: views from the Hill

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Away, back, and what we did there.

We've been gone on a short run-away that started Sunday morning when we left for an AIWF crab feed at the Silverado Brewing Company, outside St. Helena.

The menu consisted of wine, beer, bubbly, and a plate each with salad, bread, and pasta plus a portion of hot Dungeness crab, followed by another piece of hot crab and another and another until they had to toss us out of there because another party had the banquet room booked. Cookies for dessert.

At some point when we were wrist deep in cracked crab, Michael Fradelizio, owner and operator, gave his impassioned pitch about how for seven years he's been running the brewing company, a restaurant that eschews hydrogenated fat and serves free-range chicken and Niman Ranch all-natural meats, how he spent time and effort to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from the premises (including having to find substitutes for bottled catsup and the like) and how he wouldn't serve his patrons anything that he wouldn't serve his family.

His food was great. I loved his attitude. The crab was delish with a peppery finish.

From Silverado Brewing, we headed a short piece north to Calistoga, and checked into our room. Later, we walked down Lincoln Avenue as we browsed on our way to dinner, sticking our noses into shops, checking menus posted outside restaurants, staying a spell at Copperfield's, where we bought a book, natch.

We wanted to eat somewhere we hadn't before. We chose Pacifico Restaurante Mexicano (1237 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga) because his nibs wanted a light supper after all the crab. Hah. His chicken mole included half a chicken under the mole sauce. My chile rellenos was also a healthy, tasty dish. We were ready to snooze.

Next morning we headed off to Santa Rosa to meet up with old friends for lunch at Monti's (prime rib sandwich, yum!) after which we off-loaded sixteen boxes of books from our car into their van for delivery to the Point Arena Library.

Book exchange complete, we headed upland to Fort Bragg. (101 to Dry Creek Road, past Lake Sonoma

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to Stewarts Point and then up 1 to Fort Bragg) The weather was windy and rainy. The road was windy. At one point on Skaggs Spring Rd/Stewarts Point Rd we stopped the car and his nibs got out to help some locals who were using their chain saw to take a fallen tree out of the road.

"Those County guys just sitting up there in their truck with their flashers on?"

The "County guys" eventually joined the group that was busy dragging branches and stumps off the road. One of them stood and watched. The other dragged a couple branches then stood and watched as well. They claimed to have no chain saw themselves. Said they were waiting for another County truck to arrive with a chain saw. ... Eventually, the guy with the chain saw busted his saw as the fallen tree slipped down the bank. Luckily a lane's-width of the road was clear and with an "after you" "no, after you" the cars and trucks made their ways through the gap and off to their destinations.

We arrived at our B&B (The Country Inn Bed and Breakfast) on Main Street in Fort Bragg in the pouring rain, after five. We carried our bag in and settled in for a bit before heading off to dinner at Mendo Bistro, our reason for going to Fort Bragg in the first place. We drove to dinner even though the distance was only about four blocks because the rain was savage and we didn't want to get soaked.

Mendo Bistro is open seven days a week from 5-9 p.m. upstairs at the Company Store, Main and Redwood. We showed up some time after six and ordered. When we saw Nicholas Petti come up the stairs, we asked our server to tell him we wanted to talk with him.

"Hi," he said.
"Hi, I'm Sal," I said just as Nicholas was saying, "You're Sal."

I'd warned him we were coming back again and had promised we'd snag him this time so he'd know the face of the person he'd exchanged e-mails with. We chatted for a bit as we were scarfing up his crab cakes. Oh, those crab cakes ...

Turned out we'd lucked into the first evening Nicholas'crab cakes had been on his menu this season.

Delish, delish, delish. Fat, soft, 99% crab, served with a light tarragon aioli and a vinegary tart cabbage salad. The crab cake ingredients are simply crab, a bit of bread crumbs (not much) and finely-chopped green onions with the tarragon aioli to hold everything together. We both started with crab cakes.

His nibs had Grilled Venison Leg with Chestnut Spaetzle and Cranberry Sauce. The spaetzle reminded me that I make spaetzle far too seldom. Spaetzle is comfort food for his nibs. The cranberry sauce was a smooth, not chunky, sauce with what might have been five-spice seasoning. Tasty. I had the special which was chicken stuffed with wild mushroms with a wild mushroom sauce. The chicken was juicy and flavorful. Delish. Both entrees came with seasonal vegetables. Mine had mashed potatoes. Takes a brave chef to put brussel sprouts on a plate. We happen to love brussel sprouts. We had a bottle of the Costa Vineyards Pinot Noir (MB serves only local county wines) with dinner.

For dessert, I chose a small glass of Esterlina port because I tend to get headaches if I eat sweet desserts after having wine with dinner. His nibs opted, with my encouragement, for the Candy Cap Mushroom Creme Brulee with Spicy Chocolate Bark. After one snitched taste from his serving, I kicked myself for deciding to have port instead of ordering the creme brulee. The dessert was perfect -- a rich, smooth custard topped with burnt sugar, which you'd expect, but the addition of the Candy Cap mushrooms gave the dessert a subtle mapley-wintery-earthy taste that's hard to describe.

This Is A Dessert Worthy Of Five Stars.

And Nicholas Petti was even nicer than he needed to be.

Next morning, our innkeeper served us coffee, squeezed orange juice and a breakfast frittata with slices of cantaloupe alongside. The frittata was excellent, a nice blend of bread, egg, sausage, apple and cinnamon. She served the frittata with a small jug of maple syrup, but honestly, it was sweet enough all on its own.

After breakfast, we headed north in the fog with me freaking out as we rounded curves on the highway at the edge of the coast. As the road got narrower, we turned around and came back to Fort Bragg through Inglenook and Cleone and then on to Caspar and Caspar South and the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse where we stopped a spell

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and walked down to the restored Point Cabrillo lighthouse

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and chatted with the volunteer there, then up to the museum in a former assistant lightkeeper's house.

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The folks who restored and run the lighthouse and museum rent out one of the lightkeeper's houses if you want to be away from it all. Not cheap, but what a getaway that would be!

From Point Cabrillo, we carried on to the Mendocino Headlands and Little River Beach and Big River Beach, then circled back to Mendocino for some holiday shopping. I found the perfect gift for one of our giftees.

We rested up a bit at the Country Inn before we headed out to dinner. The question was, did we want to eat elsewhere or were the crab cakes and Candy Cap mushroom creme brulee calling too loudly?

We walked into town, stopping in at the North Coast Brewing Company to sample some of their wares. Tuesday was $1 taco night and the tacos did smell yummy. The place was full of locals -- a gang of six guys who seemed to be grabbing a dinner after work, two older couples, a couple sets of young couples. A guy at the bar had three glasses of Old Rasputin in front of him as he read MERCHANT OF DEATH. (Three glasses isn't really =that= many as 10 oz is the largest glass of Old Rasputin they'll serve.)

But in the end we couldn't resist returning to Mendo Bistro. We both, again, had crab cakes for an appetizer. We both had the Candy Cap mushroom creme brulee for dessert. This evening, though, his nibs opted for the fish of the evening (yellowfin, iirc), grilled, with Dijon-Tarragon Cream. I had the Braised Short Ribs served with Root Vegetable Hash and brussel sprouts. We shared a bottle of Navarro Pinot Noir. Neither of us was disappointed with our choices. Far from it. We have not had anything but tasty food at Mendo Bistro and Nicholas serves up healthy portions as well. Yummy. Good value. Worth a trip north.

The next morning at the Country Inn, our innkeeper served baked eggs on a bed of artichoke hearts with sourdough toast and garlic-rosemary country-fried potatoes with coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

I heartily recommend the Country Inn. Our room was comfortable and clean. If we'd wanted to indulge, there's a hot tub out on the deck. It's a short walk to the center of town and (of course) Mendo Bistro. The breakfasts were superb. We took advantage of the Inn's special which we found on the Web: book two nights Sunday through Thursday and your room (without a fireplace) is $50/night. Wow.

We drove straight home on Wednesday because we had to be somewhere at 4:30p. -- straight across 20 to Willits and then down 101 to San Francisco. Total time, including a stop for gasoline, three and a half hours.

Why don't we do this more often?

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