Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Uni + Pinot = Very Happy Me-o
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.