Marshall, Ca.: Hog Island Oyster Farm

To reserve a picnic table at the farm, go to the website and click on “The Farm.”

By the time my fellow adventurers and I found the little roadside establishment on the shoreline where we expected to enjoy dozens of oysters, my second mother’s husband Doug had demoted me from trip navigator to map flunky. I had misdirected him at least twice as we drove around the long, winding roads between Highway 101 and the coastline at Bodega Bay. We arrived at the Hog Island shack half an hour late for our appointed picnic time at the rustic wooden tables off to the side of the oyster-sorting area.

In spite of being late, only one other couple occupied any of the tables at 12:30. The set-up was simple. We ordered two dozen of Smalls and two dozen of kumamotos. The young guys who operated the picnic operation piled the oysters on a brown plastic cafeteria tray to which a shucker was permanently attached by metal cable. He threw on a thick rubber glove and a few lemon halves. We carried our trays to a table, where we looked out over the inlet to the low horizon created by Point Reyes, shrouded in light clouds. Fortunately, we had brought sweatshirts and sweaters.

I shucked and passed the oysters around. We opened a bottle of wine. The Smalls were large, plump, and filled with briny liquor. The kumamotos had an intense sweet flavor but were so small that the shucking effort seemed to outweigh to the end result. Eating oysters in the open air next to salt water must be the ideal form of oyster consumption.

Within an hour two other parties showed up. One group got right down to the business of starting a charcoal fire in one of the upright metal grills. The other spread festive red and blue paper tablecloths and napkins on the table. I noticed they poured my favorite prosecco, Sorelle Bronca.

The oysters cost around a dollar a piece. The kumamotos a little more. Considering that only three of the six or seven tables were occupied while we were there (12:30 until after 2 pm), I’m surprised I had to reserve a table so many weeks ahead. But it was a Friday and no doubt Saturdays attract a full crowd of shuckers and slurpers.

Forestville, Ca: The Farmhouse Inn Restaurant

For address and telephone, look here.

My second mother, Cathy, was passing through northern California with her aimiable husband, Doug. They very generously invited me to join them for a few days in the Dry Creek and Russian River wine country of Sonoma County, a region about an hour to the northwest of Napa Valley. Fortunately, the weather cooled off before I drove to Cloverdale, a quiet little town about ten miles north of Healdsburg, the main city in the region. They rented a pale yellow Victorian house whose many large, broad windows let in oceans of light through the lace curtains. Right across the street was a tiny wooden church, painted light blue, with a bell tower. It looked as though it could accommodate a congregation of three worshippers and no more. And on Sunday morning, the three clangs of the bell — and no more — seemed to confirm that impression.

Our first night, we ate dinner in Forestville, a half hour down Highway 101 and then west down River Road. The Farmhouse Inn Restaurant is famous in northern California for preparing food that comes mostly from its own gardens. Their emphasis, no surprise, is on local ingredients. We entered a late afternoon light-filled room with five or six tables at comfortable distances from one another. I had the impression the room had once been a parlor, but I wasn’t sure the house was as old as I was meant to think it was. The staff was as warm, welcoming, and steadfastly attentive as the yellow and wood decor.

I ordered three plates: American Buffalo Carpaccio with Chanterelles-Vinaigrette and baby lettuce leaves so small they might have been embryonic; Rabbit leg-thigh, loin wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon, and rack with a light whole-grain mustard sauce with roasted carrots and potatoes; Valrhona chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise.

Of the three, the rabbit was by far the most delicious. The bacon-wrapped loin was a miracle of moisture. The carpaccio, too, satisfied me. The taste of buffalo stood out more for its freshness than for its distinct flavor. The vinaigrette as well as the teeny leaves accomplished what thinly sliced meat, oil & vinegar, and bitter greens are supposed to. The only disappointment was the soufflé, which I thought was insipid. Very little of what makes Valrhona chocolate special survived the cooking process.

My eating companions enjoyed the meal, but thought that it did not compare with their meal at The Herb Farm north of Seattle. I thought I’d like to give the Farmhouse one more try. They handle fresh ingredients masterfully. Overall, I’d say this is an excellent restaurant.

Warsaw: Mielzynski Wine Bar

5/7 Burakowska Street, Warsaw (in the same vicinity as the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising).

I confess I went to Poland carrying several well-formed stereotypes with me. Foremost among my pre-conceived notions stood pork. In truth, I very much looked forward to visiting a Land of Pork Products at the same time that I was not looking forward to gray, drab post-Soviet architecture, blatant anti-semitism, and robust Roman Catholicism. All my preconceptions came true to one extent or another, but, on the whole, my six days in Poland turned out to delight the eye and taste buds more than I expected.

I can’t say that I had outstanding food at any point. But I did have two very good meals at this wine bar, which resembles a wine warehouse as much as it does a restaurant. Diners walk among the boxes of wine stacked on the floor to choose what they will drink with their meal. Poland, I was chagrined to learn, does not produce its own wine — a blessing, perhaps. They import wine from western Europe and sell it at reasonable prices, although they tend to retail wines on the high end of the quality spectrum.

The group of scholars I was part of ate here twice. By the second visit at the end of the week, our number had dwindled. the director generously ordered a Château Kirwan 2005 Margaux and a Château La Pointe 2001 Pomerol, the latter a little too young to drink. The star of the evening, however, was selected by the American historian of France — a Chambolle-Musigny 2003 by Frederic Magnien. I had never before drunk this bright, light red Burgundy from the Côtes des Nuits. What an epiphany! Prices? All three fell somewhere along the $50-$250 range. We drank so much I couldn’t keep track.

The food here was simple but very good, except for the Polish reluctance verging on refusal to cook a steak less than well done. Asparagus was in season while we were there, so our steaks came with white and green stalks, covered in a very light buttery sauce flavored with a touch of dill. We began our meal with Italian salami and Asiago cheese.

Elsewhere on our trip, we ate plenty of pork. And chicken fat, which I spread on my bread and salted at breakfast. The real surprise for me were the salads. We had wonderful Greek salads, tomato and cucumber salads, green salads, and Mediterranean pasta salads.

Now, it’s time to pick up where I left off a while ago on my diet, of course.