After moving to the Bay Area from the Midwest in 1994, most weekends were spent fueling my wine passion in Napa or Sonoma. Being single and new to the area, these were often solo trips, which meant I had to confer with no one about what wine to taste, where to eat, or how much to spend. This freedom was greatly appreciated until it came time for dinner, when it would have been nice to share a meal with someone and rehash the events of our wine-soaked day.
But one solo dinner I recall fondly was eaten in a small restaurant called Girl & The Fig. At the time, it was situated in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon, and its warm glow rekindled memories of bistros enjoyed while biking through the Provencal wine country. Every wine on their wine list was either from the Rhone valley or made from Rhone varietals, and their menu was crafted to match the warm and welcoming foods of Provence.
Sondra Bernstein, John Toulze at "the girl & the fig"
Although “French Bistro” is one of the most over-used restaurant concepts, this one was different. Owned by the very special Sondra Bernstein, Girl & The Fig was infused with the spirit of the Rhone and I was smitten. The Bistro became my preferred dining spot for many future trips – and I became something of an evangelist for it.
I watched with pleasure as Sondra tirelessly added successful venture after successful venture – cook books, an iPhone app, a line of packaged food products, a line of body products, two restaurants, bio-dynamic farms behind each of her restaurants, a catering company and probably several more things I’m forgetting.
I’ve become casually acquainted with Sondra and her business partner over the years, and was most pleased that she agreed to provide a recipe to pair with domestic Syrah-based wines. I think this dish would work well with a broad range of red wines such as Cabernet, Zinfandel and any red Rhone blend. This dish can be made year-round, but it resonates for me during the cold Fall and Winter months, when oven braising fills the home with warmth and aromas that beat back Winter’s chill.
Ingredients for Pork Shanks (Serves six)
- 6 Pork Hind Shanks (we prefer Niman Ranch)
- Salt & black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, quartered
- 2 stalk celery, rough chop
- 1 small carrot, peeled, chopped
- 4 crushed cloves of garlic
- 1 bottle white wine (unoaked, preferably)
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 black peppercorns
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 2 quarts pork or chicken stock
Procedure for Braised Pork Shanks
Preheat oven to 350’. Season the pork shanks heavily with salt and black pepper. Over medium heat, add the oil to a hot sauté pan and then sear the shanks until browned on all sides. Remove from pan and keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat a braising pan (deep-sided roaster) over medium heat and then add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and half the bottle of white wine. Bring to a boil and reduce until almost dry. Add the seared shanks to the braising pan along with the bayleaf, peppercorns, thyme and enough stock to just cover the shanks and vegetables. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and move to the heated oven for 1-1.5 hours or until the shanks are just tender.
Remove from oven and when sufficiently cool, remove the shanks from the braising liquid and set aside keeping warm. With a fine mesh sieve, strain the braising liquid and skim any remaining fat from the top. Add the remaining half bottle of white wine to a large saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and continue reducing the wine until almost dry. Add the braising liquid and simmer while continuing to skim off any fat that forms on the top. Reduce to a thickened consistency.
Ingredients for Soft Polenta
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup polenta
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- White pepper
Procedure for Soft Polenta
Add the water, milk, olive oil and butter to a medium saucepan, season with the salt and bring to a simmer. While stirring with a wire whisk, slowly add the polenta and beat into the liquid. Simmer and continue to stir for 10 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese, adjust the seasoning, continuing to stir, cover and keep warm.
Ingredients for Broccolini
- 3 Bunches broccolini, tough stems removed
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Salt and white pepper
Procedure for Broccolini
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch the broccolini for no more than 60 seconds, then shock in an ice water bath until cool and drain. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat until melted; add the broccolini, season to taste and heat till warm. Alternatively, roast the broccolini in the oven until just crispy, and once plated, top with a small amount of the Gremolata.
- 1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, cleaned from the stems
- 3 tablespoons capers, chopped
- 2 lemons, zested
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 horseradish root, peeled & grated
- Sea salt
Mix the parsley, chopped capers, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, and grated horseradish. Season with sea salt.
Spoon the warm polenta into the center of a warm bowl, place a sixth of the warm broccolini onto the polenta, top with a braised pork shank. Nap the shank with the white wine braising sauce and garnish with the gremolata.
“the girl & the fig” • 110 west spain street • sonoma, ca 95476