Figs, Food and Wine in Sonoma

Sonoma is one of those places I can visit every few months and it is guaranteed that I will find things to taste and places to visit that I haven’t seen before. The planning of this trip was no different and I was really excited about the itinerary Wine Road Northern Sonoma had helped me plan that included new discoveries and reacquainting with some old friends.

I was excited to meet Sondra Bernstein, whose popular restaurants have made her well known even out of wine country. We were meeting at the girl & the fig and she was very gracious about the fact that I was running about an hour late. I enjoyed hearing all about Sondra’s trips through the South of France that led to her love of French food and wine, and a desire to bring it to California wine country.

I listened to how Sondra has educated her restaurant patrons and the winery community in the Rhone varietals and food, and judging by the fact that many of these wines are now being made in Sonoma (and many people are filling her restaurant), it’s a welcome addition to area. We also talked a bit about her new book, Plats Du Jour , which combines both recipes and antidotes.

The flights of wine here are a great option and I enjoyed my selection of whites. The quiche I had was light and delicious. I also tasted the Croques Monsieur, an absolutely incredible grilled ham and cheese sandwich that is worth a trip to Sonoma for alone, and some of the yummy Panisse Cake, made from butternut squash puree and covered in a pumpkin seed pesto.  We finished by sampling two of her specialty desserts which were also heavenly, chocolate fig kisses and lavender crème brulee.

Before I left the girl & the fig, I took a quick look at the things you can takeout from there.  Her cheese and charcuterie selection is available to go, as are her line of Fig Food, which includes items such as Apricot Fig Chutney and Fig & Pistachio Cake. (Some of these items are also for sale in specialty stores throughout the U.S., check the website for details.)

I made a quick visit to ESTATE, Sondra Bernstein’s Italian restaurant, where I saw a tantalizing menu and grappa cart that will need to be on the itinerary of my next Sonoma trip before I took off for the heart of Sonoma, Healdsburg. I only had one winery on the schedule for this day, but it was a good one.

Owner Peter Merriam greeted me at Merriam Vineyards and told me about their passion for both Sonoma and Maine. I was in love with their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, filled with pineapple and kiwi, with a touch of citrus to make it reminiscent of the New Zealand ones, without the grassy taste. I was equally impressed with the 2006 Windacre Russian River Valley Merlot, which is full of ripe red fruit on the palate, with a bit of light wood and white pepper on the back. Also of note here was the 2007 Cab Franc, blended with a bit of petite verdot. I really enjoyed the blueberry notes on this one.

I arrived at the Camellia Inn just in time for the evening wine and cheese hour. I quickly settled into my very large and cozy room so I could enjoy a bit of it before dinner. This adorable Bed & Breakfast is in the heart of Healdsburg and was filled with people exchanging restaurant and winery notes while sipping some of the local fare.

My dinner plans were already made. I was off to the DryCreek Kitchen, Chef Charlie Palmer’s latest. It’s definitely not for those on a budget, but the raves for the food are warranted. The includes mostly fish and a bit of meat, but there were some vegetarian options that looked wonderful so I decided to go that way (they also have a tasting menu if you want to go with the chef’s selections for the day).

I ordered the Pumpkin Soup, prepared tableside with cream and seeds. It was excellent and I was glad I had ordered a light dinner after eating the entire bowl. That entree was Red Quinoa Pilaf with house made goat chevre beats and almond cream. The sauce had a bit of anise and it was just spectacular, something I would absolutely return for.

I walked the few blocks back to my room at the Camellia Inn and settled in for the night. It was going to be a long next day of winery hoping with my friend Tracy Logan of the Wine Road and I couldn’t wait to get started.

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