Trenton-Roadhouse

Dining – SingleThread at Kistler’s Trenton Roadhouse

By Food and Wine, Pandemic Wine Tour, Restaurants No Comments

When SingleThread announced in late July that they would be partnering with Kistler Vineyards to host their Summer Wine Dinner Series, I started plotting my trip to wine country.  I love Kistler wines.  I love SingleThread.  I was super excited about the opportunity to marry them both together with a 10-course tasting menu.  However, I could never find a reservation for just one person.  I looked.  I stalked.  I considered going for my birthday.  I considered paying for two people but only being one person just so I could enjoy the experience.  I never did.  And, knowing they don’t offer reservations for one person, I didn’t even consider dining at SingleThread this trip.

Trenton-Roadhouse

Remember yesterday when I was sitting outside of SingleThread for an hour and a half hoping to get up to their rooftop wine bar?  WELL….I didn’t tell you everything that happened during that hour and a half wait.  When I was chatting up Michael about getting up to the rooftop, I explained that I had really wanted to dine at Kistler but could never find a reservation for just one person.  He agreed that they don’t offer the experience for one person.  And I get that!  I’m not upset about that.  It doesn’t make business sense.  Why would a restaurant take up a whole table for just one person when they could get double the revenue from two?  And SingleThread isn’t hurting for diners!  They don’t need to open up reservations for fewer than two people.

Well, about 10 minutes after that chat, Michael reappeared at my Jeep window asking if we could chat.  Ummmm….okay?  Was he bored too?  What would he have to chat about with some psycho stalker (me) parked on the curb at the front door of his restaurant?  He clearly likes the dramatic effect.  He drug it out.  He explained that he wasn’t sure if it was something I had done (huh?) or if I just have good luck.  But, apparently SingleThread DID have a reservation for one diner that night.  Someone somehow had gotten themselves in.  Someone had made an exception.  But that someone had sprained her ankle and had just canceled her reservation.  Now here’s Michael with an empty table for one knowing he’s got me sitting on the curb itching to dine with them.  He barely got the words out and I was reaching for my credit card to secure the reservation.  It was about 4:30pm and the reservation was for 7pm.  I still had time to experience the rooftop bar.  Thank goodness I was at least wearing a dress.  I wasn’t sure I had enough time to visit the rooftop and to go back to my hotel to change.  But I figured I was semi-appropriately dressed.  I was about to wear a denim jacket to a Michelin 3-Star dinner (insert facepalm emoji).

I was literally crying a little and shaking.  I was in shock.  I hadn’t even tried to get into SingleThread.  I was just being chatty.  Lesson learned – BE CHATTY!  You may remember that I dined at SingleThread back in January and had an “experience”.  I’ve been wanting to dine there again to see if I could successfully make it through the whole meal.  Spoiler alert – I made it through the whole meal.  And here it was.  Thank goodness I didn’t eat a big lunch!!!  I was about to enjoy the 10-course tasting menu!

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Pulling up to Kistler’s Trenton Roadhouse at dusk is magical.  There’s no other word for it.  It’s perfectly illuminated with lights strung over the patio.  There’s a casual seating area under the “big oak tree” and swing.  I don’t usually take selfies on these trips – let alone post them!  But, I like this one of me on the swing – even if it is a little blurry – selfie at dusk on swing!

Me-Trenton-Roadhouse

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I chose a comfy seat under the tree and was presented with a fruity cocktail and plate of several appetizers.  A couple of these looked VERY familiar from my first dinner at SingleThread – that egg!  And the larger bowl seemed like creamy mashed potatoes?  Thise whole course isn’t even listed on the menu so I’m just guessing here!  When it was my turn, I was led through the roadhouse, past the wines of the night, and out onto the patio.

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I had a great table!  I was at the edge of the patio overlooking the “lower grounds” and barn.  The photo below is of the table situated behind me.  I think it gives you a great idea of the setup on the patio.  I tried to capture a photo of my romantic view, but my little iPhone was not up to the task.  Or maybe it’s the photographer.  It’s likely the photographer.  Each table had a heater.  And the staff made sure I knew they could bring me blankets if I got cold as well.  The heater kept me toasty.  And, I luckily had a wrap in the Jeep that I threw over my denim jacket – who cares about dress codes!?!  Actually, I joked about it with one of the servers and she assured me that I was appropriately dressed.  Because I wasn’t planning on this dinner.  I had dressed for tacos from a food truck and a glass of wine at a rooftop wine bar.

Patio

Just like the restaurant, the impressive display of first course bites was waiting for me at the table.  Many of them were similar or the same was the ones I’d enjoyed in January.  That course was paired with a glass of 2006 Dom Perignon.

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Appetizers

DomPerignon

So let’s dive into the courses.  Many of them continued to be very recognizable from my first meal earlier in the year.  The only difference was a seasonal spin on some of the components.  There were many more fresh tomatoes and cucumber and even strawberries!  The first course was definitely one of those that were “similar”.  The menu describes it as “Wild Kagoshima Kanpachi – Farm Tomatoes, Cucumber, and Pickled Wasa”.  I didn’t take photos of the Kistler bottles – the labels don’t photograph well and they’d all pretty much look the same.  This one was paired with the 2017 Laguna Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay.

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The next course was also very reminiscent of my first meal.  And that’s not at all a complaint!  I love the smell of the grilled fish.  This time it was “Black Cod Ibushi-Gin – Matsutake, Purple Barley Crepes, and Shio Koji Vinaigrette”.  All I heard was build-your-own-tacos.  In the photo below, there’s a small dish with a lid – that contained the crepes which were AMAZING.  You can see the two pieces of Black Cod on the donabe grill.  Then there were “taco fixin’s” in the three little bowls.  And that back basket contained the scariest mushrooms I’ve ever seen.  They remained untouched.

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Here are the scary mushrooms.  I’m sure folks who enjoy voluntarily eating mushrooms would probably appreciate these.  But, not this gal.  The servers even commented when clearing my table that my mushrooms were untouched.

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This was the final result of my taco-building exercise.  I’m sure there was a much more appropriate way to eat this course.  But to me it was finger food.  I actually ate my second “taco” separately by component.  I ate the crepe alone.  I gnoshed on the Black Cod all by itself.  I liked tasting the individual elements.  It was paired with the 2017 Vine Hill Vineyard Chardonnay.

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The next course was a salad.  I struggled with this one until I found the “dressing” at the bottom of the bowl.  But, doesn’t it look like a little head of lettuce to you?  Each of those leaves has been artfully arranged to create a beautiful masterpiece – well, that’s just the way they do it at SingleThread.  Each course is a work of art.

The menu description for this guy is “Farm Salanova – Cured Wild Salmon, Smoked Roe, and Chive Bavarois”.  It was paired with a side-by-side of the 2016 Durell Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2016 Stone Flat Vineyard Chardonnay.

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I’ve already lost count of how many courses we’ve had.  Next up is “Summer Squash – Spot Prawn, Squash Blossom, and Prawn Head Broth”.  It was paired with the 2017 Trenton Roadhouse Vineyard Chardonnay.  I don’t have a lot to say about this course.  I struggled with that fried Squash Blossom.  But the flavors were delicious.

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I was given a choice in the next course.  The “standard” meat course is duck.  But, I could go for the upcharged wagyu.  Now, this girl loves to choose the upcharge.  But, I queried my server as to the wine pairing.  I knew we were at Kistler.  I knew they make only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  And I know I love duck and pinot.  I’m sure the wagyu preparation probably paired wonderfully, too.  But I couldn’t bring myself to do beef.  She actually exclaimed that – I believe it was Bill Price – said that this dish was made for this wine.  So, I’m glad I didn’t go with the beef.  The pairing was the 2017 Cuvee Natalie Silver Belt Vineyard Pinot Noir.  The menu describes this course as:  “Duclair Duck – Calimyrna Fig, Turnip, and Kanpyo”.

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As soon as the “Grains Course” was presented, I knew this was the course that gave me trouble in my first visit.  So, I was a bit hesitant.  The menu describes it as “Sonoma Grains – Wagyu shortrib, Pickled Ramps, Maitake, and Beef Consumme”.  It was paired with the 2016 Laguna Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir.  The largest bowl contained what I would call a risotto with Wagyu Shortrib.  The bowl on the left contained beef consumme.  The bowl at the top contained “stuff” that included mushrooms.  I explained to my server my previous struggle and that I tried combining all of the dishes into one soup.  The look on her face was priceless!  She exclaimed that these were NOT meant to be combined.  You got it!  The chef wants the diners to eat some of the risotto, take a sip of the consumme, and finish with a bite of the “stuff”.  I obeyed.  I loved the risotto.  The consumme was incredibly rich.  And I held a bunch of the “stuff” in my chopsticks for a few moments before building up the courage to take a bite.  I knew there were mushrooms in there.  And I’m sure my struggle was all in my head.  I needed to make it through this course.  If I could make it through this course, I was home free!  I did not finish this course.  It was too rich for me at this point in the meal.  Thinking back to my first dinner at SingleThread and comparing it to French Laundry – I’ve always thought that SingleThread would do well with a bread course.  I needed a bread course right about now.  Those crepes were served too long ago!

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After surviving the previous course, we moved onto what they call the “Trenton Roadhouse Chardonnay – Mushroom and Oak”.  I was SO confused by this course.  It was served with hot tea.  I had my choice of Chamomile or a Green Tea.  I don’t even know what I was eating in the photo below.  But, I liked it.  There was a creamy sauce in the little pitcher that I poured over the stuff in the bowl.

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Then we moved onto dessert.  This may have been my favorite course of the night.  It contained fresh strawberries.  Strawberries!  In mid-October!  Here I was given another choice.  I believe the “standard” wine pairing was the 1997 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes.  My server exclaimed that I wanted to do the upcharge for the wine.  And I didn’t argue.  I know nothing about French wine.  I know nothing about Sauternes.  But then I remembered that I had what was apparently a famous Sauternes at The Restaurant at Meadowood earlier in the year.  I quickly pulled up the bottle shot from that meal.  And was not at all surprised when the exact same wine – a Chateau D’Yquem Sauternes – just one vintage older (a 1996) came out to the table at SingleThread.  I asked more about this wine.  I wondered about the retail price-point.  Granted, this one is 24 years old so you’d have to take that into account.  I’m guessing that this wine was the star of the night.  I also compared the two courses these great restaurants had chosen to pair it with.  Meadowood – a cheese course.  SingleThread – a more traditional dessert.  It’s been a few months since I dined at Meadowood (and I can’t wait to go back after they rebuild), but I remember not loving the pairing.  SingleThread nailed it.  The Sauternes paired  beautifully.

The menu description for dessert:  “Albion Strawberry – White Chocolate, Sake Kasu, and Shiso”.

Sauternes

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Last but certainly not least was the final course, the tower of tiny bites described as “Wagashi – Melipona Honey Yakgwa, Japanese Cheesecake with Umeboshi, Suiteki with Apricot, and Miso Custard with Spiced Nashi”.  All were very tasty.

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Now it was time to pay for this feast.  SingleThread does an amazing job at contactless payment.  They sent me a text.  It wasn’t nearly as adorable as the bill presentation when it’s not a pandemic. But it was super easy.

I’m so incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to experience the Kistler version of SingleThread.  It was something I really wanted to do.  But, here are my thoughts….
– I preferred the setting at Kistler’s Trenton Roadhouse over dining inside of their restaurant.  It was a beautiful, fall evening.  The heaters provided the perfect amount of warmth.

– While I love Kistler wine, I think I’d prefer to have more of a variety.  While the wines were lovely and worked nicely with the food, I would have preferred them to choose wines from the big wide world out there that might pair better.

– I felt the cadence of the meal was better at their restaurant.  I felt like I was waiting more between courses.  And that may not have really been the case.  I don’t know if it’s a fair comparison.  When I dined at the restaurant, a friend dined with me.  There was conversation.  I had no one to talk to when the servers left this time.  I may have been eating faster than a table with more than one would have and I didn’t have friendly conversation to distract me from a waiting period between courses.

– The SingleThread experience was definitely achieved.  The food was of the same caliber at both locations.  I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything by dining on a patio vs their amazing dining room.

– I don’t know if I have to visit again anytime soon.  The dishes were so similar both times.  And, the cuisine isn’t my favorite with that much seafood.  But that’s exactly what they are so that’s not a complaint, just a personal preference.  It was fun to see the changes they made when they had summer/early fall produce to use compared to the dishes in January.  But, if I’m going to put out that kind of money for a meal, I’m ready for something different.  I needed to dine at SingleThread again.  I needed to be able to enjoy the entire meal without getting sick.  I accomplished that.  Thank you Michael.

Wine

Dining – SingleThread’s Rooftop Wine Bar

By Food and Wine, Pandemic Wine Tour, Restaurants 2 Comments

Getting up to SingleThread’s rooftop has eluded me for a year now.  And I was on a mission this trip to get up there!  Spoiler alert – I was successful.

When you dine at SingleThread during “warmer months”, you’re invited to arrive up to an hour early for a pre-dinner cocktail up on the rooftop surrounded by their gardens.  I was supposed to originally dine at SingleThread almost exactly a year ago.  Sadly, they had to cancel my reservation due to lack of power and gas because of the Kincade fire.  When I returned to Sonoma County in January for my 30 Wineries in 30 Days adventure, I was saddened to learn that the rooftop bar was closed due to it being January and too cold.  If you wanted a pre-dinner cocktail, they recommended the bar at Valette!

Fast forward to the pandemic.  I made a quick trip out in July to grab wine from my wine locker at Oeno Vaults.  I had seen that SingleThread was doing curbside meals.  How fun would that be to experience?  Unfortunately, they stopped offering curbside meals the week before I arrived and their dining room was opening the week after my visit.  My timing sucked.

Later in the month SingleThread announced they were moving their dinners over to Kistler’s Roadhouse and that sounded fun.  I love Kistler wine.  And this sounded like a pandemic experience that wouldn’t continue once indoor dining resumes.  Unfortunately, I could never find a table for just one person.  BUT, I was excited to see that the rooftop wine bar was now open to the public!  That was my goal this trip – get up onto that rooftop.

I had time to kill a few days earlier during my visit so I thought I’d give it a try.  I found a note taped to the door that the rooftop was closed for a private party.  WHAT!?!?!  Apparently it was the first time they’d done that.  Of course.  Just my luck.  I was starting to feel like I had the worst luck ever.  It turns out I might actually have the best luck.  Things happen for a reason.  But I wasn’t thinking that at that moment.

SingleThreadDoor

Then I realized I hadn’t made dinner reservations for my last night in California.  I also didn’t have any wine tasting reservations.  My only plans were to pick up and drop off wine at Oeno Vaults and to try the Lytton Springs Taco Truck.  I learned in July they only accept cash.  I’d brought cash on this trip specifically to get food from that truck.  I figured that would take me a couple of hours and I would just park myself outside of SingleThread until that door opened for the rooftop.  I arrived an hour and a half early….and sat.  I was going to be the first person on that roof.

ValettePatio

While seated in my Jeep with the windows down, I people watched.  I was literally parked at SingleThread’s front door.  I couldn’t get any closer.  That also meant that I was directly across the street from Valette’s patio.  I had fun watching them set up the patio for that night’s dinner service.  My name was even on their wait list for dinner that night just in case someone canceled.  No one did.  But, I must have made an impression on my server at Valette because she immediately recognized me sitting in my Jeep (insert facepalm emoji).  She called out to me and asked if my Jeep was what I had driven to California.   Yes!  She also asked how much wine was in the back!  Ha Ha!  Not a lot, actually.  Most of my wine was in my hotel room as the daytime temperatures were still a bit too warm to leave wine in the Jeep during the day.  But she knew exactly why I was parked there.

I also watched the guests at SingleThread’s Inn arrive and check-in.  I watched an employee come out, greet guests, accept beer deliveries, and go about his work.  He obviously saw me sitting in my Jeep.  And I’m not shy.  So, during one of his visits outside of the restaurant, I called out to him.  He must have thought I was some sort of psycho stalker.  He reluctantly came over to my Jeep.  I quizzed him on getting to the rooftop.  He told me I had a pretty good parking spot (I literally couldn’t have had a better parking spot).  He told me that a line would form.  He told me I’d get in.  And, because I’m chatty, I’d explained my frustration with not being able to get a table over at Kistler for their dinner.  He explained that they just don’t cater to single diners.  They don’t have to.  They sell out every night – as soon as reservations open.  I understood.

SingleThreadKitchen

Fast forward to about 10 minutes before the doors opened at 5 and people started to show up.  I jumped from my Jeep and pretty much put myself at the front of the line.  I justified it because I had been sitting there for so long.  No one bothered to confront me.  I was being bold and I knew it.  But I was there LONG before them.

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To my delight, I was the very first person led up to the rooftop.  They take one party at a time and there were about 5 groups of us standing at the door at 5pm.  On a Thursday.  Once inside the building, they sanitized my hands.  It wasn’t voluntary.  Ha Ha.  He brought the spray bottle to me and told me he was going to do it.  I did not mind at all.  I thanked him.  And I truly appreciated their approach to keeping us all safe and healthy.  I don’t know what I was going to touch – he pushed the elevator buttons for me.  I didn’t have to touch anything.  Jacob greeted me when the elevator arrived.  Jacob is in charge of reservations.  I got to know the staff quite well while sitting in front of their restaurant.  He led me to my seating area in the middle of the rooftop and presented me with the wine list and food menu.  FOOD MENU!?!!?  I totally  mis-read their website.  I thought they only served food on weekends.  But they serve food on weeknights as well!  I was never so happy to be wrong.

Menu

I ordered a half-dozen oysters and let my server choose my wine.  The obvious choice is something with bubbles.  But, since I’m not a fan of bubbles, he brought me something from Spain.  Michael had explained that they focus on Old World Wines on the rooftop.  They assume that folks have had their fill of local wines on their visit that they want to give them something different.  I DID NOT WANT SOMETHING DIFFERENT!  I’m in Healdsburg, California.  I want local wine.  That would be my one complaint.

Oysters

Wine

I had a great view to watch the remaining parties arrive and be seated.  I had a great view of their bar/prep area.  I noticed a huge pile of sunglasses sitting on the counter and smiled.  I know what they’re for!  It’s bright up there!  They’re prepared when guests forget theirs.  So thoughtful!  Or it’s the lost and found.

I didn’t stay long.  I had my glass of wine.  I had a bite to eat.  I got to experience the rooftop.  I honestly felt guilty taking up a seating area that could accommodate four people.  I knew there were others who would be waiting.  I wasn’t wrong.  Some of the folks I’d been waiting with were still standing on the sidewalk when I came out.  I’d never felt better about my decision to give up my table.  I wanted as many people as possible to experience it.  Though, this couple sounded pretty familiar and I got the feeling they’d been guests of the inn in the past.

I highly recommend you try to visit when you’re there.  Granted, the colder months are approaching so who knows how much longer it will be open.  You don’t need to get there an hour and a half before they open.  But, I’d recommend getting there early.  And be prepared to stand on the sidewalk and wait.  It’s not like being at a restaurant where they seat one table immediately after the other.  It definitely took a good 5 minutes between groups for them to be seated.  Even if you are second in line when the door opens, you’ll wait.  There isn’t a ton of room on the rooftop.  And several areas had “reserved” signs on the tables.  I can only assume those were for the guests of the inn.

This is truly one of my favorite pandemic highlights.  This experience will surely not be permanent.  When SingleThread returns to their dining room, I expect they’ll revert that space to pre-dinner cocktails.  So the only way up there will be to dine there during warm months or stay there as a guest- also during warm months.  But, the staff did share that they’re loving the concept.  I did notice that they’re dressed a bit more casually than they would be, too.

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Three Sticks

By Pandemic Wine Tour, Wineries No Comments

The final winery of my Pandemic Wine Tour was at Three Sticks in Sonoma.  I discovered them last Halloween as I was visiting Sonoma right after the Kincade fire.  Most wineries were just opening back up after not having power.  And, it was pretty easy to get into many without a reservation.  That wasn’t so much the case this trip!  But, Three Sticks and I found a time that worked for us both.

Adobe-Door

Three Sticks offers a few tasting options.  I’ve done the “Taste of Three Sticks” as well as a “Virtual Taste of Three Sticks” this summer.  I was anxious to check out the food pairings with El Dorado Kitchen.  One of these days while I’m there during the week around lunchtime with 3 other friends, I’ll do their Private Luncheon.  So, I “settled” on the Food & Wine Pairing with bites prepared by the El Dorado kitchen next door.

Three-Sticks-Patio

The Adobe is a gorgeous tasting facility.  I love going just to sit out on their patio or to take in their interior design inside the Adobe.  And one must always visit the restroom!  Their restroom must be the most photographed restroom in all of California.  Once you’ve seen it, you instantly recognize it in photos.  It’s a bit gaudy.  That wallpaper is loud.  But it’s pretty at the same time!

Three-Sticks-Restroom

My wine educator poured all five of my wines with my food and left me to play and enjoy.  While that’s fun, it’s also lonely.  But, that’s not their fault!  Having experienced Three Sticks wines, they weren’t unfamiliar to me.  And I loved them all.  She asked if I wanted to try a few more member-only exclusives.  That would be nice, but I really wanted to try their newly released Castenada White and Castenada Red.  First, the bottles are cool.  Second, the wines are Rhone blends – different than the Chardonnay and Pinot their known for.  I’d picked up some of the Red last fall and took it with me to one of my Thanksgiving feasts.  I’d had their Rose over the summer during my virtual tasting.  But, in an effort to offset the Chardonnay and Pinot in my collection, I wanted these, too!  She was more than happy to pour me some samples.

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Three-Sticks-Bites

The bites were a good size!  While I was at Lambert Bridge, Katie had warned me that I probably wouldn’t need dinner.  And, I made the “mistake” of swinging by El Molino Central for a couple of tacos on the way into Sonoma so I promptly canceled my dinner reservations that night.

Three Sticks is always one of the wineries that comes to mind when visiting.  The wines are all amazing.  Their winemaker is Ryan Prichard who also makes the wines over at Flambeaux.  The tasting facility is just peaceful and welcoming.  Who wouldn’t want to come hang out here?  I definitely recommend you put it on your list on your next visit!

I snapped a bunch of photos in and around the Adobe.  They were actually from my first visit – but that’s before I was blogging.  I keep going on and on about their facility that I can’t not show them to you!  So, if you’ve been there recently and these look slightly different – I’m not surprised.  I took them a year ago!

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Pumpkin

Dining – Valette

By Food and Wine, Pandemic Wine Tour, Restaurants No Comments

Truth be told, dining at Valette may have been the real reason for my trip.  I did not need more wine – but can always buy more.  However, watching Valette’s post on social media left me craving Dustin’s food.  I had originally only planned a whirlwind weekend and there was no availability at the restaurant.  But, they do offer curbside so that was my plan.  Until I extended my trip.  And found a reservation for just one person at 5:15 on Tuesday.  Perfect!!!

Pumpkin

Dustin Valette has created a welcoming patio off to the side of the restaurant that looks like it was supposed to be there all along.  They built it over a few parking spots – my favorite parking spots.  They seem to have capacity to sit around 45 people in a nice, socially distanced setting.  Since Sonoma County isn’t allowing for indoor dining, restaurants are getting creative with their outdoor spaces.  And I’ve had fun discovering them!

Valette-Patio

I was absolutely giddy – picture a 5-year old at Christmas.  That was me.  Oh, the poor staff that had to put up with my giddiness.  I must have made such a memorable impression that my wonderful server spotted me sitting in my Jeep across the street a couple of days later and immediately recognized me.  More on that later.

Valette offers a 5-course tasting menu.  Or, they’ll let you do more courses if you want.  I find that 5 is fine with me.  I generally love a tasting menu.  However, I wanted some very specific dishes.  While chatting with my server about wanting to try the soup and the scallops and the duck that I really wanted tasting sizes, she asked – why don’t I do the tasting menu?  And then she said she’d let me pick and choose the dishes on the tasting menu!  WHAT?!?!?  I don’t know if she’s supposed to do that.  I know that other servers have led me to believe I would have no control over which dishes come out for each course.  Maybe because it was early in the evening (I was the first person of the night to be seated).  But this was beyond perfect!

First up was their Sashimi Grade Hawaiian Ahi Poke Style.  I have always loved this dish.  I get it often.  But, the appetizer portion is HUGE and filling.  I tried ordering it and the scallops once before off of the appetizer menu as my meal.  It was too much food.  But, the portion they plate for the tasting menu is perfect.  Sure, the Ahi is yummy.  But it’s the fried avocado that I love most (see the little avocado on the left side).  It’s not even listed in the menu description!

Valette-Ahi

Next was the first new dish I wanted to try – the Roasted Pumpkin Soup.  And that soup also contains scallops.  I really and truly wanted to lick the bowl.  It was incredibly scrumptious.  It was perfect for a fall dinner.  I’m going to have to get to work trying to make pumpkin soup in my home kitchen.

Valette-Soup

The third course was the dish I get Every. Single. Time.  It’s the dish that was featured on Food Networks’ Best Thing I Ever Ate.  It’s SOOOO good!  The downside is that the tasting menu version only contains one scallop.  The regular appetizer contains two.  It’s a big scallop.  And there’s tons of other yumminess in the dish.  I literally pick off the crust from the bowl and snack on it until it’s taken away from me.  And it was just as good as I remember.

Valette-Scallops

The fourth course was the second new dish I wanted to try – the Szechuan Crusted Duck Breast.  Oh good golly!  It’s my new favorite entree.  I think the Duck Confit Lumpia was my favorite.  If I just had a huge plate of that, I would be extremely content.

Valette-Duck

I should also mention the wine I was drinking.  Typically I order wines by the glass to complement the dishes.  Also, I travel alone and don’t need an entire bottle.  But, I’m kind of a crazy fan of Sam Lando’s wines.  And I know Valette carries his wines on both the BTG menu as well as by the bottle.  I splurged on a whole bottle with the intention of finishing it at my hotel room that night.  I actually finally finished the bottle 6 days later.  It should be known that I’m a huge fan of the Coravin.  I use it often.  I don’t remove corks from bottles unless I have the intention of finishing the bottle.  Obviously the restaurant removed the cork.  That wine was sensational after only having 1 glass left 6 days later.

Lando-Wine

Finally came dessert.  Again, my lovely server (gosh, I wish I remembered her name) asked if I was in the mood for chocolate or something else.  I think my favorite dessert of theirs is the It’s Not a Snickers Bar.  So, that’s what I got!

Valette-Snickers

As expected, it was the perfect amount of food.  Everything was just as delicious as I had hoped.  It met my Valette craving for a minute.  I did inquire about reservations for Thursday since I didn’t have plans.  They put me on their wait list and I crossed my fingers.  Note:  I did not get off of the wait list.  But, I did get another HUGE surprise.  That’ll be in my final post of my Pandemic Wine Tour!

LambertBridge

Lambert Bridge

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Lambert Bridge came highly recommended by Art Murray over at Flambeaux during my very first tasting of the trip.  He knows me.  He gets me.  And he knew I would thoroughly enjoy tasting wines at Lambert Bridge with Katie.  And he was not wrong!

I had tried to pack my calendar with a wine tasting every afternoon (I was working during the day from my hotel room) and a dinner reservation every night.  But, for some reason I didn’t have a tasting appointment last Tuesday.  And it worked perfectly!  I also didn’t have dinner reservations on Thursday and I can’t wait to share with you how that turned out!!!

I wasn’t familiar with Lambert Bridge.  However, after getting home and chatting with my friends about wineries I visited, a good friend of mine had visited back in 2016 during a Dry Creek Passport weekend.  We had fun comparing notes about our visits.

Lambert-Bridge-Patio

Lambert Bridge has a lovely, comfortable patio.  And, now, looking at their website they totally accommodated me outside of their normal tasting appointments.  I tasted with Katie Fay, their Director of Marketing and Hospitality.  I think Katie is my new BFF.  We had such a lovely afternoon tasting through the wines and chatting about all sorts of topics.  I’m really bad at staying focused!  I’m also really bad at taking notes and photos!

LambertBridge

Speaking of being bad at photos, I have absolutely zero photos of their wine.  But, I promise that the reds are red and the whites are white just as you would expect.  Katie tasted me through a nice lineup of their wines.  Continuing with my aversion to Sauvignon Blanc – and being wrong about the varietal – we started with a 2019 Sauvignon Blanc.  I’m really starting to come around when it comes to that varietal.  But the non-Chardonnay white that really got me excited was their new Cuvee Blanc which is a blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

We moved onto a side-by-side tasting of a couple of Chardonnays.  First up was the 2018 Sonoma County Chardonnay next to the 2017 Chambers Chardonnay.  I tasted the 2017 first.  It was incredible.  I hardly paid much attention to the 2018 Sonoma County after that.  Sure, it was good, too.  But that Chambers was everything I love about Chardonnay.   It’s all Wente Clone.  Hmmm….I’m really going to have to start paying more attention to Chardonnay clones when tasting the way I do with Pinot Noir.

We then tasted their 2017 Merlot and the 2017 Crane Creek Cuvee.  I have the same aversion to Merlot as I do Sauvignon Blanc.  One of these days I’m going to have to taste them blind to realize it’s not as bad my head says it is.  It was good….for a merlot.  But, I really enjoyed their Crane Creek Cuvee which was 80% Merlot plus the other four Bordeaux varietals.

Katie brought me a small cheese platter to snack on with the wines.  I must have taken a bite before I took the photo!  Do you see it?  Ha Ha!

LambertBridgeSnacks

If you know me, you know that I’m secretly a huge Cabernet Franc fan.  Lambert Bridge produces a Cab Franc.  Katie even looked to see if they had any.  But, sadly they were out.  I guess I’ll have to swing by on a future visit!

It was nice to taste some wines that weren’t Pinot Noir.  I just can’t help myself, though!  My wine collection after this trip does have a lot more variety than it did before.  Only 40% of the wines I purhcased on the trip were Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.  That’s truly an accomplishment for me!

I hope you’ll check out Lambert Bridge on a future trip.  They are small.  Their sales are only “direct to consumer”.  Meaning you won’t find their wines in retail shops or in restaurants.  You’ll only be able to taste their wines at the winery.  And it’s definitely worth the stop.  I see they also offer a picnic experience – that would be fun, too!

Wickson-Table

Dining – Wickson

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Located directly across the patio from Smith Story’s tasting room, is the brand new Wickson Restaurant at the Madrones.  If you follow along with Smith Story on social media, I’m sure you’ve seen them mention Wickson.  So, it seemed an obvious dinner solution after my tasting at Smith Story.  If you missed that post, you can read all about my visit here.

Monday night is Pizza Night.  While I would have preferred to be able to order everything off of their regular menu, their Monday Night Pizza night does NOT disappoint!  I had mentioned to Eric that I was planning to dine at Wickson and he quickly exclaimed that the Onion and Ricotta Pizza was the way to go.  You only have to tell me once!

Wickson-Menu

I was seated in their extremely socially distanced patio/courtyard area.  I didn’t even look at the menu.  Ha Ha.  I was blindly taking Eric’s recommendation.  And then my server asked if I wanted a started.  A what?  It’s pizza night!  I joked that maybe I should actually look at the menu.  And am I so glad that I did!

Wickson-Courtyard

As a starter I ordered their Croquettes.  OMG.  These things were everything I’ve been craving for months.  I’ve been meaning to experiment with some in my own kitchen but haven’t gotten around to it.  These were perfection.  And when you cut into them, the ham and cheese just oozed out.  And I immediately knew I was eating all four all by myself.

Croquettes

The Onion Pizza – which is described as having Walla Walla Onions, Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Thyme – was equally amazing.  Shockingly, after 4 croquettes, I could only finish about half of my pizza.  But, that’s okay!  The leftover pizza was going to be my lunch the next day (and was still yummy cold).

Onion Pizza

I finished with dessert.  My server teased me with something they were out of – maybe a cheesecake?  But, she presented me with an Almond-Oat Cookie that was the perfect ending to my casual, Monday night dinner.

If you find yourself up near Philo in the Anderson Valley, check them out!  They’re putting out some scrumptious food!  Oh, what wine was I drinking?  Well, this girl has to support local – so it was obviously a glass of Smith Story Pinot Noir!

Wickson-Table

Eric-And-Sandwich

Smith Story

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I absolutely adore Smith Story Wines – Eric and Ali and Sandwich.  I just love their story – no pun intended.  I remember last summer everyone kept recommending them to me.  So, I checked them out back in January as part of my 30 Wineries in 30 Days Adventure.

During the pandemic, they seemed to be the first to embrace change in their industry.  (I could be wrong, but that’s how I remember it and this is my blog – ha!)  They were the first winery to host a virtual tasting event on March 21st.  Now all of the cool wineries are doing it!  They were the first winery I recall doing door-to-door home deliveries of wine.  While I was chatting with Eric, he complimented Ali.  I wish I could remember the exact words he used.  But, basically he said Ali just went to town embracing the change and adapting to closed tasting rooms and restaurants.  It looks as if it is working for them!

Because I just love this husband and wife team – and their dog, Lord Sandwich – I follow them closely on social media.  And they excel at social media!  I felt like I knew them personally.  I know what they eat for dinner – because they tell us!  I felt like Lord Sandwich would be so thrilled to finally meet me that he’d just jump up and give me big, wet kisses.  Obviously, I knew that wouldn’t happen.  I was pretty giddy to visit with them again now that I’ve been essentially stalking them and getting to know them for the past 10 months.

Smith-Story-Patio

For my tasting, I had their patio all to myself at 4pm on a Monday.  That’s not really that surprising given that it was 4pm on a Monday up in the Anderson Valley.  I could see Sandwich checking me out through the tasting room door.  Oh, I hoped that they would let Sandwich come out and greet me!

Sandwich-Tasting-Room

Eric brought me a sample of their Rosé – I just love their Rosé.  It’s a Rosé of Pinot Noir from Rheingau Germany.  And I believe it’s their last – at least from Germany.  I’ve blown through more than a case of this stuff this year.  I was thrilled they still had some.  And may need to order more before it’s gone. I made some passing comment about Rosé being easy.  Eric quickly corrected me.  He explained that he thinks that it’s the most difficult wine to make.  WHAT???  And I now see his point – it can quickly become just another Pinot Noir if you’re not careful.  I now have a new appreciation for my favorite Rosés.

Smith-Story-Rose

Eric asked if he minded if he came out to join me during my tasting and brought out Sandwich.  Inside I was screaming – PLEASE!!!!!  That’s exactly what I want!  I don’t want to sit here alone on your patio and watch the dog through the door.  I want to chat with you about your wine and whatever other topics we veer over to.  So that’s exactly what we did.  Eric and Sandwich sat many, many feet away where we both felt comfortable enough to be unmasked.

Eric-And-Sandwich

Many of the wines I had tasted before.  However, on this day I was enjoying them even more than I had remembered.  I really need to become a StoryTeller since I’ve purchased multiple cases of their wine this year already.

We had an interesting conversation about his opinion/preference of wine making.  After his comments about Rosé, I was curious – does he prefer single vineyard wines or blends.  Eric prefers single vineyard wines over blending.  This may soon become a topic of conversation I have when chatting with winemakers.  I’m intrigued.

Then the UPS truck showed up!  Because I’m a crazy stalker fan on social media, I knew that their UPS driver was named Cliff.  And I knew that Sandwich would be excited to see him – because Cliff brings treats!  I was happy to see that temperatures had dropped enough that they’re able to start shipping out fall allocations.  It’s been SO warm in California this fall and I know several wineries were still sitting on wines that they had hoped to ship by now.

Cliff-the-UPS-Man

The wines I got to taste through (in addition to the Rosé were:  2018 Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 Helluva Pinot Noir, 2017 Boonies Pinot Noir, and the 2016 Pickberry Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you’ve been following along on my posts from this trip you’ve already “heard” me talk about my aversion to Sauvignon Blanc.  Here again, I was proven wrong.  I really enjoyed Eric’s Sauvignon Blanc.  And some came home with me.  An embarrassingly large amount of Sauvignon Blanc came home this trip.  Oh, how I do love to be proven wrong.  I loved both of his pinots.  And I enjoyed his Cabernet Sauvignon.  I didn’t ask.  But, I’d seen that they had been pouring the last of their Pickberry Merlot over the weekend.  This merlot-hating gal was really curious to try it.  But, we were running out of time and I had dinner reservations at the restaurant behind me (more on that tomorrow).

I regret not going inside of the tasting room.  I know, that’s generally not allowed during the pandemic.  But, they sell a fun, eclectic collection of vintage glassware.  And people are allowed to go in to shop their sundries.  But, again, time was not on my side.  I guess I’ll just have to go back for another visit.  It’s totally worth the drive up from Santa Rosa/Healdsburg.   I highly recommend the visit!

 

Dining – Wit & Wisdom

By Pandemic Wine Tour, Restaurants, Travel with Wine No Comments

I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz around Michael Mina’s newest restaurant – Wit & Wisdom – located at the Lodge at Sonoma.  I believe it’s been open for about a month or so.  Personally, I was conflicted by this announcement.  You see, twenty years ago – almost to the day – I visited California Wine Country for the very first time.  I stayed at the Lodge at Sonoma and enjoyed breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant.  I have such fond memories of that stay.  I loved soaking in my tub after a day of tastings while looking out through the plantation shutters at the fire in my fireplace.  In the mornings I dined on eggs benedict for the very first time in my life at that restaurant.

Typically I embrace change.  But, last fall I stayed at the Lodge at Sonoma for the first time since that original 2000 trip.  I was SO excited to soak in that tub overlooking the fire.  And I was SO disappointed when I checked into my adorable cottage to find that tubs no longer exist.  It’s now a big shower.  There’s no overlooking the fireplace while you’re soaking.  When I heard Wit & Wisdom had taken over the restaurant space, I was excited to try it but also sad that another piece of my wine history was no more.  My excitement far outweighed my disappointment.  But, it was still there.  No more changes, please (mostly kidding)!

So many items on the Wit & Wisdom menu just sounded SO good.  And, since they have a “snacks” section, I figured I’d create my own Tapas Party!  I explained it to my server who was totally on board with the idea.  Though that Lobster Pot Pie did sound divine.  I ordered a pre-dinner cocktail – The Call of the Wild.  I loved the little details like the owl (for Wisdom) stamped in the ice cube!

Cocktail

Next came an onslaught of dishes and my two glasses of wine – one white and one red!  Ha Ha!  I just giggled as the plates began to fill the four-top table I had all to myself.

First out was an item I hadn’t ordered.  And, as I looked around the restaurant it didn’t look like everyone received them.  I wonder why.  It was a little crock of potato chips and dip.  I wasn’t complaining.  They were super yummy!

Potato Chips

The first item that I actually did order was a plate of a 1/2 dozen oysters.  Their shellfish items can be ordered ice-cold or hot charcoal-grilled.  After discovering grilled oysters earlier this year, I did not hesitate to choose hot.

Oysters

The next few items came out in very quick succession.  How can you go wrong with Duck Fat Fried Potatoes with Whipped Ranch Dip and Ketchup?  OMG.

Potatoes

Then there were the Liberty Farms Duck Wings made with Grand Marnier & Black Pepper Gastrique.  I was so sad that I was only able to eat half of them.  But duck wings!  What an idea!  Can we get that idea to catch on???

Duck Wings

The next item was the only item I finished besides the oysters.  It was the star of the show, in my opinion.  The pop tart (to follow) has its own cult following.  But this Cheddar-Scallion Biscuit Stuffed with BBQ Pulled Pork was AMAZING!!!!!

Biscuit

Then there was the “Pop Tart”.  Oh golly!  This guy is savory.  The pastry is so light.  It’s Braised Short Rib with Horseradish Cream and Au Poivre.  And it’s just so photogenic.  Ha Ha!

Pop Tart

The last “savory” item I ordered were the Warm Parker House Rolls.  So heavenly.

Rolls

I truly think the staff thought I would give up and be done.  But, nope.  I wanted to sample dessert.  I only ordered one.  I ordered The Chocolate Bar featuring Caramelia Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter Crumble paired with a glass of Port.

Dessert

I felt like a King at a feast with all of this goodness surrounding me.  I just picked at each dish and had tons of fun sampling it all.  It should be noted that while I’m typing this I’m craving another dinner at Wit & Wisdom.  I’ll be dining there again tonight and I think I’ll take a very different approach…..one that includes that biscuit!

Table

Auteur

Auteur

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My sixth stop on my Pandemic Wine Tour was Auteur.  No, you’re not losing count – stop five is not worth sharing about.  I have nothing good to say about that experience.  Nothing.  But, given that negative experience, it was great to follow it up with a really great tasting at Auteur.

Auteur

I’ve written about Auteur before.  They were my 30th winery on my “30 Wineries in 30 Days” adventure earlier this year.  They came as a recommendation from another winery.  And, it was a great recommendation.  This is my third visit to Auteur this year – which kinda breaks my rules.  I didn’t really want to revisit anyone on this trip that I also visited on my trip in July.  However, I was planning a day in Sonoma and was honestly having issues finding wineries to squeeze me in last minute.  Truthfully, I don’t need anyone to really twist my arm to visit Auteur.  Their location (inside and out) is cozy and welcoming and I love all of their wines.

Auteur-Patio

I’ve gotten to know both Corey and Angie at the tasting room over my last couple of visits.  The person who greeted me was some “new guy” named Kenneth.  He led me out to my table on the back patio.  I quickly exclaimed that I hadn’t met him yet.  And he apologized and introduced himself as Kenneth Juhasz, the winemaker.  I hadn’t even recognized him behind the mask!  His wife, Laura, was also pouring wines that afternoon.  What a treat to meet and chat with them both!!

The first wine of the day was a 2018 Sauvignon Blanc.  Until this trip, I’ve always really had an aversion to Sauvignon Blanc.  But I’ve now tasted several that are starting to change my opinion on the varietal.  Laura agreed with me that she’s not typically a fan – but she and I both agreed that theirs was better.  I even bought some!  It’s only a one-time offering of this varietal.  They’re typically just Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience it.

Auteur-Wine

Next we moved into the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  One thing that I love about Auteur is their willingness to let you change up your club allocation – after you’ve paid for it!  This is the second time I’ve tasted there while picking up my allocation.  They have always been so willing to let me swap out different Chardonnays if I prefer something else.  Financially it’s easy as all of their single vineyard Chardonnays are priced the same.  And the same thing goes for Pinot.  I didn’t swap out anything this time around.  Instead, I grabbed some new-to-me wines I was tasting that day – their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc and their 2018 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.  I’ve only ever had their single-vineyard offerings.

Texture-Wines-and-Food

Texture Wines

By Pandemic Wine Tour, Wineries No Comments

I discovered Texture Wines during the pandemic.  They did a joint presentation with Three Sticks and Auteur a few months back and I made a note to visit them on a future visit.  Well, it worked out this visit!  Trying to schedule ten or so tasting appointments for one person over a gorgeous fall weekend only 2 days before arrival is tough.  Many wineries don’t offer a tasting option for just one person.  And the new appointment-only requirement (which I LOVE) definitely makes things trickier.  But, I have proved that it’s far from impossible.  My schedule is just as full as it would be if I had planned months in advance.

Texture-Tasting-Area

Anyway, Texture is teeny tiny.  They produce only around 1,000 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay each year.  Their tastings are held at their “sister winery”, Pangloss, which is right on the plaza in Sonoma.  They’ve set up a nice tasting area under shady trees and umbrellas along the sidewalk.  It’s also nice that the side street that runs next to the tasting room is currently closed to car traffic which allows a more peaceful tasting experience.  Listening in on what’s offered by Pangloss, I’ve added them to my list for a future visit.

The Texture tasting comes with a wonderful food pairing.  And this ain’t no cheese and crackers pairing.  There was caviar and wagyu deliciousness on my plate.

Texture-Wines-and-Food

Here are the official food pairings (though, there were a few bonus pours from different vintages as well):

2015 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast – Tsar Nicoulai caviar, purple potato, citron-whipped crème fraîche, dill

2015 Pinot Noir, Deer Meadows Vineyard – Nova Scotia-style cold smoked salmon mousse, beluga lentils, shaved fennel, brioche

2016 Pinot Noir, Ferrington Vineyard – Wagyu beef tartar panipuri, pickle masala, potato, sweet peas, cucumber raita

2016 Pinot Noir, Wendling Vineyard – Petit black mission fig tart, duck rillette, Laura Chenel chèvre, pickled mustard seed

 

Paul was a wonderful host.  They only schedule one tasting at a time for Texture (at least in their outdoor setting).  So, I always love the individual attention I received.  He also offered to walk my wines to my final winery of the day.  I thought that was extremely nice, but silly since I’d be driving by later in the day.