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Modern Country Food

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House Cured Salmon, Crispy Capers, Heirloom Beets, Avocado, Kumquat & American Sturgeon Caviar

springtime garden
prix-fixe-menu

Dish of the Week

Sunday morning breakfast never varied in our house all the years I was growing up: lox and bagels lathered with Philadelphia cream cheese and thick rings of red onion. When, on my first trip to France, I ordered a first course of ‘gravlax’ thinking I’d come upon an old friend, what arrived at the table was exotic and unfamiliar ~ transparent slices of salmon cut so thinly they shimmered like silk, a languorous trail of crème frâiche, a light dusting of capers. On a separate plate were little pillows of pancakes called blini. My first thought, ‘ok, we’re not in Kansas anymore,’ was followed by complete surprise when I took that first bite. For all its refinements, the dish brought me home.

I never forgot the lesson: whatever hide 'n seek we play with food, signature flavors have the power to haunt us. Sure, in chasing them down we more often than not find ourselves disappointed. But on those rare occasions when we aren’t, the experience is a remarkable convergence of known yet new, comforting yet exciting.

smoked-salmon-plate

Our first course on last Sunday’s Mother’s Day tasting menu was remarkable in precisely this way as it managed to remind me of my mother’s kitchen while seamlessly bridging the gap between homey and elevated. The taste of the sea was alive in the house cured salmon, a bright dollop of caviar like an exploding punctuation mark on the palate. The salmon was cured in equal parts salt and sugar with fresh dill, lemon and orange slices. The heirloom beets pickled in sugar, mustard seed and champagne vinegar, were punched out with a scalloped ring mold.

Everything on the plate played off or with the fish: the earthiness of the beets, the sharp bitterness of the kumquat, the creaminess of the avocado and the crème frâiche. Pink peppercorns, fresh chives, deep fried capers, opal basil and tiny mince of red onions ~ spicy herbal notes ~ wove in and around the salmon refreshing each bite. My mother would have loved it.

beautiful-beet

SOM's notes:

Sekthaus Solter Spätburgunder Brut Rosé, NV, Rheingau, Germany

A sparkling rosé wine is a great pairing to the first course on our Mother’s Day menu because underneath the German lingo this German sparkler is in fact simply a pink Champagne from Pinot Noir. Light bodied and dry, it delivers crisp red cherry and strawberry notes that stand out against a background of sorrel herb minerality. Brighter than any stateside Blanc du Noirs I've had, it's a perfect refreshing palate cleanser that elevates the richness of cured salmon and the crème fraîche, while holding it's own with the earthy and herbal elements of the dish, as well as the bright acids and tangy tartness of the kumquats. 

Brendan O'Donovan

In the Gardens last week

audi-experience

The versatility of the Barndiva Gardens had a nice workout last week when days before double barrel weddings we played host to an Audi Sportscar Experience that brought close to two million dollars worth of exquisite vehicles into the Studio Gardens. It probably was not fair that we told our staff the cars were this year's bonus for their hard work.

Our beautiful Saturday wedding made the New York Times Wedding Section because the bride was the great great grand-daughter of our 27th President. That would be William Howard Taft, if you are counting. Aside from the impressive lineage (the bride's father is the former legal adviser to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell) this was one lovely couple who blessed their vows in the gardens on what turned out to be an unusually warm late spring evening.

barndiva-wedding

All text and photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski

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Kale & Spinach Crusted Fritschen Lamb w/ Valbreso Tarte

garden vines
prix-fixe-menu

Dish of the Week

lamb in breadcrumbs

The brilliant color in this panko crust comes from deep frying spinach and kale separately, then crushing and mixing them with a blend of spices. The Valbreso Feta tarte stars hothouse heirloom sweet 100's and baby artichoke hearts. Marigold flowers from Alex at MIX were part of a light spring vegetable tasting that surrounded the lamb, which included Fritschen olives grown on the land where the animal grazed. We love it when we can connect elements in a dish like this. Summer made it's first tentative appearance with the cherry toms which Drew blistered and left whole, and tiny Marigold flowers, picked fresh and served raw.

tomato tart

Our SOM's notes: "I wanted to play off the beautiful vegetables with something that held up to the lamb, and immediately thought of a Chinon. A region in Loire Valley in France, Chinon is known primarily for it's Cabernet Franc ~ though they make a fine little rosé and a few whites. A great place to look when pairing vegetal flavors and red meats, Cabernet Franc is lighter bodied than our local Cab Franc, complimenting the rich, meaty flavors of the lamb while not overwhelming the spinach and kale in the crust and Chef's well edited tasting of vegetables. We are serving Domaine de Pallus 'Les Pensées de Pallus,' from the Rare Wine Co. It’s rich in texture; bursting with well-rounded red fruits, herbal notes, and a finish that has both balance and finesse."    Brendan O'Donovan

edible marigold

All text and photos Jil Hales.

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Sonoma Shellfish with Chorizo and Spring Vegetables

rose petal garden
prix-fixe-menu

Dish of the Week

teardrop down

A Mediterranean favorite of Chef's, Shellfish and Chorizo, appeared on the menu last week with mussels and scallops bathed in a Basil Saffron Seafood fumet. A terrior version sourced directly from the North Coast, the vegetables were stellar, arriving from all the gardens surrounding us that are bursting into production right now. It's an elegant dish redolent of the sea. As a perfect foil to its heady aromatics, Pancho's Chorizo patties explode with flavor and spicy heat ~ fat and crunchy. The mussels are steamed, scallops pan seared to give them a crusty edge. As for the fresh green bounty, wait for it: favas, asparagus, English peas, fiddleheads, ramps, baby carrots, radishes, turnips and red onion. Society Garlic flowers and tender purslane provide herbal notes. This is a dish that implores you to embrace life!

frying pan

Wine Pairing Notes from Brendan, our sommelier: For this dish, my first-choice pairing would be a great Rosé: something young, not too crisp, not too sweet. From our list I would choose a Triennes Provence Rosé. Balanced and friendly, complimenting the spice of the Chorizo while embracing the delicacy of the scallops. The fresh herbs of this dish stand out against the ripe fruit notes in the wine, which leaves a bright finish that lingers into the next forkful.

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mum.madre.mama.moeder.ahm.ama.muter.makuahine.haha.mzami.matka.'eh.

Happy-Mother's-Day
Happy Mother's Day

All text and photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski.

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Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi w/ Sushi Rice, Avocado, Pickled Jalapeño, Kumquat

beautiful california
prix-fixe-menu

Dish of the Week

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When Chef said the words Tuna Sashimi and Jalapeño in the same sentence, I must admit I didn't get it. For the most part the mercurial flavors of raw fish call for a subtle touch. Surprisingly, the cool umami flavor of the tuna really worked in combination with the creamy avocado, citrus pop of kumquat and laid back heat of pickled jalapeño peppers. Who knew? (Chef, obviously.)

cocktail pairing

In the coming weeks we are going to choose unusual wine and cocktail pairings for each Dish of the Week, with notes from Brendan our SOM, and Rachel our bar manager and lead mixologist. First up is Ray with a cocktail pairing for the Sashimi that takes its classic Asian flavors and puts a Barndiva spin on them.

HER NOTES: The natural pairing here would be a sake cocktail, but while I wanted to create a cocktail with a clean profile so as not to overwhelm the dish, Chef's use of pickled jalapeño opened the door to a different, more playful approach. I chose a Roasted Jalapeño Tequila to wake up the palate with spice, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, cucumber water (with solids removed- no texture, just clean cucumber), fresh squeezed citrus and yellow chartreuse to add a bit of herbaciousness. The heat you get from the infused tequila dissipates almost immediately, allowing the redolent flavors of tuna, avocado and perfectly cooked sushi rice to predominate. Delicious and a great foil for the intensely salt-forward soy vinaigrette.

sushi with bubbles

A Special Brunch Menu

Happy-Mother's-Day
Happy Mother's Day

All text and photos Jil Hales.

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Bacon Wrapped Sturgeon

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It was great to read Andrew Carmellini’s strident defense of “the long lost art of the arroser” in the New York Times last week as we are big time proponents of this traditional French technique of rapid butter basting to finish proteins. À la minute cooking allows a little butter to go a long way; done right it has the potential to deliver saturated flavor that is as rich as it is nuanced.

bacon wrapped sturgeon delicious

Drew’s Dish of the Week ~ Bacon Wrapped Sturgeon with Smashed English Peas and Hedgehog Mushroom Tempura ~ relies on arroser and several other tricks of the trade that make the most of ingredients that are inherently umami, the basic taste profile we define as savory which, crave them as we do, can easily overwhelm the palate. On a scale of 1 -10, sturgeon has the potential to be gloriously satisfying, but without a deft approach to respect its subtle flavor and fragile texture it can easily go dry and bland. Drew’s use of thin strips of raw bacon tightly wrapped around the portioned fish and left to rest in the fridge keeps the cut flesh from drying out. It also lightly flavors the fish, adding a layer of complexity which his cooking method ~ a four sided pan sear ~ extends as the sturgeon slow cooks inside its carapace of sizzling bacon. The result is heavenly moist fish inside a golden crispy outer ‘skin.’

prepping sturgeon

An arroser can use any variety of herbs that will hold up to the heat ~ Drew chose fresh rosemary and garlic for their pungency and green notes. The secret of the technique ~ like many great things in life that have nothing to do with cooking ~ is all in the wrist. You need to move the spoon into and over the pan at a constant speed; this rhythmic basting motion results in dozens of tiny bubbles that aerate the butter. You’re going for foamy butter that does not burn. The fish is then pulled off the flame and allowed to briefly rest while the flavors harmonize, and it finishes cooking.

arroser

The earthiness of the hedgehog mushrooms, dredged lightly in tempura batter and deep fried, were an inspired land-meets-sea pairing for the fish, but Drew wanted more ~ color to brighten the dish and something to provide a foil for the savory proteins. Happily, the first of the English peas arrived in kitchen the same morning as the sturgeon, so we were off to the races. The peas were lightly smashed, then sautéed in VOO with a small dice of confit garlic, tomato and carrot, emulsified with a spoonful of fragrant spring vegetable stock. Pancho then made a vibrant pea purée (with a touch of spinach to hold the color) and a broken vinaigrette of VOO and port reduction.

Pancho and I did a little spring jig over this dish ~ he while plating it, me while eating it. Drew just stood back, arms folded, big smile.

hedgehog mushroom tempura

Of all the reasons I’ve come to see Ryan as a great chef, the talent he’s nurtured in this team resonates the most. Encouraging them to shine isn’t just his way of honoring his own mentors, though it certainly does that in spades. It’s also a reminder that for all the years of hard work it takes to become great at this profession, cooking like this is all about love, and respect.

Sprung!

votive

The first container of treasures we found on our recent trip to Paris this past (freezing!) January have just arrived in the Studio. Thick felt firewood carriers (also perfect for kids toys); handwoven cotton and leather everyday summer bags (larger ones for market or beach); elegant wire votive holders; a delightful selection of distressed steel bird feeders and planters; handcarved and painted picture frames ~ we done good! Come in and let us talk you through our charming Spring Collection.

gallery-collection3

Also just in time for Easter are the first of Neeru Kumar's elegant scarves in black & white and light summer colors. Kumar is one of the most beloved and well known textile designers in India at the moment ~ reviving hand loomed textile traditions one village at a time. Her work is sold at the V&A in London, at the Met and Guggenheim in New York...and now at Studio Barndiva!

Nerru Kumars textiles

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski

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Exciting News!

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Saveur

EAT THE VIEW won the most votes in the documentary category in Saveur Magazine’s Video Festival last week, taking home the People's Choice Award.

How cool is that? Very! In addition to bragging rights (Saveur’s Editor-in-Chief and Top Chef Masters judge James Oseland commended us for a video that “really stood out to us for strong sense of place and story”), we will be getting a check for $250 which will go directly into the video kitty. Making EAT THE VIEW with Drew and the crew was a joy. It is ganache on the cake to have been recognized in this fashion.

To each and every one of you WHO TOOK THE TIME TO VOTE  ~ THANK YOU! We are especially grateful to the social media mavens who helped get the word out ~ Carey Sweet, Elizabeth Cosin, Tod Brilliant, Scott Keneally, John Mamus, you are the best! E.A.T. (all the way in Richmond, Virginia) thank you for your infectious support. As for our co-stars, a shout out to Preston Family Farm, all the guys at MIX, and the Callahan’s and Lenny at Bellwether, who also urged folks to vote through their websites and blogs. Drew and I are sincerely grateful for the continued support we’ve felt on this project ~ with a special nod to the indomitable K2’s, who entered us in the competition and kept the energy flowing. As a result more people will come to know what we mean by eating the view here in Healdsburg.

Saveur is running all the winning videos on their site.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski.

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two cameras, one sunset

healdsburg-blossoms2
healdsburg vineyard

It was just chance that Dawid and I were both out and about at sunset last Tuesday, reaching for our cameras at more or less the same moment in time. Dawid was traveling south on 101, looking out over Old Redwood Hwy towards Dry Creek Valley ~ his shot of vineyards, back-lit blooming plum trees and gently rolling coastal ridges is bathed in a spectral glow. A methodical photographer who longs to capture light as the eye sees it, I can imagine him stopping the car and getting out, carefully contemplating the layers of color and lineal form as traffic whizzed by and the sun dipped behind the mountains.

headsburg sunset

I was in a speeding car on Hwy 128, Geoffrey driving, between Philo and Boonville, playing the viewfinder game ~ half a second to intimate just when to push the shutter before 'the shot' flashes by, gone forever. 128 is a road etched in my brain after 30 years, yet still revealing its secrets. Just when I think nothing about it can surprise me, that I’ve squeezed everything out of the landscape, it stands up and bites me in the ass.

With much of the country still locked in the cold clasp of winter we are counting our many blessings here in Northern California, luxuriating in glorious weather and sherbet colored sunsets. Both images capture what many of us were feeling this week: if you don’t believe nature is sublime, now is a good time to start.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski.

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Cocktails for Lovers

valentines cocktail
prix-fixe-menu
special cocktails

It’s harder to create ‘romantic’ cocktails than one might think ~ any drink themed to an ideal (as opposed to a season) comes with so many various interpretations. Valentine's Day runs the libidinal gauntlet from starter romances that don’t need anything more than a gentle nudge, to long married couples in search of a jump start. And then there’s everything in between.

Rachel Beardsley bartender

Be Mine? is a Barndiva Valentine's Day favorite ~ a shy come-on of a cocktail that flirts with just enough flavor in an egg white lavender foam so the punch of citrus you get from Meyer lemon infused vodka comes as a nice, if unexpected, surprise. It's finished with a crème de violette and huckleberry syrup heart, which adds top notes both floral and forest berry. It's a pretty drink, one that's elegantly sexy.

rishi tea cocktail

It’s All About You (a.k.a me me me) is a cocktail for seasoned lovers ~ c'mon, if you haven't heard that refrain in an argument, chances are you've said it. Construction of the cocktail was also a response to the notion that men don’t order champagne cocktails. Gay or straight, they do, of course, but more often than not they like a kick to them. And while It’s All About You could read as hipster chic from a cursory look at the ingredients ~ Rishi organic white rose tea, St. Germain elderflower liqueur ~ its spirit (in both senses of the word) is Pisco, a fortified grape brandy which to our mind is not used often enough in great cocktails. There are so many directions Pisco can take other than sour! Rachel finishes It's All About You with a bracing swirl of creole bitters so you end up thinking New Orleans, not Brooklyn.

sipping cocktail

Then again, think whatever you like. At the end of the day what’s sexy about any cocktail is that it takes you where you want to go. What you do when you get there is another story.

oscars party

Oscar Party!

Speaking of  One Night Only Cocktails ... Oscar Sunday is within sight and we have Tiger Blood on the mind. The hype around this year's Academy Awards continues to grow ~ latest from the mediaplatz is that Silver Linings Playbook is "surging," while Argo is falling back. Whatever. It's a great field of films this year. Our favorite, Beasts of the Southern Wild, is a genre hybrid of unsettling beauty, with bravura performances and a first time director who makes heartbreaking connections between the personal and political. Doesn't have a chance in hell of winning ~ but let's hear it for the nominations! The best part about watching the Oscars is all the schmoozing going on ~ a good indication of who will get work next year.

There is no prix fixe menu this year ~ come in for a drink and fill out a ballot or stay all evening ~ but come ~ schmooz with us! We've been hosting an Oscar party since the year we opened, it's great fun, and to make it more exciting this year there will be a $50 Barndiva gift certificate for the winning ballot. Voting starts at brunch on Sunday, and you need not be present to win.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski. Oscar Graphics: k2pdesigns.

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Happy Valentine's Day (almost)

ducky topper
prix-fixe-menu
carrot heart new darker

If you haven't bought a gift or made dinner plans for V Day this Thursday, we've got you covered. While the restaurant has been booked up for weeks, a Barndiva Gift Certificate holds the promise of a romantic dinner on an evening of your own choosing ~ surely one of the few instances where 'it's the thought that counts' rings true. We also have lovely gifts ~ from the quirky to the sublime ~ to choose from in the Gallery. Ain't love grand?

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

oscars silver

The Race is heating up, with Argo upending an expected rout by Lincoln in all the press awards ceremonies leading up to the big night on Feb. 24th. This will be Barndiva's 9th Annual Big Screen Oscar Party ~ a great night at the Barn. We will offer an à la carte menu so you can eat and drink as little or as much as you want, and back by popular demand an in-house ballot contest that could win you a $50 BD gift certificate if you turn out to be the cinéaste Nate Silver of Sonoma County. You don't have to be present to win (balloting opens at 11 am Sunday Feb. 24) but where's the fun in that? There is a great field of films this year ~ come for the Red Carpet and stay for Best Picture....and dessert!

Lucky Ducks

smiling duck

The post office called Bonnie Z at 4am last week with the news her day old baby ducklings had arrived ~ I had no idea our beleaguered postal facility even offered that service! Bonnie dutifully got out of bed and picked them up and voilà, the Dragonfly flock had doubled in size. Well, almost. The little ones, Runners and Campbells, will stay inside until their fluff turns into proper water repellant feathers. After that they will join the other ducks and chickens waddling, eating and fertilizing the beautiful flower farm on Westside Road. They should start laying eggs in early Fall ~ if they produce enough Barndiva can start using them in Octavio's desserts by September. Stay tuned. Better yet, take a trip out to Dragonfly and see them for yourself. For a list of Dragonfly's ever changing but always wonderful educational and social calendar, check them out online here.

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happy boy and ducks

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales. Oscar Graphics: k2pdesigns.

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Great Fun in Feb

clouds in cocktail topper
prix-fixe-menu

February 7

Click here for more details

What could be a nicer way to spend an evening in the middle of Winter than dining in Barndiva, listening to great jazz and knowing the proceeds will go to support music education in Healdsburg public schools?

For this year's Jazz in the Schools citywide benefit, we are thrilled to welcome the Dick Conte Trio with Steve Webber and Bill Moody. Rachel will be shaking signature cocktails & Chef has put together a very cool prix fixe menu in addition to our regular à la carte. Call for table availability ~ 431 0100. If there's room at the bar, of course you will be most welcome. It's going to be great to have live music back in the Barn.

February 14th

studio gifts2

Valentine's Dinner reservations are pretty much sold out, but if you had your heart set on spending a romantic evening here at Barndiva, all is not lost. What's that they say about pleasure delayed is pleasure multiplied? Pick up a Barndiva Gift Certificate ~ good all year for a great night out. While you are here, check out the beautiful gifts we have in the gallery. Not all pleasure needs to be delayed!

February 24

oscars-menu

Hard to believe this will be our ninth year hosting a big screen Oscar Party ~ one of the few things I miss about growing up in Los Angeles (oh Swifty, where art thou?).  But it is: we've hosted a variety of themed parties for Oscar Sunday since the year we opened. This year the field is particularly exciting ~ if challenging themes don't set your teeth to grind ~ with some stellar performances.

There is no set menu this year ~ come in for a drink to catch the Red Carpet or stay for the entire evening until Best Picture. Call if you don't want to risk disappointment ~ it's hard to leave once you get here, and we will honor dinner reservations. And yes, we will have a bottle of sparkling for a local Nate Silver who guesses the most winners (and no, you don't have to be present to win ~ come in anytime Sunday and vote.)

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales. All graphics (except Jazz): k2pdesigns

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Wild Striped Sea Bass in Saffron Bouillabaisse Butter

healdsburg rainy day
prix-fixe-menu
chef drew wycoff
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The conversation continues around here about serving farmed fish. A few months back we did a tasting of a farmed Striped Bass and we tried, we really tried, to love it. No luck. There was something slightly muddy in the finish that anything forced to live in containment water probably can’t avoid. We all know the oceans are straining, but in every way we prefer fish sustainably caught in the wide open seas. When Mike Torrise showed up last week with this gorgeous wild Striped Bass from California we felt vindicated: sweet smelling, eyes still lucid, flesh still firm.

Striped Bass has the most wonderful skin ~ it scores into neat diamond bands that crisp up like crackling. With fish this fresh each bite brings with it the taste of salt from the sea. A little butter and thyme and there is nothing between you and perfection, except knowing when to take the pan off the heat. And what to serve it with.

Mix Garden has been providing us with exquisite tiny young vegetables; time consuming to peel, pare and steam (each separately) but the flavors they pack are condensed, Shangri-la. The third component was a vibrant shellfish sauce ~ mussel, clam and fennel broth suffused with tarragon and saffron, reduced, strained and buttered out. Chef finished the dish with a light drizzle of first press virgin olive oil that just arrived from our friends the Pates at Serendipity Farm. A glorious dish to start the year.

healdsburg kitchen
chef ryans wild sea bass

Per our conversation about seafood sustainability, check out Studio Barndiva exhibitor Nader Khouri's beautiful photo blog Visual Appetite this week. It talks about a new food model called Community Supported Fisheries. Nader writes "CSF supporters say it’s a way to deliver local, seasonal, and mostly wild-caught seafood to consumers while shortening the supply chain and giving fishermen a more fair price for their catch. In the past year the number of CSF programs in the U.S. has doubled to 35." Not sure if it will reach us up here in Healdsburg, but it sure sounds like a good thing for the Bay Area.

All text and photos, Jil Hales.

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Wednesday at the Barn ~ The Santa Fix

barndiva-restaurant

prix-fixe-menu

It's not too late!restaurant gift certificate

Noun into Verb

kids with santa 2012Happiness is as ephemeral as anger, as pain. Because we crave it more doesn’t make it easier to attain than those less desirable but fully human emotions. Hit any bookstore and you’ll find dozens of titles on how to become Happy, right alongside books on how to deal with your pain or marginalize your anger. But for all the thought we give to what we want and how to get it, relatively few of us get to old age any better at making ourselves (lowercase) happy than succumbing to a grumbling melancholy. One of the tragic ironies of life may be that the most quintessentially pleasurable moments we’ve felt ~ as children running wild, as travelers the first time abroad, as lovers in the arms of our first infatuation ~ cannot be duplicated, except in paler versions.

Perhaps if we were better at knowing why the heart wants what it wants we’d live more fulfilled lives. Instead, most of us settle for a self-serving definition of happiness the culture presents as aspirational ~ we know that to be rich and famous isn’t the route to satisfaction and security, yet rare is the person who won’t take either when offered. Throughout our lives the people who choose to serve and protect ~ first responders, teachers, healers, volunteers ~ are the ones we reach out to first in times of trouble. Why is it then, for too many of us, the only time of year we acknowledge the importance of giving is at Christmas?

gallery window

Even for non-Christians, it's a holiday that speaks to the better angels in all of us. Because it’s about family, hearth and food, it recognizes the need to share a communal spirit that has goodwill embedded in its DNA. Sure, the conspicuous consumption part dumbs it down. And yes, the desire to hang fairy lights, decorate the tree and festoon gifts in gay attire comes as part of a mixed bag which can also include obnoxious relatives, too much traffic and a depleted bank account. Doesn’t matter ~ Christmas provides an opportunity to make peace, enchant the little ones, lavish those who have been good to us with an extra measure of joy. Whether you buy it or make it or simply will it into existence, it encourages a particular kind of hopefulness which only children seem to come by naturally but most adults need a yearly holiday to remember. To work selflessly for a greater good does not promise financial rewards or glory, to be sure. What it does offer is a connection between doing good and feeling good, the possibility that through virtuous deeds you find something which ultimately shines longer and brighter than bling. The good news is that to be hopeful IS a choice. While we (mostly) do not get to choose what happens to us in life, we never lose the ability to choose what we believe in, and to act on those beliefs.

In the wake of the tragedies in Newtown, which we all know by now could have happened in any town, we have an opportunity this holiday season, as we hug our loved ones close and contemplate how best to keep them safe, to consider the values that truly strengthen us as human beings, and to work towards realizing those values more fully all year, long after Santa has left the building.

 

All text Jil Hales. Photos/Graphics: Dawid Jaworski, (a stealth) Kirsten Petrie

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Wednesday at the Barn ~ Christmas in the Gallery

downtown healdsburg shopping

prix fixe menu healdsburg

Jingle Away

healdsburg gallery

The Gallery will be open with extended hours through Christmas Eve with a unique collection of beautiful things...

healdsburg gifts

... no matter what size box you are looking to fill.

healdsburg gift shop

 

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted.)

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu + Will the real John Dory please swim up + Xmas in the Gallery

John Dory prix-fixe-menu

John Dory with Honey Glazed Baby Turnips, Pickled Red Cabbage & Sherry Caviar Crème

JD spot

John Dory is a fish of many aliases ~ St. Pierre, Peter’s Fish, Janitore, Kuparu (the name used in New Zealand by the Maori, where the fish thrive in great abundance) with stories burnished through time for each name. Chef’s favorite comes from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which St. Peter leaves a thumbprint on the fish’s body as he pulls it out of the sea at the behest of Jesus, hounded by the Romans for a temple tax. Saint Peter pays with a four drachma coin he miraculously finds a in the fish’s mouth. I favor the French nursery rhyme that tells the sad tale of a sea captain named John Dory who happens to meet the King of France as he ambles drunkenly toward Paris looking for a benefactor. Farfetched, if not miraculous, the King gives him enough gold coins for a new ship, which our boy John promptly sinks in a battle with pirates on the high seas.

But even the most likely historical attribution ~ jeune dorée means ‘gilded yellow’ in French which amply describes the appearance of this silvery, olive yellow coastal fish ~ does not explain that spot, which, as it turns out, is more Darwinian than religious or fanciful. The distinctive tattoo just below the Dory's dorsal fin functions as a highly effective “evil eye,” flashing predators to buy time for escape, and also serves to confuse the Dory’s prey so it can pounce. Nature may not have had a hand in naming the John Dory, but it more than compensated for the fact that it needed help to survive. The Dory, it turns out, is one of the slowest swimmers in the sea ~ yet another reason it has eyes at the back of its head.

preparing john dory

For a fish with such a long and colorful history, there are surprisingly few cooking preparations that won’t destroy its delicate buttery flavor. Overcook the Dory even by seconds and you lose the fragrance it carries of the sea, ruining the lovely texture of its flesh. Another caveat: because it retains a great deal of water for such a thin bodied fish, the Dory should be served within 48 hours of being pulled from the water, never frozen. When Ryan was considering what to serve as a second fish course for our NYE Menu, he went straight to the Dory with an idea of pairing it with caviar and chive crème brightened with Spanish sherry vinegar. Shown here, as Dish of the Week, the sherry caviar crème brings out the earthy sweetness of honey braised turnips against two distinct presentations of slivered cabbage: garlicky, buttery Savoy beneath the fish, with a beautiful tangle of pickled purple cabbage on top. (As it turns out, this dish was a delicious runner up for the NYE menu when the John Dory will be served with a lobster brussels sprout hash and crispy prosciutto.)

healdsburg chef

Pictures don't do justice to Ryan's artistry when it comes to plating, nor do they reflect how much time he and the brigade spend on the visual components of each dish. Nothing is superfluous ~ each ingredient must play a distinct flavor role ~ but he always manages to bring often disparate (in terms of color and shape) elements together in such a way that they dance on the plate. In this case think Balanchine, not Pina Bausch. On New Year's Eve the John Dory course will follow a seared Day Boat scallop with caramelized cauliflower and his "trail mix" of toasted almonds, golden raisins and capers. To find out what comes next, click here. FYI: We will open specially for New Year's Eve as it falls on a Monday, but with modified earlier hours. If you are considering joining us for what may well be the best meal of the year, book it Dano!

John Dory dinner

'Glorious Icky Bits' shot of the week

john dory bouillabaisseIf you don't make it for New Year's Eve, fear not, John Dory is currently on the new Fall menu, finished in butter atop a stew of herb roasted Manila clams, heirloom beets, swiss chard and chorizo. It’s a heartier dish than the one Chef will serve on NYE, perfect for early winter with spicy heat from the Chorizo playing off the light brininess of the Dory. It's also a nose to tailfin dish, which brings us nicely to our 'glorious icky bits' shot of the week. (Read last week's blog for our position on Icky Bits). There is not a lot of flesh on a Dory ~ superior knife skills are needed if you want to get the plumpest filets ~ but procuring the fish whole has a great plus as the bones of the Dory are especially gelatinous, making them great as a thickening agent for a fumet. This is the same fish shown at the top of the blog, after filleting, as Drew lowers it into the simmering fish stock he will use for our bouillabaisse, a la Ryan.

In the Gallery for Christmas and Hanukkah

Ismael Sanchez dropped off a new collection of his wondrous wire sculptures last week, just in time for the holidays. This butterfly is studded with ocean worn 'jewels' collected over the years from Glass Beach in Ft Bragg. Pigs with wings, scorpions, bulls, his signature simple horses and a (nearly) full sized goat round out the collection. We rarely have this many Ismael pieces in the gallery.

ismael sanchez butterfly

healdsburg gallery jewelry

We also rarely have as much jewelery ~ cuffs, earrings and necklaces that won't break the bank. Christmas decorations from around the world. Geoffrey's antique cigarette card collections. Beautiful vegetable calendars from Maria Schoettler and a slew of new books you won't find in stock anywhere else in this bookshop rich town of ours. Come in and look around. If you find yourself in the throes of indecision, go next door for a cocktail, or better yet go after you shop ~ a cocktail is on the house with gallery purchases of $50 or more.

healdsburg shoppingAll text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted.)

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu + New Fall Cocktail List

Fall Cocktails

I’ve heard some bad ideas in my time (many of them attached to the words “time saving”) but Push Button Cocktails? That’s the tagline the Rabbit Company is hoping will sell their new Electric Cocktail Mixer, a product that is dumb, dumb, dumb. Come on people, one of the great anticipatory sounds of the civilized world is that of ice hitting the sides of a cocktail shaker held aloft. At the end of a long day it's the sound of an evening opening up in front of you with the promise of great food and conversation...and if you play your cards right and the stars align, maybe a whole lot more. The idea of replacing it with a Double AA battery pushing a superfluous motor that grinds the life out of the inherently delicate ingredients isn’t just stupid, it’s soul destroying. They aren’t called spirits for nothing.

I have little patience for dumbing down the art of the drink. I’m no snob ~ great dives can produce great martinis ~ but skill and individual style come with the territory (+ a touch of OCD doesn’t hurt). Since we opened Barndiva, cocktails have been at the heart of the dining experience we’ve wanted to create; seven years on we have developed one of the best cocktail programs in Northern California. Our passion has been fueled by consistently bringing on bright new talent and giving them stellar ingredients and an environment in which they have every opportunity to thrive.

But it hasn’t always been easy to put all three elements in play at the same time. Rachel Beardsley is the first woman to manage the Barndiva bar ~ about time, right? Turns out, Audrey Saunders notwithstanding, the mixology world is a glorified version of boy's town, as I suspect it always has been. In addition to the usual stereotypes, beauty like Rachel's can be an obstacle for being taken seriously behind the bar. She rocks it with professionalism and a cool but commanding presence. Brendan O'Donovan, who manages our wine list with an impressive understanding of nuance and nose has been a great foil for her. But with respect to the Fall list, it’s also hard to ignore the energy a new apprentice is having on the program. Justin Wycoff worked under Ryan in the kitchen for the past two years, but found his heart wasn’t in it for the long run. Affectionately known around here as Junior, he is the younger brother of our talented sous chef Drew sharing the Wycoff gene for crushing long hours with unbridled enthusiasm. Both brothers have an impressive focus for detail, but it turns out Junior also has a bit of the mad scientist in him. We’re going to encourage him to take what he learned under Ryan ~ especially from the garde manger station ~ and run with it.

Cocktails are an innately human endeavor, one of the few which fully combines art and science, but you don't need to be James Bond to understand the difference between shaken and stirred ~ it’s all in the wrist. And heads up: anyone who tells you differently is just trying to push your buttons.

Here's a preview of our new cocktails. It comes together at a great time of year for spirit drinks which pull inspiration from the gardens and the forest. Consider yourself invited.

 Lady Penrose is a gin cocktail where the complexities of the spirit soften and open, house-infused with garden sage. Gently shaken with huckleberry jus and fresh lime, the drink is topped with sparkling Roederer from just down the hill from our farm in Philo. Named after the great modern photographer and Man Ray muse Lee Miller, Rachel incorporates a perfume of angostura for a spiced nose and a bit of heat ~ in her incredible life, Lee had plenty of both to go around.

Golden Boy uses our ever popular house-infused browned butter whiskey with a hint of black pepper syrup and fresh lemon juice. The drink stars Barndiva’s apple juice from our farm, pressed at Apple a Day over in Sebastapol (a blend of Spitzenburg, Golden Delicious and Jonathon’s ~ if you dined with us in the past month you've no doubt enjoyed a shooter on the house and would agree, it's killer). A charge of soda frames the conversation of this drink, the epitome of smooth ~ more Oscar De La Hoya than Clifford Odets.

Ruling Class Lite is made with house-infused burnt orange tequila hit with a splash of fresh lemon juice. The drink's citrus is tempered by a light but distinctly herbal tarragon syrup. Rachel’s first interactive cocktail, RCL comes with a sidecar of beet and tarragon foam, earthy and wonderful. Check out the drift.

Bitches of Seiziéme is a thoroughly modern take on a champagne cocktail made with sparkling Roederer, house-infused orange peel brandy, coriander syrup and a hint of creole bitters on the nose, reminiscent of absinthe. Ask the bar about the name.

Ninth Ward is Brendan’s contribution to the collection with fennel infused vodka, a bit of citrus, and a mist of Herbsaint over a beautiful sea of egg white foam. Garnished with bronze fennel from the gardens.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted.)

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu + Dish of the Week: Braised Oxtail with Lobster + Photos of the Porchetta Roast!

Braised Kobi Oxtail & Lobster Claw Fricassée  w/ Chanterelles, Harvest Vegetables & Yukon Gold Potato Tots

We eat to nourish and sustain ourselves, but for the most part we've all been trained to look at images of food to be aroused. In this respect there is little difference between commodity chains like Red Lobster and upscale magazines like Martha Stewart Cooking: the production of images that have been set-designed and stage lit to beautify and romanticize what we eat. In order to meet what are essentially market driven expectations, photographers increasingly try to avoid what a food stylist friend once described as “the icky bits of cooking.”

Which makes the job of producing a curious little food blog like ours somewhat conflicted. Two weeks ago our bookkeeper was passing the computer when she caught sight of an image we had up on the screen of a whole, uncooked octopus. It was gray, wet, limp, about the size of a small child ~ by any stretch the definition of unappetizing. “God, I wish I hadn’t seen that," she shrieked. "I’m not sure I can ever eat octopus again.” Least you get the wrong impression, our bookkeeper is no wimp. She is ex-navy with five children. But as it’s hardly the intent of a restaurant blog that touts the talents of its omnivorous kitchen to turn people off ~ and turn her off it did ~ after some discussion we took the easy way out, choosing a close-up of one graceful tentacle, brined a rich merlot red. But I haven’t written a blog since.

Because I haven’t found a way out what's become an ongoing dilemma. I love gorgeous images of food as much as the next guy, and happily my life is full of them. But that's not always what I see when I look through my lens each week as I set out to document a dish through the laborious stages it takes on its journey to the plate. And what I see has increasingly led me to believe that it's precisely this narrow definition of what constitutes ‘beautiful’ and "exciting" that inhibits us from exploring anything that can't be photoshopped into submission or reduced to copy the length of a long tweet. Because it's in the icky bits that the best flavors slumber, needing to be coaxed, step by step, to reveal themselves.

There are a lot of icky bits in nose to tail cooking ~ starting with a whole (dead) animal. But if you’ve been reading this blog at all you know that the intricate and loving steps we take to properly cook animal proteins is a huge part of what we do. It flows from the pleasure we get from eating everything that comes our way, nose to tail (if they have one), which is measured by a relationship with animals based upon respectful dependence: eating animals after they’ve lived a good life honors and engenders the bio-dynamic precepts of farming we hold most dear.

This week’s dish started with a decidedly ungainly looking animal part, the tail of an Ox. Serpentine, mostly bone and sinew, this off-cut has surprisingly little meat. It took four days to render the tail into one of the most delicious dishes I've had all year (including a full day to let the flavors develop). Check it out:

From the brining of the tail overnight there followed protracted stages: mincing vegetables and roasting bones for the veal stock, flouring and searing off the Oxtail before adding it to an all day braise, straining and clarifying the stock and the finished sauce (six times that I counted), peeling, boiling, puréeing, forming, and deep frying the Yukon Golds for the tater tots, cracking and steaming the lobster claws, peeling, paring and cooking each vegetable for the final dish. Raw meat, grease, mounds of uncooked vegetables ~ there was not one vanity shot. The drying of chanterelles, which we do in the garden, was indeed pretty, but didn’t feel an essential part of the dish. The bi-product of the only truly dramatic moment ~ Chef pouring a magnum of red wine over the meat and vegetables and igniting them, the room exploding in a foresty, primal smoke that stroked a curious longing in me ~ was a smell.

To coax a sweet, rich, tiny bundle of meat out of that Oxtail took immense concentration with a surfeit of heat, sweat, blood and guts. (Not just of an animal variety.) What we do may not always look pretty until we get to the finished plate, but at the end of our very long days, it's the getting there that's truly fascinating. As least that's what I've come to believe, with the hope that you will too.

 

End of Summer Porchetta Roast: Friends and family celebrate the life of a pig named Denise.

Yes, Denise is a curious name for a pig, but when Lukka, Daniel and Olga were warned not to personalize their first experience of raising an animal for the table by naming it, they stood their ground: if they were going to raise a rare mule foot, build her an acre pen to root around in, schlepp vegetables the staff collected every day for her to eat, and see to it that she lived a pain free life up to and including the way she left it, then hell yes, it was going to be personal!

Naturally, when it came to deciding what to serve our staff and a few close friends at Barndiva’s end of year harvest celebration, all eyes turned to Denise.

To allow Ryan a night off, Dino Bugica, our good friend and undisputed porchetta master was called upon to look after the "main course."  If you are not conversant with the details of Porchetta, it’s a classic Italian preparation in which the body of a whole pig is de-boned, herb rubbed, then re-rolled up tight so the skin crisps as the meat slowly roasts into the melted fat. Dino used a simple fennel pollen, salt and pepper rub which enhanced the incredibly sweet, herbal notes of the meat.

For the rest of the meal, Daniel baked sublime muffins from a closely guarded family recipe and he and Olga roasted squash and potatoes from the gardens at the farm. Amber baked three stellar sweets: chocolate chip banana bread, sour cream forest berry muffins and incredible pumpkin pie brûlée. Lukka stocked the bar. Geoff helped carve. Though it wasn’t a pot luck, friends brought loads of other goodies ~ Dragonfly's beautiful salad was stellar ~ but most of all everyone arrived with tons of good will. It was a great afternoon of food, drink, and laughter, with kids running wild in the gardens until long after dark.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted.)

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Wednesday at the Barn ~ Nov. 6, 2012

November 6, 2012

It all comes down to this... knowing where your food comes from.

We hope you will join us and vote YES on Proposition 37 today. This is an election year where truth feels relative, indisputable facts are hard to come by, and no bill is going to be perfect. Let common sense, not the power that flows from vested interests, help you decide how to cast your vote on this vital issue.

California can lead the way to an informed approach to GMOs across the country ~  every vote matters.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Kirsten Petrie (unless otherwise noted.)

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Wednesday at the Barn ~ Rachel Dreams Kiss Kirá ~ On the House: First Press of BD Ridge Apple Juice

Cocktail of the Week

Kiss Kirá

Rachel's stellar new cocktail Kiss Kirá started with the simple desire to celebrate our Asian Pear harvest, which was particularly abundant this year. But nothing is simple when it comes to working with pears, whose subtle flavor registers as a fragrance as much as a taste. Their delicacy is easily overwhelmed ~ whether in a composed dish, lost in the sugar of a jam, or buried beneath the bolder competing piquancy of a chutney. Asian Pears, prized for their high water content (which contributes to a nice crispness when ripe and chilled) are particularly hard to work with. But ah, when ‘paired’ with spirits, these pears can really soar.

Good Eau de vie captures their essence particularly well, and in the past we’ve crafted some great pear cocktails using vodka. Kiss Kirá is our first go at using citrus and spice infused whiskey with fresh purée from our dry farmed Nashi's.

Rachel had it in her mind to work with Rye, which she infused with an autumnal mix of orange peel, roasted fennel and coriander seed, clove and cinnamon. Shaken with Canton Ginger Liqueur and a hint of fresh citrus, which brightened the spice, the final cocktail created a beautiful nimbus when poured. It was the color of a desert sunset. Even filtering the purée twice, the body of the cocktail ended up on the thick side with a silken texture redolent of our pears.

An inspired final touch was to paint the martini glass with a swirl of balsamic honey gastrique which according to Rachel, “provided a balance of tart to sweet, while adding another element of depth at the forefront of the palate.”

Usually, with a flavor profile as difficult to nail down and hold as an Asian Pear's, less is more, but this is an incredibly thoughtful cocktail. It opens slowly in the glass, and as the gastrique melts it plays an intriguing game of hide and seek that dances with the rich loamy flavor of the Rye, always managing to return to the elusive flavor of pear. Kiss Kirá is a knockout. Be warned though, as ethereal as Indian Summer, it will only be on the Fall menu while the pears last.

Also making a brief appearance in the restaurant over the next few weeks is an 'Amuse' of the first press of the season of Barndiva Ridge Apple Juice, a blend of dry farmed Spitzenberg, Golden Delicious and Jonathans.

Even if  you aren't dining, come in for a shot on the house. Fall is a great time to reacquaint yourself with the Barn. But get ready for a surprise if you haven't been in of late.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted.)

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