Tuesday, October 2, 2012

La Crème de la Crème

A Fantastic Feast at La Crème in Pacific Grove
Photos and Story by Camilla M. Mann

Posted on the Edible Monterey Bay blog today, October 2, 2012

Though I attended a concierge luncheon awhile back, chatted with Chef Jon Moser about his cooking philosophies, met Tamie Aceves, the owner of La Crème, and wrote a preview about their event for Edible Monterey Bay, nothing prepared me for the heights to which La Crème soar for this pop-up dinner. Calling it la Crème de la Crème is not an exaggeration. Last week’s feast at La Crème was beyond spectacular.

As we stepped over the threshold, Anthony Pessagno, of Pessagno Winery, welcomed guests with flutes of sparkling wine while servers circulated with tantalizing bite-sized morsels. I didn't catch the name of what they were calling this, but it was flaky dough smeared with buttery, soft cheese topped with bacon and fresh herbs. So many textures and big flavors in such a small bite!

After mingling for a bit, we settled down at lavishly laid tables and kicked off the feast with a pear and arugula salad. Warm goat cheese blanketed in bread crumbs sat atop poached pears and greens dressed with a Pedro Ximénez vinaigrette. Pedro Ximénez is a white grape varietal from the Canary Islands that is often used in Spanish sherry vinegars. A generous sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts launched this salad to out-of-this world status. This was paired with Pessagno's 2010 La Estancia Riesling from the Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s a German dry-styled Riesling and while I typically gravitate towards hearty red wines, the refreshing tartness along with notes of apricots and honey made this the perfect accompaniment to this first course.

When we had first gotten a glimpse of the menu, last week or so, we schemed about which entrées we were going to order, making sure that - between the three couples - we all would be able to taste each offering. There was no need for all those logic games - if Cam gets the duck and Jenn gets the white bass, then... - each diner received all three entrees. Oh my goodness! There was so much food. And it was all amazing.

The first entree served would have been Jake's pick: seared California white bass paired with Pessagno's 2010 La Estancia Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands. And on the plate as well - winter squash puree, young carrots, micro-greens confetti, and bacon jam. That is not a misprint. Bacon jam. Think salty + sweet. I wouldn't have a clue where to start if I were to try to replicate it. And a note on the wine: the hint of caramel and strong butter were delicious flavor-foils to the mild fish and smoky bacon jam. Wow.

Next up would have been my pick, just from the menu description: grilled duck and fig sausage paired with Pessagno's 2009 La Estancia Pinot Noir also from the Santa Lucia Highlands. This dynamite dish was a corn-lover's delight with a pool of creamy polenta, crisped polenta sticks, and sweet, fresh corn kernels. Pessagno’s Pinot Noir is bright and lively and its strawberry aroma paired well with the sweet flavor of the sausage.

The star of the evening, in my opinion, was the braised lamb shank that Chef Jon served with shelling beans, an olive relish, and a gremolata. Gremolata, a combination of chopped herbs and lemon peel, is the traditional companion to ossobucco, braised veal shanks. The salty, herby flavors of this dish were perfectly complemented with Pessagno's 2009 Idyll Times Vineyard Zinfandel made from San Benito County grapes. We’re talking big, opulent flavors for both the lamb and the zin. It was too bad we were all so full; none of us could give it a proper devouring. But, thankfully, Tamie wrapped up what we couldn't manage to eat and we all enjoyed our leftovers the following day!

We finished the evening with a fig and raspberry crostata, toasted almond crunch, and a scoop of elderflower ice cream matched with Pessagno's Late Harvest Orange Muscat. Fruity, sweet, warm, cold, soft, and crisp. This dessert had a little something for everyone.

And - lest you think this adventure was all about the food and wine - the dinner was a smash because of the people with whom we shared it. I love being surrounded by people who feel the same way about food as I do. It’s more fun that way. So, eat what’s fresh, eat what’s local, and eat what’s sustainable…as much as possible, anyway. And, hopefully, I’ll have a chance to raise a glass or two with you at the next Edible Monterey Bay event!

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