Duncans Mills in West Sonoma County: Farmers Market, Gold Coast, Cape Fear, and Wine Tasting
Duncan's Mills has the newest certified farmers market in the area. Located behind the outdoor dining area for the Blue Heron Inn, I checked it out Saturday afternoon (open 11am-3pm). Only five farmers (all certified organic and one labeling himself as beyond organic) offering goods this late in the season still, I picked up a nice Crane melon, beautiful salad greens, tiny Alpine-type strawberries, and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes.
A few steps away and next to the Post Office, Gold Coast Coffee & Kayaks (23515 Steelhead Dr., 707-865-1441) roasts and serves organic coffee and has a wood-fired brick oven for making pastries and pizzas. Pizza slices are available by the slice ($2.50). However, the pepperoni slice of pie I heated up at home for dinner was disappointing - too much oregano in the overly thick sauce and only one piece of pepperoni. But the bread, especially the crusty edge was chewy with good yeasty flavor development, and I would stick with loaf form (e.g., the baguettes) instead of pizza next time.
Cape Fear (25191 Main St., 707-865-9246, firstname.lastname@example.org) offers an eclectic menu with touches of the Carolinas and the South (e.g., hot pot, oyster poor boys, remoulade). Brunch and lunch are offered on weekends. I had poked my head in earlier to check what time they stop seating for lunch 2:30pm before strolling the market and the many art galleries.
When I returned, I took my time with the menu, sending the waitress away the first time she stopped to take my order, as I was trying to decide among the various eggs benedict dishes offered for brunch. The twist here is that hollandaise sauce over poached eggs rests on a base of black-peppered grits rather than English muffins. Each combination is named after a Southern city. The one I settled on, Charleston Benedict, $13.95, has grilled shrimp and prosciutto. Would that I could tell you what it tastes like except that when I tried to order, I was told that brunch service stops at 2:00pm and now only the lunch menu was available. I pointed out that the time was 2:02pm. I also felt like telling her that she should have stated this when I came in or when I said I needed more time, but bit my tongue. The waitress didnt waiver, so I went back to the menu and ordered the cheapest thing, Cape Fear Pink Chowder, $6.50, described as clam, potato, onion, celery, cream and tomato.
At the first spoonful, I had to call her over because the chowder was barely warm. It was whisked back into the kitchen. The next bowl was at the correct temperature and accompanied by profuse apologies.
The chowder was fine, tasty even, although it wasnt pink. The tomato ingredient is just a dice of fresh and juicy tomatoes tossed on the top. The chowder was very thick and hearty with lots of bacon (not indicated on the menu) and celery flavor. The acidity of the tomatoes helped cut through some of the richness, but didnt really blend much into the flavors.
Im not sure what to conclude about this place. I really wanted to like it Bette Midler in the background crooning the standards, quirky décor with roosters and African artifacts, a nice patio for dining al fresco, and the interesting menu. Prices were a tad higher than Id expected to see. The attitude and the food were just not that welcoming. If one of the three wait staff or the manager had smiled once, I might have felt like they wanted my business. Maybe I caught the kitchen and the staff at the grim end of the lunch shift.
No matter, as my next stop put things right again. A few doors away from the café is Wine and Cheese Tasting of Sonoma County (Hwy. 116, 707-865-0565, http://winetastingsonoma.com/ ). The friendly proprietors are running a continual party at the tasting bar that spills out to the tables on the deck outdoors, plus helping their patrons enjoy wines to the fullest. It was my first time here, yet I was greeted like a long-lost friend. About eight whites, 10 reds, and a slew of dessert wines, mostly locally produced in Sonoma County, were open at the bar. I bellied up to taste a few.
2002 Tremani Russian River Valley Pinot Gris, $14.99/bottle Ripe melon aroma, a bit of earthy depth to the apple and melon fruit, good acidic lift finishing dry, crisp and a tad bitter. Bottled by Hansen Vineyards in an Alsatian flute. VERY GOOD
2001 Cline Cellars Contra Costa Small Berry Mourvedre, $31.99 Characteristic linden nose with tar and black fruit, very ripe impression with the sweetness of high alcohol (15.7%), more dark fruits and berries on the palate with mocha-toned wood, forward and generous but upfront plushness fades in the finish. VERY GOOD
2001 David Noyes Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $29.99, 250 cases produced First release from David under his own label, hes still making wine at Kunde and before that at Ridge. I was surprised that he was working with Pinot Noir, but am delighted he is as this is a very pretty wine. Fruity nose with raspberry and red cherry, very expressive right now and blossoms in the glass, sweet and generous red and black fruits, subtle and unobtrusive use of well-integrated wood, not candied or over extracted, good acid balance, sleek tannins, lingering finish. This is crafted in a modest style that will not win tasting competitions. Rather the wine has Burgundian elegance with New World sweet and forward fruit. EXCELLENT
2000 Moshin Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $14.99 Light colored, faint nose and palate of wild strawberry and green tea, fairly muted and light, but hangs in there with good persistence. Ive had better efforts from this producer, yet this is typical of the vintage and the price is right. GOOD Plus
2001 Wild Hog Saini Dry Creek Valley Carignane, $19.99 Tart/sweet crushed raspberry nose, light-bodied with a little too much oak tone for the delicate berry fruit, moderate finish. GOOD
2001 Coturri Estate Bottles Sonoma Mountain Zinfandel, $29.99 Coturri Zin is one of Robert Parkers pet wines, although hes admitted taking a lot of flack for recommending them as theyre notoriously unstable and funky. I dont like them, but its always a kick to taste them given the opportunity. Dense nose with burnt rubber, volatile acidity, anise, and prunes, gamy and hot, thick with concentrated and complex fruit among all the funkydelics, typical idiosyncratic and always characterful Coturri. Cant rate.
1999 Harts Desire Ponzu Russian River Valley Zinfandel, $19.99 Mellow and mature nose, straight ahead RRV zin with lively acid balance, leanish fruit, drying finish. GOOD
2001 Gundlach-Bundschu Block 13 Cabernet Sauvignon, $19.99 Pleasing but lacking a bit in concentration, well-balanced for current drinking with smooth tannins, black currant fruit and black olive notes, moderate finish. GOOD Plus
After this power-tasting, I ordered a taste of Madeira and a sample of hard cheese to go with that. Duck paté and Molinari salami are also available. I took a seat in the easy chair by the coffee table for my post-lunch snack and read the newspaper. The Blandys 5-year-old Bual showed a quiet nose with not as much rancio as expected, toasted walnuts and a toffeed sweetness, and a little roughness not being as well-integrated as it should be. The cheese they picked for me was Midnight Moon, which is new from Cypress Grove (producers of Humboldt Fog). Its a firm goat cheese, aged at least one year, and is another winner. It has a smooth and slightly rubbery texture with the occasional salt crunch. Served at room temperature, the pungent goaty-ness was highlighted with a pleasant tang and salty finish. This was accompanied by thin slices of firm and unbleached baguette from Gold Coast Coffee and a handful of grapes.
The tab for the wine tasting of nine wines and the cheese taste was $15, including tax and tip. This is a super value for the quality presented. I enjoyed talking with the proprietors about the wine and cheese selection and sharing the passion. I admired their ability to work with wine novices as well as the more experienced. The shop is well worth a detour for a one-stop tour of local wines and cheeses.
re: Robert Lauriston
There are some really good chowders on the Sonoma Coast. I did the Bodega Bay chowder day contest in February and I'd say that more than half the entries from local restaurants in a field of 15 were very good to outstanding. I've tasted the winners of similar contests in Pismo Beach, Monterey, and Santa Cruz and those can't come anywhere close. Not even the same universe.
Karol and I discovered this restaurant five years ago and fell in love with it. We were staying in Jenner and looking for a place for breakfast on a Saturday morning. Cape Fear was one of several listed on a sheet in the room we were staying in so we thought what the heck. We were completely amazed. I am totally hooked on the Charleston Benedict. We make a point to get up there several times a year even if its just for brunch on the weekend even though its a couple of hours each way we have always found it worth the trip. The people are always friendly and helpful, Karol forgot her sweater there one trip and I called the next day and they had it, asked for my address and mailed it to us at their expense. All I can say is this place rates 6 stars on a 5 star rating to us.
Cape Fear Cafe
25191 Highway 116, Duncans Mills, CA 95430
I went to the wine tasting shop at Duncan's Mills a few years back. The first time I went, the proprietor over charged me. The second time I went he over charged me again. I thought it a coincidence!
The third time I went, I was very deliberate in seeing if he was going to over charge. Sure enough, he did!
My advice is stay away! Who needs to get away to the beauty of the country to worry about greed.
Hey dude, just raise your prices a quarter or fifty cents. Maybe then you wouldn't have to screw your customers!
re: Tom Hall
Interesting, the restauarant has been around for many years, would think they'd be more relaxed and personable being in west county and all. Slow is par for the course in Sonoma.
I'll mention that a couple came in after me. One of the servers grabbed a couple menus, showed them to their table, and before even sitting down, they turned around and left without saying a word. Maybe they had better radar for this kind of thing than I did.
I've heard that breakfast is the best meal at Cape Fear. I'll give it one more chance for the early meal. Maybe there's a different crew on hand.
Hehe, this was actually my first time in Duncan's Mills. It's just a wide spot in the road. I've driven past many times on my way to the coast but never stopped. It was kind of cool to see what the town is like, especially since the Mermaid Festival was this weekend, featuring a state-registered mermaid.
Of the four places in town that offer chow, I tried three of them. The Blue Heron Inn is the fourth.
If you've noticed an extraordinary number of posts from me, well, I guess it's post-picnic keyboard diarrhea. I'm getting caught up on meals past that haven't been reported on yet.