On a road trip to Oregon last week, I ate very casually and exceedingly well.
But by far, my most memorable and breathtaking meals came surprisingly at breakfast — sitting on a screened-in porch on a farm where I slept overnight in a converted grain silo.
You don’t typically expect a five-course, gourmet spread like this in such rustic surroundings. Sure, the herbs for the meal are hand-picked from the property’s culinary garden, the honey harvested from its own hives, and the eggs courtesy of its own chickens. But you’ll also find on the premises a chef who goes the extra mile to make his own cherry blossom syrup, garum (Italian fish sauce) and shio koji (Japanese fermented grain marinade) — all used to great effect in breakfast.
When I was invited to stay as a guest at the 82-acre Abbey Road Farm in the town of Carlton in Oregon’s Wine Country, its web site promised “one of the best breakfasts in Oregon.”
That was no hyperbole. Because Chef Will Preisch more than delivered on that.
Preisch, who grew up in Cleveland where his dad ran a 24-hour diner, is a bona fide fine-dining chef with serious chops.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA — It may have been a challenging few months for this glorious national park, what with an outbreak of norovirus and the Ahwahnee Hotel’s loss of one star, dropping it to a AAA three-diamond rating instead. But I’m happy to report that all seemed well when I was there last week as moderator for the last two sessions of the 2020 Chefs’ Holidays event.
This popular winter-time extravaganza, which consists of fun chef demos and grand gala dinners, celebrated its 36th year this January.
There might not have been any snow on the valley floor this time around, but there was plenty of sunshine, as well as more than enough action on the demo stage to keep everyone entertained.
Husband-and-wife chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes got things rolling first, recounting the devastating loss of their Zazu restaurant in Sebastopol after last winter’s deluge flooded their place, and how local high school students kayaked in with a generator to help them pump out the water.
Stewart and Estes may not have a restaurant at the moment. But they continue to do catering, as well as sell products from their farm, including their magnificent Black Pig Meat Co. bacon.
LAS VEGAS, NV —
In the city that never sleeps, one can do major damage even if it’s only
a 48-hour trip, and ostensibly to take in a Lady Gaga show. But one
still has to eat, right? And boy, did my husband and I do just that.
Flock & Fowl
If you’ve never ventured beyond The Strip, you owe it to yourself to take a trek downtown. It’s arguably the city’s hippest neighborhood, with bold murals spanning two to three stories high on the sides of buildings, tongue-in-cheek sayings adorning old motel marquees, and a range of show-stopping public arts pieces.
Case in point, the Big Rig Jig at the Fergusons Downtown, an old motel that has been transformed into a venue of small local boutiques and eateries. The Big Rig Jig looks like something straight out of a “Transformers” movie. Composed of two massive tanker trucks bent and curved into an inexplicable “S,” it’s confounding, perplexing, and just plain amazing.
Grass-fed beef tartare with tomatoes and fiddlehead ferns at the Boonville Hotel restaurant.
BOONVILLE, CA — If there ever was Wine Country royalty, Chef Perry Hoffman and his family are it.
His grandparents, Don and Sally Schmitt bought an old stone building in Yountville in 1978, and transformed it into a charming destination restaurant, before weighing several offers to sell it in 1993. They famously chose Thomas Keller, who went on to turn the French Laundry into a Michelin three-star establishment revered the world over.
Hoffman’s mother founded a Napa Valley florist company that has supplied blooms to the French Laundry for decades. His grandparents went on to restore the Philo Apple Farm that’s now run by Hoffman’s aunt, who also manages the lovely Farmhouse Mercantile store in Boonville.
Across from that store on sleepy main street, Hoffman’s Uncle Johnny has operated the Boonville Hotel for 31 years. It’s where Hoffman got one of his first jobs in the kitchen after high school. It’s where he fondly remembers tasting for the first time both Caesar salad and aioli.
Chef Perry Hoffman’s return to the place it all started for him.
So in January, when Hoffman — once the youngest chef in the country to win a Michelin star when he headed Étoile at Domain Chandon in Yountville in 2009 — returned to become chef-partner at the quaint roadhouse built in 1860, it marked more than just a new job. It poetically signified a life coming full circle.
You know a restaurant has got it going on when it is packed on a Monday night.
The start of the week is typically a sleepy night for most restaurants. But not for Valette in downtown Healdsburg. On a recent Monday night, when I dropped in to dine at the bar solo (paying my own tab at the end), the place was bustling shortly after opening at 5:15 p.m.
Chef Dustin Valette and his brother Aaron Garzini opened the beloved restaurant in 2015 in the same property that their great-grandfather once owned. They turned it into a convivial space, with warm polished wood, big hefty leather bar chairs, and a golden glow from globe chandeliers.
Dustin was off that night. But I did get to meet his father, who in his mid-70s, still flies for the state Department of Forestry, responding to forest fires, including the devastating fires in Napa and Sonoma in the last two years.
Ahi poke that stands out from the pack.
When Dustin was a kid, his father would take him to school — dropping him off in his plane — because it was quicker than the school bus. How’s that for one cool ride?