Spaghetti with bottarga, the must-order at La Ciccia.
Last weekend, I made it up to Healdsburg for the first time in a while. I was there for the David Chang supper club hosted by Copain Winery in the Russian River Valley. Under the inky-black sky—scattered with more stars that this city girl has seen in a long time—I drove like a pansy through pockets of fog, brights on, down a windy country road. It was kind of surreal to arrive and see one of the country's most celebrated chefs and his staff plating up a storm in the barrel room.
The dinner was a whirlwind of all sorts of flavors and textures—much of it Asian-influenced (geoduck with pepino melon and chili; uni and tofu; potato strips and seafood with XO sauce, which I could eat spoonfuls of) and much of it fermented. These days, chefs seem to be in to fermenting anything that moves. Chang, who started with Momofuku in New York but has now has a big handful of restaurants under his belt, said we were his guinea pigs for some of the dishes he’s been toying around with back in his not-so-secret lab in New York. (One of them, I’m guessing, was the rice wine that he foamed up with a charger and served in wine glasses for us to spoon out. From the diners at my table, I witnessed a mix of expressions.) The Copain supper club series will continue next year with more big name chefs and, if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll lure Chang back.
I stayed at the Hotel Healdsburg that night so that I could spin around the cute town square the next morning and get a taste of the new Pizzando—a pizza place opened by chef Louis Maldonado (last seen in S.F. at Aziza) with consulting done by Liza Shaw, formerly of A16.
Pizzando is by no means your typical pizza joint. For one, the pizzas aren’t typical (we tried one topped with lamb sausage, ricotta, fennel, potatoes, and a garden’s worth of fresh butter lettuce on top, instead of, say, arugula). However, the other dishes on the menu are what really stand out. One of the most beautiful little salads I’ve had in a while was simply called “marinated radishes, avocado, ufra pepper, orange segments.” But what came to the table was a completely delicious, little $9 work of art. (I would show you the picture I shot of it, but sadly, I lost my iPhone last night.)
With visions of making it for a holiday dinner tonight, I inquired what had gone into it. Maldonado shrugged it off like he was Rachael Ray or something. You’ll see what I mean. “The salad is pretty straight forward in terms of preparation,” he wrote to me. “We do a mix of raw radish, pickled and roasted radish. The avocado is lightly seasoned with salt and lemon juice and then sliced, the orange segments are left natural. The radish pickle is two parts water, one part sugar, and one part champagne vinegar. We bring this liquid to a boil and then pour it over the radish quarters. The roasted radish are red radishes tossed in olive oil, salt and orange juice, wrapped in foil and then cooked in the wood oven. Obviously not everybody has a wood oven in their home, so a 450F oven will do fine. I would cook them for 10 minutes and then let them steam for another 10 before using. Everything is dressed in olive oil and lemon juice and then seasoned with salt. We then finish it with Urfa pepper, which is a fermented Turkish pepper.”
Even if my wood-fired oven was ready to go right now, and even if I'd ever heard of Urfa pepper, I’d say this is a dish conceived by a chef and better prepared by him. Which is why you should make a trip up to Healdsburg to go get it right now. (And while you’re at it, don’t miss Gallery Lulo, just off the square. It's one of the most amazing local jewelry stores I’ve been to.) Last-minute holiday shopping and eating? You now have your weekend cut out for you.