Food, Friends, Fun…..what would life be like without all that? Not so merry.
Last night I attended the 12th Annual Chef Meets BC Grape event with a good friend. A fun fundraiser put on by the British Columbia Wine Institute and the Arts Club Theatre Company – a toast to the extraordinary chefs and winemakers who call BC home. Along with food, British Columbia is growing into a world class destination for premium wine. The proceeds from the event go towards funding local playwrights and emerging artists.
Here is a sampling of my favourite wine/food pairings of the evening:
Chicha restaurant presented a Tuna Causa – cilantro whipped and chilled potato topped with sesame and soy, BC local Haida Gwaii Albacore Tuna, a crisp fruit and ginger ponzu, and a Peruvian rocato chilli aioli. Paired with Lake Breeze Spice Jar.
Hart House Restaurant presented a Pancetta wrapped pork terrain with sourdough crisp Hannah Brook Farm peach and apricot mostarda, Barnston Island micro arugula. Paired with Moon Curser “Afraid of the Dark” red.
Lift Bar and Grill presented smoked sturgeon, dark soy & nori emulsion, putanesca jam and squid ink rice puff. Paired with Desert Hills Gamay Noir.
Miradoro (at Tinhorn Creek) presented chanterelle lobster mushroom and pancetta risotto with Okanagan peach, grilled corn & rosemary. Paired with Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir.
Provence Marinaside presented seared scallop, prosciutto crisp, Okanagan peach broth with lemon thyme salt. Paired with Misconduct Suspect Series Chardonnay Viognier.
The Observatory (at Grouse Mountain) presented mushroom boar belly, chanterelle mushrooms, brioche, frissee with Tantalus Vineyards Riesling.
The Westin Bayshore presented Albacore Tuna Poke, avocado, taro root with Bordertown Estate Winery white.
*Torafuku (modern Asian eatery) presented onion ash beef terrine wrapped with Portobello, local vegetables, **foie gras, potato pave, chimichurri and hunter sauce. Paired with Gold Hill Cabernet Franc.
Pinnacle Harbourfront Hotel presented Duo of duck-spiced rubbed duck breast, duck confit goat cheese croquette, habanero jam. Paired with Quails’ Gate Gewurztraminer.
**On a personal note I object to the way foie gras is produced. I wish that restaurants refrained from using Foie Gras on their menus. At the same time, *Torafuku had the longest tasting lineup.
All in all this was a most enjoyable evening and a perfect start to the weekend.
Oh don’t you know….the weekend starts on Thursday!
Once upon a time there was a picture-perfect country with unending rolling hills with ranches and horse trails. There were olive farms, countless vineyards and a lot of nice wine made from their good grapes. This place still exists. It is the essence of the California Central Coast that lies in beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, located in Santa Barbara County (photo below).
It’s where I discovered at least three outstanding Pinot Noirs (one of my favorite reds) out of the several excellent ones I sampled.
Why am I so into Pinot? I don’t know; it’s like a thing with me.
The erratic, inconsistent counterpart to my favorite white – which is Chardonnay. They’re so unpredictable and difficult to get just-s0-right (for my liking).
I started to pay more attention to this fickle but food-friendly wine right after watching the movie “Sideways” starring one of my favourite actors Paul Giamatti.
I think this movie really helped put places like Los Olivos on the map. If there was only one place to visit while in the area it had to be the Hitching Post in Buellton, Ca. It was where *Maya (played by Virginia Madsen) worked as a bartender. And as it so happens I went at the start of Santa Ynez restaurant week (similar to dine out in Vancouver) so I started with a highly recommended grilled artichoke appetizer which was superb followed by a steak dinner and a take-home bottle of HP Kicking Post Pinot Noir ’09. But it didn’t end here.The next day I visited Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café (also in the movie) and sampled some premium tastes of the Central Coast – all excellent choices.
For 20 years, The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café has been a local favorite and a must stop for anyone wanting to experience Santa Barbara wine country. It stands at the center and heart of Los Olivos. This laid-back friendly town dates back to the 1860’s. There’s casual cafés, gourmet restaurants, lovely little boutiques & festivals throughout the year for art, jazz and olive lovers. Bring your cowboy boots.
Then it was off to the Fess Parker Winery which I must fess up (pun intended) to say I didn’t expect the wines to be as superior tasting as they really are.
The last stop was nearby Los Alamos and a watering hole at The 1880 Union Hotel, a 14-room landmark that’s hosted many a gunslinger of yesteryear – a one-exit rural township in northern Santa Barbara County, on the way up to Santa Maria. It’s owned by actor Kurt Russell. His GoGi label, inspired by his childhood nickname (and pronounced GO-Ghee), launched in 2008, the culmination of the actor’s own decades-long love for fine wine.
I’m sure over time this small cowboy town of Los Alamos will open up to become more of a wine mecca.
Although it lacks in plenty of places to eat wouldn’t you know I ended up at the opening of a restaurant named appropriately…”Plenty”. Best grilled cheese sandwich!
Maya (Sideways): “I like to think about the life of wine . . . How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your ’61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline . . . And it tastes so fucking good.
I love finding places of interest that are not considered mainstream and are somewhat off the beaten track….pretty much anywhere I travel.
In my hometown I sometimes stumble across a little hidden gem that is noteworthy. Then I’m excited to have discovered something new but they always seem to get found out. As in me posting this right now. Here are a few rare places I’ve come across in the past:
Of special note was the time the car broke down in a place outside Davisville,Texas. First thought was “this is a major drag.” Then my travelling companions and I ended up spending a few nights at an historic and quaint b+b with great tex mex and discovered cowboy poetry. Who knew cowboys could be so sensitive? They came from all over the country and read original poems, some set to music in local venues around town. Now THAT was something I’ll never forget! They were amazing and I would go back for more of them cowboys that.
Another time was camping in the Poncho Villa State Park in New Mexico and just walking across the border to have authentic Mexican food in a cute little place in…Mexico. There are a lot of other places way too numerous to mention but the short of it is …..it’s always a pleasure or at least a surprise to come across the “little finds.” Like Marfa, Texas which is a little art mecca.
Which brings me to CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY(which only has a teenly little bit to do with Marfa):
Everyone is familiar with Napa and lesser known Sonoma has reached it’s peak and has become quite established by now. Then there’s Solveng, the tiny Danish town just outside Santa Barbara where the movie Sideways was filmed (I did a post about Solveng not so long ago). So tell me “why did I come so close but yet so far to miss this little dusty backwater town with the nickname “Lost Almost”: a former stagecoach stop with a single main street on the fringe of the Santa Ynez Valley?? Properly pronounced Los Alamos.You know I saw the sign for it too (darn!). According to Condé Nast Traveller (CNT) it’s a small town big on flavour.
The once-sleepy Los Alamos (pop. 1,954) now sees a steady stream of wine-country visitors and day-trippers, many of whom are so taken with its languorous, wine-stoned cowboy vibe that they end up spending the night even if their car doesn’t break down.
You know some of these towns get a bad rap where people believe they attract mainly boozers. Okay; it truth be told perhaps they do. But did you know that where there’s great wine there’s great food. Honestly all of these California wine regions tend to have outstanding cuisine. I even have friends (who like to drink wine) who came a long long way to visit Napa (I did a whole post specifically on Napa for them) and they ended up not even going to one single winery. They ate and explored the beauty of the wine region itself. I have firsthand experience in the food versus wine there because I love grocery shopping in the small towns in and surrounding Napa. They definitely attract Foodies (the debate is still on whether I’m really one or not) and I brought back stuff I can’t find at home. So on to LOS ALAMOS not to be confused with “the Alamo” (This new L.A. – I’ll see you sometime soon, I promise):
A town re-invented (taken from an article by CNT“CALIFORNIA’S NEXT GREAT FOOD & WINE DESTINATION”
The town’s re-invention is due largely to a tight-knit community of creatives, many of them Los Angeles refugees, who came to Los Alamos in search of a second act. There’s Bob Oswaks, who ran marketing for Sony Pictures Televisionand now mans the ovens at Bob’s Well Bread, his artisanal bakery in a renovated filling station. There’s Jamie Gluck, a former fashion advertising exec who spends his days in a ten-gallon hat at the helm of Bell Street Farm, a rustic-chic lunch spot with a phenomenal crispy porchetta. Across the street, journalist turned winemaker Sonja Magdevski runs Casa Dumetz Wines and the nearby Babi’s Beer Emporium. And just down the block, in the 1880 Union Hotel, the sepia-toned, taxidermy-bedecked Wine Saloon is overseen by actor Kurt Russell, whose own GoGi pinot noir is served at the bar.
How on earth did this happen? The first glimmers came in 2004, when Clark Staub—a 20-year music-biz veteran and erstwhile Capitol Records VP—opened Full of Life Flatbread on the west end of Bell Street. With its obsessively sourced local ingredients and massive 900-degree wood-fired oven (blessed on its first lighting by local Chumash elders), the restaurant was soon luring chefs and epicureans from all over the state—and putting Los Alamos on the map as a tiny but legitimate food destination.
You’re killing me right now
A decade on, Los Alamos is again being transformed by an influx of young proprietors and entrepreneurs eager to put their creative stamp on a town they see as having Marfa-like potential (see??) . Zac Wasserman, the 27-year-old winemaker behind Frequency Wines, is part of the recent surge. “Los Alamos is a blank canvas—you feel like you’ll be able to impact its future and grow with it,” says Wasserman, who first considered nearby Los Olivos but found the town too expensive and oversaturated. Opposite his tasting room, the once-scruffy Alamo Motel (a 1950s relic) has been reinvented by motelier group Shelter Social Club. Now, with a stylish spot to stay the night, Los Alamos is seeing its cool-kid cachet grow. Which raises the question: How long can it hold on to its pioneer-town charm?
For now, despite the drumbeat of new development, Los Alamos retains its egalitarian mix of silver-fox boomers, plaid-shirted millennials, and denim-clad ranch hands. (This is a place where a cherry-red Cobra roadster might be parked beside a dented pickup with peeling Sarah Palin stickers.) And there are still discoveries to be made—like the biodynamic Martian Ranch & Vineyard, run by Nan Helgeland, who’s married to screenwriter and director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River). Typical of Los Alamos proprietors, Nan is no dabbling weekend hobbyist: During the harvest, she’s up at 3 a.m., tending to her vines. Pay a visit and she might take you around her produce garden, show off her Irish Dexter cows, or point out a red hawk’s nest. As often happens in Los Alamos, you may linger a bit longer—and drink a bit more wine—than you’d planned.
Sounds like my kind of crazy, eccentric, wonderful town to eat, drink and dawdle. Better go before it gets too well known and too fou fou.
The full article written by Emily Poenisch includes places to eat, drink and stay:
The 35th annual California Wine Fair Ballroom Tasting is the largest tasting of its kind in Vancouver. I attended “The Arts Club” hosted event (in partnership with the Wine Institute of California) last night from what I can recall at the Vancouver Convention Centre. This was one of three California wine-inspired fundraisers taking place this month.
As much as I would have like to, I couldn’t possibly have sampled all of the 350 wines from over 100 highly-regarded wineries that participated. I might have managed about half of that. Among the classic labels with interesting vintages, there were new favourites from an abundance of family run and boutique operations.
One of particular interest is Dancing Coyote, a family owned & operated old-world style vineyard located in a beautiful stretch of land in California’s Clarksburg appellation. They’ve been farming in the Delta region along the Sacramento River for five generations. They make a wonderul Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah.
I really enjoyed the Sauvignon Blancfrom Dry Creek VineyardInc. No wonder, as their Director of Export explained to me that they were the very first winery to plant the grapes in the Dry Creek Valley area, in 1972. The Cabernet Sauvignon is excellent too.
Chateau St. Jean is a winery that is known for always producing exceptional wines. An interesting tidbit: their winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren was the first woman to win winemaker of the year in 2010 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine which helped to put Sonoma on the map.
While I don’t discriminate against any great wine growing region, I have a special affinity for these wines because of having been to many of the vineyards while traveling through California. Places like Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, Lodi & Temecula. I can tell you one thing, the choices are getting broader for which wines will go with which dishes. I also love hearing the stories about how the wineries got their names.
These wine makers work with great care and passion to product wonderful vintages which keep getting better and better. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable sipping and mingling evening. I hope to attend again next year.
Yesterday’s post got me reminiscing about cooking with wine which is something I do all the time on occasion. Sometimes I even put it in the food (yeah, we’ve all heard that one before).
Visiting wine country (where ever there is a country with a wine growing region to be found) is a fun experience and you learn (or at least taste) something new every time. One of the wine regions I really like to visit in Canada (besides the Okanagan in British Columbia) is Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. This recipe is from a cookbook bought at the Hillebrand Estates Winery which I made tons of tasty recipes from. It’s a guide to creating the perfect union between fine wine and superb food. Many people cook with the standby white for seafood and red for meat dishes but how many have tried sparkly?
Sparkling wine is wonderful to drink and this recipe is simple to prepare. The tiny bubbles add sophistication and a sense of celebration to any event. It is also a great ingredient in wine country cooking. The happy little bubbles work magic to transform sea scallops into the most delicate shellfish you will ever taste. This is Tony de Luca’s version of famous Mexican *ceviche.
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup sparkling wine
1 Tbsp. coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp. lightly toasted mustard seeds
2 tsp. fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp. granulated sugar
pinch of cayennepepper
1 lb. (500g) fresh sea scallops
Add all the ingredients except the scallops to a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the scallops and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 3 hours. Remove the scallops from the marinade. Discard the marinade and serve the scallops. Makes 6 servings. Enjoy!
Book Review: the book is organized by wine variety, from light and lively to full-bodied. Each chapter begins with a description of the wine, followed by seasonal menus complete with detailed ingredient lists, thorough explanations of techniques and easy-to-follow instructions. The author displays wit and wisdom from years of international culinary experience. The ART of fine dining in the comfort of your home.