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Wine notes #1

DavisbynumSo en route to Sea Ranch we made a slight detour up Westside Road to drop in on perhaps our favorite winery, Davis Bynum. We generally prefer Sonoma to Napa wineries, and Davis Bynum embodies all the reasons why. It’s family-owned, and despite being barely more than a mom-and-pop operation, they churn out phenomenal wines with great character. They are best known (and rightfully so) for their incredible Pinot Noirs (my fave!) but they produce some very respectable other varietals and a meritage as well. Of the various pinots they produce, each is distinct and remarkable in its own way. The Russian River Valley pinot is classic in form, full of fruit and black pepper; their estate Lindley’s Knoll Vineyard is more in the French idiom, leathery, earthy and smoky. We didn’t get to try the very coveted Le Pinot ($100/bottle!), but we’ve had it in the past and it’s (almost) worth the price. We picked up a couple bottles and joined the club.

This week is shaping up to be a major wine extravaganza. Aside from the Bynums, we brought a few items from the depths of our rack. So far we’ve had:

1997 York Creek Meritage
We found a split of this wine in a wine store in San Francisco that was going out of business. No real bargain, but just a great find. This wine was incredible — garnet red fading to black, with a seriously heady bouquet of dried fruits and plums. It had an almost port-like quality. And amazingly it retained much of its structure — it could have sat for another couple of years and not suffered in the least. This was was so big, I’m glad we only had a split. A whole bottle would have been difficult to tackle.

1997 Chateau St Jean Cabernet Franc
We love cab franc, and have been ferreting away a couple of ’97s for just such an occasion as this. Our timing was perfect — the wine still held its structure but clearly was just at (or even very slightly after) its peak, yet the chalky dryness and overpowering perfuminess of cab franc had mellowed nicely. Also almost black in color, it tasted like the best blueberry pie you’ve ever had, with faint hints of spice and chocolate. Worth the wait.

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Postcard from the edge

Greetings from lovely Sea Ranch!

I know you regular readers (both of you) have been wondering about my radio silence over the past few days. DPaul and I have pulled up stakes and spirited ourselves away to our favorite local getaway up on the northern California coast for some much-needed downtime.

We’ve been all over, but Sea Ranch remains the one destination we return to repeatedly when we want to recharge the batteries. It is in my mind the ideal destination — beautiful, unspoiled and utterly devoid of activities that might tempt one to put down the wine glass get off the couch.

We’ve been fortunate with weather so far; it’s been sunny and warm, if windy, and the views out to sea have been spectacular. Temperatures are dropping quickly, though — we had frost this morning, and there’s even a chance of snow this weekend. That’s ok with us though. Just put another log on the fire.

TSRA (includes maps)
Rams Head Realty (where we rent from)

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Shopping out a new market in Noe Valley

I read with great interest in the Noe Valley Voice an article, "Noe Valley Hungers for a Locally Owned Grocery." (Also picked up in With Real Food closed for 2-1/2 years and now Bell Market on the selling block, we are in grave danger of being left without a real grocery store in the entirety of the neighborhood; the closest ones would be Safeway at Mission/30th or Diamond Heights and Mollie Stones in the former Tower Market up on Portola. Not such great options if you don’t own a car.

Mind you, I won’t weep when Bell goes away. Every single time I have ever gone in there with a list of items — basic things, mind you — they inevitably don’t have at least one. Last time I went in for lemons, cucumber and ginger ale. They didn’t have ginger ale. I mean, really.

The article delves into prospective interest on the part of the owners of the former MikeyTom, another long-vacant space, and the possibility of them going in with fixture Drewes Brothers meat market. Somewhat surprisingly, I have heard no inkling whatsoever about Sammy from Bi-Rite staking a claim in the space.

Whoever does take over Bell Market, I hope they have the wherewithall and savvy to serve the needs of the entire neighborhood — stocking both basics and gourmet/organic/local goods, with a fair balance of price and selection. There’s enough bad blood in Noe Valley around the long-term closure of Real Food that the business is in jeopardy even if they do complete renovations and reopen. We need a grocery store that can be an anchor to the neighborhood’s economy and community.

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Chocolates for V-Day or any day

RecchuitiValentine’s Day is just around the corner, but it’s not too late to wow your loved one with something sweet. Chocolate may seem like a pedestrian gift, but as I’ve written in the past, San Francisco is home to some of the most refined and remarkable chocolatiers and confectioners around. And no, I’m not talking about Ghirardelli.

As friend and fellow blogger Billy Kolber-Stuart notes, French chocolatier RICHART makes some of the most exquisite creations around. Personally, I love their Petits RICHART collection, delicate bite-sized truffles categorized in seven flavor groupings — balsamic, citrus, floral, fruity, herbal, roasted and spiced — with seven flavors per. Each truffle is decorated with a unique pattern to distinguish it. Tho not every flavor succeeds equally, many are surprisingly good; I particularly liked the herbal and floral flavors.

But for my money — and money is of the essence when shopping at Richart — I prefer one local artisan above all others. Recchiuti Confections makes truffles with inspired flavor combinations, albeit perhaps not as fastidiously organized as Richart’s.  Each piece is a work of art, some screened with patterns in the Richart idiom, others more free-form. My favorites include Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn; Pearl Mint Tea; and Burnt Caramel, which you can buy by the jarful (and eat by the spoonful).

Since I wrote that story, a few newcomers have entered the scene. I guess I’ll have to pick up my research where I left it off. It’s hard work, but someone’s got to do it.

The Best Chocolates for Valentine’s Day [BillyKnowsBest]What’s New [SFGate]

393 Sutter St

Recchiuti Confections
Ferry Building, shop #30

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Perfect pizzas

Like pizza? Come check out our more recent pizza posts: White pizza and pizza quattro stagioni.

PizzaIn honor of the opening of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, we hosted a few friends for an Italian evening of wine and pizza. We love making homemade pizza; our stone lives in the oven pretty much full-time. I picked up a lovely 1998 Barolo to kick the evening off, and the pizza party began. Last night's lineup:

Pizza #1
Marinara sauce
Sautéed onions
Mozzarella (low-moisture, not fresh)

Pizza #2
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Black pepper
Pecorino tartufo
Sautéed mushrooms

Pizza #3
Marinara sauce
Sautéed onions
Baby arugula (scattered over the top after the pizza comes out of the oven)

Pizza #4
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Black pepper
Asian pear
Gorgonzola dolce

Since this was an after-work event, we cheated and had a guest pick up a ball of dough at a local pizzeria — most will do this, and it costs just a few dollars. However, pizza dough is easy to make, and handy to have around. You can make it a day ahead and leave to rest in the fridge, which lends to thinner, crisper crust; or you can cut it into smaller balls and freeze them for last-minute pizza prep. Our foolproof pizza dough recipe:

Just under 3 c. bread flour
1 c. warm water
1 pkg instant yeast
1 Tbsp oil
Small pinch of sugar
Heavy pinch of salt

Preheat oven to as hot as you can get it.  In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Add water and oil; mix.  If you have a stand mixer, knead with dough hooks for five to seven minutes, until pliable.  Otherwise, knead by hand for 15-20 minutes.  Shape the dough into a ball and set in a lightly oiled bowl, covered, until it's doubled in size.  Punch down the dough and knead to redistribute bubbles.  Cut in half and let rest for several minutes.  Roll each half out, alternating direction ot maintain an even, round shape.  If dough snaps back, let rest for a few minutes more.

Sprinkle flour or corn meal lightly on the pizza peel.  Gently lay one round of dough on the peel, and arrange toppings; a light hand is essential here.  Give the peel a gentle shake to make sure the pizza doesn't stick, open the oven door and gently slide the pizza directly onto the pizza stone.  Bake until bottom is crusty, seven to 12 minutes.

[Photo: DPaul Brown, from our cookbook]

Related: Elise of Simply Recipes posts her own perfect pizzas to please her 8-year-old nephew. Pam at Project Foodie takes on an escarole-stuffed pizza with our dough recipe.

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