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John Dory


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.)



On the Road

(originally posted march 10, 2010) The newsletter this week comes to you from NYC, where we are unabashedly eating and drinking ourselves silly. When your baby turns 21 it’s cause for celebration. Besides, whenever you travel what better way to infiltrate a city’s cultural DNA than through its stomach? Several piping hot eateries opened to high acclaim here at the height of the recession and the prodigal son and I were eager to find out how they have they managed to make sweet lemonade in this sourpuss economy. Turns out it's by trading, very well I might add, on the authenticity of several bygone eras, specifically ones that target sation over pretension. For three nights we indulged in well-built cocktails, and ate food prepared for optimum taste, served in rooms designed to fall back behind the dining experience, rooms in which you were encouraged to flirt, sass the waiters, and gossip without restraint.

First stop off the plane was The Breslin, the new April Bloomfield eatery which cleaves more closely to her original concept at The Spotted Pig than the fine dining John Dory she also opened, and closed, last year. For those of you who have not been following the gastro pub invasion of America, when it’s a good thing, it’s a very good thing, with an emphasis on nose-to-tail dishes where less popular cuts of meat lend themselves (or should) to more affordable prices. I was living in England, feature writing for the Evening Standard, when the very first gastro pub, the Eagle in Clerkenwell, hit the scene. The article I wrote about it never ran ~ but therein lies a story that gets to the heart of why this particular form of dining has enjoyed such longevity. The night the photographer shot a full service turn for the article, he got a bit too carried away with the bonhomie of the staff, all of whom cooked incredibly fast, to loud rock music, “high” on life. The images he took were dreadful. In punishing us both by pulling the article, (suffice it to say we were together that night and I was not, in all honesty, an innocent bystander) I remember my editor saying not to worry, I would get another chance. “Gastro pubs aren’t going anywhere. What everyone really wants when they dine out is to have fun.”

The Breslin is attached to the new Ace Hotel, a Portland enterprise which pretty much air lifted its funky, reclaimed, techno-cool aesthetic (complete with an outlet of Stumptown coffee) and plunked it down in midtown. April has brought the pigs. Everywhere you look, on the menu, above the banquettes, hanging from the (authentically?) water-stained ceilings are pigs ~ Plastic pigs, cast iron pigs, flying pigs. It’s a sweet, lived-in room, subtly lit, with laid back service, an eclectic bar menu and great beers on tap. If we can pull it off I plan on stealing for our bar menu ~ with attribution ~ the warm scotch egg that arrived cooked spot on, oozing yolk. Ryan’s onion soup has a more refined veal stock, but I liked their idea of a bone marrow crouton, and the rabbit terrine and thrice cooked frites were delicious. We left the Breslin in exceedingly good fettle.

The next food stop was the birthday girl’s dinner at Minetta Tavern the following night. There is a reason that even the most jaded amongst us returns to Balthazar year after year to visit the shrine where Keith McNally has nailed New York in the 21st century as if it were Paris in the 19th. His latest fixation is on New York in the 30’s. Minetta recreates the original experience of a upscale tavern so well it's hard to know where the faux caricatures that line the walls of the ‘famous’ who once dined there leave off and the real cracks on the mirrors in the ladies room begin. Does not matter. You want to believe you’ve stepped back in time. I don’t remember the food as much as the remarkable scene of tout Manhattan four deep at the bar waiting for a table, happy just to be there. Birthday girl shared a dry aged cote de boeuf with her delightful friend Nate, Lukka had a trio of Berkshire pork which had been notably straw happy. On food alone, Breslin was better. On cocktails and ambiance, a table at Minetta, if you can score one, takes some beating.

The Crosby Street Hotel ~ A perfectly charming rendition of Miami Biannale meets English country house ~ upgraded us to a suite the next day based, I presume, on nothing more than a mild complaint that I had be unable to watch Crazy Heart at 3 in the morning. Ok, perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I had also mentioned the prodigal son had been asked to write a column for our favorite travel site, Tablet. Which is true. (Though as yet he hasn’t agreed to write & would kill me if he knew I’d mentioned it at all.) It was hard to leave the room after the upgrade, as all I wanted to do was sleep, waking up from time to time to gaze out over the incredible views of old Soho. I’ve been overpaying at the Mercer so long I forgot there were views in Soho. But we had one more food stop to make before I slept.

In wandering Nolita earlier in the day, Bgirl and I had passed Peasant, where I spied Goat Ragu on the menu. I also noted the deep candlelit room with firelight from a brick oven and a very cool open kitchen where a spit rotated half a pig, a lamb and several chickens. This is where we headed now. The snow, which had been threatening all day, fell in soft flutters, melting before it hit the ground. It was warm inside Peasant, and the room was done in just enough Trattatoria Rusticana to make you think someone involved really had lived and cooked in Tuscany. They had opera on the sound system, (do peasants listen to opera?) which even I’m not ballsy enough to do. It was just loud enough to hear a tenor now and then, and, if you waited for it, the orchestral thunder of armies gathering in some dark Italian forest. They brought us bowls of fresh ricotta, a bottle of young olive oil and bread from the wood burning pizza oven that would win in an Acme (though possibly not an Della Fattoria) thrown down. The wait staff was indifferent but the Italian Sav Blanc they guided me to was appropriately flinty with a soft floral nose.

For starters we devoured mounds of burrata and nicely aged prosciutto. Though the spit called to me, I was on a mission. My desire to serve goat at Barndiva strikes at the heart of the quintessential contradiction I have between giving diners what they want, and making them stretch. I won’t bore you (again) with my ecological reasons for thinking we should all be heading toward proteins that bleat instead of moo, what I sought from this dish was to find a tipping point between those good intentions and a flavor profile in a goat dish that would make me long for it again. I found it, but not on the first bite, or the even the second or third, it was mid-way through the dish when the happy din of the room, the good wine, and the extremely beautiful, articulate and scathingly funny young woman across the table distracted me long enough to forget I was eating goat. This is a new taste profile for most of us, but it's really interesting if you give it a chance. I liked the earthy sweetness that played against the softness of the housemade pasta. Unlike a fattier beef ragu, the flavor sat back on the palate, in a very pleasant way.

The rest of the trip was a blur. As I write this (from the plane) I can only remember too much money spent on exercise gear at Lululemon, boots that (thankfully) didn’t fit at Handmade, very expensive lingerie from a shop in the Bowery, pampered dogs everywhere, and, finally, a mad dash through MOMA an hour before they closed, after which we repaired to the bar in The Modern, which thankfully doesn’t. Bgirl and I spent two extremely animated hours drinking cocktails and talking about how I met her father, surrounded by a fur and diamond crowd waiting for the velvet rope to be dropped on some special event in Taniguchi’s coolly elegant honed granite hall just above us. We quickly discovered our bartender was from LA, where he had worked at Hals in our old Venice hood. When he found out our drinking qualified as ‘work’ for me, he immediately went off piste, creating delightful concoctions which paired perfectly with Gabriel Kreuther’s refined (borderline boring, given what we’d been up to) Alsatian small plates menu. If I knew I would have this much fun with this particular kid someday, I would never have stressed out during her teen years. Then again, knowing me…

My advice when traveling is to spend as much money as you can on food, especially when it supports the part of the dining industry you hope survives this recession. Great dining should be like opera ~ a company of performers using all their skills to create one transcendent moment when life as you know will seem capable of hitting all the high notes: when food and drink, music and ambiance fill your senses to the brim, and overflow. If you are lucky enough to share that moment with someone you love beyond measure, it's possible to believe that whatever the future holds, no matter how difficult these times ahead become, the things you love ~ all of them ~ will just keep getting better.

Tablet Hotels The Crosby Street Hotel The Breslin Minetta Tavern Peasant

All text Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)