Friday, September 17, 2010

Soup, Salad, and the Cookies They Serve in Heaven

Today, we visited the Ft. Bragg Bakery for the first time. If you've never been there, go at the first opportunity. If you have been there, you're a regular, because I can't imagine going there once and not returning.

This is the way food should taste. Always. Forever. The breads have a robust crust, chewy but not tough or prone to fracture into difficult chunks.  The inner texture is amazing, the taste sublime.

I had a creamy gazpacho, full of fresh heirloom tomatoes (I was once informed by a checker at the supermarket that this is pronounced "hair-loom," she was so concerned I get it right she made sure to correct me twice. I nearly split myself trying not to burst out laughing), cucumbers, and red onions. Fresh parsley livened it up, and the garlic was subtle yet persuasive. It was so perfectly seasoned I stopped wondering why there was no salt on the table. No need for anything served to be enhanced.

My husband ordered one of their individual pizzas, baked in the flaming brick oven behind the counter. The crust was thin and nearly cracker-like, the toppings and cheese perfectly proportioned. I tasted it but dove back into my gazpacho, preferring the crisp crunch of the diced veggies and the silky smoothness of the broth.  My husband left a few shards of crust, so I suspect he liked it.

We ordered a turkey-salad sandwich to share, made with Willy Bird's turkey. (WB farms turkeys in Santa Rosa, and has his own restaurant there. We've tried it, but although he's a fine farmer, his cookery is bland, without spice or salt.) The FBB made a sublime turkey salad, with lingonberry sauce, and served it on cranberry bread with arugula.  Once again, a winner.

We ordered some cookies to take away, as well. The chocolate-chips are baked to perfection, crisp on the outside, chewy inside. It has that perfect mouthfeel, where the crust, crisp with butter, crunches and the moist inside compresses between your teeth as the chocolate melts on your tongue. 

John is always a fan of molasses cookies, but after a lifetime of being tempted by store-bought versions and being sadly disappointed, I believed that I hated molasses cookies. Well, consider me enlightened. FBB's molasses cookies taste of ginger, cloves, and mildly of the sweetness of good molasses. No burnt-sugar taste as in the commercial versions. A bite fills your mouth with aromatic spicyness and sweetness. I had a hard time leaving the rest of the molasses cookies for John.

However, now no other molasses cookie will do for me. Next week I'll be over 500 miles from the FBB, and all their cookies, breads and wonderful soups, salads and sandwiches.  I still haven't tasted their blondie. And we didn't buy, but were mightily tempted by their apple turnovers, which looked like no other we'd seen. 

Everything in this place is perfected. Before I left, I proposed marriage to the entire kitchen staff. I'm still waiting on their answer.  They seemed to be considering it, because they're all very nice people, obviously passionate about their food, and about making their customers happy.  We will definitely return before our departure next week.  I'll take the engagement ring(s) with me.

The other day, I hinted at the best salad I'd ever eaten. This one I made myself. We visited the Mendocino Farmer's Market last Friday. There, we bought a head of ruby leaf lettuce larger than my own head for $3. I suspect it had been growing in the ground until about 11am that morning. We bought it at 12.  I had some cherry tomatoes from Gowan's Oak Tree, so sweet and flavorful they are like little tomato candies. I cut up a fresh MacIntosh apple, added some NY sharp cheddar and some scallions. A bit of locally bottled ranch dressing and ohhhh my. Just the very freshness of the ingredients made it the best salad I think I've ever had. 

Mendocino is not a cheap place to eat, but if you are careful about where you spend your money, you can get food that's as good as anywhere on earth, fresh, flavorful, and lovingly prepared and served. It's well worth the hunt. And I've taken the lesson about eating locally, because the quality of ingredients you get that way just isn't possible when shopping in the supermarkets. The closer it is to the earth, the ocean, the butcher or the hen's butt, the better the food is.

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