Wine and food dinner, Laguna Culinary Arts & Tablas Creek Winery

The menu for the night
The menu for the night

Our good friends, Jeff and Annette are BIG fans of the Tablas Creek Winery.  In addition, Jeff and I have taken a few culinary classes at  Laguna Culinary Arts.  So, when he saw that the they were going to have a food and wine pairing dinner featuring the culinary skills of Laguna’s Executive Chef Laurent Brazler and the fine wines of Tablas Creek, Jeff just had to go.  To top it off, since it was my birthday weekend, he made it a gift.  So, on Saturday, Jeff, Annette, Mary and I went off for what turned out to be a memorable wine and food pairing.  The Culinary Arts kitchen is located in the beautiful Laguna Canyon.  The national sales manager, Tommy, from Tablas Creek was there to greet and educate us on the wines of the evening.  The executive chef Laurent spoke to us between every course making our mouths water in anticipation.  This had to be be one of the best food and wine parings we have ever attended.  The food from Chef Laurent was well constructed.  His delicate sauces accented the main element of each dish yet allowed to taste of that main element to come through.  It is a special form of cooking that is hard to achieve.  The pairing with Tablas Creek’s Rhone style wines was done such that both the wines and food shown well.  Although all the dishes were well received and wonderful, most of us kept talking about the Black Mussel soup.  A great creamed puree that was both delicate and flavorful at the same time.  In all fairness however, all the courses and pairing were favorites to someone that night.  The wines were typical of Tablas Creek, well developed and even though young, paired well and gave a glimpse to how great they will be in a few years after some more aging.  These wines are noted for aging well for years.  We all walked away from the evening very impressed and are committed to checking out the next offering.  Chef Laurent gave us a magnificent dinner worthy of any fine restaurant and developed the dishes to take the most advantage of the high quality Tablas Creek Wines.  We are even bigger fans of both now than before the event.  What a great birthday present. 

Wine and Food Pairing Dinner – A Benefit Function for CHOC

Jeff and Nick presenting the offerings for the eveining

Jeff and Nick presenting the offerings for the evening

A few years ago, Jeff, Annette, Mary and I got together to see if we could find something to donate to a fund raiser for our local high school grad night.  After looking at a few ideas, we came across the concept of combining Jeff’s great cooking skills with my interest in wine.  Mary and Annette would take care of the place settings, decorations and literature. Soon, we had put together a complete Wine and Food Pairing Dinner for ten people.  All the highest bidder had to do was supply the house, dining room table, kitchen and the ten guests.  We would bring everything else and leave the home the way we found it.  The dinner was an instant success and we have done a few of them now with each one earning more than the other.  They were all great income sources for the high school grad night.  As it turns out, one of our previous winners, Valerye, who has been helping raise funds for CHOC Hosptial for many years,  approached us about offering one of our dinners for an upcoming auction.  For such a noble cause, we all agreed and the wine and food pairing dinner was auctioned off at a record $1600 (the highest one sold as yet).  This brings us to Saturday night, 10/25.  With the invaluable help of our mutual great friends Bob and Edie, we all traveled to Lido Isle to deliver our dinner.  Kathy and Eric were the hosts who offered their lovely home on the island.  Jeff, Annette, Mary and I had met a couple weeks earlier to decide the wines needed and what foods we needed to do the pairing effects we were trying to achieve. 

The wine and food for the night

The wine and food for the night

 As usual, Jeff’s culinary skills shown brightly and the food was absolutely perfect to show the wines at their best, helping to teach the lessons.  His recipes can be found here at Jeff’s Website.  I have also included a copy of the menu we gave out at the dinner so you can see the food and wine that was offered.  Our ten guests were absolutely perfect for this type of wine class.  They were open to the experience, open to trying new things, wanted to learn about wine and were just a delight to have a dinner with. They were all good, positive people who love life and enjoy an opportunity to learn in a positive, fun setting.  They were qiuck learners and soon had caught on to the impact of food on wine acid balance, the impact of sweetness, spice, tannin, salt and even texture.  They soon picked up on how to bridge red wines into traditionally white wine dishes with the creative use of salt and good saucing.  There was even the great joy of exposing some people to wines they had never considered before.   We even were able to show how a “rip your face off Cabernet Sauvignon” is a delightful accompaniment with a delicious bittersweet chocolate cake.  The shock value was worth the evening.  Our great friends, Bob and Edie were invaluable in helping us set up and support during the event.  They even donated some of their instructive Wine Puzzle books (which Edie wrote and autographed) and some of their all wood puzzles from their website, Wine Treasures.  Please check them out.  Afterwards our guests asked if we would offer our Wine and Food Pairing Dinner at another fund raiser for CHOC.  We gladly accepted the opportunity to help such a great cause.  In our debriefing, we all agreed that this was the best dinner we have yet put on, not only from the great way Jeff’s food paired with the wines, but so much so because our fantastic guests were so participative and throughly let themselves enjoy the experience.  We were able to get our lessons across, exposed some people to new wines, showed some how to better match food and wine and finally, walked away with some new friends.  Life is just a good place to be!

Breakfast With Living History at Disneyland, Oscar Martinez

Me and a living legend, Oscar, at Disneyland
Me and a living legend, Oscar, at Disneyland

I had the day off today and decided to go to Disneyland for breakfast.  The morning started off wrong with my favorite place, Cafe Orleans, no longer serving breakfast as of September 2nd.  The next choice was the Riverbell Terrace, next door, but they remodeled it a year or two ago and made it very “fast food” like.  It is no longer a place to go for a relaxing morning breakfast.  To top it off,  Disney decided not to allow coffee refills there.    How do you enjoy a breakfast on only one cup of coffee?  By now I am almost to the point of deciding to leave the park and go elsewhere.  While walking down main street,  I came to the Carnation Cafe and decided to go in.  The cafe is midway down main street and is a great place to enjoy the atmosphere Disney displays during the holidays. It is also a good place to just enjoy watching people.  I had a small two seat table about midway back near the fence.  The menu was simple with a few items.  I usually have “Oscar’s” Breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatos and bacon but decided this morning to have the eggs benedict.  I took a paper with me and was enjoying my coffee while reading the days events when a man came up and started chatting about the fires in the news.  I looked up and it was Oscar,(see the picture above).  Oscar is a living legend around the park.  Heck, he even has a breakfast dish named after him on the menu.  He has been working there for 52 years!!.  Quite an accomplishment for anyone.  He is a walking history book and somewhat of a fixture at the park.  You will often see him in the mornings at the cafe, in his spotless chef’s outfit, walking around the tables chatting with the guests.  If you ask, the waiters will happily go find him for you.  Get him talking about the old days…..What a perk to going to Disneyland.   There are not that many of the old guard still at the park let alone working where they are readily accessable to the guests.   While all this was happening, a young family of four sat down next to me.  It turns out they live in the Portland, Oregon area and come down frequently to visit Disneyland.  This trip included the husband, wife, young son and grandfather.  They were celebrating the wife’s 40th birthday and the husband had set this up as a gift.  However, they all love Disneyland and I think they just needed a reason to come on down.  We talked about family, Kim’s overseas journey, and the joys of being able to come to Disneyland any time you want when you live in Orange County.  It turns out the husband, Boyd, does freelance video and has set up some great stuff.  Check out Globe Trekker and watch a great parody, that includes family, and learn about adventure land at the same time.  All in all, what started as a disappointing morning, ended up with a new adventure that beat anything I was expecting, if Cafe Orleans had still been serving…..I guess if life teaches you anything, it is that you need to be open to whats around you, life just happens….What a blast. 

Dinner at the Clark’s

Watching the prep was as much fun as the meal

Watching the prep was as much fun as the meal

Last Sunday, the 21st, we were invited to Jeff and Annette’s for Dinner. Jeff and Annette are two very special friends whom we have known a long time. Jeff is a fantastic self taught amateur chef (I use amateur only because he does not do this for pay) who is known for his variety and absolutely delicious meals. If you want see what he can do, visit his website at Jefferyclark.net. Back to my story, we arrived at the Clark home around 5 PM and I brought a couple wines from my modest collection (that is another story). Jeff started the evening with a homemade minestrone soup that was as good as a minestrone can get. We all commented on not only the nicely balanced blend of flavors, but the great consistency of texture. It turns out he had recently adjusted the recipe to make all the cut portions of similar size just to address the texture. This is a secret to cooking that I find is too often underappreciated by chefs. We broke open a bottle of Michel-Schlumberger Pinot Blanc to complement this already wonderful soup. For the main course, Jeff produced a nice cut of meat and proceeded to custom cut our filet mignon steaks right in front of us. With our mouths watering, Jeff covered them in crushed black pepper and then pan seared the steaks. When cooked, Jeff removed the steaks and deglazed the pan with flaming brandy(another great show!) and created a sauce with garlic and cream. These perfectly cooked steaks were then plated and covered with the sauce. As sides, Jeff added a cauliflower mash seasoned with garlic while his daughter, Nicky, sauted asparagus in a garlic infused olive oil. We all rinsed it down with a mild but fruity Valley View Cabernet Sauvignon from Oregon. To top it all off, we enjoyed Jeff’s famous(to his friends and family) chocolate chip biscotti. We are talking a meal as good as found at any good restaurant. An absolutely great way to end a long week and get ready for the beginning of the next. As usual, I look forward to an invite to his next show!!!!