Thursday, September 23, 2010

Michael Chiarello's Bottega and CA Food and Wine

Weekend before last, I traveled with our friends D and R to meet up with my husband who was completing a three-day meeting in San Francisco; two other friends, M and J, would also join us for a few days of wine country touring.

Because the food is always so good and fresh in that area, the only planned dinner arrangements included one evening's meal we brought to prepare and enjoy at the three-bedroom unit where we were staying, and D and R had made reservations for dinner at Bottega, Michael Chiarello's restaurant in Yountville, where they had dined the previous year.

Prior to our trip I looked at the online Bottega menu, only to find that the day after our arrival in California, Sunday the 12th, Michael was hosting a cooking demonstration of recipes found in his new Bottega cookbook, food tasting of those items, and the debut and signing of the cookbook! What a treat that would be! I made reservations for the 6 of us.

But first... Saturday we crossed the San Francisco Golden Gate bridge and into this beautiful city of interesting character, architecture...

... traffic!

and local color...

We parked not far from our destination, the Moscone Center , but first had lunch just a few blocks away. A wonderful find! Osha Thai Restaurant was outstanding!

Pad Thai

Sea Bass Salad

Pumpkin Curry

Leaving the city only several hours later,
fog covered the center of the bridge,

but a blue sky awaited at its end.

Our dinner destination this Saturday evening was in Santa Rosa at Santi's...
(former location was Geyserville)

and I love their Spaghettini Sugo Calabrese

Sunday ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Pride Mountain Vineyards, St. Helena

Lunch at Rutherford Grill, Rutherford, CA, was as good as ever, and a favourite stop as they have been consistent when we have visited over the years. Seared Sashimi Tuna Salad was my selection.

Sunday afternoon ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Michael Chiarello's "Bottega" Book Signing and Cooking Demo

I will state up front: it was a wonderful affair and the most enjoyable function we have attended in a long time. The entire event flowed with such ease, which speaks to great organization. Successful and professional people make it look easy.

Michael Chiarello is as warm and charismatic as he appeared on his cooking show. He is articulate, a delightful man, and one who is approachable.

Prior to the demonstration, Pesto Arancini Stuffed with Mozzarella ( page 40-41) was served and accompanied by a selection from four to five wines from local wineries and which included Grgich and St Supéry. Excellent!

While we were being seated, he and his staff began preparation.

He told stories, celebrated his family, family of friends and workers, and introduced them as they stood front and center.

He praised those who helped him build Bottega and NapaStyle; spoke lovingly of his mother (now deceased), his wife Eileen, his children, the photographer for the new book, and his "second mother" (one he adopted). He introduced us to his wine from the Chiarello Family Vineyard, and yes, his wines are excellent.

The demo began with Ancient-Grain Polenta "Under Glass" (page 68-69),

and followed by "Angry" Prawns (p 136-137). Shortly, we would enjoy eating some of the polenta and shrimp, but first this beautiful young son ran up to join his father.

We began forming a line, and as our turn approached, Michael smiled and talked with each of us, signed our books and then followed with a personal photo op. A most pleasurable afternoon, it was truly a wonderful event.

A handsome book with beautiful photographs and great sounding recipes, and I am excited about what I will attempt first. Michael said (and I paraphrase), you need to cook the same recipe over and over again until you can do it without using the book.

Dinner at the unit was anti-climatic (wink), except for the heirloom tomatoes I brought from the garden and my husband's perfect pour.

Monday ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An educational tour at Michel Schlumberger vineyard,

a taste of the chardonnay crush (sweet as apple juice),

and a tasting as we relaxed beneath the old oaks.

Zin (Healdsburg) for a nice lunch and especially known for their farm fresh produce. At the next table, this little beauty was enjoying it.

Back to our unit to change clothes and a brief stop at one of our favourite vineyards and winery, Artesa, while enroute to

dinner at Bottega. On our way in D and I , ran into Nick Ritchie, Michael Chiarello's chef de cuisine... a delightful young man with a fantastic smile and no doubt a great chef.

My dinner: Wood-oven Roasted Whole Fish

Who are these hard-working and fun-loving people?

Tuesday ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Our only breakfast out:
KC's Downtown Grill in Windsor,

followed by a stop at St Supéry Vineyard and Winery (thanks Joe for your delightful humor),

a brief stop at a fun little place, Casa Nuestra, and time with their Nubian goats

Lunch at Gott's for a good old fashioned hamburger, but I had a BLT, and the "T" was a fried green tomato. So good!

Our final evening, we chose to walk around downtown Healdsburg and just pick a restaurant for dinner. We passed several that had waiting lines, so around the corner we went, and yes, Baci Café and Wine Bar had a table available. The dinner was excellent as was the service (thank you Michael).

We only had a few days, and it was all about relaxing in a beautiful spot with good food and wine and friends, and there was not one meal about which we had any complaints. Although it may appear that we had eaten too much, we did pace ourselves. I only gained one pound (smile), but now, back onto the elliptical.

Note on restaurants: Reservations are recommended, and being added to your bill is an automatic 18% gratuity for a group of 5 of more.

Note on wineries and tasting: 1) Be sure to check the hours of each winery, as they vary, and some are opened by appointment only. 2) Unless you are a member, they now have tasting fees, and generally will waive that if you make a purchase. 3) We visit only three wineries per day (four max), and my husband and I will share one glass to taste; it doesn't take much to determine whether a particular wine suits your palate, and you need to take your time to smell and enjoy each little taste. 4) Carry a bottle of water with you in the car and drink plenty between winery visits. 5) Also carry some plain unsalted water crackers in order to neutralize your taste buds between wineries. 6) And ladies, if you are prone to wearing perfume, leave it and your lipstick home for the day.

From the coastal area to foothills and mountains, the expansive territory of California speaks to me, and over the years we have enjoyed exploring some of it, including the Napa/Sonoma areas. What's not to love about good weather, beautiful countryside, driving along winding roads through vineyard-covered hillsides and enjoying great food and finding an exceptional wine? And although we had a splendid time that was shared with friends, we always enjoy the trip back home.