The inaugural dinner Monday night at Orozko’s restaurant featured food pairings with wines from Sebastapol, Calif.-based Paul Hobbs Winery. The series will feature five more dinners, one each month starting again in January 2009.
Monday’s dinner featured five wines and accompanying courses prepared by the Nugget’s new head chef Michael Norton and his staff. Norton and the managers of the Nugget’s food and beverage department took great care to prepare, test and refine the food that went along with each of the Hobbs wines — even going so far as to name each course for one of the Hobbs vineyards.
The first course, named Walker Station Ravioli, was paired with a 2006 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Paul Hobbs sales manager Bill Wiebalk said that particular chardonnay is 100-percent barrel fermented, which was evident in the woody taste. The ravioli, which was light and thin but full of flavor, was made with king crab, seared scallop and fresh chive. Accompanying it was a garlic flan and nectarine-lemon grass foam. I didn’t know what to expect of this side, but to my happy surprise it was airy and not too strong on garlic, and what appeared to be orange peel shavings on top gave it an Asian flare.
While the first course had a very pleasant, non-threatening presentation, the appearance of the second course might have been unusual enough to put off some diners. The Terrine of Smoked Duck and Black Truffle looked like it should have the word “loaf” in the name. My date described it as reminiscent of a pot pie. It looked like a thick slice of bread with chunks of duck and truffle and other ingredients baked inside. The crust and the duck meat inside flaked away nicely under my fork and the flavor was very good. Again, this dish was light on the stomach, which was a relief since the meal was not even half over. The duck was paired with a 2006 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which was fruity and not too strong on the alcohol.
The third course, called Kick Ranch Rib Eye, got a little heavier. It was a Black Pepper, Sesame Crusted Wagyu Beef with Glazed Cabernet Pudding. The meat, served on a bed of Pan Braised Winter Squash, was seared on the outside with the perfect amount of pink inside and the pudding on top had the perfect amount of pepper, complemented with dabs of horseradish. On the side was a Wild Berry Spring Roll that would have been a wonderful dessert. It was a delicious but very sweet — an interesting choice with the peppered beef. The third-course wine was a 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a good but was left in the dust by the wine served with the entree.
After cleansing the palette with a grapefruit tarragon sorbet, the entree was Lamb Osso Bucco Country Style, served with Merlot-Blueberry Venison Sausage and a Vidalia Onion Marmalade. The lamb was not quite as good as the beef, so reversing them in the lineup might have made it better. The sausage was a pleasant surprise, maintaining the spicy taste you’re used to with sausage but without the greasy lump left in your stomach. The highlight of this course, though, was the wine: a 2006 Malbec from Argentina. This wine was the best red I have ever had, and red wine is usually not my preference. It was a mellow bitter yet very smooth. Of all the wines served that night, the Malbec was the only one to go home with me.
Concluding the meal was a dessert straight off a UFO. A bright green Pulled Sugar Pear hovered down from above, and with a whack of the spoon it cracked open to reveal a creamy Toasted Almond Pear Bavarian inside. On the side was “10 Cane” Rum Spiced Triangle, which was less interesting to look at but so good I was tempted to ask for another slice. The dessert wine, a 2001 Arvay Sweet Life Tokaji wine from Hungary, was much too sweet, like drinking watery syrup. The after-dinner coffee was a better beverage.
Enjoying the meal with my date and me were Pat and Laura Wallace from Reno. Self-described foodies, Pat is retired from hotel/casino construction and Laura is semi-retired from real estate. We chatted about their ventures to wineries all over California as well as some less sophisticated imbibing. Their taste for wine is much more practiced that mine, but I was happy to know that they agreed with my preference for the Malbec. So much so that they went home with six bottles of it. My budget couldn’t quite stretch as far, so I just bought one.
The Nugget does a nice job of combining fine taste with a relaxed atmosphere for these dinners. With just 50 or 60 seats available at each event, the Wine Makers Dinner Series makes for a comfortable night out without a large crowd. The cost for future dinners in this year’s series have yet to be set, but if Monday’s $95 per person price tag is any indication it is the sort of event that those of us with more limited means should splurge on once a year. Those who can afford it and who appreciate food and wine should try to make it a monthly outing.
The schedule and descriptions for the rest of this season’s Wine Makers Dinner Series are online at www.janugget.com.