I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay (“Afternoon on a Hill“)
Some days you just want to do something different,
go somewhere new, breathe different air and surround yourself with colors and smells that go beyond the norms of your daily life. That’s the feeling that I woke up with today, happily bouncing out of bed at 8 a.m. to turn the alarm off. While that may seem early for a Saturday morning, the Greek and I were going to Sonoma (clearly, given our trip last October, this is becoming a fall tradition for us). For most people, the goal of a trip to Sonoma is wine tasting and, although we planned to do some of that too, our real mission was to have a nice breakfast at the Fremont Diner.
Despite my love of reading any and all things about food, I found out about this place the old-fashioned way–through word of mouth. My building manager, you see, is one of the best food resources around, having himself worked in several restaurants in California, as well as having owned a catering business for many years. The thing he’s been planning for many years, but sadly can’t quite manage right now due to real estate costs, is to open his own breakfast place. The man loves breakfast and, if you ask him (hopefully with a pen in your hand) for suggestions, will rattle off a list of places. And his opinion is usually spot on. So, when he told me about this place, I knew we had to go. Even better was the fact that our conversation about food (ranging from prunes to Jacques Pepin) coincided with a timely monetary gift from my father, who, due to all of my work troubles and worries over the last few months, told me to take the money and to treat both myself and the Greek (clearly, he was traveling Tom Haverford and the fine people at “Parks and Recreation” without even knowing it).
Certainly, brunch is a simple way to go in terms of treating yourself, but it just so happens that I love brunch. It means I start the morning with a nice meal and there won’t be any dishes to wash. Plus, because in recent years I’ve expanded my own breakfast repertoire, making lots of pancakes, trying my hand at waffles and even attempting the oh so scary poached egg, I try to make it a rule that I’ll order only things that I would most likely never make at home. This is how I ended up with a plateful of scrambled eggs, bacon, oysters, fried potatoes, arugula and remoulade. In short, nothing short of heaven on a plate.
The Greek also did well for himself, ending up with a big plate of shrimp and grits with a fried egg. It was a lovely little roadside place–nothing fancy, but well worth the drive. Everything was fresh (they have a garden in the restaurant’s backyard), flavorful and, despite being “rich Southern food”, was not overly heavy and cloying. I left full, but a happy full, not an “I’m never eating again” full. It also didn’t hurt that we sat in the sunshine, at a cute little picnic table, and that Sonoma’s charm surrounded us from every angle.
Our next stop was a winery, but we let inspiration strike us on the road. The Greek had seen something about a state landmark, so we headed in that direction, ultimately ending up at Buena Vista Winery. The property was lovely–well manicured and inviting–and, much to our delight, offered a compelling historical narrative as well.
The winery, which was established by a Hungarian Count (Count Agoston Haraszthy) in 1857, employs an actor/historian to act out and tell the story of its founder. The act includes a Hungarian accent (the man who plays this role is even learning Hungarian to perfect his act), as well as jokes about the strangeness of history (this act will be taken on the road in the next year when the “Count’s Wine” is released by Buena Vista. It’s worth seeing if it comes to a city near you). The Count’s story, you see, ends with him trying to salvage his fortune by sailing (phylloxera infested his vines; I should note that when the “Count” asked us why we thought his crops failed, the Greek was the only one to offer a guess and, naturally, that guess was right. Men of science are truly knowledgeable; never fails!) to Nicaragua to invest in a sugar plantation. This plan never came to fruition because the poor Count fell into alligator-infested waters and was no more.
Once we left the Count behind, the actor playing the Count resumed his own identity, a man who has been working in the wine industry for 35 years. And it was truly a pleasure to listen to him; he covered all kinds of ground: why screw caps are better than corks (corks change the taste of the wine) and also told us about how, after the movie Sideways came out, several makers of Merlot were put out of business because people stopped buying it (apparently, in the actual novel, Paul Giamatti’s character refuses to drink Merlot not because it’s a bad wine, but because it’s his ex-wife’s favorite wine. It’s amazing how one tiny detail can change a scene). While letting Hollywood dictate your purchasing decisions is certainly absurd, I can’t say I blame them, though. It was a wine movie–and one that seemed to offer sound wine advice and opinions. And, most importantly, while I like wine, I am, like many others out there, far from an expert and will often blindly take the recommendations of others. This isn’t to say that I don’t know what I like, but ask me what it tastes like and I’m hopeless. Cherry? Hints of nutmeg and cinnamon? Sorry, my palate just isn’t that developed. But it’s nice to take these opportunities and to try to absorb whatever wisdom I can.
After sampling the good life at Buena Vista, we headed to Sonoma proper, the quaint little town that is full of pumpkins, shops and, at this time of year, groups of tourists from all over the Bay Area and beyond. We found ourselves staying away from the crowds by walking down a side street that led us to a hidden treasure: The Depot Park Museum. We played with the stereopticon and looked at the ads on the side wall. I must confess that I was most intrigued by one called “The Princess Bust Developer” for those women “not favored with nature’s greatest charm.” Part of me couldn’t believe that such a thing existed back in the nineteenth century (it’s hardly the concern of an Austen heroine, after all!)! Part of me was, geek that I am, intrigued by the language used; believe me when I say that it was basically one big walking euphemism.
The rest of our time was just spent walking around, talking and snapping pictures. It shouldn’t amaze me (yet it always does!), but, whenever you find yourself doing something a little out of the ordinary with somebody you’ve known for a long time, the whole nature of the conversation changes. Suddenly, you’re talking about random things–travelogues and TV dinners, cartoons from your youth, people like Descartes, chicken pot pie. There doesn’t even have to be any rhyme or reason to the whole thing; you just find yourself feeling a bit more free.
Good food doesn’t hurt either. A stop at Sonoma’s Best proved that. Olive bread and mozzarella with tomato and pesto. Or a surprisingly good meat loaf sandwich (the Greek is the carnivore in this relationship). They only add to the conversation.
Our final stop before returning to our normal life was Anaba Winery. And mainly because, after we tried to go there on my birthday and were turned away since we arrived five minutes before closing, we’ve had two vouchers for a “2 for 1 tasting.” Clearly, as I’ve now been 28 for about 6 months, it was high time we use them. The Greek has always said this is one of his favorite wineries. As soon as we arrived, I could see why. The view captures the best of Sonoma and the turbines outside also give it a unique look and feel.
I really liked the Turbine Red, but the white port and Viognier dessert wine really stole my heart. Especially the latter. I said earlier in this post that I usually can’t capture the individual taste of any of the competing flavors in the wine. This, however, was different; I could taste the lavender. It was both subtle and sweet. And when I saw that this was the perfect accompaniment to a pear tart or to a cheesecake, I started imagining the possibilities…..Which is exactly what a day away is supposed to do: it should make you excited about your return to the prosaic.
It's nice to feel restored.