Category Archives: Great Finds

What I’ve Been Drinking of Late, Part 19

A rosé that delivers on much more than taste.
A rosé that delivers on much more than taste.

2021 Monarch Challenge North Coast Rosé

In 2016, Carlo Mondavi — yes, grandson of Robert Mondavi — created the Monarch Challenge to bring attention to the plight of the beautiful Monarch butterfly, whose population has been devastated since the advent of Roundup.

Every year since then, he and his brother Dante have produced a limited rosé through their RAEN Winery in Sebastopol to bring attention to this environmental calamity befalling this invaluable pollinator, and to inspire other like-minded vintners to do the same.

I had a chance to try a sample of this year’s 2021 Monarch Challenge North Coast Rosé ($30), sales of which will benefit the conservation organization, the Xerces Society, and Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating sick or orphaned wildlife.

Produced from RAEN Pinot Noir grapes and old-vine Grenache, all farmed organically, this pale salmon wine is an exuberant expression of strawberries and raspberries, with a hint of guava. It is crisp, tangy, and laced with minerality. It’s pure deliciousness.

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Dorie Greenspan’s Chunky Lemon Cornmeal Cake (With Sumac)

Sumac and fresh lemons used two ways give this loaf cake a wonderful citrusy lift.
Sumac and fresh lemons used two ways give this loaf cake a wonderful citrusy lift.

At first glance, you might think this lovely lemon loaf cake also has poppy seeds.

But those tiny dark red specs are actually ground sumac berries.

Yes, the Middle Eastern spice that’s typically used in savory preparations goes for a sweet spin here instead.

And to great effect.

“Chunky Lemon Cornmeal Cake” is from the one and only Dorie Greenspan, the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and baker extraordinaire. It’s from her latest cookbook, “Baking with Dorie” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021), of which I received a review copy.

Pick up a copy and no doubt you’ll be running to turn on the oven to bake temptations such as “Miso-Maple Loaf,” “Lemon Meringue Layer Cake,” “Lick-the-Pot Chocolate Pudding Pie,” and “Coffee Shortbread.”

With its tangy, floral, and citrusy notes, sumac is a natural for baking, so it’s a wonder that it’s not widely used that way already.

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Ronda’s Romesco — You’ll Want To Put It On Everything

Ronda's Romesco will add punch to most anything, such as these shrimp-zucchini-onion kebabs I grilled at home.
Ronda’s Romesco will add punch to most anything, such as these shrimp-zucchini-onion kebabs I grilled at home.

If you’ve gone bonkers for Sichuan chili crisp like everyone else, you might wonder what the next ”It” condiment will be to supplant its runaway popularity.

I’m here to say it just very well might be romesco.

Because one taste of Ronda’s Romesco had me convinced.

Ronda Brittian of Petaluma is a trauma nurse. Raised in a family of accomplished home cooks, she’s also a food entrepreneur who has joined forces with her life partner, Steve Davis, a food brand manager, to create a line of jarred romesco, the classic Spanish sauce of almonds, tomato, garlic, red wine vinegar, red peppers, and olive oil.

I make my own romesco from scratch now and then, but having it ready-made in a jar sure makes it extra convenient.

Regular and Spicy varieties.
Regular and Spicy varieties.

I had a chance to try samples of Ronda’s Romesco, which come in two varieties: regular and spicy.

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The Art of Being Earnest at Ernest

Chilled asparagus spears with furikake potato chip crumble and chunky Jidori egg salad -- at Ernest.
Chilled asparagus spears with furikake potato chip crumble and chunky Jidori egg salad — at Ernest.

Ask Chef Brandon Rice how long he toiled to open his first restaurant, Ernest, in San Francisco, and he’ll tell you the short answer is three years, but the long answer is his entire life.

No matter how you cut it, the endeavor took untold blood, sweat, and tears, plus enduring the standstill of a global health crisis. Named after his grandfather, a Virginia butcher, Ernest, finally opened in March 2021 to widespread acclaim, making it a tough reservation to land almost from the get-go.

After being invited in as a guest of the restaurant last week, it’s easy to see why. Rice is the former chef de cuisine of Rich Table in San Francisco. If you’ve enjoyed the playful, creative fare there, you’re guaranteed to relish it here, too, with its similar whimsy and daring confidence.

While Ernest offered some outdoor dining tables last year, it’s unlikely to do so this year, even when the weather warms. San Francisco weather being what it is, it proved too unpredictable to count on.

Chef Brandon Rice in the open kitchen at Ernest, the first restaurant that's his own.
Chef Brandon Rice in the open kitchen at Ernest, the first restaurant that’s his own.

However, the restaurant’s interior boasts 16- to 20-foot high ceilings, a bonus for air circulation. The soaring, light-filled space, done up with ash wood tables, actually used to be the shipping dock and warehouse for Best Foods mayonnaise, Rice says.

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The Only Beef with Broccoli Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Without a doubt, the best beef with broccoli I've ever had.
Without a doubt, the best beef with broccoli I’ve ever had.

True confession: I’ve never been much of a fan of beef with broccoli.

Maybe it’s because I’ve dug into too many dishes of it at Chinese lunch buffets or banquet gatherings that were just so mundane and mediocre, with gloppy, over-cornstarched sauce glueing everything together.

There’s never been a version that’s been memorable and exciting.

Until now.

And of course, it would be created by food scientist, cooking savant, and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

If you are an avid stir-fry enthusiast already or a beginner picking up a wok for the very first time, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of his new The Wok: Recipes and Techniques” (W.W. Norton & Company), of which I received a review copy.

It will change how you stir-fry. It will change your life.

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