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One of the chief drivers of food quality at our regional restaurants is the wealth of great local wines. The wines draw the tourists, the tourists dine at the best restaurants, the restaurants showcase our world-class wines, and the kitchens are compelled to serve food that compares favorably with the wines.

The Lodge at Sonoma in the town of Sonoma is a hotel with spa, shops and a restaurant, Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, that draws a lot of tourists. But when it comes to the wine list at the Bistro, things are done a little differently. Yes, there are plenty of good local wines from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, but also plenty of great wines from the world’s many other fine wine regions. The wine list, with more than 400 bottles from inexpensive to you-don’t-want-to-know, is a wine lover’s dream.

This is thanks to the legacy of sommelier Christopher Sawyer, a man of immense wine knowledge who ran the wine program there for years until he left earlier this year, and now to Joshua Betts, the new sommelier who is building on Sawyer’s bequest.

To give you an idea of vinous treasures that aren’t often found on local wine lists, at Carneros Bistro you’ll find three late-picked Rieslings from S.A. Prum and the “Wehlen Sundial” vineyard in the Mosel region of Germany — the 2004, 2006 and 2007 vintages at $96 each. These are as sweet and lovely as a bouquet of wildflowers from a Mosel hillside. Want something less expensive but just as good in its own way? Try the 2010 Falanghina from Terredora di Paolo in Campania for $36. Wine historians believe this sun-struck Italian white grape was the basis for ancient Rome’s favorite wine, the Falernian.

If you bring a bottle, corkage is $15.

Executive Chef Joshua Murray runs the food program, but Chef Andrew Wilson does the cooking. You’ll start dinner with a smile if you try the Ahi Tuna Tartare ($17 ★★★ ½), a hockey-puck-sized wheel of chopped, sashimi-grade ahi mixed with Pliny the Elder beer, capers and a touch of mustard, all topped with a tiny quail egg. The Bistro Wedge ($13 ★★★ ½) is not a wedge of iceberg lettuce, but cold and crunchy Little Gem romaines sprinkled with bits of Hobbs bacon, and with lots of intensely delicious buttermilk dressing studded with dabs of Crater Lake blue cheese.

Chef uses quotes in the dish Cured Salmon “Pastrami” ($15 ★★★ ), but there’s nothing ersatz about it. Pastrami originally was made of fowl, not brisket, and many chefs today are making this brined and smoked meat with duck, chicken, turkey and salmon. The surface is rubbed with black pepper, salt, coriander, mustard, brown sugar, paprika and garlic and onion powders. This dish proves that pastrami has broken its beefy bounds, yet retained its quality.

What to make of a Creamy Cauliflower Soup ($11★ ½) that has no discernible flavor of cauliflower? Taste of salt? Yes. Poached mussels lurking under the surface? Yes. Cream? Sure. Cauliflower? Not a hint.

Things sharpened back up with the arrival of the entrées. Duck Two Ways ($30 ★★★ ) featured a generous 11 slices of grilled duck breast with a crusty surface and red interior, plus a tart shell filled with duck leg confit. When it comes to duck, we’re spoiled because Liberty ducks, which set the nation’s standard for quality, are raised in Petaluma.


Here’s a summary. For full legal information for Sonoma County, visit sonomacounty.ca.gov/Cannabis/Personal-Use-and-Cultivation/

Who Can Grow?

Medical: Any patient or caregiver with a doctor’s recommendation for medical cannabis. The cannabis cannot be sold or distributed

Recreational: Any adult 21 or older. The cannabis cannot be sold

Size of plants: Up to 100 square feet of grow area per residence

Medical amount: There’s no limit on the number of plants for medical use

Recreational amount: No more than 6 plants

Where: Cultivation must take place at the person’s full-time residence

Outdoor: Plants cannot be located in the front or side yard setback areas and cannot be visible from public streets or walkways. Outdoor growing is not allowed in multi-family units or in the medium or high-density residential zones (R2 and R3).

Indoor: Indoor grows must be in an accessory structure, like a greenhouse or garage. Growing inside a residential structure is not allowed, unless there is no feasible alternative.


You can get seeds from suppliers on the internet. The Gage Green Group (gagegreen.org) is a reputable company selling organically grown seeds for medicinal or recreational grows. Close to home, The Cali Connection (thecaliconnection.com) is a website to look into. Farther afield, in Amsterdam in fact, is a fine company called Sensi Seeds (senjsiseeds.com) that sells medicinal, recreational and feminized seeds.

If you want to do more research, here are other seed suppliers to Google: Brothers Grimm Seeds, Swamp Boys Seeds, BC Bud Depot, MTG Seeds, DNA Genetics, TGA Genetics, Green House Seeds, Archive Seed Bank, Aficionado Seeds, Amsterdam Genetics and The British Seed Company.

You can also stop by the Emerald Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in December. An Early Bird Weekend Pass is on sale now for $120 plus $12.74 fee, no babies in arms and no strollers. You probably don’t want to take the kids to this event anyway. For tickets, visit theemeraldcup.com/tickets/

For starter plants, talk to a growe.r

Identifying gender of cannabis plants

If you let the male plants spread pollen among the females, you’ll ruin your crop, unless your aim is to grow and harvest seeds. If pollinated, the females will put their energy into ripening seeds, not producing big kolas of flowers.

Male and female marijuana plants are identical for the first six weeks of life. After June 20, they will start to differentiate by gender. If you’re serious about growing quality plants, you must remove all male plants and get them off the property or bury them as soon as you can tell their gender.

Use a magnifying glass to look at the joints on the stalk where the branches meet the main stalk. At first both males and females will have small clusters of ball-like bulbs there, but soon small, hairy, translucent filaments will emerge from the female bulbs. When many of the female bulbs show these filaments, it’s time to remove the male plants, which will still not have filaments but will soon shower the patch with pollen. Pull them out and get rid of them asap.

For more information and pictures, visit wikihow.com/Identify-Female-and-Male-Marijuana-Plants

Just as good as the duck is the Square Pig ($29 ★★★ ), and no, it doesn’t fit into a round hole. It’s a thick square of Berkshire pork cooked long and slow for two days, then pulled into shreds and formed into this square slab, paired up with small round beets, sautéed onions, baby carrots and turnips, drenched in a spicy apricot-cherry-mustard sauce that tastes delicious and better than it sounds.

For dessert, pastry chef Ricky Zavala’s Pumpkin Walnut Cake ($9 ★★★ ), served with house-made pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin-seed brittle and drizzled with honeyed yogurt, made a perfect ending.

To sum up: Good food supports one of the area’s best wine lists.

Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review for the Sonoma Living section. He can be reached at jeffcox@sonic.net.

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