So I could simply say just read that menu and that would save both of us a whole lot of work--you can probably taste the yumminess just from that.
But I still want to write about how well a wine dinner can synch, for the one last night at The Lark (ok, actually held at sister property the SB Wine Collective, but created by The Lark team) featuring wines from the wondrous Matt Dees--namely Mail Road and Kimsey--danced like Rogers and Astaire, harmonized like the Temptations, even comically contrasted like Laurel and Hardy.
Let's start with dessert, shall we? See what wine paired with it? Now, when does a wine dinner end with rosé? But it totally worked, here, its copper color fitting in with the playful mix of balled melons, and the wine's acid cutting the sweet of the granita. Even the kick of the Aleppo pepper--and it was pretty kicky--turned the dish into something more (the borage flowers, so pretty and a bit tart, didn't hurt). Such a clever, refreshing course.
And refreshing might be the key word for Dees' approach to whites, too. That Mail Road Chardonnay illuminated the brilliance of the unique Mt. Carmel Vineyard, a site Dees clearly loves. (He likes his vineyards a bit harsh and unforgiving--remember he gets to work with Radian and Bentrock, too.) If you're looking for oak, this is the wrong wine for you--it's a pure expression of its fruit, with lime zest zing and then enough acid you could almost cut with it.
Or cut a surprisingly rich dish like the opening halibut crudo, that I joked was halibut potato salad because of the grilled corn aioli that leaned a tad into its mayonnaise-ness, especially with the addition of some pickled green tomato. (I mean this is the most loving way.) Still, that fish was rich and nearly unctuous. And then the perfectly fried avocado nuggets.... Chef Jason Paluska put together a dish cohesive and unusual all at once, and it set the tone for the rest of the delicious evening.
That's Dees explaining that when the block of marble comes in from the amazing vineyard sites he gets to play with, in this case Mt. Carmel in the Sta. Rita Hills and Kimsey in Ballard Canyon, you can either take a chisel to it and make it something else or take some sandpaper to it, and make it shine. One guess what he does.
Which he does no better than the Mail Road Pinot they poured last night. Here's how Antonio Galloni aptly put it: "A wine of structure and power…dark, sumptuous and enveloping on the palate…the 2015 possesses remarkable fruit intensity…Black cherry, plum, spice, leather and menthol…Don’t miss it." We didn't--and thanks to the staff for keeping refilling the glasses, too--very generous.
That powerful pinot was an on-the-nose match for the richness of the duck liver mousse, not quite as gamey as foie, but lavish and creamy, sort of like if meat and gelato had a baby that could live at room temp. This dish's accoutrements were equally brilliant bites, cashews roasted in duck fat so extra umami-ed, and Rainier cherries poached and plump. I might have said I would have spent the rest of my life at the Wine Collective if someone would keep bringing me boards of mousse and glasses of pinot.
Yes, it's almost hard to see the lamb ribs in there, but that just attests to this dish being all about its strewn-composition, the smoke on the meat, the char on the eggplant and peppers, the juice of the pluot, the bite of the watercress. So much to take in, you just keep savoring bite after bite. And then there's the Kimsey Syrah, a bold wine, as it needed to be to stand up the fat and sweet lamb, but then it just cascaded with flavor, blackberry, a hint of anise, sage, black pepper, and more.
Here are Chryss's two subs for the meaty things she doesn't eat. She says they were as good as they looked. And the couple of bites I snuck said the same.
The Lark is going to keep doing these winemaker dinners, and now that all of us vaccinated folks can sit inside next to each other and not die, they're going to be a lot of fun. The next one will be with Graham Tatomer.
And one tiny issue--why is "served to share" still a thing? I imagined COVID would have knocked that one out of the kitchen playbook, but even without the fear of cooties, it's often just awkward, especially with something like the mousse board. And our end of the table sat three people with dietary restrictions, all different (one gluten free, one pescatarian, one lactose intolerant), so they had to bring up a bunch of different dishes too. I get the largesse of it, and the sense we all dip into the communal plate and all that. But that's also not quite reason enough.