Last week, Johnny and I randomly went to Russian River. We hadn't seen each other much for the past few months, since the conbini planning and build-out, so Yoko gave me the weekend off and I booked a cottage in Guerneville, a town along the Russian River. Neither of us had ever been to Russian River, a prized destination for our outdoorsy friends, about two hours northeast of San Francisco.
We ended up having an OKAY time -- we've chalked it up as a "learning experience." The cottage I booked was outdated and way overpriced. People usually like to go canoing in the Russian River, but we decided to go fishing instead, and we didn't know the good fishing spots (it also took me a while to get the LIVE WORMS onto the hooks for bait. Ewww). The restaurants in the area were not great, and again, overpriced. Highlights of the weekend were drinking fine wines while watching movies and cable in our room (The Good: Bourne Ultimatum; The Bad: Gone in 60 Seconds; The Ugly: Monk). So not a complete loss of a weekend.
Yes, it was a learning experience. Have you ever had that sort of trip, where everything turns out being just OKAY? Guerneville is a very quaint town, with the Russian River slithering through the picturesque pine forest mountains. But it's also the sort of town where you have to know where to go -- a town for insiders where you either have to live there, or have gone every summer so you know where to find all the best swimming holes. We may go back and try again -- we figured we have a better idea of what we're getting into now.
One of the more memorable parts of the weekend was on our drive back home. We were driving west on Highway 116 from Guerneville, towards Bodega Bay on the Pacific coast. We had just crossed the Russian River in Jenner, and saw a sign with a picture of a little fish smoking a pipe, with SMOKED SALMON written in big letters. Johnny asked, "Should we get out?" as we passed the little abandoned-looking setup. I said, "No... yes! Yes!" Johnny put the car in reverse. Not safe, kids!
And indeed it was a tiny little setup. We walked up and it was simply three coolers filled with vacuum-sealed packages of smoked salmon and salmon jerky.
The proprietor of this stand was an older gentleman named Grag Brummett. He smokes all the salmon himself in the nearby town Sebastopol. He was very cozy inside his trailer, with a blanket over his legs and a cute dog in his lap.
In the short while we were there, a few people pulled off to get smoked salmon. My guess is that Greg is a staple stop-off along the highway that all the locals know about. This guy here was a beekeeper from San Jose who bartered his honey for salmon.
You could see the Russian River from the establishment!
The salmon is reasonably priced at $25-30 a pound, depending on the cut. I took a few bags home of the smoked salmon, as well as the salmon jerky. They both have a wonderful aroma and a nice balance of sweet and savory. The jerky is a bit more tough than the smoked salmon, which I have enjoyed in my morning omelettes. I'll be putting bits of it into a pasta as well.
Browsing around his website, www.samnzar.com, I am learning that Greg has been doing this for 30 years, located in this exact spot. WOW! Smokin' since 1973!
His website proclaims:
1. First we purchase the salmon from the finest Alaskan fisheries.
2. It is then smoked with seasoned applewood.
3. Two days (48 hrs.) brine/cure/marinated.
4. We use 13 different spices in our brine/marinate to provide a sweet flavor, jerky style salmon.
5. We use no artificial additives or preservatives.
Here is the map of where Greg is located. The blue dot, ignore the red.
Afterwards, in search for a bowl of clam chowder, we stopped off at Fisheterian in Bodega Bay. This is where we had our best (and cheapest) meal of the entire weekend.
The barbecue sauce on the grilled oysters was not necessary, but the oysters themselves were hot and juicy. And the clam chowder was delicious! At first sight of the green onions, I knew.
If you ever find yourself along the Sonoma coast, stop off at Fishetarian for a snack, and turn off on 116 and find Greg the salmon guy. Smokin' since 1973!