much I can do to manipulate food but how little I can do to bring out the flavors.  The perfect chicken, the perfect onions, fleur de sel, hand picked herbes de Provence.  No mirrors to hide behind.

I simply seared then roasted a chicken from De La Ranch, one of Southern California’s premiere organic producers.  I roasted the legs, thighs and wings on a bed of caramelized onions then added the breasts at the end so they wouldn’t dry out.  I deglazed the pan with a cup of Paul Hobbs chardonnay  while I plated the onions and chicken.  I added a spoonful of Fallot Dijon mustard and a nob of Spring Hill butter and reduced it to sauce consistency.  I napped the chicken with the Dijon sauce and served it with a sauteed mixture of fregola, sweet corn and sauteed zucchini blossoms.  I figured a slightly classic Burgundy preparation needed a Burgundian varietal.  A True match in heaven!

Sadly, I have one bottle left.  I will prepare the exact same dish again, no changes.

I strongly suggest stockpiling Paul Hobbs’ wines.  They are phenomenal.  Visit their web site: http://www.paulhobbswinery.com/

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Here is the cut sheet for the wine we drank last night!

Vineyard
¨ Owner/Mgr: Caroline and Patricia Dinner /Joe Votek
¨ Appellation: Sonoma Mountain
¨ Clone: Old Wente, Robert Young selection
¨ Vine age: 21 years
¨ Site: Hillside, northern exposure, gray clay-loam and
gravel with sub-soil lens of volcanic tuft
¨ Yield: Less than 1 ton /acre

Harvest
¨ Harvest Dates: October 2 – 9, 2003
¨ Harvest Brix: 24.2° – 25.0°
¨ Growing Season: The 2003 growing season began as a difficult one
with hot and cold spikes. Rain in late spring
prolonged bud break, and resulted unusual
ripening patterns. Diligent work in the vineyard
throughout a consistently warm summer resulted
in wines of complexity and power.

Winemaking
¨ Hand-harvested grapes
¨ Whole cluster press
¨ Barrel fermented with indigenous yeasts; 2 months to
completion
¨ Concurrent spontaneous malolactic fermentation in barrels;
6 months to completion
¨ Aged 15 months in Francois Freres, Seguin Moreau, Cadus,
and Alan Fouquet French oak barrels; 89% new
¨ Unblended, unfined and unfiltered; bottled January 2005

Notes
¨ Cuvee Agustina, named for my daughter, is a selection of the
best barrels of our Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay. It is
produced only in the very best vintages. Warm gold in color
with a nose of honeysuckle and spice, this wine is unctuous
and mouth-filling. On the palate, flavors of pear and spiced
apple intermix with lively notes of orange blossom and lemon
custard, which linger through the enduring, velvety finish.
Alcohol 14.8%

201 cases produced

Paul Hobbs Winery
Sebastopol, California Tel: (707) 824-9879 Fax: (707) 824-5843
http://www.paulhobbs.com

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)