There’s no better way to celebrate spring than to pack a spontaneous picnic and head outdoors. The fare may consist only of a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese, but the humble feast becomes as memorable as a four-star restaurant when paired with a panoramic view of the ocean or the mountains.
Bryan Jones, chef at St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa, has one of the most stunning views in Sonoma County right outside his kitchen door at the winery, which is nestled at the base of Sugarloaf Ridge and Hood Mountain.
On the tables on the back patio, Jones offers a daily cheese and charcuterie tasting that may include a couple of cheeses from France, some prosciutto from Italy and condiments ranging from dry tart cherries to marinated olives.
“You can also bring a picnic and sit on the lawn in the back, overlooking the vineyards and the Mayacamas range,” he said.
As a native of San Luis Obispo and an inveterate surfer, Jones often heads out for a portable repast at one of his favorite surf spots in Northern California, from Ocean Beach in San Francisco to Salmon Creek Beach in Bodega Bay.
Closer to home, the chef from Sonoma also enjoys picnicking at other wineries, such as Bartholomew Park Winery, tucked away on a historic 7-acre estate just a few blocks east of the Sonoma Plaza.
“They have picnic tables in the shade, and it’s really secluded,” Jones said. “They also allow dogs.”
Whether he’s tethered to his surfboard or his two dogs — an English bulldog and a miniature schnauzer — Jones often will throw together a quick salad, then pick up a grilled chicken from El Brinquito Market, at 17380 Sonoma Highway in Sonoma. The chicken is cooked Yucatecan style, with a wine-friendly blend of citrus and mild spices.
“It’s marinated in orange juice, achiote paste, Mexican oregano, smoked paprika, shallots, cumin and cilantro stems,” he said. “You marinate it overnight, dry it off and just grill it.”
To complement the Yucatecan-Style Chicken, he suggests a healthy quinoa salad studded with all kinds of spicy and smoky Mexican ingredients.
“I saute some corn with onions and garlic and smoked paprika, and toss the cooked quinoa in with it,” he said. “Once that’s cooled, I add some lime juice, the crumbled queso fresco and a little bit of cilantro.”
If he has a bit of extra time, he might prepare a simple picnic dessert, such as a Toasted Coconut Panna Cotta topped with diced mango, mint and toasted coconut flakes. He packs the sweet treat into a mini Mason jar for easy portability.
But more often than not, Jones swings by the Watmaugh strawberry patch, at Arnold Drive and West Watmaugh Road, on his way to the beach.
“That’s a favorite for Sonomans,” he said of the beloved farmstand, which opened April 1. “If I was going to go out to Bodega Bay, I’d go through Petaluma.”
The self-confessed “wine geek” worked as the chef and general manager of The Fig Cafe in Glen Ellen for 10 years before joining St. Francis’ culinary team last summer.
The chef is thrilled to be pairing foods with the winery’s newly released 2014 St. Francis Rosé Sonoma County, his favorite pick for a picnic wine.