Well, last Wednesday, I went to the wine dinner at the Wild Grape Bistro, that featured 3 winemakers. They were Ashley Hepworth from Joseph Phelps, Kristen Belair from Honig, and Bayard Fox from Renard. The wines tasted are available in the state, however, Renard is only special order at this time.
In the past, I have always had some trepidation of eating dinners at the Grape, the first time there, soon after they opened, we ate there, after the glowing review in the City Weekly. I had a pasta/noodle dish that arrived as a plate of goo, and Bernard had the pork loin, and it came out rare. Deja vu on Wednesday.
Lunches at the Grape have always been great. I can't find faults at lunch.
The menu was:
1st - Smoked Salmon, Salt & Vinegar chips, Frisee & Grapefruit Salad . . . Paired with 2009 Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc and 2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc
2nd - Crispy Duck Cake, Braised Red Cabbage, Tangerine Gastrique. . . . Paired with 2007 Renard Grenache and 2007 Renard Syrah.
3rd - Roasted Pork Rack, Whipped Yukons, Braised Mushrooms, Kale, Cherry Jus . . . Paired with 2006 Honig Cabernet and 2007 Joseph Phelps Cabernet
4th - Dark Chocolate Ganache, Peanut Butter Mousse and Peanut Brittle. . . Paired with 2008 Renard Viognier and 2008 Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
One of the complaints of reviewers and critics of the Wild Grape is inconsistency, which was very evident in the first course. I had 2 nice pieces of smoked salmon, more cured and lox like and then lightly smoked . . . very delicious, with a nice little portion of frisee that still allowed the salmon to peek out, and a nice sliced supreme of grapefruit on top, garnished with salt and vinegar fingerling potato chips. The combination as a whole was great, the chips, not very salty or vinegary, were unnecessary. Now the inconsistency . . . Ashley, the winemaker from Joseph Phelps, had a smaller portion of salmon, with a big handful of lettuce greens that had little frisee in it, 3 chips and No grapefruit. Don't get me wrong, I thought the dish was very successful as was the pairings, but when we were served, those of us at the table wondered if we all got the same dish. The Honig SB played well with the tartness of the grapefruit and bitterness of the frisee. The Honig has a rounder, richer mouthfeel, and just a little residual sugar. The acidity and citrus tartness of the Phelps SB worked with the richness of the salmon. I would have thought the smoke of the salmon would have overpowered the wines, but the salmon was just the right balance.
Unfortunately, the second course is where things started to hit the slippery slope. The cabbage was perfect. The tangerine gastrique was more for color, it was spread on one side of the plate and really did not contribute to the dish. The duck cake, a novel idea, and a great presentation, but, it was over seasoned and salty. A bit disappointing as I really love duck. The Renard wines were a good foil for the dish. I think the lighter, fruitier Grenache was the best with the duck, especially with the added salt. The Renard Syrah though heavier, was delicious, and worked with the duck, due to it's earthiness, but almost a little too dense for the dish. I would rather have this wine with lamb or the like.
The main course had my mouth watering, just thinking of it on the menu. It arrived, a full 1.5"-2" (or more) thick with the bone attached. The cherry jus was more a light sauce with cherry halves, this over the top of the chop, nonetheless, flavorful, as was the the rest of the plate. The pork, well . . . really needed help. The flavor did taste great, what I could eat of it. It was one of the toughest hunks of meat I can ever recall trying to eat, at home or out. We were never offered steak knives, struggling to slice the meat. Once sliced, my pork was undercooked. That deja vu moment. I ate the edges but could not go further. I know people say it's OK now to eat pork a little more rare than usual, but to me, in a restaurant, it needs to be stated up front that that is the way it is cooked so people like myself and Bernard, can say . . . . leave it on a little longer. . . . still no steak knives. The wines were great. Both Cabs were great, and I expected them to be too heavy for the pork, but I was wrong. A nice match. The Phelps nice fruit, round, plush. The Honig a bit more great fruit, just a touch more austere, again, both Great wines.
The dessert was very good, but not what was advertised on the wine dinner menu, and not good for the wines. When one thinks of Ganache, you think of the chocolate used as a frosting or dipping other things in. What came out of the kitchen was a thin wedge of something like a flourless tort kinda thing. I was expecting a puddle of chocolate on the plate. This wedge had a spritz of peanut butter mousse piped on it. A delicious dessert nonetheless. But as far as the wines go . . . not a match made in Heaven. These wines needed a fruit based dish of some sort, mixed fruit tart, poached pear, something. The Renard Viognier was fantastic, rich, fruity, and great acidity to back it up. The Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc was grand. Rich, sweet, but perfectly balanced so as not cloying.
Overall, it was a very good meal with great wines. I wish the food choices were elevated to the level of the wines. Also, Kudos to Troy at the Grape for offering 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia in tasting portions at affordable prices, $30.00 for about a 2oz pour. Insignia is Phelps' flagship wine, normally about $185.00 in the state stores. Robert Parker gives this wine 97-100 points, and in my book, it is there as well. Fruit balanced with acidity and tannin, rich, complex, approachable, yet, can't wait to try this in another 10 years.
I know the Wild Grape can put out great food, I have had it! One of the issues that I think gets in the way is not only was the kitchen putting out the special menu for this dinner, but everything else on the regular menu. They need to work on their consistency and quality. I will go back, and see what happens.