Roadtrip Ukiah: The Long, Fattening Road Home

The ride home began with a crisis of hunger that led us to the HoneyFluff, a little spot that features the classic combo of Asian food (in this case, teriyaki bowls) and donuts. http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g33203-d4941526-r208623744-Honey_Fluff-Ukiah_Mendocino_County_California.html

We went with a maple Old Fashioned in the back seat, but that cream filled bar from the front was a real show stopper, filled with light whipped cream as opposed to a heavier custard.

Satiated, we were able to settle in for the hour drive to Healdsburg. Healdsburg is a precious little town that sits along the Russian River. The main downtown area features a collection of boutique hotels, boutique shops, antique shops, artisan shops, wine bars, charcuterie bars…you get the picture. It’s a place where yuppies go to feel outdoorsy, where they can “glamp” in rustic cabins along the river and drive into town at night for roast bone marrow, small batch wine, and locally sourced burrata. It’s not really my cup of tea (clearly) but it is definitely one of the better options for a food stop on the return drive to San Francisco from the North. Our goal was Mateo’s Cucina Latina, http://www.mateoscocinalatina.com/home/, a place I had bookmarked at some point for some reason, as being worthy of a stop.

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It was an nice day, as is often the case in August in Healdsburg, and the restaurant had that airy feel to it, with a tile floor, high ceilings, and big glass doors opening out to a large patio seating area.

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We took our post at the bar, where we were greeted by the bartender Freddie, who recognized Mikey from his days bartending in San Francisco, and who then proceeded to make us the MOST delicious margaritas. So perfectly balanced. Off to a great start!

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On to the food. First up, the queso fundido, a dish that Jake can literally NEVER pass up.

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So satisfying. Hot, nutty tasting, stretchy, goopy, oaxacan cheese with a little twinge of chorizo, served with mealy (in the best way) thick tortillas. Now THAT greasy mess is what I call a hangover cure.

The tortilla espanola, an egg omelet served atop a bed of refried black beans, drizzled with cotija and topped with squash blossoms and peppers, was not only beautiful but also wonderful tasting. Despite that list of somewhat heavy ingredients, it was actually quite light.

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The pork carnitas quesadilla was my absolute favorite…worthy of a trip to Healdsburg just to have it. Arrrggglllarrrrgggg….that tortilla was perfectly thin and crisp, crusted with burnt cheese (the stuff dreams are made of) filled with moist, yet crisp in spots, carnitas, with the added spectacular surprise of zucchini inside, and the genius addition of fresh vegetables on top. Why isn’t this done more often? Those fresh veggies on the top redefined the whole deal. Do you realize how refreshingly delicious it is to eat a dish that rich and savory and meaty, and then you hit a crunchy, watery cucumber, along with a juicy, sweet, tomato? Oh, and microgreens? Puh-lease!

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This last guy, the panucho, a tortilla filled with black bean puree, chicken, greens, and avocado, was my least favorite. For one, I was in total rapture over the quesadilla, and secondly, the panucho just kinda lacked punch. I would have liked a little more acidity, though to be fair, we were all splitting it and I it looks like there was a good amount of pickled onion that I missed out on.

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Freddie sent us off with one last incredible margarita, this one a spicy version, studded with fresh radish:

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We cruised a little further south on 101 to Sebastopol for an artisan vodka, gin and whiskey tasting at Spirit Works Distillery. http://spiritworksdistillery.com/index.php/home I can’t remember how I came across this place, but I know I read that it was fabulous and well worth a visit, which was enthusiastically confirmed by Freddie during our stint at Mateo’s. I wasn’t really familiar with Sebastopol prior to this stop (not that I am now) but I had thought of it as being low-key, more Sonoma that Santa Rosa. I was a bit surprised when we pulled into this super darling promenade of identical buildings, each with a very open air, warehouse style, inhabited by either an artisanal pizzeria, wine bar, beer brewery, art gallery, boutique, etc. Basically, Healdsburg part deux, bursting at the seams with yuppies cruising around in their “weekend wear” all organic clothing, pushing strollers and feeling like they were really getting their culture on. I don’t know, that stuff just gives me the heebie jeebies. Not to pick on this restaurant, but it all looks like this:

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Spirit Works was minimalist and cute inside, sort of hipster and modern, with one small room mostly filled with merchandise, along with the tasting counter, and one large window looking into the actual distillery.

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A very knowledgable young woman did our tasting ($5/pp, fee waived with a $15 merch purchase), explaining to us how each part of the vodka/gin/whiskey process works, what herbs we were tasting in the alcohol, etc. She also explained to me that the area we were in is known as the “Barlow,” a collection of buildings that used to be apple processing plants, then they sat empty for quite some time, and the city decided to make this sort of artisanal product community out of it. That’s pretty cool, I have to say. Yuppies or not. http://thebarlow.net/

I adored their Vodka, which instead of just tasting like ethanol has a really nice, smooth, almost vanilla flavor. Not TOO vanilla, mind you, but just a hint. We also tasted their gin, and their sloe gin, a red colored, berry tasting spirit. Everything we sampled was truly delicious. We didn’t get to taste the whiskey because it is still currently in production. They have a little whiskey chart of sorts behind the tasting counter…tiny bottles with samples in them, showing the monthly progression in color. Before we left, Rand I bought some shirts (dur) because, to be honest, they have some pretty cute stuff. They do.

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They can’t legally sell their bottles there, so we were directed to a place that does sell their stuff, Sebastopol Liquor and Delicatessen (about three blocks away) where we went and bought some Christmas gifts. http://www.yelp.com/biz/sebastopol-liquor-and-delicatessen-sebastopol The sloe gin cost something like $45 for 750ML, so, it’s not exactly cheap, but it is small batch and it is delicious. Each bottle comes with a batch number written on it, and you can go to their website, enter your batch number, and the story of its production comes up.

From the liquor store, we back tracked about a block to Woodfour Brewing Co for a couple of beers. http://woodfourbrewing.com/

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Another warehouse spot with a pretty cool beer bottle wall, and, of course, a window looking into the works.

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I had one bright and floral Bret Comet, and one slightly sour Saison, both delicious. The menu is pretty predictable, hitting on every current bar food trend…house made corn nuts, deviled eggs, jar of pickled veggies, ramped up potato chips, little gem salad, a fried chicken sandwich with kimchi, etc. If I were hungry, I definitely would have dove in, and I’m sure they do a delicious job of it, but, nothing jumped out that would have made me gratuitously stuff myself because I just HAD to try it. We did order a little bowl of corn nuts for a salty accompaniment to go with our beer.

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They tasted like concentrated balls of chicken boullion, and the texture was quite unusual, almost like a crouton. I liked them, and they were most certainly house made, I just think they used a really tiny corn kernel to make them? Like the kernel itself was buried under some other sort of bready substance.

Anyhow, after a couple of pops we pushed on to one of Randi’s old haunts in the area, the Washoe House, an old dive bar on the way out of town. http://www.yelp.com/biz/washoe-house-petaluma

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The ceiling in the Washoe House is carpeted with money and business cards, going back to a time when people clearly smoked in there, as much of the paper has been rendered an antique yellow.

It’s strangely comforting…like you are sitting under a willow tree or something. The Washoe was a great stop, divey enough, but not SO divey that they didn’t have fernet, and, the Giants were on, AND, I got my ubiquitous order of wings, all doused in Franks, just like I like ’em.

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Our next destination was Frantoio Ristorante in Mill Valley, a town just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
http://www.frantoio.com/

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Frantoio is tragically located directly across the street from one of my favorite restaurants on the planet, the Buckeye Roadhouse. So, I was kinda sad to be making that turn away from my beloved, but, we did. The restaurant’s design is all peach and tile Mediterranean. The long bar has a raw section behind it, as in, they prep the cold/raw foods out front, hot in the back.

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We sat at the bar, where Jason, the bartender/server greeted us. That guy was all personality; he’s definitely in the right line of work. He delivered drinks, bread (focaccia and sourdough), and olive oil while we deliberated over the menu. The olive oil was wonderfully grassy, really flavorful. Jake and I loved it, Randi didn’t like it…point being it was something to discuss. I know now, from reading their website, that it is a house made specialty.

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To start, we went cesar salad and scallops. Both dishes just as they should be, nothing earth shattering…the scallops being particularly meaty and nicely carmelized.

Mains were the rabbit papardelle and the Frantoiana pizza, topped with olive, caper, anchovy, san marzanos, basil and the house made olive oil. The papardelle had so much depth of flavor, so many layers of taste. It was just delicious, so saucy, generously loaded with stringy braised meat; the pasta completely held up and remained toothsome. I think it was billed as a regular’s favorite and I can see why.

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The pizza was good. Not the best I’ve ever had and certainly not the worst. Crisp crust, strong olives, yet the sauce and the flavor of the crust were just a little underwhelming for me.

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For dessert we had this delightful ring of sweet fried dough filled with cream and chocolate shavings.

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And then, finally, we stopped eating and went home.

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