@PBFW: Best New Chefs Alumni

(Pebble Beach, CA) — After too much sun, staring out at the beautiful surf, we somehow manage to pull ourselves together for the Saturday evening Pebble Beach Food & Wine event, entitled “Best New Chefs” Alumni Dinner. We squeeze between strangers in competition for free drinks and another cavalcade of high-end appetizers making the rounds outside the ballroom...

He Fed:

I’m sunburned. Not a good look, and pretty uncomfortable. Still, I manage to suck it up, put on some nice clothes, and join my gorgeous wife at the table pouring LaMarca Prosecco. The sparkling wine is nice, though I’m starting to hit my threshold for wine this weekend.

Hors d’oeuvres consist of Crispy Turnip with spring vegetables and green goddess dressing; a creamy delicious Spicy Sesame Tuna Cone with daikon and pickled ginger; Unagi Causa with avocado mousse, mashed potatoes, Japanese cucumber, eel sauce and green onions; Plantain Chips and Hamachi Crudo never materialize, but we hear rumors.

So far, I’ve been lucky. Nothing has jumped out at me as inedible...until now. Uni Scallops Tiradito with ponzu uni dressing, shallots, jalapeno and salsa comes courtesy Ricardo Zarate. I find the texture of the uni offputting. It makes me gag slightly, and I have difficulty in swallowing the first bite. Thankfully, my glass of William Hill Chardonnay, “Bench Blend” (Napa, 2009) helps to ease it down. I put on my big boy pants and finish the rest of the uni in three bites, each followed by a slug of wine. When my plate is cleared, I vow to avoid uni in future.

Roy Choi serves up the next dish, an homage to street food with Slow Roasted Chicken matched with pickled mango, lettuce wedges and chili vinegar sauce. It is spicy and fresh, with some of those unavoidable cartilege bits in the meat. Pairing the Gallo Signature Series, Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands, 2009) is a little questionable since the heat outmatches any nuances in the wine but it’s a pretty good course.

Next, we are given a tiny Roasted Wolfe Ranch Quail stuffed with brioche, sweetbreads, black trumpet mushrooms, wild ramps and natural jus from Lee Hefter. Wow wow wow. It tastes of sweet caramelized skin and like the best Thanksgiving stuffing you’ve ever had. Incredible. I gnaw the little bones until my lips are greasy, then rinse it all away with Gallo Signature Series, Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa, 2008). This more than makes up for the uni!

Nancy Oakes preps our final main course, consisting of Waygu Zabuton with farro nettles, pine nuts, king trumpets, hon shemejiis, pine cone bud glaze and beef jus. As far as waygu goes, this is very lean and wonderfully, bloody medium rare. The accoutrements give it a woodsy flavor which goes quite well with the Louis M. Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon, “Monte Rosso” (Sonoma, 2008).

Dessert is a 24 Layer Crepe Cake with strawberries & cream from Mark Sullivan. It is finely composed on the plate, but I’m just not appreciating the taste profile, which seems everyday. The Louis M. Martini, Moscato, “Amabile” is also just another dessert wine, heavy in alcohol and body, sweet and cloying. More than likely, my taste buds are just giving out. It has been a long weekend of too much good food and wine.
She Fed:

LaMarca Prosecco is liberally served as we wait for the ballroom to open. The bubbles are so persistent it’s a bit of a nose tickler. We amuse ourselves with passed nibbles. There’s a turnip chip with spring veggies and a drizzle of green goddess dressing. It’s crunchy, garlicky and salty. Next up is a tiny cone of spicy tuna, daikon and pickled ginger — tastes like a sushi roll. I pass on unagi with avocado mousse, Japanese cucumber, mashed potatoes, and eel sauce. We learn there are spicy plaintain chips, as well as hamachi crudo, but just like last night, they never make it to our side of the room.

We find our table and meet our tablemates. Our first course is a Peruvian ceviche of scallops, uni, and a salsa with shallots and jalapeno. I enjoy the flavor of uni but the texture is a stumbling block for me, which is escalated in combination with raw scallops. The mouthfeel is unnerving. The uni ponzo dressing and the spicy salsa help, as does the 2009 William Hill Chardonnay with its ripe fruit, brown spice and buttery flavors.

What turns out to be my favorite dish is presented next: chicken with lettuce wedges, pickled mango, and chili vinegar sauce. I’ve long admired Chef Roy Choi and am rapt as he explains he wanted to serve something representative of Jamaican street food. He’s apologetic about not serving it on tin plates, as they would in Jamaica, and it’s quite endearing. The chicken and sauce are downright addictive with the crisp lettuce and tangy mango. I would gladly skip the rest of the meal for just one more plate (tin or not) of this chicken. They’ve paired it with the 2009 Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir, boasting hints of fresh ground pepper and cola.

We move onto a roasted quail stuffed with brioche, sweetbreads, mushrooms, and wild ramps. It’s reminiscent of Thanksgiving dinner...if your family was full of gourmands. The bird is succulent and the stuffing is absolutely delicious. It’s paired with a 2008 Gallo Signature Series Cabernet that smells a bit like green pepper, which I find off-putting.

The next pour is a velvety lush 2008 Louis A. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso. It’s paired perfectly with a slab of Waygu beef, nettles, pine nuts, pine cone bud glaze, and one bulbous mushroom. The meat is decadent, the nettles and pine cone glaze lend herbal notes, while the mushrooms adds another meaty layer. It’s tasty but I’m still dreaming of Chef Choi’s chicken.

Dessert is a 24 layer strawberry cream cake, plated beautifully but with virtually no flavor. An overly sweet Louis M. Martini Moscato is poured. Neither the cake or the wine is working for me. I abandon both to go back to the cab from the previous dish.

While these dinners allow us to try new ingredients and preparations by lauded chefs, I think it’s very cool the dish I liked best was from the chef best known for street truck fare.

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