Bon Vivant's written and pictorial diary of her culinary adventures that will amuse and excite your virtual taste buds...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fremont Diner: A Gem in Sonoma

A preview of coming attractions: a close-up of the insanely good pulled pork sandwich.

How many times have I driven by the Fremont Diner on my way to SF or Petaluma and wondered, "hm, I wonder what that place is?" Many. Recently I noticed that the old wood shack (which used to be Babe's Burgers) that looked a drab Army barrack had been painted a fresh bright white and there were a bunch of yuppie cars in the parking lot. Swore to self that I would definitely check it out. Didn't even have time since on the same day I was invited to join Peggy for lunch later that week.

Another view of the ridiculously good pulled pork sandwich with the best onion rings I've had maybe ever.

I had done a little research ahead of time and discovered that the thing to order is the Nashville Hot Chicken (fried chicken served on a piece of bread that soaks up all of the grease from the chicken - divine!) Uh, oh, the chicken was not on the menu but there were twenty other things that I wanted to order (I believe that the menu changes daily).

I limited myself to only three items and asked about the Nashville Hot Chicken. The lady at the counter was so nice and she offered to have the kitchen make me an order. This was the best fried chicken that I've had yet in the Bay Area! Although it was a tad bit greasy, the crust was uber crispy and flavorful and the chicken tender and juicy. The ultimate test was that it tasted even better the next day.

Salad or macaroni and cheese as a side? What do you think this noodle whore ordered?

My only complaint was the the mac n cheese didn't have enough cheese in it but I took home the left-overs and added a bit more cheese before heating and it morphed into extremely good creamy mac n cheese.

The charcuterie platter speaks for itself:

From left to right: Prosciutto with wine marinated prunes; chorizo with Mahon, pistachios, and chopped quince; bresciola with fresh grapefruit and balsamic drizzle; and sopressata with pickled onions.

Not only was this one of the most fantastic tasting charcuterie platters that I have in a long time, it was also one of the most beautifully presented.

Well, I felt obligated to order something "healthy" and opted for the Gardner's Open Faced Sandwich instead of the Cincinnati Chili. While this sandwich did not have the cajones of the pulled pork sammie, it was still quite lovely (to look at and eat!) Shaved fennel, radish, and onion with a hint of dill were served over some great bread slathered with goat cheese. Definitely a great option for a vegetarian or someone who wants to eat light.

Fremont Diner
2698 Fremont Drive
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-7370

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Keller Estate's Sashimi and Wine Pairing

What yummy treat awaits us?

I had heard nothing but fabulous things about Keller Estate wines from the Winos so when Alicia and Kim informed me of the "sushi" (and I say this because sashimi is the more appropriate word since there turned out to be not a grain of rice in our tasting) and wine pairing at Keller I was the first person who signed up.

Ed Metcalf, who is the chef and owner of Shiso restaurant in Sonoma, was on hand to prepare our sashimi delights that day (I've been meaning to schedule a noodle event at his restaurant and then go out wine tasting at Grange Sonoma - the SF folk can be lured to a restaurant in the extreme North Bay with the promise of wine tasting nearby.

A close-up of our first course: raw salmon "roll" filled with avocado, daikon sprouts, arugula, fresh black pepper, and a hint of fresh lemon.

This was a lovely starter and went so well with the wine (ok, ok, I should really take notes before I start to drink since I can't remember if this is the Pinot Gris or the Oro de Plata Chardonnay; we were served both of them but I just can't remember the order in which they were served. Anyway, since both wines leaned towards the acidic, each of them would have paired great with the salmon, so when you serve salmon sashimi buy both of these wines!)

A close-up of our next course: peppered hamachi served over an edamame puree and topped with tobiko.

Our hamachi paired with a fabulous Viognier.

While the hamachi could have been a bit fresher, overall this was a good dish and was a great pairing with the Viognier. There were a lot of different textures (crunchy, soft, unctuous) and flavors (salty, acidic) going on with this dish that worked really well with Viognier. The Keller Viognier is so good that I think one could pair it with many foods - including the atypical.

The piece de resistance! A glass of insanely good El Coro Pinot Noir and Ahi Poke served over udon noodles (what a genius Metcalf is! Poke and noodles!)

A close-up of the Ahi Poke.

Needless to say this was my favorite pairing. First of all, Poke is fabulous served over noodles. Secondly, I couldn't stop drinking this Pinot Noir. And for those of you who know my drinking habits that's rare for me since I usually don't like sipping Pinot Noir (though I think that generally it's a good food wine.) The unctuousness of the Ahi and a hint of spiciness went really well with the Pinot Noir.

Ended up with a bottle of the Pinot Noir and the '07 Rose (not tasted at the pairing) which was made with Syrah and that I've heard is the best Rose around (the '08 is made with Pinot Noir so I'm definitely go to have to buy a bottle of that on my next visit). The bad news is that Ed Metcalf informed us that he's moving his restaurant so as of this writing Shiso is without home but will hopefully reopen this spring.

We had such a wonderful afternoon at Keller drinking excellent wines (and they poured heavy, Dear Reader), eating great and imaginative sashimi dishes, and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the Keller family.

Keller Estate Winery
5875 Lakeville Hwy
Petaluma, CA 94954


Grange Sonoma - a Tasting Room Collective
23564 Arnold Drive
Sonoma, CA 95476

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Host, Toast and Post - The 2009 Nine Vines Holiday Challenge

A preview of coming attractions: Upon arrival, our guests are greeted with a glass of 2008 Nine Vines Grenache-Shiraz Rosé.

I was so pleased to be given the opportunity to participate in the "Host, Toast and Post – The 2009 Nine Vines Holiday Challenge." Daphne of Sonoma Sip understands my obsession with food and wine pairings so I asked her to be my co-host for what I knew was going to be a great holiday dinner party!

One of the requirements of the challenge was to create original recipes to be paired with three different varietals of Angove Winery’s Nine Vine wines: the aforementioned Rosé; a 2007 Viognier; and a 2008 Shiraz-Viognier. In creating our recipes, we took inspiration for our sit-down dinner from the Feast of the Seven Fishes normally served on Christmas Eve in Italian households. We wanted to create dishes that were light and unique in order to better showcase the wines.

We thought that the Grilled Shrimp “Ceviche” would pair nicely with the Rosé. And were we right! At first the wine was nice and fruity with hints of strawberry and kiwi, however, paired with the ceviche a lovely acidity was brought out in the wine. There was one ingredient in the ceviche that just made the wine sing: the jicama. Indeed. Normally people don’t think about jicama at all let alone pairing it with wines but it just created this harmonic convergence of wonderful flavors with the Rosé. I just love the unexpected when pairing foods with wines!

Despite the fabulous pairing of the ceviche with the Rosé, my favorite pairing was the Viognier with the Linguine and Clams with a Twist. This Viognier had a lovely nose of stone fruit, vanilla, and honeysuckle yet its balanced acidity paired beautifully with the saltiness and brininess of the clam sauce. I normally would pair a Viognier with a much richer dish but because the Nine Vines Viognier is a bright, fruit forward style Viognier it didn’t overwhelm the subtleness of the pasta with clams, and in fact, it gave it a certain amount of complexity.

We had wanted to pair the Shiraz-Viognier with something atypical but when we think of Shiraz we think of lamb! We were torn because it’s just such a natural pairing but I had heard through the grapevine that fresh tuna was phenomenal with Shiraz and since this particular Shiraz had a hint of Viognier in it, I was just dying to try it. What to do? Well, we compromised and created a dish that I like to call “Sonoma Surf and Turf.”

The dish was comprised of lamb shoulder chops served with an amazing fennel relish and grilled Ahi tuna steaks served with a wild arugula salad. The fennel relish was fabulous with the tuna as well and the arugula salad was great with the lamb. Needless to say, the peppery Shiraz-Viognier paired fabulously with all of the components of the dish. I want to further explore the pairing of tuna with the Shiraz-Viognier because I think that the pairing would be spectacular with a tuna preparation that is more unctuous such as a Hawaiian Poke or a spicy tuna roll or bowl.

Overall the Shiraz-Viognier won best wine of the evening (though my personal favorite was the Viognier). Our guests really enjoyed the Nine Vines wines and were impressed by how well they paired with the food. I think that all of these wines are extremely versatile and would pair well with the heavier foods of winter and would also be great at a summer bbq. I like the fact that these wines are extremely well priced for the quality ($12 per bottle) and that they are ready to drink now.

Below are the recipes from our fabulous dinner. Each recipe serves 6.

Grilled Shrimp “Ceviche”

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil such as Canola

½ cup finely chopped red onion

2/3 cup finely chopped Persian cucumber

2/3 cup finely chopped jicama

1 to 2 tablespoons bottled red hot sauce*, or to taste

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 large avocado, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch pieces

Lime wedges

Toss the raw shrimp with the salt and pepper. Add the oil to a heated grill pan or fry pan. Over medium high heat, add the shrimp and cook until just cooked, turning once (this should take about 3-4 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp). Remove shrimp to plate to cool. Cut each shrimp into ½ inch pieces. Place in a bowl and chill for at least an hour.

Combine the onion, cucumber, and jicama in a large mixing bowl. Add the chilled shrimp, hot sauce, and olive oil and stir to combine. Gentle fold in the chopped avocado.

Fill six serving bowls or cups with the “ceviche” and place a lime wedge on the edge of the rim. Serve immediately.

*We used Cholula which is a bit spicier but we also recommend using Tamazula.

Linguine and Clams with a Twist

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

½ cup Nine Vines Viognier

2 one inch strips orange peel, white pith removed

3 ½ lbs. little neck or manila clams (the smallest you can find), scrubbed, soaked until free of sand, and drained

2 tablespoons butter

1 lb. dried linguine

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add garlic and pepper flakes and cook over medium heat until garlic is just barely brown. Twist the strips of orange peel to release the orange essence and add to the pan along with the Viognier. Bring to a boil and reduce the wine by half. Add the clams, shake the pan, and lower heat until sauce comes to a strong simmer.

Meanwhile, boil the linguine in salted water. If the clams start opening up before the pasta is ready to be drained remove the clams from the sauce temporarily. Just before the pasta is ready to be drained, swirl the butter into the clam sauce. Drain the linguine when it’s al dente (7-8 minutes depending on which band that you use) and add to the pan with the clams (add back any removed clams). Toss the linguine with the clams and sauce. Remove to serving bowl and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve immediately.

"Sonoma Surf and Turf"

Part One:

3 TB extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 shallots, thinly sliced

4 anchovy fillets, rinced and minced

2 TB minced kalamata olives

2 TB minced dried plums

pinch red pepper flakes

2 tsp. sherry vinegar

6 1 inch thick lamb shoulder chops

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, head 2 TB olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, garlic and shallot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes or until softened. Remove from heat. Off the heat, add the anchovies, olives, dried plums, pepper flakes and vinegar.

Heat 1 TB olive oil over medium high heat. Season the chops with salt and pepper, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Let rest for 5 minutes. Serve over relish.

Part Two:

Two thick (at least one inch) Ahi Tuna filets, equaling 1 ½ lbs.

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for coating the tuna

5 oz. wild arugula

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons Nine Vines Shiraz-Viognier

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

While the lamb chops are resting, drizzle the tuna with olive oil to just coat the filets. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a grill pan or fry pan over high heat. Add the tuna and cook for two minutes on each side for medium-rare.

Drizzle the olive oil over the arugula and toss until all leaves are coated. Add the wine and vinegar. Toss until coated. Season with salt and pepper.

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