After a few days in Hermosa Beach over Memorial Day weekend we set out for a relaxed evening in Santa Monica with Gary’s new film partners at Latitude Productions. I can’t remember if we visited Santa Monica when I was a little girl, but when I saw the huge indoor carousel it did bring back memories….of course they could have been from a movie as many have been filmed along the Santa Monica Pier.
Though the evening was turning chilly and windy we strolled along the pier taking in the sights and sounds of genuine pleasure seeping out of everyone around us. The lights, the music, the food, the rides….all combining into a recipe for California fun.
One touching event happened as we were strolling making our way from the pier to our car, we came upon a group of 20-somethings in the park adjacent to the pier who had about 10 pizza boxes set in front of them from which they were handing out slice after slice to help feed the plethora of homeless that lingered nearby. Such a small gesture, but huge for those people that day.
We went on to meet up with our friends at a fantastic “seasonal kitchen” called Rustic Canyon. Open yet cozy, with the first impression reminding me a bit of our friend Janice Provost’s restaurant, Parigi. We settle into a comfortable table overlooking the room and I am immediately taken by how happy everyone is. Yes, we see this when we dine out in Dallas, but often not with this much oomph…..the air around the room is so upbeat and positive, definitely the kind of vibe we love to see.
Perusing the extensive wine list makes finding only one or favorites to try for the night difficult as this is the kind of list I love, filled with some expected intermixed with some really fun, out of the ordinary options, and many of our favorites. We decided on a Gini Soave Classico from Italy’s Veneto region, one of my favorite varietals and one I love to introduce people to. Soave is best described as a light white that is somewhere between a Pinot Grigio and a Sauvignon Blanc, it has good structure and acidity with balance and bright fruit flavors. This one was particularly good.
We also opened a 2007 Miner Stagecoach Merlot, another favorite of ours. I love to serve this wine to people who say they will not drink Merlot. The grapes from the Stagecoach Vineyard, just above Miner’s Oakville property in Napa have such depth and boldness that make this an amazing wine with layers of fruit and earth with a round mouthfeel and a lingering finish. I love this wine.
The menu is beautiful, very fresh and very local, highlighting ingredients that were either found that day at the local Farmer’s Market or from a ranch or farm in the area they do business with regularly which focus on sustainable practices staying very seasonal (I asked for tomatoes to be added to one of my plates and they said no because they were not at their optimal ripeness.)
We started with colossal squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and mint; crispy polenta with roasted wild mushrooms, parmesan and a sunny side farm egg; and my personal piece of heaven, Burrata with roasted artichokes, silky fava beans, ramps and an amazing stinging nettle pesto. Burrata is right up there with truffles in my book…it is just about one of the most decadent Italian cheeses in the world. Add earthy artichokes, super seasonal fava beans and ramps and a lively nettle pesto paired with a crisp Italian wine and WOW…I’m done. The squash blossoms truly looked like little flowers on a plate, stuffed to their brim with fresh mint and creamy goat cheese. As often as we make stuffed squash blossoms mine never look like this. Gary gets as happy as a weekend golfer putting par when you top anything with a gooey egg, add hearty mushrooms and creamy polenta and we can say the dinner started off as a resounding success.
Our mains were as succulent as our first courses. I had an earthy, caramelized Roasted Beet and Farro salad with fennel and feta. Just perfectly filling after the luxurious Burrata.
Surprisingly Gary ordered chicken….in the three years we have been together I don’t know that I have ever seen Gary eat chicken except in a chicken salad sandwich. I learned early on it was not his ideal protein…however on this night he cleaned his plate. Our friends had more of that crispy polenta and mushrooms and a hearty Niman Ranch Pork Chop. Niman Ranch is a term seen on many of these sustainable menus around the country, and leads people to believe that one ranch, somewhere in the USA provides all the meat for all of these restaurants across the country. That would be one tired rancher…..Niman Ranch is actually a network of 676 independent American farmers across the country that raise, hogs, cattle and lamb following a strict protocol of sustainability and share the belief that all-natural, humane practices produce the best possible flavor. If you see it on a menu or in a store, buy it. It will help maintain these important ranches, and it tastes really good.
We had also moved on to our next bottle of wine, a lush, juicy Turley Zinfandel filled with jammy plum, blackberry and spice flavors.
Throughout the evening of conversation, story telling and laughter we discovered several things. One, we all love good food and wine, and see it as more than that whole “food is fuel” thing. It is an art form that we celebrate and wholly enjoy. We reaffirmed the deep mutual respect and friendships there were around that table that night. And, we agreed, we are all very excited for our futures.
Next stop, Santa Barbara. Cheers!