The last time I experienced a coursed menu was on a Valentine’s Day trip to Napa. I had been following the Paleo diet for about a month at that time and was gung-ho about my track to health. Unfortunately what started with a sneaky bite of pasta ended with eight courses of breads, cheeses, burgers and an undeniably delicious chocolate hazelnut dessert.
I don’t regret that particular smorgasbord but you can imagine my excitement when I was offered the chance to eat a meal at Fallon Hills Ranch
catered by Simone Shifnadel of Zenbelly Catering.
The dinner would be an actual PALEO fancy-pants meal where I could eat to my heart’s content without breaking my diet!
The day of the dinner happened to be hot off the tails of my first big vacation to New York. I was a bit jet lagged, maybe a little grumpy but my appetite was undoubtedly still intact. What started out as a drizzly day in San Francisco turned into a picturesque day out on the ranch in Petaluma. The dinner epitomized the concept of Farm to Table (by putting the table on the farm).
From passed appetizers to the dessert, each course presented a Paleo twist on fine dining, each with exquisite wine pairings.
Before dinner, we were able to learn about the inner workings of Fallon Ranch while sipping on a choice of De Loach Vineyard Chardonnay or Zinfandel. As guests arrived, we were also greeted with plates of ginger scallion meatballs with sweet and sour dipping sauce along with generous platters of deviled eggs.
The meatballs were bite sized and juicy with the sauce as a perfect just-sweet-enough compliment. These things practically melted in my mouth. Pacing myself, I made sure to save some room for the deviled eggs. The summer herbs gave the eggs a delightful zing that had me asking my boyfriend to covertly grab me a couple extra. The appetizers were relaxed and informal, giving guests a chance to take in the views of the sprawling ranch house and the rolling hills of the extended ranch grounds. Plus the wine provided a great social lubricant.
At the center of all the delicious smells was Chef Simone Shifnadel who had begun to cook the entrée, leg of lamb, on an outdoor grill about the size of two of my dining room tables. I took a break from stuffing my face full of deviled eggs to admire the work that was put into this meal and reminded myself that we had yet to sit down to enjoy the real feast.
Dinner Course 1/Salads
After sitting down at our tables, which were delightfully adorned with sunflowers, we were presented with a quick rotation of family style plates of... bacon. Three. Different. Ways. Of. Eating. Bacon!
Peppered beef bacon.
Bourbon smoked pork bacon.
Okay so maybe they were more like salads topped with three different kinds of bacon but the star of these salads was definitely the bacon! Can you tell where my bias lies?
My favorite salad variation was the peppered beef bacon. The slight spice of the crispy bacon paired with fresh arugula was immensely complimented by the sour sweet pickles tossed throughout the salad. The sweet bourbon smoked pork bacon which was paired with little gem lettuce and the perfect pop of heirloom tomatoes. It was like eating only the most delicious, fresh innards of a deluxe BLT. The salad was made even sweeter by the addition of the 2009 Durrell Vinyard Pinot Noir.
Dinner Course 2/Starters
I used to be a hummus fiend before I started following a paleo diet. Hummus on pita, hummus on carrots, hummus on my finger... I just love the darn stuff. Before trying Chef Shinadel’s second course, I had a hummus sized hole in my palate. Enter roasted squash hummus. It was a creamy, sweet, roasted, smoky, and complex. Paleo-friendly hummus perfection. Dipping the fennel sausage (which in itself was an herb filled treat) and the sweet crisp apples into the hummus was the highlight of my meal.
I can't wait to recreate this dish in my own kitchen as I am 100% confident that each one of my friends, Paleo or not, will appreciate the blend of flavors presented in this simple dish. To pair with this course, our glasses were filled with a 2009 Masut Pinot Noir.
Dinner Course 3/Entrée
By this time, I was on cloud nine after enjoying the sausage/hummus combo and very comfortable with the family style of dining. My eyes widened when heaping plates of garlic rosemary leg of lamb were placed in the center of the tables. I started with a small helping of the lamp and a spoonful of roasted vegetables.
I took one bite of the lamb and sat back with the satisfaction that this was the best lamb that I'd ever eaten. The texture was tender and so darn moist. Plus I love the flavor of garlic on pretty much everything. Thankfully we were seated in a less impacted corner of the banquet table setup and I had access to as many helpings of lamb as I could stuff into my increasingly full belly. I felt lucky to eat such freshly prepared food with good company in a beyond beautiful setting.
Each dish up to this point had been presented as family style. Chef Simone must have known how seriously dessert is taken because all individuals were presented with their own plate of apple blackberry crumble.
Coconut whipped cream provided just enough sweetness to pair with the juicy blackberries of the nut-based crumble. The whipped cream topping was evan better than ice cream that is heaped on traditional apple crumbles as it provided a lighter alternative to the heavy creaminess to ice cream. As we were working on finishing our desserts (and not at all looking forward to the drive home) I looked to my right to witness the sun setting behind the hills of Fallon Ranch. It was the perfect culmination to my first Paleo coursed dinner.
Though I did eat my fair share, I left the ranch satisfied, with a full belly and a warm heart. I'd had Paleo dining at its finest and freshest and can no longer use the excuse that fine dining does not include Paleo options. I was no longer grumpy, my jetlag was a thing of the past and I was ready to ease back into my everyday life even though I only get to taste one type of bacon on a typical day. The only thing better than being able to eat that meal was getting home and putting on my forgiving stretchy pants while reliving each bite with my also very full and impressed boyfriend.