On Friday, I drove an hour south to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, picked up my friend Shannon, and together we drove the half hour or so west to the coast.
I love the ocean, and living so close to the Pacific, it is odd that I spend more time on Atlantic ocean beaches each year for work than I do on our own coast for enjoyment.
Note to self: get to the beach more often.
The salty smell of the air, and something more deep yet subtle, the powerful smell of the ocean itself with the water, fish and plant life mixed into a living and dying smell, it always gets to me. I connect with the unseen, but very felt, energy of the ocean…and I get hungry.
Both Shannon and I were hungry, and we turned north at the coast and shortly pulled into Lucas Wharf. Lucas Wharf features a restaurant, an island themed deli, and fresh fish cut up and sold right off boats.
I wanted a crab sandwich, and the restaurant’s menu didn’t offer one so we went to the island deli where years before I bought delicious dungeness crab sandwiches, sliced sourdough bread brimming barely containing a thousand island dressing like cocktail sauced bounty of sweetly delicious fresh dungeness (the best) crab.
The island deli was new to me, replacing the deli that had made the delicious crab sandwich previously, but it too offered a crab sandwich, so I was in.
Shannon ordered shrimp and chips, I ordered the crab sandwich, and we picked up two bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale to wash it all down with.
While waiting for our food, I stepped outside out of habit. Although I haven’t had a cigarette this year, I still have the habit of going outside while waiting for something. Instead of smoking, I breathed in the rich moist air. The smell of fresh fish for sale made me take a small walk to look at the fish. I thought about how nice it would be to cook some of the great looking fish being offered.
Back inside, our food came. The fare was rather pedestrian. The food tasted good, but wasn’t anything remarkably special; Shannon’s shrimp and chips was just that, shrimp and chips. My crab sandwich was nothing like I had in mind when I ordered it, instead of delicious sweet fresh crab between slices of tasty bread, I got what looked like a “crabby patty” cooked by Spongebob Squarepants, a fried crab cake served on a bun, burger like. Honestly, it was disappointing.
Our deli server brought a sauce that was made in house, and recommended that I try it on my burger. A passion-fruit and chili blend, sweet and hot, textured and layered, it was okay on the crab burger, but brought to mind many possible better pairings.
Shannon had recently said that she would like me to cook a meal for her. Earlier in the week, another friend, Bill, had taken Shannon, Linda and me to dinner in Windsor. I asked Shannon if she would like me to cook dinner at Linda’s house, where Shannon is staying, and if she thought Bill and Linda could join us. With a couple of phone calls, Shannon had everything set up.
After lunch, Shannon and I went outside to look at the fish. I was torn between some beautiful Copper River salmon from Alaska (I last tasted Copper River Salmon at the Original Fish Market when working the Three River Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, and it was flavorfully delicious) and some ling cod fresh off local boats.
I really wanted the salmon, it was what I had in mind, but local and fresh off the boat won out, and we picked up some beautiful ling cod fillets.
Before leaving Lucas Wharf, I also left with the most important purchase of the day, an 8 ounce jar of the passion-fruit chili sauce.
Shannon and I went up the road, found an uncrowded beach, and took a nice walk. The walk might have been longer, but I was anxious to pick up some groceries and get back to Santa Rosa to start prepping dinner.
We stopped at the Fir Crest market in Sebastopol for additional provisions. In short order, we had assembled carrots, two Mexican papayas, green onions, purple cabbage, grape tomatoes, a bottle of quality Teriyaki, and a bottle of 2007 Rick Sayre Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Not much later, I was in Linda’s kitchen and the prep began. I intended to make a Thai style Som Tom shredded green papaya salad. The inspiration was the sauce of passion-fruit and chili from the island deli on the coast. I wanted to plate the salad and rest a piece of Teriyaki marinated salmon on top. Lots of flavors on one plate, all playing beautifully with the dusty rose petal and warm cherry notes of the Pinot.
That was the meal I put together in my head at Lucas Wharf tasting the sauce and smelling the fish. I made some changes, but here’s what I did – so you can do it too.
First, pour one bottle of quality Teriyaki over 4 fresh ling cod fillets as a marinade, put in fridge.
Open the Pinot, pour a glass to swirl and smell, noticing changes as it opens up. Pouring a glass also increases the surface area for the wine to touch air, allowing breathing to hasten. Bring on the nose and mouth treats.
I peeled the papaya, scooped the seeds out, and grated the papaya into a large bowl. The Mexican papayas were not green, were very ripe, and did not grate so much as smoosh wetly through the grater. After smoosh grating the papaya into the bowl, I pressed the moisture out of the papaya by hand and poured the liquid out. To the drier papaya, I added two grated carrots, 3 thinly sliced green onions, and 1/2 of a cored and super thin sliced purple cabbage. I added about 3 ounces of the magic passion-fruit chili sauce, some salt and pepper, and tossed it all to mix and dress the slaw type salad. I moistened a towel, covered the salad, and put it into the fridge to sit and allow the flavors to marry.
Prep done, Linda arrived home and quickly the Pinot I intended for dinner was in three glasses. Bill arrived and the Pinot was in four glasses. The Frasier in me regretted that the wine was going to be gone before dinner, the regular guy in me was thrilled that I was with 3 friends and that the wine was being enjoyed. Some say red with meat, white with fish; I say any wine goes best with friends. Let go, and things work out fine. Letting go means that the Rodney Strong Chardonnay Bill brought was going to be served with dinner and was going to be great.
Linda and Bill were hungry after working all day, so we fired up the oven, and put aluminum foil over a broiling pan (to make clean up easier). With the oven at 350 degrees, we placed the fish skin side down on the foil and baked it for 25 minutes.
Just before the fish was finished, I gave the salad a final toss, then plated the salad evenly on four dishes. I sliced some grape tomatoes in half and used them as edible decoration around the outside of the salad. Then I rested the baked Teriyaki ling cod atop the bed of thai style salad.
Dinner was great. Great food, great wine, great friends. We decided to head over to John Barleycorn’s for dessert, and to see another high school friend who was working as a bartender. We saw our friend John, but there was no chocolate mousse at Barleycorn’s.
Note to self: The Villa will make chocolate mousse even if out. Never ending chocolate mousse.
Saturday morning, I awoke at 3:00 AM to head out and set up my booth so I could sell my handcrafted art topped wine bottle stoppers at the Sunnyvale Art and Wine Festival.
I worked all day without a break and was quite hungry when I was allowed to close up at 6:00 PM.
I had an invitation to a graduation party for the daughter of another friend Rachelle. I had known Rachelle since the 4th grade when we attended Mark West Elementary school in northern Santa Rosa. In addition to Rachelle, I was going to get to see another High School friend, Nancy. Nancy is now the tasting room manager for Schmidt Family Vineyards in Oregon.
Before going to the party and seeing my friends, I needed to get some food, check into my surprisingly wonderful hotel, get a shower and change into a suit. Food was the biggest priority.
Near the Domain hotel, I found a Korean restaurant, pulled in and ordered pork bulgogi to-go. I spent a year in Korea, love Korean food, and knew that my hunger would be sated. I would check in to my room and eat dinner.
Jang Tu restaurant, un-fancy on the outside, tucked into a strip mall, has food was beyond adequate. The pork bulgogi, marinated in soy and sesame, and barbecued with garlic, onions and green peppers, was the best I’ve ever had, the absolutely most delicious. The rice that came with it tasted good. I’ve not smoked in over 5 months, but I was surprised to find the rice delicious. I also enjoyed the accompanying kim chi greatly. Chop-sticking a bit of pork, and rice, and cabbage into my mouth, the flavors all delicious, somehow the sum greater than it’s parts, I achieved a near nirvana experience.
The food was so absolutely delicious that i almost went back and ordered another meal, but I wanted to see my fiends more. Barely. That was some fine Korean grub.
The graduation party was an amazing event. My friends both look beautiful, as did their daughters. Rachelle’s daughter Courtney, the graduate, was lovely, amazingly possed, yet unspoiled. Nancy’s daughter will not graduate from high school for about 15 years, Lia is just 3 years old. Lia is amazingly cute. I am envious of Nancy having a child small enough to hold; my own 12 year old son Charlie is taller than I am, we don’t cuddle much anymore.
I have a 2007 Applegate Valley Merlot from Nancy’s Vineyard that I look forward to sharing with some of Nancy’s other friends. I’ll have to build a dinner around it.
On Sunday, back working the Art and wine Festival on Murphy Street in Sunnyvale, I was visited by Chris Cesano and Jim Cesano. Chris is roughly my age, Jim is roughly the age my father would be. We must be related somewhere generations back, we must have common ancestors from Italy; although we don’t know how we are related, it is comforting to meet others with my last name. I am the oldest Cesano in my branch of our family. To keep this entry rolling along food-wise, Chris has promised me his grandmother’s recipes foe gnocchi and ravioli.
It is Monday, I am finally back at home and looking forward to seeing my son when he gets home from school.
All is right in my world.
Plans for my week:
Create an application video for my dream job,
Attend my son’s promotion from elementary to middle school on Wednesday,
Go to the island deli at Lucas Wharf on Friday.
That sauce has haunted me all weekend. I want to make another Som Tom salad. I want to toss chicken wings in it (it would be similar but superior to Buffalo Wild Wing’s Asian Zing sauce). I want it on eggs. I must buy more and reverse engineer the recipe.