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In the World


Barndiva Down Under

beautiful beet topper
restaurant week menu

The night before we leave Australia I get jammed up in a dream. I’m in a small plane flying low to the water, face pressed against a small oval window. All I can see are receding tracks of sunlight lit like diamonds in our wake, as if they are being dropped from the hold. The plane isn’t one we’ve taken on the trip that’s just about to end, though it’s similar to the prop we flew from Auckland to Napier which landed on tarmac edged with wild grass just after dawn, breaking through warm summer rain clouds to reveal a landscape that was achingly beautiful, primeval. My dream plane doesn’t touch down and there is no land is sight. I wake up in a dark hotel room in Sydney trying to make sense of a journey that I realize has already begun its inexorable fade into anecdote and history.

barndiva travels

Travel is heightened life, a high without drugs (though in our case fueled with a more than sufficient amount of alcohol). The three of us travel much as we live ~ Lukka in command of all the boats, planes and automobiles, me booking the views and cherry picking the restaurants, Daniel plunging off the road to forage plants and flowers, name birds. Except for Singapore (a conundrum of a city) everything we chanced upon in Fremantle, Margaret River, Rottnest Island, Hawkes Bay, Waiheke Island and finally Sydney ~ the people, the landscape, even the notoriously fickle weather ~ opened its arms to us.


As it turned out, because we were chasing summer, we ended up in regions built around food, wine and farming, some caught up in a busy wedding season, all hammered by tourists. Without consciously planning it we’d traveled around the world to drop into communities much like our own. Except they weren’t. While we could discerningly judge the varietals, deconstruct the meals, wheedle our way into kitchens by proffering a parallel connection to craft, we were strangers in a strange land.

There are over 700 varieties of Eucalyptus in Australia, wherever we traveled the air seemed scented with them. "Exotic" flowers like protea, melaleuca, grevillea grow wild, gorgeously colored parrots don't just congregate in the forests but come out at dusk in ordinary neighborhoods, filling the trees.  Stories of shark attacks, while only rarely true, keep the white sand beaches crowded but the sparkling sapphire sea relatively empty of swimmers. Nothing stops surfers. Nothing to stop you, if you decide to just throw caution to the wind, a big beautiful ocean awaits. Kangaroos are curious but shy; snakes, a constant worry, are almost always venomous. The answer we received (more than once) when asked what the protocol was if we got bitten was "just lay back and enjoy your last few minutes." Sage advice? Sarcasm? From the little I gleaned into Aussie nature, a combination of both.


On the North Island of New Zealand there is less that can kill you and the landscape is even more compelling; an ancient terrain suffused with an indelible English gentility, a new world sense of humor. Here, small telling details resonate. In the Hawkes Bay appellation a curtain wall of closely planted trees and vines become towering roadside hedges. Great dining happens at lunch (as it did in Margaret Riverl)  where you dine only a few feet from what you're drinking (and often, what you're eating). Wine tasting is done before you are seated, so in effect you get to play your own sommelier. Every winery has a billboard at its entry that forces you to ask the question, “who is the skipper?”

In both countries you don’t need to inquire where the lamb or beef or fish comes from. Local sourcing isn’t a sales pitch, it’s a way of life. And remarkably, during our entire stay in rural areas in Australia and New Zealand, not one service professional we came across launched into a rote presentation about the wine or food or ‘their’ way of life. The Aussies are in general a bit more up front, the Kiwis more laid back, but both seem innately comfortable in their bones. It reflects in the conversations you share and ultimately what you take away. It’s hard to stay fresh when you work in hospitality, what is genuine the first dozen times you say it can’t help but get stale. Part of the game we seemed to be playing with all our interactions was shifting that paradigm. It was fun.

weleda steers

A small epiphany came while driving through the countryside in Hawkes Bay. Gorgeous vineyards, many sheathed in pale netting, followed the contours of gently rolling hills, but grapes weren’t the first thing you noticed. Pastured animals, olive groves, apple orchards, vegetable, fruit and flower farms ~ all were as prevalent as vineyards. Make no mistake, these are world famous wine communities justly proud of what they produce. To a great extent wine drives vital parts of the economy, yet it seems to do so without permeating everything else. It struck me that perhaps, in the grand impulse to turn everything good we invent, grow, or stumble upon into a successful business model, Americans lose the plot of why we came to loving or needing a thing in the first place. We lose the balance. If we’ve relearned anything these past few years it’s the reminder that Nature is all about balance, human and otherwise.


This conversation about diversity is an important one for us to be having in Sonoma County right now, especially in Healdsburg as we figure out how to manage our incredible appeal as a travel destination while deftly trying to balance the quality of life issues which made us want to live here in the first place. Investing in a sustainable future that encourages diversity isn’t just a way to celebrate the past, but to take it with us as we invariably change and grow. Talk is good, but let's keep it interesting (and yes, listening is even better.) It’s great to be home.


best of the best

Fremantle ~ Perth ~ Rottnest Island

rottnest cabin

In Fremantle we stayed with my great friend (thankfully still crazy after all these years) artist and children's book illustratorFrané Lessac and her husband, the writer, historian and gemologist Mark Greenwood, so we have no hotel recommendations to pass on though I’m sure they abound as it’s a terrific town. Mark spent childhood summers on Rottnest, which is how Frané came to fall in love with it, and boy am I glad we didn’t just go for the day. The island was discovered in the Stone Age by Noongar Aboriginals who named it Wadjemup, "the place across the water.” It had a sad history for centuries, first used by the Dutch as an Aboriginal prison, then a reform school for bad boys, and finally as an internment camp during WW2. But it’s a story with a happy ending after the Australian Government took it over at the turn of the 20th century ~ since then three generations of families have spent summers there. The accommodations are marginally rehabed reform school cabins, but while they are as far from lux as you get, who cares? There are no cars allowed on Rotto, you just tootle around on bikes until you find a small white sand beach to your liking. Surrounded by miles of ocean with only the wind and bird cries to fill your brain, time spent is like taking a Spartan cure. The spell of Wadjemup is especially magical at dusk when the Quokkas come out to play, and late at night when you don’t need a telescope to chart the stars. Cabins are booked first come first served (we lucked out with the lighthouse keepers) but most have functioning kitchens and a place to BBQ. (oh yee- it’s Australia after all.)The Best Meal we had in Fremantle (not counting Chez Lessac-Greenwood) was at Bread in Common. Everything about this laid back kitchen/bakery was wonderful, especially the lamb ribs with chili, mint and black garlic ~ high praise in a country that is rightly known for all things lamb. The Best Meal we ate in Perth was at Print Hall. It's located in the heritage listed Old Newspaper House on St. George Terrace, but the menu is anything but old-fashioned. Under executive chef Shane Watson there is considerable talent in the kitchen here. The Blue Manna crab with curried egg and Avruga caviar was a standout, as was a wood fire grilled Cape Grim beef sirloin with faro, shimeji and smoked onion. Service was Grand Guignol, but the food was remarkable. Definitely worth a visit (which sadly, Nobu was not ~ a soulless meal, served by a joyless staff. Didn’t help that it’s located in a casino). There is a long list of great microbreweries Down Under, but few have the definitive range of Little Creatures where we did a fantastic beer tasting.

beer tasting little creatures

Frané Lessac Rottnest IslandBread in CommonPrint HallLittle Creatures

Margaret River NSW

Great hotels in Margaret River are tres cher (the best are over a grand a night) so we checked out Australia’s answer to Airbnb, called Stayz, and found an amazing property called Ooi House that was everything we wanted and more. Modern in the best sense of the word ~ think IM Pei Glass House meets rammed earth and you’re there. Very cool kitchen, DVD library in a sunken viewing room with a fireplace, three bedrooms, and best of all, deep decks overlooking the property which was only a few minutes walk to the river through eucalyptus woods filled with Galah parrots and a mob of kangaroos (and their joeys!)

vasse felix chocolate red velvet
barrel vasse

Lunches were long affairs, each one phenomenal. Shout out to the folks at Voyager Estate who carried Frané’s books in their shop and were kind enough to share roses from their gardens with Daniel, who did the knock out arrangements for a cocktail party we threw at Ooi to celebrate the publication of Frané and Mark's new children’s book, MidnightVasse Felix ~ the food and the wine ~ was also a standout.

Vasse Felix'  pork shoulder, onion, endive, mustard seed
Voyager Estate's   Donnybrook Angus Rib Eye with braised eschallots, chimichurri, tapenade
Vasse Felix  Mango, coconut ice cream, yuzu, forbidden rice

In a serendipitous move I still can’t explain I had rearranged our entire trip around a stay at Black Barn Vineyards; it turned out to be one of the highlights. Black Barn is thoughtful diversification personified. The property grows and produces its own wine, is the location for Hawkes Bay’s seasonal farmer's market, boasts a stunning outdoor amphitheater for live music and film, AND has a stand alone art gallery that specializes in NZ artists. Last, but certainly not least, it supports a brilliant restaurant and tasting room.

blackbarn combo

We stayed in Black Barn’s namesake cottage smack dab in the middle of vineyards heavy with grapes as it was getting on for late summer. On one side of our cottage sheep wandered through olive groves, on the other the biodynamic skin company Weleda grazes long horn bulls.

Four partners own Black Barn, but the man responsible for the exquisite design of the buildings and the remarkable landscaping is one Andy Coltart. In true NZ style, once he learned of our interest in all things related to food and design he invited us on a hike down to the Tuki Tuki river, followed by dinner with his lovely wife Susan at their home. We enjoyed the time spent with him immensely, not least because of a long conversation we had about how to encourage selective development. Turns out Hawkes Bay is grappling with some of the same issues "popularity" has brought to Sonoma County and Coltart, who loves to build things, is looking for the sweet spot. FYI: Black Barn has gorgeous places to rent across the north island.


Blackbarn Vineyards

Waiheke Island


On the last leg of our journey we took a car ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island, landing on the busiest weekend of their summer. It's a small island but incredibly, there were five weddings in play at the larger wineries. The kind folks at Lavender Hill took pity on us and rented us a small room in the manager's cottage, which happily commanded one of the most exquisite views of the trip (it was hard to beat Rottnest). Then again, every view on Waiheke is commanding. If the cicadas don't drive you crazy and you can find a property with a well (water is a problem) you could retire here or do a winter for summer exchange if island life is your thing. Thanks to an accommodating waitress at Batch Winery where we did a tasting and enjoyed (incongruously) high tea, we finagled a table at Oyster Inn, the hottest dinner reservation in town. As it turned out, we never got to the table because sitting at the bar was so much fun. The lovely Tamarah, a native, filled us in on all things Waiheke as she and her crew rocked it, knocking off cocktail after cocktail. Tipsy wedding guests wandered in from various parts of the island and were gently sent on their way, the dress code went from formal to board shorts and flip flops, the crowd at the door never let up. We had quite a few Dealer's Choice cocktails, then a bottle of white to wash down incredibly delicious local oysters, whole grilled flounder, and a kick ass Lemon Tart which, if memory serves me, Daniel and I fought over. A great night.


Lavender HillNikau Luxury ApartmentsThe Oyster InnBatch Winery


I first stayed at Establishment Hotel years ago and it’s an even better choice now that the hottest Chinese Restaurant in town, Mr. Wong, has taken up residence right next door. Located down a difficult to find mews street (ok, alley) in the heart of the Market St. business district, Establishment is spare and moody, with dark wood beams and distressed floors. The bathrooms are big and most of them have tubs, which is becoming a rarity. Mr. Wong does not take reservations but if you are staying at Establishment they will call over and snag you a table. Though dinner was delicious, hands down the best meal we had in Sydney was (again) at lunch, at Kitchen by Mike, which takes up part of the industrial hanger-like space Koskela expanded into with its move from Surry Hills. Koskela is a collection of arts, crafts and furniture from all over New Zealand. Kitchen by Mike is a take off on an English worker's canteen, though Mike McEnearney, former executive chef at Rockpool, is as far from a cafeteria chef as it’s possible to be. The sourcing was impeccable, the dishes inventive, bread and coffee (which they also sell along with a range of condiments) the best we had on the trip. Mike once worked for the Conran group in London, which may explain how easily the design and food concept live together here. How did we find Kitchen by Mike at Koskela? We asked a lovely saleswoman who was selling me a sweater in The Standard Store in Surry Hills. She ‘looked’ like she’d know. She did. Seek and you shall find!

You can book Establishment Hotel on their website, but I used Tablet Hotels because that’s where I first found it. It’s not fair to find hotels on ‘good’ travel sites (and Tablet is one of the best) and not use them to book!

Establishment HotelKitchen by Mike - KoskelaTablet Hotels

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales



Exciting News!


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.



two cameras, one sunset

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.




eat the view topper

It's coming down to the wire....

Ok, so let's cut right to the chase: We're thrilled we made it to the final round with a chance to win Best Documentary in Saveur Magazine's Film Festival 2013. To win would sure feel good ~ and be a much deserved pat on the (aching) backs of all the incredibly dedicated chefs and farmers who work to make the food experience at Barndiva something we are truly proud of.

But we also believe that if we win, more people ~ most of them living far from our small corner of the world ~ will get to see EAT THE VIEW. This is what farm to table looks like ~ what the word sustainable can mean ~  when it's not just a buzz word in an article, or a marketing description on a menu.

Please vote for us, and consider putting the link on your Facebook page and/or tweeting about it! VOTING WILL BE OVER BY WEDNESDAY,  so do it TODAY.

Whatever the outcome, a heartfelt thank you for reading the blog, and for your continued interest and support of Barndiva and the beautiful food-shed that surrounds us here in Sonoma County.

Eat the View!

Jil, Ryan, Drew Kelly (our talented cinematographer and Eat the View’s director) and the ENTIRE Barndiva and Studio Barndiva cast of food obsessed characters.

Click here to vote:




Wednesday at the Barn ~ The Santa Fix



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



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.)



Wednesday at the Barn..... A New 3 Minute Version of Eat the View.....


We were all very excited with the reception our video Eat the View received after its "premiere" at the Salon des Sens opening in June, especially after Carey Sweet's wonderful article in SF Gate got the attention of the Huffington Post. We are re-posting it here for three great reasons: to give a shout out to all the kind writers who have been passing it along...and to present a brand new 3 minute version that our talented editor Amanda Larson just finished. We think it is EVEN BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL.

The third reason is perhaps the most important.  In November, Proposition 37, the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative, faces the voters.  Eat the View tells a story that should be part of the discussion of why passing Prop 37 is so important to anyone who raises a fork and wonders what's on it. We're hoping after you watch our video again (or for the first time!) you will see the importance of sharing it on Facebook, as a Vimeo or Youtube link, or on your blog.

A big Thank You to all the great blogs below who gave us precious space in the last few months to tell this beautiful story. Check Them Out! (Elizabeth Cosin's article, posted last night on the Press Democrat's blog, will also appear in this Sunday's paper.)

Carey Sweet of SF Gate Huffington Post splendidtable twitter Press Democrat Portuguese blog Venezuelan blog Mexican blog

Eat the View!

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Drew Kelly.




Our food... on film!

We made a movie because we could, because someone around here asked us to (I think it was Chef), because the words ‘farm to table’ started appearing everywhere, which was good, until it wasn’t. Like the use of the words 'organic' and ‘artisan’, it's begun to feel a bit promiscuous. There are incredible people behind each and every plate of food we send out into the dining room and it’s a beautiful thing to know who they are. If it helps fill the restaurant, to keep us all employed doing what we love, that’s great. Reminding ourselves why we fell in love in the first place is even better.

We call the blog (and now the movie) Eat the View because no one really knows straight away what that means until we explain, pointing out the window. It is time well spent. But eating the view isn’t just about food. Everything we take in needs a bit of time to be properly digested ~ broken down into a nutritious soup that keeps the human engine humming.

These are the people and animals and plants which keep our engines humming. Enjoy. And if you are so inclined, pass it on.

[vimeo w=500&h=281]

Written & Produced: Jil Hales Directed & Filmed: Drew Kelly



DOW: Warm Pea Shoot Salad........Diwale In the Gallery......Hangin' with the Lambs......

Dish of the Week

Warm Pea Shoot Salad

Chef and I were working on a plan to use fava flowers or nettles for some intricate Dish of the Week when Daniel walked through the kitchen door on Friday carrying a flat of pea shoots. It was the first crop of micro greens he and Lukka have been growing as a surprise ~ Chef's been complaining that no matter how quickly he gets them from our farmers (when we can get them), micro greens are so fragile they suffer in transit. He was ecstatic.

Seeing the pea shoots didn’t just make Ryan happy. Since I’ve been back I’ve been off the sauce and trying to eat a light, mostly vegetarian diet to recover from my two weeks of excess in London and Paris. As a result I'm hungry all the time. When Chef offered to make me a quick warm pea shoot salad that incorporated vegetables he had on hand I was all over it. Check it out: purple potatoes, peas, favas, baby turnips, preserved tomatoes, chives, sorrel, artichoke hearts, and rapini flowers.

All the work for the dish had already been done in prepping the veg ~ we do more whittling in a morning than cowboys on a cattle drive. Once you have this exquisite mise en place all you need is some heat in a pan with olive oil. For a sauce Ryan warmed crème frâiche with fragrant sorrel and hit it with his indispensable (and inexpensive) battery-run cappuccino frother. To plate, he gently piled the warm vegetables in a bowl, added a halo of foam, a few squirts of VOO, and a generous handful of freshly cut pea shoots.  The foam added richness but hardly any fat, which I’m beginning to realize is what I like best about its return to the kitchen. I think my initial antipathy to foam was a reaction to a less than judicious use of it in the past ~ not, I must add, by Ryan, who loves it for the way it lightly carries the essence of a flavor.  And of course the way it looks. Heavenly.

Pea shoots are packed full of carotenes ~ strong antioxidants that protect cells from damage and help prevent disease.  Daniel and Lukka got their seeds ~ the variety is Dwarf Gray Sugar ~ from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They are usually grown for quick harvest as micro greens but would produce a pea pod if given more space and left to grow. Next time you are at the Barn tool out to the patio and gardens and take a look at what’s growing; already poking out of the dirt are tiny blood red sorrel leaves. While we expect rain this week, with all the trees starting to bloom it feels like winter has come and gone, and like it or not, we are already hurling headlong into spring.

In the Gallery: Diwale from Paris

I've seen my share of lovely cotton scarves and ethnic jewelry the last few years as I've gone about ethically sourcing for the Studio. Still, I couldn't help but stop when I  passed the Diwale window display on Île Saint-Louis when I was in Paris. The colorways were straight off the runway and some of the jewelry, especially the colored bangles with thin gold training bands, were uncannily like...  Bulgari's? Someone's got a great eye, I thought. Diwale is the brainchild of a Frenchman working in India who has been so successful he's now got about six shops in Paris. I liked what I saw so much we've reached out to see how and where they are made ~ and if that all checks out, whether or not we can get more. But for now all we have is what I could fit in my suitcases ~ and hey, my suitcases aren't that big.

In the Gallery: Great chunky bone cuffs and très chic metal bangles (also available: hand carved bone necklaces, earrings and rings.) Prices start at $35. Also available: Cotton scarves and a few exquisite wool shawls.

Fritschen Lamb

There are worst things in life than to end up at Fritschen vineyards if you are born a lamb: the food is great, the caretakers gentle and the view ain't bad either.  Of course the lambs don't care that John Fritschen's vineyards sit smack dab in the middle of some of the most fertile and beautiful land in Sonoma County, but watching them grazing through the olive orchards sure makes for a pretty bucolic scene. John's lambs are Dorpers, a cross between the English Dorset and a breed from the deserts of Somalia. They were introduced in the 1940's because of a strange anomaly which makes them perfect for our warm days and cool nights. The first time I laid eyes on them I thought something weird was going on with their wool, which on the older animals seemed to be sliding right off their bodies. Turns out this is what Dorpers do, they self-shed, and it isn't wool they shed, but hair. The birds love it (wool nests anyone?) as does John, who never has to shear them in summer. We love them too, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. (If you haven't already, check out the Wed prix fixe menu.)

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



The 2012 Paris/London Restaurant Throwdown

Hands Across the Ocean

We did an inordinate amount of eating and drinking during our two week sojourn in London and Paris.  Chalk some of it up to curiosity, mostly I think it stems from the desire to make a connection with other crazies in the world who are having a go cooking food as craft and art. It's a bit of an engine check, the equivalent of having a tune-up and oil change when you feel the car getting sluggish. Sometimes we reveal what we do for a living, but mostly we don’t. It’s great being able to sit back and be served and know that every little detail ~ of taste, timing, lighting, music ~ is down to someone else to worry about.

All the restaurants we'd recommend you try if you are heading over the pond any time soon are listed below. A good friend of Lukka’s and the website le gave us a few great tips in Paris, and I have my secret weapon who can smell a new Indian, a new Nordic, or the perfect roasted chicken anywhere in London from her nest in Maida Vale. A recommendation for best Indian I read in the NY Times the day before we left (from the usually reliable Mark Bittman) was a let down, as was a touted Dim Sum ~ but in both cases the food didn’t matter as we were dining with people we don’t get to see enough of.  The last time we were back in London we ate at Dinner, Heston Blumenthal’s follow up to The Fat Duck, but except in those rarest of cases (and Blumenthal is one) I try not to let my expectations lead when we go out to dine. So long as the passion is there, and the sourcing has heart, I’m game for whatever a talented chef wants to put on the plate in front of me.

I used to beat myself up about all the things we should have known when we started Barndiva, but in continually measuring what we do against the yardstick of meals we eat when we travel I’ve come to the conclusion that our early growing pains may have been one of those rare instances when ignorance really was bliss. At least to the extent that it led us to take chances which restaurants designed by committee, from the outside in, don’t have the chutzpah to take. We all have to earn a crust, but how big, how much you charge for it, and where the flour comes from are the hard decisions that can define or defeat you. As for the enormous skill set you need in order to create a great dining experience, I highly recommend you read David Chang’s I See A Darkness, in the Spring issue of Lucky Peach. His frank assessment of what it takes to be able to call yourself a “success” in this business (yes, Mom, it is first and foremost a business) inspires both pride and fear when I think how far we’ve come ~ and what it’s going to take to continue to go the distance.

So, London v. Paris. I lived in one city for over a decade and have dreamed and eaten in the other most of my adult life. Cultural differences aside, no surprise that intent is what separated the good from the forgettable. Nowhere was this more evident than in Comptoir and Hix: farm to table restaurants in the hotels we stayed at in both cities.

Yves Camdeborde and his wife Claudine own the hotel Relais St Germain, which is right next door to le Comptoir, their critically acclaimed restaurant where Yves still jumps on the hot line pretty much every day. His menu Gastronomic is one of the best deals in town a decade after they settled on the left bank in the 6th arrondissement in two elegant 17th Century townhouses.  Even in a driving rain, a line snakes down the block to get into the 20 seat restaurant, but except for a standing room only hors d'oeuvres bar next door, he has resisted expanding. When he’s not off doing something interesting in the countryside you will find him in the hotel and the kitchen every morning as you bliss out on what’s got to be the best inclusive breakfast in Paris: huge bowls of café au lait made with La Brûlerie des Gobelins; croissants baked by Gérard Mulot; incredible yogurt from the Breton dairy Bordier. Cured Ham is cut from the bone on a big platter that sits on the bar where they also coddled eggs in some funny contraption.  Even a salad of oranges that comes in a light bath of orange-flower water is simply perfect.

This is not a chef who grandstands: I only saw him come out to the dining room twice during service the entire week we were coming and going, once to see how a table of French Rugby players was faring (apparently his second passion), the other to greet two burly men who handed him a mysterious wooden box; whatever it was (I’m guessing truffles), he fed them an outrageous lunch for their efforts.  The highlight of the Gastronomic he graciously made for us on a Saturday night (the menu is usually only served during the week) were Saint Jacques de Normandie Rôties, bouillon de crustacés, carottes variées ~ Roasted scallops in a shellfish bouillon with heirloom carrots ~ and an Oeuf de Poule Mollet, Duxelles de Champignons, Mousses au Café ~ basically a soft boiled hen egg ( but oh what an egg) over wild mushrooms in a mocha foam. Break the yolk and it floods through the mushrooms into the mocha. It tastes as if he’s spun everything you’ve ever loved about breakfast until all that’s left is its essence. The Tarte Fine aux Pomme (washed down with a perfect glass of Pineau) was the diameter of a small dinner plate, thin and crispy, with a perfectly caramelized edge. This isn’t tricky cooking, but there’s a balance that connects each beautifully sourced ingredient to the next, and all of it to the whole, that’s really remarkable.

The service at Comptoir is perfunctory, they don’t linger or explain anything, but the buzz here is unlike anywhere else we ate ~ it cuts through the pretensions this kind of food, were it served on linen with more space between tables and a less frantic atmosphere, would engender. You get Prada handbags next to backpacks next to briefcases. There is light, color, conversation in the tiny room that doesn’t stop for the food, except to eat it. Best of all there is a sense of connection to Yves' food that just makes everyone incredibly happy.

If there’s a larger moral to the truth that food is better in a restaurant where the chef is present in more than name only, it would be easy to make it by comparing our breakfast and dining experiences at Comptoir with HIX at the Belgraves, where we stayed in London. Mark Hix spent 12 years as head chef of a corporate group before he went off to earn a Michelin in Lyme Regis. Since then he’s written six cookbooks and started his own corporation opening four more restaurants and a critically acclaimed cocktail bar ~ Marks ~ working with famed mixologist Nick Dangerfield.  Like Yves, Hix is known to be a fanatic about sourcing which in England these days is a joy for a diner, especially if your taste runs to things like Fillet of Hereford Beef on the bone with Bashed Neeps and Scrumpy Fried Onions, which we demolished with a bottle of wine (after a few rounds of cocktails) on our first night back from Paris. But breakfast was a pedantic and expensive affair, and a second meal with our daughter was forgettable, served in a hot, noisy room where the chairs scraped the floor like a witch’s nail against a chalkboard. The service was lousy, with a confused assortment of servers and bussers (no sommelier that I met) bouncing around like too many balls in a pinball machine.  It was the end of fashion week and the hotel, renovated by the design friendly folks who built 60 Thompson in NYC, had just opened so yeah, cut them some slack. The hotel is cool. That still begs the question of who was at the helm of the restaurant.

I keep hearing that expansion is the only way to make any money in this business, but from the diner’s point of view it’s a double-edged sword. Consistency is what you need to stay on top of your game, but once you take the leap to expand, it's delegate well or die.

I did have a truly extraordinary gin cocktail at HIX made by Dangerfield consultant Stewart which featured two surprising ingredients: Tonka Beans and Ambergris. Hix’s next project is pre-made fusion cocktails. No doubt he’s got the sourcing and the science part down.

71 Mazarin is a discreet, freshest-sustainable-fish-at-the-market restaurant, with an unadorned approach to the food (marinated herring with citrus, exquisite whole steamed sea bream) that respects the waistline. On the night we dined the small clubby room had bickering fashion models, a table full of businessmen that knew their wine, and one old guy who, if I’m not mistaken, was dining with his beautiful but mysteriously ageless mistress.

The lovely wood paneled dining room at Greens has the same clubby appeal as 71, but its menu, a staple in St James’ since Simon Parker Bowles (yes, that Parker Bowles) opened it in 1982, is built for the comfort you get from perfectly battered Fish & Chips, Liver & Onions, Bangers & Mash. Basically Greens has been serving great oysters and cocktails, and ~ I say this as a compliment ~ perfect nursery food for 30 years. The chef stayed opened for us when we wandered in from shopping on Jermyn Street at five after three in need of some succor, which they expertly provided. The service was spot on. 30 years and still good? Hats off.

Everyone told us we were lucky to score a table at Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social, and I may not have had the best time because we weren’t in the main room, but something didn’t jive with me and the place ~ maybe I wasn’t feeling very social. I like seeing samphire used as an herb in the crab salad; inhaled the meltingly soft beef cheek and tongue with heavily horseradished mashed potatoes; and still can’t figure out how lime granita shaved over warm panna cotta worked (but it did). At the end of the meal, talking about wine, Geoff mentioned who we were. The head waiter, who’d been sniffing down his nose at us throughout the meal, went off like a shot and looked us up online, after which service suddenly became incredibly good. That’s not the way it should work.

La Caprice is a much loved restaurant that has been serving the same dishes since they opened (and I feel like they’ve been open forever), but if you’re going for the gold in consistency, this is the way to do it. Every dish we had was delicious ~ Sweet Crispy Duck with roasted cashews, pea shoots and white bok choy threads; Cod Cheeks with marrow on toast; Baby Slip Soles pan fried in butter with tiny brown shrimp. The room is still full of its preening clientele, Mick Jagger still grinning from the wall, service still excellent. I love Caprice, Geoff and I had our first date there and it’s the restaurant my editor would take me to when I delivered a particularly good story. The rule of thumb then was that if you wanted to see who Harold Pinter wasn’t mad at you’d come here after the theatre let out instead of the Ivy (its sister restaurant). We usually eat at the bar, the better to study the incredible floral arrangements that hang, seemingly waterless, from the ceiling.

Le Grand Colbert on the other hand, is a grande dame that has not aged well. This is tourist food;  paint by numbers dining with plastic flowers and indifferent waiters. I had no idea it was where the last scene in Something’s Gotta Give was shot (I defy anyone to tell me where) which may explain why the lovely guys from SF who sat next to us were there, but not why the food on the night we dined was inedible. The only upside is that I’ve crossed it off my bucket list of beautiful old zinc bar bistros and Geoff has promised never to order cockles again unless he can smell the sea or sees Terence Conran walking in the door.  He was ill with food poisoning all night and into the next day.

I’m not sure how we managed to eat anything at Roast, as we’d just spent two hours grazing through Borough Market and polished off a dozen oysters and a Premier Cru Chablis at Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House Bar only an hour before. The food at Roast is sourced from the market, and if it’s not brilliant, the view down into the market is. We had delicious Beer Battered Cornish Whiting with thrice fried chips and mushy peas and anchovy rubbed Hay Baked Leg of Southdown Mutton.  Geoff had Yorkshire Rhubarb Mess for dessert but I went for the Lincolnshire Poacher to see how they did their fig chutney. You gotta love a menu that has, as a description of the rib of beef, a quote from a farmer named Gwyn Davies of Lon Farm, Denbigh, in North Wales: "the Welsh Black’s reputation has been built on its capability to thrive on marginal upland areas. In Scotland cattle were often used as currency, which gave rise to the description of the Welsh Black as “the black gold from the Welsh hills.”  Who knew?

I’m a sucker for restaurants that look like the Delaunay ~ call it my Ryan McNally jones. In fact, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are (sort of) the Ryan McNally’s of London, whose Caprice Holdings also created Le Caprice, The Ivy, J. Sheekey and the Wolsley (small world: Mark Hix started his career at Caprice). The Delaunay is a carbon copy of Wolsley down to the last piece of silver plate and the polished Viennese cake table.  It’s a beautiful room. These guys buy gorgeous properties, then outfit them to the nines but still serve affordable meals. Props to them. But come here for breakfast, lunch or tea; unlike Caprice, the food alone won’t captivate at dinner.

Which brings me to the two best meals we had on the trip, both cooked by young chefs that took no prisoners in their passion to present their version of cutting edge food.

The boys at Medlar, Joe Nairne (the chef) and David O’Connor (his partner and SOM) are clearly going for a Michelin, with a pared down aesthetic (better to concentrate on the food) and a passionate staff. A Medlar is a type of citrus I’d never heard of but can now tell you ~ as I ordered Foie Gras Ballotine Salad with hazelnuts and Medlar jelly as a starter ~ tastes like quince that had sex with a plum after a brief affair with a lemon.  Oyster and House-smoked Mackerel Salad with Dashi Jelly and Horseradish Cream is a trickier dish than it sounds and they nailed it: fishy, creamy, salty, with just a bit heat at the finish. I had the Bream with Baby Squid with Risotto Nero and shaved fennel in a citrus jus; Geoff landed in ox tongue and heart heaven ~  it was served with a perfectly caramelized Endive Tart and Sauce Poivrade.

Medlar also had my second favorite dessert, a blood orange sorbet served with Sipsmith Gin and freshly baked Madeleine’s ~ surprising how gin at this stage of a meal can work as a palate cleanser and also (as I soon found out) put you to depthless sleep.

Back in Paris, we finally found Vivant a half hour after the Chinese taxi driver had unceremoniously dumped us a few blocks away (the 10th is unfamiliar stomping grounds for me). Jimi Hendrix was blaring from a crash and bash kitchen not much bigger than my son’s in Soho, and you can’t swing a cat in that. When I told the barman (who was also head waiter and busser) our name he said ‘cool’ and lead us to a table that, I’m not kidding, had chairs you find in schoolrooms for the under 12s. It's a sliver of a room with walls and ceiling incongruously covered in exquisite, museum worthy art nouveau tiles (previous life: exotic bird shop), Vivant is really a wine bar that serves food. But don’t be fooled ~ the jumble of mismatched furniture and the insouciant air only makes the level of foodcraft here all the more remarkable. Pierre Jancou may be a man with a cause beyond cooking (natural unfiltered wines) but his dedication to all things bio-dynamic also speaks to the heart of a limited chalkboard menu he only serves Monday through Friday. These were the most remarkable vegetables I had in Europe ~ if I had to guess he’s reducing the water he steams them in before he adds a bit of butter. We started with incredible Burrata ~ apparently it's shipped from a small coop on an island off the coast of Sicily ~  which I devoured while Geoff contemplated a plate of thinly sliced cured meat that was surprisingly smokey and aromatic given how fatty it was (my French failed me but I think it was made from the tasty bits in the neck of a bovine). We had pan fried chicken and vegetables and a molten chocolate cake to follow ~ all of it very simply prepared, all of it extremely delicious. If you aren’t familiar with unfiltered wines ~ and some of the most exciting meals in Paris continue to be found in bio-dynamic wine bars ~ you need to adjust mentally for the cloudy presentation and a bandwidth of flavor profiles that you don’t expect, and won’t get, from filtered wine even from organically grown grapes.

Where the clientele in Medlar was middle aged and well heeled, at Vivant it was a mixed younger crowd ~ even kids.  Both meals were delicious but they defy comparison: Medlar is in for the long haul; they deserve a star for the finesses of every dish. Because Jancou follows his passion wherever it takes him (he's just returned to Paris from a year in the South of France) I’d be surprised if the lovely bad boys of Vivant are still there the next time I go to Paris.

But I truly hope they are. Just when I begin to think that eating in Europe is wonderful because it fits me like a soft old leather glove you know the contours of, places like Medlar and Vivant provide a much needed jolt to the system. They put sourcing out front but in a way that’s not at all precious. We could have traveled farther than Europe to “get away” this winter, and certainly eaten more exotically, but with a few meals like these, my museum days, and an afternoon walking through the winter sun in Regent’s Park with my girls (and Charlie), I came home sated and excited for spring. Then again, for the walk alone ~ with the babies who are now having babies, living fully engaged lives that will contribute to the narrative I’ve built my own life around, I would have traveled to the moon.

Comptoir Medlar Vivant (for reservations, email: More Than Organic HIX Pollan Street Social Borough Market Le Fooding

Top Image of Pierre Jancou and Vivant from Paris Notebook (Phyllis Flick); images of Medlar and Pollan Street Social courtesy of their websites

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



Dish of the Week.....On the Ridge

Dish of the Week:

Bellwether Farms' San Andreas and Ripe Summer Figs

If you’ve ever traveled through France, Italy, Spain or down into the Mediterranean basin in summer, chances are you’ve eaten at least one meal that included ripe figs and a hunk of local cheese. It’s a classic pairing which has been with us since antiquity. And while a lot has changed when it comes to the finesse we bring to artisan cheesemaking since Plato hung out talking about the notion of an Ideal Universe, the elements which make figs and cheese an indelible pairing remains hard to beat. We all know cheese is great with apples, pears and quince, but only figs, the earthiest of biblical fruits, has the dark sugar and beguiling sensual texture (all those tiny seeds popping on the palate) to stand up and fully embrace the grassy, salty, acidic nature of cheese.

Not a lot of people know that Bellwether Farms was California’s original sheep dairy. This family-run farm brings a level of passion and commitment to their cheese and yogurt program that is truly rare. The story goes that when Cindy Callahan first brought sheep to the ranch she and her husband owned a few miles from the ocean, she had only a vague notion of what to do with them. After a trip to Italy in 1992 they  began to age their sheep milk, producing their first Pecorino, but  it wasn’t until son Liam came onboard that the family began in earnest to experiment with ways to control moisture and acidity which led them to the considerable success they enjoy today. Bellwether produces award winning sheep, cow and goat cheese that consistently exhibits remarkable complexity of flavor that is unique to their location.  We hear a lot of talk about terrior when it comes to wine, but unlike almost any other artisanal product, cheese like Bellwether's truly expresses the taste of milk from animals that are born, raised and grazed in a specific location, in this case the beautiful rolling hills of the Sonoma County Coast only a few miles from the ocean where mild temperatures and coastal fog produce some of the richest and sweetest milk in the land.

Sheep's milk is higher in fat and protein than either cow or goat’s milk, important when you consider that during cheesemaking much of the water is drained from milk with most of the fat and protein staying in the curds. San Andreas is a raw sheep milk farmstead cheese unique to Bellwether Farm. It has the marvelous nutty flavor and soft underlying bite of a good cheddar, but is unusually smooth and full-flavored.

Last week we featured Bellwether's San Andreas with nothing more than a plate of ripe Black Mission Figs, deeply caramelized walnuts, a few shavings of radish and a sprinkling of Calendula flowers.  Now that our own green Napoli figs are finally coming in on the Ridge, (see below) we will offer them while they last. Gray Kuntz has famously described cheese as a taste that pushes, as opposed to pulls, which may explain in part why cheese and figs, with their juicy, sweet mesmeric power, make such a good marriage. As for that other artisanal product that's only gotten better since antiquity...happily, we've got plenty of that around as well at Barndiva,  by the glass or bottle.  Want to talk about an ideal universe? This is a good start.

Harvest On the Ridge

While what we grow on the Ridge hardly puts a dent in the amount of produce Barndiva needs, every year we try to up our game and grow a bit more in hopes of closing the circle of sustainable supply and demand as much as we can. So despite the late frost which knocked out almost all our stone fruit this year, I was pretty proud at the variety of fruit and veg we were able to start harvesting for the restaurant on Tuesday morning, starting with a bumper crop of green and red Gravenstein Apples.  I thought it might be fun to document some of what Vidal and I picked before the fog lifted and the third member of our picking team managed to haul her butt out of bed.

Sadly, with the exception of the cherry toms, the bulk of our Heirloom Tomato crop (33 varieties from Mix Garden) is still hanging green on the vines, waiting for it to get over 55 at night, which Bonnie Z says is the magic number. (According to Bonnie, once upon a time she would start harvesting tomatoes at Dragonfly in early June!)  Looking on the bright side, in addition to the Gravs, Vidal and I managed to pick five cases of incredible green figs, string beans, three varieties of squash, cucumbers, radishes, basil, thyme, lavender, rosemary and the first of the slicing tomatoes. Not bad for a morning's work, especially considering Lukka and Daniel haven't started to harvest anything from their new patch in the pear orchards. Next week it looks like we will have Asian Pears, which Vidal grafted only a year ago, along with Victoria's red pears, and the first of our melons. Fingers crossed about those tomatoes.

To read more about the extraordinary history of the farm:  At the End of the Day, May 26, 2011

In the News

We were especially pleased the Gravensteins came in this week just in time for us to participate once again in Slow Food Russian River's Gravenstein Apple Presidia Project, which the indomitable Paula Shatkin reminds us needs full community participation if we hope to keep the Gravenstein, a unique Sonoma County heritage, alive.  For the next few weeks we encourage you to check out the restaurants in Sonoma County who are participating in the Presidia by putting Grav-centric dishes on their menus. At the very least buy some Gravs at your farmer's market and bake a pie. No excuses, do your part! Save the Gravenstein apple!

For more information go to Slow Food.

And finally, in case you missed it, some very good news from Eastern Europe.

Hungary destroys All Monsanto Corn Fields

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