Tags Posts tagged with "food"



Pie Club

Pie Club International first official meeting

During our travels through New Zealand in January our group of international wine professionals fell in love with New Zealand pie. We’re all about dessert pies in the United States and there are occasionally savory pies too but in New Zealand savory pies are a full blown, foundational, culturally defining matter of national identity. It’s serious.

The importance of Kiwi pie runs so deep I think New Zealanders almost take it for granted. Australians love their pie too but in New Zealand pie’s crucial. I’ve never had more fun passionately discussing the metaphysical conditions necessary to a thing than I have talking pie with a Kiwi. Every New Zealand citizen seems to have strong views of what pies are the best pies, what fillings are most essential, and how best it should be served. The fascination proves both heartfelt and charming. It led to our forming an informal international pie club.

On January 23, during dinner on the shores of Lake Wanaka, my friend David Keck instigated a conversation about the defining features of quality pie with a proper Kiwi. Two days later in North Canterbury we talked our bus driver into making a stop at his favorite pie shop in Christchurch. We dragged along our wine companions from Sweden, the UK, Australia, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Germany and around the United States and Pie Club was born – first official meeting shown above. We spent the rest of our time in country hunting out pie from coffee shops, airport bakeries, and the occasional gas station.

This last month in Central Otago, International Pie Club reconvened with admittedly far fewer members present but I take my responsibilities as one of the founding members seriously. With that in mind, here are notes from tastings throughout the best spots in Central Otago and a few further afield below. Following those there are also notes from multiple conversations throughout the month with pie loving Kiwis about the necessary and sufficient conditions for pie.

Notes from Pie Club

Arrowtown Bakery, Arrowtown
1 Buckingham St, Arrowtown

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese, Steak & Mushrooms
Served: Brown Bag, Eaten Outside
Tasting Notes:
Mince & Cheese tasted first. Preferred. Consistency and cooking of pastry really strong. Nice flavor. Long finish. Nice distribution of cheese through the filling and nice consistency of cheese, only just enough to accentuate the flavor of the mince.
Steak & Mushroom tasted second. Pastry a bit too thick on top and a bit dry. Mushrooms geographically challenged, poorly distributed. Steak a bit dry and not enough gravy. Acceptable but not exciting.

Jimmy’s Pie, Queenstown
302 Hawthorne St, Queenstown (available from multiple locations)

Pies Tasted: Mince
Served: Queenstown’s Pak & Save Cold Pie, Heated with a side of tomato sauce on a plate with fork & knife
Tasting Notes:
Solid pie. Kiwi classic. Tomato sauce appropriate though unnecessary. Good consistency and proportion of filling to pastry. Life saver but not a life changer.

The Albie Cafe, Albert Town
20 Alison Ave, Albert Town

Pies Tasted: Lamb, Rosemary & Thyme, Lamb Shank
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Lamb, Rosemary & Thyme eaten first. Good action. Subtle. Nice use of herbs – accent the meat without overpowering the filling. Great pastry to filling balance. Good pastry density and consistency. High quality pie.
Lamb shank tasted second. Good quality pie. An elevated pie experience without being pretentious. This is a chef that respects her pie. Greater loft and a smaller footprint for the same volume. Sprinkled with poppy seeds for pleasing nutty accent. Light tomato element gives a delicate top note to the filling. Excellent design and flourish.

Secret Local-Favorite Pie Spot, Wanaka
Address Protected by Pie Illuminati, Address available upon successful application to Pie Club

Pies Tasted: Half size Lamb Shank, Full size Mince Pie
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Lamb Shank eaten first. Hearty, classic style. A working man’s pie. Ultra savory. Distinctive flavor. Hearty crust. Rustic. Satisfying. Half-size appropriate as the flavor is powerful enough as to turn a full-size into a hell of a lot of pie.
Mince pie eaten second. Shows great respect for the mince pie category. Has taken a classic and treated it seriously. Good integration of onions and a nice use of stock for flavor and moisture. Good flavor. Hearty. No one’s going to throw out that pie.

Visit to Jimmy’s Pie Headquarters, Roxburgh
143 Scotland St, Roxburgh

Not open on weekends. Still worth the pilgrimage. Jimmy’s pie purchased and enjoyed a few doors down at Teviot Tearoom.

Teviot Tearoom, Roxburgh
101 Scotland St, Roxburgh

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: White Bag Take Away, Cold Pie
Tasting Notes: Solid pie. Cheese adds additional subtlety and complexity to the Mince pie without being above itself or over the top. Category defining pie. Kiwi classic. Subtle use of cheese, well integrated. Totally works cold.

Welcome Swallow, Palmerston
113 Ronaldsway, Palmerston

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Unique presentation. Square shaped pie rather than round. Utterly flakey, butter crust – delicious and in good proportion to the filling though so flakey it must be eaten with care to avoid mess. Delicious, savory and serious filling though avoids being uppity. Just damn good pie. Worth the stop.

Grain & Seed Cafe, Cromwell
Old Cromwell Town Melmore Terrace

Pies Tasted: Mince with Kumera top, Chicken & Cranberry
Served on a plate with a side salad, knife and fork.
Tasting Notes:
Chicken & Cranberry tasted first. Always taste the chicken pie first as it is harder to find good chicken pie. Chicken & cranberry pie turns out to be covered in fluffed egg, not crust. Egg top not visibly obvious due to carmelization from cooking. Egg fluff top clearly not pie but quiche. Not cool.
Mince with kumera top tasted second. Good pie. Savory. Quite flavorful and satisfying mince filling. Kumera top creative variation on traditional potato top. Smart use of kumera variation as the light bit of sweetness accentuates the flavors of the mince. Good bottom crust too. Good contrast after the horror of the egg top in previous pie, which shows a fundamental defining feature of pie – must be topped with carbohydrates/starch, that is crust or a root vegetable top.

The Doughbin 24-hr Walk-up Window, Wanaka
129 Ardmore St, Wanaka

note walkup window discretely placed on the side of the building
(insider secret)

Pies Tasted: Mince Pie
Served: Brown Bag Take Away at 3AM
Tasting Notes:
Well delivered middle of the night option. 24-hr walk up window stroke of genius. Wise move after drinking all the Pinot Noir. Well made pie.

Jimmy’s Pie Mobile Unit, on the move throughout Central Otago

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: White Bag Cold Pie Heated in the middle of a Rugby Tournament
Tasting Notes:
Testament to the consistency of Jimmy’s Pies. Good from the grocery. Good from the mobile pie truck.

The Metaphysical Conditions of Pie

Bottom crust necessary.

Top crust must be starch based, that is, made of carbohydrates. This is generally either a flour based crust like seen on the bottom, or a potato top. Other root vegetables can be made into a variation of the potato top when treated reasonably (see Kumara top variation at the Grain & Seed mentioned above as example).

Egg fluffed top clearly is not pie but quiche. Do not try to pass off quiche as pie. You will lose friends. Not cool.

Egg cut up and served inside a two crust pie with meat still counts as pie. In such a case the egg serves as a sort of filling rather than a structural component, which is the defining difference here. Even so, this is only desirable in rare cases when the ingredients of the cupboard are dim and one is forced to make it work.

Chicken pie should be approached with caution. Chicken barely counts as meat and so should only be used in pie in rare cases (see previous case of bare cupboards and making it work). Essentially, chicken and eggs serve similar roles in pie – only when necessary. This makes sense as chicken and eggs come from the same source and so have related roles. Which came first will not be considered here. Chicken pie should always be approached with caution not entirely because of issues with the meat itself. Much like Pinot Gris, chicken can be delicious but is often mistreated by people who wish to turn it into inappropriate variants like Chicken & Cranberry, Chicken & Brie, or Chicken Curry. These people usually do not have real jobs and instead fancy themselves writers or artists.

While meat pie such as steak, mince, or lamb are most traditional regional variants are traditional to specific areas. Fish pie, for example, has a long standing history in areas near water.

Fruit does not belong in savory pie. Fruit is for fruit pie.

Vegan pie is an oxymoron. If someone asks for vegan pie they are either taking the piss or they are serious. If they are serious it is time for you to walk away and leave them to their own devices.

Gluten-free pie only counts as pie if the crust was made with gluten free flour. See warnings about quiche.

Pie is an appropriate and helpful response to any of the following existential states: heartbreak, depression, hang over, rugby tournament, long hike, road trip, end of work day, after sex, before church.

If the pie available does not fulfill these conditions move along or get a sausage roll instead.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.


I spent ten days in Arizona this month tracking the burgeoning wine and food scene there. Having lived in the state almost eight years, I’ve kept an eye on things for well over a decade curious to see how the quality progressed through the region. Though in 2012 I moved west to California, I’ve returned at least once, usually twice, each year since to check in on developments and see friends. In 2014, things in Arizona wine seemed especially exciting as the concentration of vineyards with quality viticulture was increasing and the quality of top notch wines were increasing too. This Spring I returned for a friend’s wedding and quickly made plans to come back this Fall to research the food scene as well as the wine as it was clear things were taking off in the state.

So, at the end of October I flew into Phoenix and took a week touring Arizona wine countries – Sonoita and Willcox in the southern part of the state, and Verde Valley up north – before then being part of a full day event in Phoenix hosted by the Arizona Vignerons Alliance. In the midst of checking out Arizona wine country I also checked in on the local food scene. It turns out Arizona grows top quality durum wheat, heritage grains, and some of the world’s best pistachios as well. Those plus locally grown produce and meats mean the local foods movement has taken over area restaurants for top quality local food – I got to visit several of those spots as well.

Following is the Instagram photo collection from my ten day intensive on the road throughout the state. It gives insight into Arizona grown grains, pistachios, the state’s wine regions, and restaurants.


Yes! Getting these babies back on Native territory! Look out Arizona – here I come!

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And here stands the future home of Garage East, what will be a neighborhood winery in the Agritopia area of Gilbert, Arizona. Agritopia is a planned community designed to have whatever residents need within the community including community gardens, and a farm that serves the neighborhood restaurants. Garage East is part of a community for craftsmen built to house small businesses, each selected to be unique while also complementing each other with the idea that together they can grow new ideas and create solutions to issues that may arise for any one of them. Included will be a machinist, a brewery, a farm stand, florist, salon, letterpress and Garage East. Garage East has made wines from Arizona grown grapes and will also be experimenting with fermenting fruits from around the Agritopia farm. The focus is on making Arizona wines for Arizona with a central focus on the neighborhood community. #arizona @garage.east

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

This is Sonoran white wheat, one of the oldest varieties of cultivated wheat in North America, with its roots in Arizona. It had been essentially lost as newer, high yield varieties took over wheat farming in the last century. Then 20 years ago ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan inadvertently located it while speaking to a small-crop farmer in Mexico. She had a coffee can full of seeds Gary had never seen before so he traded her for them. The seeds were propagated in Arizona and studies of the straw in the state’s ancient adobe structures showed it to be the same variety. Today Sonoran white wheat is cultivated by a few small-scale farmers in Arizona where it is being used to make local, artisanal foods like heritage pasta, bread and even the pizza dough for Pizzeria Bianco. #arizona @pizzeriabianco @haydenflourmills

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Jeff Zimmerman grows heritage grains in Arizona and mills them into flour, distributing it to artisanal food producers throughout Arizona, while also packaging and selling it throughout the United States under his label, Hayden Flour Mills. His work with Sonoran white wheat has helped make the heritage variety available to chefs and bakers throughout its home state. He has also helped keep durum wheat in Arizona. Arizona durum is considered the highest quality durum in the world with at least 90% of the state’s durum crop being exported for use in Italy. Farmer-millers like Jeff though have made it available for pastas, breads and pizzas here. In Phoenix, for example, Hayden Flours go into Pizzeria Bianco pizza dough and bread (Jeff started Hayden Flour Mills in the back of a Pizzeria Bianco restaurant), as well as FnB breads, pastas and grain salads. Jeff also makes him own durum pasta sold to restaurants throughout the state. Here we caught him in the midst of his weekend Flour clean up. #arizona @haydenflourmills @pizzeriabianco @fnbrestaurant

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Sonoita. #arizona

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Tasting with Kelly and Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas in Sonita, first from barrel and tank and then across current releases in can and bottle. The wines across the board have a pleasing freshness coupled with generous flavor but most of all they taste completely of Arizona. The fruit notes changes but a kiss of agave nectar, a sprinkle of cocoa powder, flavors of molé and even the dusty red earth of the desert appear throughout. These are very much wines of place. The Bostocks are also doing exciting things making fresh wines with Brian Ruffentine for Garage-East that are breaking the mold by exploring making refreshing and charming young wines ideal for quick release as a thirst quencher for life in the hotter parts of the Arizona desert. Cool stuff. #arizona @doscabezas @kellybostock @garage.east

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Heading into Callaghan. #arizona @kentcallaghan @callaghanvineyards

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Thing one I like about Sonita: can’t get enough of that desert sky and landscape. #arizona

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Thing C I like about Sonoita… #arizona

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Dinner time get together with Arizona winemakers = taste wines of the world. #arizona

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Cochise. #arizona

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Dude. YES! #arizona @sandreckonervineyard

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Snakeskin in the middle of Rolling View Vineyard on the Willcox Bench. #arizona @piercebarbara @saeculumcellars

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Storm approaching over Turkey Creek. #arizona

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Oh would you just give me a big fat break I love Arizona sky too much #arizona

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Next time you’re in Willcox, eat here. The service is slow but damn the food is good. #arizona Unica on Hackett

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What is it?! It’s a wonder! Mystery of the desert! We saw it. #arizona

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Praise the Lord! We hit up my favorite roadside fry bread spot! Whoo hoo! My favorite. #arizona

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Yum. #arizona Caduceus 2015 Agostina white @puscifer

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This spot is going to be killer. Merkin Vineyards & Osteria opens Tuesday in downtown Cottonwood. They’ll be pouring Merkin wines but also serving a menu made from all Arizona sourced ingredients including produce primarily grown in Merkin gardens as well as pasta and bread made on site using Hayden Flours grown and milled here in Arizona (including Arizona heritage grains). The inside space here looks killer – awesome details throughout including an open kitchen and visible produce storage plus interiors designed and made by local independent designers, builders and artisans. Two years ago I got to see some of the pasta prototypes and this space before all the current innovations. It is really awesome and inspiring to see the development of those early ideas into the current form. #arizona @puscifer @haydenflourmills

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One of the most special spots I have gotten to spend time in any where, my second time visiting the 5000 ft elevation, steep slope terraced Judith Vineyard in Jerome. Last time we were able to follow it up with a vintage vertical back to 2008, including barrel samples. This time we followed up on a few of those vintages and tasted some of the newer varieties too, like this Nebbiolo planted in absurdly rocky, shallow soils of volcanic and caliché rock (read calcium, i.e. Limestone) – its first fruit vintage, 2015, is distinctive and delicious from barrel, super energizing and fresh. The site shows a totally unique dusty, almost chalky, glittering minerality across varieties, including the Malvasia. #arizona @puscifer

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Pro tip: get the fry bread again and always go for the powdered sugar option. #arizona

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Amazing. Arizona Vigneron Alliance live auction led by professional auctioneers. #arizona

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Brand new. Get on it. 33 Degrees. Malvasia Bianca and a Rhone red blend. Slurp. #arizona @puscifer

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Now entering a completely different world… (we ordered a mojito and margarita as safe bets.) #arizona @melktaylor

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Oh yes, Flagstaff, let’s do this. #arizona @flg_terroir

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Make a wish. #arizona

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Filling the need. #arizona @firecreekcoffee (that guy right there used to be my DJ. A few years ago one of my best friends unbeknownst to me lied to he and his DJ brother saying it was my birthday. Suddenly I had magical powers. If I called out a song they played it. We started with Prince and worked our way to AC/DC. I had no idea why the hell people kept bringing me drinks, asking me to dance and smiling at me until the DJ’s opened my favorite song with a HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELAINE!!! and I got excited to find out who the other Elaine was. Our faux-birthday dance party successfully filled the bar and the dance floor, got my other friend asked out on a date, and got me into one of my only bar fights. The guy was three times bigger than me and I made him scream like a hyena (don’t mess with a woman’s hat) then they kicked him out. All thanks to that guy. Marty. He used to be my DJ.) for anyone curious, I ordered an almond milk mocha and it’s the most bitter awesome thing ever. (Also, I only ever get in bar fights in Alaska or Arizona. You know how it is.)

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Life is so very full of blessing when we open to it. I just spent 45 minutes listening to a Hopi man named Elgean as he shared with me his people’s religion, his clan’s belief system, what family means for him and how his name means he always has somewhere to go, people who love him. Elgean is from the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America with structures carbon dated to the 12th century. He taught me how to read Hopi painting and kachina – here a mural I have walked by so many times and never understood and others here in Flagstaff too. Here in Flagstaff I am not truly part of this Native culture but because of how I grew up it has been as if I see into two worlds. It has sometimes meant being called to intervene on others’ behalf only from being willing to interact calmly with Native people and because I am also non-threatening for non-Natives since for most I pass. One of the worst situations I broke up a fight provoked by a non-Native and helped the Native man home to a safe place again. The teaching “for the grace of god go I” was really driven home for me living here in Flagstaff – seeing that it is merely coincidence that makes my life easier than many people that are mistreated by prejudice. Today Elgean shared so much time with me, it turned out, simply because I smiled and was willing to listen. His teaching me to read the murals and telling me about his clan’s history and values was his way of thanking me even though all I gave in return was a willingness to listen. Before we went our separate ways he prayed a blessing for me, taught me the words for it and gave me prayer corn to make my life stronger. We can be as angels to each other. May we all continue to rise again and again to the occasion and listen, show gratitude and in that way love. #arizona

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Dude. Currently drinking Colorado Cinsault. And I’m drinking it. #arizona #colorado Sutcliffe 2013 Cinsault on tap.

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Flagstaff classic: Diablo Burger. Meat will get us through. #arizona

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Old school bricks look like brownies made from local soils in downtown Flagstaff. #arizona

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Look what I have… Congratulations, @puscifer ! Looking forward to the read! #arizona

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And this run through Arizona is finally coming to a close… #arizona

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Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.


Attending a Paris Popup at Penrose in Oakland

Laura Vidal

Laura Vidal preparing the team on wine selections, Penrose, Oakland

Last week Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins were kind enough to invite me to their Paris Popup at Penrose in Oakland. The duo began the events while working together in Paris at Frenchies, taking over restaurants around the city. What would be a regular night off for the business would become a special treat for the owners — seeing their facility through the eyes of another team. The Paris Popups would open for one night only to a range of guests within an already established restaurant space, and provide dinner to the owner in exchange for using the space.

Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins

Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins

Originally from London, Cummins had returned home to visit friends and saw that a new style of food event — popups — were happening around the city. Returning to Paris he realized he hadn’t heard of them taking place on the French side of the Channel. He and Vidal decided to design their own, and Paris Popups were born. The venture developed organically. After their first successful occasion, restaurants around Paris began reaching out to the team offering to host. Paris Popups popped up all over the city, until the pair decided to take a year to both share and learn food and wine culture all over the world, beginning what would become a Popup world tour.

Harry Cummins

Harry Cummins

Unleashed from the team that was integral to their work in Paris, Cummins and Vidal have found their world tour defined by collaboration. The duo selected their route, then reached out to venues, wine distributors, and chefs in cities around the world. In each location they have sought to work intimately with area chefs to develop the menu with consideration for local ingredients, and bring in winemakers or distributors whose work they wish to support. Part of the point is to celebrate the unique offerings of a particular area. In selecting wines too, the people behind the wines are invited to participate, offering guests direct contact not easily afforded elsewhere. Evan Lewandowski of Ruth Lewandowski wines, Raj Parr of Domaine de la Cote, and Anthony Lynch of Kermit Lynch wines all poured, for example, in Oakland.

Paris Popup

Halibut, clams, blood oranges

The menu development occurs as a kind of ongoing conversation. Vidal selects wines in advance allowing for a progression through a multi-course meal. By this point, the chefs have already begun to brainstorm ideas, but now coordinate in concert with consideration of the wines as well. Vidal’s and Cummin’s expertise shows in listening to their process. Their skill in designing a meal in advance of an event reflects their experience with flavor and pairing. For the Penrose event, Cummins and Vidal were able to work with Bones Restaurant’s James Edward Henry and Austin Holey, as well as Charlie Hallowell, the chef of Penrose in the kitchen and to develop the menu.

Paris Popup

Sweetbreads, poached egg, Périgord black truffle

Each city’s food culture comes with a different infrastructure and dynamic. Where New York relies on ordered formality in a restaurant team, California’s Bay Area approaches evening meals with a more relaxed service style. Recognizing and working with the different styles of service for each location, then, becomes integral to the world tour.

Paris Popup

Uni, fermented squash, kumquats

The Oakland popup included two nights in Penrose, serving a seven course meal including wine pairings. The team accomplished an impressive, and well-executed menu showcasing the experience of pairings at their best. My favorite of the night rests strongly in the second course. We were greeted with a glass of Raveneau 2001 1er Cru Chablis then coupled with a dish of Dungeness crab, grapefruit, and artichokes. The pairing gave a beautiful example of how flavors can synthesize. While one of my favorite wines, Raveneau carries incredible strength, approaching the edge of pleasurable intensity on the palate. Similarly, the dish carried a strength of flavors with the richness of the crab absorbing the force of the grapefruit. The food followed by the wine, however, created a sense of elegance through the mouth that was truly beautiful.

Paris Popup

Oysters (served alongside the Rib eye)

Paris Popup

Rib eye

My other favorite pairing brought Les Palliéres 1999 Gigondas alongside a course of Rib eye with a side of oysters, and a green salad of citrus dressing. Rib eye is a classic suggestion for Gigondas, but the oysters nicely celebrated the sea-air freshness I find in the nose of older Les Palliéres, and the citrus note brought out the bright red elements of the wine on the palate, showing off the youthful vibrancy of the 1999. The combination was beautifully done.

Paris Popup

Apples, Penrose tonic ice served with Neige 2011 Apple Ice Wine

The other pairings throughout the night showcased differing approaches to marrying food and wine. Where the two courses mentioned celebrated an approach of complementing flavors, others focused on contrast. The sweetbreads, poached eggs, and black truffle dish brought a real richness to the palate that was cut through, and refreshed by the red fruit and black tea spine of the Domaine de la Cote 2011 Bloom’s Field, an elegant expression of what Sashi Moorman calls the Heart of Sta Rita Hills. Throughout the courses, I was impressed with the focus on texture. Each dish showcased a blend of varying levels of firmness, and push so that the pleasure of the palate was more than just taste. Such attention to texture showed in the way the wines paired as well. The light grip from skin contact maceration in the Ruth Lewandowski 2012 Fox Hill Vineyard Chilion Cortese Zero, for example, brought a vibrant citrus flavored texture alongside the slippery give of the uni and fermented squash with kumquat dish.


The Penrose Paris Popup had a collaborative menu developed by James Edward Henry, and Austin Holey from Bones, Harry Cummins from The Paris Popup, and Charlie Hallowell from Penrose. Wine Selection was done by Laura Vidal.

Rajat Parr, Eric Railsback, Anthony Lynch, and Evan Lewandowski helped with wine service, while the Penrose team provided floor service.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme has sponsored the Paris Popup since its arrival in Montreal.


All photos in this post are the work of Diane Yoon, and used with her permission.


Thank you to Laura Vidal.

Thank you to Anthony Lynch.

Thank you to Diane Yoon.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Dinner at Mattei’s Tavern

On Sundays we’d go for pastry. In the 1980s, a small rush of French émigrés made their way to Anchorage, Alaska and started a revolution. They opened bakeries for breads, cakes and delicate sweets.

My family attended Sunday service at the stone chapel downtown. We’d don our best clothes, with long winter coats, and simple shoes then duck-walk across the icy parking lot to keep from falling. After the hour-long service, longer with communion, we’d pile back in the car and stop half way home to pick up Napoleon, Éclair, and cheese Danish when my dad was in town.

He worked every other week at the North Slope of Alaska building and maintaining the electrical needs of arctic oil feeds. On alternate weeks he was home.

Sundays, then, began with a sense of grateful reverence, recognition of how we were blessed. Celebration came through simple silence, moments of prayer communing with god. It continued with simple sweets. The warmth of the prayer coupled with the prickling joy of delicate French sugar. The entire day given a feeling of bright gratitude with the pastries a symbol of the gifts we gained.

Alaska’s food revolution came eventually to include more variation in foods, and my mom’s love for pastries evolved into my parents’ love for bistro fare. Bistros for them a perfect restaurant balance — good food touched by congenial service — hospitality with conversation.

My sister Melanie and I inherited our parents’ love for food. She (along with my friend Fred) sparked in me more than anyone my original love for wine. We found together our enthusiasm first and foremost to bubbles. Together we have devoted ourselves to restaurants around the United States and Canada looking always for food with a deft hand, a delicate intricacy of flavors paired with beautiful wines, in a forum that celebrates warm hospitality.

At its best, eating meals with Melanie feels of succulent revelry — that original sense of simple gratitude our parents gave us through Sundays of church and pastry blooming into a kind of reverence for the beauty of flavor, time together, and relaxing service. Some of my happiest moments have come from these meals.

In the last year, Los Olivos has opened a new restaurant, Mattei’s Tavern, bringing together the history of place — the venue opened for the first time in 1886 — with the intricate freshness possible in today’s farm-to-table restaurant culture.

Chef Robbie Wilson offers a seasonal menu designed to showcase, on one side, foods that might have carried that original 1886 menu elevated with a gentle lift — schnitzel of flatfish kept away from the heavy side, accented with the crunch of pickled mustard seeds and calabrian chiles. On the other side, he offers too foods carrying the cultural flavor fusion that so clearly speaks of now — short rib pot roast put along side lightly cooked vegetables and poured over with fresh made ramen broth. On both sides, the flavors are rich, layered, with a light bite of surprise.

The Mattei’s team also hosts the expertise of wine director Stephane Colling. His wine list shows smart devotion to Santa Barbara wines. He seems to select labels that consistently give clean fruit expression with the juicy and often mineral length that works so well with food. The list treats local wines seriously, however, by offering more than merely what comes from Santa Barbara County, offering too worldwide selections.

The current by the glass iteration, for example, mixes local jewels with worldwide gems. It’s possible, for example, to taste Goodland Wine‘s Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc, then follow it with Mulderbosch‘s South African iteration. The intent seems less about comparing the county’s wines to wines from elsewhere, however, and more about selecting beautiful wines for a range of palate interests that can be poured at a range of price points.

Visiting Mattei’s Tavern the thread that winds through the decor space, the menu, the wine list seems to parallel my description of Chef Wilson’s food — layers of interest, warm expression, and bites of surprise. The approach to service and overall presentation bring together the heritage of the place with modern flare. The salumi plate, for example, Felix Mattei’s Dirty Laundry, literally hangs prosciutto (my favorite) and coppa with clothespins over a board carrying pickled vegetables and mustard. One of my favorite details houses the children’s menu within the slides of a working View Master, giving kids their own visual treat for the meal.

Throughout the meal, server Jenny Mitchum offered a comfortable touchstone. She hit the balance I enjoy of showcasing the food as it arrived, checking in to track our needs, and giving us space to enjoy our conversation.

I appreciate the revitalization of the historic Mattei’s Tavern space. Partners Robbie and Emily Perry Wilson, plus Charles and Ali Banks, have navigated the challenge of utilizing a historic landmark in a manner that honors its heritage while celebrating fresh new flavor for the region.

I can’t wait to meet my sister there for dinner.


The Mattei’s Tavern Website: http://www.matteistavern.com/


Thank you to Robbie Wilson and Stephane Colling.

Thank you to Jenny Mitchum.

Thank you to Jason Smith.

Thank you to Charles Banks.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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