Jun 21, 2013

Summer Solstice Dining, Sonoma Valley Style

Central Courtyard, Kenwood Inn & Spa (Sonoma Valley, CA)
Last night had a wonderful meal at Kenwood Inn & Spa, where Executive Chef Steven Snook sources liberally from the hotel's gardens. It was a gorgeous Solstice Eve night, and the surroundings--an elegant Mediterranean-style courtyard with a central fountain, lush flowered plants, alcoves aplenty--were reminiscent of Spain's Alhambra.

I'd come in the afternoon for the inauguration of the new "Garden to Glass" series with Wine Director Ann Davis, who led us through a session centering around food/wine balance. The foods Davis used: green olives, lemons, tomatoes, strawberries, 70% and 100% chocolate, and a thin slice of cheese coated with pepper on one side.

Sitting comfortably around the hotel's horseshoe bar, we would taste a salty, acidic or sweet food, and then take a sip of wine, taking note of how the food affected the wine's taste. We went through all the foods except chocolate with Chardonnay, and then again--including chocolate this time--with Merlot.

It was extremely illuminating to see how the same wine could be delicious one moment and horrible the next, depending on which food had preceded it. For the first time I realized why Italian recipes for tomato sauces call for a small amount of sugar: it balances out the acidity of tomatoes. Another interesting discovery: the Merlot with 70% cocoa was a match made in heaven; with 100% it was foul-tasting.

The Garden to Glass series will be held one Thursday a month into early fall, usually the third Thursday, from 4-5 p.m. The cost: $40/person or $70/couple. It's a good way to get to spend time here, because the facilities and restaurant are usually open only to hotel guests. For information, call the Inn at 707.833.1293.

But back to that meal, which was superb. I wish I'd taken a photo of my salad: the lettuces had probably been picked within the hour, and they were topped with an assortment of colorful vegetables shaved very thin--in particular, the various colors of beets were beautiful.

Here are a few dishes enjoyed by my group:

Roasted Mary's organic chicken breast, grilled artichoke, Kalamata olives, capers, crisp potato gnocchi, Meyer lemon, fresh garden herbs. This was my choice, and it was delish, especially when accompanied by a glass of Roederer Estate Sparkling Brut Rose (Anderson Valley NV).

Pan-roasted branzino fish, soft tomato polenta, blistered multi-colored cherry tomatoes, Italian flat leaf parsley, 20-year aged balsamic vinegar
Not sure if I've got this one right, but I think it was house-made pappardelle pasta with a spicy Italian sausage sauce. I don't remember what the cheese is.
I'm pretty sure this was the Cowabunga cheese from Sebastopol's Bohemian Creamery.
For me, after that big and wonderful meal, a bowl of berries was the perfect dessert choice.

A delicious chocolate creation.

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