I'm not good at slow and quiet and wordless. That's one of the reasons I most appreciate Anderson Valley, which makes me ease up, silent, willing to let images be images. To slow and savor. It's little wonder the people seem so truly happy there, so helpful. Sure, part of that is they're in a paradise free from suburban blight--not only aren't there chain stores, and that even includes the mildly acceptable ones like Starbucks, but even the gas stations are odd brands--but mostly it's that they're not bombarded with the shit we all think is normal life anymore. Could I live there? Probably not, as that bombardment I'm too much a part of--witness this very blog you're reading. But it sure is a fine place to rest and recharge.
The Boonville Hotel, it turns out, has a lovely serve yourself breakfast, with scones almost as good as Bella Dolce's late lamented ones, and strong coffee, homemade granola, zesty yogurt. Fortified, we head out to Hendy Woods, a stirring stand of redwoods and one of the many state parks California that is on the verge of closing because government has skewed priorities. (That's the photo above.) A good walk gets us ready for some wine tasting, so we check out what's a new spot to me in the Valley, a place that looks a bit too upscale Sonoma-y called The Madrones, but is actually quite nice. We decide to taste at Drew Wines, which sounds familiar for a good reason--before moving to Anderson Valley in 2004 Jason Drew was in Santa Barbara County, making his own wines in the pre-Lompoc ghetto and for Babcock. On our visit his wife Molly was in the tasting room pouring their fine wines--very elegant and more European (that is, not alcohol monsters). If you like pinot noir, you owe yourself a visit here. We then went next door to Bink (the name adapted from "black ink," i.e., yummy red wine), where we had a fine time tasting through their solid to better wines--how could you not like a rosé named Lumineux? Together the two made fine new additions to the Anderson Valley tasting room scene.
That meant it was lunch time, and one of Anderson Valley's secret treats is the very straightforward Mexican food at Libby's in Philo (no website, no surprise). There's nothing fancy about it, it's just going to be some of the best Mexican food you'll have--everything clearly made from scratch with the best ingredients and cooked with the utmost care.
That's my massive lunch, the carnitas fajitas special, that I will not be able to do justice to--so so much flavor. That pork is at the perfect carnitas crunch without being dry in the slightest; I have no idea how they pull it off (beyond they must make each plate individually). And then you can get Anderson Valley Brewing beers, so it all just gets better, at a very fair price. There is one problem though--after that and a couple of wine tastings, it's easy to want to take a nap.
Not giving in, however, we pushed on to one more wine tasting, at one of my Anderson Valley faves, Toulouse. Their wines, alas, are not cheap, but they are all delicious, and that means Gewurtz, Pinot Gris, Rosé of Pinot Noir, and Pinot Noir. Each time I'm there the tasting space expands, and it's little surprise given the quality of wines and the friendliness and knowledge of the staff. Plus when we were there some fellow tasters had a bulldog with them, so we got some dog time in, too.
OK, there is probably nap time after all that, so back to the Boonville Hotel we go and upon entering Chryss almost instantly gives up her pescatarianism. For we are hit, in the most pleasant smack ever, with the enticing aroma of short ribs slowly slowly braising. It's almost as if we're swimming in the braise too, the smell is so deliciously strong it pervades the entire hotel, and we doze with dreams of beef easing off bones into luscious sauce.
Our dinner reservation is at a Valley-late 7:45, so we opt to hang out in the foyer downstairs, with the mild hubbub of others' good times about us at arm's length, and us in comfy chairs, enjoying one of the wines we've bought at a tasting while doing something it seems sometimes you have to go on vacation to do--reading. These few hours are some of the best of the vacation. It doesn't hurt I'm reading Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones & Butter,* to be sure I'm a foodie in every angle possible.
When it's time to eat, we kick off the meal with a 2009 Radio Coteau Las Colinas Sonoma Coast Syrah that makes everything berry-wonderful. The opening of mixed greens with Yerba Santa goat cheese and a cider vinaigrette is light and lifting. The greens come from the garden out back; we had chatted with their gardener that very morning. Now that's fresh and local.
Table 128, as they're billing the restaurant at the Boonville Hotel now, serves one pre-fixe every night, but those with food restrictions can ask for a variation ahead (they set a weekend's flight of menus on Thursday after a round of market visits). That means this is what awaited carnivorous me--beef braised short ribs, hand-cut pasta, gremolata, and horseradish cream. (Chryss has shrimp subbed up as her protein.)
Then the dessert is simple, a pleasing first visit from summer at May's end, local strawberries and cream and a shortbread cookie. Anything I could write can only mess up this perfect punctuation for such a meal.
*This is a lovely memoir, btw, as much about family as food (probably more so), and Hamilton's fierce honesty even while her prose performs brilliantly is a sight to behold. By the book's end you can feel almost dizzy how apt she is making clear fate always pulls the rug out from under our finest moments and that our worst moments always retain redemption. Life is never what it seems so we have to keep going just to know the ending.