Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Long Weekends In California Rock

Hello, nice to see you again :)

So let's see, at this point I've lived in California for over a year and a half. And in this native east-coaster’s humble opinion, the beauty of long weekends in California (besides...all that sun) is there are always fun and myriad options of where to go and what to do just a short road trip away. Here are some basic examples of what I'm talking about:

1) If you’re in the north, go south to LA or north to Oregon

2) If you’re in the south,
a) go south to San Diego & Mexico or b) go north to San Fran & wine country

That’s what I did this past President’s Day weekend (#2b). What a great trip! I was graciously introduced to the bounty of the California breadbasket, where much of our country’s produce is grown. Here are some special things I was able to experience just over a week ago:
  • A drive through Castroville, home of artichokes, the giant artichoke (a globular statue) and restaurants that serve artichoke fries and fried artichoke hearts galore
  • Gilroy, home of garlic and the first place I ever tried garlic-stuffed olives
  • Olallieberry Pie (yes, this is a berry!) in Watsonville, along with the juiciest, tastiest strawberries, and the birthplace of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider
  • Yummy Marini’s salt water taffy and the Giant Dipper (a fantabulous rollercoaster, not an ice cream cone like I first thought) at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
  • Humble wild salmon (for the menu did not list this as wild) and the freshest steamed artichoke at the Jay Leno-touted The Whole Enchilada restaurant in Moss Landing
Truly a foodie’s dream, this part of the world. Thanks, host Neil!

On another day we (Neil, Nick & Rachael) drove up to San Francisco and stopped in at… don’t be surprised when I tell you… The Ferry Building!... after which back in the car we sampled Recchiuti rose caramels, fleur de sel caramels, sesame nougat and the new, seasonal Champagne truffle made with 2001 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs. SO GOOD.

If that wasn't enough to blow my foodie mind, we then drove north to beautiful Sonoma in search of a great meal, and it was certainly found!

But first...en route to Sonoma we stopped at Viansa Winery and Italian Marketplace. Wow. Not only are the grounds exceptionally regal in the “oh yeah we’re in wine country now” way (see photo above); inside there are endless jars of pestos, jams, marinades, etc. and each is open for tasting (and imminent purchasing, you know because it isn’t every day you come across cilantro pumpkin seed pesto). This was a good thing.

So, we arrived in lovely downtown Sonoma. It reminded me of Santa Fe a little, with the big town square. And off of the town square and down a quaint little pedestrian lane was LaSalette, our dinner destination. This is a family-owned and operated restaurant specializing in Cozinha Nova Portuguesa, a.k.a. “contemporary, inventive Portuguese cuisine.” It was my first official foray into this cuisine, and I will tell you I can’t wait to get back to Sonoma and LaSalette. The restaurant is warm and charming, with great service and authentic, exciting food preparations that were all over-the-top delicious.

Here is what we ordered:

Portuguese White Wine Flight - (3 oz. pour of each) Muralhas Vinho Verde, Quinta Do Casal Branco, & Campolargo (the Campolargo was our fave so we ordered a bottle with dinner)

As a starter we shared:

Fresh Portuguese rolls and butter (so soft, so good!!)
Portuguese Cheese and Charcuterie Plates, 5 items
1) Queijo do Topo, cows-milk, semi-hard, sharp with house-made quince paste!
2) Queijo Fresco, house-made farmers cheese with house-made tomato jam!
3) Sardine Pate, house-made with onion, garlic and Piri-Piri
4) Linquica, traditional Portuguese home style sausage
5) Chourico, dry Portuguese pork and garlic sausage

For four of us, three entrees were enough:

1) Bacalhau, traditional baked casserole of salt cod, potatoes, onions and olives
2) Cataplana de Marisco, our signature seafood and white bean stew served in a copper bowl
3) Feijoada Completa, Brazilian national dish of stewed beef, pork, smoked sausage and black beans, accompanied by herbed rice, collard greens and traditional condiments

Then for dessert:

Arroz Doce, Lasalette Azevedos special recipe for Portuguese rice pudding garnished with a light caramel sauce with dried figs

Mmm mmm. While it is true that all the dishes were outstanding, the Feijoada was my favorite. It’s also important to note the items (rice, greens, salsa) that came with this dish were not mere sidekicks but bold co-stars with the Feijoada itself.

Saveur magazine did an article in issue #66, April/May 2003 about Feijoada from Brazil, however if I ever attempt this at home I’ll be more likely to try the recipe from Time/Life Foods of the World Cookbook: The Cooking of Spain and Portugal. And when I do that, there should be enough for sharing so I’ll let you know ;)

Until we eat again,

1 comment:

Nick Sowers said...

oh those Portuguese rolls with the soft farmer's cheese, washed down with the Campolargo....mmmmmm. Thank you for writing this blog so I can be reminded specifically what was so yummy about that weekend!