Friday, April 18, 2014

Wine Merchant Cheese Class April 2014

I actually don't remember the last time I went to a Wine Merchant cheese class although I did find some blog posts from 2009. I know I would try to take a food pairing class here and there since those have always been my favorite, but my class schedule definitely had become too full the last couple of years.

Thanks to my schedule finally slowing down and a holiday weekend, I just happened to be available on the right night for their cheese class. For over a year, the cheese classes were scheduled for Saturday nights, so I jumped at the chance to take one on a Friday night again!

While at first I wasn't too excited about a "USA" themed wine and cheese class, I was happy to review the menu when I got to class and (believe it or not), I had never tasted any of the cheeses that were served tonight. I always love learning and tasting new cheeses/wine/food/etc.

Even though I hadn't been in the Clayton store for quite awhile, I recognized most of the staff and that really impressed me. They must be doing something right if employees continue to stay. My hero, cheesemonger Simon Lehrer, told me he has reached ten years!

Anyway, I didn't remember there being six tastings per class, but I did appreciate getting to try that many cheeses. Luckily, Simon didn't pour too heavy, but I did have to share some of the red wines with a friend!

1st Pairing:
2012 Melville Chardonnay Clone 76-Inox from Sta. Rita Hills, CA
Capriole Sofia, Goat cheese from Indiana

This was one of my top favorites because the crispness and acid of the wine (no oak!) really helped to cut through the creamy goat cheese. I always love that balance between the two.

2nd Pairing:
2011 Autumn Selection Viognier, from Columbia Valley, WA
Pondhopper, Goat cheese from Bend, OR

The Viognier was more floral on the nose, but had a very mellow finish, so it couldn't quite keep up with the richness and nutty, caramel flavor of the firm goat cheese, which reminded me A LOT of my favorite, Midnight Moon. This cheese definitely stands alone.

3rd Pairing:
2012 haden fig Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, OR
Jasper Hill Winnemere, Raw Cow's milk from Vermont

You know this is THE place to get Pinot Noir from in this country. This is a great example of a quaffable red wine...yes, a red wine that *I* like since it has such a fruity finish with little dryness.

Yet, it just isn't a wine that could handle the super gooey and "stinky" cheese that is very similar to one of my all time favorite cheeses: Epoisses. I learned from Simon that most cheese is made from summer milk when the grass is greener and there is more variety. Yet, this cheese was made from winter milk, that has a higher fat content and all the flavor comes from washing the rind. This rind was bathed in a lambic beer so I'm sure you can imagine how delicious those flavors added to the cheese. Let's just say I did get leftovers of this cheese from two friends.

4th Pairing:
2008 Nicholson Jones Selection Syrah from Napa Valley, CA
Cobb HIll Ascutney Mountain from Vermont

I pretty much needed a knife and fork to drink this Syrah. Of course all the "red heads" loved this wine. The rich, firm, raw cow's milk cheese just could not stand up to it. I think this and the Winnemere should have been switched.

5th Pairing:
2012 Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley, WA
Nettle Meadow Simply Sheep from Vermont

I was surprised to be tasting a Cabernet after the Syrah, since I could drink this wine more easily. I thought this was a pretty good pairing with the creamy sheep's milk cheese. I learned that Sheep's cheese are usually lower in acid and higher in fat.

6th Pairing:
2012 Bedrock Lorenzo's Heritage from Dry Creek Valley, CA
Roelli Dunbarton Blue, Raw Cow's milk from Wisconsin

This might be the best blue cheese I have ever tried since it is the only one I have heard of going through the cheddaring process, which prevented the blue from overpowering the wine, which actually had a fruity finish. I was quite surprised. Possibly the best pairing, but you could easily have both of these by themselves.

Again, I totally dropped the ball on taking a picture of my plate of cheeses...I have gotten quite out of practice. But next month, cheese class is on a Friday night again! Yes!


The Wine Merchant =


Another “E” restaurant that I had badly been wanting to visit, Elaia, was actually selected by my parents after a Saturday afternoon nosh at Olio. Since the next holiday was my Dad’s birthday, I was hopeful that there would be enough traditional dishes so that my Dad could find something that he’d like. Again, Elaia definitely lived up to the talk and is certainly a destination for foodies.

The restaurant was kind enough to mention my Dad's birthday at the top of the menu. Extra points to them for researching the purpose of our visit during the reservation verification phone call. And with our fairly early reservation of 6:30pm, Ben Poremba was able to take the time to quickly visit despite another large party at the same time. We really enjoy the first hour of quiet, but even for a Wednesday night, I was surprised how busy and noisy the restaurant got after 8pm. Reservations are definitely necessary!

The menu consisted of four courses as well as a Prix Fixe option. Unfortunately, I did not ask about the Prix Fixe menu as I immediately wanted several items from each course. Luckily, I was surrounded by family members that share!

I chose the Scallop Ceviche to start with but could have easily enjoyed the Goat Cheese Mousse, which was not overwhelming. But it’s hard for me to turn down any scallops these days.

My stepmom, Linda, was curious about the Fried Sweetbreads so I volunteered to try that for the second course, while the brisket reached that “melt in your mouth” level. I was sad to miss out on the Sea Scallop and Lamb Meatballs.

I wasn’t daring enough for Rabbit so the main course was an easy selection of the Scottish Salmon in a sweet pea broth. It came with a dollop of buttermilk potato puree on top. Quite delicious!

And there was no challenge to the dessert course as the Chocolate Tarte was incredibly rich, just how I love it.

Due to a lack of privacy, I unfortunately, did not get the chance to take any pictures. I can assure you each dish was plated beautifully from start to finish and we had incredible service as well. Elaia is definitely a “special occasion” restaurant, but I think Olio downstairs is the place to frequent more often.


Elaia =

Olio =


Unfortunately, this restaurant has closed.

I had been waiting a long time to visit Element, ever since Brian Hardesty’s last restaurant, Root, closed very suddenly. There was a lot of talk that he was building something bigger and better and I can now say that it has certainly lived up to all the talk!

I’m a little late to the Element party, but I wanted to give them time to get a little established before trying it out. It was one of the few times I was nervous about attending because I was hoping it would be as good as I was hearing about from everyone else.

Luckily, my good friend Beth had the brilliant idea to make it my birthday dinner and she was willing to help me split some of the courses. When trying a new restaurant, I always want one of everything so it helps to have a teammate split the dishes with me. I also had the fortune to visit more than once already! Like most top restaurants these days, the menu will change according to what is available for each season. Even more reason to go back…

Beth and I went with all “small plates” since there were so many interesting ones that we wanted to taste. I highly recommend splitting them because even as a “side dish”, quite a few of them were large enough for two. Yet, to kick off the evening, we started with their cheese plate. The cutting board came with a mix of soft, medium, and blue cheeses, which was amazing dipped in the honey. For a change, there was enough slices of bread to cover the cheese and slices of salami and charcuterie. That probably could have been half a meal right there!
Cheese plate
My favorite “small plate” was the Spring Vegetables due to the light green goddess dressing. This would actually be a perfect side split between two with your main course. Such a beautiful plate full of colors as well.
Spring Vegetables
My second favorite easily was the Pasta Puttanesca which tasted unbelievably fresh with a sweet “sauce”. I’m afraid that might be a cold weather dish while hopefully the vegetables might still be available.

Pasta Puttanesca (front) and Cured Scallops (back)
A couple of other courses that we tried were just plated beautifully and were almost too pretty to eat. The Wild Mushrooms was a smaller side and the Cured Scallops consisted of only a thin slice of scallop, surrounded by a squid ink mousse that was just too rich and intense after the first few bites. These two were definitely “adventurous” courses.
Wild Mushrooms
We had missed the Lamb Pot Roast for the season and word has it that was their most popular dish so make note of that for next season.

A week later, I got the chance to try a couple of their seafood dishes. I started off with the Fried Oysters, which had an interesting texture of crunchy outside and squishy soft inside.
Fried Oysters
I finally tried a “large plate” of Fish Stew and this was easily another favorite. This was perfect for me because not only was it a hearty dish for our never ending cold weather, but it had all my favorite flavors. The fish was carefully laid on top so as not to overwhelm the stew, while the broth was not too spicy like a cioppino. I was impressed with the large chunks of potatoes, cabbage, and kielbasa filling the bowl.

Fish Stew
If you love modern food adventures, you definitely need to try this once.

And if you just prefer cocktails, the top floor consists of a beautiful lounge and I hope to try out the patio soon as well!


Element =