Banshee Winery runs one of the most popular tasting rooms in Healdsburg, with a cool design vibe and great wines, so when founders Noah and Kelly Dorance approached us six months ago to play a key role in their first annual “Banshee Fest,” we didn’t think about it too long before saying yes. With all their hard work paying off (Banshee was just named best winery to visit this fall by Harpers Bazar) they were right to want to celebrate.
The outline for Banshee Fest was ambitious. Starting with an early pinot tasting at Spoonbar, Barndiva would then host a backyard bash with two bands - Crazy Famous and Fool’s Gold - here in the studio and both gardens. At 8 'clock everyone would stroll down the street to a concert by the DODOS at the Raven Preforming Arts Theatre, and after that, a final party at Bergamot Alley. Saturday dawned a glorious day, all autumnal light and gorgeous colors. There was even a snap in the air - fall in Sonoma County is sublime. There is no resisting it.
We’d already had a run of great parties all week - a heartfelt harvest dinner for Peay Vineyards, an elegant annual Planning Conference for the SF Chamber of Commerce, and a lovely wedding rehearsal dinner - so our staff was jazzed going into Banshee Fest. The back of house machinations that must collide to pull off a “whole pig” event with wine, cocktails, and live music for 200 are many, but the moving target was to run three bars offering three classically inspired cocktails, four Banshee wines, and Scrimshaw Pilsner, while the kitchen sent out three interpretations of classic street food starring pork - yummy bites you could eat while standing and listening to music. Eat neatly, with maybe a finger lick or two. We had ordered beautiful heirloom Cinta hogs from Front Porch, delighted when Acorn Ranch Manager Tommy Oteley showed up to deliver them. The goal was to really do a “whole hog” bash using every ounce of these precious animals.
For the Cuban we dry rubbed cumin, fennel, paprika and garlic on the hind quarters, then brined, cooked, and broke them down before rolling them on the grill, which renders the meat succulent but super crunchy. Sliced and mounded into a soft bun with aioli, gruyere, and a pile of pickled Fresno chilies, traditional Cubans are finished by pressing them on a flat top, creating a second crust to the ham. These things are addictive. We think Pancho might have perfected the Mexican equivalent of a croquet monsieur.
Banh Mi is a meat filled sandwich which originated in Vietnam, that great kingdom of street food culture, but the kind of meat, spices and other flourishes tend to change from one country to another. Ryan used the tastiest bits from the neck and ribs, seasoned with equal parts rice wine vinegar and white wine with generous handfuls of cilantro and garlic. He swiped the bottom with Jalapeno Escabeche, a decadently hot and saucy guilty pleasure. Mi means wheat, and ours came in the form of what local Healdsburg bakers at Costeaux call Hawaiian buns - I know not why. Topped with thinly sliced cucumber, fresh herbs and micro greens from MIX, even the Banh Mi we served without the Thjt (meat) for vegetarians were pretty damn tasty.
The last savory dish we launched on the crowd was our new carnitas - handmade corn tortillas stuffed with shredded shoulder, head, and trotter which had steeped in bourbon and coke overnight. Yes, I know, I raised a brow, but turns out the sugar in the soft drink and the punch in the booze gives the meat an incredible finish, sweet and crispy, with a sumptuous bite after it has cooked down a good long time. Essential to the dish is bright red fermented cabbage. Rosalia and Teresa pressed tortillas while Francisco cooked them on the grill, letting them get softly charred around the edges. I managed to devour four of them, and I was on the run most of the time.
To go with all this fatty, juicy, salty, vinegary finger food we poured Banshee’s Sauvignon Blanc, and two of their Pinot Noirs, one the beautiful 2012 Marine Layer, a 2012 Cabernet, and three cocktails. Sara, George and I wanted the spirit drinks to be classics with a tilt - paired to the bold street food flavors, but with a nod to the expediency of time. We offered a Missouri Mule named in honor of Noah and Kelly (Buffalo Trace and Cock n' Bull ginger beer, on the rocks) ; a Smoky Dog (fresh grapefruit and vodka - the smoky rim was Cathryn’s idea that we talked Sara into making); and a batched version of Barndiva’s Flirt #4 (renamed Frisky for the night). Frisky has Jalapeno infused tequila, peach bitters and essence of golden root. Its one of our lift/flirt/slide elixirs. For the Fest we added spicy sugar lip.
Just before Fools Gold went onstage for the final set, Octavio’s desserts left the kitchen on big wooden boards - succulent brownie cakes with cocoa cream and a single raspberry and light lemon cakes with dark Amarena cherries.
People drank and talked and visited and danced - bluesy rock with Crazy Famous that moved in a smooth groove with Fool's Gold. The night was young, the winter not yet upon us. All was well in South Healdsburg. Late that night I saw one of the Cinta skulls in a place of honor above Drew's station. As Chef had promised, it was picked clean.