Santa Rosa has become a second home to me. Having family there has made it possible to visit, explore, and connect with the breathtaking countryside of Sonoma County. Its weather calls to me; its landscape stimulates my senses; and the slower pace of life I experience there breathes new energy into my soul. There is a peacefulness, a connectedness, that I struggle to describe other than to say it feels like maybe I have lived there in another lifetime. My most recent trip took place during the week of Memorial Day. Since I make every attempt to squeeze in as many days as possible when my travels take me North, I arrived days ahead of the rest of my family who later joined me for the long weekend.
Mid-week, in a selfless act of generosity to my sister-in-law, (yes, I’m being facetious!) I took her on a day trip into San Francisco as a treat for her 50th birthday – I mean 40th – (oops Sher, I forgot my promise.) I never grow tired of visiting the City by the Bay and look for every opportunity to cross that golden bridge into the hills of San Fran. A visit would not be complete without a trip to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market which is where we began our adventures. From there we headed to Tartine Bakery, for which I have no explanation as to why it has taken me this long to visit. I have both books, Tartine and Tartine Bread, yet I hadn’t had the pleasure of tasting their yummy baked goods in person. And taste I did! I sampled as much as possible, taking a shopping bag full of goodies with me as I headed to our next gluttonous stop - Smitten Ice Cream.
Those who know me know that I am crazy for ice cream. I have been waiting months to sample Smitten’s creamy, fresh version that they toute as, well, to quote them exactly, “Every scoop is made right before your eyes, going from raw ingredients to finished ice cream in about a minute. This means the freshest, most intensely flavorful ice cream you can imagine.” And that is what they gave me - with the help of liquid nitrogen – out came a decadent, creamy, and perfectly churned scoop of chocolate ice cream. The expected individual metal bins of various colorful and nutty toppings were nowhere to be found at this shop, however, my cone was sprinkled with homemade coconut brittle. Soooo delicious!
I know what you might be thinking – and, no, – I’m not so boring, food focused, or shallow as to visit San Francisco and not take in at least some form of cultural enrichment. The de Young Museum was curating an exhibit of Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashions, and if you have a chance to see this exhibit, please, please do! Not to be believed!! (Take note of the two exclamation points.) Finally, a quick trip to Japantown to fulfill some frivolous shopping urges and our day was coming to an end. As the sun was about to set, we began our exit from the city – but not before a cupcake I had bought from Miette Bakery that morning at the Ferry Building called my name from the back seat of the car. In order to give it a fair tasting critique, I knew I had to sampled it before it was past its prime. So, I pealed back the dainty pink paper encasing the chocolate cake with strawberry buttercream and dove in. To be honest, I was caught off guard by how delicious it was. I am most often disappointed by bakeshop cupcakes – but not this one! And so, in spite of being completely filled to the brim with breads, sweets, chocolate, ice cream and more, I continued to eat it. It was that good! Dinner in San Fran was out of the question. At last, I had no room left – no matter what the restaurant, chef, or cuisine. I couldn’t have enjoyed it. Next trip I will start with dinner and work backwards from there.
By Saturday the rest of the family had arrived and we readied ourselves for a multiple birthday celebration lunch at Cyrus restaurant in Healdsburg. I was informed that Cyrus was a “fancy” restaurant, which meant we had to “dress up”. Most restaurants in Southern California, regardless of how famous the chef or upscale the food, has a rather relaxed dress code. I was so excited to put on a pretty dress and heals. Everything about this restaurant was exceptional – the decor, service, ambiance and most especially, the food. My incredibly generous in-laws treated us to one of the most magnificent meals I have ever had! Course after course showed up at the table. Black jacket clad servers, in a perfectly choreographed dance, presented plate after plate of exquisite food. The presentation, styling, and garnishment of each and every dish was flawless. It was as much a feast for the eyes as for the taste buds – shaking up the senses, one mingling with the other in perfect harmony. I photographed the meal, course by course, mesmerized by the level at which Douglas Keane elevated his food to the height of pure art. What a gastronomical extravaganza. My praises would not be complete without my compliments to the talents of pastry chef Nicole Plue. I would love just one day interning with her! I wish these pictures could tell the whole story.
Little strawberry “bubbles” explode in your mouth with the refreshing taste of fruit followed by a burst of wasabi.
Melange of breads. Pretzel croissant, brioche, rolls and the lightest and flakiest biscuit I have ever eaten.
“Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato”
Chilled Salmon with Ginger and Daikon in a Snap Pea-Basil Broth
Chorizo Crusted Scallop with Sweet Corn and Lobster Froth
Black Sea Bass with Pea Sprouts, Asparagus and Lemon Verbena
Pasta Fagioli with Arugula and Red Wine Reduction
Individual Miniature Egg Creams are a prelude to the Desserts to come.
Sunday and Monday were days of lounging and relaxation – just as it should be over a long Holiday weekend. We took a long walk around the beautiful ridge , celebrated my daughter’s 21st birthday and my nephews graduation from 8th grade. We baked, played charades, and annoyed the dickens out of Coco’s chickens and ducks. (My niece has a business called Coco’s Cluckers where she delivers fresh eggs to the locals.) City folk are intrigued by chickens – myself included.
Meet Ritz, Cheez-It and Saltine
I returned to Southern California refreshed and inspired to bake and create. The memories linger of my meal at Cyrus, taunting me to return – and soon.