For those of you who have been to the San Francisco Bay Area or live here, chances are you have your favorite foodie spots and even return to them often if you had a great experience. Because I travel so much, I’d have to say that perhaps that’s more the case with me because when I return from a trip, I tend to want to hibernate and not be in “exploration mode,” the way we are when we travel.
That means that I don’t review as many San Francisco or Silicon Valley restaurants as I’d like although we do weekend getaways to places like Sonoma, Carmel, Los Gatos, Napa, Mendocino and even further like El Dorado Hills and Lake Tahoe. Recently, we headed up to Spirit Rock, a fabulous meditation center about an hour or so from the city. Be sure to read my write-up on our experience — it’s such a beautiful place surrounded by nature and serenity on all sides.
Nearby are the darling little towns of Fairfax and San Anselmo California, both of which have some fun restaurants to explore and on a future trip, we’ll be sure to experience more. I discovered Valenti & Co in San Anselmo kinda by accident, but once I landed on their site and saw their delicious looking fare and commitment to local and organic ingredients, we had to see what they’re all about and so…..we did!
Above is a beef carpaccio with squash blossom, radicchio and goat cheese: photo credit: Valenti
The culinary maestro behind Valenti & Co is chef and owner Diulio Valenti originally from Northern Italy (Lombardy to be more precise) and the region’s influences are infused throughout his dishes. He uses local organic produce and ingredients like olive oil and butter, grass fed BN Ranch beef, Liberty duck, pasture raised/soy free eggs and the high quality authentic Italian products. His seafood is Safe Harbor certified and comes in everyday from local and east coast small “day boats”. In addition, he cooks using only stainless steel cookware.
Esteban, Duilio, Carlos, Francesco in the Kitchen — photo credit: Valenti
“I still have a profound love and connection to my Italian motherland…
don’t think of myself as a chef nor as a restaurant owner: I’m a cook.” — Diulio Valenti
While the salads and appetizers were far reaching enough to pose a challenge when ordering, we went with the Carpaccio from grass fed BN Ranch beef, which they serve with arugula, grana and fresh truffle not to be confused with the dish above. Note that they didn’t skimp on the truffle and fresh is an understatement — it was so divine, I wished we had ordered two plates.
If we had of course, we wouldn’t have had room for the appetizer portion of Pappardelle with Braised Rabbit Sauce and Rosemary, which is one of Diulio’s house specialties. You can of course get this as a main course as well, but given our commitment to a low carb diet, we went with a small portion. A note to foodies who do have sensitivities or issues, they offer organic gluten free pasta as an alternative, which we applaud. If you love pasta, why should you have to suffer when you’re out? Bottom line, you shouldn’t. Bravo!
Also on the pasta offerings is Pizzoccheri, which is a typical Valtellina buckwheat earthy pasta and he serves it with Napa cabbage, potatoes and garlic butter (below) and the ever so popular with locals Potato and Truffle Gnocchi with gorgonzola cream and fresh Alba black truffle — no wonder people have “to-die-for” moments over this one. They apparently use Yukon gems from La Tercera Farms nearby. There’s also a scrumptious sounding Risotto with Lamb Sirloin Ragu, peas and parmigiano — the lamb is from nearby BN Ranch of Bolinas. We’re fans of all establishments that try their best to support local farms and serve fresh, local and organic ingredients as much as possible.
Photo credit: Valenti
Before I move onto non-pasta options, I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce you to his meatballs, which as he describes them, is “Not Your Grandma Meatball.” You can say that again. Expecting it to be Bologna style, we were shocked when these Mondeghili Milanese meatballs showed up sauteed in Tuscan Kale and tomato Passata. Wow, right? He starts with braised grass fed beef belly, twice cooks them, after which he binds them with herbs and breading and then shallow roasts them. The sauce tastes like it must have cream in it, but he simply skins the tomatoes and emulsifies them to get the result you see. Oh so fresh!!
While we were egging to go with the Roasted Local Petrale Sole with braised radicchio and fennel, served in a lemon emulsion, especially because they had great Chardonnays by the glass we wanted to try, we ended up with red meat and red wine instead. It was a tough callw ith the Cazadero Chard from Sonoma and the AnnaBella Chard from Napa starring me in the face. We did try some of their tasty Italian Prosecco (Andreola — Prosecco-Glera, Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta — VENETO), which was a great way to BEGIN our evening.
Moving right along to those decadent meat dishes I was talking about, starting with the Pan Roasted Duck Breast with sauteed escarole, roasted figs (oh wow she says quietly with a big grin after taking a bite), sauteed in a Honey-Marsala sauce. They dry age the duck for a few days to add to the tenderness and use the honey and the fig to give the dish a sweetness that is absolutely lush and divine. You might say that the fig and honey-marsala is a twist to a traditional duck breast dish and you wouldn’t be wrong, just like you wouldn’t be wrong saying that his meatballs most definitely had a twist, and a creative one at that! I also thought the kale addition was perfect given where we were in the world — after all, northern California is very health conscious and farm-to-table is far far from a new thing.
The Grass fed BN Ranch Beef from Bolinas was equally decadent and while he suggested go RARE, we went for medium rare and it was just like ‘butta.’ He serves the New York Strip Steak with truffle polenta fries and wild mushrooms (below). For those into veal, this is prepared the way they did in his old hood in Milanese Porta Vittoria.
We paired our mains with a 2014 Bordeaux Blend called Genuine Risk (Black Sheep Finds – St. Ynez) and a 2011 Barolo “Lecinquievigne” Damilano (Nebbiolo da Barolo) PIEMONTE, which was possible because they luckily have the Coravin system so we could taste by the glass. It was oh so worth it!!
Unique sides include the Truffle Polenta fries mentioned above, but also their Dragon tongue beans sauteed with prosciutto, for something just a little different. What we passed up on that we’d love to try next time? The Heirloom tomato salad with mozzarella, olives and cucumbers of course as well as the Chanterelle mushroom and Yukon Gem Potato Soup with smoked prosciutto. YUM!! While we didn’t try any asparagus, take a look at his version of a side of Asparagus with poached egg – wow, right?
Photo credit: Valenti
“I cook with wine and sometimes I even add it to the food.” — Diulio Valenti
If you have any room left after that exquisite menu, there’s dessert of course. Truth be told, we didn’t have any room left but we opted to try a l’il dessert anyway, starting with the one we were told we HAD to try, their homemade Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta (we do love Panna Cotta after all and Anthony IS Italian after all). He served it with preserved wild cherries, candied lemon and raspberry sauce and shockingly, we finished it. (below)
They also offer a Nutty Biscotti with Pistachio, Hazelnut, Walnut and Fennel, as well as a warm chocolate cupcake with vanilla bean custard and orange preserve and a Hazelnut Semifreddo with pear puree and hazelnut praline. They insisted we try the first item on the DOLCI menu, which is a CrunchMisu — aka, in other words, a Tiramisu that crunches. Yes, really — have a look!!
I’ll leave you with one more over-the-top image for those with a sweet tooth. Below is a variation of the Panna Cotta, which while not available on the night we were there, it’s one of their creative concoctions that is so unusual, I had to include it here. How about a Panna cotta with saffron and crispy rice alla milanese? Yes, please, right?
Photo credit: Valenti
Valenti & Co.
337 San Anselmo Avenue
San Anselmo, CA 94960
All photo credits: Renee Blodgett unless otherwise noted.