@PBFW: Stars of L.A.

(Pebble Beach, CA) — Our good friend Cookie returns to fill in for HeFed, relating her experience joining SheFed on the West Coast for Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2014. After a shaky start at the Masters of the Sea event, the gals get gussied up for an evening meal prepared by the likes of Rory Hermann, Timothy Hollingsworth, Walter Manzke, Ori Menashe, Jon Shook and Michael Voltaggio...

She Fed:

I hope the afterlife looks like the patio at Spanish Bay. There is something magical about sipping a glass of scotch next to a fire while an elderly man in a kilt plays the bagpipes atop a hill overlooking the ocean. Toss in some photo ops with celebrity chefs and a couple gals can easily lose track of time and be late for dinner.

This is my excuse for missing the hors d’oeuvres and I’m sticking to it. As we take our seats and obtain our first glance at the menu I know we missed out on some wonderful bites: house made charcuterie; oysters; beef tartare; pancakes with steelhead roe; and beef tendon. I take solace in our first wine of the evening, Chateau d’Esclans, Cotes de Provence Rose en Magnum, 2012. It is a lovely rose full of fruit and minerals with a clean finish.

Our first course arrives shortly after the wine: black Russian river osetra caviar over sunchoke panna cotta, with celery branch gelee, pickled apples, young onions, and petit red watercress. The texture is a bit strange, but I love the bright pop of freshness with the salty snap of caviar. The panna cotta is hiding a yellow layer that is faintly citrus, though I can’t be certain. Between sips of the perfectly paired rose I do my best to scoop a bit of each layer with the tiny mother-of-pearl spoon until my bowl is practically licked clean.

Up next is the third hamachi offering of the day. This variation is served with a light vinaigrette, diced apples, shaved radishes, and micro greens alongside a buttery 2012 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Chardonnay. I have initial concerns about the radish and vinegar dominating the flavors, but the fish is so incredibly fresh and stands up well against the other elements of the dish. The sommelier arrives with generous pours of Domaine de la Cote Pinot Noir. I love this fruit-forward red but my excitement for the wine is soon trumped by my excitement over the next dish...carrot and ricotta quadretti with rabbit ragu.

This is the best pasta I have ever eaten and it’s cheeky and fun to boot. The quadretti is rolled thick with the perfect amount of toothy chew. The ragu tastes like something you would expect someone’s sweet old Grammy to have cooked all day in a countryside home. That is, if you know any grandmas with the skills of Ori Menashe. The tender rabbit is richly flavorful, combining perfectly with the green lentils, and the carrot tops add just enough parsley-like freshness to the dish. A light sprinkling of salty cheese tops this hearty offering and I can’t think of anything I would add or take away from the plate. I would like more, perhaps on the patio, with a bottle of that awesome pinot...

I’m doubtful anything can stand up to that last course, but the Roasted Sonoma Duck paired with Clos Dubreuil Saint Emilion 2004 Bordeaux holds its own. This duck more than makes up for the lunchtime duck disappointment. We are presented with two pieces—one slice of rare breast with perfectly crispy skin over greens, and a slice of ground duck with porcini mushroom stuffed in flaky pastry. This dish could have easily weighed me down with the earthiness of fowl, mushrooms, greens, and Bordeaux, but they balance well and leave me entirely content to move on to the dessert course.

Out comes the sommelier with Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisrebe, then the servers with corn flake flan. The flan is potted with a layer of fermented blueberries, coconut granola, and frozen yogurt. Plainly put, it is delicious and goes well with the wine. Most notably this dish explored a variety of textures: cold, crunchy, soft, squishy. Mine ends up mostly mixed, to grab a bit of each element with every bit. With dessert finished, I lean back and savor the honey and apricot flavors of my last few sips of ice wine. What a day!

She Fed:

We arrive to dinner to find the 2002 Roederer Estate L'Ermitage flowing freely. I have vowed to not overindulge tonight as I have two full days of work ahead this weekend. Not to destroy the image that all we do at these food and wine events is sip champagne and eat bonbons in between spa appointments, but in reality there’s a fair amount of work to be done. Hmmm...considering that I’m working all weekend maybe I’m due for some sparkling wine! I take a healthy sip, nice and yeasty with tiny assertive bubbles. I’m reminded of apple pie, not in a sweet pastry way, but more with undertones of fall apples and baked pie crust.

Our large group is spread out over two tables and we are quickly served up the first course of Black Russian River Osetra Caviar with Sunchoke Panna Cotta, Celery Gelee, Pickled Apples, Young Onions and Red Watercress. I’ll admit the texture of panna cotta can sometimes give me the squirms if it’s too rubbery and this one takes a few seconds to get used to. But the caviar is amazing and the contrast of bright verdant flavors, pickled apples and mellow panna cotta is lovely with the roe. It’s paired with 2012 Chateau d'Esclans Rose, in a magnum no less which just adds to the “ooh la la” vibe. Stars of LA indeed!

Next is a generous pile of Hamachi with Galbi Vinaigrette and Pink Lady Apple with a hefty pour of 2012 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay. The galbi gives the hamachi a sweet and spicy flavor, much like Korean barbeque. The cubes of apple are sweet while the thinly sliced radishes and pea shoots give some crunch and a peppery bite. I would never be able to pair a wine with this dish on my own, but the chard is citrusy and slightly floral with enough body to stand up to these substantial flavors. I forget how great chardonnay can be when it hasn’t been overly oaked.

Carrot & Ricotta Quadretti is presented next, little squares of carrot pasta with rabbit ragu, carrot puree and rosemary. The pairing of rabbit and carrots seems almost too clever until I take a bite. The pasta is slightly chewy and luxuriant with egg yolks while the ragu is rich and meaty. This is highbrow comfort food and it warms me to the bones. I want this dish in the fall, in front of a fire with my husband. Along with a bottle of the wine, a 2011 Domaine de La Cote Pinot Noir which compliments the meaty pasta perfectly. Everyone at our table is raving about this dish, as are the surrounding tables, and I think we all would have cheered if someone asked for seconds.

Our final savory course is Roast Sonoma Duck with Porcini Mushroom. After the mealy duck at today’s luncheon, I’m a little skittish, but this offering is much better, tender and juicy. The porcinis are actually a duxelle wrapped in buttery puff pastry and combined with the duck it’s just impossible to stop eating, despite our protests of being too full. The 2004 Clos Dubreuil Saint-Emilion is deeply plush, one of those big velvety reds I so adore. Once again, I find a kind word to the sommelier will get a girl a generous refill.

A Corn Flake Flan is served in a repurposed jar, topped with coconut granola, fermented blueberries and frozen yogurt snow. The playfulness of eating dessert out of a jar at Pebble Beach Food & Wine provides a bit of levity. The flan tastes like the milk left in the cereal bowl of my childhood. I take one taste of the Joseph Phelps Eisrebe, and while I enjoy the sweet pineapple and pear notes, it’s just too much for me and skip the rest.

Our bellies are full and we are spent, though a few folks opt for more drinks and dancing at the After Party. Me? It’s time to toddle to bed and prepare for a full Saturday of work. I’ll be dreaming of the Carrot & Ricotta Quadretti.

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