When I was in California last month visiting wine country, one of the many highlights of the trip was a visit Zazu Restaurant & Farm in Santa Rosa. I was the guest of husband and wife team John Stewart and Duskie Estes and had the privilege of visiting their home where they raise heritage pigs, rabbits, goats, chickens and more before heading to the restaurant for a meal that I’m still licking my lips over.

The animals raised in their home’s back yard have what Duskie told me is “a great life with one bad day.” Many of them are raised for food, and the one bad day is when they go for slaughter, accompanied by John and Duskie (pictured at right).

After 45 minutes or so visiting their home, we headed out to the restaurant for dinner. John is the salumist (someone who is dedicated to the art of making bacon) for Zazu and creates the line of Black Pig Meats that are served at the restaurant and also sold retail. He also makes the pastas at the restaurant, using eggs gathered from the birds on his own property.

If you watch The Next Iron Chef, you may be with familiar with Duskie who is the chef at Zazu. She competed in season 3 and the more recent Redemption season. Duskie creates seasonal dishes that change nightly using ingredients grown on the restaurant’s farm and from other local sources. She puts the menu together after taking a look at what’s available in their own garden each day and considering what is available from other local sources. If an ingredient can be sourced locally, it is.

I had what I consider the best seat in the house at Zazu, a seat at the bar with a direct line of site into the kitchen where I could watch Duskie cook. The wine flowed as I had course after course of some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. I started with some of the Black Pig cured meats then moved onto Cowgirl Chimney Rock cheese with creamed clover honey.

I shared a plate of Black Pig bacon wrapped dates with Duskie’s mom who was also eating at the bar that night. Wow. So very good. For my entrée I chose Sonoma lamb spezzatino and Redwood Hill goat cheese gnocchi (pictured at left). I get to eat a lot of really good, wonderfully prepared dishes at restaurants, and I have to say this is one of the most memorable I’ve had. The lamb was perfectly cooked, so savory and flavorful. The gnocchi was light and perfectly cooked. I will be dreaming of that gnocchi for a very long time.

The majority of the wines served at Zazu are locally sourced; they are in the heart of the Russian River Valley. They offer a $5 glass of a red and a white each night.

The commitment to sustainable, locally sourced foods at Zazu is impressive. So is the commitment to serving only humanely raised meats. You’ll hear people say frequently that it’s easy to create really good dishes when you start with ingredients that are of great quality. There is a lot of truth to that. But, to create dishes that are as incredible as the ones I had at Zazu, it takes more than just great ingredients. It takes skill and commitment to honing your craft. John and Duskie have both.

Zazu is located at 3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa, C.A. The restaurant is open for dinner starting at 5:30 Wednesday through Sunday, and for brunch on Sundays from 9-2. From Memorial Day through Halloween, it is also open on Monday nights for “Farm Suppers” beginning at 5:30.

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