ed (from Yuma) and Tina were recently in San Diego. They came, they saw, they ate, and they took pictures. So today, ed wants to share a feast with you while Kirk and Cathy catch some rest.
For me, wine can be an interesting, flavorful, and satisfying addition to meals. Unlike many traditional foodstuffs, wine exists in a nearly infinite variety of taste profiles, based upon variations in grape variety, soil type and condition, climate and weather, vineyard practices, vintage, winemaker's skill, and luck.
Years ago in Columbus, Ohio (go Buckeyes), a favorite restaurant shared space with a wine store. By tasting, friends and I learned a lot about wine there and ate a lot of good food. So when I read about Wine Loft and Bistro, wine shop plus restaurant, I was interested. Honkman's report on an Oktoberfest dinner with his wonderful pictures told me that Tina and I had to try it the next time we were in America's Favorite City.
We had chosen to come on a Saturday night when they serve a five course meal ($30) with optional wine pairings ($20). For dinner, in other words, there was no choice. Everyone ate what the chef wanted to cook. Since I eat everything and hate making up my mind, I was fine with that idea. I certainly wouldn't want to eat what the chef didn't want to cook.
Since this was a special occasion, we began by sharing a split of Heidsieck Monopole Brut ($12 extra).
Wonderful aroma. Great crackly crunchy crust. Easy spreading soft butter. Free refills. A great way to start the meal, though the bread was less spectacular when not fresh from the oven.
Totally different from any other salad in my memory. Two thin slices of pink (or ruby?) grapefruit lay on a thin spread of mint pistou. The slices were covered with nutmeats, shavings of fennel, and whole leaves of arugula. Each bite contained an amazing play of flavor/texture contrasts. The nuts, in particular, added a crunchy sweet richness to the whole dish. At first bite, Tina thought they were macadamias, but the menu told us they were, in fact, marcona almonds. Never had those before, and they did resemble macadamias with a dense creamy nuttiness -- ending with light almond flavors.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this wine. While French, it is not from any famous region and has a clean, fresh, and balanced taste. I could detect neither oak nor malolactic fermentation.
Don't let this picture give you the wrong idea; the wine pairings are not full bottles, but rather 3 ounce servings poured into appropriate stemware. I liked how each of the wines selected matched the food it was served with. I also liked that each wine was new to me. Not only had I never tasted any of them, but I also had never seen any of them before either.
I was reminded of the old Paul Simon song, "Mother and Child Reunion" as I looked at the plate. A rectangular block of pressed roast chicken sat next to a slow poached egg. The chicken rectangle had a puréed chanterelle mushroom sauce underneath it; the egg was topped with hollandaise. The crusty looking thing on top of the chicken puzzled me until Tina bit into it and said, "oh my God, this is chicken skin!!" And really good chicken skin it was. Charred florets of broccoli and cauliflower were the side vegetable.
While the egg added a creamy richness, the chicken provided the dominant flavor -- intensely chicken -- with a hint of lemony herbs in the background. If this were a Chinese dish it might've been called twice roasted chicken, as the chicken seems to have been roasted and then pressed and roasted again. We were impressed by the range of textures.
The accompanying wine was a Bokisch Vineyards tempranillo from the Lodi area. Both Tina and I loved its spiciness, yet it was not so heavy or powerful that it overwhelmed the pressed chicken.
Chris, our competent and helpful server, then presented us each with a small bowl containing a deep-fried croquette accompanied with very thinly sliced marinated beets, a few micro-beet greens, and small strips of nori. He proceeded to pour oxtail consommé into each of the bowls. The finished dish looked like nothing I had ever been served before:
The croquette had been perfectly fried, and its crunchy exterior surrounded a rich filling of oxtail and bone marrow. The preparation, with just a hint of wasabi, emphasized the light beefy flavor of the oxtail meat. As we ate, the oxtail consommé took on a redder color from the beets and micro greens:
We finished the course by drinking the remaining oxtail soup -- savory, tangy, and full of umami. The whole dish was complemented nicely by the 2008 Cass Grenache from Paso Robles, a smooth fruity wine with hints of milk chocolate (well, to my palate at least).
Since it was cooked at low temperature sealed in plastic, the meat was perfectly rare and very tender without being mushy. The loin tasted fully of venison, yet it was not exceptionally gamy. The jus, in the foreground of the picture, was heavily flavored with juniper and added a distinctive flavor note to my slices of deer loin.
As good as the venison was, I enjoyed the risotto even more. The perfectly cooked rice was flavored with ground chestnut and guanciale (smoked pork cheek). Small sweet chunks of butternut squash added a taste contrast while the yellow foot mushrooms contributed texture. I love risottos; I can even make a pretty good risotto; but this risotto was in a whole different league.
The 2008 Stolpman "Originals" syrah poured with the venison was the deepest and most intense wine of the night. It worked well with the meat.
Homemade peanut butter ice cream topped with honeycomb sat on top of a thick dark chocolate mousse. A piece of dark chocolate lay on one side. This dessert tasted even better than it sounds. Ummm, peanut butter and chocolate. Reese's -- eat your heart out.
The coffeeless Irish coffee (a 1 oz pour of Irish whiskey and cream?) paired nicely with the desert.
Wow and wow again!! For my tastes, this was an outstanding meal and a wonderful value. Every course was a palate pleaser. Even if you did not like wine, the five course meal by itself would be a delight.
The Wine Vault and Bistro is original in its business attitude as well. Meals are only served on some evenings. Some days, the meal is three courses, sometimes five courses, sometimes 10 courses. Winemaker dinners featuring the wines from a particular winery are also available. If you want to try this restaurant, you'll need to go to their website to see what is happening when. And you do want to try this restaurant. Seriously.
Wine Vault & Bistro, 3731-A India St, San Diego, CA 92103, (619) 295-3939.