Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sonoma: Girl & the Fig, Westwood Winery, Farm, and more

In late June, I went on a day trip to Sonoma. I've been to wine country a handful of times, but it was my first trip with Sonoma as the focal point, vs. Yountville or Napa.

This trip was really special because I had the best dinner of my life (no joke). Here are all the highlights from my trip:

Brunch at Girl & the Fig (only available on Sundays, as I discovered was so good I went back! Will have to write about today's trip in a separate post).

Started off our morning with two fig drinks. The "fig kiss" is on the left. It's made with "figcello di sonoma", elderflower liqeur, and cranberry juice.  It was DELICIOUS – it kind of reminded me of a lighter, tropical port.

(The figcello is made exclusively for Girl & the Fig by Sonoma's Hello Cello. It's made with a blend of black mission figs, citrus, and anise. I'm going to have to get my hands on a bottle. Or a cellar.)

The one on the right is the "fig royale," a lighter aperitif that was basically sparkling wine and fig liqeur. Unfortunately couldn't really taste the figginess of this one.

I had two potato pancakes (each the size of a small jar lid), topped with thinly-sliced smoked salmon, dill crème fraiche, caviar, and chives.  A frisee-heavy salad on the side. Smoked salmon + dill = so good.

Because this place is known for their duck confit, Ryan ordered the duck confit & potato hash. The hash mixed in root vegetables and applewood smoked bacon, and was topped with two poached eggs. The duck confit was gloriously moist (sorry), pliable, and flavorful.

To max out on the fig-level of our meal, we finished it off with a neat line of "fig kisses" – dried black mission figs dipped in chocolate and drizzled with black mission fig syrup.

I don't like chocolate, so I can't say much for this dessert. Also, ahem, it's technically fig season, so not as excited about dried figs when they are being luscious and ripe elsewhere.


We walked around downtown Sonoma after brunch.  The square is pretty peaceful, a mix of tourist-friendly shops, small gourmet food shops offering olive oil and chocolate tastings, and a couple bakeries.

It's quite different from Yountville and downtown Napa in that it doesn't feel as intensely manicured. It's more casual and at first glance, seems a little rundown, but the buildings that seem to need a fresh coat of paint are actually historical ones – former missions, military housing, hotel saloons, and even servants' quarters.

We also saw roses as tall as (shorter) giraffes.


Wine Tasting at Westwood Winery 

The winery was closed when we arrived. But as we were ready to leave, a worker there returned to open up shop (apparently the manager/winemaker was away harvesting walnuts as part of an Italian national tradition that was taking place that day), so we got to experience a tasting with us as the only customers.

It's a really, for lack of a better word, cute place. To get there, you have to find a sign on the main street, then turn into a long and narrow alley that opens up to courtyard that with three small tables.

We shared a tasting, which consisted of three Pinot Noirs, a Syrah, and a Syrah blend. I'm not a wine conoisseur, so I'll leave the critiquing to the experts, but I thought they were very peppery. Super peppery, in fact.

We also got the taste of the Nocino, a walnut liqueur. This thing was STRONG and definitely an acquired taste (as absinthe is). It was very thick, and tasted like a blend of licorice and gasoline. I do NOT mean that in a derogatory way – my palate is just not...trained for this.

The process for making it is quite interesting. The walnuts are harvested when the shells haven't formed, then quartered and mixed with sugar, which draws liquid from them. Herbs, spices, aromatics, and eventually high-proof alcohol is added, and then the liquid is drained off and aged in casks to mellow out the flavors. (I probably would die if I had to drink it before it was "mellowed out.")

By itself, it's a big punch to the face, but I can see how it would be delicious as a part of something else – coffee or ice cream or cocktails.


More wine tasting

We then drove around and did some tastings at Trefethen and Madonna Estate, which we chose for their lighter, sweeter whites. Trefethen had a beautiful tasting room, but felt a little factory line-like – pay, get in, quick blurb, taste, repeat, you're done. Their wines smelled lovely, very fruity and melony, but tasted kind of watered-down. Oh well.


Dinner at Farm, at the Carneros Inn

Then, for dinner, I had very possibly the best meal of my life. It was so delicious and beautiful that my eyes actually started watering at some point during the meal. I'm a loser. But it was so good.

First of all, Farm is beautiful. It is one of the most airy and bright spaces I have ever dined at. I totally envy the people who get to stay at Carneros Inn. Just by entering the grounds, I immediately felt that on-vacation feeling – relaxed and pampered...happy and carefree...

They have a lounge area en plein air, with soft and lush seats surrounding fireplaces. So in love.

We started off with warm and freshly-baked bread rolls (decent) and an amuse bouche – I think tuna tartare atop a smear of creme fraiche.

Then came a beautiful risotto, made with lobster, preserved meyer lemon, parmigiano-reggiano, and carnaroli rice, which apparently has a higher starch content than arborio that helps it hold a firmer shape during cooking.

The presentation was gorgeous for a risotto. Look how colorful and spring-y it is. Usually the risottos I get are not at all photogenic, i.e. look like giant mushy blobby puddles.

This was one of our entrees. Again, so beautiful: the "Alaskan Halibut Crepenette," atop English peas, morels, garden rhubarb, fiddlehead ferns, and beurre monte, an emulsified butter sauce.

And here's a closeup because I'm creepy...

This was our other entree. This was my favorite part of the meal and I think when I began tearing up.

It's the "Potato Crusted Petrale Sole," assembled with a vidalia onion soubise, corn, basil, brown beach mushrooms, and pickled watermelon rind.

It was f-ing amazing. The potatoes slices were wisp-thin, so delicate and crispy. The corn was incredibly sweet and just the right level of smokiness. And I have no clue what's in the sauces, but it was light and creamy and caramely all at the same time.

Then came dessert, a whimsically titled "Farmer's 'Breakfast:'" zucchini pain perdu (a fancy french version of french toast), fresh blueberries and apricots, granola cereal milk custard, oatmeal brown sugar ice cream, and zucchini formage blanc mousse.

The granola really did taste like cereal milk. My favorite part? The thin, candied, dehydrated slices of zucchini.

And then we got these things with the check. Sorry, I have no recollection of what these are, but they were chocolatey and thus did not make it into my long term memory.

Bocce ball both preceded and followed our meal.

I think what I loved so much about Farm was not only the sky-high deliciousness level of the meal, but how intricate and interactive it was. Everything made sense together, and it was really FUN to eat, which is weird saying for such a classy place.

Until next time, Sonoma.

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