Sunday, June 24, 2012

Easy Valley

From Mendo, after another lovely MacCallum House breakfast, we make the trek inland, through the Navarro River Woods redwoods (how often do you get to drive through what seems so old?) into Anderson Valley, a land where beautiful rolling hills, vines, pines, and an abiding sense marijuana isn't such a bad thing--this webpage's first line is about medical marijuana--all come together to make for some easy-going living. We do stop for a quick peek at the Apple Farm, but May isn't exactly apple season, and more or less we just want to slow down before we make our first wine tasting stop, Navarro.

Does it really matter what else I write, when there's a view like that? Of course they offer their usual huge range from white to red of generally very good or better value play wine, all of which supports a program that's land and farmer friendly. What's not to like? If you've never been to Anderson Valley or Alsace, here's the place to learn to love Gewurztraminer, and you really owe it to yourself to get to like it. Sure, the bad ones taste like candy-coated wine, but Navarro's dry has just enough sugar, something left at the tippy-tip of your tongue, and a mix of oak, citrus, bread, and a bit of something exotic, as if Alsace was code for Asian, somehow.

And while Navarro does several fine pinot noirs, and their best, Deep End, you don't get to taste as it's so limited, we need to go to Anderson Valley's holy church of pinot--Goldeneye. Setting matters, let's face it, and Goldeneye has one of the best, as you enter through a brilliantly restored Craftsman cottage all Arts and Crafts furnitured out to then get to taste in a bit of outdoor paradise. The patio is perfect, edged with flowers and with a pizza stove at one end for parties, but it's the view that's entrancing--a slip of valley, running near to far with vines, heading into the hills a-burst with pines. It would be easy to stay here for an hour or a year.

The pinots are delicious and dear, reminding you there's a reason to make lots and lots of money. Tasting them with a dish of almonds and dried cherries only makes them more lush, or maybe I mean it makes me more of a lush, I'm not sure. But cherry and flower is all what Anderson Valley pinot is about, so this tasting is superb.

We do manage to rouse ourselves and head to our digs for the next two nights, the Boonville Hotel. It pulls off that simple but chic look only a place in the country could do--call it comfortable Shaker style. Plus it's right in the downville (it's absolutely not a downtown) of Boonville, so you can walk to what there is there, and that's convenient when you're in wine tasting country. For instance, you can lunch across the street at the Boonville General Store, which is much better at food than it is at naming itself, as it's really more a local-organic deli bakery. Alas, we're moving far enough away from the trip I'm not sure what I had (I think it was a quiche-y thing), while Chryss had the salad sampler, aka more food than one person should order. All very fresh. Perhaps naps happened. This was vacation, you know.

Then, a walk through Boonville to get to (eventually, it was a longer walk than I remembered), Anderson Valley Brewing Company. I like their beers but am still bitter they built a tasting room that looks as if it's major function is to be washed out with hoses--it's not a homey spot. But they do let dogs run about inside, and I'm a sucker for canine company, and they offer beers that don't make it out of the brewery compound, namely the premium and barrel-aged ales listed here.

Everything was quite yummy, with just enough sour but not so much you felt like you ate one of those persimmons that suck all the moisture out of your body if you eat them before they're fully ripe.

Then for dinner we stuck in town, for the very homey Lauren's. Imagine a diner that cares about what you eat, then make it even friendlier and you've got Lauren's, from the piano anyone may play to the crayons for your dinner table art to the pool table for after dining. Spring rolls with a spicy peanut sauce or a good place to start, crispily fried, stuffed with vegetable lusciousness, and the sauce has a true kick. Lauren's has been doing the local thing years before it became de rigueur, and that carries over to the almost all Anderson Valley wine list, and they barely mark up the cost, so sure, we enjoyed a Toulouse Pinot Noir.

For mains, Chryss was thrilled with her gussied up grilled cheese of Fontina, avocado, tomato, onion, and basil aoli with a salad that was a seasonal star all by itself and I liked my hearty if a teensy bland fettucine with asparagus, green garlic, and prosciutto in cream sauce with a side of steamed broccolini, so you can feel even more righteous about the cream sauce. Lauren's is the kind of place for direct comfort food made with good ingredients at a fair price, clearly a home for the locals as there's not quite enough tourist trade for them to make a go of it otherwise, but there's no sense of exclusion, either. Anderson Valley always aims to please.

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