Thursday, March 17, 2011

Eureka! Pea Cakes!

My dinner date turned out to be a Seattle transplant and former teacher who now gives Segway tours of Jackson Ward, among other less-interesting places.

When he asked where I lived and I told him the cross streets nearest my 1876 house, he knew just where I lived. Creepy or coincidental?

In either case, he was an oenophile of the highest order and we were at Olio's wine dinner with winemaker Bob Stashak of Classic Wines of California, so I couldn't have asked for a better dining companion.

My new friend and I had randomly been assigned to the same four-top, but the other two occupants of the table had not shown up, so it was just the two of us. And while he may not have been my type (he had an absent wife), he was delightful company for the five course meal.

We began with Montpelier Viognier, tasting of peach and apricots, and bruschetta with Pierre Robert Brie, fig jam and slivered, toasted almonds.

Because there were six bruschetta and two of us and it looked like our table mates were going to be no-shows, we went ahead and ate three each and got a wine refill. Why not?

The star course of the evening arrived next: smoked trout fillet over a dilled green pea cake topped with lemon creme fraiche and salmon caviar. Ever had a pea cake? Nor had I and what a loss that was because it was the most divine taste of spring you could imagine.

Chef Rebecca (who, because I had met her at a summer party, will always be Becky to me) had combined pureed peas, partially pureed peas and whole peas with egg and a touch of flour, onion and seasonings to create the most extraordinary mouthful of fresh pea flavor. And I was lucky enough to have two pea cakes.

The smoked trout, wonderful as it was, could not have hoped for a better support system and the Domaine Napa Chardonnay, with its tropical notes, became something truly special when paired with this dish.

2007 Domaine Napa Merlot accompanied the white bean and tomato soup shooters with crispy pork cracklins and it was hands down my favorite wine of the evening and the salty cracklins my favorite part of the shooter.

Between courses, Stashak talked about his winemaking, his blending preferences, and the specifics of what we were drinking. Whenever it came to him asking questions of the dinner crowd, it was my mustachioed date who scored 100%.

If there'd been a quiz, I might have been tempted to cheat off of him. As it was, we each shared our wine tasting travel stories and compared notes about grape preferences.

Medium rare prime Angus cigarellos stuffed with Gorgonzola Dolce, fresh spinach and dried cranberries with balsamic stood up well to the Domaine Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

The cheese was such a delicately-flavored variety that the cranberries were actually a more dominant flavor than the Gorgonzola; it was brilliant.

We finished with chocolate cupcakes iced in chocolate ganache with fresh blackberry compote and caramelized pecans and a glass of Searidge Syrah. My date felt like the Syrah almost overwhelmed the chocolate, but I've had the Searidge/chocolate combo so often at Sprout that I think of it as an ideal pairing.

The winemaker was a perfect host to the crowd, genial and informative, amusing and eager to share his knowledge, extensive after 38 years of winemaking. He seemed to be having as good a time as we were and that added to the fun factor of the evening.

After some post-dinner mingling (ran into a friend I hadn't seen in over a year and we both had significant life updates to share), I thanked my impromptu dinner date for his splendid company and left for Sprout.

Playing catchy indie pop rock tonight were two Athens, Georgia bands, Eureka California and Daniel of Moon Ladder ("If there were other people up here, they'd be Moon Ladder, but it's just me, so I'm Daniel").

I arrived to find a musician friend at the bar and we settled in for a conversation about how the ballet, opera and symphony need to attract a younger audience before their entire white-haired subscriber base buys the farm. We decided that non-traditional performances and venues and lower ticket prices were the way to go.

Having solved the looming cultural meltdown, we went back to hear the music. Daniel of Moon Ladder did a heartfelt set with guitar and ukulele ("This thing never stays in tune"), first from the stage and then from the floor ("I felt awkwardly high up there").

Eureka California, a trio with girl drummer (always notable) had an upbeat, infectious poppiness with enough reverb to make me happy and the kind of bass lines that can't be ignored. It was all good.

The lead singer acknowledged that Richmond was a nice place, saying "Today we played volleyball with anarchists in the park." When someone in the audience asked who had won, he answered, "Everybody won. They had a dog and when there's dogs, no one keeps score."

I think there may be a life lesson there, but that could have something to do with drinking all that California wine with a man with a waxed mustache who once lived in the high deserts of Idaho.

For now, we'll just accept it as Athenian wisdom and call it a day.


  1. Thanks Karen, and thanks for the mention in the Style article!

    Christian McGee band this evening... great acoustic covers!

  2. And thank you for a $20 price tag for five courses! What an awesome meal to go with those pairings!