Two food-filled days on the coast, part two
There is a quiet sort of peacefulness about mornings on Tomales Bay, wisps of damp fog tend to settle into the hills and between the branches of the eucalyptus trees towering over the winding coastal roads, fat drops of dew falling from above. Those sorts of days on the bay are oyster days in my opinion. The fact that the pearly grey of the sky and the gleaming, mercury colored, grey waters are identically the colors of the inside of an oyster shell are not lost on me. The fog, the same soft, muted grey of the oyster itself.
Sometimes it seems that everything on the Northern California coast has been colored in hues of oyster grey and as we pulled into Hog Island Oyster Farm, the setting indeed appeared as if painted with watercolors. Rustic picnic tables and a low, picket fence are a pale, washed out grey, like driftwood, faded after many years of bright sun and pounding, cold rain. The crushed, bleached-out oyster shells crunching beneath our feet, and the sand which formed the tiny crescent-shaped beach beyond, are all shades of ash, colorless, but beautiful. Hog Island is easily one of the most breathtaking spots to while away an afternoon while indulging in oysters by the dozen, eaten within view of the bay beds in which they were just plucked.
Excited picnickers – mostly daytrippers from the City – were already arriving, unloading cheeses and breads, wine, and goodies for the grill from their coolers. We were just winging it, simply wanting to sit and stare at the view, to have some oysters as a pre-lunch snack. We chose to order our provisions from the boat-shaped bar; pristine raw beauties, shucked professionally and nestled on crushed ice, a hunk of buttery local cheese and my favorite yeasty baguette from Petaluma’s Della Fattoria…bubbles from Napa’s Schramsberg winery, of course. To reserve your space for picnicking, which includes your own picnic table and charcoal-burning grill, be sure to call ahead. Hog Island can certainly be crowded, as it was even on this chilly April afternoon, but so much fun to see all the delicious local fare brought by the surrounding tables, to discover just how others eat their oysters, and to see everyone enjoying themselves so much. Our oysters, a dozen each of the teeny Kumamotos and the creamy Sweetwaters, were among some of the most perfect I have ever eaten. I can’t say if it was because of the superb job done shucking them or the fact that they were mere minutes from being brought from the sea, but I like to think it had something to do with slurping them down while overlooking the bay on a perfect oyster grey day.
Point Reyes is the type of town you would only find in Northern California and I love it. Only here, could you find an itsy-bitsy town miles from anywhere with lovely shops, a coffeehouse in a feed store – yup, a feed store – that solely grinds fair trade beans and makes an epic latte – with organic milk from Marin, of course! – a cheese shop loaded with gourmet goodies and incredible, locally produced cheeses, not to mention a beautifully designed restaurant with modern, skillfully prepared fare.
That restaurant is Osteria Stellina and it could easily compete with the top spots in Napa, but is right there in Point Reyes and that is where we were headed for lunch. The menu is Italian, but a coastal California interpretation of Italian. Sort of Portofino meets Point Reyes. The menu is a who’s who of local farmers and fishermen, just about everything here is from neighboring farms or the bay. The dining room feels really nice. It’s my sort of place. Clean lines and simple wood furnishings manage to feel cozy and comforting. Scents of wood smoke drift from the open kitchen and wildflowers sit prettily on a vintage sideboard, all brightened by the sunlight pouring in through the large windows overlooking the strangely bustling sidewalk.
The food is honest and soulful. The talented chefs in the kitchen here take a truly perfect ingredient and prepare it really simply, maybe a quick roast in the wood burning oven, a drizzle of super green local olive oil, or a scattering of fresh herbs. Oh, mucho Italiano. I have a thing for stinging nettles, the wild, leafy green with an earthy flavor much like spinach, but much more spinachy. Our first course of an ultra thin pizza, the crust a wonderful cross between chewy and crisp, topped with potato slices so thin you could see through them, gooey cheese and a puree of bright green nettles left me simply giddy. It was honestly happy-dance-inducing.
You’ll find more Italian inspiration in the vegetable dishes. A rustic, creamy colored Heath bowl was filled with Rancho Gordo Cannellini beans which were simmered to a state of creaminess, paired with slow-cooked winter chard. A generous drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of crunchy salt made this dish my favorite. Seafood dishes here are flawless. A briny stew of lavish shellfish, included clams, mussels and shrimp was quickly sautéed in white wine and a delicate fish stock. The simplicity of that stew was the ideal example of why I love Stellina. That and the homemade ice cream, promise me when you go you’ll get the homemade ice cream!
Hog Island Oyster farm is located at 20215 Highway 1 in Marshall. Visit hogislandoysters.com or call 415.663.9218 to obtain all the details regarding reservations or visiting the farm. Osteria Stellina is located in downtown Point Reyes. Call 415.663.9988 for hours and/or to make a reservation.
On The Menu
Quarter Acre Farm is offering shares of their 2012 season with their “Quarter Acre Farm CSA.” As a CSA member, you receive a box of the highest quality, just-picked vegetables each week for twenty-six weeks. A full share is only $26 per week. Call Andrea Davis at 415.533.3106 or email her at email@example.com.
• Chef Rob Larman is cooking up a yummy sounding “Prime Rib Dinner” at the Valley Wine Shack on Friday, April 20. The decadent menu starts with a chopped salad and then moves onto smoked and seared prime rib and finishes with – my favorite! – strawberry shortcake. The dinner is a bargain at $38 per person, with plenty of wines by the glass or bottle choices from the Wine Shack. Call 938.7218 for more information or to make your necessary reservations.
• A series of cooking classes hosted by notable area chefs and bakers are now being held at the Community Center’s Rotary Community Kitchen. Sonoma’s own Mike Zakowski, a.k.a the [bejkr], hosts his first in a series of four bread baking classes on Saturday, June 9. During “Introduction to Bread Baking” he will demonstrate break-baking techniques, including simple fermentation, the production of sour cultures, and more. For more information or to register for this or any other of these classes, call 938.4626, ext. 1 or visit sonomacommunitycenter.org.
• Out in the Vineyard’s “Gay Wine Weekend” is quickly approaching. During the weekend of June 15-17 there will be many festive events that include a welcome reception, wine dinners, a cabaret night at Sebastiani Winery, a brunch at the Eldorado Kitchen, and the weekend’s showpiece event, the always-fabulous Twilight Tea Dance. Find a full schedule of events and information on how to purchase your tickets at gaywineweekend.com.
Cannellini Beans and Greens
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 large bunch greens (such as mustard greens, kale, chard or broccoli rabe; about 1 pound), thick stems removed, cut into 1-inch strips (about 10 cups packed)
1 cup (or more) vegetable broth or low-salt chicken broth
2 cups cooked Cannellini beans (preferably Rancho Gordo)
1 teaspoon (or more) Sherry wine vinegar
Good quality coarse salt
Fresh ground pepper
Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over low heat. Add garlic and dried crushed pepper; stir until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute. (Do not allow to burn or toast) Add greens by large handfuls; stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more, tossing with tongs to coat with oil. Add 1 cup broth, cover, and simmer until greens are just tender, adding more broth by tablespoonfuls if dry, 1 to 10 minutes, depending on type of greens. Add beans; simmer uncovered until beans are heated through and liquid is almost absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, and more vinegar if desired; drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and serve.
Kristin’s most delicious event pick of the week
A cooking class entitled “An Evening with Ronda Giangreco and Lisa Lavagetto” at Ramekins that any food-loving Sonoman shouldn’t miss will be held on Wednesday, May 9, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The book, “The Gathering Table,” is a heartfelt recollection of how author Giangreco, after being diagnosed with MS, faces down the disease by bravely hosting 52 dinner parties in a year for over 120 guests. Chef Lisa Lavagetto will feature dishes from the book, which is sure to delight all. Join Ramekins, Ronda and Chef Lavagetto for an evening filled with food, laughter and inspiration as you learn about Ronda’s personal journey and her culinary adventures along the way. The delicious sounding menu includes homemade ricotta on crostini, a fennel and greens with blood orange, handmade fettuccini with a rabbit ragú and an orange-olive oil cake. The class and meal costs $80 per student. Call Ramekins to hold your space, or for details at 933.0450.
Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond. Find her blogging daily as the Cook at thecardiganandcook.com or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.