…And Dinner Becomes an Experience
The dinner is a dinner is a dinner. Sometimes we eat just to satisfy the basic bodily crave for energy. We put something in the mouth, doesn’t really matter what, hopefully chew on it (or not) before gulping it down, and we are done. Then there are family dinners, let’s say spaghetti and meatballs – everything is home made and tasty, but the school day, upcoming play and huge homework project due tomorrow take over the whole experience. And then there are dinners where the food is perfect, the wine pairing is spot on and the good company of friends is amazing – those dinners become the experience.
We have a tradition with our friends – an adults getaway during late summer or early fall. Find B&B to stay within 2-3 hours of driving distance, visit nature trails, little towns and museums, visit wineries, have a good dinner, have fun and most importantly, enjoy the company of each other. Simple, isn’t it? This year would be the our fourth time doing this, and most of our trips had been described in this blog to the various degree. In 2010, we had a great time in Milford, Pennsylvania, and our dinner was definitely an experience. For that dinner, we were allowed to bring our own wines, so we managed to create the special experience (you can read about it here). The next year we went to the Grafton, Vermont – of course we had a great time, but when in Vermont, the cheese is much bigger deal than wine, so it didn’t really make it into this blog, and dinner didn’t make it into the “experience” level. Last year we stayed in the little town in the area of Woodstock, NY (the town was called Palenville), and the highlight of the trip was the visit to the Hudson Distillery (nope, dinner didn’t make it again). This year, we happened to stay in my home state, Connecticut, in the town of Norfolk. We had a great time visiting Connecticut wineries and visiting places in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts (yep, you can move through all three states within 20 minutes of driving), but the highlight was … yes, you got it – the dinner.
Norfolk, a little town in northern Connecticut, is not exactly a Michelin-starred restaurant oasis. However, does the food needs to be acknowledged with the Micheline star to be good? Not really. It only takes a little bit of love and a little bit of soul. And when we take the soulful food, we can elevate it to the next level with … wine, of course (you didn’t expect me to say coke, didn’t you). And this is how you create an experience – one dish, one wine.
Once we had our plans for Norfolk set (meaning – we reserved our B&B), we reached out to the few restaurants in the area. We said that we are coming in a large group, and we asked for the special tasting menu, which we can pair with wine (preferably brought by us). Chef Heidi Dinsmore of the Wood Creek Bar and Grill offered a tasting menu – and graciously allowed us to bring our own wines without even charging a corking fee. The rest is history – one of the best dinner experiences ever, which you can see (sorry, only see) below.
Crostini with Roasted Pear Gorgonzola and a Balsamic Drizzle
Wine: 2009 Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa
There was a nice combination of flavors in crostini, but we could probably use more pear and less cheese, and the toast itself could probably be a bit less garlic-y. The South African sparkler was very classic, with nice toasted nose, touch of yeast and fine mousse. As for the pairing, I would call it “unoffensive” – both the crostini and wine stayed in its own universe, and they didn’t collide nor complement each other.
Micro greens with Strawberries and a Lemon Vinaigrette
Wine: 2013 La Ferme Saint Pierre Cuvée Juliette Rosé Côtes du Ventoux, France
Salad was nice and fresh (what else do you want from the green salad, right?), and the wine had a nice strawberry profile. The pairing was excellent, the wine really complemented and enhanced the dish, despite the “simple salad” nature of it.
Shrimp with a Champagne Beurre Blanc
Wine: 2011 Bodegas La Cana Albariño Rias Baixas, Spain
Shrimp was cooked perfectly, and Beurre Blanc sauce was outstanding. La Cana Albariño is one of my favorite wines, and this bottle was no exception – bright fruit profile on the nose, but restrained and delicious on the palate. And the pairing? Spectacular, simply spot on. Wine’s acidity was a great complement to the sauce, so the dish was greatly enhanced.
Poached Halibut over Spinach, Saffron Heirloom Tomato Sauce
Wine: 2012 Buil & Giné Joan Giné Blanc, Priorat DOQ, Spain
Halibut, which is one of my favorite types of fish, was done “just right”, and together with spinach and the sauce was creating just one spectacular flavor pop. And then the wine… This wine deserves a whole blog post dedicated just to that wine by itself. White Priorat, a blend of 40% White Grenache, 36% Macabeo, 20% Viognier and 4% Pedro Ximenez had stunning complexity – orange peel, white stone fruit, minerality – really an excellent wine, rivaling best Chardonnays. And together with the dish? Another spectacular, spot on pairing, complementing and greatly enhancing flavor.
Beef Tenderloin over Mashed Celery Root, Bordelaise, Tiny mini Potato au Gratin
Wine: 2010 Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rouge Les Restanques de Pibarnon, Bandol, France
Beef was perfectly cooked, and together with the celery root and Bordelaise sauce, every bite was literally divine. The Bandol wine, which is 90% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache, had a warm spice flavor profile, so together with the steak the pairing was just outright delicious.
Guinness Marinated Pork, Cherry Au Jus, Arugula, Crispy Polenta
Wine: 2011 Bodegas Caro ‘Amancaya’ Gran Reserva Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina
The pork was melting in the mouth and the combination with cherries was excellent. The wine, made from two of the Argentina star grapes – Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, had an open nose with spicy, cherry-loaded palate. As you can imagine, cherries in the sauce and in the wine played together wonderfully, creating – yep, again – a super-successful pairing.
Fresh-made Sorbetto – delicious, clean, refreshing. Perfectly restored the palate before the dessert course.
Chocolate Tart with Fresh Fruit
Wine: 2000 Philip Togni Vineyard Ca’ Togni Sweet Red, Napa Valley
You can’t go wrong with the chocolate, and this dessert was a great proof of that – every bite was a decadent pleasure. And the wine… What can I tell you? It was definitely a mature wine, fragrant, with some sweet cherry notes and balancing acidity. Based on the information on producer’s web site, this wine was inspired by the famous South African dessert wine Klein Constantia, and it is produced from the grape called Black Hamburg (known as Black Muscat), which is quite rare in Napa Valley – and it is also a new grape for me (!). The wine perfectly complemented and literally added a new dimension to the chocolate tart, so our final pairing was again “just perfect”.
As we were settling into the dessert, Chef Heidi Dinsmore, the creator of the delicious experience, came to talk to us, so we had an opportunity to thank her and to tell her how much we enjoyed our evening, and how delicious the food was. If you are ever in the area of Norfolk, Connecticut, Wood Creek Bar and Grill should be on your list. Ahh, and I also have to say a very big thank you to our waitress Jessica, who did an amazing job managing our wine program, opening the bottles, changing the glasses and of course serving food – she was absolutely fantastic.
There you have it, my friends – the food, the wine and the company – a simple recipe for an unforgettable experience. Cheers!
Wood Creek Bar and Grill
3 Station Place
Norfolk, CT 06058