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Remember my recent interview with Stefan Richter I posted on these pages just last week? Little did I know the article would open the gates to some SUPER KEWL STUFF like making ice-cream with liquid nitrogen.

Ok, so maybe it’s not that titillating and super-duper-exhilarating to you. In America you kids get to play with such cool things at your high school lab. However, in post-communistic Poland, where I pushed myself three levels up the educational ladder, there were no funds for such excess. We had books… lots of books, literature, graphs, exercise books, and then physical education. We shared one projector between many classrooms and we lacked props and toilet paper in the restrooms. It wasn’t that bad. We had electricity.

Um, where was I? The interview, yes. Having read the post, Jason Fullilove, an executive chef of Da Vinci Restaurant in Beverly Hills contacted me inquiring if I would review his fancy joint. I hesitated because, let’s be honest, I’m no food critic. I like food, love making it (the food, too), and I’ve been trying to build a career out of that art form as well. Does that mean I have the right to tell people where to spend their hard-earned dollars on food? Yes. No? Maybe.

Nonetheless, I was intrigued enough to do a quick search. I found Jason Fullilove’s bio along with a description of his new high-end food court in the world-famous Beverly Hills. There it was in black and white, clear as the day, bright as the sun in the morning sky, in the chef’s own words:

“We focus on seasonal ingredients purchased locally, modern cooking techniques – like liquid nitrogen – and hyper modern cuisine to increase the flavor and experience.”

LIQUID NITROGEN. Hello! Instantly, I wanted to get into Jason’s kitchen to play chemistry assistant in his food lab so I could blog about it later. I was sold. Well, to be perfectly honest, he had me at his name. JASON. FULLILOVE. And a chef at that. It just doesn’t get any better. The food MUST be amazing at this place, I thought. I grabbed my Jason The Life-Partner and off we went to Da Vinci.

We were seated at the Dean Martin booth, as the rat pack member apparently was a regular at the venue back in the 70’s.

Dean Martin's Booth at Da Vinci Restaurant in Beverly Hills

The place is proud of its history, for its history is dense and curvy. The owner, who mooned over the main floor throughout the evening, eagerly shared stories with us. I would gladly pass them on to you if it weren’t for the excellent choice of wine we were offered at the table: KENWOOD JACK LONDON 30th ANNIVERSARY, CABERNET SAUVIGNON, SONOMA, 2006 – $13/glass. After the second serving of god’s nectar certain details just didn’t sink in.

Chef Fullilove (I can’t get enough of saying it out loud. Admit it, you’re smitten, too!) came out of his kitchen to greet us and shortly thereafter disappeared behind a pair of SQUEEEEAKY doors adjacent to our booth. Minutes later THE SHOW BEGAN.

Just as you’ve seen a million times in various animated cartoons, a river of crisp white plates appeared floating in a single file line from the kitchen chambers, through the SQUEEEAKY door, around the corner, and straight onto our table. Ok, maybe it was a waitress carrying the dishes, but to me it seemed just as magical as the moving pictures on a TV screen when I was five.

One course after another we ploughed through the feast, starting with a basket of fresh, house-made bread. Let me just pause here for a moment to honor each slice with a minute of silence, as I haven’t enjoyed bread this much since leaving my motherland in Europe close to a decade ago. Chef Fullilove explained to me that the secret to such voluptuous texture and round flavor hides in the amount of time the starter is given to develop, about a month.

We tried and tasted, smacked and swallowed, chomped and chewed through all 175 courses (or so). The festival seemed endless; hence I decided to narrow it down to what we thought were the highlights of the night.

Heirloom Beet Salad w/Humbolt Fog Goat Cheese & Pistachio Vinaigrette

It was more than just a Beet Salad. It was a summer romance you wish could last through winter.

Grilled Asparagus w/Chick Pea Puree & Blistered Teardrop Tomatoes

If you’re anything like me, when you hear Chick Pea Puree, your brain automatically turns toward the Middle East in search of pita to scoop your hummus. You could not be more surprised with this appetizer – it tastes nothing like hummus. It also came with deep fried cherry tomatoes. Their skin was crisp like a chip, while the tomato itself took on a flavor metamorphosis I had never witnessed before. Enticing.

Pan-Roasted Sablefish with New Potatoes and Crab Hash

Perfectly crispy skin covers the most velvety and delectable flesh of this white fish served over new potato and baptized with crab hash. Oh, so luxurious.

At that point, after three additional, house-made pasta dishes (and you know what pasta does in your tummy – EXPLODES!), Jason and I were rapidly reaching the critical point of saturation. Secretly, we slid our hands under the veil of the tablecloth and loosened our belts and buttons hoping to find more storage.

Then we heard a drum-roll and the Royalty arrived.

Colorado Spring Lamb Duo w/ house-cured Lamb Bacon & Fennel Puree

I can’t even begin to describe the perfection of this dish. It’s an ode to lamb embellished with house-cured lamb bacon. The meat cooked perfectly – it melted in our mouths. Each bite was silky and rich, ecstatic and comforting. Chef Jason’s dish bequeathed the lamb a second, and who knows if not better life. I will never forget that first bite. Absolutely brilliant!

When the waitress arrived with the desserts, she had to pull us out from underneath the table where we had slid unable to sit upright any longer. When supine, there seemed to be less pressure put on the walls of our four-chambered stomachs.

Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta with Butter Cookie Crumbs

Decadent and delightful. Impeccable presentation.

The night was spectacular. Not only were we served a superb meal of the highest quality (and well beyond our storage limits), but also, and maybe most importantly, it was a celebration of food in general. It was a feast reminding me of my European roots. Not once were we rushed through the courses. In the end, we spent almost THREE hours at the restaurant being allowed to savor and indulge. The chef himself joined us at last and tasted his own sweet creations. I felt home.

The very next day, I went back to snoop around (with chef’s Fullilove’s permission) Da Vinci’s kitchen. He let me take a few pictures of liquid nitrogen in action. Before my very eyes, with the excitement of a six-year old (that would be me), Jason Fullilove made a batch of Mango and then Green-Tea Ice-cream.

Liquid Nitrogen freezing mango and cheese

Mango in Three States of Being after a treatment using liquid nitrogen

The high pitched squeal you heard last Monday, circa 3:30 pm, was me not being able to hold the excitement inside any longer.

Boy, did we have fun at Da Vinci. Thank you, Jason Fullilove. You truly are full of love and it shows in every dish you create. Bravo!

Valentine’s, shmalentines. If he loves you, you better not let him get away with a lousy bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates once a year. I’m saying “HE” as I have a “HE”. Your SHE is to express her love for you just as spontaneously and uncontrollably as my HE. And he does. Jason doesn’t buy me flowers for any specific occasions. He shows up at the threshold of our home with a fragrant bomb of fresh flowers whenever I reach the darkest depth of despair. (In other words, I’m feeling low.)

We also have established a versatile set of I-love-yous: for Good Morning and Good Bye; Thank you, Baby, I-love-you; on the phone: I’ll talk to you later, I-love-you; when experiencing sudden ebb of chest-expanding feelings unrelated to moon phases: I LOVE YOU! And last but not least, at night, after wishing each other sweet dreams back and forth three times and in 2 languages, he whispers into my ear with a perfect Polish accent: KOCHAM CIE [pronounced: koh-hahm tchyeh, more or less].

Love has settled like dust in every corner of our house. It oozes out of every steaming pot of food I make, it comforts our bare feet as we walk on our vacuumed carpets, it forgives the dances in the nude, it folds loads of laundry, and it tries really hard to ignore the soundtrack of cheerful and very confident farts in the background after one of those healthy meals. Love is always in the AIR. How timely for Sade to release a brand new album after close to a decade!

See, we don’t really feel the need to exchange Valentine’s cards. We both feel loved twentyfourseven on any given calendar day. It just so happened that we spent the Valentine’s Day this year in one of the most romantic destinations in the US – Napa Valley.

Jason was summoned to San Francisco for work this past weekend, and I simply tagged along. There was no Valentine’s Day plotting involved, no romance a’la carte.

As he was done with his duties on Sunday, we rented a car and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge heading north to visit both Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

It seems as the time stops up north. The Sun and Earth are still happily married and continue to bear their offspring across the golden fields and rolling hills. We stood on the side of a road and witnessed their bond, inhaled the love heavily sprayed in the air by ubiquitous blooming flowers, heard the birds exchange their KOCHAM CIE’s in their own tongue, and we were silent.

Now, do you still need a Valentine’s card? Or maybe that’s just us. I did, however, make a FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE for my coworkers, with a drizzle of RASPBERRY SAUCE. Oh, heavens! Chocolate and fresh raspberries together truly is a marriage made in heaven, or in the garden if you must. The sweet but tart flavor of the sauce strikes against the depth of the chocolate comfort, thus sending a ticklish shiver down one’s spine. If there is food with orgasmic qualities, this dessert certainly represents that group honorably.

Let me walk you through the few steps the cake requires. If you are organized, you will have made the cake and cleaned up the kitchen within one short hour. I use only organic ingredients. If they are not easily available in your area, at least choose the best quality items. It is worth it.

Ingredients:

-       5 egg yolks

-       5 egg whites

-       1 stick of butter

-       5 oz semi-sweet chocolate

-       1/2 cup raw cane sugar

-       1/2 tsp instant coffee

-       1/2 tsp kosher salt

-       1/2 tsp cardamom

-       1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Draw a 9” circle on a sheet of parchment paper and cut it out. Spray the bottom of a 9” round baking sheet with a non-stick spray, place the parchment paper in, and spray once again on its surface. Put aside. Preheat your oven to 325°.

In a double boiler melt together chocolate and butter; then add coffee, cardamom, and vanilla, mix well and don’t let it boil. As soon as the mixture is liquid and coherent, take it off the heat and let it cool until the rest of your cake components are ready.

In a large bowl beat together egg whites, using a hand-held mixer, and slowly add half of your sugar and salt. When the egg whites create soft peaks, they’re done. In a separate, smaller bowl beat the egg yolks together with the remaining sugar until they form a creamy and tick cream, and sugar is mostly dissolved.

Gently combine the egg yolks and the egg whites together, and slowly start adding your melted chocolate mixture in the eggs. Using a spatula gently fold everything together until it is a coherent chocolaty mass. Do not stir. Do not violently mix it. Simply fold all the elements together, patiently, with love, in one direction. It may take you about 5 minutes.

When the mixture is ready, pour it into the prepared baking pan and put in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes and then remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

It’s best when chilled overnight in a refrigerator and served either with fresh strawberries or my RASPBERRY SAUCE:

Thaw out a bag of frozen raspberries, place them in a small saucepan and add 3-4 tbsp of raw cane sugar (depending on the size of the package). Mix with a wooden spoon, throw in a few springs of fresh mint and let it simmer together for 10-15 minutes. About 5 minutes before it’s finished ad a few drizzles of good balsamic vinegar (1-1.5 tbsp) and mix again. When done, pour the raspberries with all the juices through a sieve to remove all seeds and obtain a perfectly smooth and silky RASPBERRY SAUCE.

Sensational!

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