Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Uni + Pinot = Very Happy Me-o

I was hoping I'd get to write something about a fantastic feast from World of Pinot Noir closer to the feast itself (on Friday, March 2), but perhaps I'm still recovering, lost in the sensory world so much that I don't want to spend too much time in contemplation. True, that might be my usual state, but a dinner like The Art of Japanese Cuisine and Freeman Winery Pinot Noir, with Guest Chef Ken Tominaga, puts the you in voluptuous, if that makes any sense. I did do a write up/interview with Ken Freeman prior to the dinner, so go check that out if you haven't yet for more winery details, but the quick lesson is his wife Akiko Freeman makes wines of grace, poise, depth and acidity, and they cry out for pairing with food.

This evening wasn't just any food, of course, as Chef Tominaga is a star of the Bay Area and Sonoma, and he and the Freemans are friends too, so it's a very simpatico pairing. Since it's been awhile and much of my memory of the evening is a rosy glow of gustatory glory (plus my notes in the darkened dining room at the Spa at the Ritz Carlton Bacara are hard to the read to the point that one scribble I can make out taunts future-me with "you will not be able to read this"), I will focus on two delectable courses, numbers 1 and 4 (of 5 with an unannounced dessert too), both pictured above.

Course the first is Happy Spoon with Golden Osetra Caviar, but it seems a bit misnamed, as it's really Happy Happy Eater Left with Golden Smile. Chef suggested we get it all in one bite, and while it wasn't too big for that, it was a tad sad to see it all gone in a minute of mouthful, the oyster and uni and caviar and sauce all and everything of the briny sea, as if you'd cleared out the pantry of Davy Jones' Locker (ignore all the shipwreck imagery, though). You did get to wash it down with the 2016 Freeman Ryo-fu Chardonnay, mostly sourced from stellar Sonoma Vineyards Keefer and Heintz Ranches, so it is a Happy Glass of elegant juice, some more tropical notes yet underlined with citrus and apple fruit, and, as with most Freeman wines, a finish that could match the power of the urchin you ate with it.

Course the fourth is Uni and Hokkaido Scallop Risotto with chive blossoms and shiso, so yes, Chef likes his urchin and you better too. Somehow this kept from becoming an umami atom bomb that blew your taste buds into submission--it kept revealing itself gradual, almost a bit coy, as long as you nibbled a bit at the uni tongue atop the plating and didn't gulp it at once. The rice was perfectly cooked (always a bit tricky for serving a room at once, even if just about 35 dinners tops), and those scallops had just the sear you want, just the give, and more taste than you might ever ask for. That got paired with a 2011 Freeman RRV Pinot Noir from a vintage about which Akiko joked "it was the summer that never came." Now, you might think that's a worry in an already cool climate region, but perhaps it just gave the vines more time to work and think, probably about how someday their fruit would have to stand up and deliver next to such a ridiculously good plate of food. They did. The Freeman website describes the wine well, noting its "alluring deep ruby color, with a ripe nose of blackberry, toast...a racy entry that erupts into flavors of wild berry, olive and smoked meats. The large-framed palate, and long, fruity finish...." Well, sometimes what sounds like pr puffery is merely apt description. And at a grand dinner like this one, it's hard for any write-up to not sound like fantasy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Coast Village Road’s New Clubhouse

While it took five years for the sleek Oliver’s to happen in the spot that used to be homey Peabody’s on Coast Village Road, the new plant-based restaurant opened last October 29, firing on all cylinders. “We had incredible momentum building,” said Assistant GM Phillip Thompson, “lots of guests, good social media reviews, regulars after the first week, a big Thanksgiving.”

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Wild, Wide World of WOPN

Illustrating a story about a 2018 World of Pinot Noir Grand Tasting (that's their adjective, and it isn't just puffery with more than 150 producers usually pouring at least two wines each...see, it takes a grand amount of even parenthetical words to describe the grandiosity) with a single bottle of wine might seem perverse, but in this case I promise it isn't. There's my first taste of a very long day (this will actually be two blog posts, it's that long a day into night) last Friday at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, and I choose it specifically because its winemaker was sitting next to me. That would be Karen Steinwachs, who people probably know better from Buttonwood, but then she's got this even smaller designer label to make pinot and chardonnay, and she just happens to be on WOPN's Board of Directors, too. That mostly means she does a lot of work and can talk to the press and say clever things (very much so--she's one of our wittier winemakers).

Turns out the media room makes you very glad you're media; call me fake news all you want, I'll just be over here pouring myself another sample of delicious pinot. Like Seagrape's 2015 Jump Up, a perfect expression of the magic of the Sta. Rita Hills--both light on the balls of its feet and a bit ballsy, too--think Gene Kelly jammed into a bottle. Sure there's cherry, spice, pomegranate, but it's how every tasty bit adds up to a greater whole that makes the wine so lovely.

And that's the best way to think about the somewhat daunting event. You enter into Bacara ballrooms that look as big as a football field, and while some of that is tables of food and cheese and lots of Fiji water (hello plastic, goodbye sustainability), most of it is producers pouring wines and stories. You might walk in just as Santa Barbara legend Richard Sanford walks in, and you feel all historical--he spotted greatness here (well, not at the Bacara--you know what I mean) before nearly anyone. So you go drink at the Alma Rosa table, and he tells you "It's fun again, George," as he's the kind of man who remembers your name and uses it, and times better be jolly as the wines are joyous, especially the 2015 Barrel Select he shares that's blueberry, blackberry, violet, but more than anything, delicate.

But there's so much to taste there's no good way to list all my notes, not even the highlights, like Greg Brewer pouring a 2007 Ampelos Vineyard pinot (yum!) as he discusses the 10-20 year out sweet spot he believes our local pinots find, using a metaphor of flowers that when you get them they aren't quite open and full yet, and then dead the very next day, no, he sees Brewer-Clifton wines opening and opening, growing into their beautiful bloom.

And, of course, WOPN's not just local wines, because why buy the cow when the SYV's a car-ride away? (I think I mixed a bad metaphor there.) No, you can try a producer like Nimrod from Hungary, where the volcanic soil leads to a more minerally wine, and perhaps a better cuvee with only 20% pinot, but mostly built on kekfrankos, and I'm not trying to be wise to say that's just Hungarian for Blaufränkisch, but now you can see how far from just pinot we are, let alone Santa Barbara. 

Of course you've got people like Josh Klapper from Timbre sharing a hard cider (very refreshing, especially amidst all the cherry/berry bursts elsewhere), and tables pouring regions/AVAs for you--Morgen McLaughlin was back in town repping Willamette Valley and their typical Oregon earthy-shroomy notes, for example--and soon you run into people you know, and people you just know as you've met them at another table, and everything is a bright bow of delight. 

That's what a grand tasting can do for you--prove pinot is doing very well and you can do better if you drink enough of it.