A few weeks back, we wanted to go to Angelo’s 677 Prime for a special-event wine dinner, but by the time we heard about it here, it was too late, and there were no more seats available. But hey, it helps to know people.* The dinner featured wines from Chateau Montelena and some representatives were there to present the wines and tell us about the vineyard. Cati and I arrived and were escorted upstairs to the large private dining room and seated for dinner. There were eight eight-top tables in the dining room that evening. The vibe that evening was formal and a touch, well, stuffy. Most men wore jackets; the ladies wore black dresses and there were very few smiles. The feel of the night was quite different from the relaxed, easy style of Ric Orlando and Co.’s Champagne dinner at New World Home Cooking. But we like formal too sometimes. We were greeted with a glass of dry champagne (I forget the name) and seated with a charming group of strangers as we waited for all the guests to arrive.
Chef Ortiz presented us with a sushi-inspired amuse-bouche. The salmon, sesame, and ginger flavors paired well with the champagne. It was a teaser preview of our imminent dinner.
The folks from Chateau Montelena were pleasant and knowledgeable enough. They went around to each table to introduce themselves and welcome the diners. To kick the evening off, the representative from Chateau Montelena shared an apocryphal story about how the locale of the vineyard, Calistoga, in Napa Valley, was named so due to an alcohol induced spoonerism uttered by the town founder. Allegedly the town founder had meant to say that the place would be the “Saratoga of California,” but what came out was, “Calistoga of Sarifornia,” (ref) and the name stuck. Well, they do have have hot springs in common, and it made for a nice local tie-in. Additionally, 677’s eponymous restaurateur Angelo Mazzone was on hand to extend greetings.
As Cati and I listened to stories about the winery we wondered if the focus of the evening would be on the wine, and if the food would be an afterthought. After all, this winery’s Chardonnay is famous (infamous to the French) for winning the historic Judgement of Paris wine competition in 1976. See the results from the competition here. Would the wine-peddlers steal the show? We wondered if our expectations of the food were too high. Would Chef Ortiz let us down? I had the spy camera on my person, and went to work.
- Wine: Chateau Montelena
sauvignon blanc 2007“Potter Valley” riesling 2006. (although the SB was listed in the announcement, I guess they decided to make a last minute substitution to the riesling).
- Dish: Roasted beet chop salad with candied walnuts, baby arugula, red onion, fried shallots, chevre, white-balsamic vinaigrette.
Comments: This was a nice dry reisling that was light on the palate. The riesling was so light, you almost wondered if it was carbonated after each sip. It was great and went very well with the tart chevre and rich beet flavors. The addition of the candied walnuts was inspired. The salad was presented on a thin slice of golden beet that made for a discussion-starting and elegant presentation. We were off to a good start.
- Wine: Chateau Montelena chardonnay 2005
- Dish: Lobster and rock shrimp scampi, with lemon, parsley, garlic, crumbled feta, red chili flakes, basil, crostini.
Comments: We were expecting big things from this chardonnay, and it was good, but a bit odd. The aroma had an artificial character to it. The bouquet wasn’t just fruity, it was tutti frutti. In my notes I scratched “bubblegum and cotton candy.” The flavor was far more appealing. I remember vanilla, grapefruit, butter and notably little oak (it is possible to overdo the mouthfeel). It had more tannic finish than the riesling (probably from higher alcohol). The butter and tart (from the lemon) in the shrimp scampi made no attempts to counter the chardonnay, but ran along side. I think that made the seafood flavors stand right out.
- Wine: Chateau Montelena cabernet sauvignon 2004
- Dish: Fennel-dusted tuna mignon with foie gras, roasted balsamic fig and onions, parsnip puree.
- Dish B: Sea bass and fava beans with leeks, capers, and topped with a lobster sauce. (Cati made a special request for a substitution in lieu of the tuna due to her concerns over high mercury levels recently reported. Me, I love mercury; I can’t get enough of the stuff [wink].)
Comments: This wine was unappealing; harsh and acerbic. One of the dinner guests at our table, not wanting to be too negative, said, “maybe it just needs time to open up.” The strong flavors of the tuna and foie did their best to counter the wine. I think foie gras and tuna may be the new chocolate and peanut butter; what a great combo, who knew? The sweet and sour toasted figs (in balsamic vinegar) on the plate added a nice tart flavor to this decadent ensemble. I really liked the fennel as well, but the figs stole the show.
My dish was lusty, and Cati’s was refined and elegant in comparison. The light, fresh leeks, plump fava beans, and crumbly briny sea bass were fantastic. The characteristic and unique flavors of the sea were well represented. We were both really impressed.
- Wine: Chateau Montelena petite sirah 2005
- Dish: Kurobuta pork with rosemary parmesan grits, roasted cherry tomatoes, oregano butter, pork jus.
Comments: This wine was much more interesting (and enjoyable) than the cab. It had subtle sweet and spicy flavors.
Hey, forget tuna and foie, pork and grits are the new chocolate and peanut butter. The thick-n-pasty parmesan grits and the decadent pork, butter, and jus, made this dish nothing short of visceral. That may have been the first time I had grits north of the Mason Dixon line, and it was the very first time I had kurobuta pork. Worlds weren’t colliding so much as they were melting together. The dish was beautiful and exotic, but also familiar and endearing; kinda like, I dunno, Carla Bruni singing a country song, for example. The whole dish and wine paring were spot on. The hints of rosemary were an excellent touch.
- Wine: Chateau Montelena cabernet sauvignon Estate 2003
- Dish: Rack of lamb with caraway potato croquette, braised cabbage, red wine glaze, lamb jus.
Comments: The lamb was succulent and perfectly prepared and presented. The potato croquette was smooth and silky, but this dish was all about the lamb chops. Where the pork-and-grits dish was a work of art, this dish was a work of nature. It was simple and the lamb was the star. The red wine glaze added a little tart. I would say that this dish gets The CAA&C Rocket-To-The-Moon Award; we were both sent reeling.
I also enjoyed the slightly spicy cab with which it was paired. Cherry, chocolate, and berry flavors abounded.
- Dish: Concord grape cheesecake with peanut butter crust and sugar dusted grapes
Comments: This dessert was also exotic and familiar. The peanut butter crust and grape cheesecake reminded me a little of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (in a really good way). The fresh sugar dusted grapes together with the crushed peanuts reminded me of caramel apples (not sure why; it just did). Cati wasn’t too crazy about the dessert.
Chef Ortiz pulled off another fantastic event, and was in no way upstaged by the visiting team and their wines [wink]. The wines were very good as well, but it was the food that got us out of the house on a Wednesday night. If you still haven’t yet experienced one of Chef Ortiz’s tasting menus, make it a point to do so.
*Or, since I don’t actually know anybody, it helps to leave your number with a manager and ask to be put on a waiting list in case there are any cancellations. It also helps to call back everyday, like a radio-show nutjob, until you finally get lucky and someone else cancels; but, either way works [wink].
Here’s a so-bad-it’s-
good-still-bad video from DEVO to help me make my point about how good our dinner was that night:
By the way, I am aware of the irony of using this sardonic DEVO song to sincerely express my satisfaction with the evening, but hey; I like the song and I didn’t want to wait until I had a blogpost on mob-mentality consumerism run amok, so here we are. Enjoy.
Also, I am still in (desperate) need of sponsorship for the marathon in June. Training has slowed a bit as I am currently in the throes of a miserable cold. I am a coughy, snotty, sniffly, sore-throated, fog-headed mess of a human. Please take pity on me in my miserable state and support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on my behalf by clicking HERE. <– Cheap ploy for sympathy (and donations), I know, but it’s true.
If I still haven’t managed to appeal to your sense of charity (via pity), please have a look at this kitty’s face and imagine that helping others is the only thing that can make him smile.
Now go get that credit card, tiger, we need you!