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Dare to Pair

the gang's all here
the gang's all here
Susanna Gaertner

The 5th annual Dare to Pair food and wine event benefiting the culinary arts program at Cabrillo College took place under brilliant skies for an appreciative crowd of foodies and oenophiles, who strolled from station to station sampling the creative dishes and the wines—all from Surf City Vintners—students chose to complement them.

purple potato, scallop, and grapefruit beurre blanc
Susanna Gaertner

Participants voted on the best pairing as well as on their favorite individual entry. While the sometimes overly complex offerings were often hard to actually get in your mouth, it's important to remember that this was also a competition for the culinary arts students. Naturally, they want to get it all out there!
So impressed were the professional judges that several of the students left the competition with job offers. Now that is a perfect pairing!

Of the ten dishes, two were vegetarian, three were seafood, five were meat...and of these, three were duck. The duck breast served on a risotto cake was the most successful of these and paired well with the 2010 Trout Gulch pinot noir, which had just the right dose of acidity to cut through the duck fat.

Unfortunately, the ravioli station had closed by the time many of us made it to the second location, to the disappointment of several folks who'd been looking forward to the “other thing we can eat.” But kudos always to Odonata's 2010 Sangiovese sparkling wine, which tastes like a million bucks (but costs only $28 a bottle).

The other vegetarian option was a goat cheese and mango salad served on a crispy wanton, paired with a Cancion del Mar from Sones Cellars, a blend of pinot gris, Torrontes, viognier, and sauvignon blanc, whose floral and citrus elements elevated the dish. While this station had, to my mind, the best presenter—Alec Lubliner was the one student who also explained his dish in terms of why their team chose the wine—the food was hard to eat (“it's so messy,” said a woman near me).

Most stations had thought of seating, thankfully, because many dishes required forks. Thus, while the beef shortribs in Adobo were a favorite, the large chunks of meat were impossible to eat in one bite and there was no place to sit or put down your glass. I found myself wedged behind a barrel until one of the workers needed to get around short, not the ideal venue.

Poached sole in grapefruit butter with papaya chutney made for a fine presentation but this dish could have used more aggressive seasoning; it paired well with the grapefruit notes in MJA Vineyards' 2013 sauvignon blanc.

Another seafood entry was the star of the afternoon, winning both the judges' and people's choice awards: sea scallops with grapefruit beurre blanc with a puree of purple Okinawa potato from student chefs A.J. Little, Stephan Ambort, and John Torresan. This was the perfect morsel-in-one, succulent yet restrained and visually impeccable. The 2009 Equinox Blanc de Blanc only enhanced the subtle acidity.

My personal favorite: venison parcels with mushroom duxelle and cranberry fig chutney served with a 2009 Bartolo merlot from Equinox Wines. When I mentioned that a cabernet franc would have been an even better choice, a bottle magically appeared: Bartolo's cab franc has only 3% petite verdot, just the right tannin grip under velvet smoke that venison requires...not to mention an amazing value at $20. An altogether memorable pairing to end this delicious afternoon!

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