Food, Wine and Family
My wife Denise is a Zacharia from birth. The Zacharia clan has long-reaching tentacles. Our sister-in-law, Gayle, grew up in Northern California, and still has family there. One of her cousins is a city councilwoman for the town of Healdsburg, which is a small tourist destination right in the middle of the Sonoma Valley vineyards. So as part of the week-long celebration of my lovely wife’s 50th, we decided to check out Healdsburg.
In the middle of our week of mainly buying and drinking mass quantities of good wine, we booked a food tour in Healdsburg. You get the feeling that Healdsburg is about 20 years removed from being a podunk farm town. The buildings and streets have that “Main Street Armistice Day Parade” feel with the 4H Club leading the way on International Harvesters. But the place is just surrounded by wineries, and “The Money” from down south has done it’s best to turn this into a very nice touristy place with all the requisite boutiques, new wave shoppes, and restaurants galore. With the dusty farm town just under the surface, it makes for a very pleasant place to spend the day.
So the plan was to find a place between the Beemers to park and enjoy a day of walking and eating.
The tour was set up by Savor Healdsburg Food Tours, and our guides were Tammy and Eddie. They took us to four restaurants, a new wave tea house and a bakery with insanely expensive cupcakes.
We met our guides at a place called the SHED. This is the kind of place most easterners associate with California. Kind of up-scale hippie commune stuff. The place is a two-story factory that has been re-purposed as a hardware store, gourmet grocery (organic food only, natch), bakery, weird gift shop, and a nice little cafe out back, which is where we had our first course. We had an excellent potato salad, and a nice white wine. There was different color humuses made with beets. It turns out that beets figured prominently in the day’s cuisine. They gave us a shrub to drink which is a fruit drink made with vinegar, and it was quite delicious. After the SHED, we walked about two blocks to an Italian place.
2. Campo Fina
I loved this place. We sat outside overlooking the bocce court. I grew up frequenting the Italian clubs of the Mon Valley south of Pittsburgh. Every club had a bocce court. Bocce is a kind of caveman bowling. You use stone balls and the court is crushed slag from the steel mills. In northern California, they use crushed limestone. First a little ball called a pallino is rolled down the court. This is kind of like the stake in horseshoes. Each team rolls four balls and tries to get as close to the pallino as possible. If your team has two balls closer than any of the other team’s balls, you get two points. There’s a pit at the end of the court. If the pallino is knocked into the pit, then balls closest to the pit without going in score. Several times during a game, there will be a wide open shot where all the last bowler has to do is drop his ball close to the pallino. If he misses, there is a picture of a large naked woman on the wall and he has to give her a kiss where the sun don’t generally shine. I love Italians. Campo Fina had no picture that I could see.
The food was great. They brought us meatballs with a nice hearty red wine. I could see coming back here for dinner. But now, it was time to walk a half a block and have some tea.
3. The Taste of Tea
Now I’m a serious tea drinker. My dad drinks about 20 cups of tea per day and wonders why he can’t sleep at night. So I come by it honestly. I drink fancy tea. Denise and I visited Boston before we were married and went to a tea shop called TeaLuxe. I fell in love with their Extra Bergamot Earl Grey loose leaf black tea. They got all kinds, but this is the one I always get.
In Healdsburg, they have several tea rooms. The one we went to, Taste of Tea, was all a blogger could wish for.
First gem water. Now when I make tea at home, I use the water that comes through the filter in the fridge. Never mind that we haven’t changed this filter in 10 years. I’m sure it’s purer than the crappy tap water. But now I know just how wrong I’ve been lo these many moons. You see, if you want your tea to do the right things, you have to use gem water. How you get gem water is by putting semi-precious stones into a special glass dealie that you stick into a big vat of water. Different gems will give you different results.
So now you have the proper water. They came out with five different teas for us to try. Now I’m doing this from memory, but there was a green tea, a white tea, a black tea, an herbal tea and some kind of magic tea. I saw rainbow unicorns after drinking it.
They did not heat the tea. Instead it was cold filtered and steeped. It must be a very expensive process, as this was some high-priced tea. They served it in wine glasses, and I must admit it was very good. Had to be the gem water.
Anyway, the tea place was a nice diversion, and I kept my smart-assed comments to a bare minimum. We all said “Oooooommmmm”, and went to the next restaurant.
4. Bravas Bar de Tapas
Down the block, then left at the corner to the Bravas Bar de Tapas. This place turned out to be my favorite. They served us sangria along with about six tapas dishes, all delicious. Not a huge fan of Spanish food, but this place would definitely be worth coming for dinner. The best was green chilies sauteed in oil, and chorizo sausage. The bread was crusty, the wine was tasty and the experience was excellent.
One of our favorite European trips was to Spain. We found a Tapas place in Madrid that we bookmarked on my 2000-vintage Magellan hand-held GPS. If I could find a cord to charge it, I’m sure I could find it again. Or I could go back to Bravas
5. Cafe Lucia
The last restaurant we visited was a Portuguese place called Cafe Lucia. This was my least favorite of the bunch. Maybe it was because we were herded inside (all of our previous destinations were outside) and crowded into a small table. Maybe it was because this was the longest walk (about six blocks but we cut through the park). But probably, it was because the food really wasn’t that great. The first thing they gave us was a shot glass with two brightly colored beet purees in a sort of parfait arrangement. It was gawd awful, like something you’d punish your child with if he misbehaved. Secondly, they brought out some over-cooked scallops that I could’ve used as hockey pucks. I don’t care for Spanish cuisine, and if this is what the Portuguese eat, well, you can keep that, too.
I avoid beets in any form as a general rule. Beets = bad.
6. Moustache Bakery
We saved dessert for last at Moustache Baked Goods. By this time, we were ready to go back home, drink more wine, and watch the Pittsburgh Penguins continue their relentless march to the Stanley Cup. But we stopped at the most pretentious bakery on earth for a cupcake first. These cupcakes were part of the price of our tour, but I think they cost like $6 a piece. Now for $6, you better put bourbon in it or something. They didn’t even let us into the shop. Instead, they brought out boxes of cupcakes which we ate on the sidewalk. I had my cupcake, and then was ready for the walk back to the car.
So all in all, we had a good time in Healdsburg. Spent time with Denise and Max, and a food tour is a great thing to do with a lot of people. This was one of the many great days we had in northern California.
2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs
We got back in time to watch the Pens. During our week in California, I think we saw three games in the Tampa series during their run for the cup. Because of the time difference, we had to get back by 5 PM on game days, and all the games were nail-bitingly close.
Daytripping with Rick