Sojourn Cellars Winemaker Dinner at Girl and the Fig Suite D
If it walks like a duck, but it tastes like top sirloin, what then?
I’ve been fascinated with duck ever since attending a luncheon at Dutcher Crossing Winery that was part of the launching of the North Coast Chapter of the Rhone Rangers. Duck breast was on the menu, paired with some Rhone-style blend or other, and it was a revelation to me: poultry that stands in for a filet of steak and pairs with hearty red wine.
I say “fascinated” and “revelation” not as some hyperbole-slinging foodie, but because I’d recently scrapped a two-decade-long vegetarian stint, and I was still a little leery of finding fleshy parts of animals on my plate. I’m still on the outs with chicken and turkey, go figure—unlike a lot of fallen vegetarians, I boomeranged big, with Argentine steak grilled by gauchos—but duck is something different. Six years later, when I attended a dinner at Girl & the Fig’s Suite D, a warehouse annex of the popular French country style restaurant, it was probably only the third time I’d been served another filet of duck.
This occasion was a winemaker dinner with Randy Bennett and Erich Bradley of Sojourn Cellars. Because Suite D is located south of the town of Sonoma in an industrial district near the airport, slipping into the black-curtained foyer through a nondescript warehouse door has something of the “underground supper club” thrill to it. Inside, it’s a flexible space that’s half garden party, half cozy dining room, if you don’t look up: rustic sideboards, a “hut” that houses the bathroom, bordered by a fence and accented with string lights. Round tables seat eight, and the resulting chatter of people making friends was such a din that I only got to know the folks on either side of me.
Careful Fig watchers may ask, so is this Sojourn a Rhone house? Smart question, and no. Girl & the Fig proprietor Sondra Bernstein admitted to dinner guests that although the restaurant is “Rhône alone” where it concerns their wine list, they’re happy to create a menu for Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir specialists Sojourn—who have recently upped their Chardonnay program.
The set menu is what you get at such events, delivered by a remarkably efficient staff: smoked bay scallops paired with Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($48), a cool-toned but creamy wine, reminiscent of Blanc de Blancs and fruit cocktail at the same time; house-made ravioli with pine nut pesto and 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($42), a spicy, candied strawberry of a wine that brought out the pepper in the ravioli; braised pork belly with Rancho Gordo beans, paired with 2012 Wohler Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($48), an earthy, sandalwood-scented basket of dry, plush cherry flavors; and the duck breast, with lavender carrots, crispy skin, kohlrabi puree, and pomegranate, paired with 2013 Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($54). This wine had tannins that matched the duck fat and knit the raspberry fruit into a nice, spicy package, detailed with dried mushrooms.
Sojourn makes Cabernet Sauvignon, as well, but since my last visit to the tasting room, Randy Bennett tells me, it isn’t sourced from Sonoma Valley anymore.
But here’s the good news: Sondra Bernstein shared a duck breast recipe from Plats du Jour, “The Girl & the Fig’s Journey through the Seasons in Wine Country.” It looks simpler than I’d guessed—maybe I’ll take that next step of the omnivore epicure, and try cooking it a home. What a foodie.
Pan-Seared Duck Breast, Honey-Roasted Root Vegetables, Red Wine Gastrique
For the vegetables:
- 7 tablespoons blended oil (75% canola oil, 25% olive oil)
- 2 small celery root, peeled and cut into ¼-inch batons
- 2 small rutabagas, peeled and cut into ¼-inch batons
- 2 small parsnips, peeled and cut into ¼-inch batons
- 6 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the gastrique:
- ½ medium yellow onion, cut in small dice
- 1 celery stalk, cut in small dice
- 1 large carrot, cut in small dice
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 4 cups duck stock (Chicken Stock can be substituted)
- 1 cup Veal Demi-Glace
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 duck breasts
To prepare the vegetables:
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a medium ovenproof sauté pan heat 3 tablespoons of blended oil over high heat and sauté the celery root, rutabagas, and parsnips for about 6 to 8 minutes until they start to turn golden brown. Add the honey and toss the vegetables well to coat. Place the vegetables in the oven and roast until they are soft and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and stir to combine. Cover the vegetables with foil and keep warm.
To prepare the gastrique:
In a medium sauté pan heat 2 tablespoons blended oil and sauté the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic over medium-high for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the vegetables are caramelized. Spread the sugar evenly over the vegetables. Stir constantly to make a dark caramel, about 5 to 7 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the red wine vinegar. (The sugar will seize up but will melt again after a few minutes.) Add the bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Let the vinegar reduce until almost dry, about 3 to 5 minutes, and add the duck stock. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add the demi-glace and reduce until the sauce holds a nice line on a plate, about 5 to 7 minutes. Strain the gastrique through a fine-mesh sieve, whisk in the butter, and set aside in a warm spot.
To prepare the duck:
Score the fat side of the duck breasts, making criss-cross marks with a paring knife and being careful not to cut all the way through to the flesh. Lightly coat a sauté pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons blended oil and on low heat, place the duck breasts skin side down to render out the fat.
(Do not overcrowd the pan; you may have to render the duck in two separate batches.) Continue to render until the skin is golden and crispy, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Flip the duck breasts over and sear the flesh side, increasing the heat to medium-high and basting the skin using a spoon and the rendered duck fat. Cook the duck to desired doneness (135°F for medium rare). Remove the duck breasts from the pan and let them rest for about 5 minutes.
Arrange the root vegetables in the center of 6 large, warm plates. Spoon the gastrique around the vegetables. Slice the duck breasts into 4 slices lengthwise, place the slices on top of the vegetables, and serve.
Sojourn Cellars, 141 East Napa Street, Sonoma, CA 95476. Daily, 10am–5pm. Tasting fee, $25. Pet friendly. 707.938.7212.