For the rest of your life, nothing but…
Have you ever played the ‘If you could only eat one type of cuisine for the rest of your life’ game? This, truly, is an impossible question. One type of food for the rest of your life? Can you imagine?
I might answer that question with a wily little reply such as ‘Mediterranean.’ I mean, who couldn’t live on a lifetime of olive oil-splashed whole fish plucked straight from the sea or simple grilled vegetables served with nothing more than a sprinkling of flaky salt and a few torn leaves of wild oregano? I could cheat and respond with ‘American,’ because what is that really? Whole, garlicky roast chickens or maybe casseroles bubbling over with ooey-gooey, very American, macaroni and cheese?
In reality, if I absolutely had to choose just one country’s cuisine to sustain me through the rest of my many years, I believe there could only be one. Japanese. The elegant, clean flavors of Japanese cuisine have always been my favorite. Typically, a meal there consists of a tiny amount of pristine fish or possibly pork, served artfully — always presented to the diner on the most gorgeous, handmade ceramics — with a larger quantity of beautifully prepared vegetables, hand-pulled noodles or perfectly made rice. Yes, I could definitely dine on little plates of simple, clean, Japanese fare for the rest of my life.
I have never been to Japan (sigh) but I have to believe that one Bay Area restaurant is as close to dining in that country as it could possibly get. For 25 years, Sushi Ran has been passionately producing the most impeccable Japanese cuisine, inspired by the traditions of Japan and the bounty of the Bay Area, all on a quiet little side street in Sausalito. It’s been nearly five years since my first visit, but I will remember it always. That first bite, a glistening, fat-streaked slab of wild salmon sushi, altered the way that I would look at sushi for the rest of my life. The bite took me completely by surprise. I simply could not believe that something I had been eating for so many years could taste so, so different. That it could taste just this much better. The fish was the ideal temperature, cool, but not so cold you couldn’t taste it. The texture was like butter, the pure ocean flavor of the fish coating my whole mouth, the fat dissolving luxuriously. From that moment on, I was officially a sushi snob.
Only the most immaculate product is accepted at Sushi Ran’s back door. Be it fish flown in straight from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market or from local fishermen, small quantities of the most unique, seasonal fish arrive every single day. The assortment of seaweed for the appetizer salad is also incredibly fascinating, consisting of beautiful pale green and soft, creamy white varieties in the most unusual shapes are tossed with a vinaigrette of rice wine vinegar and a hint of toasted sesame. With each visit, a starter of dumplings are offered with whatever filling is at it’s most seasonal peak. Obviously handmade, each dumpling’s wrapper is so delicate it is practically see-through. They bob merrily in a broth maybe made of smoky dashi, which tastes mysteriously of the sea and the earth.
Heaven, in my book, could easily be defined as a slow, romantic dinner on one of the very few, much-coveted, sushi bar stools. It’s here that guests have the opportunity to order from the super-limited supply of the restaurant’s most interesting fish selections. With each slice of sparkling seafood, its obvious that the chef has given every bite considerable thought. An almost see-through offering of yellowtail arrives draped across a spoonful of rice and topped with what magically seems to be the most perfect accompaniment, the tiniest slivers of scallion and a grating of fresh ginger.
Mackerel, is oily in the very best way possible way. Here, you might choose from three or four varieties each presented with a bright squeeze of fresh yuzu juice or a sprinkling of crunchy seaweed-flecked Japanese sea salt. A sea scallop here is a revelation. A glimmering portion is pure, buttery, melt in your mouth, amazement and made even more so with a slice of whole yuzu and a few drops of it’s juice. My mouth waters simply at the thought of that divine combination.
Dipping most of the sushi offerings here in soy sauce or masking the delicate flavors with wasabi would be a crime.
I could write an entire column solely on the spectacular eel that a diner might find at Sushi Ran on any given day. On one occasion, I ate almost nothing else. The prettiest slice of freshwater eel was poached and finished with a pile of the most interesting pickled wasabi, the sour-spicy wasabi perked up the soft flavors of the eel in the most wonderful way. The dish I dream about on a daily basis since that ell-filled lunch was a hard-to-find saltwater variety that was charred until the skin was gloriously black and then utterly drenched in a sweet-sticky eel sauce that I practically licked straight off the plate.
Sea urchin, a foodie favorite, supposedly, had never been one of mine. I couldn’t understand the fascination with a blob of bright orange mush that tasted of slightly skunky saltwater. Here, it literally blew me away. I stared at the now empty wooden spoon it arrived on for minutes, I dunno maybe hours, struggling to figure out how – oh how?!! – could dine here more often? Eat nothing for the rest of my life, but one thing? Yes, the spectacular cuisine from Sausalito’s Sushi Ran!
On the menu
Next Wednesday, January 16, the Epicurean Connection hosts a “Guest Chef and Farmer Dinner” with Victorian Farmstead Meats’ Adam Parks and Chef John Lyle. The lovely sounding meal pairs local wines and includes chicken and dumplings, Porchetta with local vegetables, and a fig tart. The dinner is $75 per person, starts at 6:30 p.m. and reservations can be made by calling 935.7960.
Chef Rob Larman prepares his to-die-for Cassoulet, the classic French winter dish consisting of white beans, duck confit, and sausage for his next dinner at the Valley Wine Shack on Friday, January 18. His “Cassoulet Dinners” are always popular and extremely delicious and include a butter lettuce salad and his spectacular Valrhona chocolate mousse. Wine and beer will be available for purchase. The dinner costs a mere $35. Reservations are necessary by calling the Wine Shack at 938.7218.
Sunday, January 20, celebrate Jack London’s birthday with a special “Hike and Wine Tasting” at Jack London State Historic Park and neighboring Benziger Winery. The special docent led tour of Beauty Ranch will focus on Jack London’s pioneering experiments in sustainable agriculture. The hike begins at 10 a.m. with the tasting following at Benziger Winery at 11:30 a.m. Tickets for the hike and tasting are $15 and can be purchased in advance, online at jacklondonpark.com/special-hike.com. A parking fee of $10 will be collected at the kiosk upon arrival, so carpooling is ideal! For more information, please call 938.5216.
Recipe inspired by Rob Larman’s Cassoulet
Makes 8 servings
- 1 1/2 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern or cannellini (3 2/3 cups), picked over and rinsed
- 2 sprigs fresh parsley
- 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
- 2 whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 4 qt water
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic plus 2 cloves, halved
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 confit duck legs
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lb saucisson à l’ail or other fully cooked garlic pork sausage (not cured or dried), casing removed
For garlic-crumb topping
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from a baguette)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches in a bowl and soak at room temperature at least 8 and up to 24 hours, or quick-soak. Drain well in a colander. Make a bouquet garni by wrapping parsley, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, and 2 sprigs thyme in cheesecloth and tying with kitchen string, then put in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot along with pork shoulder and water (4 quarts). Simmer, uncovered, skimming froth occasionally, 1 1/4 hours. Add beans, onions, carrot, and chopped garlic and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until beans are just tender, about 45 minutes.
While beans simmer, put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners and heat 1 tablespoon oil in roasting pan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown duck legs, turning occasionally to brown skin and meat all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer duck legs with tongs to a platter as browned. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from roasting pan, then reduce heat to moderately low and cook halved garlic cloves, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Drain bean and pork mixture in a colander set over a large bowl (discard bouquet garni). Stir salt and pepper into broth in bowl and reserve. Spread bean and pork mixture in roasting pan (with garlic halves), then nestle duck legs, skin sides up, in mixture. Add remaining 3 sprigs thyme and 6 cups reserved broth (liquid should come up around base of duck legs; reserve remaining broth, covered and chilled, for reheating if making dish ahead, or for another use). Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes.
While cassoulet bakes, heat remaining tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. If necessary, halve sausage crosswise to fit in skillet, then brown, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cool slightly. When sausage is cool enough to handle, halve pieces lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Nestle sausage into cassoulet and bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes. Gently stir beans, mashing some with back of spoon, to thicken broth before serving.
Prepare garlic-crumb topping while cassoulet finishes baking:
Cook garlic in oil in cleaned 10-inch skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add bread crumbs, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until crumbs are crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in parsley.
Serve cassoulet with crumb topping.
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. Email her with comments, questions, or your food related events at firstname.lastname@example.org.