Pairing food and wine

September 28, 2010 

Local culinary artists have long celebrated the variety and abundance yielded by the area’s oceans, ranches, farms and vineyards. A new event, Savor the Central Coast, will celebrate the region’s flavors and those who produce them.

The San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau has collaborated with Sunset Magazine to present a cornucopia of seminars, tours, receptions and dinners from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.

They will emphasize sustainable and organic seafood and crops, along with wineries and chefs who source ingredients primarily from local producers—with plenty of opportunities to taste the best of their bounty.

Here’s just a sample of what’s in store. These dishes will be served at SAVOR the Mission Plaza, a Friday al fresco dinner at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa that will highlight four of the city’s chefs. Event producer Steve Burns offered his suggestions of wines to pair with each dish from among the many offered by members of the San Luis Obispo Vintners Association.

As the Spanish say: Que aproveche!

Spicy Ahi Tartare Tacos paired with Halter Ranch 2009 Cotes de Paso Blanc

When Lionel Dean Chadwick joined Native Restaurant and Lounge as executive chef earlier this year, he infused the menu with his passion for Asian fusion cuisine and seafood. His Spicy Ahi Tartare Tacos quickly became a favorite appetizer. “I love working with fish, all kinds of fish,” said Chadwick, who grew up in several countries, including Singapore.

As influences, he cites the French and Japanese consultants to Flight in Huntington Beach, where he was a sous chef. Highlighting Morro Bay-caught ahi tuna stuffed in crispy wonton shells, the dish mixes sriracha chili sauce, Napa cabbage, bell peppers, carrots and miso vinaigrette. The complex flavors are finished with a citrusy ginger ponzu sauce.

Halter Ranch Vineyard offers an equally multifaceted white Rhône blend with aromas of white flowers, peach, honey and toasted hazelnut. “It’s a hard food to pair, there’re so many different ingredients involved,” Chadwick said. “That wine really brings it altogether.” The 2009 Côtes de Paso Blanc combines roussanne, picpoul blanc, grenache and marsanne. Silver medal winner at the Los Angeles Wine Competition, its 400 cases will be released in October to sell for $24.

Native serves diners at 1023 Chorro St. from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Lunches and appetizers cost $7-$16; dinner entrees range $12-$27. After hours Thursday through Saturday, Native converts to a nightclub to swing until 2 a.m. (www.nativelounge.com)

Two-color melon gazpacho paired with Ancient Peaks 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Charles Myers’ commitment to area growers began in the 1980s as owner of the Gumbo Pot in Los Angeles. He opened Big Sky Cafe in 1994 partly from “a desire to connect farmers with diners.” Focused on “American regional cuisine,” Big Sky’s dishes are inspired by Southwestern, Cajun, Creole, Latin American, Southeast Asian and Mediterranean flavors—with plenty of vegetarian options on the menu.

But you won’t find his Two-Color Melon Gazpacho among them. This duo of soups — one savory cantaloupe with arugula and the other spicy watermelon with mint — came from his personal recipe file. “We expect some locals to attend,” Myers said. “I want to excite them with something different.”

The cool fruit gazpachos complement the crisp acidity of Ancient Peaks 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, winner of a best in class gold at the California Mid-State Fair. With pear and citrus flavors, this white is crafted from grapes harvested along the top of Cuesta Grade and near the San Juan Creek in Shandon. With 868 cases produced, buyers can find it at local wine shops and the Santa Margarita winery for $12.

Big Sky, located at 1121 Broad St., opens at 7 a.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. weekends. Closing is at 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 9 p.m. Sundays and Mondays; starting mid-October, it closes at 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays too. Dishes range from $5 to $21.50. (www.bigskycafe.com)

Lamb Loin with Potato Dauphinoise and Ratatouille Nicoise paired with Clayhouse 2008 Malbec

Born to a “restaurant family” in Toulouse, José Dahan cooked professionally in Paris, Belgium and Southern California. Since 1999, his classical French style guides the ever-changing menu of bistro and caterer Et Voilà. His Cal Poly-raised lamb loin will be bathed in a rich sauce of red wine, shallots, garlic and fresh thyme. With it will be two garlicky sides: potato dauphinoise and ratatouille niçoise. The first is a creamy gruyere gratin. The other is a colorful melange of eggplant, zucchini and peppers. “Talley Farms’ are the best peppers in America,” Dahan exclaimed.

The trio calls for a hearty red like Clayhouse Wines 2008 Malbec. With hints of black plum, raspberry, cranberry, black pepper and vanilla oak, it took double gold and best of class honors at the California State Fair. “Usually malbec is a very tart wine,” said Dahan. “This one was a little bit different. Within five minutes, it becomes very soft.” With grapes from its Red Cedar Vineyard east of Paso Robles, Clayhouse adds a touch of merlot to heighten the fruit flavor. The winery made 2,000 cases, which it sells for $15.

Et Voilà is at 12304 Los Osos Valley Road. Lunch is $13.95 from 11:30 to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, with $3 first course or dessert options. For about $29, three-course dinners are served from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. most Fridays and Saturdays. The bistro also offers special events and private parties. (www.etvoilarestaurant.com)

Bombe paired with Clairborne & Churchill 2009 Douce Amie

Pastry chef Russell Thomas has concocted treats over the years for LumiËre Restaurant and Le Meridien Hotel in Massachusetts, as well as the Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. While working at Novo on Higuera Street, he met chef Ben Richardson. The pair founded Two Cooks Catering four years ago to specialize in “global cuisine with a conscience.” They source nearly all ingredients locally, including frequent trips to regional farmers markets. “Whenever we have a salad on the menu, it was picked Saturday morning and they serve it Saturday evening,” Thomas said. “You can’t get much fresher than that.”

His spin on a classic bombe layers mousse from See Canyon apples, fresh quince sherbet, Cayucos oranges and caramel mousse. “It’s got a really good vanilla floral flavor to it,” Thomas said.

The bombe pairs beautifully with an orange muscat dessert wine such as Claiborne & Churchill Vintners’ 2009 Douce Amie. Its spicy citrus sweetness includes aromas of honeysuckle, poached pear and toasted almonds. With only 153 cases produced, Douce Amie can only be found at the Edna Valley winery. A half size bottle (375 ml) is $16.

Two Cooks Catering offers custom menus, service and cooking demonstrations for events from Paso Robles to Santa Maria, whether for a few guests or hundreds. Rates can vary from $10 to $80 per person, with most scenarios in the $15-$40 per person range. (www.twocookscateringonline.com)

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