One of the joys of this particular trip was being able to spend some time with my good friends, Joan and Fritz Hottenstein and their amazing daughters. Lily is quiet and reflective. She's been very sad of late over the loss of the family beloved dog, Ruby, and while I was there, Lily created this amazing tribute to her favorite companion. Find a large, empty box in the family's garage, Lily covered it with photos of Ruby, had an appreciation envelope for those who knew Ruby to write their favorite memories, and other memorabilia. Quite an amazing creation from the mind of a seven-and-half-year-old. Then there's Quinn, who at five-and-a-half, is as outgoing and socially fearless as her sister is shy and quiet. Quinn fairly blasts out of bed each day in search of adventure and fun. She's a very engaged little girl, who can't stop singing, tumbling, and being totally adorable. These girls live with their parents in Mill Valley, California, a very beautiful, entitled, prosperous to the point of rich, town a few miles off the Golden Gate Bridge. That these young girls have their feet planted firmly on the ground is a testament to their parent's refusal to spoil them. They attend public schools, in a town where most simply ship them off to private education.
I arrived to their hilly and very beautiful arts and crafts home on Friday and Joan took me into town for a walk and to look around. Tyler Florence lives nearby and has opened a rather grand kitchen shop with lots of vintage items such as canister sets and has his own line of sauces. It's a gorgeous store and worth your time. We met Fritz for simple lunch at a local spot. Later on we picked up Lily at school and met Quinn to take her to her gymnastic class at a local training gym. Quinn was right in the center of about twelve young girls of various ages up to young teens learning how to tumble, walk on a balance beam, swing on a bar, and cartwheel. Friday nights at the Hottensteins usually means dinner out at a popular local Italian restaurant. Vasco is a very good family-owned Italo-American restaurant, serving mostly comfort food--pizzas, pasta, simple roast and sautéed meats, fish, salads and deserts in a handsomely modern and bustling dining room. Service is friendly and it's a great place to go to welcome the weekend in while trying to shed the tensions and stresses of the previous week.
Saturday the great weather continued and off Joan and I went Healdsburg where Joan had some wine she wanted to collect at a winery up there. Traffic was practically non-existence once we sped our way along 101 through the rest of Marin and into Sonoma, Santa Rosa, and up to Healdsburg. What a handsome town this is with a huge center square, an a busy streets filled with attractive shops, some hotels, and restaurants. We settled down to a leisurely lunch on the patio of a seafood restaurant and afterwards explored the shops, going into bookstores, and a fascinating store specializing in affordable, and creative imported gifts from all over the world. We headed back home in preparation for a dinner out. Joan told me she and her husband had been one of a group of people who invested in a local restaurant called Mill Valley Beerworks. Joan and Fritz planned dinner here for Saturday night and she told me I would be very excited about the food. How right she was.
Mill Valley Beerworks describes themselves as a small berry and restaurant located in downtown Mill Valley. "We focus on brewing balanced and exceptionally unique beers to complement a rotating and locally sourced food menu." This is simply too modest. Under the extremely skilled and visionary chef, David Wilcox, who had come up from Los Angeles, here is a restaurant that specializes in small plates and tasty and creative food where vegetables take center stage with protein acting as a supportive player, but an important player. Joan, Fritz and I are all wine centric. Fritz loves beer, but his heart is in the wine, and we drank Pinot Noir from California and ordered a surprising number of small plates. Wilcox's food kicks culinary ass and I was dizzy from the range of flavor, the variety of ingredients all infused with his creative skill. Here's a list of dishes we consumed:
pickled herring, salad of butter beans & fennel, lemon aioli
grilled pork jowl, fig mostarda, apple relish, pickled cauliflower
toscano kale salad, roasted beets, blood orange, sunflower, smoked tomato vinaigrette
grilled chicories, lardons, khadrawy dates, crushed pecan, bacon vinaigrette
grilled king oyster mushrooms, nettles pistou, preserved lemon
beluga lentils, confit tomato, shallot, cacao nibs, cilantro
braised lamb neck, toasted farro, spiced yogurt, harissa
pan-seared bavette steak, charred broccoli, shallot and smoked tomato butter
The pickled herring was unlike any herring I'd ever eaten before and that includes herring in Amsterdam. None of that white, rubbery texture that comes out of jars, this was silky herring that hadn't been laying it its pickling juices until it hovered between raw and cooked. Mixed with the butter beans and fennel, with lemon aoili, this was a firm-textured fish that tasted fresh. The kale salad was another discovery, the beets working in perfect harmony with the blood orange and vinaigrette with the crunch of sunflower seeds. The king oyster mushrooms were wonderfully chewy with the pistou and preserved lemon adding oomph and tart spikiness. The beluga lentils were truly the size of roe. The tomato and shallots added a conventional note then the cacao nibs gave the dish an unexpected coffee taste. The lamb neck meat was meltingly tender, the farro was pleasantly chewy, with the harissa and spiced yogurt adding a Middle Eastern touch. The pan-seared bavette was a bit undercooked and was the only dish that gave a a slight bit of disappointment--it's flavors didn't meet the superb creativity that had come before it. I'm taking time to describe this food because there's nothing like it in Portland and it was a surprising pleasure to encounter it in Mill Valley. The restaurant was packed with a busy bar crowd enjoying their beer and the din was loud, but very happy. Chef Wilcox stopped by to say hello and I made it a point to tell him how exciting his food really is. Anyone reading this and in the vicinity should try to get there, but make a reservation, or go early in the week when it's less busy.
Here's the URL:
The visit also included a wonderful lunch in Mill Valley with my twin brother, Scott, his better half, Bernadette, her daughter, Tia (whom I was meeting for the first time), and my youngest brother, Kevin and his wife, Diana. I often see my brothers, but never as a group. Doug--the middle brother--wasn't there this time, but it did feel good to spend time with them. We're all getting older and getting together with my brothers is important. We're all close in age (14-months apart), and while we don't agree on lots of things (politics, etc.), I've always insisted on being the glue that helps keep us together. I remember a mentor from my teen years who always counseled us to "stick together." It's not always been possible, but I'm glad we keep trying.
I got to attend the huge farmer's market in San Rafael. This is the biggest farmer's market I've ever seen with what seemed like hundreds of stalls selling everything from organic fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, flowers and jams, soaps, cooked food, and so much more. It's a beautiful market, jammed with customers. We bought superb salmon, with vegetables for dinner, This is definitely worth a visit (we went on a Sunday morning).
A week or so after returning from my trip, Joan sent me this photo of Moki, their adorable new puppy. The girls are thrilled with the new dog, and while Ruby will never be forgotten, Moki should be able to keep the girls distracted and enchanted for years to come.
It was a wonderful week, relaxing and rejuvenating.