As a diner, I love dessert. Whether a simple celebration of the fruits of a season or a high wire act that astonishes the eye with its technical artistry, what I'm really looking for in those last few bites of a great meal is a blissful way to ease into the rest of my day or night sated with more than food. A bit of sweet to balance the savory, something to amuse or dazzle... dessert is more than the last course of a meal. Sitting in a beautiful restaurant with a full stomach, steeping in the sounds of conversation and music and cocktail shakers firing in the distance, dessert is the time you drift. Life is good. 

But as someone who owns a restaurant which aims to deliver no less than what I expect when I dine out, desserts are a frightening endeavor. Even as part of a tasting menu they are the course you always lose money on, yet must pull off to perfection or risk leaving the wrong lingering impression in the minds of your guests. Add to that, and I’m not sure why (though long term exposure to sugar may have something to do with it), most pastry chefs are temperamental in the extreme, and not always in relationship to their talents. At Barndiva, where we have two dessert programs ~ one for the restaurant, the other for events ~ it has been one of the most difficult and tenuous positions to fill. We need a pastry chef with the nerves of a high platform diver, the back of a stevedore, the patience of a saint.

Scotty Noll, who returns this month as Barndiva’s pastry chef after what must be one of the longest hiatus’ in Sonoma County restaurant history, is the first to tell you he is no saint. But even at his most stressed out, more often than not in the final stages of decorating an eye popping wedding cake, he nails it. When he left, shortly after Ryan arrived, the Barndiva kitchen was like the wild west, with Scott the sheriff. He returns to a well oiled machine with a consummate master at the helm. We are thrilled to have him back.

Like most great pastry chefs he’s part dreamer, part alchemist. Like Ryan, he holds an incredibly high standard for every plate that leaves the kitchen. What I love is that he "gets" the importance of those last moments of a memorable dining experience. But don’t take my word for it. Come in and taste Scott Noll’s extraordinary desserts. You can enjoy them after a sumptuous lunch and dinner in Barndiva or with a cocktail, coffee or tea service in our beautiful new Gallery Bar.  

Welcome home Scotty. 


Our good friend Sofia Bates wants me to invite anyone out there looking for a “rich experience of local people sharing their expertise in rural living” to the wonderful Not So Simple Living Fair which is fast approaching. Held July 24-26 at the Boonville Fairgrounds, this is a mindful and truly inspirational opportunity whether you are a farmer just starting out or an experienced hand that seeks answers to specific questions in soil management, permaculture and animal husbandry. Hell, it’s fascinating for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of what it should mean when we throw around the word sustainable.

 More information:

We have just returned from NYC, where the family clan gathered to celebrate a beloved 1st cousin's birthday and, as it happened, dine quite merrily across Manhattan. We especially loved the  long "farmer's lunch" in the cool portico that floats above the Union Square Market, a brief repast on the roof of the new Whitney Museum, and a wonderful dinner Café Boulud in The Surrey, our hotel of choice when we crave proximity to the park and the Met. (This was after we had eaten and shopped our way across Nolita, Tribeca and Soho, where we stayed at The Crosby Street Hotel, also highly recommended).

As it turned out, our last night in the city coincided with the 11th anniversary of the opening of Barndiva. Though we wanted to celebrate with Ryan and Bekah, they were 3,000 miles and a new baby away. Happily, the 11’s aligned, and as we slid into a banquette in the utterly gorgeous dining room at Eleven Madison Park, the feeling was one of elevation, and abandon. We were welcomed back with a sparkling "champagne" made in upstate New York that was the beginning of an evening that did not end until almost one. It is astounding that EMP still delivers at the levels it does, not just with Daniel Humm’s remarkable talents in the kitchen but through an attention to detail in every aspect of a service that is masterful yet never pretentious, always genuinely informed.

Eleven Madison Park is heaven if you love the elegance of fine dining. From the perfect stem for every wine to the antique ice shaving machine used to churn a palate refresher enjoyed on a coveted visit to the kitchen, every component of this ingeniously customized dining experience shines. This is a crazy business we're in, with layers and layers of labor before you get to the love. But when it comes, there is no greater sense of pride. So here’s a shout out to everyone at EMP from your country-mouse cousins in Healdsburg, especially Maitre D' Zac Fischer and the very talented SOM Dev Ranjan. Thank you for a truly memorable evening celebrating our #11, at yours.


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