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Forestville – Backyard, Part 2: Frustration and Disappointment.

Hi, all.  Long time, no talk.  I’ve been really busy planning my wedding, which is going really well, despite being stressful. I feel bad about not updating my blog more often.  

Last night, I wrote out a review for Backyard on Yelp that I do not know if I should post or not.  It’s currently saved there, but not posted.  But I will post it here for the time being:

Ohhhhh Backyard.  I used to be so in love with you.  But after multiple negative experiences with the front-end manager, Marianna, including trying to get Backyard to cater my wedding, I feel I must update my review.

FIRST OF ALL, the Bib Gourmand they received is well-deserved, food-wise.  As you can tell from my previous review, the food is FANTASTIC.  That is why they get two stars for this review instead of one.

The service…. Pretty inconsistent.  My friends and I wait entirely too long for our food whenever we go.  That said all of the servers are pretty nice, except…

Marianna, the front-end manager that pretty much every negative review of Backyard complains about.  Look, I’m sure she has good intentions and I’m sure she is anxious to succeed and wants nothing but the best for her restaurant.  Putting all those ideals into practice though?  She fails really hard there.

I started emailing back and forth with Marianna about catering my wedding in January 2014.  Everything seemed great at first… We met at the restaurant to talk details.  She and her husband seemed very accommodating and enthusiastic about our business.  Great.  My fiancé and I were excited.

Come early March, my fiancé and I had to push back our wedding date twice.  We communicated about this via email.  Marianna was fine with the first change, but when I asked about the second change, she didn’t respond to me, so I had my fiancé call her.  When he got her on the phone, Marianna more or less put all the responsibility for her lack of communication on us, stating that we needed to “figure out” the actual date before going forward with her.  Sorry, but that’s not how you handle business.  You don’t blame your lack of response on your client.  What would have happened if we never had called?  She just wouldn’t have emailed me back?  Really?

She then told us we needed to send her the contact information of the wedding site’s host so she could see what equipment would be available to her.  Fair enough.  Despite being displeased with her attitude, I sent it to her, asking her to please confirm that she had gotten the information.  Once again, she didn’t email me back.

Well fortunately, during Restaurant Week, my friend and I went to Backyard for their fried chicken dinner.  I asked Marianna in person if she had gotten my email.  She said she had and that she would get in contact with the venue’s host after Restaurant Week was over.  Okay, that’s fine.  Side note: I’m not very well versed in gluten allergies, but I mentioned before to a coworker with Celiac’s that Backyard had gluten-free fried chicken.  My coworker asked me if they fried the gluten free chicken in the same oil as the regular fried chicken so I asked Marianna since I had the opportunity.  In a very sharp tone, she condescendingly responded, “we know what gluten-free means.”  Seriously???  Don’t treat the customer like she or he is stupid.  It’s a perfectly valid question.   In case you are reading this and are wondering why you see so many negative comments about yourself on your Yelp page, there’s an example right there.  There’s no excuse for that.

So because Marianna SAID she would contact the venue after Restaurant Week, I expected her to actually contact the venue after Restaurant Week.  Did she?  Nope.  One more chance…

Restaurant Week ended March 16.  On April 8, I wrote my second to last email to her:

“Hi again,

Getting our caterer booked is extremely important to us and we would really appreciate a word, any word, from you.  I might have fiancé call you today, but until then, please let me know if you get this and what is going on your end.  We are getting closer to the actual wedding date, and if things don’t work out with you guys, we need enough time to execute a backup plan.  Any response is better than no response at all (and thus being left in the dark).  I feel I have been very patient until now, but I am starting to feel ignored.  This is mine and fiancé’s big day, and we really would like things to go smoothly.  If email doesn’t work for you, let us know; we will be happy to call you instead.

We really, really love the food at Backyard, so we really want this to work out.

Thank you,
Susie”

She actually responded the same day, I think because I poked her to do so via Facebook.  She said “I have you down for the 19th. I will call and set up an appointment with you and the land owner later this week. ”

That was April 8. It’s now June, and we still haven’t heard from her, and neither has the wedding venue.  Needless to say, we have moved on and have another caterer booked.

Marianna obviously has some serious work to do on her management skills and people skills.  Hell, on Backyard’s Yelp page, instead of taking criticism with grace, she has responded to two negative reviews by accusing the customers of lying.  Look for them yourself.  That is borderline Amy’s Baking Company behavior.  Lucky for her, Backyard’s food is great.

This is actually the first time I’ve ever written a review that met the maximum number of characters for a Yelp review. I wish I could have written more, too. Ha!

I face a dilemma about posting it because, well, my roommate’s farm supplies produce to them, and Marianna and Chef Daniel are friends with my friends, Sarah and Tyja. I don’t want to cause a bunch of drama for any of them, and I want to be able to go to the restaurant in the future. Knowing what I know of Marianna and how she responds to criticism, she’d be foolish enough to turn away my business just because of that review. Call me crazy for wanting to at least be able to go back, but their food is that good, and I have fun going out with my friends to dinner there.

What would you do?

Sebastopol – Tyja and Sarah’s House

Tyja is such an awesome chef.

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Caviar and an uni-based sauce on poached duck egg. Hell yes.

Unfortunately for y’all this isn’t a restaurant and a benefit of being friends with Ty and Sarah. But perhaps you could eat something similar at Applewood Inn. 😉

Guerneville – Applewood Inn

Hello everyone, and Happy Halloween! Are you ready for a mind-blowingly delicious (looking) but also mind-blowingly expensive meal (it’s worth it)? I’m sure as hell ready for another one!

Last Friday, Cindy (my sister, for those of you just joining us) visited me to go to Alton Brown Live in Santa Rosa (which was fabulous. The guy is amazingly talented in several different fields). I thought that this may be an excellent opportunity to both knock out another restaurant for my blog and bring her to one of my favorite restaurants in Sonoma County. So I booked a reservation for a party of six for Saturday evening: George (from Abyssinia entry, fake name), Dana, Sarah (from Backyard entry), Mustafa (roommate, fake name), Cindy, and myself.

The first time I went to Applewood Inn was with Mustafa and his then-girlfriend about two years ago, and I was more than impressed. I remember being in such a food coma afterward. Since then, I have been more times than I remember, and I do remember that I have never tasted a dish I didn’t like. Anecdote time: Dana and I and two friends went to Applewood Inn for Thanksgiving last year, which had a fixed menu for the holiday. The starter choices were either a mushroom dish or a persimmon salad. Everyone at the table wondered, who the hell would get the salad? Well, despite everyone at my table ordering the mushrooms, we were still able to taste the salad, and my mind was still blown…

Some pretty relevant information for you all: Mustafa and one of the head chefs, Tyja Taube, run the CSA together at the farm I live on. So I guess you could say I’m biased, but I would love the food regardless because Tyja is a damn good chef.

Let’s get to some food, shall we?

Watermelon with Anchovy, Miyagi Oyster with Caviar, Melon & Armenian Cucumber Gazpacho

Watermelon with Anchovy, Miyagi Oyster with Caviar, Melon & Armenian Cucumber Gazpacho

The first dish we (each) received featured three items which looked beautiful, and the flavor did not disappoint.

  • Watermelon with anchovy and citrus: This was one of my favorite items of the night, which is very strange because I am not crazy about anchovy, but the oily, fishy flavor of the anchovy balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the melon and the citrus essence. Would eat again. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the added bonus of knowing that the watermelon was most likely from Mustafa’s CSA garden.
  • Miyagi Oyster with Caviar: The oyster was perfect; not too strong, not too salty, and a little creamy. And the caviar was great too, which is a nice change since I usually find it to be too salty.
  • Melon & Armenian Cucumber Gazpacho: I have never been keen on the idea of gazpacho. The idea of iced tomato soup disgusts me, but I’ve never had it so I really can’t say I don’t like it. Because this was made with cucumber and melon, it was actually really sweet and refreshing, which I imagine is probably much better than tomato gazpacho.
Butter Lettuce with Chèvre and Pistachios

Butter Lettuce with Chèvre and Pistachios

I love butter lettuce! I also love chèvre and pistachios! So what a perfect little mini salad and it arrived just at the right time! It’s everything you’d want from chèvre on a salad with nuts. While it’s definitely delicious, I’m not big on salad. So it was good, but let’s eat some animals and cooked veggies, please.

Salmon Belly with Curry Sauce and Peanuts

Salmon Belly with Curry Sauce and Peanuts

YES, curry sauce! And on salmon belly to boot. Oh man, that skin on the salmon was perfectly crispy, too. I am usually not fond of cooked fish, but this was delicious (as is everything that comes from that kitchen). And of course, when there’s curry sauce on it, it’s hard for me to say no!

Eggplant and Pork Belly

Eggplant and Pork Belly

Oh good, my favorite meat showed up, and not only that, but the best part of the pig! I love eggplant, and I love pork belly, so I wasn’t going to argue. They came with pureed parsnip and a sorrel sauce. I do not remember what the brown sauce was, unfortunately (can confirm later). But all of the sauces just mixed so well with the pork belly and eggplant.

Sunflower Heart on Liver and Chanterelle Mushrooms, Baked Pear, Egg Yolk on Rabbit Sausage over Mashed Potatoes

Sunflower Heart on Liver and Chanterelle Mushrooms, Baked Pear, Egg Yolk on Rabbit Sausage over Mashed Potatoes

  • Sunflower Heart on Liver and Chanterelle Mushrooms: What the hell is a sunflower heart?, you might be thinking. Well, sunflowers belong to the family Asteraceae, the same family that artichokes belong to. So imagine an artichoke heart, only flatter and sweeter. This was my first time eating a sunflower heart, and I found that is one of my new favorite treats! And I absolutely love liver, and then on chanterelle mushrooms? I was simply in heaven.
  • Baked Pear: It was a pear, it had cinnamon on it, and it was delicious. More meat, please.
  • Egg Yolk on Rabbit Sausage over Mashed Potatoes: I’m pretty sure this rabbit came from Sarah’s! And who could say no to a rich egg yolk on perfectly-seasoned sausage and creamy, mashed potatoes? Yes, please, and bring me seconds. If you go to Applewood Inn and have the opportunity to order rabbit sausage, just do it!
Beef Tenderloin

Beef Tenderloin

We have reached the entree portion of our meal. Cindy, Sarah, and Mustafa all ordered the beef tenderloin, which came with seared Sungold cherry tomatoes, chanterelle mushrooms, and bone marrow bordelaise. This is actually the only dish that I didn’t wind up tasting. Cindy said it was delicious, and I think that’s all you really need to know. 🙂

Alaskan Halibut

Alaskan Halibut

Dana and George both ordered the halibut, which was served with a Brandade croquette, sauteed sweet corn, piperade, cilantro, and lime. I was able to taste the halibut in the sauce which was delicious, and if a dish can convince me to eat cooked fish, it must be damn good. Would taste again.

Cacao Crusted Lamb... Woops

Cacao Crusted Lamb… Woops

Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo……………………….

For the first time ever, I forgot to take a picture before I ate my own entree, which is why you see a practically empty plate in the image above. Can you tell that I enjoyed it? My lamb also came with chorizo peppers and “garden” peppers, served in a mint chimichurri sauce. The cacao just works so well on the lamb, and mixed with sauce, the whole entree came together. I order lamb pretty much every time I come here because it is always so tasty, and cooked to order!

Yuzu Popsicle Lollipops

Frozen Yuzu Lollipops

On to some desserts! The first dessert we all shared was a dish of frozen yuzu lollipops. If you are unfamiliar with yuzu, it is a kind of citrus fruit. This is actually the second place I’ve tried a yuzu frozen dessert, and as always, I was happy.

It's-It with Chocolate Sauce, Puff Pastry Coffee Ice Cream Sandwich

It’s-It with Chocolate Sauce, Puff Pastry Coffee Ice Cream Sandwich

Oh Tyja, sending out an It’s-It with his gourmet dessert. If you visit Applewood, this won’t happen; it wasn’t even on the menu. Anyway, packaged or not, It’s-Its are very tasty, so I was happy with it. But the highlight, of course was the coffee ice cream with puff pastry. Nom, nom, nom.

Welp, that was quite a meal. And I would eat it again. AND AGAIN. And you should eat it, too. Give Applewood Inn a shot. It’s pricey, but it’s so, so, so worth it. You can save a little money by ordering from the tasting menu! TRY IT!

Overall:
Food: 5 stars
Service: 5 stars
Decor: 5 stars

Applewood Inn Website


Applewood Inn Yelp Page

Forestville – Backyard

I’m super stoked to promote this restaurant. It’s one of my favorite places to eat. 🙂

My friend Sarah and I went for a nice nature walk in Sebastopol this past Friday, which was appropriate considering our restaurant choice. I had been to Backyard in Forestville four or so times before, and I was so excited to go to again. Backyard is a farm-to-table-style restaurant and by definition features much of the produce and meat grown and raised (or caught, in fish’s case) in Sonoma County, including from my roommate’s farm, The Giving Gardens Project (website coming soon).

The chef at Backyard is a master of flavors. Everything I have eaten there is absolutely delicious. Some of my favorite items are their polenta, whatever pork dish they have on hand, and the flat breads. Because Backyard relies on the local farms, the menu is always changing. One week they could have cod, and the next week they might have halibut. However, it doesn’t matter what’s on the menu that week because the chef always manages to excite my taste buds.

Devoto Orchards Apple Cider

Devoto Orchards Apple Cider

A bonus to living in Sonoma County is definitely all of the great local wine, but this area also used to be the home of many more apple trees. Some apple orchards still exist today. One of the most popular apples in the area, the Gravenstein, is great for making juices and ciders. We were lucky enough to be able to try some of the locally-brewed cider, specifically from Devoto Orchards. The flavor was just to my liking: not too sweet and not too sour; just right.

House Pickle Plate

House Pickle Plate

One of the first dishes we shared was the house pickle plate featuring locally-grown produce pickled to perfection.

Starting from the bottom and going up, we have:

  • Romanesco
  • Kimchi
  • Cucumber
  • Pear
  • Melon
  • Arugula (and possibly some other green… I was too busy eating, sorry)
  • Pineapple Guava
  • Cauliflower
  • Mustard Seed

It gets more specific than that (as for the variety of pear/melon/cauliflower/etc), but I can only remember so much. I love pickled anything, so for me, this dish was tasty, tasty. If you like pickles and happen to eat at Backyard when they have something like this, definitely order it! I’d say my favorite was probably the kimchi.

Radishes, Fermented Butter, Sea Salt

Radishes, Fermented Butter, Sea Salt

Oh, man. If you love radishes and blue cheese, this is definitely something worth trying. The fermented butter is like a much creamier and fluffier blue cheese. This dish is so simple, yet so amazing. Just dip the radish into some fermented butter, dip in the sea salt (it’s hiding behind the butter dish), and enjoy. It’s a perfect blend of flavors.

Spicy Lamb Meatballs

Spicy Lamb Meatballs

I knew as soon as I saw “lamb” and “meatball” in the same menu item that I wanted it. And I was not disappointed. The meatballs and cheese were a perfect mix of salty and savory, and the tomato jam just brought the perfect amount of sweetness. Would order again!

Porcini Mushroom Ravioli

Porcini Mushroom Ravioli

Sarah ordered the porcini mushroom ravioli, which was a great choice! And she was nice enough to let me taste. The filling was a little thin, but delicious, and the pasta tasted so fresh and homemade. This was definitely some of the best pasta I’ve ever eaten.

Lamb Moussaka

Lamb Moussaka

I ordered the Lamb Moussaka, even though I had no idea what moussaka was at the time. When the server explained it to me, it sounded perfect! Moussaka is a bit like a shepherds pie casserole which always has eggplant and/or potato. This moussaka included ground lamb and both key ingredients as well as cheese. It was absolutely divine, and I’m so happy I got to taste it. The moussaka also came with braised greens which were yummy and perfectly seasoned.

Dessert Wine

Dessert Wine

I forgot to take a picture of the dessert menu, so for the next few items, I will be describing from memory.

We were surprised with a complimentary dessert wine, and I forget which kind it was. 😦 I am also not at all familiar with dessert wine so take these next few sentences with a grain of salt. It was absolutely delightful, and while it tasted sweet plain, it tasted nice and tart after taking a bite of dessert, which I imagine is the whole point of dessert wines.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwiches

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwiches

Sarah and I decided to share some desserts, and the first item we split was the Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwiches. This is definitely one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. The cookies were so soft and delicious and the ice cream had the perfect amount of peanut butter, not too overpowering (which can happen with peanut butter desserts!)

Chocolate Budino

Chocolate Budino

I am a huge fan of salted caramel, which was included in the chocolate budino, so I had absolutely no choice but to order it. (Okay, I had a choice… I just took the less-healthy-but-tasty path). And I definitely made the right choice. My goodness, it is so incredibly sweet, but so chocolatey and salty and creamy and… oh, it was just so good! Please order any custard or pudding-like dessert if you eat here!  And sorry, not the best picture!  I realized that after we had eaten it all!

Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream

Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream

And the last dessert item we had that night was the candy cap mushroom ice cream. If you’ve never had candy cap mushrooms before, they definitely live up to their name. The flavor reminds me a bit of maple syrup. And the ice cream, as usual, was awesome.

Please, please, please give Backyard your support! They are doing a lot of right in the world by only (or mostly?) using local ingredients, and the food is delicious to boot. And for the type of restaurant it is, I believe it is fairly priced. And they just received a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, which is incredible for a fairly new restaurant!

Food: 5 stars

Service: 5 stars

Decor: 4 stars (overall a good look and feel for Backyard but could use a little more decorating)

Backyard Yelp Page

Backyard Website

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