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Barndiva's Valentine's Dinner ~ 2011

Barndiva’s Valentine’s Dinner ~ 2011

Many a great chef has floundered on the sea of expectation that is otherwise known as ‘a romantic Valentine’s Dinner’.  “It’s the equivalent of making love with your hands tied,” a chef once told me.  “Even happy couples come in with weighted expectations.”

True, but confounding expectations are what’s great about love, right? We followed a hunch this year that the only thing couples who chose Barndiva for this very special meal didn’t want us to do was bore them.  It was Chef’s idea to use the 5 senses to inspire each dish.  When his insistence on a sorbet intermezzo between the entrée and dessert brought us to six courses we did some quick research on ‘the 6th sense’.  Turns out premonitions- especially when they are of greater things yet to come- was perfect inspiration.

1st Course: Touch

We started the meal with a Barndiva Classic, Warm Goat Cheese Croquettes, which beg to be eaten with your fingers.  Golden salty crust, toothsome creamy filling with a heart of housemade tomato jam. Fingers used again to glide through rivulets of honey studded with lavender flowers.

2nd Course: Sight

You eat with your eyes, first and foremost, but the mouth and the stomach have to follow for something to be both beautiful and delicious.  The spirit of Matisse hovered above the salad course, a delightful dance of form and color: glistening gold and red beets, tutu pink and orange citrus, ripe avocado, blades of red radish, all atop a creamy mound of fresh crab meat.  Nestled in a shower of Rapini flowers was a single tiny house-made Kennebec Potato Chip.

3rd Course: Smell

How to fully enjoy the aroma of our third course, a warm wide-lipped bowl of truffle flecked risotto?  Some lifted it up and inhaled deeply, while others just closed their eyes, and slightly bowed their heads.  There was no escaping the ethereal woodsy smell redolent of truffle oil.  A big fat Maitake mushroom in a crispy tempura batter held pride of place, but the bravura touch was a halo of translucent crème fraîche foam.

4th Course: Taste

Though we offered a vegetarian option, most diners headed straight for the Snake River petite fillet seared and bathed in garlic, butter and rosemary for their main course.  Sweet buttery batons of carrots, caramelized endive, and a mount of OMG Yukon Gold Potato Purée with lobster and crème fraîche sent the dish straight to Umami Heaven.

5th Course: Sound

The snap of a sweet and nutty Florentine was point of entry to our fifth course, a late intermezzo of bracing citron sorbet with slivers of grapefruit and mandarin citrus.  Like a dip in a deep cold lake, it brought you to your senses, just in time for the final course.

6th Course: 6th Sense

Love is risk, we all should know that by now, so it’s a good thing that premonitions exist if only to remind us from time to time to trust our instincts.  Which brings us to our 6th course, Temptation, a triple threat… but definitely not one to be afraid of.  A Lady Gaga lunar hat of white chocolate balanced precariously on an orb of creamy passion fruit ice cream, which, in turn, sat melting on a couplet of moist dark chocolate ganache cakes.  Lovers were encouraged to end the meal as they started it, intimately gliding their fingers through a passion fruit syrup the color of a Mexican sunset.  We don’t know what they got up to after they left Barndiva but ‘our’ 6th sense tells us for most of them, the sweet notes continued.

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Barndiva's 6th Annual Oscars dinner party

The Fighter: Raw Course

Chiogga Beet Tartar, Caviar Moussaline, Mustard Vinaigrette, Sunchoke Chips

The dish we paired with The Fighter was meant to be raw and bloody ~ though the ‘blood’ came from a vibrant beet tartar whose magnificent color was spiked with a bit of vinegar.  It was topped with a moussaline of whipped crème fraîche, a dollop of caviar, and a wreath of baby sunchoke chips.  Texturally, while the beets and sunchoke chips initially tasted very different, the earthy flavor profiles of both root vegetables played in concert when paired with the creamy moussaline and salty caviar.

Black Swan: Salad Course Butter Lettuce Salad, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Meyer Lemon, Virgin Olive Oil, Radish

The idea behind serving a spare green salad to honor a movie about starving ballerinas started as a joke.  Then Chef saw Black Swan and was actually incredible moved by Natalie Portman’s beauty and elegance.  With it’s ruffle of butter lettuce, sharp crimson edge of radish, and delicate segments of ruby red grapefruit, the salad, finished with champagne vinaigrette and a shower of flowering rapini, was indeed a visual ballet of color and form.  Delicious as well.

True Grit: Fire Course Veal Chop, Boulangère Potatoes, Golden Chanterelle Mushroom, Pickled Pearl Onion

Back in the day, when people still cooked on the hearth, small town bakeries were often used by villagers to cook their evening meal in the still warm wood fired ovens once the bread run was finished.  There wasn’t a lot of heat left and space was always at a premium ~ but I’m guessing some wonderful rustic recipes came out of this unique and very communal way of cooking.  The story behind Boulangère potatoes was simple: meats were put on the top shelf with sliced potatoes beneath them, the better to catch the delicious meat drippings.

Ryan’s homage to the dish couldn’t involve a bread oven.  But if you took your eyes away from the screen on Oscar night and closed them, it was easy to taste the inspiration.  His savory layer cake of thinly shaved potatoes was saturated in dark stock that dripped down flavoring the potatoes during the baking process.  Served alongside big juicy veal chops from milk and grass-fed free range calves, this was haute campfire with True Grit.  The veal was sourced from Sonoma Direct, where Ritz Guggiana and his cookbook-writing daughter Marissa (Primal Cuts) find some of the most delicious ethically sustainable animals in the county.

Toy Story 3: Sweet Course 3 flavors of Bon Bons

Opps.  While the Journal’s photographer clearly remembers devouring the Toy Story 3 Bon Bon course just as Best Picture was announced, images of it clearly did not make it into the camera.  The plate was a riot of color ~ with sprinkles, roasted coconut and almond flakes covering dark, milk and white chocolate Bon Bons filled with passion fruit, vanilla and crème fraîche ice cream.  The good news is that the Bon Bons above are equally delicious and better yet, available often on our regular dessert menu.

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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...

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Raising the Barn

(originally posted November 17, 2010)

Ever wondered what it looks like above Barndiva? Here's your chance. Great images and recipes by Chef Ryan accompany the article by Sarah Lynch in California Home + Design Magazine.

Raising the Barn: An International Aesthetic Meets the Best of Wine Country's Heartland

Photo credit:

Photography by Drew Kelly and Brad Gillette

LEFT: Studio Barndiva’s eclectic offerings include local artwork and imported accessories, but the blue fireplace—adorned with a Magritte-worthy “It is not a fireplace”—makes it clear that visitors can always expect a surprise. TOP RIGHT: Jil and Geoffrey Hales built their barn (right) from scratch.

The perfect evening out brings together three elements: a delicious meal, a warm atmosphere and lively conversation. For Jil Hales, the proprietor of Healdsburg’s Barndiva restaurant, the bar is set significantly higher because the bar is where it all began.

“We came to Healdsburg eight years ago, after raising our kids in the U.K. and living in San Francisco for a few years,” says Hales, a Los Angeles native married to Geoffrey, a Brit, who brought his hardwood flooring company to the U.S. “What this town was missing was a world-class bar—a place to get a cocktail and a bite to eat late at night.”

LEFT: The kitchen island in the pied-à-terre was fitted with fluorescent lighting and colored gels as a prototype for the restaurant bar. RIGHT: A farm-worthy monitor, painted salmon pink, in the center of the ceiling will one day be accessed by a catwalk.

While the Hales were dividing their time between London and a fruit farm in Anderson Valley that Jil has owned for 30 years, they bought a property just off the town square in Healdsburg and built a two-story barn from the ground up. Downstairs, the bar and restaurant serve the best cocktails in town and an ever-evolving menu of farm-to-table dishes. Upstairs is the Hales’ pied-à-terre. Acting as general contractor and chief designer of the barn was an all-encompassing project, and Jil lived up to the nickname her friends had given her when she first moved to Anderson Valley: the Barn Diva.

Adapting the name to her new venture, Jil’s restaurant suitably hits a few high notes. From the outside, the building suggests a familiar rural vernacular—it’s a single structure with richly stained board-and-batten siding. Inside, the towering space is a sophisticated mix of travertine floors, wood tables, a colorfully lit bar and cream-colored walls adorned with modern art and antique farming tools. Out back, an enclosed garden is set with tables, big rustic sculptures and a trickling water feature; overhead mulberry trees are draped with twinkling fairy lights and a heritage black walnut offers dappled shade during the day.

FROM LEFT: The Cor-Ten steel and neon lights in Barndiva’s sign hint at the owners’ modern sensibilities; Studio Barndiva represents local artists such as painter Laura Parker and wire sculptor Ismael Sanchez; floor-to-ceiling drapes, formal flower arrangements and streamlined drum shades are just some of the sophisticated designs Jil chose for the restaurant; before coming to Barndiva

The pied-à-terre upstairs, which is accessed through the front door tucked alongside the restaurant’s entry patio and up a Dan Flavin-esque staircase with rainbow fluorescent risers, is even more of a surprise. It feels like a loft in Tribeca rather than a barn apartment in Sonoma County. The voluminous main room is centered on an oval dining table surrounded by red leather Eames Executive chairs. On one side a 16-foot-long kitchen island is topped with another fluorescent-lit bar (the prototype for the bar downstairs). The kitchen itself is an updated take on the European unfitted kitchen, with open storage, several sinks and a formidable black-enamel Lacanche range. A built-in bar adorned with Jil’s favored Tunisian ironwork, more classic midcentury furniture and artwork collected from around the world complete the scene in the main space. On one end is a guest bedroom and office mezzanine, and on the other is a master suite.

Two-and-a-half years after completing the barn, the restaurant was bustling on evenings and weekends, and Jil was ready to raise the bar even higher. The Hales’ life in Healdsburg had become increasingly focused on the community around them as they supported local vintners and farmers. But Jil’s passion for art and design needed an outlet, and the four walls of the restaurant were filled. So in 2007 she opened a gallery next door in a space that was formerly an opera house. Artists & Farmers, as it was originally called (now Studio Barndiva), was a place to celebrate and sell the art and designs she discovered locally or on her many travels. On display is an assemblage of Hales’ own lighting made from Tunisian architectural salvage along with locally crafted paintings, wire sculptures, blown glass, reclaimed wood furniture, imported gifts and accessories. “I don’t want to show things that can be easily found somewhere else,” says Hales, pointing out one exception: aselection of John Derian back-painted glass plates. “I know he’s in lots of other shops, but he’s a friend.”

LEFT TO RIGHT: The restaurant’s back patio features pendants that Jil fashioned from Tunisian window guards; fluorescent lights show up at the bar, where a circular backlit inset mimics the two round windows at the top of the building; the entrance to the private residence is marked by a dramatic glowing staircase; the weather in Healdsburg makes it ideal for outdoor wedding receptions.

Behind the gallery is yet another garden. This one is filled with raised vegetable beds, outdoor sculpture and a table large enough to seat 200 under an armature designed for a canopy of mini-globe lights. Like the garden on the other side of the fence, the setup begs for a modern country wedding and it’s been a popular spot for such events since it opened. In fact, Geoffrey and the couple’s eldest son, Lukka, run Barndiva’s event and hospitality business, and they’re now averaging 60 weddings a year. The Hales have also taken over management of the nearby Healdsburg Modern Cottages, four nightly cottages authentically furnished with pieces by Eileen Gray, George Nelson, and Ray and Charles Eames.

LEFT: The humble facade of Barndiva belies the stylish elegance of the experience inside. RIGHT: An outdoor area behind the gallery is attached to the restaurant’s garden through a gate and is a popular spot for wedding receptions.

In her mission to open a world-class bar in this sleepy town, Jil has elevated the creation of the perfect evening to an art form. “I went for the type of environment where I would want to share a meal or toast a special occasion with friends,” she says. “If something doesn’t come from the heart, it just doesn’t work. If you’re not authentic, you’re running on fumes.”

Sitting under twinkling lights, as a parade of seasonal dishes made by Thomas Keller–trained chef Ryan Fancher, original cocktails and wine selected by the in-house sommelier passes by, it would be hard to argue against that.

Recipes from Barndiva’s Chef Ryan Fancher

Both of these recipes make the most of fruit and vegetables in late summer or early autumn, when ingredients are at the height of their season. They are great dishes to source at a local farmers market.

Barndiva’s Heirloom Tomato & Compressed Watermelon Salad Serves 4

1 medium watermelon 1 tsp. lemon verbena 1 large golden beet 1 large Detroit dark-red beet 6 heirloom tomatoes 2 Tbsp. sweet basil 4 Tbsp. Spanish sherry vinaigrette Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 cup purslane (optional) 2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger, diced 2 red radishes

Spanish Sherry Vinaigrette 1 cup grape seed oil 1/3 cup Spanish sherry vinegar A pinch of salt, sugar and freshly ground pepper

The Watermelon - The night before or a few hours before serving, cut into large cubes and sprinkle with the chopped lemon verbena. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. • The Beets - Cover with 2 cups water, 1 Tbsp. butter, 1 clove garlic and a sprig of thyme. Cover and cook at 350° for 3 hours. Cool and slice. • The Heirloom Tomatoes - Slice them thickly and mix them in with the chopped sweet basil. In a bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Bathe the tomatoes in 4 tablespoons of the vinaigrette for 30 minutes or more. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. • Assemble - Stack the tomatoes, largest one on the bottom. Arrange the watermelon. Dress the beets in the bathing vinaigrette, season with salt and pepper, and plate. Sprinkle ginger and thinly sliced radishes over the dish. Dress the purslane, and add it to the dish to finish.   

Herb-Roasted Local Halibut Serves 4

8 baby artichokes 2 Tbsp. canola oil 4 cloves garlic 2 springs rosemary Salt and pepper 20 fava beans 1 zucchini 1 gold bar squash 5 lbs. Roma tomatoes 15 Toy Box cherry tomatoes 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 4 6-oz. halibut filets 1 Tbsp. butter 1 cup tempura batter 4 squash blossoms

Tempura batter 1/2 cup flour Corn starch 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 cup sparkling water Salt

The Baby Artichokes - Peel the outside layers to reveal the heart. In a hot pan, roast the artichokes with canola oil, garlic and rosemary until soft. Season with salt and pepper. • The Fava Beans - Peel the favas, and cook them in boiling salted water for one minute. Let cool. • The Summer Squash - Cut the zucchini and squash into diamond shapes, and cook them just like the fava beans. • Vierge sauce - Puree the tomatoes, and strain the clear liquid from the tomatoes through a clean kitchen towel. In a saucepan over medium heat, reduce the liquid by half, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil. • Halibut - In a hot sauté pan, sear the fish until golden brown, being careful to not overcook. Baste with butter, garlic and rosemary. • Assemble - Pool the sauce in a bowl or shallow plate. Arrange the vegetables in the sauce, and nestle the halibut in the middle. In a bowl, mix the tempura batter’s ingredients, and dress the blossom lightly with the tempura batter. Fry in  350° oil until golden, and place on top of fish.

By Sarah Lynch on October 04, 2010 at 3:13 PM

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