My husband and I have just returned from a week in Northern California. If there is one thing I appreciate after living in NYC for so long it is big open spaces. Wine country is just that. The rolling hills, vast farmland, abundant greenery and perfectly manicured vineyards were just about enough to make this New Yorker never come home. Not to mention the food and wine far exceeded my expectations. Northern California has truly perfected organic, local, seasonal fare. I suppose the vast farmland might have something to do with it…
Here were our dining standouts:
- Cindy Pawlcyn’s – Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. We had lunch there on day 1 and I could have eaten every meal thereafter at Cindy’s. The standout dish was the charred fava bean salad. Usually when eating favas they are shelled, these however were still in the pods (which are quite long). They were simply grilled with olive oil and sprinkled with ricotta salata. Brilliant.
- Michael Chiarello’s – Bottega. It’s hard to pick a favorite when I am eating Italian food. My husband was rather enamored with his soft shell crab risotto, I on the other hand was amazed that a dish as simple as mine could elicit such intense flavors – it was a handkerchief pasta with asparagus, robiolo cheese and meyer lemon. Absolute heaven.
- Ryan Jette’s – Farm at the Carneros Inn. Again we had a risotto here that was a knockout – this one with crisp sunchokes, topped with pan-seared scallops. I’m pretty sure we swooned in adoration of it to our waiter.
- Bruno Tison’s – Sante. This was our hotel’s Michelin rated restaurant. As much as I would love to talk about the wonderful healthy dishes we had, the one that stands out in my mind and that I am still thinking about was a black truffle and lobster mac and cheese. *I believe everything in moderation is just fine.
- Alice Water’s – Chez Panisse. The trip wouldn’t be complete without a drive down to Berkeley to visit the famed restaurant. The standout dish was a cast iron baked halibut on a bed of snap peas and sautéed greens. This is the perfect example of the subtle qualities of cooking with local and seasonal ingredients. All you need to do is let the food speak for itself. The excellence is in the simplicity.
I would be remiss to not mention the standout wineries:
- Grgich Hills (Biodynamic and our favorite winery – every single wine we tried was exceptional)
- Chateau Montelena (Beautiful castle on a hilltop. Try their Cabs and award winning Chardonnay)
- Joseph Phelps (Breathtaking hilltop estate. The Insignia Cabernet is pricey, but worth a taste or two)
- Cakebread Cellars (The perfect Cabernet if you eat red meat; as a non-meat eater, I appreciate it on it’s own or with cheese)
- Peju (Excellent Chardonnay at a great price, plus the name is fun to say)
- Girard (The Mixed Blacks is unlike any red wine I’ve tried in awhile; a terrific blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignane)
When we returned home this weekend, I was so inspired by Cindy Pawlcyn’s fava beans that I tried to re-create them. Here you are:
Charred Fava Beans with Ricotta Salata
*Paired beautifully with a Grgich Hills Chardonnay
- 10 whole fava beans
- ¼ pound ricotta salata, crumbled
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- coarsely ground sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Brush fava beans with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place either in a grill pan (which I used) or directly on the grill (ideal) on medium-high heat. Let each side of the fava bean char until soft and dark, flipping frequently. Total time about 4-5 minutes. Place favas on a plate and sprinkle with crumbled ricotta, drizzle with remaining olive oil, top with salt and pepper to taste.