Tuesday I stopped in Healdsburg for the afternoon FARMERS MARKET in the Plaza. Theyll be back two more weeks then close up shop until next summer. I picked up some heirloom tomatoes for $1/lb., a beautiful charentais melon, black Mission figs, and Armenian cucumbers.
Two blocks north of the Plaza, TOAD HOLLOWs tasting room opened three weeks ago. After having a taste of the Eye of the Toad rosé at Saturdays picnic, I bellied up to the bar to try more of the current releases. All three reds struck out 2000 Goldies Vines RRV Pinot Noir, 2000 Richard McDowell RRV Merlot and 2001 Cacophony Paso Robles Zin too much oak for the delicate fruit and drying tannins. I had better luck with the pigment-impaired selections. The 2002 Dry Pinot Noir rosé (Eye of the Toad) is bone dry with lowish alcohol and lots of pretty strawberry fruit. It has a slight catch of tannin at the back of the throat thats a little annoying, but for $8, this is nice summer-y drinking. The 2002 Francines Selection Mendocino Chardonnay is made in restrained style with no fatness or oak, allowing the blossomy perfume and Asian pear flavors to strike their own pure chord. Very quaffable, fresh and fruity, and a decent value at $13. Also pleasing were the two sparkling wines imported from Limoux Amplexus Crémant Brut Limoux rests on the lees for more than two years lending a wonderful creamy texture, toasty complexity, and impressive length for a $15 bubbly. With a minimal dosage and residual sugar less than 1%, it finishes clean and crisp. The Risqué is a fun wine made by the Methode Ancestrale and packaged with the old-fashioned recloseable wire-caged cap. With but 6% alcohol and naturally sweet, the sizzling acidity tempers the sugar and highlights the delicate fruit and makes this an easy and refreshing spritzer.
Starks Raw Bar, now to be called WILLIS SEAFOOD AND RAW BAR, hasnt opened yet. But there seems to be more construction activity inside and signs are up announcing a fall opening.
BRUNOS MARKETPLACE (in Ansteads old location) opened last month and is still getting settled in. A rose-lined patio area in the front of the store is fitted with tables and umbrellas. The fresh meats are supplied by premium butcher, Martindales Meats in Santa Rosa. Most are marinated and otherwise prepped products at this stage, and some of the plain cuts, such as a couple filets, were looking a little weary. Yet, its going to be great to have the house-cured sausages, hams, bacon, and smoked chickens available closer to home. According to the posted sign, special orders from Martindales can be picked up here with 24-hours notice. The Italian deli items include prosciutto di Parma for $18.99/lb, pancetta, and salamis, supplemented by typical deli cold cuts for a full array of sandwich offerings, including muffalettas. The wall of refrigerator and freezer cases is still empty. The produce is organic and a few Asian veggies, such as opah and lemon grass can be found here. No wine and beer yet, until the liquor license application is approved.
While not a new business, I stopped by BIG JOHNS market to see how it was responding to the new competition in town. It has been and still is the best looking meat counter in the North County with the full range of CK Lamb cuts, Niman Ranch pork and beef, and Rosie/Rocky chickens, plus real butchers on hand to help you. Additions since my last visit a few months ago are a sushi counter, baked on premise La Brea breads, more imported cheeses (pre-cut and wrapped), Chester fried chicken in the deli, and clever impulse purchase-type displays of wine such as late harvest Gewurztraminer dessert wine chilling next to the cream puffs or Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel on top of the lamb chop case. They squeeze their own OJ here, one of the few places that still sells unpasteurized (with appropriate warnings on the label).
SHOMA DELI (on Dry Creek Road, just off the freeway, http://shomadeli.com/shomawelcomepage/) started serving some Persian dishes on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, in addition to the usual deli selection of cold cuts, sandwiches and salads. The owner spent most of his career managing and cooking at Taco Bells on the Peninsula. Hes been open for a little more than a year and is proud to have his own place in the wine country. He hopes the locals will be interested in Persian food, which he introduced eight months ago and is positioning as Mediterranean. The menu can be seen on the website.
Ive eaten here twice so far. Theres a lovely shaded patio with tinkling water music from a fountain with more tables indoors lit by the glow of the drink cases. It seems that most of the walk-in business is in cold beer. The self-service refrigerators are well-stocked with all manner of soft drinks, local brews, and wines, plus there are chilled beverage glasses.
Dough, $1.75 This Persian yogurt drink is aggressive with fresh and dried herbs and salty here and really wakes up the palate.
Falafel sandwich, $5.99 The falafel balls are fried to order. Theyre housemade of chickpeas using a recipe purchased from a famous Moroccan restaurant in Florida. The uncooked balls are frozen but it was a a treat to have them freshly fried and not reheated. The batch I tried was undersalted, but that was easily remedied. As shown below, its stuffed into a very thin and white sesame-studded pocket bread and garnished with very fresh green leaf lettuce, good tomatoes, and thinly sliced sweet red onions. The white sauce is yogurt thinned with lemon juice. I added a little Tabasco to mine. This was a good effort, my only criticism being that the bread was on the dry side. But in truth, it was no worse than most of whats available. The owner told me that same day pita bread deliveries are impossible and he is using frozen bread from a baker in Los Angeles.
Chelo kabab koobideh, $8.99 (two skewers) The grilled ground beef kabab was not quite as successful, but not hopeless. The rice was overcooked and wetter than it should be. The meat was nicely charred but again underseasoned, and even after adding sumac, needed both salt and pepper to give it some character. More onion in the mix would probably be an improvement too. Given how aggressively flavored the Dough is here, I wondered whether the owner/cook was expressing all his aggressions in the yogurt drink and cooking more timidly in the other offerings.
While the Persian food here isnt going to set the world on fire, its a welcome addition to the wine country chow scene. Ill continue to work through the Persian menu to encourage Shomas owner to stick with it.