Poutine plays nicely with lobster and bacon

Jesse Teasdale poses with lobster bacon poutine at Montreal Poutinefest.
Poutine’s simplicity seems to spur cooks to increasingly baroque inventions. Think of a preschooler fantasizing about crossing a T. Rex with a firetruck, or wondering what superpowers the offspring of Superman and Wonder Woman might possess. Fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy have a salty, starchy goodness all their own. So what happens when you cross poutine with, say, a cheeseburger? Or lobster? Or lobster and bacon?

Lady with bacon cheeseburger poutine at Montreal Poutinefest It’s the kind of thinking that led to a number of the ice cream mashup flavors at Ben & Jerry, but it suits the spirit of a poutine food truck festival. Especially in Montreal. What if…?

One of the more successful forays into hybridizing fast foods turns out to be the bacon cheeseburger poutine. Think about it. It skips the question that thousands of college grads ask at their first jobs—“Would you like fries with that?”—and goes straight to the affirmative. Plus, the bacon cheeseburger gets some salty brown gravy for good measure. You’d think a bacon cheeseburger poutine would be the kind of dish that mostly guys in baggy shorts and askew baseball caps would order, but the Montreal lady above insists that the basket is actually really tasty. And she clearly has good taste.

Lobster bacon poutine is twice as good


Jesse Teasdale with lobster bacon poutine at Montreal Poutinefest One of the most popular poutine versions at the festival this year was the Lobster Bacon Poutine served by the Ottawa-based Golden Fries/The Grilled Cheeserie truck. Each batch of fries was covered in the meat of a small lobster in a cream sauce infused with double-smoked bacon. The truck belongs to Jane Racicof, but her husband Jesse Teasdale (right) was fronting the operation in Montreal.

“In the off-season, I was talking to a chef and we were just fooling around,” Teasdale explains. “But we came up with the idea of a lobster-bacon poutine.” They came up with an original recipe based on lobster bouillon seasoned with garlic, pepper, “and lots of love.” The cooked bacon is added directly to the liquid to steep. The cooks add cream to the sauce and thicken it with a roux to make a lobster white stock. It’s a big improvement over generic brown gravy. It’s a mashup of poutine with lobster chowder.

But lest the lobster poutine get too big for its britches, it still contains plenty of fresh cheese curds to make diners smile when the curds squeak on their teeth.

“Last year we sold 1,000 a day,” says Teasdale. “This year looks even better.”

15

08 2016

Montreal smoked meat shines at Poutinefest

Maison Smokies Charcuterie-Deli serves smoked meat at Poutinefest
Maybe it was preordained. The quintessential delicatessen specialty of Montreal–smoked meat–had to meet up with poutine at some point. Perhaps the only thing that kept it from happening sooner is the kosher prohibition against serving meat and dairy (i.e., cheese curds) in the same dish.

The exact origins of Montreal smoked meat are murky, but it was clearly introduced by Eastern European Jewish immigrant butchers around the end of the 19th century. In its modern incarnation, smoked meat is made from beef brisket dry-cured with salt and spices, hot smoked, and finally steamed before serving. It resembles New York pastrami, but is usually cured with far less sugar and far more spices—especially cracked pepper, coriander, mustard seed, and garlic. The flavor is so addictive that Montrealers in exile often get packages of it delivered from home.

Costa Sigounis at Poutinefest Costa Sigounis knows his smoked meat. He spent 40 years running restaurants and delis that served smoked meat on rye to generations of Montreal diners. He still owns part of a smoked meat factory. But his main restaurant business these days consists of food trucks, which he says really began to catch on three to four years ago. Two of his trucks stay parked at the Old Port. A third truck, called Maison Smokies Charcuterie-Deli, is always on the move. It rolls around town to feed the hungry crowds at Montreal’s frequent festivals. At Poutinefest, people lined up ten deep for the smoked meat poutine baskets from Maison Smokies.

smoked meat poutine at Poutinefest Sigounis says that he has found that smoked meat ranks among the most popular toppings for poutine. (He also sells versions with meatballs and hot peppers and with lamb sausage.) Although smoked meat might have strayed from the dietary strictures of its Jewish immigrant origins, Sigounis still serves his smoked meat poutine with whole half-sour pickles. That’s the de rigeur accompaniment to a smoked meat sandwich you’d order at any Mile End deli. The pickle’s slight pucker cuts through the unctuousness of the meat, and the cucumber crunch provides a nice textural contrast.

10

08 2016

Argentine poutine spices up Montreal Poutinefest

Sandro's at Poutinefest
Sandro Guerrero hails from Córdoba, Argentina. “It’s a good country with a lot of meat,” he says with almost ironic understatement. The average Argentine eats nearly 100 pounds of beef annually. That equals the annual consumption of an American and a Canadian combined.

When he moved his family to Montreal three years ago, Guerrero had never heard of poutine. He admits to an initial skepticism about the favorite dish of Montrealers.

Sandro Guerrero at Poutinefest “I thought it was impossible to eat potatoes with the sauce,” he says of the often nondescript salty brown gravy. “But when I tried it, I had to admit that this is a very good product.”

Guerrero’s regular gig is as a chef at Le Smoking BBQ (see previous post). His Argentine skills with meat and fire come in handy, even if the style of the food there is more American South than South American. But at the Poutinefest, he had his own stand to serve “Asado Argentino” poutine. The dish combines Argentine and Quebecois traditions. He marinates pieces of bavette steak in chimichuri, cuts them into large chunks, and grills them on skewers over charcoal. He then serves the meat on French fries with copious quantities of fresh cheese curds and a topping of chimichuri. (He also serves pieces of pork loin treated the same way, but the beef was more popular.)

“I first tried serving it at the Grand Prix,” he says, referring to Montreal’s annual auto race in early June. “It sold really well.”

All the rage in Montreal bistros these days, bavette is a perfect grilling cut. It is the flap of meat on a beef loin adjacent to flank steak. The cut is also known in New England and parts of New York as “sirloin tips.” Properly marinated and grilled, it is tender and deeply beefy.

bavette and chimichuri poutine at Poutinefest Guerrero marinates the meat in a version of chimichuri that emphasizes the vegetables, which makes it more Argentine than North American. The marinade (which doubles as a sauce) features roughly equal parts of vinegar and oil, along with plenty of salt, garlic, onion, and chopped fresh chile pepper. Fully half the volume of the marinade consists of chopped cilantro and Italian parsley. As a marinade, it tenderizes the meat. As a sauce, it wakes up your tastebuds.

“It’s like a salad for meat,” Guerrero says. “I think the cultural fusion is very good.”

We agree. It’s a little like steak-frites in a basket—and what’s better than steak-frites?

07

08 2016

Montreal Poutinefest rocks the waterfront

Le Smoking BBQ truck at Poutinefest
Certain foods seem destined to go together. Bacon and eggs. Peanut butter and jelly. Shrimp and grits. If you are Québecois, the gastronomic holy trinity is French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. The dish is called poutine (pronounced poo-TEEN). Roger Hubert says it has become “the meal” in Quebec. That’s why he and his son Greg, proprietor of the Montreal restaurant Le Smoking BBQ, launched the first Poutinefest at Montreal’s Old Port in fall 2015. It was such a success that they pulled out all the stops for an even splashier version at the end of June 2016. Featuring 18 food trucks with a panoply of poutine variations, the festival took place for three days on the Quai de l’Horloge (Clocktower Quay). Admission was free, but each truck set its own price for poutine.

The dish of French fries laced with fresh cheese curds and doused in brown gravy is the ultimate comfort food. Many Québecers swear by its curative properties when consumed after a long night of imbibing alcoholic beverages. (One poutine restaurant in Montreal stays open all night on weekends.)

The elemental poutine formula creates a mild, slightly salty dish with the squish of gravy-soaked fries and the tooth-squeak of fresh cheese curd. Poutine is so ubiquitous in Quebec (and beyond) that you’d think it had been around forever. But poutine was first served in a restaurant in Warwick in 1957. From that small town halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, it migrated to the provincial capital. The Ashton frites food truck in Québec City, which started serving poutine to the masses in 1972, popularized the dish. Since then, Chez Ashton has morphed into a province-wide chain of fast-food shops.

Poutine, the next generation


Greg Hubert at Poutinefest Whatever its rustic roots, we believe that poutine reached its apotheosis in Montreal when chefs with a nouveau bistro bent began adding such toppings as braised lamb shanks, confit duck leg, salmon roe, and even foie gras. A novelty at first, some restaurants now even feature a poutine of the day.

“People make crazy poutine,” says Greg Hubert (left). “But everything done on the poutine is usually good.”

The Poutinefest has returned poutine to its food truck roots. Greg offers four variations of barbecue poutine at Le Smoking BBQ (2186 Ste-Catherine West, Montreal, 514-903-6676, lesmokingbbq.com). His truck kept things simple and served just two at Poutinefest. His base poutine to which barbecued meats are added has a savory house gravy created from roasted meat and bone brown stock. For the barbecued beef short ribs version, he adds a house-made barbecue sauce on top.

Pulled pork poutine at Poutinefest Le Smoking BBQ truck’s biggest seller at the festival, however, was the pulled pork poutine, as shown here. Underneath all that chopped and pulled pork in a sweet-sour barbecue sauce are the requisite fries, brown gravy, and squeaky cheese curds. The poutine base was delicious and mild, and made a great launching pad for the tangy pulled pork.

In truth, we could have stopped there. But in the spirit of investigative gastronomic journalism, we spent three days tasting our way through the truck offerings. Over the next few posts, we’ll cover some of the most original. For updates on the 2017 festival, check the web site.

04

08 2016

Finish Line Festival ratchets up the outdoor barbecue

Lexus Gran Fondo finish line cookout
The Lexus Gran Fondo riders found a fine feast awaiting them. Lexus ambassadors and retired racers Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie led the 100-mile riders coming to the finish line in Chatham. All the riders arrived hungry, and the Finish Line Festival cookout trumped even the best backyard barbecue.

Dean Fearing at Lexus Gran Fondo finish line cookout Lexus augmented the chefs of Chatham Bars Inn by inviting the brewery at Blackberry Farm and Lexus Master Chef Dean Fearing (fearingsrestaurant.com). The dean of Dallas dining lent a little longhorn swagger to the party. With his sons on hand to help serve, Fearing loaded up plates with lobster tacos and smoky brisket tacos with a tangy, piquant sauce. On the side were his classic cowboy beans and cole slaw. “I thought, here we are in New England with all this great seafood,” Fearing said. “So what if we make a lobster taco?” Fearing topped the lobster soft tortilla with a tomatillo-based salsa verde and a crumble of feta cheese. Participants loved it.

Andrew Chadwick grills chicken at Lexus Gran Fondo finish line cookout Chatham Bars Inn chefs Anthony Cole and Andrew Chadwick volleyed Fearing’s Southwestern dishes with some serious heat of their own. Not only did they serve ribs with a tear-inducing kimchee broccoli, they also set out roasted Mexican street corn. The spiciest dish from Chadwick (shown here grilling it) was the Bloody Mary barbecued chicken.

Diners debated which Blackberry Farm saison ale was best with the hot and smoky food. Both ales were brewed with lightly roasted barley malt, but one was made with Czech Saaz hops. The milder of the two beers showed a slightly resinous herbal note and a delicate bitterness. The other ale was made with Eureka! hops. Those experimental hops made it very assertive. Strong pine and mint notes came on first, followed by a tang of grapefruit rind bitterness. The Saaz version paired well with Fearing’s lobster taco. The Eureka! ale showed best with Chadwick’s Bloody Mary chicken.

We didn’t get a recipe from Chadwick, but we’ve worked out own version. There is no vodka in the marinade because the alcohol precooks the flesh and makes it tough. Like many tomato-based marinades, this is almost a brine, thanks to the salt in most tomato juice. V8 juice will also work.

BLOODY MARY CHICKEN


44chickenIngredients
12 ounces tomato juice
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon celery seed, ground up
small onion, chopped
1 lemon, juice and grated zest
12 pieces chicken, skin on

Directions
Combine ingredients through lemon juice and zest in a food processor. Process until smooth.

Place chicken pieces in one or more sealable plastic bags. Add marinade. Close bag(s) and marinate in refrigerator for at least four hours—preferably overnight.

Build fire on one side of grill. When coals are ready, place chicken, skin side up, on other side of grill and cover, leaving vent holes fully open. Let cook 10 minutes. Turn chicken over and grill, covered, for about 5 minutes. Finish over hot coals to crisp up skin.

29

07 2016

Drinks rival meals during Lexus Gran Fondo

Cocktails at Chatham Bars Inn during Lexus Gran Fondo
As wine and Champagne flowed throughout the weekend of the Lexus Gran Fondo, summer cocktails on the lawns stole the spotlight. For the opening night lawn picnic, the Chatham Bars Inn concocted a pair of perfect summer drinks.

The flute (above) contains a Beach Plum Royale. Ingredients include orange simple syrup and a dose of beach plum liqueur. The hotel staff makes the liqueur when beach plums are in season, They lay down the liqueur to age and use it throughout the year. A generous pour of Veuve Clicquot Brut tops the glass. Bubbles buoy up a thin rim of orange peel, keeping it in suspension halfway up the glass.

The deep goblet holds a spectacular ginger-infused version of Sangría. Lillet Rosé forms the base. The rosé version of this old-time favorite aperitif wine is a fairly new product. It is fermented from Muscatel as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. Just before bottling, a small amount Lillet Rouge joins the mix. Additions of bitter orange distillations and a touch of quinine make it a great mixer. For the party sangría, the Chatham Bars Inn bar staff added ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, and guava juice. They topped each glass with ginger ale and added a blueberry for color. The combination is remarkably refreshing.

Just as Lexus imported some Lexus Master Chefs for the Gran Fondo, it also brought along Lexus Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy, the wine director of Little Nell in Aspen and one of the youngest master sommeliers in the U.S. McCoy guided wine choices at the dinners. But he also shook, stirred, and poured some nifty cocktails of his own for brunch on the day after the big ride.

Carlton McCoy cocktails


Carlton McCoy pours Blood Orange Mimosa at Lexus Gran Fondo At left, McCoy is creating a Blood Orange Mimosa. The gorgeous drink is deceptively simple to make. His mixer contains blood orange juice and a bit of Cointreau, a sweet orange liqueur without the bite of Grand Marnier. For each flute, he poured in a generous shot (about 2 fluid ounces) and topped with Mumm Cordon Rouge brut Champagne. It was such a popular choice that most drinkers didn’t even wait to get the orange peel garnish.

The White Peach Bellini, a similar but less colorful drink, began with a mix of fresh juice from white peaches mixed with lemon juice and sugar. The same Champagne topped off the flute, and if drinkers were patient, they also got a spring of mint as a garnish.

To our taste, the most unusual McCoy concoction was a variant on the St-Germain Cocktail. The base liqueur is distilled from elderflowers gathered in the French Alps in the spring and swiftly rushed to the distillery on bicycles. (This is according to the official St-Germain propaganda.) Nothing quite tastes like St-Germain, though the aroma might remind you of a cross between fresh lilac and freshly cut grass. It is sharp and floral at the same time. Most cocktails drown the liqueur in a lot of wine or Champagne and sweeten heavily. McCoy took a different approach, combining some fresh lime juice with the liqueur and topping it off with a pour of cold Prosecco. With a lemon twist, the drink is light, bright, and surprisingly adult.

26

07 2016

Kitchen garden at Chatham Bars Inn is really a farm

Chatham Bars Inn Farm picnic tables
Chatham Bars Inn stays Cape Cod’s gastronomic top dog because it grows its own food in Brewster on the north side of the Cape. The entire operation covers eight acres. Crops grow on four acres, with about a third of the crops in massive hothouses.

lettuce grows at Chatham Bars Inn Farm “It’s tricky to grow on Cape Cod,” says farm manager Josh Schiff. “The weather is unpredictable and the soil is poor.” As a result, the farm grows some of its most temperature-sensitive crops inside greenhouses, including a forest of tomatoes that fruit from May into December. “We start everything from seed,” Schiff explains.“We grow tomatoes and lettuce in compost with hydroponic irrigation.” More sprawling crops, such as cucumber, summer and winter squashes, and pumpkins spread across plowed fields. The farm supplies the kitchens of the inn. By getting a headstart on the usual Cape Cod growing season, the farm produces at its peak from late June through mid-October, the inn’s busiest months. The farm’s 75-member CSA program spreads the bounty around the community, and the farm runs summer gardening workshops for area residents.

salad niçoise at Chatham Bars Inn Farm picnic On a perfect late May afternoon, picnic tables set up beneath a canopy of oak trees made a regal setting for an outdoor meal served family style for Lexus Gran Fondo participants. Plate after plate showcased Cape Cod provender and the Inn’s culinary chops. A deconstructed salad niçoise featured locally caught yellowfin tuna with purple potatoes, white anchovies, haricots verts, and greenhouse tomatoes. Slices of roasted farm pork pâté sat amid pickled cauliflower and green tomatoes. A jar of the inn’s own beach plum preserves completed the board.

In fact, Chatham Bars Inn meals benefit from the myriad of pickles, relishes, and preserves made on the premises. Here’s the inn’s recipe for sweet-hot pickles for hot-water processing.

PICKLED GREEN TOMATOES AND CUCUMBERS

Yields seven 24 oz. mason jars

Ingredients

24pickles16 1/4 cups water
3 1/4 cups white vinegar
1 lb. honey
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/3 cup salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
farm fresh herbs to taste (tarragon, thyme, dill, etc.)
3 1/2 lb. pickling cucumbers
3 1/2 lb. green tomatoes

Directions

Clean and sterilize all jars and lids before beginning.

In a large pot, combine all ingredients through black pepper, bring to boil. Reduce heat to bring pot to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

As spices steep and bloom, wash and slice cucumbers and tomatoes. Quarter the cucumbers lengthwise, and cut green tomatoes into eight wedges each. Pack the clean and sterilized jars with the vegetables and herbs of your choice.

Pour the pickling liquid over the vegetables to fill the jars and cover with the lid to close, but not tightly.

Place jars on canning rack in a canning kettle with enough hot water to reach base of the rings. Hot-process jars by bringing to a boil and holding at simmer at least 15 minutes. Remove from hot water bath, tighten the lids, and cool jars on racks. You’ll know the pickles are properly sealed when the center of each lid snaps down.

Because the jars have been hot-processed they can be left out at room temperature for up to 6 months. Once opened, they should be refrigerated.

23

07 2016

Lexus Gran Fondo speeds onto Cape Cod

Chatham Bars Inn chefs at Lexus Gran Fondo
“Think of it as a party on wheels,” said Chatham Bars Inn general manager John Speers. He was speaking over cocktails on the inn’s wrap-around front porch. “Our kind of gran fondo always incorporates food and wine.”

Cyclists finish 100-mile ride at Lexus Gran Fondo The Lexus Gran Fondo launched in high style on Memorial Day weekend. The cycling and gastronomic events all centered on the historic inn at the elbow of Cape Cod. The luxury car brand has long supported other cycling events. But Lexus pulled out all the stops for this first Gran Fondo under the company name.

A team of Lexus-affiliated professional riders led the 100-mile ride on Saturday from the XV Beacon (xvbeacon.com) hotel in Boston to the Chatham Bars Inn (chathambarsinn.com). Less ambitious riders could opt for 50-mile and 28-mile loops entirely on Cape Cod. Even the shorter rides worked up everyone’s appetite.

 Lexus Culinary Master Cassidee Dabney, executive chef of Blackberry Farm , serves her soup at Lexus Gran Fondo Those who elected to spend Friday night in Chatham rather than Boston enjoyed an outdoor buffet. Lexus Culinary Master Cassidee Dabney, executive chef of Blackberry Farm (www.blackberryfarm.com) in Walland, Tennessee, did a star turn with a turbocharged soup. She served a bowl of smoked chicken broth with a soft boiled egg, grits, and chicken skin cracklings and chopped peanuts on top.

Lobster roll at picnic spread for Lexus Gran Fondo But Cape Cod bounty drove most of the gastronomic events. Executive chef Anthony Cole of the Chatham Bars Inn laid out a seafood extravaganza. In addition to a raw bar of local oysters and littleneck clams, his staff served chopped razor clams in a citrus mignonette. A dab of caviar topped the de rigeur lobster rolls served on heavenly brioche rolls. The inn also served roasted beets with Bluebird, an organic blue cheese made on the nearby island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Cole’s kitchen also prepared a rock crab risotto with baby fava beans and walnuts. It was a gutsy choice, since risotto for the masses can be hit or miss. While we didn’t get the recipe for a 60-serving version, we’ve come up with this smaller recipe for home consumption. We missed the window for fresh baby fava beans, so we’ve substituted baby limas.

CRAB RISOTTO WITH WALNUT PISTOU AND BABY LIMAS

Serves 4 as a appetizer course

Pistou
3/4 cup Italian parsley leaves
Crab risotto with walnut pistou and baby lima beans 1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

Process parsley and walnuts in small food processor until finely chopped. Add salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Purée. Add olive oil and purée until smooth. Reserve for later step in risotto.

Risotto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups seafood stock
3/4 cup crab meat
3/4 cup baby lima beans, steamed until just tender
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (plus more for table)

In 2-3 quart pressure cooker, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add minced shallot and cook until translucent. Add rice and stir until well-coated with oil. Raise heat to high and add white wine. Stir to keep from burning until wine is absorbed. Add 1 1/4 cups of stock, stirring well. When pot begins to simmer, tighten lid and cook on medium pressure for exactly 8 minutes, turning down heat to keep pressure steady.

Remove from heat and run pot under cold water to decompress. Remove lid and place pot back on low heat. Stir in crab, precooked lima beans, and a little remaining stock. Cook for 1 minute and test rice for doneness. (It should be al dente in the middle but rather creamy.) Add more stock as needed. When rice is desired texture, stir in pistou and continue to heat. Add grated cheese and stir to incorporate. Serve in bowls and pass more grated cheese.

19

07 2016

Pioneering pairings of food and beer

cover of Food & Beer Chef Daniel Burns is on a mission to bring beer pairing into the fine dining conversation. Burns runs the kitchen of the Michelin-starred Luksus (www.luksusnyc.com). It shares a space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with the bar Tørst (Danish for “toast”) operated by Danish brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. (Jarnit-Bjergsø is also the brewer at cult favorite Evil Twin Brewing.)

Between them, they have put craft beer on a par with wine for fine dining. And they have collaborated on a fascinating new book called simply Food & Beer. Part manifesto, part cookbook, part a dialogue on gastronomic philosophy, it’s a perfect addition to the bookshelf of anyone who cares about the cutting edge in contemporary restaurant cuisine.

As part of the book’s launch, Burns did a star turn at Harvest restaurant (harvestcambridge.com) in Cambridge, where he and Harvest executive chef Tyler Kinnett adapted some of the recipes from Food & Beer to pair with craft beers. All the drinks were served in wine glasses. This kept the individual portions fairly small, while giving each beer more head room to express the complexity of aromas.

Burns believes that beer can be more flexible than wine for food pairings. “Wine is a pure expression of terroir,” he explains. “Beer is not. You can take ingredients from all over the world and add any flavors you want. So as a chef, beer gives me a vast spectrum of flavors to choose from when I’m pairing beer with food.”

The meal Burns and Kinnett served at Harvest was a demonstration. A couple of dishes also hint at how to go about the beer-pairing process at home (beyond serving Bud with chili).
.

Licorice gravlax and a blonde


licorice cured trout for beer dinner Gravlax is a style of curing raw fish or meat using salt and sugar. To demonstrate how a panoply of flavors can be enhanced with a beer, Burns and Kinnett served a plate of licorice-cured trout with pickled beet topped by dandelion greens.

Burns was René Redzepi’s sous chef at Noma in Copenhagen, and the experience shaped his palate to favor Nordic tastes. It doesn’t get much more Nordic than gravlax, beet root, and licorice. Yet the cure was light enough that the dish turned out to be surprisingly subtle. The trout was cured with sea salt, Demerara sugar (a coarse, raw sugar), and licorice powder. Slightly bitter dandelion greens and toasted rye crumbs provided crunchy contrast to the soft trout and beet. The beer pairing was Blackberry Farm Abbey Blonde, a light ale made with a Pilsner malt. The beer has a slightly sweet, earthy flavor profile and a rounded mouth feel. One sip brought out the Demerara sugar in the trout cure and the earthy toast of the rye crumbs for a completely altered taste experience.

When Burns is choosing a beer to pair with a dish, he explains, he looks for the secondary flavors of the food. “I might put four or five flavors together on a plate,” he explained. “I want the beer to highlight maybe the third or even fourth flavor.”

Sea bass with an IPA


sea bass with beer dinner Burns prepared a small portion of sea bass with a few pieces of grilled salsify and two purées on the plate—one of fennel, the other of the minty Asian vegetable shiso. The fish and the salsify (which tastes like mild artichoke heart) were both mild. Their flavors were almost secondary to the intensity of the two purées. But it was the beer pairing that accomplished that gastronomic bait and switch.

Burns and the Harvest team picked Evil Twin Citra Sunshine Slacker for the pairing. It’s a beer we’d usually serve with bar snacks instead of real food. It’s an acquired taste, we think, because the Citra hop is so astringent. Drinking it is a little like biting into a grapefruit. But with this dish, the low-alcohol IPA expresses its secondary herbal notes nicely. It assumes a lemon-y quality that provided some punch to the anise of the fennel and the grassy-minty quality of the shiso. Call it the battle of botanicals, but it works.

With a new craft brewery opening up a few blocks from our house next month, we think we’ll get our growlers filled and see what summer bounty might benefit from being served with a little malt and hops. It’s kind of like deciding the wine to drink before picking the menu.

15

07 2016

Paso Robles wine comes into its own

tasting at a Paso Robles winery
Paso Robles has a frontier spirit. Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Central Coast community lends its name to California’s fastest growing wine region.

wine signpost Paso Robles Known since Native American times for its thermal hot springs, Paso (as locals call it) had only 35 wineries in the late 1990s. But this district of limestone bedrock and huge day-night temperature differential has caught the eye of winemakers large and small. Located in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountain range about a half-hour drive from the Pacific Ocean, the region boasts more than 250 wineries and 26,000 acres planted in more than 40 wine grape varietals. The power of Paso Robles goes well beyond the numbers. The palpable air of experimentation and possibility is so infectious that even short-term visitors get a lift.

Upscale boutiques, Western-style clothiers, restaurants, cafes, and more than 20 wine tasting rooms give a bustling air to the tidy downtown around City Park. While downtown is the best place to taste across the whole region, many vineyards are nearby. On Highway 46 alone, 25 tasting rooms dot the roadside within a five-mile stretch.

Coy and Sarah Barnes founded the first wine tour company in Paso. Their Wine Wrangler (the winewrangler.com) offers both half- and full-day tours.

“Wine has been grown here for as long as in Napa,” says Coy, “but the area is not as well known. There are only about one-third as many vines as there are planted in Napa. But it is an area that is young, growing, full of people who like to experiment.” Even a short tour gives a sense of the proud history and dynamic growth that give the region its unique character.

J Dusi shows Zin is no sin


Janelle Dusi of J Dusi Wines in Paso Robles Janelle Dusi is the fourth generation of a grape-growing family. She grew up on 100 acres planted in old-vine Zinfandel. “We’re farmers. My great grandfather began growing Zinfandel in the 1920s,” she says. “It’s Paso’s heritage grape and the vineyards are still intact and family-owned.”

Her grandfather taught her the basics of winemaking and she is now both winemaker and proprietor of J Dusi Wines (1401 CA-46, Paso Robles; 805-226-2034; jdusiwines.com). True to her family roots, Janelle makes a medium-body Zinfandel.

“I restrain the jam and alcohol. I’m not embarrassed to do a more restrained style with a little more finesse,” she says. “I don’t need to come out of the gates with a chewy meal in a glass. My wine is more food friendly.”

While she is proud of her Zinfandel, Janelle has become increasingly interested in some of the most full-bodied Rhone grapes. She produces single-varietal bottlings of Grenache, Syrah, and the Rhone-like Petite Sirah.

SummerWood strikes a French pose


Shayne Kline of SummerWood in Paso Robles Shayne Kline, general manager at SummerWood Winery, agrees that Rhone grapes are a good fit for Paso Robles. “This area is known as the ‘Rhone zone,’” he says. He points out that the weather and the soils in the two regions are comparable, while noting that the night-time cooling is the most important aspect of the climate.

SummerWood (2175 Arbor Road, Paso Robles; 805-227-1365; summerwoodwine.com) is known for its limited-production American Rhone and Bordeaux wines and for Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite of winemaker Mauricio Marchant.

“I’m originally from Chile, and I love Cabernet,” Marchant says, He spent time working in Napa Valley where “it’s Cab and Chard all day long. Here we’re still learning, trying to figure out what will work. Trying new things all the time. I love Syrah—powerful, inky black, manly man wine.” He also makes a huge, intense Rhone-style Mourvèdre.

Villicana shows a spirit of its own


Alex and Monica Villicana of Villicana Winery & Vineyard (2725 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles; 805-239-9456; villicanawinery.com) share that sense of adventure.

Alex and Monica Villicana of Villicana Winery & Vineyard in Paso Robles “We were the 17th winery in the area in 1993,” says Alex. The couple has planted their 13 acres in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot from Bordeaux, and Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah from the Rhone. “It’s Bordeaux meets Rhone,” Villicana says. He could add Puglia as a footnote, since Villicana also grows a lot of Zinfandel.

As winemaker, Alex stems the grapes and removes 30 to 40 percent of the free-run juice. “We change the ratio of juice to skins to get richer red wines,” he notes. In the process, “we stumbled on the fact that you can make vodka out of grapes” in place of the more traditional potatoes or grains. In fact, the Villicanas opened Re:FIND (refinddistillery.com), the area’s first craft distillery.

During the harvest, Alex saves their own free-run juice and buys this “saignée” from other winemakers. He makes vodka and gin by fermenting the juice and triple distilling the product.

“Twenty years of winemaking helped me in distilling.” Alex says. “I use the same sense of smell and taste to decide what to keep and what to get rid of.” He considers the venture to be “the ultimate in spirit-making sustainability.”

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07 2016