The world of foodie apps is like the wild west right now. Developers are striving to become the next big thing, but few apps offer anything unique to stand out from just being a local restaurant directory. I thought I had seen it all with these apps, until GOF blogger Marcie told me to check out an app called Renzell and it has since become my go-to restaurant directory app.
It’s for those with impeccable taste – What separates Renzell out from the other apps is a restaurant directory that is specifically hand-picked by Renzell staff of fine dining establishments in major metropolitan cities. This app isn’t here to help you find a new coffee shop, it’s to help you find the perfect special occasion spot. Think Marea in NYC, Redbird in LA and Alinea in Chicago.
Be undercover – Members can rate restaurants anonymously through their surveys, which are scored based off overall numbers, no long write-ups required. Their surveys are broken down into categories like ambiance, service, food and cocktails. What I love about this so much is that it’s not public what scores users gave, so I can quietly and candidly score spots. See full list of restaurants here.
Prove it – There is also more accountability in the scores than other review apps. Members are encouraged to show proof of dining by providing a receipt from their visit. This makes me feel better when I read the scores, cause it’s lessening the likelihood of fake reviews.
Get rewarded! – The more you survey and/or provide proof of receipt, the more goodies you can get! Recent rewards include Starbucks gift cards, SoulCycle classes, a month of free Spotify premium and so much more.
With membership benefits, secure anonymity and consistent app functionality, I will consider myself a “lifer” Renzell member.
Featured image – Strozzapreti from Marea in New York, a restaurant you can survey on Renzell
Like I said in my preview post, San Francisco is a hub of fresh produce. Better yet, some of the country’s most innovative chefs seem to recognize this, setting up shop all along the peninsula. And with so much good food and so much real talent, it’s hard to taste everything this part of Northern Cali has to offer. Luckily, that’s the whole premise of Eat Drink SF — get the best bites and booze of the Bay in one place so the public can sip and sample the day away.
Now, I’ve struggled with how to describe this event because it’s, in all honesty (and to a writer’s chagrin) hard to capture with words. There’s such a large variety of cuisine and cocktails; it is a bit overwhelming — for the mind as well as the stomach. So I’ve decided the best way to share my experience is with a few photos of my standout samples.
Shrimp Escabeche served with shallots, cilantro, celery, and a coconut foam – The Market
This dish was my first bite of the day. Off to a great start with familiar flavors in a unique combination.
Chilled scallops garnished with a corn puree that tastes like sweet buttercream, blueberries for freshness, need I say more?
Someone recently asked me if I liked caviar. My response was that I hadn’t had it enough to like or dislike it. I’d like to update that answer — love it.
White Sturgeon Mousseline (garnished with caviar) – Michael Mina
I never thought I’d have the chance to eat at Michelin-star restaurant Michael Mina. Well, if this bite is any indication of what their full menu features, I better put my name down now. This sample is truly what food critics mean when they say a dish has “balance of flavor” — sweet, salty, sour, spice, and that elusive umami, all tucked into one delicious mouth-full.
The longest line of the day and I can tell you why. While there were quite a few Asian and Asian-inspired samples out there, this one tops them all. Pork meat that just melts in the mouth, fried rice cake delicately coats the palate with oil, while the Kimchi adds just the right amount of funk. And that seasoned Nori? Well, I could just eat a bag of that like potato chips. Brava Chef Sharon Nahm who was working the booth herself — at lightning speed, I might add, keeping up with all of us greedy customers.
I love me some Wente wine, so I was so pleased to see that their Executive Chef, Chef Mike Ward, was at EDSF representing The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards. And this simple smoked fish garnished with a bit of sweet from the raspberry coulis and a bit of salty with that (oh yes) caviar is the other dish in my two-way tie for the dish of the day.
Chef Mike Ward gets bonus points for posing for a Silly Stacy Selfie. Cheers, friend!
Tasting all this food, yeah you’re going to get thirsty — luckily there was no shortage of craft cocktails, beers, and wines available.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Earl Grey Tea, vermouth, citrus, and blackberries make up this funky little cocktail. I loved the addition of the Earl Grey tea, which truly added a woodsy aroma and aftertaste. But my favorite part was that you could taste the gin — and all those other elements just uplifted that classic, pseudo-sweet flavor. Well met, mixologists.
My favorite cocktail of the day goes to the Anchor Distillery’s “Old Tom & The Sea.” Something about the mix of the sweet cherry liquor and the sour lemon juice just felt fun and fresh. And, like the London Punch, there was the right combination of all those other ingredients, and they highlight the purity of the gin. I find so many cocktails work to hide the alcohol, but this one uplifted it and made me appreciate it as a form of produce. Bonus: they gave us the recipe. Adults, try this at home:
A very close second for the cocktail of the day goes to Elisa Gallardo and Carlos Yturria of The Treasury for their gin, kiwi, cucumber and lemon concoction called “Flash.” So refreshing — almost smoothie-esque — this is the drink you’d reach for if you didn’t want to taste the alcohol. There’s enough Gin to add a bit of sweetness to the otherwise sour fruits, but not so much that you felt like you were drinking Gin. So, depending on what you’re looking for in a cocktail, this may be the one for you.
Of course, for those who to prefer to get high on life, there was an abundance of non-alcoholic beverages to sip and savour as well. My personal fav was the make-your-own herbal spritzer booth presented by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). A little bit of sparkling water and a shot of rosemary infused simple syrup, and you’ve got a fun mocktail the whole family can enjoy. I’ll drink to that.
But what about the wine, Stacy??? Yes, Wine Enthusiast did present a few wineries to share their current releases. Admittedly, most were common names you could easily find in stores. And why not? If you try something you like, you’re going to want to be able to buy it. But the real wine party was at the SF Wine School presentation theatre.
There were three different classes to attend, but with so much going on I had to choose just one. And this Cali girl just couldn’t deny the opportunity to learn even more about excellent oaky Chards.
Well, they weren’t all oaky, and they weren’t all California either. In fact, we had the opportunity to taste a Chardonnay from France, one South Africa (that was new to me!), and one from California. We learned that different Chardonnays present in a variety of ways depending on how much and what kinds of oak is used during barrel aging. Our presenter, Chris Gaither, AS, even took us through some wine-nerdom as he explained the role of malolactic fermentation. Honestly, I wish the class could have been longer, but I guess I’ll have to start thinking seriously about the CWS cert from SF Wine School. Afterwards I had a discussion with a few friends and thought about running my own wine/alcohol party at home! (safety first, so no one is driving!) The type could change month to month, so starting with red wine sampler packs, then white, onto beer and so on and so forth, it would be nice to try them from all over the world!
Silly Stacy Selfie Featuring: Chris Gaither, AS, Stacy Briscoe, and David Glancy (SF Wine School Founder)
Stacy and David sporting their cute SF Wine School Tatts — Cheers!
For more information about any of the vendors, restaurants, or sponsors, or to learn more about Eat Drink SF, please visit the Eat Drink SF website.
I know everyone always claims their hometown food is the best — but when you live where fresh bay water meets sea salt and sand, it’s hard to deny that San Francisco is where it’s at when it comes to fresh produce. Now add the fact that some of our country’s most innovative chefs set up shop all along the peninsula, and us San Fran kids really have something to be proud of. So this year, I’m joining the crowd to celebrate the best of the Bay’s homegrown food, world-class chefs, restaurants, somms, mixologists — and all things to eat and drink in SF — at Eat Drink SF 2016.
About the Eat Drink SF
Each year, Eat Drink SF invites foodies, wine-nerds, culinary enthusiasts, and just plain hungry and thirsty people to meet and greet with top local chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers. The three-day event, running from Thursday, August 26 – 28, will include over 160 restaurants participants who will provide tasty treats, cooking demonstrations, and more.
Those looking for a little more to munch on will certainly be able to find it. Participating restaurants include:
1300 on Fillmore, Alembic, Brasserie S&P, Cafe Claude, Cathead’s BBQ, Chiaroscuro, Cross Hatch Eatery, Delfina Pizzeria, Dragon Beaux, E&O Kitchen and Bar, Gaspar Brasserie, Gitane, Hog & Rocks, Humphry Slocombe, Huxley, Konjoe, Lemonade, Luce, Michael Mina, Precita Park Cafe, Roka Akor, Souvla, Spaghetti Bros., SPIN San Francisco, Terzo, The Keystone, The Market, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, Tratto, Zero Zero
If you’re interested in learning a few kitchen tips and tricks, you’re certainly going to want to check out the Main Stage where lectures, demonstrations, and Q&A with industry experts will be featured all day. Check out the Events Page for details.
And let’s not forget about us drink enthusiasts! This year, Eat Drink SF will feature over 70 bars, distilleries, breweries, and wineries who will provide the events drinks as well as host tastings and seminars. Featured beverages will include:
Bass Note Sangria, Beaujolais Wines, Bodega Norton, Buena Vista Cafe, Ca’ Momi Winery, Carpano Antica Formula, Chateau Gassier, Concannon Vineyard, Fernet Branca, FloWater, Joel Gott Winery, Kikori Whiskey, Korbel California Champagne, Junipero Gin, Mr. Espresso, Provenance Vineyards, Pure Leaf Iced Tea: Tea House Collection, Purity Organics, Robert Mondavi Winery, SIMI Winery, Singani 63, Sipsmith Independent Spirits, San Francisco Brewers Guild, S. PELLEGRINO® Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, Spirit Works Distillery, Stella Artois, Stella Artois Cidre,Templeton Rye, Teeling Whiskey, The Glenlivet, The Hess Collection, Torres Brandy, Trinchero Napa Valley, Trumer Pils, Tullamore D.E.W, Wente Vineyards, Woodford Reserve, Zaya Rum, and Zodiac Vodka.
And just like the culinary kids, pros in the beverage industry will be hosting several educational seminars throughout the day as well in the San Francisco Wine School Beverage Classroom. I’m personally excited for Saturday’s Chardonnay: Burgundy, Butter & Beyond with Chris Gaither, AS.
Oh, but I do hope the SF Wine School brings more cute tattoos…
Hungry for more? Tickets are still available on the Eat Drink SF website. And whether you’re there for just one day or the whole weekend, I guarantee you won’t go thirsty or hungry.
Ok, let’s download for a second and just talk about where Paso Robles is and what that means in regards to wine.
Since most people think of SF and LA when they think of California, we’ll use these two major metropolises as reference points. Paso Robles is South of San Francisco by quite a bit (about 200 miles, or a 4 to 5-hour drive), and North of Los Angeles by about the same distance (around 200 miles, but about a 3 to 4-hour drive).
So the answer to “Where is Paso Robles in Napa Valley” is — it’s not. Napa and Sonoma — the two big names in California wine — are North of SF. Nowhere near Paso.
Ok, so now that we know where we are on the map let’s talk about what that means. The other thing to note is the Paso Robles AVA’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The most Western section of the AVA is just about 6 miles from the water. For the most part, the AVA benefits from two extreme weather conditions: hot days when the ocean air is kept at bay due to the mountainous Santa Lucia Highlands, and cool nights when that warm front sucks in the fog to settle amidst the vineyards (technical term: diurnal fluctuation). This weather is a good thing for grape-growers because while the hotter temps allow for the fruit to ripen with a full body of juice and sugars, the cooler temps help slow that process down so the grapes won’t bud too early (which can lead to overripe, rotten, and often broken grapes). And this is a good thing for winemakers, especially those looking to create Rhone-inspired varietals, as this weather pattern is most akin to that found in the vineyards of Bordeaux.
But remember, Paso Robles is made up of rolling hills and valleys, so those vineyards on the Eastern side will get less of those cool temps and more of that warm weather, yielding different successful grape varietals. In between these two extremities are vast variations in climate, topography, and soils (read: terroir).
The other thing that makes the Paso Robles AVA so unique is its soil: there are over 46 different types of soil throughout the area. The most desirable — and lucky for winemakers on the West side of the AVA, the most dominant — are the calcareous soils which contain higher soil pH values than other California wine regions (layman’s terms: good acidity in the soil = good acidity in the wine). And, because of Paso Robles’ hilly terrain, rainwater can flow, gather, and soak into the soil without any supplemental irrigation systems, so many winemakers can practice dry-farming methods (good for the drought situation).
So there’s a bit of context about how and why Paso Robles is its own unique AVA. And the winemakers in the area not only know this, but they celebrate it in kind of an old-school way. Whether talking to a small-lot producer or a “major chain,” they all seem to take pride in creating a wine that speaks of their particular plot in Paso.
Previous to the Grande Tasting, I attended a seminar (wine-nerds unite!) featuring different wineries representing various areas of Paso, winemaking techniques, and (of course) a glass of wine exemplifying those features. And, I’m going, to be honest, I stopped by Eberle Winery’s table to talk to winemaker Chris Eberle (no relation to the founder) because his wine was — for me — the best of the bunch.
Eberle Winery is situated on the Western side of the Paso Robles AVA, benefitting from those ideally warm days and cool nights, as well as absorbent soils.
2015 Eberle Viognier
About the Wine: With the use of two separate vineyards, Chris was able to create a well-rounded balance of fruit, acid, and minerals in the 2015 Eberle Viognier — wine that truly exemplifies the Paso Robles terroir.
Flavor Profile: Pale yellow in color, this 100% Viognier gives off a sweet aroma of honey and soft fruits (peaches, apricots) that let you know these grapes grew underneath a summer-like sun. Conversely, on the tongue, the wine provides a crisp acidity that opens the palate and gives way to a tarter taste of fresh lemon zest. The finish is long and lingering with a solid amount of minerality that thoroughly cleanses the palate.
Suggested Food Pairing: Fresh salt-water seafood with a cream or butter sauce. The natural salts in the fish will accompany the cleansing minerals of the wine; the Viognier’s strong acidity will cut through the fattier sauce, rounding the meal out nicely.
Eberle 2014 Cotes Du Robles Blanc
About theWine: If you’re in a climate that celebrates French-style winemaking, then why not go all out? That is what Eberle has done with their play-on-words 2014 Cotes-Du-Robles Blanc, a classic Rhone-style blend (Cotes-du-Rhone) of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier.
Flavor Profile: A calm, soothing yellow in the glass, this Rhone-style wine emits soft aromas of white flowers, orange blossoms, and nectarine. On the palate, the wine has a soft, round mouthfeel — one would think “oaky,” although no new oak was used. It’s the Roussanne that gives the wine that glorious texture, the Grenache that yields subtle fruit and floral notes, and that pinch of Viognier that gives the blend just enough acid to cut through any potential sweetness. These grapes were whole-cluster pressed, which gives the wine just a bit more body (almost a tannin-like quality) than many whites.
Suggested Food Pairing: Keep it simple and savor the unique flavors of the wine — a light herb salad, a raw sashimi platter. Better yet, enjoy this on its own with good friends and good times.
After learning from a smaller-production winery, I was curious how one of the “big-names” would stack up. I mean, I live by a J. Lohr tasting room, see their reps at all of the local wine walks, and also frequent Zonattos — a local grocer who has a major thing for J. Lohr. So I’m no stranger to their wines. But what I didn’t realize was that they have vineyards in both Monterey and Paso Robles — two very distinct wine-growing regions.
I also have to give credit to their Senior Manager Mark Hess who, while talking me through their wines, also showed me how much love the company puts into their products — big name or no, J. Lohr also has Paso-pride.
J. Lohr 2015 Viognier
About the Wine: J. Lohr’s Gean Vineyard, where their Viognier grapes are grown, is one of those lucky vineyards that can soak in the rain (when it shows up) and provide itself with a type of natural irrigation system because of its hilly terrain. So, even in a drought year like 2015, J. Lohr was able to have a successful harvest.
Flavor Profile: This pale yellow, white wine gives off very typical Viognier aromas of white blossoms and soft, ripe fruits. On the palate, the dominant flavors are those of peaches, nectarines, maybe a hint of citrus zest. Unlike the Eberle Viognier, the acidity on J. Lohr’s was quite minimal, giving the wine a softer texture on the tongue. However, there is still that distinct note of minerality from those Paso soils of calcareous shale and weathered sandstone, giving this wine a lovely earthy finish.
Suggested Food Pairing: Think island flavors with this wine. A grilled meaty fish like Swordfish or mahi-mahi (or chicken for those not into seafood) accompanied by a mango salsa, coconut rice, and a creamy avocado dressing.
J. Lohr 2013 Merlot
About the Wine: Now here’s a wine I’m sure — even if you’re not in the Bay Area — you’ve seen on the shelves of the local grocery. But, although common, its story certainly is not.
This wine made during the second year of the California drought when grape growers and winemakers were still learning how to deal with the lack-of-water situation. In fact, Mark mentioned that J. Lohr’s Merlot grapes shattered (as in, they literally broke) in some areas, unable to be used at all. But, because of Paso Robles’ France-like terrain, the folks at J. Lohr decided to change the type of Merlot grapes they were growing to those more akin to the grapes grown in France. Makes sense — if the weather and the terroir are similar, why not grow similar grapes? These thicker-skinned Merlot grapes were able to withstand the heat much better and, thus, we have this beautiful 2013 Merlot.
And this Merlot is not all Merlot — it’s 86% Merlot with 14% Malbec — two grapes that play very well together.
Flavor Profile: This Merlot has a beautiful fuschia-red hue in the glass and emits a strong aroma of a pine-esque cologne along with dark fruits like plum. On the palate, the bold fruit is balanced nicely with the addition of the Malbec, which gives the wine an acidic kick and a solid finish filled with baking spices and a hint of mocha.
Suggested Food Pairing: Perfect for an Italian-inspired meal like a pasta bolognese or a meat lasagna.
J. Lohr 2013 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon
About the Wine: Cab is a varietal that thrives under pressure, so the gravelly terrain and the 100 degree days on the hilltops of Paso are perfect for this thick-skinned grapes.
The 2013 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon is another gorgeous blend: 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, and 1% Verdot.
Flavor Profile: This thick blood-like red wine is fruit-happy on the nose, giving off scents of plums, violets, and a hint of dusty earth. It’s surprisingly (pleasantly so) smooth upon the first sip, with a firm yet round texture on the tongue; this must be due to the 60% new French oak used during barrel aging. Flavors of vibrant red fruits give way to a good amount of tannins — enough to give the wine body and structure without scratching your tongue. The finish is just as smooth as the start, leaving a pleasant aftertaste of a fresh cedar wood forest.
Suggested Food Pairing: Say hello to your inner carnivore and grill up a beef fillet with an earthy au jus.
More Info: For more information about J. Lohr and their wines, please visit their website. Personally, I’m most curious to do a tasting of their Monterey vineyard wines to compare and contrast.
Small producer, large producer, and now something right down the middle with Le Vigne Winery, but their wines are anything but average. I was particularly drawn to the Le Vigne lineup because, as the founding family was straight-off-the-boat Italian and big foodies to boot, the wines are crafted with good meals and good times in mind.
Oh, and according to winemaker Michael Barreto, Le Vigne also has a cheesemaker on staff — so if you’re in the area and want to learn about wine and cheese pairings, this is your stop.
Le Vigne 2015 Sauvignon Blanc
About the Wine: Sauvignon Blanc is another grape varietal that benefits from being plumped to perfection under the heat of the sun. But, as it is a thinner skinned grape, it relies heavily on the moisture brought in from that maritime fog. And Le Vigne’s Sauvignon Blanc exemplifies this perfectly — with a surprisingly full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc.
Flavor Profile: The 2015 Le Vigne Sauvignon Blanc presents very clear in the glass, almost water-like. Made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the aromas are typical to the varietal — tropical fruits accompanied by a hint of honeysuckle. These aromas come through in the taste as well, but because the Sauvignon Blanc was left on the lees during crush, this wine has an almost creamy texture — a unique quality for the varietal. Furthermore, this gives the wine a bit of body and structure, lending itself more versatile in regards to food pairing.
Suggested Food Pairing: A mixed seafood pasta with Alfredo sauce or lobster with a smooth beurre blanc sauce or bechamel — let those cream-based sauces pull out the round mouth and meatiness hidden within this wine while the fruity components of the Sauvignon Blanc cut through the richness of your meal.
Le Vigne 2013 Merlot
About the Wine: According to Michael, Merlot was a hard sell for a long time, partly because consumers were walking around screaming, “I’m am not drinking Merlot!” like it was their personal, educated opinion. But also because winemakers tend to try too hard when it comes to Merlot, not letting the grape speak for itself. So that’s the tactic Michael took when producing this wine. With 100% Merlot grapes, gently pressed, and aged in neutral American Oak barrels, this is a Merlot that speaks of the vines, the land, and a winemaker’s caring attitude.
Flavor Profile: Straight up, this is a pretty wine in the glass — the ruby red glistens in the light. The smell takes your straight to the farm, emitting intense aromas of herbs and even vegetables. On the palate, this wine is just as clean and as clear as it looks and as earthy as it smells, with low acid and low-medium tannin, you’re able to enjoy every lingering sip without the intrusion of excess.
Suggested Food Pairing: Because of the refreshing quality of this wine, don’t be afraid to pair it with a slow-roasted, hearty dish like a beef stew or cioppino — the wine can handle it and will offer you relief amongst all those strong flavors in the food.
Le Vigne Nikara Red Blend
About the Wine: This Bordeaux-style blend is a signature Le Vigne wine, celebrating the French-like terrain of Paso Robles.
Le Vigne’s Nikiara is 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot.
Flavor Profile: Deep red in the glass, Nikiara presents a strong herbaceousness on the nose along with dark red fruits. On the palate, this red blend is smooth on the palate, yet a bit firmer and fuller than a typical Bordeaux. Black cherries come forward on the palate along with a hint of anise and spice and then slowly make way for those fresh green herbs. The finish is a silky, sensuous one, leaving you wanting another sip more.
Suggested Food Pairing: This French-inspired wine will pair well with a heartier French-inspired fare. Think decadent duck a l’orange, think cassoulet. But honestly, I’d be happy sipping this wine with a simple plate of enjoyably stinky cheeses.
More Info: For more information about Le Vigne and their available wines, please visit their website. And if you’re in the area, definitely do stop in for a wine and cheese tasting!
Fun Fact: The label art is a portrait of the winery’s owner’s father on his farm back in Italy.
I started this post talking about how vast and diverse Paso Robles is and, I realize, I’ve featured wines from generally the same area. Maybe it’s the beach-bum in me — growing up with fog in my lungs and sand between my toes — that I just love the wines that have been impacted by my beloved Pacific. Or maybe it’s the fact that Paso Robles is home to over 200 wineries, and I just couldn’t taste them all in one afternoon.
The point is, I have a new appreciation for Paso Robles wine — the winemakers at this event passed on their passion, and I’m curious and eager to learn more. So…who wants to fund my next road trip???
For more information about the Paso Robles AVA, definitely visit Pasowine.com where you can get a full list of wineries in the area and geek out as much as you’d like about terroir, climate, grapes, and growers — and find out if there are any Paso wine tastings near you.
Oh…and it wouldn’t be a Girls On Food/Stacy On Wine without some Silly Selfies.
Love learning about food and wine pairings? Then you may want to become the newest member of the Tasters Guild International — a nationwide society of foodies/wine lovers who gather together with their local chapters to geek out on all things culinary.
While wine tasting at this year’s SF Pinot Days, I was lucky enough to meet John Engstrom and Jim Lipman of California’s only living Tasters Guild chapter, the Diablo Tasters Guild located in the San Francisco East Bay Area. They were kind enough to invite me to one of their monthly get-togethers where they sync a local restaurant’s venue and cuisine with a California winery. This month the Guild featured food with an Italian flare from Buon Appetito in Fremont alongside some Spanish-inspired wine from Bodegas Paso Robles.
For those who have never attended a food and wine pairing event, it can be a bit overwhelming. Especially when the hosting winery provides not one, but two glasses per course. It can be a lot to take in — both physically and mentally — luckily we had the expert guidance of Heather Gray, General Manager of Bodegas Paso Robles.
About Bodegas Paso Robles
Bodegas Paso Robles is the only California winery that focuses on winemaking utilizing grapes native to Spain and Portugal specifically. The grapes are acquired from several vineyards along the Paso Robles AVA in San Luis Obispo County and include exotic varietals such as Malvasia, Monastrell, and Trousseau as well as more familiar names such as Tempranillo, Albariño, and Garnacha (or Grenache).
Before each course, Heather would stand and talk a little bit about each wine and how and why she felt they would pair well with the accompanying meal. Of course, the fun part is taste-testing ourselves and discussing our experiences and preferences.
Course 1: Carpaccio di Salmone Affumicato (Thinly sliced smoked salmon, topped with fresh Arugula, red onions, and capers)
This was a beautifully cured salmon that came alive with the addition of the fresh vegetables and a creamy mustard-based aioli on top.
However, the dominant flavor in this dish was salt since, as you can see from the photo, the salmon was the star of that plate. One could argue that the dish was too salty, but that’s only the case if eaten alone. Pair this course with either of the two white wines from Bodegas Paso Robles, and you’ll experience an entirely different — more balanced — flavor profile.
The 2015 Galicia is made from 100% Albariño grapes. It’s quite a pale yellow in the glass and emits an intense floral aroma. On the palate, it’s quite dry and a bit spicy — there’s a hint of effervescence that tingles the tongue from start to finish. It’s this quality in the wine that helped cut through the saltiness of the meal as a whole and brought out the meatiness — the umami — of the salmon.
The 2014 Doña Blanca is a 50-50 blend of Garnacha Blanca (more commonly, Grenache Blanc) and Malvasia Blanca (often likened to a Muscat). In the glass, this white wine had a much bolder yellow color, releasing even stronger floral aromas alongside fruits such as apples or pears. To smell it, you’d think the wine would be a sweet one, but it’s not at all. There’s just enough acidity to cut through those perfumey aromas, yet the texture is quite smooth — almost oily — on the palate. That calm and creamy texture, again, helped to bring out the savory flavors along with the natural oils in the salmon, while the floral aromas brought forth the herbaceous qualities from the fresh vegetables. Personally, this wine allowed for the most variety and balance of flavor on my palate, and the one I would recommend to pair with this or any similar dish.
Course 2: Penne al Pomodoro Naturale (Tube pasta with light marinara sauce, fresh chopped tomatoes, basil & garlic).
In all honesty, this dish is very much like something I make at home all the time. It’s penne pasta cooked just over al dente with your basic marinara sauce. No muss no fuss and certainly not fancy. But that’s perfect for an event like this — since the wines are so unique, it’s a great idea to pair them with familiar foods, giving us a chance to explore these Spanish varietals even further (as well as get ideas for pairing wine at home).
The 2010 Garnacha, made from 100% Garanache grapes was a beautiful ruby red in the glass. On the nose, the wine emits intense aromas of green, grassy herbs (I’m thinking dillweed here) and the taste was just as herbalicious. Bodegas Paso Robles uses a combination of Hungarian, American, and new French oak when barrel aging their wines. This particular wine spent 18 months barrel aging, and all I can say is that was just the right amount of time. The wine is oaked enough to create that smooth, round mouthfeel without the overbearing flavor profile of oak — the herbs and bright fruits get to sing.
And what did this do for that run-of-the-mill everyday pasta? Well, it certainly brought out the herbs in the marinara sauce, elevating what could be a mid-week meal into something a bit more special.
The 2010 Vaca Roja, a combination of Garanacha and Monastrell (commonly known as Mourvedre) was significantly darker in the glass than the 100% Garanache. The addition of that Monastrell gave the wine not only a darker hue but a darker aroma and taste as well. On the nose, the 2010 Vaca Roja smelled predominantly of black cherries, deep red grapes, and ripe plums. On the palate, the flavors are even more complex bringing in hints of licorice, spice, and a little smoke along with those fruit flavors.
This wine was pure yum, but did it pair with the dish? Yes and no. What it did was give the pasta a bit of body that it didn’t have before. That lead me to believe that this wine would pair even better had the pasta had a bit of meat in it (such as pasta bolognese, spaghetti and meatballs, or Pasta Pomodoro with a healthy helping of hearty mushrooms).
Course 3: Risotto con Agnello e Funghi (Italian Arborio rice with roasted lamb, mushrooms, grilled fennel, red wine and Parmesan cheese)
I loved that the risotto was the perfectly cooked, completely immersed in parmesan cheese and the beautifully meaty mushrooms mixed in with every mouthful. For those elements alone I would say try this dish, specifically with the next wine pairing.
The Viva Tu Tempranillo, made from 100% Tempranillo grapes and aged in 70% new French oak is my top wine pick from the whole event. Visually, the Viva Tu is a gorgeous dark purple-red in the glass. Initial aromas included black cherries and sweet plums along with some savory scents of black olives and deep forest greenery. On the palate, the wine is so smooth, and those initial fruit and vegetable flavors give way to an almost nutty or caramel-like note. The finish is a long lingering one with just enough tannins to give the wine body and depth.
The calming smoothness of the wine paired beautifully with those mushrooms and the creamy texture of the risotto, while the aromas of the deep forest wildlife pulled out the herbs and fennel that had been hiding deep within the dish.
This is a wine I would happily drink again and again, recommend to a friend, and experiment with different food pairings.
The 2009 Solea is a traditional Rioja blend consisting of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Graciano (a native Spanish grape, high in acid, used predominantly for blending purposes). This blend gave off quite a dark aroma — think raisins, prunes, dried cherries — and there was a definite kick of acidity even on the nose. On the palate, the 2009 Solea is quite dry with flavors including anise, fennel, with a bit of a damp, earthy funk. But just as the tasting concludes, there’s that kick of acid that adds a bit of spice, tickling the tongue well into the aftertaste.
Was this the perfect pairing for the lamb risotto? In theory yes. This wine would best be paired with a meaty stew-like dish. But make sure that your protein — whether lamb, goat, or beef — is packed full of flavor and its natural juices.
Not too much of an explanation needed here. We simply had three different cheese to taste alongside two of the most complex wines of the evening.
Forget the looks; the 2010 Pimentiero is all about its aroma — it smells like you’re walking through someone’s vegetable garden. The strong scents of capsicum and jalepeño peppers are overwhelming — it’s no wonder this wine’s name translates to “pepper pot.” But despite those spicy aromas, the 2010 Pimentiero is surprisingly refreshing. Soft fruits such as cherries and plums are pleasant on the palate, while the acid and tannins are both artistically restrained, allowing for a long, thirst-quenching finish.
It’s interesting how the different cheese brought out different components in the wine. While the soft Manchego cheese brought out the fruit flavors of the Pimentiero, the dry Ricotta revealed a smokiness in the wine, and the hard Parmesan showcased brightness and acidity.
The 2011 Trousseau, made from 100% Trousseau (one of the rarest grapes in the country) has the best aroma of the wines from the event. It was like sniffing one of the finest cigars — fruit meet flowers, flowers meet peppers, peppers meet leather — and they all mingle in this truly unique wine.
Paired with the Manchego, the Trousseau brought out a little extra “stank” we all love a good cheese. The farm-like funk was even more prominent when tasting the Ricotta along with the Trousseau, while the wine brought out the softer, nuttier notes of the hard Parmesan.
Course 5: Souffle al Cioccolato (Chocolate soufflé with crème)
This is the money shot right here.
I’m not going to lie folks — as much of a chocoholic that I claim to be, I’ve never had a chocolate soufflé before, so I was more than pleasantly surprised when I broke into my dessert, and an incredible avalanche of fudge came pouring forth.
The cake, in contrast, was light and fluffy, with a crisp, almost cookie-like outer crust. Amazing. I want to try to make this at home…
I must also admit, as much as I love a good chocolate, I’m not a huge dessert person because I’m highly sensitive to sweets — as in things that are simply sweet are often too sweet for me. This goes double for dessert wines — I’m not a fan of sweet wines almost at all. But I do believe I found my exception to my rule. I think one of my problems was that I’d never had the perfect dessert pairing. Well, it lives — in this dish and this wine.
The 2013 Dulce Dama, made from Tempranillo and fortified brandy (in true Port-style) honestly surprised me. Yes, the initial taste is classic dessert — cocoa, figs, chocolate syrup. But if you let it sit in your mouth for a second, suddenly that flavor melts away, and these beautiful deep fruits come forward — cherries, blueberries, blackberries. Let that settle on the tongue and then the acidity kicks in, ultimately balancing sweet with savory and a bit of sour.
This paired perfectly with the chocolate soufflé. It’s almost like the sweetness of the dessert, and the sweetness of the wine canceled each other out allowing for the bright fruit flavors and the acidity to cut through all of that richness. I would certainly recommend this specific pairing — this wine needs this dessert as much as this dessert needs this wine. This course was by far the best pair of the evening.
Hungry for More?
Of course, this was a study of one dinner and one winery. There’s so much more to learn in the world of food and wine pairing — that must be why the Diablo Tasters taste every month. And with the intimate setting and knowledgeable hosts, guests are guaranteed to learn something at every sitting.
For more information about Diablos Tasters Guild, including how to get on the guest list or how to start your local chapter, contact either Jim or John on the Diablo Tasters Guild website.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Stacy on Wine without a silly Stacy selfie.
Local artists, unique products, festive food, and of course craft beer and fine wine — this is what San Francisco is known for. And what better place to celebrate all things SF than on trendy Union Street in the upscale Pacific Heights district? That’s exactly what hundreds of Bay Area folks did this past weekend at the 40th Annual Union Street Festival.
It only took me a million years, but I finally made it out to Oakland to try Homeroom! If you’ve ever just wanted to eat platefuls of macaroni and cheese for brunch, lunch, or dinner, you need to come to Homeroom – a restaurant devoted to an American classic, macaroni and cheese. It’s been on my list for a long time, and I hoped it lived up to the hype. And, boy, it did. I headed out there on a Saturday afternoon and hoped that the line wouldn’t be too long, knowing they have hundreds of Yelp reviews and lines out the door.
The restaurant itself, of course, is not very large, so a wait is to be expected. There are a few tables outside on the sidewalk, several tables inside, and a couple of communal tables. We got there and put our name on the list, and sat on one of the benches outside of the restaurant. It was a really warm day, so it was pleasant enough to sit outside. The area feels a little random since there businesses in the area, but if you walk down several blocks, more restaurants are scatted throughout the area. Around the corner is Homeroom To Go, where you can pick up orders of awesome mac and cheese to take home! I only wish I lived closer to do so. But that would be dangerous. The wait took about 15 to 20 minutes. We were seated in the middle of the restaurant and got an excellent view of their fun, quirky décor and the awesome chalkboard wall. I loved the hand drawn map of California! If you look closely, all of the little doodles are the different industries in all of California’s counties. It’s super cute.
Our waitress was friendly and more than happy to help us decide what to get. There’s a good variety of macaroni and cheeses, so it was a little hard to choose. While we still decided on our entrees, we ordered homemade buttermilk biscuits, which are served with honey butter. The biscuits were warm, fresh, and surprisingly fluffy even though it didn’t look very thick. They were made perfectly to spread sweet and creamy honey butter into all of those nooks and crannies. I also ordered the Arnold Palmer, since I’m big fan of the iced tea-lemonade combo. Homeroom had a unique spin on it, by combining it with what tasted like a lavender iced tea and limeade. I ended up really liking it, and I’m not a big fan of floral flavors. I love the gradient of the colors before you mix the drinks together.
At a restaurant devoted to macaroni and cheese, choosing which mac n’ cheese to get is a tough decision. Eventually, we settled on two, well-rounded options that we could both sample. Because that’s the smart way to eat at a new place. My sister ordered the Gilroy Mac. It’s considered the best-seller, and you can’t go wrong with a reputation like that. I immediately knew it had to be garlicky and was not disappointed. This macaroni and cheese features creamy Gouda, sharp pecorino and just the right amount of roasted local Gilroy garlic. You can taste the smokiness of the Gouda and the saltiness of the pecorino, and the garlic brings all of the flavors together. It’s packed with garlic but doesn’t feel like you’re eating a plate of raw garlic cloves.
I ordered the Mac the Goat. First off, it has an awesome name. That partially already sold me. But what’s in it is what cinched the deal: rich and tangy fresh chevre, sliced scallions, served with crispy breadcrumbs and drizzled with olive oil. One of my friend’s mom makes bomb mac n’ cheese with breadcrumbs, and since I had had hers years ago, I prefer to have my macaroni and cheese that way. Combined with creamy goat cheese and scallions, this totally hit the spot. I love the tang of goat cheese, and I’m a big fan of the milder flavor of scallions, so there were a bunch of exciting flavors and textures going on when combined with crunchy, toasted breadcrumbs.
Since these plates of mac n’ cheese were ginormous, we naturally packed them to go. They hold well as leftovers, once you heat them up a little bit. I readily ate these for a couple of meals, so the ~$10 price tag per entree is worth it. This is a cute restaurant to chill with friends or bring a fun group of friends to enjoy. You can pick different flavors and sample them from each other or be comforted with a large, hot plate of macaroni and cheese that makes you realize why you fell in love with this winning combination in the first place.
One of the best things about living in Northern California is no matter which direction you turn there is always something to do. Head north, you can stomp grapes, hike among the redwoods and explore the little tiny towns that connect the dots throughout the upper portion of the state. Look west towards the Pacific Ocean and endless oysters can be feasted upon, whales can be watched until your hearts content and waves can be caught with just a cowardly lion’s thimble full of courage. Look below, towards the south and you can lose yourself amidst the fog as your roam the streets of the city by the bay, cheer on the red and gold at the future home of Superbowl XLIX or chew until your jaw falls off on some of the best saltwater taffy Santa Cruz has to offer. This weekend, however, my compass pointed towards the east. A direction known for Cal Bears, an entire nation who bleed silver and black and a community whose cultural heritage and pride often help to carry them through the most adverse of life circumstances.
I was in Oakland this weekend for the 7th Annual Eat Real Food Festival, a community celebrating one simple thing… GOOD FOOD!! If a state fair, a block party and a street-food festival had a threesome and created a baby from it… Oakland’s Eat Real Food Festival would be its amazingly beautiful and delicious offspring. With an eye on teaching the public how to support local food systems as well as promoting a stronger and healthier community-run organizations and businesses, the Eat Real Food Festival strives to bridge the gap between the average consumer and their local food producers and growers. Individual food artisans mingled with national sponsors who in turned rubbed elbows with regional farmers and mom and pop businesses as a way of showing their support for one another. With 100% of the proceeds going to support the Food Craft Institute, a non-profit educational institution which supports the entrepreneurship and economic growth of small traditional food businesses, the Real Food Festival allows the community to sample the offerings of up and coming Bay Area businesses. Which really, when you think of it is a win/win situation for everyone.
The Eat Real Food Festival has, thus far, been the biggest food festival I have ever been to. With over seventy-five thousand people attending the event within a three-day period, there were more than a few mouths to feed. Fortunately, the sweet and savory selections did not disappoint. Over 120 food, wine and spirit vendors showed up with the very best of all types of cuisine. Mexican, Peruvian, Spanish, Korean, All-American, Portuguese, Soul Food, Seafood, French, Italian, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner… you name it they had it!!! Enough to make your head, or really your stomach explode.
One of the first items I happily indulged on was actually not a meal at all. I am a firm believer in dessert first, therefore I saddled up to the West Coast Style Frozen Custard Truck to try my first ever frozen custard. Half custard, half ice cream and all completely heavily (literally I think that is what heaven tastes like), it left me asking one question: How after 29 years of being on this earth have I never tried frozen custard before. Though there were numerous selections to choose from, including vanilla bean and rich chocolate, it was easy for me to pick a flavor. Being a sucker for anything Thai inspired, I immediately went for the Thai Ice Tea flavor with sweetened condensed milk on top.
With the temperature being over 90 degrees outside, it was no surprise that the creamy treat cooled me down, but even if it was ten below zero I’m sure I would have found myself face deep in the bowl of goodness.
Next up came the paella from San Francisco based catering company ñora. Paella, a traditional Spanish rice dish is known for being cooked in a large round, shallow pan, which allows the rice in the Paella to become extra crispy. Along with aiding in the cooking process, this cooking vessel and the chefs who work the Paella in the pan create quite an exciting spectacle for those waiting to try. Fortunately, the taste was worth the wait… it was absolutely delicious, perfectly seasoned with saffron and not too hot right off the Paella pan.
Following the Paella, I decided to give my tummy a bit of a break so I wondered over to the entrance to the festival where many of the information booths were located. I learned about the importance of urban farming and sustainable food systems from the fine volunteers at City Slicker Farms, a non-profit organization designed to educate the general public about where their food comes from.
After collecting a complementary package of antique sweet pea flower seeds I quickly made a beeline to the Love A Bee honey stand, where I learned about importance of bees in our ecosystem all while sampled some local varieties of organic honey. I ended my mini farm tour with a visit to some adorable fine feathered friends, baby chicks
brought by Clover Stornetta Farms in Petaluma, where they along with eggs, produce a wide variety of delicious organic dairy products.
My second lunch (my first being the paella) came from Bombzies Asian BBQ. The Vietnamese BBQ chicken, their original recipe had me at first site.
Next came giant pickles and marinated vegetable salad from Happy Girl Kitchen Co.
followed by a demonstration from the Chipotle on how to make their signature fresh guacamole with only six fresh ingredients: ripe Hass avocados, lime juice, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno and kosher salt… yes, please!!
It was impossible for me to end my day without grabbing a few things to go for my hungry folks waiting at home. That was actually an easy choice. It was organic modern soul food in the form of a BBQ pork belly sandwich from Keenan’s Kitchen for my dad.
And for my mom, the ultimate mushroom lover, it was wild mushroom and cheese empanadas from the El Porteño, an Argentinian food truck and caterer located out of San Francisco. Empanadas so good, I found myself look up the locations of their food truck for future reference.
Finally, my last stop before departing the Eat Real Food Festival was to glutinously pick up something which I had been thinking about all afternoon. It was to an unpretentious little popcorn stand I stopped by and quickly sampled at the beginning of my day. The popcorn at the POP Mama POP Artisan Popcorn booth is easily the best popcorn I have ever had, and this coming from someone who grew up on classic air popped popcorn all her life. Their organic locally grown corn paired with the delicious flavors they create is out of this world good. Flavors such as Jalapeno Sweet, Parmesan Garlic, Hot Chocolate and Sea Salt & Cracked Black Pepper left this life-long popcorn connoisseur coming back for second and third samples.
I came back so many times the founder Kathleen Hackett, couldn’t help but laugh as I stuffed yet another sample of the kettle corn in my mouth (nearly choking on it in the process.. thanks to the random bystander for the quick smack on the back) Kathleen, who not only makes a good product and was generous enough to indulge my numerous samples, but was also generous enough to have all of the festivals tips go towards the victims of the valley fire. But in the end it was the popcorn that kept me coming back for more, especially the Snickerdoodle flavor. What was once a childhood cookie memory, had been transformed into the ultimate sweet and salty snack. A snack so good I have no shame in admitting that I ate the entire bag I purchased from the festival for breakfast this morning.
To say the Eat Real Festival treated me well is an understatement. If life was being played out in the novel pages of Charlotte’s Web, I was for the briefest of moments Templeton the rat, the errand boy (or girl) set out to bring back to you messages of up and coming, new and thriving food favorites in the area. I and my stomach are more than happy I followed my compass east this weekend. If I had not done so I would have surely missed out on the veritable smorgasbord-orgasbord of deliciousness.
Tucked away in North Oakland is the Rockridge neighborhood. While most people simply stop at the beginning of College Avenue for ice cream, I prefer to trek further down to Smitten Ice Cream, well-known in the Bay Area (at several locations) for making delicious ice cream using liquid nitrogen, see a fun video here.
Having spent the summer working in Berkeley, I quickly added Smitten to my list. I have watched countless hours of Food Network and Top Chef, where someone inevitably made ice cream using liquid nitrogen. After pouring in the ice cream base, the Brrr-istas – as they’re called at Smitten – will simply add liquid nitrogen and the mixture freezes to the proper consistency! It’s mesmerizing each and every time.
You walk in and the smell of freshly made waffle cones wafts over to you and a giant nitrogen tank greets you. Smitten Ice Cream has a couple of default flavors, such as vanilla or chocolate (made with San Francisco chocolate TCHO), but they also have seasonal flavors. When you first walk in, a really awesome Brr-ista will take your order, or even give you a recommendation if you’re not too sure. You have the option of either getting solely ice cream, or pair it with one to two of their suggested toppings, such as TCHO crispies or spicy caramel sauce. They also have ice cream sundaes, picked by their Chef de Brrr and vegan pops.
At my first visit, I decided to play it safe, just in case. We waited for a bit as each of our personal batches to be mixed in the ice cream machine. This is to ensure that each batch stays nice and cold when you eat it. It was a really hot day for the Bay Area, so ice cream was the perfect choice.
I ordered TCHO 60.5% Chocolate with spicy caramel sauce, and my sister ordered salted caramel. The first thing I noticed is that the consistency feels lighter. More importantly, the ice cream stays colder for a longer period of time! Finally, I don’t have to worry about my ice cream melting while I’m eating it. The TCHO is incredibly rich, but the spicy caramel helps to balance it out so it’s not super bitter and adds a little kick! The salted caramel is a great balance of salty, creamy, and sweet. Needless to say, our little scoops disappeared very fast.
I returned with friends and decided to be a little bolder. I ordered Fresh Mint Chip in a house made waffle cone, drizzled with TCHO chocolate sauce and TCHO crispies. I went all out with their suggested pairing. I eagerly anticipated my ice cream and was not disappointed. This wasn’t just any old mint chip. It ACTUALLY tasted like fresh mint leaves, rather than peppermint. The chocolate sauce and crispies added made it extra decadent. I plan to make this my go-to flavor for future visits.
However, the most recent time I visited the shop, I decided to go all out and get one of their intriguing seasonal flavors. I ordered Crème Fraîche with Pear Caramel, which is described as sun-blushed pears, ripe for the picking in early fall, are on ideal “pear-ing” with tangy crème fraiche. I will admit, I was nervous. I’ve had crème fraîche before as a condiment for savory dishes, and I basically describe it as a richer sour cream. True to that description, the Crème Fraîche felt really rich and tangy, rather than overly sweet. The pear caramel provided the sweetness needed to balance out the tanginess. I can’t say that I would order it again, but it was definitely worth getting if you’re into trying cool and unique flavors.
Smitten Ice Cream is a really fun place to bring your family and friends. Each and every person I’ve brought here is delighted to watch their ice cream being made, with the liquid nitrogen pouring out in a mist of smoke as their personal batch is being mixed. While the wait may seem a little long, the liquid nitrogen, in my opinion, makes the ice cream even better!