The grand tasting of Siduri Pinot Noir took place last weekend, a lot that had been purchased by eight lucky bidders at auction to benefit the Sonoma County Wine Library. Adam Lee, winemaker/co-proprietor of Siduri was on hand to comment on the dozen bottles donated from my cellar, plus the more recent new releases he brought along. Sondra Bernstein, owner of the café and The Girl and Fig restaurants in Sonoma and Petaluma, contributed the venue, a delicious selection of appetizers, and waived corkage fees for the event. Even more gracious was Sondras willingness to make an exception to the Rhone variety-only rule to allow Pinot Noir to be poured on her premise. (g)
This was my first time back to this site since the early days of the original Girl and the Fig. The interior has been redone beautifully with window booths in pastel ice cream colors, seating at a counter along the open kitchen, and a small wine bar for tasting and room for more diners. The menu sounds like comfort food featuring pork chops and chicken stew, but a special touch with each dish delivers more excitement and greater value than the inexpensive under $15 price point for entrées. No wonder that the place was packed with happy locals and families, and many were turned away on Saturday night.
After the initial walk-through of the first flight of seven wines (sadly, the eighth was corked), we tried them again with the appetizers to experiment with food pairings and watch how the wines changed in the match. The house-made charcuterie plate featured a thick slice of very good pork and pistachio terrine, dried figs, giant caper berries on the stem, and hunks of chubby salami accompanied with a mustard pot. Normally a three-cheese flight, we had an extra taste featuring Petit Basque, the local Redwood Hill Crottin, Pierre Robert triple crème, and another local Vella Dry Jack that blew us away. These were served with a delicious moist almond-studded fig cake imported from Spain, dried apricots, and fig relish. The one hot appetizer was a ragout of wild mushrooms with a heart of melted Cambazola. This is usually made with Pierre Robert, but Sondra felt the soft-ripened blue would be a better accompaniment for our Pinots, and she was spot on. The mushrooms included chanterelles, criminis, and tiny whole alba clamshells. Thick slices of crusty and rustic grilled bread were the right carrier for the garlicky mushrooms and the creamy juices mingled with the cheese. Delicious house-marinated olives were bathed in premium olive oil with thyme and lemon zest.
We took a breather and reseated for dinner. I cleverly made sure that my chowpals Andy Jacob and Paul H were next to me and within sharing distance. (g) We had a bottle of Blanquette de Limoux (dont remember the producer) ordered from the wine list. The locals in the Languedoc region in Southern France where this bubbly originates claim that theyve been making sparkling wine via secondary fermentation in the bottle longer than in Champagne. Yeasty and apple-y, it was a fine toast to the New Year.
We ordered a round of appetizers for the table, finishing of the rest of the starters menu, to work our way through the remaining seven Pinot Noir wines. The fried calamari, $7.95, was fantastic, coated with panko and golden brown, yet very juicy and fresh-tasting. They were cut into larger than usual pieces, not small rings, and included the tentacles. Loved this with the foamy, light Meyer lemon aioli. We tried the two pissaladieres, $10.95 each, the thin-crust pizzas of Provence, each cut into six slender slices. The Point Reyes blue featured our local blue cheese, prosciutto and a little too much balsamic onion and baby arugula leaves tossed on before serving. I had a slight preference for the Vegetarian one, which had perfect proportions of fontina cheese, criminis, and pungent pistou, offering great intensity of flavor without bulk.
My entrée was Liberty duck confit with white bean ragout. I was surprised that a $14.95 serving was TWO duck legs on a sizeable bed of ragout. The confit was wonderful, well-seasoned and buttery tender with nicely browned and crisped skin. The ragout was studded with carmelized chanterelles and bits of pancetta and onion. The beans were creamy without being pasty and had just the right amount of liquid to keep it moist. I switched plates with Andy to enjoy the grilled pork chop. Juicy and succulent, the chop had beautiful grill markings and a tasty strip of firm fat. The apple cranberry compote added interest and elevated the dish, then the mashed potatoes brought it home with loving comfort. I also had a taste of Pauls very good grilled trout stuffed with fennel served with green rice. This was a subtle dish with delicate anise-y notes from the fennel, but punctuated with bits of capers to rev it up with briny tartness. I looked away a little too long and his soup of the day, wild mushroom in crème fraiche, disappeared without my getting a spoonful. (g)
We had planned to order a round of salads, but were too stuffed by the large size of the entrees. Ill have to go back for the signature salad of chevre, pecans, pancetta, fig and port vinaigrette with arugula.
Instead we went straight to dessert. Listed on the chalk board and priced at $5 each, we didnt think theyd be big enough to share, so we ordered one for nearly everyone. We were wrong and had an abundance of sweets. I ordered the butterscotch pot de crème, which turned out to be the one real disappointment of the evening. Maybe Id gotten myself too excited at the notion that butterscotch might be making a long overdue come back. It was a study in the silky smoothness that is so entrancing about pot de crème, however it was too salty. More than the salty, buttery hint that defines butterscotch, and it didnt get better with the second and third taste. I had a bite of Susans nut tart with crème fraiche, which also didnt send me. Im not a fan of mixed nut tarts, as the cashews et al get too soft and dont crisp up. The winning dessert was the chocolate brownie a la mode. One of the best brownies Ive had in ages, it was deeply chocolatey with a fudgey center and nice chewiness along the top and bottom. The hazelnut ice cream was great and the dollop of heavy whipped cream put it over the top.
The kitchen had some delays for our group of 11 on this very busy night that stretched out the evening a bit longer than it perhaps should have. But we enjoyed the leisurely pacing. The team of servers was on top of everything and provided friendly and accommodating service keeping our wine glasses full. This would be my regular hang-out if I lived nearby.
The Fig Café & Winebar
13690 Arnold Dr.
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday, open @ 5:30pm