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Sonoma: Food

The Restaurant: Spoonbar

Slow Cooked Beef Chuck

8 pound piece of beef chuck
2 cups salt
1 cup sugar
4 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted
1 cup beef jus
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 medium shallot
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1½ cups brown butter, clarified

In a large pot, combine 4 quarts of water, salt, sugar, thyme, chili flakes and toasted coriander seeds and whisk till incorporated. Add the chuck and brine overnight.

The next day remove the beef from brine and pat dry, sear in a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Cover with water and braise in a 350°F oven for 2–3 hours, or until fork tender. Let cool in the braising liquid and remove. When able to handle, cut into 6 portions and reserve until ready to use.

Bring the beef jus to a boil and add the fish sauce, shallot and red wine vinegar. In a blender on high, whirl the sauce until fully incorporated, then slowly add the clarified brown butter until fully emulsified.

Grill or sear the reserved beef chuck portions, and keep warm in a low oven. Chef likes to keep the quinoa at room temp for this dish. Place the quinoa on a plate with the turnips on top, place the chuck on top and spoon some sauce on the chuck. Chef Maldonado likes to heap everything on top of foraged wild greens. Serves 6.

For Turnips:

3 each baby turnips, halved, with the tops on
2 each lemons
4 quarts water
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

Combine the water and juice from the lemons, peel the turnips and hold in the water till ready to use so they won’t oxidize. Preheat a 450°F oven. Toss the turnips in the olive oil and salt. Roast on a sheet tray for 20 minutes.

For Quinoa:

4 cups quinoa
8 cups water
¼ cup butter
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a pot. Add the quinoa and toast for 2 minutes. Add the water and slowly simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so it won’t stick to the pot. Finish with salt to season. The quinoa should be dry when finished cooking.

Recommended Wine: 

Papapietro’s Pauline’s Vineyard Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley). 

The Chef: Louis Maldonado, Spoonbar

Chef Louis Maldonado stays true to a single concept, “I cook what I like to eat,” he says. 

One of his main courses at Spoonbar is pork terrine. Maldonado loved the local eggs from a purveyor, and decided to serve the pâté alongside basmati rice with a slow-cooked egg. 

Underlying Maldonado’s culinary iconoclasm is meticulous classical training. Before arriving at Healdsburg’s Spoonbar restaurant in 2012, he assembled a spectacular résumé: One Market, Cortez and Aziza (all top destinations in San Francisco), as well as The French Laundry, where he’d been chef de partie. All this, by age 31.

Located a block from the town Plaza, Spoonbar is set in the h2hotel. It presents a modern mélange of concrete, steel and wood with art works scattered throughout. Most notable among them is the “Spoonfall” sculpture, from which the restaurant takes its name. Comprised of 2,000 recycled espresso spoons, it’s a kinetic construction powered by captured rainwater.

Using local purveyors, Maldonado includes every element that has informed and transformed modern California’s cuisine: Japanese, Mexican, Mediterranean—with a quirky touch of his own. Sous-chef Meghan Clark, characterizes him as passionately single-minded. “He’s not receptive when people tell him things won’t work. But that’s how he protects his creativity.” 

This stand-your-ground mentality may come from his karate background; his parents ran a martial arts studio in Ukiah in Mendocino County. He might have become a sensei, or a cabinetmaker, like his grandfather. 

Your palate lucked out, though: he went to California Culinary Academy. There followed an internship at One Market, and then The French Laundry.

That experience in extreme envelope-pushing formalism turned Maldonado’s eye toward creating a fine-meets-comfort food mecca. The ajoining recipe epitomizes his mission and is on par with his only, aforementioned rule of food.

Favorite Farm-to-Table Finds: 

Spring Lamb: Maldonado thinks lamb from Preston Farm and Vineyards (Healdsburg) ranks among the best in terms of size, richness in fat and delicate flavor. 

Baby Vegetables: Mini squash, turnips, carrots, scapes and green garlic come from Mix Garden (Healdsburg).
They grow throughout the Dry Creek and Russian River valleys. 

Rye and Barley Grain: Milled to flour for baking, it comes from Front Porch Farm (Healdsburg), which also produces heirloom squash, puntarella and farm eggs especially for Spoonbar.

Sunflower Sprouts: “12 Oakes (Sebastopol) constantly comes in with new varieties for us to try,” Maldonado explains. “Sprouts add a nice textural layer to our dishes.”

Herbs and Flowers: Bachelor buttons, shiso, marigolds, Nigella...Tara Heffernon, a bartender at Spoonbar, grows them for cocktails—but the kitchen often steals them. —Steve Heimoff

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