Just relaxing on an islet in the Caribbean

Monday, September 13, 2010


In 2001, Charles Schultz (creator of Charlie Brown) decided to bring into existence the beautiful Mayacama Resort in Sonoma County. Where the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys all come together and minutes from lovely Healdsburg, Mayacama is snuggled within 675 acres of natural forested beauty with such amenities as a Jack Nicklaus golf course, European spa, state of the art fitness center, underground grotto for the members only wine cellars (members by ‘invitation only’), swimming pool, tennis courts, secret hiking trails and private chefs. It has come to be known as the “Vintner’s Resort” as its membership includes some of Napa and Sonoma Counties most renown wine makers.

Through the years I had heard many wonderful things about this enchanted retreat therefore I was truly looking forward to my maiden voyage in order to experience the resort and all its glory first hand. Due to my hubby’s sweet connections, we were able to enjoy a private casita at Mayacama which was our home base for the next several days, and not a bad spot at all.

The drive from San Francisco to Mayacama is only about 60 miles. We arrived late morning, checked into our Tuscan style casita and after unpacking, my spousal unit left to make his morning golf tee time. I sat outside on the dining patio with beautiful views and enjoyed a solo light lunch which involved a fancy martini from the Mayacama bar. Besides, how does one prepare for a tranquil afternoon of spa beauty treatments without enjoying a cocktail prior to embarking on a tough schedule of massage, exfoliating body scrub and European facial?
On our first night we drove to Healdsburg to dine at “Barndiva” joining our dear friends from Sebastopol. Barndiva is a family operated business with Chef Ryan Fancher (formerly of Thomas Kellar restaurants) in the kitchen serving up organic, sustainable food…support your local organic farmers! I always enjoy dining with more than one person since we are able to order various items and we end up sharing each dish with one another.

We began with the “Haricots Verts Tempura” - the crispy Healdsburg string beans (local) were fried nice and crispy accompanied by a creamy Thai Basil Aioli and served with tiny basil leaves on a wooden cheese board. Such a pretty presentation of fancy green beans too! I followed with the “Compressed Watermelon Salad” which consisted of one of my favorite veggies - heirloom beets. Crystalized ginger, freshly picked Purslane (another local field green) and Lemon Verbena made up this salad arrangement which was refreshingly, delicious and very pleasing to the eye.

My main course was the “Chicken & Dumplings”, a fricassee of young chicken with gnocchi (potato dumplings), fresh corn, fava beans and some bacon. Although this entre was very tasty, I would have liked more fava beans in the dish as I am also a huge fan of fava beans. Alas, hubby never lets me down with his private wine selection and on this particular evening we sipped a 2006 Kistler Pinot and a 1996 Pahlmeyer Red Table Wine.

The piece de resistance this evening was a special luscious dessert from talented pastry chef Tracy Mattson (formerly of Cyrus). Fresh, large, succulent mission figs were bruleed (caramelized with a dusting of sugar) and placed over a crème Anglaise, balsamic drizzle and crunchy, chocolate ganache nibs sprinkled on top. I am not a big fan of sweets but this dessert was great. Thursday afternoon we took a ten minute drive to Healdsburg for a leisurely lunch in the warm sun at a local brewery. Healdsburg is a quaint country town with many small boutiques, what seems like a wine store on every corner and very good restaurants! We made a pit stop in “The Wine Shop” a local wine boutique and wine bar owned by Aaron Tomforde and his family. Aaron, a former Navy deep sea diver and submarine rescue dude (and artist), currently runs his family’s wine store business. He is a wonderful host as he was very helpful and patient with us in determining which local wines we should try and why we should consider buying them. Need-less-to-say, we walked out with a case of local wine - thank you Aaron for the education on local wineries and their products.

“SCOPA” is a very small, fabulous Italian restaurant in Healdsburg with indoor and outdoor seating. I am sorry that I did not take notes or photos of my various taste treats to write a small review but that night we dined with a local couple whom I had just met for the first time and I did not want to be rude with my camera flashing and note taking. If you ever get a chance, dining at SCOPA should be on your list of dining experiences!

I am unable to share very much information about the chef other than as of 2008 the owner/chef was Ari Rosen (who spent some time honing his culinary skills in Tuscany) and I will tell you it is the best Italian restaurant I have ever dined at…outside of Italy, of course! One of the many courses I had was “Nonna’s Tomatoe-braised Chicken” with sautéed greens and toasted polenta. The chicken, served in small, black iron cassolet pan, was tender and moist and the polenta toasty on the outside and rich and creamy on the inside. It was delicious!

As I recently perused SCOPA’s menu, I noticed many other fascinating items. How about the “Trippa Napolitana”, tomato braised tripe with pecorino cheese, chili and mint? Or, the “Sardines ‘In Saor’ which are Venetian style sardines that have been marinated with currants, pine nuts, onions and vinegar? I am willing to make the more than seven hour drive just to dine at SCOPA so that I can experience items I missed on my maiden voyage.

I was glad I burned so many calories with my workout and glorious morning hike because hubby and I had lunch reservations at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg. I like the atmosphere of this restaurant with its huge sliding glass doors that open up to outdoor patio seating. My hubby and I both ordered the pre-fixed lunch menu which totaled $32 for three courses and wine pairings. A very reasonable price for some very good food and nice glasses of wine! Without going into any detail I will say this lunch spot was a very good choice with the usual seasonal produce and herbs, local ingredients and exclusive Sonoma district bottlings of tasty and reasonably priced wines. As a connoisseur of fine food and wine it is my sincere belief that at least once a year I need to venture out for an outstanding and memorable meal. Well, my hubby and I did just that for my ultimate birthday dinner celebration. We thoughtfully choose “Cyrus”. I feel strongly in stating that Cyrus is one of the finest restaurants in the world. Yep…I said, “in the world”!

Nick Peyton (Masa & Gary Danko) and partner/chef, Douglas Keane have created a culinary masterpiece with the beautiful building and façade of Cyrus, the indoor ambience and fantastic world class gastronomy! Chef Keane and staff have been awarded two stars from the prestigious Michelin Guide, a James Beard Award (Pacific) and numerous awards from Gourmet Magazine, Esquire and the Zagat Guide to mention a few.

The fist time I dined at Cyrus, I was fortunate to experience the Grand Caviar and Champagne cart since how could one say “no” as the fancy cart is rolled alongside your dining table with at least six bottles of superb champagne and a handful of delectable caviar to choose from. On this special occasion hubby and I did say “no” to the caviar but we did say “yes” to the huge (brain size), aromatic black truffle flown in from Australia. For a reasonable fee (2 grams for $18) the black truffle was generously shaved and added to any of your dishes - we elected to add it to our chicken dish. With a tasting menu of eight courses (which did not include the canapés, amuse bouche and mignardises), needless to say, you won’t go hungry. I will not inundate you with all of the fine haute cuisine which satiated my palate during this awesome repast but I will explain a couple that left a deep impression on my gluttonous soul. Several nice slices of fresh black truffle could be seen peeking through the transparent crispy skin of my “Poussin with Potato Moussseline and Haricot Verts and Fine Herbes”. I could not have served up a finer tasting poussin in the comfort and security of my own kitchen! The “Soft Shell Crab with Rice Noodles and Pickled Green Papaya-Coconut Milk Froth” was pure excellence. I am a sucker for coconut milk and Chef Douglas worked magic with the tropical flavors of the coconut milk and papaya. The crab was delicious, very crispy on the outside yet tender and moist inside (and believe me when I say that these thin crabs are very easy to ruin by over cooking) and they were perfect!

Our tasting menu included three desserts and the dessert concoction I was most impressed with was the sweet and savory “Passion Fruit Gelato with Miso Custard and Sesame Sable” served with a chilled peach soup and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) drizzle. Guys, it was a very interesting combination of sweet and savory creating an amazing taste.

Part of me is grateful that my birthday is once a year since the 10 day road trip eating and drinking my way through Northern California and the Sonoma wine region “forced” me to gain several fatties (which I have yet to drop!). As of this very moment I am back to the reality of my daily existence thinking about my client’s next workout program, who will receive a much needed Reiki treatment from me this week and what simple meal I will make for dinner.

Until next year…Cheers!

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