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Dino Bugica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday at the Barn.......A Love Supreme......

Barndiva welcomes a very special Justice of the Peace

Since we opened our doors eight years ago, weddings have been a part ~ some would say the very heart ~ of the definition of hospitality we have sought to honor, always taking its cue from the landscape surrounding us. We will move small mountains to deliver indelible dining experiences served in rooms and gardens filled with flowers, art, and music.

But ultimately it’s up to the bride and groom, and their family and friends, to make their wedding speak to them in a way that is unique to the union they hope to forge. Only they know what that means, drawing from how and why they fell in love, the importance of family and community, the contours of the things that make them glad to be alive and for that reason want represented on the day they say their vows. It’s not, after all, a vow of silence.

So when we use the word ‘bespoke’ to describe our wedding services, we’re not just offering to accommodate the curious nuptial request, we’re pretty much saying ‘bring it on.’ As a result, we’ve had our share of unusual moments ~ dueling bag pipes, full gospel choirs, New Orleans jazz bands, dogs as ring bearers, the entire USC marching band, even the odd fortune teller (prediction: a long and happy marriage).  A few weeks ago the best man gave his speech via a live link from Afghanistan, where he’d been suddenly deployed.

But by any standards the wedding on Saturday, August 18 between Miriam Seifter and Robert Yablon was exceptional. We are used to hearing the words “by the power vested in me by the State of California (or increasingly, the Universal Life Church) but it’s quite another thing, and thrilling indeed, to hear a member of the Supreme Court utter the words “by the authority vested in me by the constitution and laws of the United States,” knowing she is one of only eight other people in the world who can do so.

Before Associate Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pronounced Miriam and Robert 'husband and wife' (words she alternated throughout the ceremony with 'wife and husband'), she spoke eloquently about the meaning of the chuppa the couple stood beneath, a cloth canopy supported by four poles, open on all sides. The Chuppa is meant to represent the ideal of a Jewish home. Justice Ginsburg made the point that it has no furniture to indicate that the basis of any home always starts with the people in it. It was a great reminder to all of us gathered, of how easy it is living in a culture overly obsessed with possessions, to lose sight of what is left of any relationship when stripped back to its essentials.

Though a living symbol of the most august institution in our land, standing there in the late afternoon sun as a sudden breeze scattered yellow and white rose petals across the ground was a small, delicate women, speaking from her heart. And so it goes. Whether your reach in life is grand or singular (in her case, both) the depth of any genuine connection we hope to forge with other human beings has the best chance of thriving when it starts with empathy. This is true in a marriage of two, or a nation of millions.  We build from the ground up, hopefully, with common purpose, shared goals, hard work. Somewhere in the mix is the desire to be loved. In this last respect at least, it's a good idea to give as good as you get.

We want to thank Miriam and Robert for allowing us to use these images from their wedding. And for entrusting Lukka, Amber, Ryan and our entire staff to care-take and hopefully inspire their wedding day.

Yes, we loved this article (and so will you)

I worked in journalism for a number of years in London and I know how hard it is to control what you write vs. what is eventually printed. The English dailies are among the best written and rigorously researched in the world, and it helped that some of the people I interviewed were important ~ with fully swinging legal departments if you got a quote wrong. In my own small way, being on the other side of the equation these last few years I am constantly reminded of the power writers and editors and art directors have. So I am doubly grateful for articles like Elizabeth Cosin's in last Sunday's Press Democrat about our video Eat the View. I've been a fan of Elizabeth's since she took over for Scott Keneally for Healdsburg's Towns section in the PD, writing wonderfully about neighbors like Dino Bugica and Doralice of The Healdsburg Cheese Shop. I think The Town's articles are the best thing the PD has done in a long while. We were thrilled to be included.

Here is the link to Elizabeth's article, In Healdsburg, you can Eat the View

For a link to the video go to our website, or directly to Vimeo or Youtube.

Eat the View.

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

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Charlie Palmer's Pigs & Pinot ~ A Healdsburg Favorite

OK, so Dish of the Week was actually Bite of the Week ~ a Proustian breakfast moment Chef served to 300 Friday night at Pigs & Pinot, Charlie Palmer’s sold-out signature food event that takes over Healdsburg in mid-March. For those of you who grew up in the age of Top Chef ad infinitum and innumerable  foodzines and foodblogs, it may be hard to believe that once upon a time the cult of the celebrity chef didn’t exist. Charlie Palmer didn’t invent the concept, but he was one of the first American chefs to draw crowds to his restaurant Aureole in NYC by sheer virtue of his talent alone.  Back then (no, I wasn't going to say "in the good old days”) reputations could only be built by reviews and word of mouth. Palmer generated a great deal of both. In the years since he has built a mini-empire of restaurants and hotels that rivals Nobu’s in size if not influence. What Nobu is to black cod (basically on the back of one recipe), Charlie is to pork (significantly, the entire animal).

I like Pigs & Pinot. It supports a number of worthy charities while functioning as it was primarily intended ~ a two day publicity venture for Palmer and Co. What I like best about it is the classy way it goes about making the connection between food and wine while strengthening a good swath of the local economy. Even as he burnishes his own brand, Palmer manages to advance a quality driven definition of the word sustainable in an age where even the best restaurants are struggling with the temptation to fudge standards in order to survive. Any week of the year around here you can throw a stick and hit a food or wine event; few of them put the whole animal in focus to the extent Pigs & Pinot does. This is a message not lost on the 500 ticket holders that flooded the Hotel Healdsburg 1 & 2 this past weekend, with reportedly double that number on a wait list every year.  The remarkable world-class selection of Pinots guests get to taste are the sizzle, but make no mistake, the meat of this event ~ literally and figuratively ~ is the whole hog.

Most of the press Palmer generates focuses on Saturday, when “celebrity” Chefs from all over the country land in Healdsburg to flex their culinary muscle. But if you live here the real fun is watching the local talent go head to head on Friday night. Though every one of these participating local Chefs will tell you it's not a competition, that they are just ‘doing their thing,’ with few exceptions each secretly hopes theirs is the best pork mouthful of the night. And why shouldn’t they?  Our Chefs are a remarkably convivial group, but the fun at these events is upping your game as you coolly hang out in the hood with guys you compete with on a daily basis. The fact that there is an abundance of talent to go with a healthy dose of competition is what makes Healdsburg a dining Mecca. That nobody cops to being competitive is just part of the charm of living in the country.

In this respect Ryan is no exception, except to the extent that his competitive drive comes more from pride, than ego. He always defers when appreciative diners  ask him to come out and meet them, and while he's forthcoming with the press he never goes in search of them either. Quite the contrary.  Yet he’ll cook a dish over and over again to get it spot on, then think about it some more before Pancho and the team are put through their paces so it's served consistently the same way, every time, for each and every diner. As chuffed as he was when he won the Top Chef competition at Taste of Sonoma two years ago, he couldn’t wait to get out of there the minute it was over. I  suspect that when (though no fault of his own) he couldn’t defend his title this year, his worry wasn’t what people would think when he didn’t show so much as missing an opportunity to go head to head again with another talented Sonoma County Chef.

Americans have a funny relationship with what is, culturally, our inherently competitive nature. Because we always seem to equate success with money (or its corollary, fame) we are congenitally guilty of making the mistake that whoever has the most marbles when the bell rings has “won.”  I’d go as far as to say that our obsession with money and fame ~ no matter how many ‘unhappy’ rich and famous people are paraded before us ~ borders on being a national illness. The mistake here, to my mind, isn’t so much that we haven’t learned money and fame can’t engender happiness (which deep down we probably know) it’s overrating the ephemeral entity of happiness in the first place. Between happiness and true satisfaction I'll take satisfaction any day of the week. Happiness is a beautiful vagrant, its perfume a scent in the air, music that lifts your heart, the touch of someone you love. All good, but for it even to exist it needs someone to blend the perfume, write the music, become the person you love. True accomplishment, whether building character or just a better mousetrap, is complex, and while luck can play a role it's not a sustaining ingredient the way a combination of passion and patience is. The satisfaction that comes from accomplishment ~ whether it brings you happiness or not ~ resides in the way something is made,  how long you spend refining an idea, how many times you paint over a figure before its heart ~ of joy or darkness ~ appears.

Until six years ago when I took on my latest career incarnation as “restaurateur,” I managed to fashion my life in such a way that whether I succeeded or failed (and I did a lot of both) it was always on my own terms.  Even as my game changed over the years, from academia to photography and journalism, ultimately to design, I mostly avoided the world’s judgment in a way that allowed me to work on the quality of what I was producing without fear an audience of strangers wouldn’t like it. Many people don’t see a problem basing their success on something that’s been copied or stolen from its original source. Maybe that's why the world is filled with such derivative crap.

But food doesn’t wait for that certain someone who understands your aesthetic to fall in love and take it home. What takes years to learn and untold hours to source and cook is consumed in the span of a few minutes. Wham, Bam, the verdict is in.  In the past if someone did not like what I created I could console myself that it "just wasn’t to their taste”, or take the time to improve it. With food every dish and every meal must suit a diners taste each and every time…. because with food the customer is always right. That Ryan knows this and works at making our food ‘right’ for every customer, yet does so in a way where he is consistently challenging himself, pushing his own creative boundaries, is remarkable to me.

As for who actually produced the best pork inspired dish last Friday, while I did not taste everything (an understatement considering how much incredible food was being offered) Dino Bugica’s (Diavolo) black sausage was about the best I’ve ever eaten. This man’s talent in all things charcuterie is a wonder.  Ari Rosen (Scopa) had the most beautifully roasted whole baby pig which, in his inimitable style, he served simply. Cyrus’ Chinese bun was perfect respite just at the moment I was suffering from serious pork fatigue. I did not taste Charlie’s dish ~ his lines were moving at a snail’s pace ~ but the burnished pork bellies turning on the spit behind him in the central courtyard looked utterly mouth-watering.

It was not until I returned to our station that I fully registered how our contribution was going over. Until that moment I hadn't put Barndiva into the competitive mix I had running in my brain, which made it all the more delightful when I saw the faces on the crowds inundating our station. This was a different set of folks than we’d had during the first hour of the evening, when everyone was moving through the rooms tasting things for the first time. While many had returned hoping for another taste, most were new faces, that all opened with the same heartwarming gambit: “I heard from everyone this was the best thing here tonight.”

Very cool, right? But the most enjoyable moment of the night was still to come. As I stood watching I was approached by a couple from San Francisco who had returned to our station for “the final bite of the night.”  I had never met them before and they had never eaten at Barndiva, though the woman  ~ dark haired, very pretty ~ said she read the journal. They were extremely knowledgeable about food ~ off to Chicago in a few weeks “just to eat ” ~ but it wasn’t their erudition on all things culinary that struck me as the conversation moved swiftly from our favorite SF haunts through greatest meals ever, to a surprisingly honest appraisal of why eating out had come to comprise “some of the best moments” of their lives.  Though they were obviously passionate about food, they weren’t precious about what they ate. While the room and the ambiance of a restaurant mattered, connecting with informed but not overbearing servers mattered a great deal more.   Though they weren’t in the business they had, through their travels, begun to understand how hard good restaurants had to work to get it right, especially when it came to sourcing. They were, in short, critical but sympathetic. Standing there in the beautiful din of Charlie’s world the possibility suddenly occurred to me that along with the age of the celebrity chef we may be entering the age of the enlightened diner, people who see their patronage as team support, as crucial to the game as the crowds in a grandstand. Dining out is a collaborative experience; diners should be honestly invested in its outcome. Because it's true, progressive diners ~ like the best fans ~ are  the first ones to tell you when you make a bad play (or dish) but it's their cheers, when they come, that are the ones you most long to hear.

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