@PBFW: South By Southwest

(Pebble Beach, CA) — Pebble Beach Food & Wine is a non-stop extravaganza of celebrity chefs making great dishes to pair with fabulous vino, and after the Thursday night reception, the real fun begins with the first Friday lunch. We manage to score tickets to South By Southwest, featuring fare prepared by Chefs Tim Love, Dean Fearing, John Sedlar, and Casey Thompson. Our shuttle bus drops us off at the entrance to the Lodge at Pebble Beach, and we go inside for some refreshment...

He Fed:

We enter the lobby of the Lodge and look out onto the 18th hole with the surf in the background...this does not suck. My headache from the previous night's excesses begins to recede.

Servers mill around, pouring glasses of Layer Cake Chardonnay, “Virgin” (Central Coast 2010) and offering hors d’oeuvres of Smoke Artichoke with lemon and parmesan—a tangy, nutty bite from Tim Love—and Two-Bite Lobster Taco with Avocado Relish from Dean Fearing that I manage to eat in one bite, and I do not dig it much (just not a lobster fan...yet). Later, we discover there should have been a third offering from John Sedlar, a Housemade Kennebec Potato Chip with chipotle crema and caviar, but we never see it.

Finally, we are shown to our table in the dining room of Stillwater Bar & Grill. The view is spectacular, and the Chardonnay flows freely. It is the well-matched pairing for our first course, a perfectly cooked, mild Santa Fe Scallop in a puddle of earthy, soulful frijoles negro. A spot of red chile sauce adds zing but the real standout for me is the lime foam, which somehow amplifies the sea notes. Also, everyone gets a different character etched in various spices (mine are cinnamon and cilantro) artfully assembled on the plate. Fun!

Our second course is courtesy Dean Fearing: a crunchy Chicken Fried Lockhart Quail neatly perched atop a smattering of firm barbecued east Texas field peas and a tangle of sweet-sour pickled red onion-mango salad. A glass of Cherry Pie Pinot Noir (Carneros 2009) helps the dish sing.

Next, Tim Love delivers a succulent, medium-rare Seared Elk Saddle with crispy morel to keep everything grounded on the flash-fried swiss chard, while daubs of creamy parsnip puree and tart candied blueberries add a touch of playfulness. The Layer Cake Primitivo (Puglia 2010) fights for dominance but ultimately lays back and lets the blueberries have their fun.

Finally, dessert arrives, a deconstructed Nantes Carrot Cake crumbled on the plate as though it is a Roman ruin, flanked on either side by crescents of cream cheese ice cream and sprinkled with candied pineapple chunks. There are sprinkles of rosemary and some raisin powder too. It is my favorite of the dishes, because it is such a delightful, sweet surprise. A touch of Hundred Acre Shiraz, “Ancient Way” (Barossa 2005) puts a cap on the lunch.

All chefs gather to say a few words at the end of the meal, and it’s clear they’re having a great time together. We can only watch them in gratitude, bellies full of wondrous creations and minds floating on the ether of great vintages. Soon, we are back on the shuttle and enroute to more adventure.
She Fed:

A 2010 Layer Cake chardonnay is being liberally poured and trays are being passed with delectable bits. Both the smoked artichoke hearts with lemon parmesan and the tiny lobster tacos with avocado relish are delish. We learn later there were housemade potato chips with chipotle crema and caviar, but those trays never made it to our corner of the room for some reason. No mind, we're standing by an expanse of windows watching the waves crash along the rocky shore. The sun glints off the water...who needs a potato chip right now?

The doors open to the dining room and we are seated in a large and airy room with equally impressive views of the beach. Our first course is a scallop, dusted with Santa Fe spices and perched atop a lush puddle of black bean puree. Dried spice powders have been stenciled (you’ve got to see the video!) on the plate. Each of us at the table have different spices and stenciled shapes. I have cumin and paprika while Jeremy has cinnamon and cilantro. Along with the spices, there's a dot of chili sauce and a cloud of lime foam. It's a gorgeous dish and incredibly tasty paired with the Layer Cake chard.

The second course is chicken-fried quail with barbecued field peas and a pickled red onion-mango slaw. I've never had field peas and they remind me of black-eyed peas, both on the plate and in my mouth. The crispy chicken, tangy bbq beans and sweet crunchy slaw are a perfect combo. The 2009 Cherry Pie pinot noir that accompanies is full-bodied for a pinot, but doesn't overpower the food. I'm not a huge fan of pinot noirs but I'm enjoying this one quite a bit.

However, the next wine makes me forget the pinot immediately. The 2010 Layer Cake Primitivo is complex with hints of tobacco, meat and brown fruit. Our entree is a seared elk saddle with crispy wood ear mushrooms, large shards of Swiss chard, dollops of pureed parsnips and candied blueberries. The meat is cooked beautifully to medium rare and each of the components on the plate work well together—even the sugary blueberries.

The dessert plate is lovely with large crumbled chunks of carrot cake arranged around quenelles of cream cheese ice cream, piles of raisin powder and pieces of candied pineapple. It's wonderfully composed, but I gotta try a bite. The deconstructed carrot cake is fun to eat, especially daubing a bite into the raisin powder. It’s paired with a 2005 Hundred Acre Shiraz, rich with spice and chocolate notes. Such a wonderful end to an amazing meal.

The chefs come out to greet the group and talk about their inspiration for each dish. We promptly toast them all. I've been a huge fan of Dean Fearing and Tim Love for a few years and having our first lunch of this event feature them both is a fabulous treat!

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