LIVING OFF THE LAND : A Worldly Cuisine With Its Heart in the Sonoma Countryside

<i> Rose Dosti is a Times staff writer</i>

If you were to spot John Ash’s restaurant, John Ash & Co., from the air, it would be a patch of urban color nestled amid the rich foliage of Sonoma County. The restaurant is in a typical Santa Rosa shopping mall, but don’t be fooled for a minute--it’s the land around it to which Ash, his restaurant and cooking style are deeply connected.

During its six-year existence, the restaurant has earned a reputation as one of Northern California’s finest. It was founded on Ash’s sensitivities to ecology, beauty, innovation and seasonality of food products grown in Sonoma County, and there are examples aplenty: shiitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, a vast array of baby vegetables and chevre are produced on nearby farms. The wines served at his restaurant include the pick of the crop from local vineyards--Cabernets from Alexander Valley, Long and Kenwood vineyards, and late-disgorged sparkling wines held back by Iron Horse Vineyards for special occasions. Attention to health concerns are manifest in the use of simple steam-cooking, roasting and grilling. And Ash brings to his restaurant foods from around the globe: chiles from Brazil; monkfish, sole and langostine from Atlantic waters; beers from throughout Latin America.

Ideas, too, are influenced by international cuisines. A case in point is his adaptation of Japanese-style Kobe beef fillets: roasted pork fillets marinated in orange juice seasoned with ginger and garlic, then rolled in honey and coated with sesame seeds. The golden, caramelized effect of the honey on the sweet pork is simply delicious. Ash serves the pork tenderloin cooked pink inside (to a safe internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit). But should you balk at the thought of pink pork, you can continue to cook the roast to a temperature of 170 degrees.

JOHN ASH’S TENDERLOIN OF PORK KOBE STYLE 2 1 to 1 1/2-pound tenderloins of pork (skin and fat removed) 1/2 cup soy sauce 1 3-inch piece gingerroot, mashed Grated peel and juice of 1 orange 2 cloves garlic, mashed cup honey cup sesame seeds Orange segments, optional Kumquats, optional Japanese radish (daikon), shredded into thread Mirin Sauce

Place pork in shallow pan. Combine soy sauce, ginger, orange peel, orange juice and garlic in small bowl. Pour over pork filet. Turn to coat well. Remove pork from marinade. Roll in honey and sprinkle with sesame seeds to cover. Place on rack in roasting pan and roast at 475 degrees until meat thermometer registers 160 degrees for medium or 170 degrees for well done, about 30 minutes. Slice and garnish with orange segments or kumquats and daikon threads. Serve with Mirin Sauce. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: Because honey may drip and burn pan, line roasting pan with foil. Mirin Sauce 1/2 cup mirin (sweet sake) 1/2 cup fermented Japanese soy sauce 1/2 cup chicken stock2 tablespoons sugar 1 1-inch piece gingerroot, sliced (do not peel) 1 clove garlic, mashed 1 star anise pod Juice of 1 large orange 1 tablespoon cornstarch Water

Combine mirin, soy sauce, chicken stock, sugar, gingerroot, garlic, anise pod and orange juice in saucepan. Mix cornstarch with enough water to make a thin paste. Stir into mirin mixture. Bring to a simmer and cook until sauce thickens and becomes shiny. Strain. Makes about 1 3/4 cups. Accessories are from Gump’s, Beverly Hills. PRODUCED BY ROBIN TUCKER FOOD STYLIST: OLIVIA ERSCHEN