For months, I’d heard inklings about just how fabulous the Petaluma Italian bakery, Stellina Pronto, was. Then, when a good friend, whose pastry bar is as high as mine, raved about it, I knew I had to make a beeline a couple weeks ago when I was in Sonona Wine Country.
All you need do is look for the line out the door to find it, as there almost always is one.
It’s no wonder, because this bakery, which opened last summer, is first-rate.
That’s no surprise when you realize it was opened by Chef Christian Caiazzo and his wife, Katrina Fried, who owned the highly regarded Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station until its closure in August 2020.
The glass cases are filled with all manner of sweet, buttery treats, most of them sweet, but with a surprisingly wide variety of savory ones, too. Look for pizza to make its debut in the future, too.
Some ingredients like caviar and truffles are unabashedly luxe.
Others like celery decidedly relegated — rightly or wrongly — to mundane.
Winter melon, though, is that rarity that falls equally into high- and low-brow camps.
Like tomatoes, these huge green-skinned melons, which can grow as large as 40 pounds, are actually a fruit that’s most often treated as a vegetable.
As a kid, I still have memories of many a Chinese restaurant Lunar New Year banquet at this time of year, where a waiter would gingerly carry a heaving half winter melon to the Lazy Susan on our table. Its skin would be intricately carved with Chinese characters for a grand presentation and its chasm filled to the brim with bubbling soup fortified with ginko nuts, shredded dried scallops, and the melon’s flesh. It was the epitome of special occasion.
In contrast, I also fondly remember my mom regularly making a much simpler version at home, cutting the melon into chunks to simmer in canned chicken broth with slivers of ginger, and sometimes a little bit of pork or chicken. It was not only an economical way to stretch a meal, but her way of trying to ward off colds and flus, as winter melon is high in Vitamin C.
Whether prepared fancifully or frugally, winter melon is a taste of home for me.
Even though it can be prepared many ways, including in candy and poached in a dessert soup, I’ve mostly had it in savory soups. That’s why this recipe for “Braised Winter Melon” immediately caught my eye as a novel method I just had to try.
After a seemingly interminable odyssey, the wait is indeed over.
Cyrus, the acclaimed fine-dining restaurant that closed in Healdsburg in 2012 after a landlord dispute, finally reopened again last September in a striking new iteration in Geyserville.
Chef-Owner Doug Keane, co-owner Nick Peyton, and their team couldn’t be more relieved and thrilled to be back at it again. Neither can their legions of fans, so many of whom considered the original Cyrus their favorite restaurant.
The original Cyrus garnered two Michelin stars. The new one already scored one star — barely two months after opening.
Keane spent a decade searching high and low through the Alexander Valley, which was founded by the restaurant’s namesake Cyrus Alexander. He had all but given up when this site came available. Though this sleek contemporary glass, steel and concrete building is the polar opposite of the restaurant’s original Old World provincial aesthetic, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting place in this new age and time. At least, that’s what I found when I finally had the opportunity last week to dine here.
That was the startling remark my husband exclaimed upon digging into “Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Dipping Sauce.”
And if you know his nickname is Meat Boy, then you know that is truly saying something about this entirely plant-based dish.
Crispy as can be, these pan-fried, sesame seed-coated planks of tofu get dunked into a spicy, garlicky sauce for a dish so addictive that even those wishy-washy about tofu will clamor for seconds and thirds.
This fabulous recipe is from “The Woks of Life” (Clarkson Potter, 2022), of which I received a review copy.
It’s the first cookbook by Bill, Judy, Sarah, and Kaitlin Leung, the New Jersey family who shot to fame with their eponymous The Woks of Life blog. It started out in 2013 as simply a personal way for them to document their family history through food. It has since turned into a sensation, growing into the most popular online English-language resource for Chinese cooking.
It’s a collection of 90 plant-based Chinese recipes that are a breeze to make. They’re perfect for anyone who’s vegetarian or vegan or for any home cook who wants to add a veggie-centric dish to a family-style spread.
Get your chopsticks at the ready for everything from “Baked Crispy Tofu Nuggets,” “Char Siu Baos” (made with button mushrooms instead of pork), and “Egg-Less Egg Drop Soup” (with yuba sheets standing in for the strands of eggs) to “Three-Cup Scrambled Tempeh” and “Creamy Red Bean Ice Pops.”