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Local Innovation at The Bewildered Pig

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Last week I traveled to Mendocino with Canuck for an early birthday celebration! He let me do the majority of the planning – including two breweries (no, I don’t just drink wine) – but did suggest a dinner spot in Philo for our first night of the trip: The Bewildered Pig. I trust Canuck’s picks, especially when it comes to food, and after checking out their menu and hearing that his friend from culinary school is the sous chef, I got pretty excited about this place.

The Bewildered Pig is the brainchild of Chef Janelle Weaver and her partner, Daniel. After spending several years as an executive chef at a prestigious Napa winery, Janelle ventured out on her own culinary endeavor with the goal to create an unpretentious restaurant with a large focus on farm to fork, sourcing everything locally (their pigs come from down the street) and from their own gardens. The dishes are elegant yet casual, refined yet rustic, sophisticated yet simple; dualities that I learned Janelle possesses herself after chatting with her throughout the course of the night.

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The wine list is a combination of selections from Anderson Valley and Sonoma County and an extensive list of Old World favorites. Keeping with the local theme, I selected the 2014 Balo “Suitcase 828” Estate Pinot Noir. The wine was more feminine on the nose, with aromas of white flowers, bright red fruit and an element of freshness. But the palate was bold and earthy, reflecting more of a masculine tone. One of the things I love most about Pinot Noir (especially Pinots from Anderson Valley) is how androgynous it can be, which makes it a versatile wine for food pairings. Sure enough, it paired perfectly with nearly everything that we ate.

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We started off the evening with a delectable amuse-bouche from the kitchen: Penny Royal Laychee Crostini with a Pea & Fava Pistou. (Side note: Penny Royal is a local farm and creamery that offers tours and tastings Thursday through Monday in their new shop on Hwy 128. They make a variety of cheeses that are also available at one of my favorite Philo wineries, Navarro Vineyards.) Our delicious cheesy bite was followed by a house made Mendocino County Heritage Pork country pâté with Dijon mustard and shallot chutney – the perfect combination of salty, sweet and spicy.

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On to the vegetables. Canuck selected “Celebration of Carrots” and I chose an assortment of seasoned radishes with salt and butter. The radishes were simple yet so satisfying, and it felt good to eat some raw vegetables after an afternoon of beer tasting (be sure to stop in Anderson Valley Brewery on your way into Philo). The carrot plate was indeed a celebration and quite possibly the best vegetable dish I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. The plate is composed of a seven different uses and varieties of carrots: confit tiny Thumbelina and French, pickled rainbow, housemade carrot crackers, fried carrot fronds, carrot top pesto and garlic aioli. I talked about this dish to anyone who would listen for several days. I’m still holding out hope that Canuck will find a way to recreate it…

And as if those were not enough starters, we picked two more to share: smoked local black cod potato salad, and Gulf prawns with garlic lemon aioli and what Janelle and her team affectionately call “fluff,” an array of herbs, flowers and stuff. The cod is local (Princess Seafood out of Fort Bragg) and smoked by Angelo’s in Sonoma. It’s served with heirloom potatoes, confited in olive oil, and fresh shaved Petit Teton horseradish, bloomed mustard seeds, whipped crème fraîche, herbs, watercress… and probably a few other amazing things that I am missing. Not only was it beautifully presented (like all of the evening’s dishes), but the combination of flavors was beautiful to eat.

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Last but not least, we each ordered the Lamb Duo (despite the fact that Canuck usually prefers not to order the same thing as his dining partner). It was written on the menu with all of my favorite Spring things so it was impossible to resist. In hindsight, we agreed that it easily could have been shared considering the amount of food we had leading up to our entrées, but we still managed to finish the majority of our dishes. The Lamb Duo was composed of lamb loin and confit cap, sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi, fresh tarragon, chives, lemon zest, fava beans, asparagus, fava leaf and garlic puree, served with a lamb anise hyssop reduction. I never imagined that all of these things could exist so cohesively on one plate, but it was near perfection.

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If you don’t already have enough reasons to visit Anderson Valley – the plethora of unique and inexpensive wineries, fishing along the Redwood lined highway, bountiful farms and orchards, whimsical seaside villages, adorable inns and a brewery in a town with their own made up language – add this dining experience to the list. The Bewildered Pig is truly a destination restaurant, worth every mile traveled, and I intend to make it a regular pilgrimage. In fact, I can’t wait to go back and see what other seasonal items they have on their fantastic menu.

Big thanks to Janelle, Izzy and the entire team for such a memorable evening!

St. Clair Brown Winery

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I have been meaning to post about my favorite neighborhood spot, St. Clair Brown Winery, for a long time. To be honest, I think I was putting it off because I’m afraid of the place getting over-crowded. But I can’t hold back my love any longer; people must know about this local winery and test kitchen. If you’re anything like me, you will join the membership after your second or third visit – which will most likely be in the span of one week.

My first visit to St. Clair Brown took place before I even moved to Downtown Napa. I was taking measurements at my now apartment with Whitey, and we ventured three blocks down the street for some lunch and wine. I had heard about St Clair Brown from another friend a few days prior, so I was more than excited when I realized it was a mere five minute walk from my apartment. We feasted on a delicious lunch of farro salad, hummus, Burrata with strawberries, and of course, Rosé. I was hooked.

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Owners Laina Brown and Elaine St. Clair have built an extensive garden in front of the property, leading back to a patio adorned with umbrellas and strings of small lights, then opens up into the greenhouse-like kitchen with windows for walls. The inviting space can seat up to 30 on the patio, and another 8 or so inside. On a hot day the umbrellas are a welcome accessory, but at sunset the sky fills with pink clouds and makes a beautiful backdrop to the twinkling lights. But it’s the garden that plays the biggest role in this winery and test kitchen.

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The garden features seasonal and year-round greens, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. The majority of the menu is vegetarian and is sourced from the garden, and you can even pick which greens are used in your order, such as the farro salad – one of my favorite items on the menu (for obvious reasons). The rest of the menu components are purchased from local purveyors and combined with items from the garden to give it a true farm-to-fork feeling.

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I’ve ordered the hummus nearly every time that I’ve visited, and I now have a hard time eating any other kind of hummus. They blend peanuts into it to give it a nutty flavor, and top it with a layer of lemon-infused olive oil, then serve it with a Model Bakery sliced baguette. Chef Norma Whitt has also created a seasonal Burrata dish (so far I’ve seen it served with fresh strawberries, tomatoes, or orange and fennel), as well as a pork rillette with apricot chutney. Naturally, the menu features seasonal produce, so I have been enjoying bowls of their gazpacho the past few weeks but I am excited to see the debut of autumnal dishes in the coming month.

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And let’s not forget about the most important part of St. Clair Brown: the wines. Winemaker Elaine St. Clair has strong relationships with several independent growers throughout the valley, so she is able to source small, high-quality vineyard lots from Oak Knoll, Coombsville and other areas of Napa Valley. The portfolio includes Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a sweet Muscat. My favorites are the Rosé (which is currently sold out), the Syrah and the Chardonnay. Admitedly, I wasn’t a fan of the Chardonnay when I first tasted it but it’s since grown on me and become one of my go-to selections.

The wine and food at St. Clair Brown is unique and delicious, but it’s the friendly staff that really makes the experience special. They make you feel like you are in your backyard, enjoying a home cooked meal with a glass of your favorite wine. And now that I am a club member, I can take advantage of my perks (free glass of wine, 10% discount on all menu items) every time I visit, and especially on Tuesday’s Locals Night when all glasses of wine are half off.

Sunset at St Clair Brown

This space is a preview of what is to come. Elaine and Laina are working to open a full service restaurant, brewery and winery across the street in their warehouse space in the next couple of years. In the meantime, if you find yourself in the area and you’re looking for a lunch-wine tasting combo, this is your spot. It won’t break the bank, it’s down to earth with healthy, fresh food that will fill you up without giving you that after-lunch wine-induced sleepiness. And if you’re a local, be sure to check them out on Tuesday night. You will probably see me there.

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