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California Report: Glorious food and wine, horrible wildfires


Marilyn came to dinner yesterday at my place in Oakland, continuing a tradition we’ve had for 30 years. It was a warm-to-hot day: glorious for me, too warm for her, as she’s born and raised in Pacifica, on the ocean, where the climate is considerably colder and wetter than here in inland Oakland. I thrive on a 90-degree day; she hates it, but on the other hand, when I visit her, I must remember to bring layers, particularly if we’re walking the dogs on the beach.

Here’s my menu. I called it “An Impeachment Dinner” because both of us are waiting for the day when Mr. Trump and his Basket of Deplorables no longer are around:

Old-fashioned pea coup with shu-mei dumpling

Ahi tuna poke salad

Rieussec “R 2017 Sauvignon Blanc

Wild Mushroom and Burrata Bruschetta

Longoria 2011 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir


I always make my own pea soup (with a ham hock, of course) and I daresay it’s the best I’ve ever had. The idea of crowning the bowl with a shu-mei came to me in a flash. I buy my shu-mei (and other dumplings and Chinese pastries) from a little hole-in-the-wall bakery in Chinatown; it has no tables but always there’s a line out the door onto the sidewalk. I thought putting a shu-mei into the soup would make it the fusion equivalent of Jewish chicken soup with a matzoh ball. It was fantastic; highly recommended.

We followed that with the ahi tuna poke salad. I used to serve my ahi tuna on a chip of some kind (potato, shrimp) or on toasted bruschetta but lately I’ve preferred mixing it into a salad: greens, cukes, little cherry tomatoes, avocado, sprouts, and in this case I threw in some persimmon seeds because they’re in season; the sweetness added a marvelous layer.

The wine was unusual, the first time I’ve ever had Rieussec’s “R”. Chateau Rieussec is, of course, a 1er Grand Cru of Sauternes; located next to Chateau Yquem, it’s one of the great sweet wines of the world. But they also make “R”, a bone-dry wine, from the same grape varieties: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. I absolutely loved it: it was what the French call sere, very dry, with great, mouthwatering acidity and subtle but powerful citrus and herb flavors. A wonderful wine, and it paired well with both the pea soup and the poke salad.

I knew I wanted the Longoria Pinot Noir for my third course, but spent the better part of a day trying to figure out the food. I thought of lamb, naturally, but that seemed a little heavy, after the first two courses (both very rich). Gillian, one of my pals from improv, and an amateur chef, suggested mushroom duxelles, and for a while, that was my choice. But later I switched courses and decided instead on a variation, the mushroom and burrata on bruschetta. I marinated the sliced shiitakes for a couple hours in garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, salt, pepper and EVOO; that imparted a delicate, savory kick. Then sautéed them for a few minutes before topping the rustic, toasted long bread (from Acme) and scooping on a blob of the sweet, creamy burrata. A sprinkle of toasted black sesame seeds provided visual interest.

Very good, and the pairing with the Pinot was really perfect. This Pinot was eight years old. That’s a pretty safe age for a top-quality California Pinot Noir. Rick Longoria, an old friend, is a master winemaker, and the Bien Nacido Vineyard is, obviously, one of the best and most famous in the New World. So I had very little doubt it would be great, and it was. It was bone dry, so it made a nice followup to the dry “R,” and was subtle in fruit, herbs and earth. The vintage, 2011, was a tough one: cold and wet. But many vintners succeeded in making red wines that were not as fruit-bomby as usual, to the credit of the wines. The Longoria was a connoisseur’s wine: not immediately flattering, but complex, slowly revealing its charms, and a spectacular accompaniment to the bruschetta. Then, for dessert, I took the easy way out: bought a bunch of different kinds of cookies.

The wind really picked up last night: the Red Flag Warning was apt. PG&E has, as I write, shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people, but—also as I write—there’s a huge, out-of-control fire in Sonoma County, east of Geyserville and Cloverdale (they’re calling it the Kinkade Fire). I just emailed Jo and Jose Diaz, who live in those hills. They’ve been evacuated before (during the Wine County Fires of 2017), and I hope they’re not evacuated again; but I fear they have been.

As if that’s not bad enough, the weather forecast for this weekend—two or three days hence—is for even fiercer winds, comparable to those that drove the Wine Country Fires which, as you know, were absolutely devastating. One thing I don’t know (because it hasn’t been reported) is whether or not PG&E shut off the power in the area of the Kinkade Fire. I suppose we’ll find out shortly.

So that’s the irony or paradox of our glorious Autumn weather: the most beautiful in the world, but so perilous, with these awful fires that ride the offshore winds and continue as long as those winds blow.

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