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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thing 11: Sonoma

From what I have heard and tasted, there are very few good places to eat on the Hill. (I love the Hawk & Dove and the Cap Lounge for many reasons; fine dining is not one of them). Which is why whenever there is any kind of lunch or drinks with the purpose of impressing prospective or current clients, I head to Sonoma.

Today I was put in charge of meeting with and entertaining a delegation from the Green Party of Austria. It seemed a fitting occasion for impressing and demonstrating that us po-dunk Americans know good food too, not just those silly Europeans over there on their continent. Then again, serving California cuisine to people from the land of schnitzel may not have been the best game plan.

Named after the county in California made famous for its wine, Sonoma is, at its heart, a wine bar. The establishment boasts over 30 wines by the taste or glass, and 50 or so more by the bottle. Sadly, none of our Austrians ordered any wine. Austria may not have the same sense of bon vivant as their neighbors, the French.

Sonoma also excels at putting together a gorgeous cheese plate and/or charcuterie platter. Their cheeses come from around the world, a dozen varieties and animal origins. I also love any of the preserved meats available on their charcuterie platters, in particular their paper thin slices of prosciutto, and serve with big hunks of grilled bread. The "accents" are all made in house, including red wine and white wine jellies that I am determined to recreate at home. Beware of those things that look like olives though -- they are actually pickled baby peaches, and you will be quite surprised by their hardness and tanginess when you where expecting an olive.

But alas, none of our Austrians wanted platters of meat or cheese either. Such austere living.

Instead, we went straight into lunch with no silly precursors. I ordered the citrus salad and the black risotto. The citrus salad was a wonderful combination of bitter grapefruits, sweet oranges, salty feta cheese wedges, and a salty, bitter black olive vinaigrette, all on a bed of water cress and radicchio. The dressing was a bit overpowering, but the salty/bitter/sweet combination was unique and satisfying, and I don't even like feta! The black risotto was a bit bland but very black. It oozed squid ink, which doesn't really add much other than the color. The risotto fillings -- squid and what the menu says is prosciutto but I swear is pancetta -- punch up the rice some, but its not my favorite dish there. No, my favorite dish is the incredibly rich and completely satisfying linguine carbonara. The sauce is composed entirely of butter, heavy cream, pancetta and wild mushrooms, and is served with a raw egg yoke nestled within the noodles. When you break the yoke, it melts into the pasta, adding to the overall decadence of the dish. It is a treat.

At least our Austrians had the good sense to order dessert, and I joined them in a vanilla panna cotta with fresh orange sauce. The consistency of the panna cotta, like a very thick flan, was good, with a sprinkle of vanilla bean on top and paired quite well with the orange sauce.

A word of warning: I realized today that Sonoma is loud. I suppose I already knew this about the place, but it never bothered me in a group of two or four. This time, with ten of us seated around the wide table, the bulk of whom were not native English speakers, the ambient noise was overwhelming and stilted the conversation. The room is spacious and angular, the walls bare. Soundproofing is not its strong suit.

I'm afraid I don't have any pictures of the experience, as I thought it might be weird to pull out a camera during lunch and snap pictures of my salad while entertaining foreign parliamentarians. It would have been a lot easier had they ordered wine.


Anonymous said...

LOL, is this going to become a blog about places right by your office?