Zuni Café

I have long wanted to dine at this highly respected, casual bistro. Many observers claim that their renowned roast chicken may be the finest in the United States. It comes from a farm situated in the middle of the Russian River Valley, which is better known for its vineyards planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. We started with an enormous selection of fabulously fresh oysters from Humboldt and Tomales bays. It was difficult to pick a favorite among these beauties (all of which were on the small side, which I prefer to the larger oysters), but they offered very different flavors with the Kumomotos the most delicate and subtle, followed by the Kushu and the most intensely flavored although still on the delicate side of the spectrum, the Miyagi. I don’t think I have ever tasted the Miyagi before, and they were wonderful. The roast chicken lived up to our expectations, being perfectly roasted and very moist. It made me wonder if they had brined it before cooking? The bread salad was essentially big, crusty chunks of bread with mixed greens that absorbed the chicken juices. It, too, was delicious.

As for the wines, the non-vintage Billecart-Salmon Rosé is one of the most consistent and moderately priced rosé Champagnes on the market. This was an outstanding bottle. The two magnums of Châteauneuf du Pape (which I had had shipped from my cellar in Maryland) were both brilliant efforts. However, they had just arrived that morning and the Domaine de la Solitude Cuvée Constanza (100% Grenache) was very reticent and tight when opened. After decanting, it continued to expand and become more interesting throughout the evening. The 2007 Mon Aïeul from Domaine Pierre Usseglio, which is virtually all tank-aged Grenache, was a bigger, richer wine. Super-rich and velvety-textured, it exhibited a lot of lavender, pepper, cassis, blueberries and raspberries. Both Châteauneufs were perfect foils for the Mediterranean cuisine served by the Zuni Café, a place I would return to in a heartbeat.

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