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Thomas DeBiase


Dish of the Week.....Barndiva on the Cooking Channel....Holiday Parties Begin.....

Dish of the Week

Puff Pastry

I don’t know if it's true or not that puff pastry was “invented” by one Claude Gellée, AKA Claude Lorrain, the man John Constable called “the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw,” but it certainly makes for a damn good story. Food lore has it that Gellée stumbled upon the method one afternoon when trying to bake bread for his ailing father. Up against the clock, instead of waiting for his dough to rise he began to just fold and roll, fold and roll. The rest is history, the flakey kind in at least one sense of the word, as it eventually inspired thousands of savory and dessert classics. As Gellée’s father is known to have died when he was 12, one can only extrapolate that the 17th Century painter ~ born into poverty, soon to be an orphan in charge of his five brothers ~ was a savant baker long before he picked up a brush.

Of course centuries before Gellée’s discovery, across the Mediterranean Basin bakers were making a flatter version of puff pastry we came to call Phyllo Dough. Two salient differences: the type of fat used, and, crucially, the number of layers in the final product. Where Phyllo traditionally uses oil, a classic French Puff Pastry usually relies upon butter…a not inconsequential amount of it. And while the perfect Baklava may look like it has tons of layers, it doesn't have anywhere near 730, the number needed, according to the mathematical equation offered by none other than Julia Child in Vol II of The Art of French Cooking, for a perfect pâte feuilletée fine.

Still, the science is the same: unleavened pastry is repeatedly folded, rolled and chilled. When the pastry shell hits the heat of a hot oven, moisture in the dough forms steam causing the pastry to rise on the seam lines of the folds as the water evaporates.  Shortening or lard can be used to make Puff Pastry ~ with a higher melting point than butter they allow the pastry to rise faster ~ but for that rich buttery mouth feel, Ryan believes you need…well….butter.

Vol-au-vent ~'windblown' ~ is the lovely French name for the pastry shell, which can be filled with just about anything. Our Vol-au-vent this week is a savory dish that is all about the taste and beauty of vegetables. To make the Puff Pastry shell Chef cuts chilled Puff Pastry into rounds with a fluted edge, brushing each stack with a little egg white as he works. Toy Box carrots and radishes are shaved and lightly dressed for a raw salad condiment while the rest of the ingredients ~ artichoke hearts, oven roasted tomatoes, brussels, pearl red and yellow onions, garlic confit, spinach, carrots, celery and fines herbs ~ are whittled or minced to within an inch of their life before being sautéed à la minute, while the shells are baking. Assembly takes place just before the dish leaves the kitchen.

A word about the labor-intensive job of getting our vegetables into the shape and size you see here: it’s not folly. Just like a diamond needs to be precisely cut to show its facets to greatest sparkle when light hits it, the cut and size of vegetables has a great deal to do with how they taste, and even how they feel, in the mouth.

Served on Onion Soubise with a pillow of Puff Pastry on the side, this Vol-au-vent is an elegant dish which makes a beautiful entrée this time of year. Using the same vegetables you have on hand to accompany the bird, with a little extra effort you can serve your vegetarian guests something even the diehard carnivores ~ and the odd landscape painter ~ will look down the holiday table at with envy.

The Big Cheese

Don't miss Barndiva and our wonderful friends at Bellwether Farms on the Cooking Channel this week. Filmed a few months ago for the exciting new series called The Big Cheese, (no, it doesn't refer to Ryan, but after we see the episode maybe it will), the program follows several types of cheese being made at Bellwether Farms which Chef then prepares and serves in Barndiva's upstairs studio. (Above: Chef Ryan getting ready for his close up, and with Big Cheese host Jason Sobocinski)

Barndiva and Bellwether on The Big Cheese November 17 @ 9:30PM and 1:30AM (program your TIVO!) or November 19 at 6pm.

Holiday Parties

The holidays are upon us, the first with Dawid at the helm of the Gallery. Though we've told him he absolutely cannot put any Christmas decorations out before the 'official' launch of the season, the day after Thanksgiving, we fear his naturally infectious enthusiasm ~ which he informs us only gets heightened at Christmas ~ may be getting the better of him.

Studio Barndiva, along with the entire town of Healdsburg, will celebrate the holidays together on Friday, November 25th, from 6-8.

Join us for Cocktails and Croque-en-bouche.

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



Dish of the Week........ Wedding of the Week

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

Mother's Day Brunch

Mother’s Day for me has always been about honoring up…it’s nice to hear the great things your kids feel compelled to say about you, but at the end of the day all you really want is your own mom to hug. Mine is not with us anymore, so Mother's Day is bittersweet, but in the most important ways ~ how I choose to conduct my life every day ~ in spirit she’s still very much here.  Mother's Day is a great time to celebrate the most important lesson she taught me ~ life is short. Love with an open heart. What you get in return, even after those you cherished are physically gone, is indelible.

As there wasn't a free table until after 2 on Sunday,  by the time we finally did sit down brunch service was almost over and the calm before the dinner storm had settled over the lounge.  The room was flooded with sunlight, tall windows filled with trees shaking their green tresses in a blustery wind. Music was jazzy, upbeat and cool, champagne cocktails arrived swiftly, flowers from Dragonfly ~ which I’d gotten up early to arrange ~ graced every table. As my absent and missed daughter might say, Barndiva was chill.

In addition to stalwarts like Eggs Benny and Chef Ryan’s infamous duck hash,  brunch has started to encompass an English approach to Sundays, especially if you choose the three course prix fixe menu that always includes a roasted joint and loads of veg. Mother's Day is a great tradition but it's only once a year, while Sunday Lunch at Barndiva can now be savored every week. Which is what Geoffrey, Lukka and I decided to do.

I started with a lovely carrot soup, carrots from Early Bird’s Place, which had been braised in organic carrot juice. The goal with such a simple soup is that it arrives at the table tasting of pure carrot. Whipped crème fraîche was flavored with Mix garden chervil, Preston OO, and Barndiva Garden chive blossoms ~ which gave a nice bite that played against the sweetness of the carrots.  A swirl of balsamic and a spear of tempura asparagus finished the bowl.

Lukka and Geoff ordered the halibut, a beautiful dish chef had finished with a single perfect artichoke ravioli and some of the tiniest radishes I’ve ever seen.  Seeing it arrive,  I had a moment of indecision that I’d chosen the wrong entrée, but once Tommy had carved the lamb (tableside) and spooned fresh peas and baby purple and yellow potatoes all around, I was a very happy camper indeed.

The leg of lamb had been trussed and whole roasted at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, basted during the cooking process with butter, garlic, shallot and tarragon. A ladle of Paloise finished the dish. Paloise takes the best thing about a good Jus, clarity and a perfect balance of herb to salt, and the best thing about gravy, heft, something to cling to the meat, and marries them together.  Ryan’s is perfect. He makes it by first cooking down a lamb stock for six hours ~ roasted lamb bones, mirepoix, tomato, aromatics like thyme, black pepper and garlic.  This stock is then poured over a second round of roasting bones in a large saucepot, with more aromatics.  The final sauce is strained through a chinoise and reduced to the desired consistency, finished with a knob of butter.

Dessert celebrated the return of Rhubarb ~ more about this vegetable that usually masquerades as a fruit, in next week’s blog. Also in next week's blog, a proper introduction to our remarkable new pastry chef who has been working with us for a few months now. We are moving into a new phase with our dessert program that is generating a lot of excitement in the kitchen and the dining room, and this dessert was no exception.  The thinly layered (as if pressed) Frangipane Tart with almond streusel crumble and crème fraîche ice cream had lightly poached slices of rhubarb on the side that nailed what is, to my mind, rhubarb's truly unusual taste profile.  My gripe with rhubarb ~ which I have a love hate relationship with ~ is that it’s too often served soft, mushy and stringy. And overly sweet.  The crunch of these batons was a revelation, bittersweet and delightful.   Along with a visually stunning, almost balletic presentation of a frozen Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, the desserts on Sunday were a fitting end to a lovely afternoon with two of my favorite people in the world.

Wedding of the Week

The kick off to wedding season for us happily starred a couple we’ve fallen in love with during the past year, as Lukka worked with them putting all the pieces for the big day and night together ~ Taya and Sean, aka Schmoops and Poops.  Every step of this couple’s planning was filled with inspired choices and the least fretting we’ve seen in a long time. They 'got' what too many other couples sadly forget in the hectic run up, weddings are supposed to be serious and joyous, yes, but the planning should be fun! Aside from the glorious weather, it wasn’t chance that everything came together for them: the great menu they had chosen (more couples should opt for lamb as an entrée), the casual elegance of the table decor, and the surprises that just kept coming were all down to their style and confidence as a couple. They just take such joy in each other it was infectious.

True to form they each had a classy surprise for the other that in both cases turned out to be musical. Lukka and Taya had managed to smuggle the Oakland Interface Gospel Choir into Healdsburg without anyone spilling the beans to Sean. He was stunned when they marched out just after the vows to sing heartfelt praise that blessed the day and everyone in attendance. Then the meal kicked off in the gallery with drinks and appetizers and the choir doing a full set. During dinner in the Studio Gardens Sean got his own back when his surprise guest arrived ~ a  French accordion player who took over where the choir left off.  This was all music to make you smile. I trundled off  early, just as guests were dividing into two groups: some dancing in the gallery to a DJ while others lingered in the garden as Edith Piaf’s spirit hovered beneath the trees.  Lukka tells me at the end of the evening the accordion serenaded the couple through town as they and a few dozen happy friends made their way across the plaza to continue the party back at the cottages. Schnoops and Poops rocked it.

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



Sommelier Tommy DeBiase's 2009 Pinot

The bottling and release of our Sommelier Tommy DeBiase's 2009 Pinot was cause for celebration around Barndiva last week. We love it when we can make a real connection between food and wine, and it doesn't get better when we can do that and ALSO celebrate one of our own. This is the third year Tommy has been making wines with Fritschen grapes. Fritschen VIneyards is located on Eastside Road across the river from the old William Selyem crown. It is also a farm where some of our finest lamb is raised (as well as olives brined on the branch that we serve with our whole roasted baby poussin).

The winemaker's notes read: "Old vines grown on 36 degree steep rocky hillsides, result in low yields (only 1.5 tons per acre). Lots of minerality and crispness with Bing Cherry and Pomegranate fruit, with a structure that has both bright acidity and supple tannin."

DeBiase 2009 Fritschen Vineyards Pinot Noir, by the bottle and by the glass, is now available in the lounge.



and the winner is...

(originally posted December 22, 2010)

For the second to last newsletter of the year, we thought it would be fun (and relatively easy) to take a quick look back at all the ‘dish of the weeks' we compiled and choose a winner. Fun yes. Easy? Not a chance. We were blown away with the sheer volume of mouthwatering images and fascinating cooking tidbits chef and I managed to compile in one short year. Choosing a dish each week is not based on science (discovering a new technique) or math (what sold the most), it's an ephemeral decision made a few days, sometimes a few hours, before compiling ingredients and shooting them. We did not set out to build what has turned out to be a fascinating food journal (a calendar? The start of a cookbook?). Only two things mattered: the joy of working together and the connection each dish had to a built-in reverence for great raw product, which always guides us.

What began as a bit of entertainment, a way to make the newsletter a more enticing read for you, turns out to be the best Christmas gift we could have given ourselves ~ a grace note to a year that, while it tested us in every way possible, ended up being more nourishing ~ in all senses of the word ~ than any that has preceded it.

Dish of the Week is very much a collaborative project ~ just as every dish we send out to the dining room must be. In this, Chef Ryan, Lukka, Geoff and I are supported by an insanely talented kitchen staff. A special call out to Tommy, who has brought so much to the table (literally and figuratively) this, his first year with us, and to Pancho, Danny and Drew, who always have our backs. A special note of thanks as well to my incredibly talented assistant, K2, who patiently works with me every step of the way to capture the essential spirit of each dish.

In the end, we could not come up with a single winner ~ so we give you our favorite meat, fish and vegetable entrées. While each in a special way contributed to the food narrative we try to tell here at Barndiva, a remarkable taste profile combined with the beauty of Ryan’s plating ultimately won our vote.

2nd Runner Up...

Compressed Watermelon Herb Salad This dish was the height of elegant simplicity, but only one of many that hummed with glorious local color, matched by a wonderful taste profile that brought the farm right into your mouth. We are blessed to have many produce partners, thanks in part to Fork & Shovel speed dating events we host here at the barn every year. Two of our favorite veg and fruit producers, Early Bird's Place and Mix, also contract plant for us, a business partnership more thoughtful restaurants are discovering. One of our most popular blogs this year was the one about Myrna and Earl Fincher (October 6th) whom you can buy from at the Healdsburg Farmers Market.

Herbs for these dishes, like most coming out of our kitchen, were grown right here in our raised beds behind the gallery, or at Barndiva Farm in Philo where we also get our dry farmed apples, pears, figs, and chestnuts.

1st Runner Up...

Fritschen Vineyard's Lamb's Liver & Onions 2010 marked the beginning of our collaboration with the Fritschen Family, whose vineyards boast the grapes that Thomas DeBiase, our sommelier, makes into fine wine here in Healdsburg. For three weeks in July we chronicled a nose to tail cooking project that utillized almost every part of a beautiful animal raised for us at the Fritschen Family Farm. Whenever we can, we will continue to work with local farmers to procure excellent animal proteins for Barndiva. We do this despite a lack of local humane slaughterhouses that make these purchases more expensive than it need be for both farmer and chef. In the coming year, look forward to more lamb from Fritschen and the wonderful Preston Family Farm, along with goats and rabbits from new farms. Every season we list on our menus at Barndiva the primary purveyors who inspired us to create that specific menu. Some can be found at your local Farmer's Market if you live in Sonoma, Marin, or Mendocino County.

AND now...the winner is...

Escabèche! Keeping the fish and shellfish selections interesting for our customers continues to be a challenge for us as we try to honor a commitment to primarily source from waters within 100 miles of the restaurant. Though we keep an open mind to ongoing science about the safety of farmed fish, we do not serve it in Barndiva for a variety of reasons (taste being only one). When I spoke at a Seafood Symposium at the U.C. Davis Bodega Bay Marine Aquarium a few years back, (a wonderful event, the brainchild of my good friend Randi Seidner produced by Slow Food Russian River,) I made the point that some responsibility must fall on the diner when it comes to helping restaurants source sustainable fish and shellfish. If you say you want local, do not turn your nose up at varieties you are not familiar with when a restaurant you trust serves it! Happily, there is such faith in anything Chef Fancher sends out of his kitchen that we are able to stretch with less familar local selections without fear it will hit our bottom line. The dish here, Escabèche, is a case in point. It sold out every time it appeared on the menu, often as a result of someone just seeing it come to an adjoining table or hearing our servers talk about it. Make no mistake: when a line caught wild salmon walks in the door in the arms of one of our fishmongers, we grab it. We love local halibut and sole. In the coming year we may cast our net as far as Oregon and Washington's coastal waters, but no fish served at Barndiva will have taken a plane ride to get to your plate, or ever been frozen.

The full collection of our Dish of the Weeks, are available in the Barndiva Journal Archives- or keep reading...



The first official week of summer, this is what we are.....

(originally posted June 30, 2010)


doing early in the morning...... Lukka's ideal, relaxing, magical day in Summer is a journey down the Russian River between Healdsburg’s Memorial Bridge and Wohler Bridge - an undeveloped, eight mile stretch of clean river that boasts some of the most exquisite and diverse landscapes in Sonoma County.

It's an easy paddle which rewards you with face time with herons, ospreys, turtles, egrets, and Lloyd the bald eagle who lives just after mile 2. Last week Lukka clocked 55 miles! Mondays are reserved for taking groups down the river (whoever shows up) with large coolers filled with copious amounts of delicious food and drink. Russian River Adventures SOAR canoes are inflatable, more stable, and extremely comfortable for lounging . . and owners Larry and Amanda will pick you up at the end of your journey, take care of the boats, and return you safely and most contentedly back to your car!

inspired by... We have more and more vegetarians dining at Barndiva, along with vegans and gluten sensitive guests. It's a misnomer to think that just because you eliminate proteins you lose a discerning palate or the desire for creative options when you dine out.

Ryan is loving re-visiting the vegan cookbook Raw, right now, because of the amazing array of color on every plate. Always a firm believer that people eat with their eyes first, color is a key trigger for him ~ whenever we get new art in the gallery he is immediately drawn to the most vibrant work. Now that summer is finally here he is looking forward to maximizing flavor without heat. "The images for these recipes remind us what bright and fresh looks like. They celebrate in every 'sense' that vegetables are still alive when they reach your plate."


pouring... After this rainy spring we are all ready to enjoy some crisp, lean Italian white wines while basking in the late afternoon sun in the gardens. Tommy has snagged us a few cases of Orvieto "Terra Vineate" from Palazzone, which has everything one would expect from great Central and Northern Italy whites: bracing acidity and minerality coupled with a subtle extra layer of opulence and glycerin. Palazzone produces inexpensive yet highly sought after blends of Umbria's indigenous varietals (Procanico, Verdello, Grechetto, Drupeggio and Malvasia Toscana) the very same ones used to make wine centuries ago by the Ancient Romans and still coveted for their remarkable golden hues and intense flavours. The traditional Cepage is unique in that Palazzone includes a high percentage of Grechetto and Procanico which gives the wine an interesting note of hazelnut oil as well as distinct spiciness. The best part for last: Organically farmed, hand harvested, indigenous yeast fermentation, bottled unfined and unfiltered...and only $10 by the glass in the Lounge.

mixing up... On Wed we hosted a small mixer, one of several Barndiva will be throwing over the summer to say thank you to wineries, concierges, and wedding planners that have supported us. It was a great time to kick start our summer cocktails. New bartender Stephan came up with a wonderful libation for the coupe using pineapple sage from the gardens which we bought a few seasons back at one of Occidental Arts and Ecology Center's plant sales. He paired it with lashing of gin, sparkling water, yellow chartuse and St. Germain. For a peek at our specialty cocktails, check out our cocktail menu...but you better hurry as it's about to change again as more summer soft fruit starts to ripen.

doing with our kids... When 2 year old Teagan isn't searching for the perfect spot to go berry picking in Sonoma County, she's heading North this week to Portland. This summer's trip is to cheer on the kids from Girls Rock Camp. Her aunt, Marisa Anderson, is the Creative Director for this program which runs throughout the summer and teaches girls (ages 8-17) how to form bands, write original songs and play instruments. This spectacular program started in Portland, but now offers camps throughout the US and Europe.


jamming... Turns out our bartender Sam Levy not only has a jones for jam but an incredible talent for making it as well! He will be working with Jil and Chef Ryan all summer as we buy up slightly soft or less than perfect fruit to wave our hot wand over. Voila, come winter we will still be eating peaches, apricots, berries...summer fruit! When apricots from Coombs Ranch showed up this week (with just a little frost damage but great flavor) Sam got busy and came up with a smooth chutney with a hint of brandy, fresh ginger, and allspice ~ perfect to serve with our Artisan Platters. He is also working on a jam for Sunday Brunch with vanilla bean and carmelized Meyer lemon rind, and a cherry jelly which uses apricot and peach juice. Sam caught the jamming bug from his mum, who caught it from hers. At their house some days they have three generations going strong, using fruit from their own trees. We are thrilled to have a jam fanatic in the house this summer.

proud to see in print... Great article in this month's Garden Design Magazine which features our own Mick Kopetsky and our great friend Bieke Burwell. Mick, who owns Mix Gardens with Bieke, is one of Barndiva's main vegetable suppliers and a dedicated Fork & Shovel member. He also recently took over Healdsburg Landscape Materials down the road which supplies many of us with great soil mixes and river rock ~ We know this because we just finished spreading about 12 yards in the new Studio Gardens. Great to see his accomplishments in print. We are thrilled his muse Bieke is back from London for the summer.



All Tomatoes Are Not Created Equal

(originally posted June 2, 2010) Barndiva received some wonderful press last week, which we wanted to take a minute to share with you. We have been very blessed over the years with incredible newspaper, magazine and online coverage. Incredible because we are a family with little PR experience that started a restaurant in a small town knowing next to nothing about the business. When we first opened we were flavor of the month, and that went on for a long time. But even afterwards, when the occasional barbs would come, we’ve tried to put criticism, good and bad, into a context that could help us understand what diners really want, what we might be missing. It was wonderful to hear what we’re doing right this week. Barndiva is our baby. We want the world to love it.

But it hasn’t always been easy to ‘simply’ define who we are, or what we are trying to do. Barndiva was very much a ‘build it and they will come’ adventure. We wanted to make the point that it’s possible to balance cool with accessible, serious with playful. There is a famous image from the 40’s of a café on a side street near the great meat markets of Les Halles, taken in the early hours of morning. Ladies in gorgeous gowns and men in tuxedos, all at the end of a glamorous evening, are sitting elbow to elbow with big butchers in blood-stained aprons, fresh from the market. Everyone is eating and talking, smoking and drinking ~ you just know the food is delicious. What struck me about the photo was how comfortable everyone looked, despite differences in class, the odd hour of the morning, the randomness that brought them together. The photographer had captured a moment where good food and the warmth it generates had brought a totally disparate group together. The meat markets of Les Halles are long gone now, having morphed into a giant underground shopping mall in the late 70’s. It saddens me to think restaurants like the one in the photograph disappeared with it.

Imagine two ideal ends of the dining spectrum. At one end you have a great Thai (or Chinese or Indian) joint, with platters of food served in rooms that are too hot and overcrowded, where service is rushed, the waiter is perfunctory, the music (if any) is scratchy, and you don’t give a damn because the food is so delicious you want to eat it with your hands. We return again and again to that place.

Now travel to the other extreme. Lots of room between the tables. Sound is hushed. Waiters glide. Plates are composed like a Caravaggio still-life, using ingredients in ways that test what you know about taste and texture, making you think about flavor anew. A big bill is coming at the end of this meal, but if it’s been perfect (and it has to be perfect) you won’t care. You are happy to be alive and able to afford it. When you can, you will come back here too.

Barndiva doesn’t fall somewhere in the middle of these two restaurants, that wasn’t why we entered the game. Middle is not what we do best. We wanted to take the vital parts of both of these experiences and combine them, to create a business that was uniquely honest in the way it approached sourcing, preparation and presentation of food, but nevertheless managed to elevate the dining experience, to make it really special. We wanted to design a space where every piece of the room celebrated the food on the plate and the act of eating. The visceral act of eating, that was crucial for us, but so was the before and after. We wanted fresh soundtracks and soft lighting. We wanted to show some love in the service, not just professional indifference. We didn’t want stuffy. We wanted the opposite of stuffy. We have all suffered through one too many evenings of “fine dining” where a ‘church of food’ approach demands supplication, taking the air out of the room, along with any spirited conversation.

We got a lot of props those first years from so many strangers who “got” what we were trying to do, but we also found there was no way to make everyone happy. For some the music was too loud, for others the lighting to low to properly read the menus. We had very few seasoned servers the first few years, preferring to hire children of friends and neighbors who dined with us, but while it was true they didn’t come to us with tired old habits from other restaurants, their enthusiasm did not make up for their lack of experience. Great restaurant service is not instinctive, it must be learned, and in order to be learned, it must be properly taught.

One reviewer in the early days called our menu, which we had flavor profiled into categories of ‘light, spicy, comfort,’ “Barndiva’s mood food.” He wasn’t wrong ~ we all set out to dinner in a frame of mind that the restaurateur is wise to acknowledge ~ but it looked silly in print. On the other hand, the last thing we wanted to present to our guests was a polemic about our food. We put as much information as we could on the menu and hoped intelligent diners would ask questions.

And so we learned, sometimes the hard way, to improve our game and fix what we could, without succumbing to the ever-present desire to take the easy way out and just give people what they were used to getting. I’m not sure why we are so stubborn about keeping it real. Perhaps in part because, in our short but interesting lives, it was usually the things we least expected that turned out to give us the most pleasure.

The recession has upped the ante with respect to making it in this high stakes business as there are decidedly less diners out there willing to part with their money without a good reason to do so these days. But the challenge of perfecting a hybrid like Barndiva is important enough to pursue even in these trying times. Maybe it’s more important now, considering that, thankfully, the underlying politics of food sourcing is becoming more relevant to diners.

I still find it hard to reconcile that even if you put everything you love into place ~ beautiful rooms and gardens, flowers, music, candlelight, inspired drinks, delightful plates of food ~ sometimes it’s just not enough. The timing is off, or one of your key players who should know their lines flubs them. You can apologize, but this being a performance art, prone to mishap, you just have to move on. Sometimes it’s the diner who has brought the unhappiness of his day (or his life) with him to the table and nothing you do is good enough, even if it should be, even if it is. Again, you have to move on.

Through it all you try not to forget what made you get into this crazy business in the first place. Oddly for me, it’s not the nights of perfect service that bring that message home. Since Ryan joined us, and now with Tommy out front, we have many more perfect nights that ever before. But there is still that incredible frisson of not knowing what can happen when you open the doors. Back stage in the kitchen the mix is always heady and slightly dangerous ~ knives, fire, product from hundreds of mercurial purveyors in the hands of a few dozen people who are responsible for carrying out different complex pieces of a single unifying vision. Timing is crucial. So is the chain of command. While on stage in the dining room the scene is the polar opposite, romantic but charged, like a house before a party. Timing, for that first drink, between courses, again, is crucial. Mood, how to create it, how not to destroy it, is essential. Physical semaphore rules. A raised eyebrow can mean something is not quite right at the table and you need to get over there, or, wait, something is happening there you should not interrupt. In a split second, you need to know the difference.

Whatever goes wrong in the kitchen cannot be allowed to interrupt the flow of the evening out front. Everything is in play. Everyone is important. Every detail matters. Getting it all to hang together is magical when it happens, and can haunt you, for days, when it doesn’t.

We served 690 plates this past Saturday and until ten o’clock every one was presented to the diner having met chef’s exacting standards. We were rocking. This, despite the fact that the dishwasher had failed to show up for work and one of the big fridges broke down in the middle of service. Then, heading into the homestretch, with the dining room and both gardens packed, a full board of entrees to fire, inextricably, four plates slid from a shelf and landed with a terrifying crash onto the stainless steel table below, obliterating ten first courses and four desserts. I don’t know what Ryan and Tommy felt. I know what they did. They carried on.

At times like these I think of Alice in Wonderland. No one made her drink the bottle to change her size in the first place, curiosity made her do it. What she discovered in the end was that accepting risk was OK, so long as she accepted as well that growing larger and smaller goes with the territory. Changing shape without changing your essence is sometimes necessary to survive. Restaurants are a consummate collaboration, but for the key players, those of us who have chosen to crawl through the looking glass, growing larger and smaller is the skill we strive to master every night in order to create the art and the thrill of a great dining experience. The rest ~ the security, the reviews, the respect of our purveyors, our peers, and our customers ~ hopefully, will follow.

SF Gate: Michael Bauer's review




(originally posted March 31, 2010) The fine line we’ve straddled with respect to wine since we opened Barndiva has been one of world class vs. local class. You’re shaking your head ~ there doesn’t have to be a difference between the two, does there? Until three months ago I would have said, unequivocally, yes. Creating a list with world class wines, whether a Grand Cru Domaine Leroy Chambertin from France or a Grace Family Cabernet from just over the hill, wines that appeal to special occasions or unlimited budgets, and confidently integrating them with lovable mutts, great wines without a pedigree that can be had at affordable prices, takes more than chutzpah. Even more to the point, a high end list of the caliber we have now set out to build, needs to work ~ to feel right ~ with a menu like Barndiva’s that does everything it can to lift the total experience of dining without a commensurate smack of affectation. Call us greedy: what Ryan does for food we want to do with wine. We want it all.

Our first wine list five years ago was an amalgam of high hopes and wistful beginners luck. That double bind again: we wanted a list to be proud of, but one that our patrons could enjoy on a regular basis without breaking the bank. Our good friend Craig Strattman (who owns the farm to table Restaurant Patrona in Ukiah) introduced us to Walter Inman, then the talent behind the wine program at John Ash. Walter, a savvy and bitingly funny guy, took pity on our lack of local contacts and with his guidance we fashioned an opening list that first summer which had 36 wines and 18 sparkling by the glass, and a 3,000 bottle cellar. We were the new kids in town and the list was good enough to get us featured in some wonderful wine magazines from all over the world. Still. It would be years of listening to what patrons ~ both tourists and local ~ wanted before we began to understand the forces at play behind a truly great list.

From the outset the vintners who became regular patrons let us know they too were interested in great wine that wasn’t necessarily from around here; that a balance between foreign and local would be most welcome. This was good news, as we’d heard that a strong foreign presence on a wine list had sunk more than one new restaurant in town. It also got easier to source great local vintages with long waiting lists as we integrated fully into life here in Healdsburg.

We love where we are going with our programs. Please come in to give us try!

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