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Sushi, chardonnay and classic cars


After attending the Green Valley symposium a few months ago, I decided to visit sushi restaurants in Petaluma. Clean, crisp, cold chardonnay is a perfect match for sushi, so I set out just as the ?Salute to American Graffiti? celebration was getting under way.

My first stop was Hiro?s Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar, located at 107 Petaluma Blvd. North. Hiro?s was booming. It was a very busy weekend and bustling with hot rods and people everywhere. Roars of engines whined into the warm summer air. My cold glass of 2006 Dutton Goldfield chardonnay was lightly oaked and locked to my hand like a hungry Jamaican Bobsled Team racing down the ice.

My co-pilot and old friend, Augie, was on his first assignment with me. We were hungry and I had a good feeling Hiro was going to come at us with something big in this first drag race of fine wine vs. fine sushi. Hiro greeted us warmly, as always.

With the wine chilling, the first wave of nigiri came out. It was a decadent array of squid (ika), salmon (sake) and fatty tuna (toro). The catch: they were all seared ? but only slightly. We had already sampled the chardonnay and determined that there was some oak to this treasure ? but not too much ? and he proceeded to have the chef create this special dish.

What was seared on the fish fenced itself brilliantly with the toastiness in the wine. With aromas of pear and green melon circling brilliantly in my olfactory, the love of each piece melted in my mouth, ultimately to drown down in wine like a cold stone thrown into the bright summer air that sank into the depths of a warm pond.

Now I was getting green apple flavors ? this wine was changing. It was complex and the second dish arrived: It was a top-notch roll of complexity fortified with salmon and adorned with salmon roe. Hiro then came out with yet another dish ? a massive construction of California roll with inches of toasted crab. Below the dish was a beautiful fire-red puree of Thai pepper to render this the leader of all Dynamite Rolls. It seemed to pair perfectly with all the high-octane fueling outside on the streets. Ba-boom! It was hot, but very delicious.

Next stop was Kabuki restaurant and sushi bar at 17 Petaluma Blvd. North. Seated right in front of my chef, Akio, the room echoed with soft voices off the red brick wall. I ordered some basic nigiri sushi. Tako (octopus) is a favorite of mine since my father and I spear fished in the oceans off Japan the summer of my junior year at Petaluma High School. My choice of wine was another Green Valley gem, the Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard 2006 chardonnay. It has notes of lemon zest and warmed, yellow, orchard apple. The tako was fresh and stirred with the chardonnay into a beautiful culinary whirlwind. Next on the sushi strip was the soft-shell crab. The thick, molasses-like sauce was wrong for the light and flavorful crab and didn?t pair with chardonnay well, but the crab alone was just fine with the wine.

The next dish was in-season blue fin tuna. Smeared with wasabi and tackled by a mound of ginger, this tasty helping of beautiful, fresh fish went down smoothly. My next piece, unagi, was done correctly. The unagi (eel) was smothered in a thick teriyaki glaze, wrapped in seaweed and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Cold wine with lemon notes chased it down.

My last piece, fatty tuna (toro) was followed by a big mouthful of this Green Valley beauty and the wasabi continued to burn clean.

For my last stop, I ventured across town to a real hot spot on the sushi scene. Owned and run by Chef Steven Tam, Gohan is a very comfortable and upscale sushi restaurant and bar located across from Orchard Supply Hardware in the new center off North McDowell Boulevard.

Right away, a huge plate of rolls passed me by to another table. It looked like a California roll sliced and laid flat but with more. On top was at least an inch of crab meat adorned with black and blue roe (fish eggs). Steve calls this one the Carburetor.

For Gohan, I chose the Ironhorse 2006 chardonnay. Cold and crisp and with no oak, it still somehow poured into my mouth as a slightly creamy chardonnay. The minerality was soft, the lemon and pit fruit, opulent but, most importantly, it was gentle and caressing.

My first dish was a specialty: fresh, thin-sliced halibut in carpaccio style, laid out like a confident, winning hand of poker, its owner giving mixed signals not to give away the success that lay below. On the bottom were paper-thin cucumber slices and, for a topper, paper-thin jalapeno slices. This was so tasty with this chardonnay.

Next, I was dribbling fresh cut lemon over a nice plate of a half-dozen myagi oysters that lay in the shell with some Lake Sonoma Sauvignon blanc and a yuzu sauce adorned with green and blue caviar and slices of green onion. I grabbed the first mollusk and pulled the meat from the shell into my mouth. Flavors raced wildly from the acid in the sauce, the salt of the caviar, a dabble of green onion, the brininess of the oyster, and then the soft, meaty flesh.

At the end, the oyster was creamy, very fresh and bright. Oh yes, the wine ? I grabbed the Ironhorse. Immediately, the creaminess of the oyster met the lemony-orchard fruit and the perfect levels of acidity created a splendor both of palate and mind.

Next came a big, beautiful presentation of Japanese scampi. It lay in a pool of mild-to-rich cr?e sauce. Cooked into it was wakame seaweed. Slices of lemon posed atop this articulated contemporary piece and big shrimp guarded its base.

My first bite was amazing. The scampi was so fresh and the cream sauce just lifted into my mouth and carried the scampi down and into my belly. The minerality of the wine and the cold climate apple flavors in it resonated with the buttery cream sauce, cutting through, covering, unfolding and releasing it into my senses.

Steve insisted on one more piece for a finale: a pancake of shizo leaf (Japanese green tea) topped with halibut, a cream sauce and tobiko (caviar). Again, a hit, a winner, a knockout ? a finalist in any drag race.

Overall, sushi is very good in this town. Having lived in Japan, I can be a harsh critic; I expect the best. The wines I paired with it were phenomenal. To top it off, a wonderful weekend of high-performance and antique cars from all over the country. Petaluma defines what Arthur Fonzarelli once coined as ?cool.?

(Jason Jenkins is the owner of Vine and Barrel, a wine shop at 143 Kentucky St. He offers Wednesday night wine education classes from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday tastings from 4 to 7 p.m. He can be contacted at 765-1112. The Web site is www.vineandbar rel.com)