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Seared Halibut with Citrus and Olives

eggs topper

Chef and I talk a lot about how to indulge our shared passion for clean, beautifully composed dishes with dinerswhose main wish is just to see an abundance when their plate arrives at the table. Common sense would tell you the best time to judge how satiated you’ve been by a meal is after you’ve consumed it, but too much white on a plate scares people. They jump to the conclusion they are in for a show and tell, one that’s going to be more about the chef's ego than what they came in hankering for, which most of the time they have a pretty good handle on.

Or do they? No one leaves hungry after a meal at Barndiva, but neither do we throw away food at the end of a night, which I’m proud of. But that begs the question of where one draws the line between food that fills you up and food that fills you out ~ stimulating all five senses, capable of connecting you to a time and place that memory might tag indelible.

halibut

It's long been thought that for most of human history we ate simply to survive, but as Michael Pollen's wonderful new book “Cooked” explores in depth, there’s a lot more to why we came to crave certain tastes in food, and avoid others. For thousands of years, most of the early signs which informed us of what might taste good as opposed to what might kill us were visual, which got me wondering what replaced those signifiers once we started growing and cooking food as opposed to just foraging for it. We know that aroma triggers hunger, while ten thousand taste buds wait to inform your brain whether the commingling of sweet salty sour bitter and umami in the food you ingest is delicious or not. But to what extent does visual appeal ~ the color, form, and texture of food ~ affect imagination and memory?

plate

Last week Spring produce was still bountiful in the kitchen when a bright sharp heat wave took us all by surprise. Spring was not yet behind us but Summer had suddenly arrived, demanding a place on the menu. As I set up the camera to shoot Dish of the Week the question of how food tells a purely visual story was still very much on my mind. Chef seared off a glistening filet of Alaskan Halibut, then started plating by added caper berries bathed in a sea salty brine with sliced rings and whole Calabria chilies which he'd made earlier into a quick pickle with a little sugar and Bates and Schmitt Apple Cider Vinegar. Next he reached for an avocado, paring creamy pale green cubes which played off the color and promised taste of the cool bitter citrus of the kumquats. The plate was now beautiful, but stagnant. Fresh olive tapenade, dots of saffron aioli, tiny deep green pools of watercress purée and a few strategically placed leaves of microgreens took less than a minute to add, but made all the difference, setting the ingredients in motion as if they were about to dance off the plate. Looking back now at what I shot that morning I realize how visually, before we'd even taken a bite, Chef had plated a dish that was a perfect snapshot of that vibrant Spring meets Summer moment.

Ryan's laconic comment: “citrus and olives like each other.” But he had a wicked glint in his eye. And so the education continues.

Mother's Day 2014

mothers day pics

Last Sunday at the Barn it was all about Mothers and Grandmothers, with some lucky Dads and Granddads along for the ride. Families with young children filled the dining rooms and gardens for a knock out brunch followed by kids buying mom a cocktail and dinner. The energy all day and into the evening was incredible ~ here are just a few wonderful moments captured by our intrepid Dawid Jaworski. To all those families who have made Mother’s Day at Barndiva a yearly tradition, we thank you for the gift of watching your families grow.

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski

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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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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

sushi no sauce2

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

bird-shadow-topper2

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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Wild Striped Sea Bass in Saffron Bouillabaisse Butter

healdsburg rainy day
prix-fixe-menu
chef drew wycoff
fish scales1
fish scales3

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 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.......Octopus Hispaniola....In the Press...

Dish of the Week

Sauté Octopus Hispaniola

They are strange creatures to look at and not the easiest to cook, but oh how delicious Octopus is when you get it right. We brined them first in a salt mixture, then slow cooked them sous vide for five hours, which softened and tenderized them. Octopodes are mollusks, but the meat is similar to a mild tasting crustacean like a lobster. Hispaniola was Chef's inspiration for the dish. The stellar dipping vinaigrette of chili peppers and chives which accompanied it captured the vibrant spirit of the second largest island in the West Indies. Fingerling potatoes, baby artichokes, and green cherry tomatoes were all cooked separately, then combined, while the octopus was simply sautéed in olive oil and confit garlic.

At the last minute Chef added golden cherry tomatoes he blistered in olive oil, then dressed with Spanish sherry vinegar. I love this technique ~ you end up with a sweet peeled cherry tom with crunchy wings that looks as if it's taking flight off the plate. The octopus was soft and pliant, with a gentle heat from the chili, and a soft almost ethereal texture.

Hawaiian mythology holds that the octopus is the lone survivor of an alien universe. Perhaps, but far more fascinating is that they are equipped with chemoreceptors in their suction cups which allow them to taste what they are touching. Now that's a talent that would go a long way in a kitchen.

Style Me Pretty

It was great to see one of our favorite couples published in Style Me Pretty this week, one of the more popular wedding blogs around. Leah Lee captured all the details. Here's the link.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn.......Crispy Skin Striped Bass...Goldie Delivers...

Dish of the Week

Crispy Skin Striped Bass with Tapenade, Tomato Relish & Mediterranean Vegetables

Mike the fish guy is what you’d call a raconteur. A charmer and a storyteller with a hint of malarkey in his smile. He’s one of the few purveyors I’ve ever seen Chef stop work to spend time with ~ the genuine hospitality in his voice can lift your whole day. Sure, he’s selling fish, that’s what he does, extremely well as it turns out. But this lovely man’s personality flows from a interest in people, in being connected to them.

Ryan’s known Mike for 18 years, and he’s been supplying Barndiva with much of it’s fish since we opened ~ we made the switch with him when he moved to Aloha from Royal Hawaiian. If you don’t live by the sea or have fishermen stopping by the back door, as we used to daily, you need a good fishmonger more than they need you.

But as we’ve grappled with ~ and shared with our customers ~ questions of sustainability that bump up against the wide range of what's available and tastes the best, Mike has happily gone along for the ride. He’s never given up trying to convince us to buy farmed fish, going so far as to put together a Clean Fish seminar here at Barndiva a while back, open to any local chefs who wanted to attend. He put himself out for that knowing, going in, he probably wouldn’t convert us to farmed. But as long as we had questions, he wanted to try and answer them.

On Friday Mike bounced through the kitchen and caught Chef and I talking in the office, which led to a riff of funny fish stories, one after another, that ended with him cajoling Ryan into frying up a striped bass he'd brought for us to try. It was farmed not far from Sacramento. Ryan obliged, in part because he’s been dreaming of crispy skin fish of late and wanted to taste through a presentation using tapenade and a medley of Mediterranean vegetables. He had the idea to use thin discs of watermelon radish as a foil for the fish and olives, heirloom cherry tomatoes, baby artichoke hearts, squash, minced carrots and confit garlic. Lots of rich, competing flavors which frequent bites of cooling radish helping to differentiate them.

Alas, though the dish was a success, when we put it on the menu later this week it will not be with the farmed bass. Chef will go in search of something wild that will deliver crispy skin without sacrificing a sweet flesh that holds its texture, which the farmed bass did not. Eric and the staff, who tasted the dish with us, said it reminded them of bottom feeders, like catfish. Fish like that need a heavy crust to offset the hint of muddiness that comes in the finish. Sorry Mike. But come back soon. We miss you already.

And on the home front...Goldie delivers!

More newborn news this week with pictures of the day-old chicks born to Goldie, Lukka and Daniel's favorite hen. What with their Mule Foot pigs, trapping wild boar, starting a huge new garden and documenting every apple tree up on the farm, these guys are on a roll.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn..... Chef's Mid-Summer Tasting Menu with Wine Notes From our Som...

Dish of the Week

A Mid-Summer Tasting Menu

There’s a big difference between the food snob who can bore you silly about the 24 course Omakase he had in Japan just last week and the diner who has yet to step up and put a single meal of his life in the hands of a talented chef, but I’m willing to bet that for most of us, cost, time, and the fear of disappointment does a juggling act in our heads whenever we come upon the Tasting Menu option. Because it’s expedient, restaurants insist an entire table order a Tasting Menu; it only takes one diner to say "I”ll pass" and the decision has been made for you. Which makes the growing success of Barndiva's Tasting Menu curiousier and curiouser. In a good way of course, but still…

Common sense implies that as Ryan’s reputation has grown, so too has the desire to follow a meal where he will take it if you let him. Chef is a very smart guy, secure in his talent, he knows that’s only part of the story. A gentle price and a shorter dance card, with fewer courses longer on taste also factor into making his Tasting Menu “OMG” (the most frequent description we read on the comment cards each week.) But while Ryan and the brigade take great pride in crafting sequential course dining that guides guests on a visually stunning, soulfully satisfying experience, the role sublime ingredients play is key to how far Chef (for that matter any chef, no matter how talented), can truly extend flavor.

Once upon a time the measure of a Tasting Menu was in how many courses the Chef sent out. Even if you didn't lose count during the meal, it was a recipe for a nice little food hangover the next day. Then there was a man I knew once who was convinced all menus were Tasting Menus, providing everyone at the table (his optimum number was four) ordered different things and paid special attention to dishes the chef was best known for. In awkward mouthfuls passed across the table (sounds like a server’s nightmare) I suppose he got some sense of a restaurant's oeuvre ~ but  I think this misses the point entirely as well. While there is certainly a 'greatest hits' aspect to a memorable Tasting Menu, it is, like the counting of plates, but a small part of their ineffable charm. Tasting Menus are first and foremost a celebration: of seasonality, of the beauty to be found in a parade of exquisite plates, of the art of building flavor profiles as courses unfold through calibrated beginnings, sustained middles, and multiple endings. When that end finally does come you should trundle off home in a mood of complete satiety bordering on joy.

Ryan’s touchstone is surprise ~ his own, as he pushes his boundaries, and the guest on the other side of the kitchen door, who really has only a cursory idea of what they will be eating. We print a different Tasting Menu each week, but it's little more than a literary enticement, one that can advise us on any allergies we need to avoid ~  it leaves more out, than in, by design. The fun is in giving up control, in stopping mid-conversation to ohh and ahh as another plate arrives. There should be just enough of each course to get you to the last bite wishing you had one bite more.

Timing is crucial. Tasting Menus are high wire acts: for the kitchen (especially our small kitchen), which has to concurrently contend with a full board of à la carte orders, and for the guest, seduced by a visual joy ride that attempts to raise the bar with each course as it explores, modulates and simply yet elegantly pulls out all the stops when it comes to taste, texture and aroma. Too many dishes delivered too fast and a diner can end up feeling they’ve spent the evening speed dating at MOMA. Too slow and you kill the momentum which should be building with each course. There should be just enough time to linger and memorialize the ingredients of each dish so when they appear again, like characters in a story whose personalities keep evolving, you make the connections. Incandescent melon flirts with crab in an amuse-bouche before taking a sexier approach, compressed with lemongrass, in a vibrant heirloom tomato salad Ryan calls "king of the summer." Squash, first encountered as a blossom in a delicate tempura over a creamy lobster risotto returns a few courses later stuffed Provinçial style, all garlicky crunch, sweet hot mustard, bright green herbs.

Seasonality is a major inspiration, but it should not be considered a mandate. A potato is a potato is a potato ~ delicious all year round. Drew’s pomme de terre can make you weep, pair it with crème de morel, tiny garlic chips and chive blossoms and you have rich, creamy, salty, earthy, sweet. Would it be wonderful in autumn or winter? Yes, but crowned with a perfect piece of halibut you have an ode to summer you will never forget.

In reviewing our Tasting Menus from the past year, I realize they are as much a journal of our days here at Barndiva as the blog. Someday we will look back and talk about Ryan’s Tasting Menus at Barndiva in 2012, the year baby Rylee was born, and know, for all the hard work it took .... good times.

A word about wine pairing the Tasting Menu: while we never forget Barndiva is in the heart of wine country, Brendan O'Donovan, a wonderful sommelier, is careful not to overwhelm dishes whose pedigree vintages may be remarkable on their own but neglect to take their cue from the food. Wine is paired with the dish, rather than the other way around. Connections are there if you look for them ~ in the July Tasting Menu, the fish course incorporates a vibrant Pinot reduction with the halibut, which Brendan complimented by a lighter Pinot in the glass (yes, Virginia, you can drink red with fish) allowing the next course ~ a rich grass fed beef filet ~ to be paired with a commanding bordeaux .

It’s all in the details, but they need to come naturally to the plate and the mouth. His notes for the July Tasting Menu are below.

With the Amuse: Azur Syrah Rosé, California 2011 Watermelon, Crispy Proscuitto, and Crab Salad? I can't think of anything I'd rather have than Azur Rosé. Light, dry, and crisp, this gorgeous wine made by Julien Fayard is a small production local gem. This wine is no afterthought; the vineyards are carefully chosen and the grapes are grown just to make a beautiful Rosé wine.

With the first course: Simmonet-Febvre 1er Cru Vaillons, Chablis 2009 Vaillons is sandwiched between the prestigious Grand Cru of Les Clos and the well-known Premier Cru Mountains. Showcasing a bright, clean style, this wine is 100% Chardonnay. It is an embodiment of a beautiful Chablis with notes of green apple, lemon peel and crushed oyster shell; a hint of fresh fennel on the finish sets this effort apart. This wine is a match made in heaven for the Lobster Risotto accentuated with crème fraîche.

With the second course: Navarro "Methode a l'Ancienne" Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2007- A gorgeous wine from Navarro, their award-winning flagship Pinot displays light red fruits, silky tannins, and a pleasant earthy character reminiscent of Burgundy. It showcases some of the best of what Anderson Valley and our old friends at Navarro produce.  The earth notes play off of the chanterelles, while the bright fruits and background acidity show beautifully in contrast to the delicate white fish and sweet summer corn.

With the Third Course: Lasseter 'Paysage' Bordeaux Blend, Sonoma Valley 2008 This is the flagship wine from relative newcomer Lasseter Winery in Sonoma Valley. Their inaugural effort, this impressive wine is inspired by the wines of St. Emilion. Well balanced and food friendly, this Merlot-based wine truly reflects the French style. Paired with Filet of Beef and Squash Provençal, the dark fruit, tea and earth tones are a perfect compliment.

With the Fourth Course: Cossart-Gordon 10yr Bual Madeira Bual Madeira, while oft-overlooked, is a prize pairing with our Chocolate Bavarois. This fortified wine is only lightly sweet, not cloying as some dessert wines can be. The character of this wine, with notes of nuts, coconut, and chocolate is reminiscent of a fine tawny port. Lingering brandied fruit character pays delicate homage to the cherries and a note of sweet saltwater air plays well with the sprinkle of Maldon salt on the chocolate. The perfect finish to a evening of stunning wine and food.

Truffles are served with Coffee, Herbal Teas, and a wonderful selection of Digestifs.

Eat the View.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu.....Dish of the Week: A Niçoise Worthy of Dufy.....

Dish of the Week

Seared Tuna Niçoise with Saffron Aioli

Before I tasted this dish on Sunday, the best Salade Niçoise outside of France I ever had was at Wolfgang Puck’s old Ma Maison on Melrose Avenue. It was a revelation, every wonderful Mediterranean flavor on the end of the fork: the sea, briny olives, crispy haricot vert, boiled potatoes glistening in virgin olive oil.

If you are a Niçoise fan like me you've probably suffered through innumerable misguided versions through the  years trying to get back to the one that made you fall in love with this dish in the first place: overcooked fish the consistency of cardboard, sodden haricot vert, heavily sauced greens, quartered (sometimes halved) hardboiled eggs so dry they made swallowing a chore. What seems a simple dish is anything but.

Wolfie came to prominence the same time as Alice Waters, one of the first chefs who really knew how to source, though he worked his end of that passion down in Southern California. Sourcing is crucial to the dish but you also need a deft hand: each and every one of the ingredients needs to be treated with summertime love.

It starts with the fish, which should have the texture of fine silk with a  color somewhere between an overripe plum and Dior Rouge Blossom (a great lipstick color, check it out). Whether you poach it or flash sear it (as we do), when you finally glide a fork through the center the fish should be the texture and glorious color it had when it first came out of the sea. Chef uses Yellowtail, sushi grade. That's half the secret, the other is a light hand with the oil. I have a friend who swears canned tuna packed in OO makes a great Niçoise because "it is all about the oil," but while it's a dish that calls for an oily fish, I disagree. A light olive oil based dressing (ours is made with sherry vinegar and fresh basil) pulls all the ingredients under the same umbrella but each stands out ~  new potatoes, confit garlic, blanched haricot, green olives, ripe tomatoes. Ryan likes to add a spoonful of finely diced mirepoix which adds a bit of earthiness to the mix.

All the ingredients are cooked separately, warmed together in olive oil at the last minute which sets off the fragrant magic of their particular compatibility. There's a reason this dish became the go to for 'ladies who lunch' as it manages to be both incredibly rich, yet healthy (their version of not fattening) ~ rumor says it was created for Balanchine one summer as he was knocking about by the seaside in Nice. Makes sense.

As for that egg, Chef is not interested in dumbing down the palate by either hard boiling then slicing or grating it so it disintegrates into mush- his serendipitous play on a Niçoise uses a single quail egg, lightly fried in OO. It's just big enough for the yolk, once broken, to give you a few creamy mouthfuls as it settles down into the acidic tang of the dressing without upstaging a sublime saffron aioli on which he mounts all the ingredients.

For the next few months we are serving this Niçoise as a warm first course on the dinner menu. The single Calabrian pepper that sits on top, whose heat triggers the delight of everything that follows, reminds me of a flag on one of the little fishing boats in a Dufy painting. You can't see the sea from the Barn, but like Dufy, Ryan's edible semaphore makes me smile.  Summer has arrived. Eat the View.

Coming Soon...

Speaking of Eat the View, we're just about to release our 4 minute video of the same name. Working with Drew Kelly as we traveled across Sonoma County to Preston Vineyards, Bellwether Farms, Mix Gardens, Earlybird's Place and Daniel's Flats has been one of the most memorable experiences of the past few years. Even knowing all I do about the quality of work our staff is capable of, watching the footage we shot in the kitchen was a revelation. There's something about seeing action on film that heightens the small gestures you take for granted, in this case isolating the grace and skill they expend with every dish. We may have a small kitchen at Barndiva but, boy, do we make big memorable food.

Crowds at the opening reception for Salon des Sens were blown away but we can't wait to hear what you think, dear reader.  Coming your way later this week!

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

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Guest Dish of the Week.....Happy Valentines Day!

Dish of the Week - The Mix Garden Special

It's a well known adage that one should never do business with family or friends, one which we have sadly found to be true the hard way over the years. Yet there's something counter intuitive about the notion that spending your working life with strangers is healthy or wise. Nothing feels better than helping grow a business you believe in while supporting and working alongside people you care about and enjoy spending time with. We love the folks at Mix Gardens and are proud to call them friends. Mick Kopetsky has built up a series of fruit and vegetable gardens across Sonoma County that supply some of the county's finest restaurants with extraordinary produce. With Healdsburg Landscape Materials he has created a valuable community resource that offers everything a gardener needs ~ from soils to seeds. We were very proud to be included in a series he's currently doing for his newsletter which follows the food Mix grows from their garden to the plate.  It's beautifully shot by local photographer Caitlin McCaffrey.

Come spring we hope to collaborate with Mix by supplying 'starts' for some of the fine herbs, edible flowers and vegetables we feature in Dish of the Week directly to our guests for them to grow. Redefining and expanding the notion of farm to table is a goal we share with Mick, Alex and Bryan, whether it's our table here at the restaurant, or yours at home.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, we invite you to click below, which will take you to the beautiful Mix Blog and a slideshow of this week's Dish: Creamy Celery Root & Lobster Risotto with Mix Garden Greens and Edible Flowers Enjoy.

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

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Menu of the Week.....In the Gallery.......

Dish of the Week

New Fall Menu

The garden dictates changes to our menus virtually every week of the year. But while there’s no hard line in the sand that can be drawn to signal the end of one season and the beginning of the next, some weeks, like this one, the juggling we do to accommodate the superlative produce our farmers bring to the kitchen door is more dramatic than others.  While heirloom beans, sprouts, quince, and pancetta all started to arrive in abundance this week, so did the last of the heirloom tomatoes. The crazy weather that had left Lazero’s fig trees still bursting with fruit also had chestnuts falling from our trees on the ridge in Philo … I know, there are worse problems to have in life. But it makes calling the menu below the "definitive Autumn" menu a bit of a stretch.

I love this time of year for the crisp snap to the mornings, coming in from the chill to a kitchen fragrant with the smell of quince.  Creamy Mushroom Ragù and classic Frisée salads with lashings of bacon. Lobster Risotto scented with preserved lemons. Ryan’s incandescent Cauliflower Velouté with caramelized florets, raisins, and brown butter almonds (he calls it Trail Mix).  The menu is a blessing right now, a garden-sensitive work in progress, the first of the delicious holiday season to come.

BARNDIVA DINNER Autumn 2011

CAULIFLOWER Velouté, Caramelized Florets, Raisin, Caper, Almond, Caviar   15 Caramelized Diver SCALLOP, Gnocchi, Brussels Sprouts, Quince, Pancetta   16 BUTTER LETTUCE, Champagne Vinaigrette, Orange, Radish, Shaved Carrot   10 Crispy PORK BELLY, Heirloom Bean Cassoulet, Tomato Marmalade, Chive   14 BEET & ENDIVE, Avocado, Apple, Walnut, Warm Chèvre   13 FRISÉE LARDON, Creamy Cabernet Vinaigrette, Garlic Croutons, Fried Hen Egg   15 Local FIG Salad, Bellwether Farms San Andreas, Almond, Shaved Radish   12 Cowgirl Creamery “MT, TAM”, Fall Fruit, Radish, Marmalade 18 “THE ARTISAN” Hand Made Cheeses, Charcuterie, Seasonal Accompaniments   39

LOBSTER Risotto, Corn, Crispy Garlic Chips, Preserved Lemon, Watercress   30 Crispy Young CHICKEN, Roasted Artichoke, Pancetta, Ricotta & Egg Yolk Ravioli   25 Wild Alaskan HALIBUT, Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash Agnolotti, Bacon   28 Niman Ranch Tenderloin of BEEF, Creamy Morel Mushrooms, Yukon Gold Potato Tots, Carrot Purée    32 Crispy Leg & Sliced Breast of Sonoma DUCK, Spinach, Glazed Cipollini Onion, Caramelized Pear, Foie Toast   29 Bacon Wrapped PORK Tenderloin, Yukon Gold Potato Purée, Apple Marmalade, Caramelized Endive   27

 Goat Cheese CROQUETTES, Wildflower Honey, Lavender   10 BD FRITES, Spicy Ketchup   10 Preston OLIVE OIL, Maldon Salt, Port, Chive   4

TASTING MENU Five course   75     Wine pairing   40 Tasting menus available for the entire table only

Chef Ryan Fancher

In the Gallery

All that glitters is not gold...and thankfully isn't priced like it either. These cuffs and bracelets just in for Xmas are some of the coolest ~ and most affordable ~ we've had in years. Beautiful handcrafted pieces are arriving everyday ~ wire sculpture by Ismael, textiles from Ethiopia, antiques from Burgundy, glass from Syria, ceramics from Japan, and beautiful paintings and steel sculpture...from just down the road. Shop local this holiday knowing you are supporting talented artisans from all over the world.

Above: Brass Squares Bracelet:  brass plated metal squares nestle together to create this light and fluid bracelet with a warm, burnished patina. Great worn in multiples. Strung on elastic to fit most wrists.  $35/ each

left: Square Bead Cuff: Handcrafted brass-plated metal beads strung on wire and finished in softly antiqued tones. $35

middle: Liquid Bronze Cuff: Cast from high quality brass, has molten appearance. $45

right: Crocheted Pyrite Bracelet: Lustrous Pyrite married with gold vermiel make for a striking pairing. Comprised of seven strands of small pyrite beads intricately woven and bound together with gold-filled wire and clasp. $150

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

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Dish of the Week.....In the Gallery

Dish of the Week:

Yellow Fin Tuna 'Summer' Carpaccio with Crispy Basil Rice Croquettes

When Giuseppe Cipriani made the first Carpaccio at Harry’s Bar back in 1950, he had no way of knowing that thousands of recipes for a dish with the same name would follow, or that his creation would move well beyond raw beef to fish, veal and venison. (Then again, as this was the same Giuseppe Cipriani that also ‘invented’ the Bellini cocktail at Harry's, perhaps he did).

Food lore has it that Cipriani came up with the dish at the behest of a wealthy customer, the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo, whose doctor had suddenly prescribed a raw meat diet. While culinary history is silent on what in the Countesses' constitution the good Dr was trying to cure (anemia? flagging sexual prowess? ), Amalia found the taste of raw meat repugnant so Giuseppe pounded it paper thin and smothered it in mustard sauce for her.

Whether you pound it with a meat mallet like Giuseppe, or wrap it in saran wrap and just whack it once or twice with the wide end of a chef’s knife as Ryan did with beautiful yellow fin tuna this week,  Carpaccio is a dish that has the potential to be a lot more than just a novel technique that transforms a base protein's thickness and texture.  Whatever the protein, it’s a dish where a delicate approach is required when it comes to the accompanying sauces, spices, and key ingredients.

Ryan’s great with dishes like these. For a big man he has an incredibly light, deft touch, coupled with an attention to detail that is immediately apparent in the artistry of his plating well before you take your first bite. While I doubt he ever sits down to count the steps it takes to arrive at the moment when a diner lifts a fork, stops, looks, and thinks, ‘oh my, this is beautiful ’, there are often many laborious ones his crew must practice and master.  God is in the details with this guy.

In the beginning of our professional relationship I often wondered if all this precise cutting, slicing, and dicing ~ though it goes a long way in defining his style ~ was really essential. Most professional and home cooks accept that having ingredients the same size when you are going to apply heat is important  ~ but until Ryan came along I never considered how synchronicity can be a game changer when it comes to what we taste.

This week’s Yellow Fin Tuna Carpaccio is a case in point. Ryan conceived the dish as a play on sushi and rice, one that takes Yellow Fin Tuna for a jaunt through a bountiful Sonoma County summer field at the height of August. Avocado, watermelon and golden beets ~ all cut to exact dimensions ~ brought key elements of creamy, refreshing and earthy to the plate.  Even with light assist from favas, chive flowers and purslane, everything on the final plate was meant to dance with (and around) the fragrant flavor and almost transparent texture of the tuna ~ enhancing, but never dominating its subtle taste.  The visual joy of Chef's plating wasn't subsidiary to the success of the dish, but an elaborate seduction, through color and form, integral to the experience of eating it. But that wasn't all. He also had a few surprises in store. The first was a deliciously crispy basil rice ball that referenced the sushi while extending its normally cold bland taste profile with surprising heat and crunch. By using Carnaroli rice instead of Nishiki (Sushi rice), and a touch of pecorino, Chef also brought more cream to the bite instigating an Asia meets Italy moment. Then there were the bright flecks of preserved lemon rind scattered through the dish which exploded in tiny bursts when you least expected it. Not sweet, but not overwhelmingly tart either they had the effect of bringing all the other subdued flavors forward while paying direct respect  ~ as only citrus can ~ to the fresh fish taste of the tuna.

The lemons had been preserved in equal parts of salt and sugar five months ago. I don't mind harping on it: preserved  lemons are a really great condiment to keep around.  Traditionally stored in ceramic or glass jars, Ryan uses sous vide pouches to cure and hold them, which take much less space in the fridge and uniformly bathes the lemons so you never even have to turn them (a great help if, like me, you always forget anyway).

Every mouthful of this dish was about what’s best in summer here in Sonoma County.  Whatever ailed her, I'm betting The Countess would have loved it.

New In the Gallery

WOVEN WITH PASSION, NOT WITH POWER is the mantra of SlowColor, a company that produces extraordinarily beautiful linen textiles we have just started selling in the gallery. Made in and around Hyderabad, India, exclusively on small pedal looms using only natural plant dyes, this politically focused enterprise was started by two Americans, Jala Pfaff and Sanjay Rajan, who hope their C2C (cradle to cradle) efforts will help keep ancient textile traditions alive by providing commerce to the hundreds of hand loom and natural dye co-ops struggling to survive in India. It wasn’t long ago we wrote about the tragic increase of small farmer suicides in that country which were directly triggered by a Monsanto-led movement which encouraged mega-scale chemically dependent farming over the small and sustainable methods India has used for centuries.  (Courting Armageddon, April 28, 2010) Well, it seems that for some time now thousands of small village textile weavers and dyers have also been driven to take their lives faced with obsolesce as the world has increasingly moved toward large scale factory production.

SlowColor textiles are made from premium organic flax, actually a more sustainable raw product than either cotton or bamboo as growing it is lighter on the land, and requires less water.  Gauze woven on foot pedal looms before being turned over to separate dye cooperatives in the same village, the line uses an “adjective” dyeing process where only natural mordants like saffron, tumeric, annatto, walnut, and cochineal are added to a dyestuff's natural color.  For indigo, Slowcolor follows the traditional method of fermenting indigo in earthen pots underground to create blues because, as Hindu, they will not use cochineal, or insect carcasses.
Pricing on the scarves (depending on the vegetable dye used and the length of the textile) ranges from $70-$120.  Hand-washable, these resilient pieces will only grow softer and more beautiful with age. No two are alike ~ except to the extent they are all intrinsically beautiful, and carry in their making the same life affirming message.

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

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Dish of the Week.....In the Field with Friends

 

Dish of the Week:

Chesapeake Bay Soft Shell Blue Crab BLT

Summer is Blue Crab season all along the Eastern Seaboard, especially in the fishing villages off the coast of Maryland where the fresh waters of the Chesapeake Bay empty into the Atlantic. These soft-shelled delicacies ~ still listed as a “good alternative” on Seafood Watch ~ are a decided luxury for those of us living on the West Coast where they usually arrive frozen, if at all. Happily, ours arrived alive, freshly (and properly) packed in straw. Following a recipe that was as traditional in its judicious use of Yankee spices as it was Fancheresque in style (California Modern Country from first bite to last) our blue crabs reached the plate by dinnertime. A "soft" shell crab may sound like a crustacean oxymoron until you consider that technically they are without any shell when they are harvested, just after molting, only a few hours before their new shell begins to harden. Blue crabs shed their hard carapace in order to grow, burrowing deep in the muck to protect themselves from predators ~ but while an experienced fisherman (and most along the Atlantic are third generation or more) are canny at finding them, and can tell with a glance when to harvest, nowadays it is considered less harmful to the seabed for migrating crabs to be trapped and held in large shedding tanks until the witching hour.  Males have blue claws and a narrow abdominal apron, referred to in local parlance as the 'Washington Monument', while females have red tipped "painted fingernails," and a broader apron ~ ergo 'the Capitol Dome'. (There's a joke in here somewhere, but I'm not finding anything to do with Washington particularly funny at the moment)

Ryan prefers not to deep fry them, believing a lighter batter stands less chance of interfering with the blue crab's fragrantly delicate meat, which tastes more of the estuary than the sea.  The crabs were broken down, cleaned, and lightly tossed in seasoned flour and Old Bay (Celery Seed, Salt, Paprika and goodness knows what else), his play on a Southern Fricassée sauté.

To cook he placed them directly into an extremely hot pan, shook it a few times, then added a generous knob of butter and a few cloves of garlic. This instantly turned the pan into a furiously bubbling, fragrant morass.  All very dramatic, and over in a few minutes, precisely the time it took for their cool blue to turn a gorgeous russet around the edges. The finished dish was the perfect cross between the best parts of a BLT ~ think heirloom tomatoes and crunchy prosciutto ~ and the briny mayo you find in a lobster roll, though Chef upped the ante by dropping the roll and substituting the mayo with a rich housemade aioli that took its color from letting the saffron 'bloom' in white wine.

As dramatic as the cooking process was, at this point the slices of heirlooms stole the show visually, bringing, along with brilliant color, a subtle taste comparison. While the red tom's were sweet, the green, with less residual sugar in the flesh, tasted tart on the tongue with a more pronounced, firmer texture. (full disclosure: I never get much from yellow tomatoes.)

My God, this was a good dish, with mouthfuls of soft crunchy crab giving way to the vinegar from the tomatoes and an ethereal, buttery sweet seawater juice flooding the palate as it mingled with aioli.  Eating it brought me back to a night I spent on a beach somewhere on the Eastern Chesapeake years ago when, after an epic meal, one of locals stood drunkenly to his feet and began to recite the names of  tidal creeks and small harbors surrounding us in the dark. They rolled off his tongue like poetry ~ Pocomoke Sound,  Ape's Hold Creek, South Marsh, Devil's Island to the Head of Tangier Sound.  It all came back to me in a rush ~  stomach full to aching, the heat of the bonfire, the smell of the sea. Then again, food this good makes it easy to speak in tongues.

If you'd like to read more about what threatens the Chesapeake Bay's historic Blue Crab population, click on the link below for an article that succinctly summarizes most of the data I read on the current health and methods of harvest for this remarkable crustacean, which once drove the local fishing economies of both Maryland and Virginia.  We're so used to reading about overfishing, you may be surprised at the main culprit. Or not.

Click here.

In the Field with Friends

Mix Garden Garlic

So many reasons we feel blessed to have Mick Kopetsky and Alex Lapham in our lives, not least the joy of having access to this lovely collection of garlic they grew which recently showed up on the Mix wholesale list.  I baked and tasted through them all and the descriptors below, from Mix, were right on the money. What was most surprising beyond the different levels of heat and bite each brought to the mouth was how much their texture varied, from the Chesnok Red, which held its shape (one reason we use it for confit) to the Northern Italian Red, which went a bit too mushy for me. My favorite: Rose of Lautrec, which Drewski uses for our garlic chips (though to be fair, it had me at hello with the name).

Chesnok Red: One of the best cooking garlics with large easy to peel cloves Late Italian: This softneck variety is very pungent

Silver Rose: Rose-colored cloves are ideal for storing Northern Italian Red: Large bulbs are sweet and spicy

Rose de Lautrec: French variety that has a complex sweet flavor Drew with fresh garlic chips

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

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Dish of the Week........ In the Gallery

Wednesday at the Barn Menu for August 3, 2011

$35 per person *Special wine pairings for this menu, add $18, Large Parties Welcome

Soft Shell Crab B.L.T. Heirloom Tomatoes, Bacon, Arugula, Saffron Aioli Wine Pairing: Azur, Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford 2010

Herb Roasted Breast & Confit Leg of California Squab Nectarine, Picholine Olive, Almond, Purslane Wine Pairing: Barndiva, Cabernet, Dry Creek Valley 2008

Vanilla Cake Salty Caramel Sauce, Housemade Vanilla Ice Cream, Caramelized Bananas

Tractor Bar Trio this Wednesday!

Dish of the Week:

Heirloom Gazpacho with Grilled Gulf Prawns

The lovely young man in the picture to the left is Justin Wycoff, AKA Junior, younger brother of Chef’s entremétier, Andrew Wycoff. While not the only brothers on staff at Barndiva (we are big on family here ~ Sous Chef Pancho and back waiter Joel are brothers,  Jessica and Rosario sisters, garde manger Shale is my nephew), the Wycoff brothers, in addition to working their tushies off here in the Barn all week are also our dedicated gardening guys.  On his day off Drewski gets down and dirty in the Quivira gardens to learn all he can about how to grow the food he loves to cook, while Junior here has undertaken care of all the herb beds in the garden behind the Studio.

But while Drew has already put in serious hard time on his culinary career, Junior arrived last fall a newly minted graduate from culinary school. As such he is the first to be assigned the most tedious, dirtiest, smelliest jobs in the kitchen. Goes with the territory. Best way to learn.

Chef let him off grunt work for a few hours this week to tease out the first steps for our Dish of the Week, which not coincidentally uses all the trim Junior saves from the dozens of heirlooms he slices his way through every day prepping our popular Heirloom Tomato, Compressed Watermelon and Mozzerella Salad. The trim, slow cooked with OO and garlic for about six hours, morphed into a thick velvety soup redolent of summer.  Cooled, then passed through a fine chinoise, it was added to a purée of freshly chopped red and yellow peppers, cucumbers, fresh dill from the garden, a few squirts of Worcestershire, sherry vinegar and a small handful of our secret weapon (release the secret weapon!), a house-dried pepper mix we created after last Fall's abundant harvest. (Moral of the story: you can never grow too much of anything that can be dried).

Ryan’s Gazpacho veers from the norm by this blending of cooked and raw: the classic dish, whose original Andalusian recipe has ancient roots, traditionally uses only raw tomatoes. In marrying a slow cooked saporous tomato base to the flavors of the fresh peppers and cucumbers, Ryan creates a deep russet colored gazpacho that is light but earthy, full of bright spice, and rife with the flavors of high summer.

Chef paired this ‘King of Cold Summer Soup” with fat, wild gulf prawns he flash seared with basil stems and OO until they colored and curled at the tail, as if trying to jump out of the pan and back into the water.

To plate, a disc of green tomato was soaked in balsamic, then hidden beneath a fan of sliced avocado. The seared prawn was placed on this edible plinth, surrounded by its own little sea of gazpacho, which at the last minute Chef flecked with freshly diced heirloom tomatoes.

Shooting this dish brought home yet again how important our quest to source seafood sustainably really is. We've come a long way since we opened Barndiva and our best selling starter was deep fried shrimp from Indonesia, but we still have a ways to go. To bring our fish sourcing to the same standard we hold for land bound proteins means continually finding a compromise with diners whom have come to expect ~ and often demand ~  unsustainable diversity when it comes to seafood.

Thankfully a lot has changed since we took those Indonesian fish off the menu three years ago. We now have growing support from many customers who understand our reasons behind offering a more limited  ~ but no less delicious ~ seasonal selection of seafood that respects the ocean and those who fish it.  This dish is a good case in point, with prawns sourced from a newly thriving wild population in the gulf of Texas. It's a win win dish all around. Except, I guess, for the prawn.

 In the Gallery:

Since the day we opened the gallery we’ve made room on our walls to carry an exquisite collection of botanical prints from Hagemann Lehrtafel. Extremely high quality reprints from the original collection of school science charts produced by the same family since they first appeared in German classrooms in 1927, they are virtually indistinguishable from the originals, printed on high quality canvas with strikingly lush black backgrounds which serve to innervate the brilliant colors of the plants.  All are scientifically correct.

All Charts: 46 x 32, $245

Tulip Botany chart                                              detail of Potato Botany Chart

detail of Anemone Botany Chart                     detail of Oak Botany Chart

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

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Dish of the Week........ Wedding in the Gardens

 

Dish of the Week:

Seared Scallops with Chanterelles & Corn

Scallops are one of those foods you either love or hate because of their unusual pillowy texture ~ which is offsetting to some, alluring to others ~ but did you know that the part we eat is actually the muscle which propels this mollusk across the ocean floor every time it claps its shells? Tasting fragrantly of the sea, they are often one of the most expensive items on a fine dining menu.  The good news about sourcing high quality scallops in season is that they grow quickly and mature at a young age, so there are abundant supplies of them this time of year especially in the Atlantic. The reason Seafood Watch only gives them a "good alternative" rating for sustainability is down to the fact that the further out to sea you go to harvest them, the more likely the catch can cause damage to the seabed.  Currently the only 100% safe alternative to wild sea harvest is eating farmed, which to our mind comes with its own set of trade offs.  Our scallops this week were caught off the coast of Massachusetts where Mike, our fishmonger of many years (who works for Aloha Seafood and closely with CleanFish) tells us they were scooped up from a  sandy bottom habitat where harvesting is less likely to cause ecological damage.

When you see the word ‘day boat’ on the menu, it simply means the ship was out at sea for less than 12 hours. Anything longer and you can assume a catch was frozen; with scallops this is something you want to avoid as they naturally retain excess water. Freezing can adversely affect their milky soft texture. And with scallops, at the end of the day, it’s all about the texture.

Fresh scallops are easy to cook if you learn to nail the timing. They can take high heat ~ the better to get that thin caramelized edge especially surprising when followed by the soft meat of the muscle ~ but you can’t take your eyes off them, which is hard in a busy kitchen (and probably the reason I’ve had more than my fair share of undercooked or overcooked rubbery scallops over the years). At Barndiva, we pull them off the heat the second they’ve reached medium rare, then let them rest momentarily on toweling to drain.

Earthy, sweet, summery, with just a touch of bright acidity was how Chef Ryan rolled out his thinking on combining sun-dried fresh chanterelles, the first of the good corn, opal basil from our garden and diced heirloom tomatoes from Mix Garden for this dish. It was a combination of ingredients calibrated to enhance but not overwhelm the subtle taste of the scallops, which had been flash seared in grape seed oil and a sprig of thyme garlic.

Ryan plated over a Starry Night swirl of Genovese basil which Andrew had spun just before service with EVO and garlic. This vibrantly colored pecorino-free pesto is a neat one to learn, working especially well when you have a protein that is delicate in flavor.

To hell with the Freudian connotations, this was an unabashed, guilt free sensual mouthful. If you aren’t a scallop fan yet, come on down. If you are.... you know where to find us.

Wedding In the Gardens

It goes without saying that this week's bride looked beautiful as she walked out of Barndiva's enormous mahogany doors to marry her sweetheart in our gardens a week ago Saturday. Her calm, elegant, smiling demeanor did not even falter when  an ecstatic cheer rose up from the  200 friends and relatives in attendance. She made it all look easy but for this bride, who pulled off a wedding that bridged vastly different cultural traditions with complete aplomb, God was in the details.

From her French net birdcage veil down to the chapel train of her elegant strapless gown, with its demure sweetheart shaped bodice, every small touch she had spent months putting into place spoke volumes. The gown’s taffeta bow, which would not have been out of place on the runway of a couture show circa 1950, also channeled ~ apologies for not knowing the Chinese equivalent ~ a beautiful  Japanese Obi. The exquisite  bouquet she designed with Bonnie Z of Dragonfly featured pink Cymbidium orchids, Vandella roses and burgundy Calla Lilies ~ all traditional for an Asian wedding where the bride never carries white flowers ~ but was encircled by exuberantly swooping blades of bright green bear grass that eloquently captured the thoroughly modern spirit of this young woman.

It's often been said that the trick to a truly successful wedding is to plan to your heart’s content ~ then let it all go, trusting that if you set the right wheels in motion joy will carry the day.  For all the meticulous planning that went into this wedding, from the minute they said their vows in dappled sunlight on the grassy verge, to the last dance in the gallery six hours later ~ this couple let it flow.

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

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Dish of the Week........ In the Gallery..... Mother's Day Menu

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

Roasted Wild Salmon with Caviar Crème Fraîche, Pea Purée, Spring Vegetables and Chive Flowers

All hail the start of the salmon season, another one of life’s culinary joys that even ‘in season’ now needs to be savored in smaller quantities. While this mighty species has been slowly returning to the western seaboard, the abundance of wild salmon you will find in restaurants comes from Alaska, starting in early May and stretching to August. Yes, you can eat frozen Alaskan salmon year round. No, it won’t taste the same.

There are a number of varieties of Wild Pacific Salmon  ~ Coho, Sockeye, Chinook (“King”), Pink, and Keta (or 'chum'most often used in canning).  While they may differ in taste and texture, they all have the same incredible nutritional values which make salmon a superfood.  Beyond the important environmental conversation you should be having around farmed vs. wild fish, with respect to salmon you also might want to keep in mind that farm-raised is heavy on Omega-6 fatty acids, and low on Omega 3's; (the former actually deleterious to health, the latter the Omega's we need in our diet, especially as we get older.)

Chef Ryan used to buy salmon from a family who fished the mouth of the Taku River in Alaska who intriguingly called themselves the 'Taku River Reds'.  The salmon we feature in this dish, which sold out within hours last weekend, was King Salmon, the largest of all wild salmon as they spend the longest amount of time maturing.

A word about cooking salmon this fresh ~ you only want to cook it until the proteins set so yes, that means it will be dark pink in the center, just warmed through. Don’t think raw if that upsets you when a restaurant serves it correctly, think of the delicate taste of the sea that comes through and the incredible silky texture of the flesh. King cooked correctly is especially rich and buttery. Chef roasts on parchment with a brush of OO, which is especially important if you are leaving the skin on (we don’t).

Caviar is a natural match with its pop of salty sea essence. Blending it in a light crème fraîche tempers the salt, allowing the small chunks of bacon in the vegetable mélange  ~ carrot, peas, cabbage, red onion ~  to bring in a smokey, earthy component.

The first of summer’s chive flowers from the garden sprinkled across the flesh were beautiful, adding a little nudge of  mild green garlic  that played on the tongue. But creamy, earthy, herbal, salty ~ wonderful as they are in the dish ~ all play second fiddle to the King.

In the Gallery

No matter who you are or where you live, there were  many reasons to be upset about the cataclysmic natural events in Japan March 11. Here in the Gallery our first thoughts were for the safety of the craftsmen at Sugahara Glass, a 100 year old company that creates some of the finest glassware in the world. People overuse the word timeless, but Sugahara glass, in its design, color and fabrication techniques really do have a thoroughly modern, yet ageless appeal.

In general we love hand-blown glass and try to keep a range of unusual table pieces, from wine carafes to sake glasses, in the gallery. Come see.

Sugahara Blue and Yellow Shot glasses (produced in Japan) $29 Atelier du vin carafe (produced in France) $67 Canvas water glasses (An American company new to our gallery that uses recycled glass from various countries ~ bubble glass featured is from Syria) $14

Mother's Day Menu

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

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Smoked Salmon

Dish of the Week:

Smoked Salmon Salad

Smoked salmon has been a staple in Russian and Scandinavian diets for centuries, long before the world learned how good Omega 3s are for us.  Like preserving, curing relies upon traditional techniques that extend our enjoyment of nature’s bounty, which is always a good thing.

Chef Ryan’s Cold Smoked Salmon is a dish of unusual color for the middle of winter: radish, mandarins, avocado, sunchoke chips, pickled onions, rapini, chervil, chives. As a delicious nod to the dish’s Russian tradition, Chef included perfect cubes of cooked potato and a luxurious caviar crème fraîche dressing.

There are two stages to preserving salmon, which go hand in hand: brining and smoking.  Brining draws water and moisture out of the fish, but care must be taken so the salt used in the brining process does not overwhelm the taste of the sea. By the same token, spices want to enhance, not interfere, with salmon’s hallmark flavor profile, which is sweet and rich.

Ryan prefers cold smoking to hot because as the temp never exceeds 90 degrees F, the fish cooks while retaining the translucent pliant texture it had raw.  Cold smoked salmon is also easier to slice.

Chef made two dressings for the salad which ingeniously played off one another: a sharp citrus vinaigrette (fresh squeezed lemon, orange, grapefruit and lime juice, virgin olive oil, apple vinegar, salt) followed by a languorous trail of caviar crème fraîche.  The combination of the two brought out disparate but savory elements ~ from the sharpness of the pickled onion, through the green notes of chervil and chive, to the sweet citrus of mandarin.  As for the meeting of caviar, crème fraîche and potato, it would have brought a smile to any Czar’s face.  Or serfs like us.

I love salmon. But the truth is, we’re coming to the end of it.  These days sustainably harvested salmon is a very rare treat.  Alaskan troll-caught and California rod and reel, when you can find them, are the gold standard ‘wild’ alternatives to Loch Duart farmed.  Next week we begin a discussion about sourcing fish mindfully.  It’s a conversation all Chefs who are passionate about food needs to participate in, sooner rather than later.

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