Pasta at Bull Valley Roadhouse

Pasta at Bull Valley Roadhouse

As an Italian American, you’d think I would be a bit overzealous with pasta representation on the menu. But throughout my career I have been reluctant, to say the least, to put any pasta on the menu. With a few exceptions I almost always excluded it. I’m not sure why. In the beginning of my career, maybe it was that I felt it was ‘less than’. I mean, if my family could make it, is it restaurant worthy? Then maybe I felt intimidated by all of the great pasta being made in Bay Area restaurants specializing in all of the different regions of Italy. Maybe later still I threw my hands in the air missing my obvious intended trajectory of benefiting from the resurgence of ‘red sauce’ Italian American through the mid aughts. But sometimes the odd guidelines we place on ourselves change or slough away with age.

This is a long preamble to say that we have definitely finally embraced our pasta tendencies lately at Bull Valley Roadhouse.

We buy all of our (100% grass fed) beef and lamb through Stemple Creek out of Marin/Sonoma. I’ve been buying from Loren and Lisa Poncia for about ten years now, because I believe in their mission of superior animal husbandry and land management. When Loren’s sister Jessica passed away, he grew potatoes in her honor, and asked us to buy some. The potatoes were perfect for gnocchi. We now serve Queen Jessica potato gnocchi with fonduta and wild mushrooms. The fonduta uses Highway One cheese from Valley Ford Creamery (excellent cheese from an awesome family in Sonoma county) and mushrooms that Pierre forages and sells to us weekly. It is pretty much the perfect representation of our ethos: handmade food from the best ingredients from our area; coupled with our relationships to the makers, growers and providers.

Every Friday night we make a porchetta.  Porchetta is half of the torso of a pig, sans bones, skin on. The loin and the belly, seasoned with garlic, fennel and chile, rolled and tied and roasted till the skin crisps and browns and the meat cooks all of the way through. We serve it sliced thick, with salsa verde, a fried egg, caramelized onions and a chicory salad. It is a meal for two, and never ceases to make me happy to cook and serve. Because some people are unfamiliar with it or looking for something lighter to eat, we often have some left over. We used to serve it sliced thin as a sandwich (still my favorite breakfast sandwich we have done here at BVR), but we have recently started making ragu bolognese with the chopped up porchetta, chicken liver, beef stock, tomato, and cream. Every week Eli makes fresh lasagna sheets and ‘balsamella’ and we make fresh lasagna. It is so good, and excellent ‘to go’ as well.

When iI was at Lalimes in Berkeley I had a dish I wouldn’t list on the menu, but would always be available: Pasta ‘Aglio e Olio’. Spaghetti, good California extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parmesan. It is one of my all time favorite dishes. I’ve eaten it hundreds of times. Because it’s so simple, I never thought of it as a restaurant dish. In fact the most ‘authentic’ version has no cheese. Haig Krikorian from Lalimes (a true lover of food and culture) taught me that if something is delicious, it’s a restaurant dish. That is the criteria. So I put it on the menu in the beginning of my tenure here at Bull Valley and it went over much better than expected, with staff often ordering it for their meal, also. Well, maybe just to see who reads this, or if word really does carry, we will always have spaghetti ‘aglio e olio’ available. It may not be listed on the menu, but it will still have California garlic and extra virgin olive oil, a touch of chile flake, and real Parmigiano Reggiano. Just ask your server.     

Post Script: Even though BVR is known as among the best cocktail bars in the Bay Area, don’t sleep on the wine list, perfect for the food above.  The Bernard Baudry cabernet franc,  the Funaro nero d’avola, or the Luigi Giordano nebbiolo are just the tip of the iceberg.