Since relocating to Los Angeles in September, I haven’t spent many evenings dining out. Aside from the two weeks of forced exile to eateries because of a broken fridge, my recent dinner at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen in Santa Monica was our first real night out in a few months. It was a night where reservations were made after several restaurants were carefully considered before settling on Rustic Canyon, and I was genuinely looking forward to it.
Rustic Canyon appealed to me because of its emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients (they shop at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market) and, based on their website and online reviews, what seemed to be a commitment to simple, quality food.
Bouchon, my favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara, follows a similar method of using Farmer’s Market fare. Once we arrived for dinner at Bouchon at 5:30 and ordered a scallop appetizer – one of the last the kitchen had available that night. When they run out of the good stuff, it’s gone.
So, it’s safe to say my expectations were high. While I love to cook at home, I’m usually overcome with giddiness at the thought of a night out at a really, really good restaurant. It’s my chance to order food I don’t normally make at home, try wines I don’t usually buy. I should also mention that I crossed out Wine Resolution #17: Try a wine you think you don't like. Blame it on Sideways, but Merlot sales went downhill when that movie became popular. I drank Merlot only when it was offered at tastings, but tonight I took the advice of our server and paired a Napa Merlot with my scallops. I'm happy to say I was not at all disappointed.
Side note: I don’t tend to take pictures in restaurants. While part of me is dying to capture the moment, another, more pronounced part says no, don’t interrupt the moment with a flash that causes other diner’s to look your way, or incessant plate spinning for just the right angle. I can’t do it. But check out the link above. Their food is as clean and inviting as their website.
We started with artichoke ravioli, which was good, but not overly exciting. Then my scallops arrived, perfectly browned on both sides with a celery root puree and red wine reduction. The next fifteen minutes were blissful as I savored every bite. You might be wondering where the cake comes in. I stumbled upon the recipe in the LA Times during my Google-research phase and was thrilled to see that it was on the menu the night we went. (We also ordered the donuts with dark chocolate sauce – an absolute must if you visit.)
The restaurant version was as I expected – moist and the perfect combination of sweetness and tartness. It was especially nice when paired with a small bite of cool vanilla bean ice cream. When I made it at home, the friends I had over noted its versatility – perfect for breakfast, brunch an afternoon snack, and a great alternative to Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving. It seems this cake can be eaten at any time of day, and for any occasion, making it a great recipe to keep in your files when you need something just right.
Rustic Canyon’s Cranberry Orange Ricotta Cake
Total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Adapted from pastry chef Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon
2 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
Zest of 1 orange
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 1/2 cups cranberries, divided
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round by 3-inch tall cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, oil and vanilla. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, salt and zest. Mix just until thoroughly combined; do not overmix.
4. With the mixer running, slowly incorporate the egg mixture into the butter just until combined.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add one-half of the flour mixture to the batter and quickly mix for 5 seconds. Turn off the mixer and add the rest of the flour, the ricotta and one-half of the cranberries. Mix the remaining ingredients into the batter over low speed just until combined, being careful not to overmix.
6. Gently pour the batter into the cake pan and smooth the top. Scatter the remaining cranberries over the top of the cake, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
7. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Place a loose piece of foil over the top of the cake if it starts to darken. Cool the cake on a wire rack before removing it from the pan.