Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Slow Roasted Salmon

Continuing on the seafood trend, since it is summer after all, I experimented with some wild alaskan salmon last night.  I couldn't decide whether I should poach it, or pan fry it, or roast it in the oven, or bake it in foil, so I did none of the above.  I decided to slow cook it in the oven based on a technique in serious eats, but with my own ingredients.  Since I had two ears of corn and 4 roma tomatoes leftover from the previous week's meals, I decided to slow roast the salmon on top of tomatoes, corn and onions and serve it on a bed of fresh organic baby spinach for even more healthy veggieness. 
  • First, I preheated the oven to 250 degrees
  • In my Le Creuset 3 1/2 quart wide french oven (off topic, but this is the Le Creuset dish I use the most: for sauteeing vegetables and potatoes, making soup or risotto), over medium heat, I heated up a couple of TB of olive oil and added 1 small thinly sliced onion and sauteed until soft, just a couple of minutes
  • Then, I added the chopped tomatoes and corn, which I shaved off the cob, and sauteed for a couple of minutes
  • I laid two filets of salmon (~1 lb total) on top of the tomatoes, corn and onions, seasoned with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and added 1/2 cup of white wine.  On top of the salmon, I laid a couple of thin slices of lemon
  • Baked in the oven for half an hour
  • Served on a bed of spinach
It was a pretty good way of cooking the salmon; the salmon was cooked through, but not dry.  The tomato, corn and onion base was really good; roasting in the oven really brought out the sweetness in all three vegetables, and they also added a little moisture to the fish.  I thought it was a good, healthy dish (plus easy cleanup, just the le creuset pot), so I'll definitely be making it again!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More Seafood: Spaghetti with Clams

Last night, I made a relatively light (as light as pasta can be) summer dinner: spaghetti with manila clams and roma tomatoes.  It's a very quick dish to put together; most of the time is spent prepping: scrubbing the clams, chopping the tomatoes, garlic and parsley.  I picked up 2.25 lbs of farmed live manila clams from Costco.  I'm always wary of purchasing prepackaged live seafood, but these clams looked like they were still alive (just slightly opened) and were packaged the same day.  As soon as I got home, I put the clams in a pot with ice and water and a little bit of flour.  They were fairly clean too; they did not release much grit, but I let them sit and scrubbed them very carefully one by one just in case. 
To finish the prep, I chopped 4 roma tomatoes on the vine (about 1 pound), 3 cloves of garlic, and 1/2 bunch of parsley.  While boiling water for the pasta and cooking the pasta:
  • Heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a wok over medium heat, then saute the garlic for 1 minute
  • Add the clams, 1/2 cup of white wine, zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon and saute until the first clams start to open.  Cover and turn off the heat if the pasta isn't ready yet
  • Cook the pasta until it is still very al dente, about 6 minutes
  • For the last minute that the pasta is cooking (after it has been cooking for 5 minutes), turn the heat on the wok to high and add the tomatoes and continuously stir.  Season with 1-2 tsp of chili flakes, freshly ground pepper and salt (if necessary; sometimes the liquid that the clams release is very briny, so you don't need to add much salt)
  • Using tongs, add the pasta to the wok and toss everything together until the pasta is cooked and sprinkle fresh parsley on towards the end and taste for seasoning.  Add pasta water if you want the sauce to be more liquid
It's a simple, but very flavorful pasta; very refreshing and filling on a summer day with a good glass of white wine.  There's a nice garlicky undertone and heat from the chili flakes that goes well with the fresh clams, complemented by the substance and acid from the tomatoes, brightness from the lemon, and freshness from the parsley, and the noodles absorb some of the nice briny / seafood flavor of the clams.  We paired it with a bottle of the 2007 Alma Rosa Pinot Blanc from Santa Rita Hills, which was a good pairing; the wine was interesting enough to stand up to the flavors of the pasta and good on its own.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lobster Feast

On Friday, we got a special delivery straight from Maine (Thanks Mom and Dad W!): 4 beautiful live maine lobsters.  Look at the size of those claws!!
We simply steamed all four of them together for 15 minutes and they were perfectly done.  They were incredibly fresh and sweet with a perfectly succulent texture; not at all rubbery or dry. 
 They tasted fabulous on their own, but we also made two dipping sauces for some variety: a rice vinegar and thinly sliced ginger and a lemon clarified butter sauce.  To make the lemon clarified butter, you just melt 1-2 sticks of butter in a pot over medium low heat, pour it into a glass measuring cup and allow it to sit for 5 minutes so that the milk solids condense to the bottom and just add the top clear portion above the milk solids to the zest of one lemon and mix it all together.  Both sauces were nice in their own way; the vinegar and ginger was very fresh and bright and the lemon butter was a little richer.  In addition, we boiled some farmer's market corn on the cob for a side vegetable, and had a simple mixed herb greens and heirloom cherry tomato salad with red wine vinaigrette.  For wine, we had a vinho verde from Portugal; a slightly sparkling white wine, which goes so well with seafood, particularly lobster.  It was a delicious meal and we were all stuffed!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 4: Last Stop

 You can see the flames of leaping off of the charcoal
On our way back to LA, we had the best steak I've had in years at Jocko's in Nipomo (close to Santa Maria, which is between Santa Barbara wine country and Morro Bay).  Jocko's style is referred to as "Santa Maria BBQ," where top block sirloin is cooked over red oak coal flames.  The restaurant sources its dry aged steaks from Colorado and then most importantly, cooks the steaks over an open fire over red oak charcoal.  The result is a wonderfully flavorful steak with great smoky flavor from the charcoal.  We ordered the large Spencer steak, which is a ribeye cut, and the New York Sirloin.
 The Spencer
I loved my Spencer steak, it was so juicy and every bite was so flavorful, rich and delicious.  I liked the sirloin a lot; it was much more lean than the Spencer, but had great concentrated flavor.  The photos are a little deceiving; the steak is actually a lot bigger in person.  Not only is the steak some of the best steak I've had (right up there with Peter Luger's in Williamsburg, NY), but it is an incredible deal: for $27, you get the steak, breadsticks and salsa, antipasto, salad, garlic bread, baked potato, ice cream and coffee / tea.  The side dishes aren't great, but it doesn't really matter, the steak is awesome and you leave completely stuffed.  Corkage is only $5 as well; we had our wedding red wine: the 2005 Chateau D'aiguilhe Cotes du Castillon bordeaux which was perfect with the steaks.
It was such an incredible dinner at a great value, about $65 before tip, which really can't be beat elsewhere.  Reservations are recommended during dinner hour; we walked in a 4pm on a Sunday and the restaurant was packed; we had to wait about half an hour for a table.  It is a very casual place, and no real decor to speak of, but the food is definitely the star.  I definitely want to make a trip back to Jocko's soon.

Jocko's Steak House
125 N. Thompson Ave
Nipomo, CA  93444
(805) 929-3565

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 3/4: Big Sur

 We stayed in the second cabin closest to the edge
After a satisfying dinner at Big Sur Bakery, we headed south by another half hour and checked in at the Lucia Lodge.  While it was pitch dark when we arrived, we woke up in the morning to glorious panoramic ocean views.  At $250 a night, it was more expensive than the places we stayed at the previous two nights combined, but the setting was beautiful.  The accommodations were rustic and comfortable, not the most luxurious, but perfectly fine for what we were looking for.
We had breakfast on the patio of the restaurant and spent the rest of the morning relaxing on adirondack chairs in front of our cabin and enjoying the ocean views.
We had a light picnic lunch at a picnic table perched at the edge of the ocean bluffs and had some cheese, crackers, fruit, salumi, and olives and a bottle of our wedding white wine, the 2006 Monterey Metallico Chardonnay.  A perfect wine for a nice sunny day outside overlooking the ocean.
 Our private picnic table
After lunch, we started on our way back south to Los Angeles along Highway 1.  We stopped at Salmon Creek to hike for a few hours.  It was a nice steep hike, with a variety of landscapes: waterfalls, ocean views, forests, wildflowers.  It was a great way to spend an afternoon, the fresh air was great and we even met a friendly Burmese mountain dog who loved hiking.
Stay tuned for a visit to my new favorite steak place: Jocko's!

Lucia Lodge
62400 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA  93920
(831) 667-2391

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 3 Continued: Big Sur Bakery

After the U.S. Open, we drove south for about an hour to Big Sur, where we were staying for the night, and had dinner at Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant.  Good thing we arrived late, after 9pm, as the restaurant was still hopping.  I love the rustic, woodsy, old-fashioned feel of the restaurant.  It felt like we were in another era, and it was very homey and cozy.  Even the waitress looked like she just came out of the Little House on the Prairie.  They had a fiddle, guitar and cello playing a mix of bluegrass, jazz and classic in the bar area which just added to the charming ambiance.  We ordered a side of seasonal wood-roasted morels and huge creamy lima beans to start and two of their wood fired pizzas: the pineapple, ham and serrano chiles, and the italian cured meats special pizza.  It really hit the spot after a long day outside under the sun watching the golf.  The toppings were great and the crust had that nice charred, wood-fired, flavor.  I had a glass of crisp, always food-friendly Gruner Veltliner and K. had the local Anderson Valley Brewing Company's Deep Enders Dark Porter which was delicious and chocolaty.  We'll definitely stop by again if we are in the area.  I think the food is better than at Nepenthe, which is also in the area, though Nepenthe does have gorgeous views.
Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant
Highway 1
Big Sur, CA   93920
(831) 667-0520

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 3: The US Open

On Saturday, we went to Pebble Beach for the third round of the U.S. Open Championship (thanks Mom and Dad W!).  It was my first visit to a golf tournament and I had a lot of fun.  Pebble Beach is a gorgeous course in the midst of one of my favorite places in the world, the scenic seventeen mile drive.  Most of the holes have stunning views of the ocean, rocky coastline and cypress trees.  Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, they do not allow cameras or cell phones so I have no pictures of the event to share.  We started out by walking the entire course in order from the first hole and followed several different pairings, including Sergio Garcia, Ricky Barnes, Davis Love III who had a great start to the day.  It was great because we really saw a variety of shots and got to be really close to players; we were literally a feet or two away from Pablo Martin as he shot from the rough.  At the 17th hole, we fortuitously found great seats in the bleachers where we spent the rest of the afternoon so that we could see more pairings.  It was a great spot, we were just a couple rows above the players teeing off on the 17th hole, which is a gorgeous (and challenging) 208 yard par 3 hole that faces the ocean.  It was also the perfect spot because we could see the players putting on hole 3 and teeing off on hole 4, so there was a lot of continuous action.  They also had to walk directly in front of us across the tee for the 17th hole as they were going from hole 3 o hole 4.  We pretty much stayed for an entire round; we watched Tiger Woods tee off on hole 4 right as we arrived and saw him complete the 17th hole (which he birdied).  We caught up with him on the 18th hole, which he also birdied (3 birdies in a row on the last 3 holes ending with a 66, his best day of golf since he's been back).  I was surprised at how hugely excited and supportive the crowd was for Tiger; he probably got the most cheers of the day next to Phil Mickelson (who seems to have lost quite a bit of weight and really is a nice guy, even joking with the crowd before teeing off on the 4th hole).  We also watched Mickelson (who was tied in second place going into Saturday), Vijay Singh (poor guy, he was paired with Tiger and the media circus and huge crowds following Tiger), Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Ian Poulter, Lucas Glover, Ryo Ishikawa (who had really cool black and white checked pants and the third largest media following behind Tiger and Phil) a ton of other people, and the eventual winner, Graeme McDowell.  It is really a special experience to watch the tournament live; you just get to see so many things that aren't showed on camera, particularly the interaction of the players amongst themselves and their interaction with the crowds.  It was such a fun and beautiful day.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 2 Continued: Passionfish

We made the long drive down from Healdsburg to Monterey Bay in about 4 hours, 1 hour longer than it should have taken, due to some Friday rush hour traffic around the Bay Area.  We made it in time to check into our hotel, the Deer Haven Inn and then in time for our dinner reservation at Passionfish.  All the hotels in the area were fully booked or charging exorbitant rates (like $500 for a Best Western) due to the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pebble Beach.  We lucked out with the Deer Haven Inn, as the location was convenient and the price was reasonable, even if the accomodations were a little shabby.  At least there were deer in the vicinity as the name suggests.
Most importantly though, we were only a mile from Passionfish which has to be one of my favorite restaurants ever (Thanks Michael for the suggestion!).
For me, Passionfish even surpasses Le Bernandin in New York for seafood, which is often cited as the best fine dining seafood restaurant in the country.  We visited Passionfish last year and were so blown away that we knew we had to plan our trip around another visit this year.  They make seafood exciting, with big, bold flavors, and moreover are committed to only serving sustainable seafood (and educating their customers about it, which I think is great) and also offer an incredible wine list that is marked up just a touch over retail.  I find the prices to be reasonable for the high quality of food.  The decor is clean and modern with some nice aquatic photography and the staff is extremely knowledgeable, warm and attentive.  Now onto our meal:

We started with the dungeness crabcakes with lime relish and mussels steamed in a spicy tomato cilantro broth.  The crabcake was cooked perfectly and served on a bed of chilled tomato, onion and lime with just a hint of spice. The contrast of the warm fried crabcake with the cool acidic tomato salsa that was just a little spicy and oniony was refreshing and delicious. The mussels were so delicious and served in a wonderful spicy cilantro tomato broth, with just a hint of lime juice for some acidity. We meticulously sopped up every last drop of that broth with bread.
For our main courses, I had the scallops in tomato truffle butter with a risotto custard and minted celery.
Wow, I've never had better scallops.  It was seared in a way that the top and bottom was almost crispy flaky, but the inside was smooth and almost perfectly raw.  The tomato truffle butter sauce was so indulgent and the risotto custard was rich and creamy.  I didn't like the minted celery at first since it was such a strong flavor, but it definitely grew on me and provided nice contrast with the rest of the dish.  K. had the poached halibut, wrapped in proscuitto with a mushroom soubise and portobello fries and a tarragon emulsion.
The halibut was very delicate and mild, so the proscuitto added important flavor and saltiness, and the mushroom added a nice woodsy and earthy touch with some cream for richness.  The portobello fries were very tasty as well.  Both dishes were outstanding, I'm still dreaming of them today and will be for a long time.

For dessert, we had the white peach raspberry crisp special, a glass of Sanct Valentin 'Comtess' 05 Passito from Alto Adigo, a dessert wine made from gewurtztraminer, reisling, sauvingnon blanc and pinot blanc, where the grapes are dried on mats to give it its sweetness, and some coffee.  The crisp was a beautiful expression of summer, a little on the tart side, which I like, but with some nice vanilla ice cream to smooth it all out.  The dessert wine, which was sweet with strong notes of stone fruit, went perfectly with the crisp; perhaps a little too well, as it was finished quickly.
For the wine with dinner we went with the waitress' recommendation.  Last year, we had a Cobb's Diane Cobb vineyard Sonoma Coast pinot noir which was just outstanding.  While I would have liked to try out some more local pinot noirs, our waitress recommended a detour to Burgundy, the 2004 Chateau Fontaine Gagnard Volnay Premier Cru Clos de Chenes.  I don't have French burgundy wines often, so we took her recommendation.  It was lovely, delicate with a little acid on the finish, and went very well with all our food.  I'm not sure it was as memorable as the Cobb pinot noir last year, but good nonetheless.
I adore Passionfish and highly recommend it to all who are in or near the Bay Area.  It's definitely worth a special visit and I hope to be back soon.  Next up: Pebble Beach and U.S. Open, Big Sur, and a visit to possibly my new favorite steakhouse.

701 Lighthouse Avenue,
Pacific Grove, CA  93950
(831) 655-3454

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 2: Winetasting

After a nice breakfast on our patio at the Garden Snuggery, we headed for our first private tasting appointment at Sojourn Cellars tasting room just off of Sonoma Plaza.
Since I had just gone wine tasting in Napa in May, with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, I wanted to focus on Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels for this trip.  At Sojourn, we tasted four 2008 pinots: the Sonoma Coast blend, and the single vineyards: Rodgers, Sangiacomo and Gap's Crown.  They were all lovely, elegant Sonoma Coast pinot noirs, but our favorites were the Sangiacomo.  It was great to taste them side by side, being able to switch back and forth between them, to really appreciate the notable differences amongst the four pinots.
We also tasted two very good single vineyard cabernet sauvignons, the 2007 Home Ranch and the 2006 Mountain Terraces.  Of the two, I preferred the Mountain Terrace which had a bit more complexity and character.  It was nice to taste the difference between mountain fruit and regular fruit.  I still enjoyed the cabs that I tasted on my previous trip more, so we just picked up a couple bottles of the pinot noir and then walked around Sonoma, a charming and picturesque little town.
 After Sojourn, we headed up north towards Healdsburg and stopped the Copain winery, whose mailing list I have been a part of for a few years.  It was the Copain Kiser en Bas single vineyard pinot noir that made me truly fall in love with Sonoma Coast pinot noirs many years ago.  The Copain grounds are absolutely beautiful; it is up on a hill surrounded by vineyards and looks down on more vineyards, a scenic lake, with mountains in the background.
 Ironically, while they grow pinot noir on the property, they sell all their pinot grapes and source most of the pinot from vineyards up in the Anderson Valley.  While they are known for their pinots, we tasted quite a few varietals including their Viognier, Syrah and Rose of Pinot Noir appellations, a James Berry Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre, a library Syrah from Hawks Butte that they were nice enough to pour for us, and the 2007 Kanzler single vineyard pinot.
 We picked up a couple bottles of the rose and syrah: the rose was a nice, very drinkable summer wine and the syrah was a nice, restrained but still flavorful syrah.  The James Berry GSM wasn't as bold or fruity as I would have liked it to have been; I prefer Saxum's James Berry GSM more.  The Kanzler pinot noir was lovely, although we ended up picking up a pair of their other 2007 single vineyard pinots, the Kiser en Haut and Kiser en Bas.  Unfortunately, they won't be releasing any 2008 pinot noirs as they lost most of their grapes in a fire.  It was a nice leisurely tasting and we enjoyed several of the tastings sitting outside on the adirondack chairs enjoying the beautiful scenery.
After Copain, we stopped in downtown Healdsburg for lunch at Bovolo.  Like Sonoma plaza, the Healdsburg downtown is very quaint and charming with a bunch of shops and restaurants surrounding a green square.  Bovolo was located in the back of a cute bookstore, and we sat out on the patio out back and had a nice lunch. 
We shared the sausage and peppers pizza and a spinach and bacon salad, which really hit the spot in the midst of a wine tasting day.
After lunch, we went to Mauritson up on Dry Creek Road just north of Healdsburg to taste some of their zinfandels.
We tasted their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Chardonnay, 2008 Zinfandel, 2007 Petite Sirah, and a side by side tasting of their 3 Rockpile single vineyard zins which they are known for: the Rockpile Ridge, Jack's Cabin and Cemetery.  We learned that the best zins come from really stressed soil and they showed us samples of the rocks that the vines are grown in.
They also dry farm and don't water their vines at all.  The zins were all very good, my favorite was the Cemetery which I felt had the most character.  Again, there's definitely something to be said for being able to have three glasses side by side.  It's definitely much easier to pick a favorite!
The history of Mauritson is pretty cool; they have been selling grapes since the late 1800s.
We were originally going to also hit up Ridge, which makes some of my favorite, readily available zinfandels but we unfortunately ran out of time, as we needed to head down to Monterey for our dinner reservation.  I really like Sonoma / Healdsburg.  The people are friendly, the towns are quaint and cute (with great, reasonably priced food), and most places don't require reservations so you can do your wine tasting and eating on a leisurely schedule.  We will definitely be back; we have many more places on our list to check out.

Sojourn Cellars (appointment only)
141 East Napa Street
Sonoma, CA  95476
(707) 938-7212

Copain Wines
7800 Eastside Road
Healdsburg, CA  95448
(707) 836-8822

Bovolo Restaurant
106 Matheson Street 
Healdsburg, CA  95448
(707) 431-2962

Mauritson Family Winery
2859 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA  95448
(707) 431-0804


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...