Whether it's topped with exotic zataar, unexpected herbal Chinese lily bulb, or even fragrant pine, we're trying out Wine Country's most spiced up dishes this summer. Check out these local restaurants for a tasty spread of exotic ingredients.
Chef Ari Weiswasser revels in spices, peppering the small menu of his tiny restaurant with the big flavors of Shabazi spice, Oaxacan mole, tahini, sumac, zataar, sugars used in unusual ways, and Calabrian chile. A tomato cream pizza fired in the wood oven gets a blistering kiss of Aleppo chile, while sweet corn brings a subtle sizzle to your lips, sparked with chipotle, cotija, and lime. San Francisco’s own Le Sanctuaire supplies many of his small batch, hand-made unique spices, in case you want to stock up your own kitchen. // 13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, glenellenstar.com
Spiciest Dish: Brussels sprouts slathered in brown sugar bacon marmalade.
Just like coffee, the essential oils that give spices their distinct flavor and aroma begin reacting with oxygen and breaking down as soon as the product is milled. To battle this process, entrepreneurs Nick Davoren and Evelyn Wood use only whole ingredients, ground in their own mill, and date-mark the more than 200 varieties. The process also allows the husband-and-wife team to create their own blends, such as harissa—a classic Tunisian blend of chiles and caraway, but with a proprietor’s touch of peppermint and a few other secret ingredients. Their spices are found in the kitchens of Picco in Larkspur, and Fish in Sausalito, in the artisan beer vats of Beltane Brewery in Novato, and at farmers’ markets in San Rafael, Santa Rosa, and Oakland. // 80 Main Street, Tiburon, freshlocalspices.com
With a store in Petaluma plus a shop in Napa's Oxbow Public Market, you're never too far from the exotic spices of Whole Spice. The shops look like old fashioned apothecaries, stocked with shelf cubby after shelf cubby of spice jar after spice jar. Owners Ronit and Shuli Madmone source from around the world, and also create their own custom blends of spices. From ajowan to zhug (yes, those are real spices), they’ve got over 300 different kinds of seasonings, with many in organic varieties. If you want a lot, you can buy bulk. If you want a little, you can buy, well, a little. // 1364 N McDowell Boulevard, Petaluma; 610 1st Street, Napa, wholespice.com
The original Yeti is in Glen Ellen, but a new restaurant recently debuted in Santa Rosa. Either way you visit, your taste buds are in for a roller coaster thrill ride, thanks to the Indian and Nepalese dishes done in a symphony of authentic spices. Start with the tons of garlic infused in the buttery, charcoal clay-fired naan, then move on to the garam masala covering so many dishes that the eateries are literally perfumed with the stuff. Tender tandoori meats arrive swathed in annatto-hued paste, Chutney is pretty with mint and tamarind, basmati rice pudding sings with saffron, and rogan josh whispers "come hither" with coriander, cardamom, and chiles // 190 Farmer’s Lane, Santa Rosa; 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, yetirestaurant.com
Chef Christopher Kostow is another Le Sanctuaire fan, looking to the purveyor along with local boutique farms and many precious ingredients grown on the property to spice up his famous dishes. The chef’s tasting menu ranges from nine to ten courses, changes nightly, and challenges you to rethink what’s edible. Is coastal grass an herb? Yes, if paired with roasted cucumber and a pretty cap of borage. Duck tea blossoms with chrysanthemum, lamb is piquant with flurries of housemade vadouvan, and cuttlefish and matsutake mushroom tingles with the essence of pine. You may never think of spices, herbs, and seasonings the same way again. // 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, therestaurantatmeadowood.com
Spiciest Dish: Dry-aged squab leg rubbed with spicebush alongside bonito flake-dusted beets.