the girl & the fig exterior

The Girl and The Fig

When I’m in a new town, I like to combine my pre-visit recon with recommendations from locals in the know to get the scoop on what to see and where to eat. And who would know better on where to eat than servers and chefs at excellent eateries. So it was with this approach on our trip to Sonoma, that Gail and I discovered the girl & the fig – a lower case name with UPPER CASE FLAVOR.
As with any popular restaurant, reservations are a good idea but so is bellying up to the bar if your table isn’t ready when you arrive. The girl & the fig has a beautiful long wooden one that beckons to be belly uped to as soon as you enter.

Once in drinking position comes the hard part, choosing an aperitif from their extensive  drink menu. Despite the temptations of fig inspired concoctions, Champagne, and still wines, we opted for my favorite pre-dinner drink: beeeeer.

While enjoying our pints of Lagunitas IPA, we spun around to check out the comfy-looking lounge. It’s a more formal place to eat than the bar, but more casual than the dining room, sort of like eating on the couch in front of the TV.  Cozy.

We opted for eating in the quaint bistro-like dining room, which had the same earthy wooden floors as the lounge/bar area, candles on every table (rather than those LCD faux-candles in so many restaurants these day), and earthy tones from the vanilla-wafer-colored table cloths and yellow walls.

The walls were adorned with pastels by Julie Higgins, who looks like she learned to paint from Diego Rivera and Paul Gauguin with Mayan subjects set in Polynesia during an orgy. Something for everyone.

Our attention turned from the art on the wall to the art on our table when a little bowl arrived filled with delicious black olives and what looked like picholines on roids but were actually the best caper berry’s I’ve ever had – meaty, oily, fresh, melt in your mouth affairs.

The bread & butter, however was a surprising misstep and could have easily been helped by warming the bread and serving it with a compound butter or just providing better bread.

The girl and the fig has an interesting Rhone-varietal-inspired wine list from CA wineries, at various price points. We knew we would be drinking well with whatever we ordered.
It’s always tempting to order a bottle you know won’t disappoint, but in a good restaurant I like leaning on the wait staff to get a recommendation of a bottle that over delivers but is under priced.

I’ve had lots of Syrahs and Grenaches, even Viogniers and Dry Roses but I’ve never had a wine that was 100% Cinsault…until now. The Frick 2008 Dry Creek Valley Cinsaut was all Cinsaut and frickin’ good.

It had an earthy/musty smell with a strong dark berry quality, a similar plate that tasted like a chocolate covered plumb with black liquorice, a bit of smoke, plus a strong but yielding tannin, and a loooong finish.

The girl and the fig describe themselves as “country food with a French passion.” So, when in a place with a French passion, order like you’re in France, which partly inspired us to order the Bistro Plat Du Jour (3 courses for $34) and something for my meat loving companion who brings out the omni in my vore.
We started with a butter lettuce salad with pickled kumquats, goat cheese, sliced almonds & a kumquat vinaigrette.

It was presented in a natural state, as if one day the lettuce was just hanging out in a local field, along came “the girl,” snatched it from its home, and presented it as is. It tasted that fresh too, with a creamy goat cheese that had the fat to cut through the delicious citrus bomb that was the kumquat dressing. For relatively few ingredients, it tasted better than the sum of its parts.

Our first entrée was pan-seared arctic char which was a circle of potato purée, surrounded by a circle of port reduction with a bulls eye of baby fennel, pears, asparagus and fish served skin up.
The baby fennel was al dente, juicy with a fresh just-picked taste, a bit fibrous but not unpleasant. The pears were nicely sweet and soooo fresh. The fish was a combo of delicate Meyer lemon citrus flavors with an earthiness and meatiness that was substantial and satisfying.

Our other entrée was grilled lamb rounds with white bean purée, braised artichokes and garden radishes with a lavender lamb juice.

When I encounter a meat that’s less common to me, such as lamb, and when I’m with a carnivore, I like to give it a try. The lamb was light and chewy with a dark richness, complimented by a strong raw radish flavor and a meaty-umami taste. The wine paired very well with it and much better than with the fish.

The last part of our plat was a dessert of bread pudding topped with whipped crème fraîche and paired with a vin doux naturel.

The bread pudding was like the love child of an apple pie and a dutch apple pancake; it was creamy inside with a fresh apple harvest taste. Unfortunately the outside didn’t live up to the inside. The crust tasted stale and too much like batter. Still, we ate it all, possibly due to….how well it paired with the vin doux naturel from Domaine  Fontanel, which was one of the most unusual and best dessert wines I’ve ever had.
The Rivesaltes Ambré is made from 100% Grenache Blanc, aged 7 years in oak casks on small lees in accordance with the soleras system. It smelled like a young oxidized sherry, but was loaded with aromas of caramel, vanilla, sultana, and stewed apricot. The same flavors were on the palate and reminded me of a fruity pancake syrup for adults with a brandy-like quality. Despite its 16% alcohol, it didn’t taste anywhere near that high and thankfully lacked that unpleasant boozy burn in the back of the throat.

The girl & the fig is an excellent wine country restaurant but still maintains a low key country feel. With its bistro ambiance, French passion, and focus on local wines of French style, it will have you eating and drinking like a bon vivant before you can say…..            Vive la figue!

The Girl & the Fig
110 West Spain Street  Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-3634

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Rubirosa Pizza Sign

Rubirosa

I love the West Coast with its open spaces, towering mountains, and bounty of fresh produce year round. But when it comes to pizza, the East Coast steals my heart; especially New York’s five boroughs. So when visiting, I can’t resist taking to the streets in search of the perfect pizza pie. This time, my quest has brought me to Nolita (North of Little Italy) – a neighborhood long considered part of New York City’s Little Italy which has lost much of its Italian character in recent decades due to the migration of Italian-Americans out and yuppies in. From the outside, Rubirosa looks like many other ristorantes decorated with the colors of the Italian flag.
Inside, however, Rubirosa is more modern than those old school Italian joints; sporting a warm, European palace meets mountain cabin feel. The vibe comes from low lighting, wooden chairs and tables opposite a looong wooden bar and a copper ceiling rimmed with ornately decorated copper trim.
The crowd is young, hip, urban…and me. There’s lots of lively conversation swirling about mixing with mellow rock tunes decidedly not Italian.

I started my meal, as I start all good meals with a draught beer. Rubirosa has some nice craft beer options. I opted for a Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues for $7. I’ve had Dale’s at Oskar Blues in Colorado which ran me about $5 but I guess when you add shipping plus New York City, $7 sounds about right. Still, it left me wondering when did a good beer become as expensive as a cheap glass of wine?

And Dale’s is a good beer; amber-gold in color with a full-bodied rich flavor and a great bitter finish that lingered in my mouth like a roasted hoppy kiss. (Please don’t ask how I know what a roasted hoppy kiss tastes like. It was an experimental phase in college.) Anyway, my delicious beer arrived with two pieces of equally delicious Italian bread; a crusty exterior with a porous center which perfectly soaked up the full flavored olive oil. A match made in Italian heaven.

I began my meal in earnest with an arugula salad loaded with red and golden beets and topped with goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette for $11.

My bowl ‘O salad, big enough for two, was loaded with lots of fresh-flavorful arugula sitting atop beets which were cooked perfectly; thankfully not watery. It was topped with creamy goat cheese and the perfect amount of balsamic which added just a touch of sweetness. Each bite left me wanting more and embodied the Italian cooking philosophy of making simple food simply. Still, being a lily guilder, I can’t help but wonder how some roasted pignolias on top would have tasted.

As I was enjoying my salad, my pizza arrived. It looked like a work of art but see if by looking at the picture you can guess why my first reaction was, UH OH.
Danger! Danger! ARUGULA overload. When I ordered my arugula, cherry tomato, pecorino, eggplant and balsamic vinaigrette glaze pizza for $19, it hadn’t occurred to me (nor to my waitress apparently) that I was ordering my salad on a pizza. Maybe with the tomato, pecorino and eggplant, it would taste different.
Maybe not. The pizza had some highlights but some low lights too. The flavor was good and I enjoyed the technique of topping it with big slices of pecorino as a way to add cheese without overloading it. The crust was nice and thin but could have been crispier. My least favorite part of this pizza was a cloying sweetness that could have come from the tomato sauce but tasted more like it was from the balsamic glaze. With the ups and downs the best I could give this pizza is a B+. For some extra credit, I thought maybe the right wine would help to mellow the sweetness of the pizza.
The wine list is loaded with Italian options and the waitress allowed me to taste a couple of options. A Nebiolllo (one of my favorites) and an ’09 Velenosi Rosso Picento DOC Mentelpulciano/Sangiovese – Marche $9. I chose the latter hoping its hint of sweetness would mellow the sweetness of the pizza. It did…a little.

Rubirosa suffers from the same affliction I’ve experienced at many New York Restaurants. The inattentiveness of young under-informed servers that leaves you feeling slightly neglected. It was great to get a taste of a couple of wines but after an initial how is everything, my waitress was a ghost to my table. If you’re looking for an above average pizza and a hip crowd, check out Rubirosa. As for me, I know this is not the best pizza the East Coast has to offer so it’s back to the streets to continue my search. Stay tuned…

Rubirosa
235 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-0500

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