Friday, September 25, 2009

California Wining and Dining

September 16, 2009

My latest California trip combined meeting old friends with sharing good food and wine. Since I also do restaurant reviews for the Albuquerque Arts magazine, my comments will include where I dined. As it happens, I have much good news to report. The following travelogue is a moveable feast that began with lunch, followed by a trek to two wineries just outside the town of Sonoma, and ended at dinner in Point Reyes on a fog-shrouded evening.

The day started with a trip to the town of Sonoma, which lies at the foot of two mountain ranges above San Pablo Bay. The town has charm to spare, with a number of tasting rooms and restaurants. The plaza, a wide expanse of lush green grass and trees in the heart of town, showed up easily in the arterial view of MapQuest. Although I have been led astray at times by this popular application, this time it was dead on. The plaza was to be our meeting spot.

When my wife and I arrived our friends, Ernie and Shirley Levasseur, talked us around the plaza to their location by cell phone. When we rounded the corner there was Shirley with phone to ear waving us over. Remember how challenging this was before cell phones? We also met Stan Schuler and Mila Caceres who own the bed & breakfast where we’d spend the night.

Ernie, a retired Army colonel, had recently reunited with his buddy, Stan. They had last been together in Viet Nam, and that’s a long time ago. We had lunch at The Girl & the Fig, just off the plaza. Yes, you read that name right. Who could resist dining there? The backyard patio was perfect. Our group had a cozy, vine-canopied area all to ourselves where good wines, wine flights, and excellent food pairings soon covered the table.

I had the Viognier wine flight paired with a selection of cheeses and meats. Since I’d focus on red wines later, I didn’t want to overload my palate at lunch. The wines were from France, Chile, and California, and each was a unique interpretation of this increasingly popular grape. The setting was perfect, the conversation free-flowing, and the food and wine luscious.

Departing from the restaurant, we followed the white sign posts with faded black lettering guiding us to a long winding country road that terminated at the Buena Vista winery entrance. A huge stump of a Live Oak tree arrested my attention before entering the cool interior. This is one of the oldest wineries in California, established in 1857. The tasting notes on this winery can be found here.

Our next stop was only a few miles away on another country road that climbed a rounded ridge to a beautiful chateau that fronted what was once a nudist retreat. Now the only thing lying naked in the sun is the grapes. The Bartholomew Park Winery is a boutique winery with excellent hand-crafted wines that will be covered in as future post.

After the wine tasting we took back roads to Point Reyes in Marin County. The Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most picturesque on the California coast. Nearly cleaved from the mainland by Tomales Bay to the north and Olema creek to the south, Point Reyes forms an elongated triangle with the longest side clinging to the coast, and the southern end curving over Drakes Bay, while the shortest side forms a foot with outstretched toe testing the waters of the Pacific. Drakes Bay was named after Sir Francis Drake, privateer to some, pirate to others.

The national seashore encloses marshes, bird sanctuaries, sandy beaches, verdant grasslands, and wave-splashed rocky cliffs and ledges. We refreshed at One Mesa, Stan and Mila’s B & B in the One Mesa cottage, which was beautifully appointed with a skylight over the king-size bed, a porch overlooking the garden, deep-set tub, and full coffee self-service. The scents of flowers and eucalyptus and ocean-scented breezes made this cottage hard to leave the next morning.

We had dinner at Nick’s Cove on Tamales Bay. Great views and our own glass-enclosed alcove where quiet conversation was possible helped make this a fabulous dining experience. I had brought a bottle of a Buena Vista Pinot Noir from our earlier tasting, but found a complete wine list that I read with relish. Considering that this is a Pat Kuleto-owned restaurant, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I previously wrote about his wine here.

I began with Oysters “Nick- erfeller” with tarragon, butter, spinach, and breadcrumbs. Unlike the bacon that can overpower the Rockefeller version, this one allowed me to savor the fresh-caught oysters right from Tomales Bay. The Scottish Salmon and the Pinot didn’t quite match, but the 22 oz. Ribeye alla Fiorentina that would pair required a heavier commitment than I could muster. Next time I’ll use their wine list.

The last drive back around the bay in the gathering dusk was one of contentment after the many culinary pleasures of the day. It’s just a good thing I don’t do this every day. I’d never be able to get back on the bike. Salud!

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