Mel and I set off for California for two sales meetings with our distributor, various wine tastings and sales calls and a visit to Tortoise Creek in Lodi. The trip also happened to coincide with my birthday and we were to arrive in SF ON my birthday.
“What’s your favorite restaurant anywhere?” Mel asked me.
“Bistro Aix, on Steiner between Chestnut and Lombard Street in San Francisco” I said.
“You sure?” “Yep!” So Mel took me there that night (and several more times on our trip too!). The owner Jonathan Beard is a young, well-travelled, fantastic chef and host and we adore his food and wine knowledge. The restaurant is one of those places that understand the beauty of simplicity and great produce. Jonathan’s Spring vegetable salad was nothing more than sublime – English peas and fava beans out of their dewy pods, miniscule carrots, baby purple artichokes from the fields in Monterey, new baby fennel roots olive oil, lemon juice and dirty salt – inestimably priceless for Spring-starved Easterners!
The food is wonderful and the wine program overseen by Jonathan and his manager Travis is second to none; brilliantly chosen and well-priced. Do go there if you have the chance. You will NOT regret it.
Next day, after a quick lunch at the wonderful Swan’s Oyster Depot on Polk Street, we flew down to John Wayne airport (the name always makes me smile!) in Orange county the next day to meet our darling son and right hand man, Charles, for our first big sales meeting to introduce our new Le Charmel Cotes de Provence rose and Muscadet. We met at Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach (the Nancy Silverton/Mario Batali place) together with our SoCal sales representative, Kristin Potter, who we adore. We were well spoilt by Patton, the manager, who looked like a movie-star and hugged us all fondly and we all had a fabulous and fun dinner.
Friday afternoon we fought the Los Angeles “parking lot” traffic on the interstate to get to Santa Monica where we would spend the weekend trying to enjoy some sun after months of igloo living in New Hampshire! Dinner that night at Border Grill in Santa Monica; great value and really good South Western cuisine.. Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have created several of these and they are really good.
Saturday evening we met up with old friends for dinner; Oscar winning lyricist Leslie Bricusse and his stunning wife-of-a-thousand-years, the ever beautiful Evie. Leslie wrote several of the James Bond themes as well as Victor Victoria and other great Broadway shows. We have known them since the days we were running Jordan winery in 1980.
We had decided to take them to the Ivy Restaurant on Robertson Boulevard where all the movers and shakers eat in its sumptuous flower-filled and relaxed atmosphere. Mel had purchased a bottle of Pouilly Fume Didier Dageneau (Leslie’s favorite) at Wally’s wine shop and delivered it to be chilled earlier so dinner started off with laughter and rich conversation. The Dungeness crab cakes had just been removed and a bottle of the new vintage of Whispering Angel (Sacha Lichine’s rose from Provence) had just been opened when ‘il a commence de faire pee-pee du ciel’! Sure enough Evie then remarked that shouldn’t we move inside from the terrace as larger drops of rain were beginning to fall onto the table. Magically, though, every waiter in the restaurant suddenly buzzed all around the tables carrying about 20 enormous parasols and set them up so that the entire terrace was rendered quite dry but pitch dark (the spot lights were above them). In a flash they returned with myriads of huge candles and before the main course had arrived we were in a cocoon of scented roses and romantic light. All went swimmingly (excuse the pun) for about 5 minutes until we realized that Evie’s bread plate was full of water and Mel’s halibut looked awfully like a bouillabaisse. More frenetic waiters adjusting parasols and we finished our dinner avoiding the monsoon above. The only keepsake I have of that night is a 2-inch tide mark on my Kate Spade handbag where it had sat at my feet! The Ivy is famous and very beautiful but frankly mediocre food and very expensive. Mel paid a corkage fee of $40 for the bottle of Pouilly Fume!
Monday, we meandered up the magnificent California coast back to Santa Barbara and met another old friend from Jordan days, Sally Jordan, looking ravishing and as lively as ever and reminisced over all of our adventures launching the Jordan Winery back in 1976. Then a meeting with the fantastic sales people in the Santa Barbara area for dinner and next day onward to Santa Cruz and Monterey to see many stellar and loyal wine stores to convey gratitude and share vinous stories. Back in SF we re-met up with Charlie who had been selling down in Orange County that week to go visit our wine maker in Lodi near Sacramento and taste the super-duper blends of the 2014 vintage. Our Tortoise Creek wines are getting better and better and we spent much of the day doing blends with our wine maker, Karen Blackburn. This year we are making Tortoise Creek an entirely Californian line of wines and so will be adding a beautifully elegant Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from the Coastal area of California and we will produce these at a different location; very exciting.
Finally back to gorgeous San Francisco where the weather was Californian perfection to meet up with our friend Craig Roby who helps us with our sales in the Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. We did another sales meeting with the northern Cal group of vinous superstars at our distributor, Henry Wine Group and back to visit customers in Oakland, Marin and Silicon Valley for two days. Had an amazing lunch with our friend Rick Michaels and his lovely bride at Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland which still stands out for us as one of the California greats.
Finally back to Boston Saturday am to two more inches of snow – 9-feet PLUS 2-inches and next week ANOTHER 2-3-inches??? More snow this year in New England than in LA during the whole of the 80’s!! I’ll probably be planting my own fava beans and English peas sometime in June or July – aaaaaaagh!
A lovely spring recipe from Charles. Enjoy this with your favorite spring white wines, like a Tortoise Creek Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier!
- 1 pound cipollini onions
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- Kosher salt
- 16 baby carrots
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 scallions, dark green parts only, cut into 3-inch lengths
- 1 cup frozen baby peas
- Freshly ground pepper
- In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the cipollini for 5 minutes. Drain well and peel the onions, then transfer them to a clean 1-quart heatproof jar.
- Put the fennel seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds and bay leaf in a tea ball or tie them in a cheesecloth bundle. In a saucepan, cover the ball or spice bundle with the vinegar, water, sugar and 1/4 cup of kosher salt and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour the brine and the spice bundle over the onions and let stand at room temperature for at least 4 hours or refrigerate overnight.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the carrots until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
- In a large, deep skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the scallion greens and cook over moderately high heat until softened and lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the carrots and peas and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Drain and thinly slice half of the pickled onions and add them to the vegetables. Cook until just heated through, season with salt and pepper and serve.