Archive for February, 2010

Day 4 Tahoe Food and Wine Report

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Read below for day 4 of Mark and Kathie Johnson’s Lake Tahoe via Sonoma and Napa food and wine report:


It was another beautiful day so we drove around the lake with a stop at Truckee . We got back as the sun was setting and the sky was turning pink. Tonight’s dinner was at Café Fiore , a tiny little Italian restaurant, and one of our favorites. We started with our usual cheesy garlic bread oozing with butter. Sinfully good. Then after a simple salad and minestrone soup we received our entrees. Kathie got the spaghetti con salsiccia: thin spaghetti tossed with spicy Italian sausage, spinach, crushed red chilies, garlic, olive oil and lots and lots of pancetta. Delicious and a huge potion too. I ordered lamb chops (3 thick double cut) that were brushed with Dijon mustard, then coated with Italian bread crumbs, pan fried, then roasted to a rosy pink. Finally they drizzle an aromatic butter-garlic sauce on top. It was heavenly – crunchy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. But as great as the meal was it was topped by the wine: a 2004 Kosta Browne “Amber Ridge” Pinot Noir . This is the Holy Grail of Pinots, the kind of wine that you always search for but rarely find. It was simply amazing. A fabulous nose, bright cherry fruit, smooth yet complex…just nirvana. Kathie said it was possibly the best Pinot she had ever tasted. Alas, this was my very last bottle of the 2004 KB Amber Ridge, bottle # 1956 of 2546 bottles produced.

Day 3 Tahoe Food and Wine Report via Sonoma and Napa

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Courtesy of Mark Johnson who recently toured Sonoma, Napa and Lake Tahoe with his wife Kathie for a food and wine vacation.

Here’s Day 3 for your reading enjoyment :-)


We packed up early and hit the road to Tahoe, but of course we had to do a brief detour to Napa along the way. The Sonoma area fog gave way to a beautiful, blue sky morning in Napa Valley. We stopped first at the Mondavi’s new project called Folio . They were pouring several of their brands (Oberon, Spellbound, Medusa, Emblem) ranging in price form $20 -$70. They were just OK — at best. Not worth the stop. Next we went to Robert Biale Now we’re talking! We had 4 great Zins, a big Syrah and a fantastic extended barrel age Petite Sirah. They do it right. A short hop away we stopped at Darioush so we could nibble on their imported Persian pistachios while tasting. What a beautiful tasting room and an extremely profession tasting staff. We tried the 2007 Chardonnay (very good), the 2008 Viognier (tasty but too sweet for us), a 2006 Merlot (not bad), and the 2006 Cabernet (excellent). After a bit of schmoozing I got him to open the 2006 Cabernet Franc (very nice). So we bought some wine and pistachios to go. Great stuff, plus he waived the $25 tasting fee. We decided it was then time to finish on a high note and hit the long road to Tahoe.

Dinner tonight was at Kalani’s, a Pacific rim/Asian fusion restaurant. We have had some great meals here and some disappointing ones. Tonight fell flat. Other than a tasty appetizer of tempura crusted ahi bits with a teriyaki and eel sauce, all other items were uninspired, not even worth writing about. Thank God we brought a great wine, the 2006 Ramey “Ritchie” Chardonnay Big, viscous, buttery and like the Benovia, enough acid to keep it all in balance.

Check out day 4 tomorrow!

Day 2 Sonoma Food and Wine Report

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

This Sonoma Food & Wine Report is courtesy of my dear friend Mark Johnson, who took is lovely wife, Kathie Johnson on a food and wine vacation through Sonoma and Lake Tahoe.  Following is Mark’s review of the restaurants and wines they sampled on Day 2…


The next morning we went back to Carneros Bistro for breakfast. Great coffee! They are really into the Locavore thing so most of the meats and produce are sourced locally. The house-made pico de gallo was great as was the thick cut bacon. The local sausage though was very blah. Fortified, we headed off to our first wine tasting appointment at Sojourn, just off the square in Sonoma. It’s a nice set up, you sit down at a table in a small living room and they poured 4 different 2008 Pinots and 3 Cabernets. 3 of the pinots were excellent, but we liked only one of the Cabs. Still, much better odds than most wineries. Definitely visit if you get the chance.

Our next appointment was with Kamen, a very small producer of premium Cabernet and Syrah. This turned out to be a great tasting! At first he said we could open one wine and perhaps barrel taste one. However, after a bit of chatting while sipping their 2006 Cabernet ($75 and it will beat most Napa Cabs at twice the price) he also opened their very small production Syrah (80 cases, $70) and it was fantastic. We also tasted multiple barrel samples of future Cabs, Cab cuvees, and Syrah.

All other tastings were downhill from there:

Tin Barn boring

Anaba OK, but simple and basic

Schug watery and just bad

Charles Creek forgettable

Roessler surprisingly blah – and expensive

Eric James yuuuuk!

So we stopped tasting and did a bit of shopping. Just off the Square I came across this tiny food shop, maybe 200 square feet, called La Bodega It is an unusual little spot but the proprietor Rick Vargas is absolutely passionate about freshly foraged wild mushrooms and hand-made ravioli. We discussed for a while his different ravioli options, mail-order shipping, etc. As we were getting ready to leave he asked if we could stay a just moment and he would make us each a special ravioli. A few minutes later he presented us with a personally made wild mushroom (Black trumpet) ravioli drizzled with imported olive oil. It was sublime. I will definitely be contacting Rick in preparation for my next dinner party.

Finally we went back to our cozy cottage to relax, and I made Margaritas to “facilitate” the moment. Using blanco Tequila, fresh squeezed Meyer lemons (instead of lime juice), agave syrup, and a hint of Tuaca I made perhaps my best ever Margarita – perfecto!

We had reservations that night at Meritage Restaurant, in Sonoma, but over the cocktails we kept reminiscing about our great meal the night before, so we cancelled Meritage and booked a table back at Carneros Bistro — and once again we were not disappointed. First we opened a bottle of Ramey 2006 “Annum” Cabernet . This is their “best barrels” blend, and it is very good. Big, robust, and marvelous complexity. As for appetizers we succumbed to the siren call of the seductive crab dip again (YUM), and we tried something new: risotto fritters with a panko crust and truffle aioli. It was pretty good, but overall not that exciting.

Food service tonight from our friendly waitress was lightning speed compared to the previous evening and our entrees arrived quickly. Kathie had Sonoma duck confit & housemade duck sausage cassoulet. It was outstanding! Crispy skin duck, savory sausage, and tender beans all covered in a porcini and breadcrumb crust. I had the evenings special: a kobe/wagyu beef filet and a braised boneless short rib. The short rib was falling apart and had a red wine or port sauce (?), it was very good. The kobe was not as tender as I had expected, but it was quite flavorful, especially when dipped in the savory dark amber French onion “soup” mousse that came with the dish. We returned to our cottage quite sated.

Day 1 Sonoma Food & Wine Report

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Our dear friends, Mark and Kathie Johnson, of Commander Printed Products visited Sonoma and Tahoe recently and provided a detailed food and wine report which I broke out into daily reports – sort of a blow-by-blow/progressive food and wine report so be sure and check back daily for each days news:


We arrived at the Lodge at Sonoma about 5pm Friday night. It was raining heavily (cats, rats and dogs). Thankfully just as it was time to walk to our cottage, the rain stopped. We celebrated by making a cocktail in-room, a Blushing Geisha: Tanqueray gin, pineapple juice, Cointreau, grenadine, and fresh squeezed lime juice. It really hit the spot.

Later I went to the lobby as they we having a wine tasting social hour. The wine was forgettable but they were serving some very tasty shredded braised short ribs on wonton chips. I asked the woman behind the counter how they were made. She described the hours of work marinating overnight in soy, hoisen, crushed peppers, jalapeños, etc, then browning, braising for hours and shredding. Too much work for me but they sure were tasty. It turns out she was Janine Falvo, the head chef at The Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar adjacent to the hotel. Luckily we already had reservations at this restaurant as it has received positive buzz over the years, and if these Asian rib wontons were any indication things were looking good for the night.

We arrived about 8 pm and opened two bottles of wine: the 2007 Benovia “La Pommeraie” Chardonnay and the 2007 Black Kite “River Turn” Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. Next we ordered our appetizers: Dungeness crab dip with warm flatbread and dayboat scallops with spicy orange aioli. Then we waited… and waited. The kitchen was moving at a glacial pace, but it was OK as we were really enjoying the Chardonnay. It is a perfectly balanced Chard — big, rich and smooth yet it had just the right amount of acid to keep it all in check. Nice integrated oak and a crisp finish too. Finally our appetizers arrived. Wow, they were definitely worth the wait! The crab dip menu description does not begin to convey how sinfully delicious this dish is. They take chunky sweet crab, then add caramelized onions, cream cheese, jack cheese, poblano peppers, bacon and other herbs and turn it into this decadent and very rich dip. (I later got the complete dip recipe from Janine. I may be willing to share it with a select few – in consideration of a little baksheesh sent my way). Even the flatbread was great. They were dusted with black pepper, sautéed onions, red chili flakes, parmesan cheese and a hint of garlic. My scallop appetizer was also very nice featuring 3 large, perfectly seared scallops perched upon tempura fried potato rounds, accompanied by the spicy aioli.

We corked our remaining Chardonnay and moved on to our Black Kite Pinot while we waited (tick tock) for our entrees to arrive. However, once again we were in no big hurry and were simply enjoying the Pinot which featured a fantastic spice box nose. The wine was pretty big and full bodied and worked quite well with our entrees.

Ahh, finally the entrées arrive and we were not disappointed. Kathie had the pan seared sea bass with lobster hash and a truffled hollandaise. It was excellent, crispy and golden on the outside, tender and almost sweet inside. The hash featured tasty lobster bits, home fries, poblano chilies, onion, and red bell pepper. (this dish was featured by the Wine Spectator in 2008). I had the thick cut pork chop with some kind of cider (?) sauce and sides of fluffy ravioli like potato pierogies, and crispy Brussels sprouts. Let me stop right here and say that Brussels sprouts are not my favorite veggie. Only once before have I actually enjoyed them (thank you Steve Grossman), but these sprouts were amazing. They slice up the sprouts, lightly batter them and then fry ‘em up. And to top it off they drizzle them with a bacon vinaigrette. Marvelous! Anyway the pork chop was perfect, and the “ravioli” were very tasty too, especially when trailed through the juicy meat sauce. We were very, very content. And to top it all off, our pleasant waitress comped us on the two corkage fees, I presume due to the slow kitchen that night. We will return soon… which in fact we did.

Day 2 will be posted 2/18/10

My Memories of Mammoth

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Rob, Jerry, Donna and myself took a week off from work and headed out the 395 towards Mammoth Lakes for some fun in the snow. We left on Saturday the 6th at the beginning of a big storm front – it rained about half the time we were driving and snowed lightly once above Bishop. Roads were clear of hazards (including other cars), so it was a quick trip. We checked into our little condo around 4:00ish, settled in and then hit the Vons for a weeks worth of groceries.

Our in-home menu for the week consisted of chicken tortilla soup, chicken parmasan over linguini pasta, Mexican sopas and spicy sausage stuffed portabella mushrooms.  All were delicious.

Our meals out were not as exciting…

First outing was to Burgers Burgers located across from Mammoth Village on Minaret. I’ve come here every time I’ve visited Mammoth in the past as they make good, large burgers perfect following a day on the slopes. This visit was hohum for the most part. Rob and I split the buffalo burger which was overdone and dry –  it was only saved by the grilled onions and mushrooms piled on which were quite tasty. French fries are okay, not the best – but overall, prices at Burgers is reasonable and they’re filling. They also have milk shakes (Rob had vanilla which tasted good, but was runny), and Mammoth Lakes beer on tap…which I thought was all blah except for the nut brown ale

Our 2nd outing was up the ski lift at June Lake – WOW, this is a steep climb up to the top and take about 15 minutes. Luckily it was an incredibly clear day, not a cloud in the sky. Once at the top you could see for miles, absolutely incredible. Their food at the mountain top lodge was quite good too. I had a grilled chicken sandwich with swiss cheese which came on a soft ciabatta-type roll and crispy fries. The soup special was a corn and sausage chowder and was delicious.  Not being a fan of heights, I thought the ride down the ski lift would be difficult, but it was actually easier then the climb up – could have been due to the spicy bloody mary’s I consumed during lunch, which were also very good.

Wines we enjoyed during our stay included Herman Story Grenache, Roessler Pinot Noir, Terry Hoage ‘The Hedge’ Syrah, Venge Champ de Fleurs white blend, Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon, Chronic Cellars Sofa King Bueno, Villa Creek Willow Creek Cuvee and Barrel 27 Rhight Hand Man, Dubost Homestead Red and a lovely 20 year Tawny Port from Ferreira.

All wines were great, especially after a day playing in the snow.

Judgement of Camarillo

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

This idea was borrowed from the actual Judgement of Paris of May 24, 1976 when California wines kicked French wines in EVERY category – blew them all away…

No doubt we’ll be having some fun this Thursday night in our first ever all blind tasting – the wines that is, not the tasters :-) We’re hosting a Bottle Shock party appropriately named “Judgement of Camarillo”, and will be pouring 6 wines; 3 French, 3 Domestic. Score cards will be provided to help you select your favorites.

There’s no wrong answers here, just good wine from different parts of the world in a knock-down, drag-out competition…all in fun of course.

Tasting is $15 per person and includes 6 wines and appetizers – this Thursday, 2/4 between 6-9pm.