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Dish of the Week........ In the Garden......In Our Glass...In the Press

 

Dish of the Week:

Strawberry Salad

I forget how crazy busy summer gets until Friday rolls around and we haven’t shot or even discussed Dish of the Week. Last Saturday I found myself shooting it guerrilla style in the middle of the hot line during a busy dinner service which had come hard on the heels of a wedding in the gallery.  More than my nerves got singed.

So when I drifted into the kitchen on Wed morning and saw Lou Preston had just dropped off a box of the most beautiful strawberries anyone had seen in a long time, Chef and I jumped on the idea of a super quick summer salad that would star these glorious babies, grown in some of the most loved soil in the county at the height of their season.  We momentarily toyed with the idea of just putting them in a bowl and calling it a day but that begged the question of why berries, especially strawberries, are often just so much better on their own. The truth is they don’t mix well with proteins, or most vegetables, which is why they are almost always relegated to the desert column.

There’s nothing wrong with a natural sweet food profile but it needs a foil to stop it going flat on you after the first few bites. Chef used the strawberries themselves to provide this counterpoint by compressing half of them in verbena, which took most of the sugar out, replacing it with a nice soury kick and a woody floral aroma. Not quite pickled, a step before fermented.  The process of compressing the strawberries deepened their color to a bruised red which saturated the berry all the way through, creating a nice confusion between the brain, expecting sweet, and the taste, which was uniquely savory.

Edible flowers, with their delicate shapes, colors and earthy taste profiles, were a natural bridge between this Janus-like strawberry presentation and the other ingredients:  the purslane, the gentle heat provided by the arugula and the radishes, the creaminess of the avocado and the great crunch of the tempura squash blossom.  We are particularly proud of the bachelor buttons, which we grew from seed here at the Barn.  I thought vibrant saffron Calendula petals would have been a nice touch as well, but Chef demurred ~ he was on a groove with his muted color palette.

All this attention to detail isn't just about taste, and the tiny petals are a case in point: most chefs in the middle of a hectic service would have just sprinkled them on, but that wouldn't satisfy Ryan's belief that we eat with our eyes first.  No matter how involved you are in conversation when you're dining out and a plate arrives there's always a moment when you pick up your fork and look down.  The eye really does luxuriate in color and form and the result of Ryan's artistry in that moment~  brief as it may be ~  has the effect of slowing everything down.

A few days ago Sandra Jordan dropped off a precious allotment of her exceptional balsamic which Chef used as Morse code on the plate, instead of dressing the salad. Jordan’s balsamic is a thing of wonder, not cheap mind you, but like everything this classy lady does (her exquisite alpaca fabric line, sandrajordan.com, is now sold worldwide), worth every penny. We use it sparingly to finish dishes ~ it’s so full flavored it even works with desserts ~ and the bar uses it in Sandra’s Ballsey, a sparkling cocktail we created for Sandra because, well, she is.  Whatever it takes.

Enjoy the fine weather.

In our Glass

We’ve gotten a lot of offers over the years from winemakers who want to collaborate with us on a Barndiva label wine. And we’ve been tempted, boy have we been tempted. But we suffer from this particular disease ~ passionitis controleria ~ which strikes whenever we put our name on something. And wine, most especially, is not to be trifled with around here.

There is one winemaker we have believed in so much our own label Cabernet is all but a standing order.  Dan Fitzgerald was a very young winemaker when we met him a few months after opening Barndiva when he came to tend bar. We saw character twinned with talent which was remarkable.  He was just finishing school, after some years working in vineyards in France. Through his tenure at Williams Selyem until he landed at Pellegrini, where he is now head winemaker, we have been proud (but not surprised) at his progress in this most competitive industry. In partnership he now has his own collection of wines under the Ellipsis label ~ which dad Chris markets (stepmom Honor Comfort is the power behind Taste of Sonoma) but the wine he makes for Barndiva is a singular accomplishment.

The grapes are grown exclusively in the Fitzgerald's 55 year old Deux Amis vineyard, which sits behind their beautiful home on West Dry Creek. A true vin de terroir made the way they made wine 200 years ago, grapes are handpicked and fermented with wild indigenous yeast from the grapes, hand pressed in a basket press in six tiny loads. Aged in neutral oak for two years, this is a cabernet made in an elegant old world European style.  It has an extraordinary ruby running to purple color that speaks of rich black and red fruit, which you get instantly from the nose, along with a hint of green that rises like mist from the berry patch. Tommy says there is a slight intimation of cigar box in the nose, and that he gets lots of fresh acidity framed by oak in the 2008, which we all agree is the finest vintage yet.

This is more than Barndiva’s house wine, it’s a family collaboration even down to the label, which was designed by Geoffrey's goddaughter Elly and her talented mate Charlie who, like Dan, have risen to the top of their profession in London in only a few short years.

Love the wine, love the story, worth the wait. By the glass and by the bottle, while it lasts.

To learn more about Ellipsis go to www.ellipsiswines.com

To learn more about Campbell-Hay Design Studio (and yes, after the bubba is born they will once again travel for work) go to www.campbellhay.com

In the Garden

Final words this week: check out the ‘new’ Tractor Bar Trio soon. Last Wednesday they played two extremely mellow sets in the garden and it was  Gypsy Jazz at its finest, folks.  We are now serving lunch and dinner in the rear gardens throughout the week, weather permitting, but be warned, the summer's already flying by.  Catch it.

In the Press

Sylvie Gil, one of Barndiva's favorite photographers, recently posted a few pictures of a Barndiva wedding- Congratulations Sarah and Ted!  Click here to enjoy.

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

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Dish of the Week........ Cocktails of the Week

Dish of the Week

Bacon Wrapped Pork with Wild Ramps

Ramps were the first food I ever ate that was foraged. I was 17, and under circumstances best left to the ‘can you believe we did that’ file, found myself at some godforsaken campsite in the wilds of Mendocino with my two best friends, hungry, hungover and broke. If memory serves we had some stale French bread and a cheap bottle of red we’d stolen from the buffet table at a Peace and Freedom party two nights before, along with a few mangy carrots and a handful of old potatoes we’d caged from a grocery store on the coast. They wandered off to find some wild sage to flavor the soup ~ for some reason I was entrusted with making a fire ~ returning with a handful of sorry looking things that resembled tiny mutant leeks.

They were, in fact, a form of wild leek, but sorry they were not, packing incredible flavor that gave our simple repast a woody depth redolent of garlic. The rest of the night ended up being memorable for a number of reasons I’d just as soon forget ~ but damn if it wasn’t the best soup ever.  

Ramps belong to the Allium family that also includes garlic, leeks, scallions and onions. They are also known as ramsons, wild garlic, and what the French elegantly call ail des bois for their propensity to grow in shaded wooded glades. They generally have a more intense garlic odor than taste, though towards the end of their extremely short growing season (delayed this year by the rain) the bulbs can pack a nice garlicky heat.  Chef pays as much attention to the flat scallion-like green tops as he does the dainty tuber shaped bottoms. In this week’s Dish of the Week he used entirely different prep techniques for each.

The tops ended up on the bottom of the dish, after they had been sautéed in VOO,  chopped and then formed in a ring mold to make a soft round green bed for the pork.  The bulbs and purple striated stalks, lightly pickled in mustard seed, fennel, sugar and champagne vinegar, ended up on top, finishing the dish with bright crunchy little bites.

Gleason Ranch is producing superb animals these days; pork that is full of flavor, bursting with juice. By wrapping the tenderloin in strips of bacon ~ which crisp during the cooking process ~ Ryan extended the long grassy flavors of the meat, adding a salty crunch without losing one bit of wonderful porky flavor.  Top to bottom this was a subtle dish of relationships  ~ ramps on ramps, pork in pork ~ which, for all its final elegance and finesse, had real down-home ~ dare we say campfire ~ appeal.

New Summer Cocktails - just in time for Father's Day!

When our bartenders presented some potential summer cocktails for me this week,  I wasn't surprised to find all three hadn't started life behind the bar, but in the garden and the kitchen. These guys focus a lot of their considerable energy taking classic spirit combinations and putting original spins on them. I half expect to find them chanting under a full moon before long, because in truth alchemy is what they're after. This week I tasted and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to 2 new rum cocktails, one of them a Kumquat concoction as pretty as it was potent,  and a kick ass blended whiskey hi-ball. Two Barndiva classics will also return to the early summer list by popular demand: Dragonfly, Vodka based,  and Weapon of Choice, which takes a Sherlock Holmes approach to  Pimms Cup.

Sam is our jam guy, forever adapting his Mum’s gold star recipes with a view toward extending their flavor profiles for cocktails. The kumquat marmalade he made for Start Your Engines is wonderful, a perfect balance of citrus sharp fruit to honeyed sweetness.  It flavors the drink with an instant limey thump ~ what Geoff calls “shuddery” ~ that's quickly followed by residual sweetness hiding in the pulp, which softens the bite. Using marmalade in drinks is tricky ~ the last thing you want is gunk at the bottom of the glass ~ but while the drink has a bit of pressed kumquat rind in it (which you want, trust me) the cocktail, which uses both Matusalem Platino with Agua Libre “fresh squeezed” California Raw Sugar Cane Rum with Dimmi and small batch pineapple gum spirit, has flavors that are anything but muddled. A great starter drink for an evening you hope will go the distance.

Rum, this time infused with whole vanilla bean, is also the core spirit of Thizzy, though the star of this gorgeous drink is a housemade strawberry consommé,  filtered into an old fashioned coupe with the rum, then topped with Moscato d'Asti.  I always forget how much I love this Italian dessert wine ~ try serving a bottle of it sometime at the end of a dinner party with chocolate covered biscotti for dipping.  In this drink, the strawberries and effervescent wine play off each other in much the same way peaches work to make a Bellini memorable, though more is happening here. The rum stays well back on the palate allowing the scent of fresh chocolate-orange mint from the garden to predominate before the first sip full of fruit, spice, rum and sparkling wine takes over. The lively aroma of this drink does what a great cocktail must: open the senses to everything that follows.

You don’t have to be Irish to feel the power of the muse after you finish Why Be Mad, the third new cocktail on the list. A complex blend of three whiskeys brought together in a Stephan Ravalli inspired brown-butter wash, it’s a sexy and wild potion that derives its liquid poetry from the combined flavors of smoky peat (from the Irish Whiskey), spice (from the Rye), and smooth oak (courtesy of American bourbon), enlivened with Bundaberg Ginger Beer. If the poetic spirit does come a' calling after drinking one or two of these, perhaps riding on the scent of freshly ground cinnamon or hiding in the heat of the candied ginger that garnishes the drink, fear not:  it’s more likely you will start channeling the joyous mayhem of E.E. Cummings rather than the angry rage of James Joyce. Fact is, you can’t be mad at anything after drinking this Hi-ball, hence the name.  If you are, I suspect you have some problems no drink can fix.

FYI: In the run up to the Pisco competition Barndiva has been invited to compete at the upcoming Sandra Jordan/Peruvian Embassy sponsored Macchu Pisco throwdown at Sandra’s Red Barn July 5th, Dealer’s Choice for the next few weeks will no doubt feature the national drink of Peru. There's a round trip ticket to Cusco at stake, not to mention a bit of glory, so come in and put the boys through their paces. If the cocktail they create for you wins, drinks on the house (and a postcard from the Andes).

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

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