American Adventure – Update 1

This blog was intended to be about my cooking and restaurant exploits in London, however I’m going to stretch this definition to include my trip to America.

Day 1
The flight out was spectacular, clear skies over Iceland, Greenland, Washington and Oregon led to some spectacular views.

Once through immigration I headed into San Francisco to meet my host and have an explore. I really enjoyed looking round the Ferry Building, which is a kind of permanent farmer’s market, had some excellent Passsionfruit Sorbet. The weather was fantastic and I had time to scope out a couple of places I wanted to try out while I’m here.

Dinner was a great Sushi restaurant, everything was incredibly fresh and made at the bar in front of us. The eel/crab/avocado has got to be the best I’ve ever tasted.

Day 2
An early start saw us heading out of SF in our electric rental car, driving towards the vineyards of Sonoma. I’ve long been a fan of Ravenswood, their vintners blend and Lodi have been very popular in the UK for some time. Situated in the foothills, 30 minutes walk outside the centre of Sonoma, it’s a beautiful spot.

Ben and I did a wine blending course, choosing from the Zinfandel, Carignan and Petit Syrah to create a unique mix which would then be bottled. I went with a really big, thick tannic wine which is crying out for one of the Ginger Pig’s top steaks.

Following the session we sat on the veranda and tasted a whole slew of their wine. Their sweet moscato has got to be one of the nicest whites I’ve tried, very like a Pinot Blanc from Alsace. Their exclusive ‘Old Hill’, a mix of around 20 ancient varieties from one gnarled old vineyard, is stunning in it’s body and depth – one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted. Sadly it’s very difficult to buy in the UK!

Heading back into Sonoma, badly in need of lunch, we stopped at Maya’s, a great little Mexican place. Two enormous fish tacos later we were ready to hit the wine again and did a reserve tasting at Sebastiani, a much larger producer than Ravenswood.

After lounging by the pool we headed out for dinner at ‘The Girl and the Fig’, one of Sonoma’s top restaurants and a great example of Californian cuisine. There’s a heavy focus on locality, seasonality and simplicity, flavours are subtle and understated, very un-American!

Starter – Heirloom lettuce salad, with shoestring potatoes, radish, orange and caramelised pistachios.

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This was a triumph, light, airy and very fresh. The only way I’d tweak it would be to add a little goats cheese for tartness or some rocket for a bit of peppery fire.

Main – Slow cooked rabbit with seasonal vegetables and polenta

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Slow cooking rabbit makes for a deliciously tender meat with an intriguing flavour. Polenta is woefully underused in European cookery, here it’s a fantastic alternative to mashed potatoes. The dish did a lovely job of presenting the fresh clean flavours, though I think it would benefit from a little ‘flavour encapsulation’ – mini black pudding/smoked bacon lardons or chorizo. Small meaty bites.

The dessert was some great local cheese, with an interesting savoury strawberry jam. The whole meal was accompanied with some superb local wines, a viognier, a Grenache Blanc and a great Grenache blend.

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