Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Last April, a little email came in my inbox asking me if I'd be interested in attending a hosted Food and Wine Pairing where the food would be prepared by Top Chef Fabio Viviani and paired with Santa Margherita Wines, which are imported to the US by Terlato Wines. Since I hadn't had a chance to dine at either of his restaurants yet, I jumped at the chance to enjoy his cooking at his Toluca Lake outpost, Firenze Osteria. The purpose of this meal was the US introduction of the Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva, which represents an upgrade of the brand’s Chianti Classico, which ranked in the top 10 of all Chianti brands.
Before I talk about the actual food and wine itself, there's a couple of interesting tidbits I want to share. To start, here's some wine trivia. Tony Terlato, while on a trip to Italy, discovered Pinot Grigio. After sampling Pinot Grigio at various wineries, he finally decided to introduce the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio to the US in 1979 and Americans fell in love. For 14 consecutive years, it was voted by Wine and Spirits Magazine as the most popular imported wine, red or white, served at our top restaurants.
Second, Chef Fabio mentioned a couple of things before the first course hit the table. One, he explained that one or two ingredients from one dish will be carried into the following dish and so forth so that the transition from one dish is smooth and not jarring. Two, during the pairing, we should first taste the wine on its own and then take a bite of our food and take a sip of wine to see how the flavors of the food and wine either go well together or not.
According to Chef Fabio, Italian meals always start with a glass of Prosecco, so ours started with the Santa Margherita Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, which was paired with two different dishes. Our first course was a Crostini di Pancetta which was toasted bread topped with fresh imported burrata, grilled pancetta, crispy sage and brown butter. As a sidenote, the burrata is ordered fresh every 3 days and the crostini is housemade. The light fruity notes of the wine was a nice complement to the burrata while its crispness helped cleanse the palate from the saltiness of the pancetta.
The second dish to be paired with the Prosecco was Gamberoni in Camacia which was grilled pancetta-wrapped jumbo shrimp filled with gorgonzola served over Parmesan polenta and sauteed shrimp. As I mentioned earlier, the pancetta from the first dish made it into the second dish. The upfront lychee and lemon flavors from the wine was a nice contrast to the rich gorgonzola cheese. My one issue was that the polenta was too gummy.
From the Prosecco, we moved on to the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio Alto Adige, which was also paired with two dishes. The first of those dishes was the Gnocchi Cinque Terre with pesto potato dumplings, basil pesto, pine nuts and Parmigiano cheese. Chef Fabio mentioned that this particular gnocchi dish was served Italian-style, which means that the gnocchi isn't mixed in the sauce, but instead is placed on top of the sauce. I actually prefer the Italian-style where the real focus is on those pillowy gnocchi, which are definitely worth the attention. As for the Pinot Grigio, its bright earthiness paired well with the pesto.
The second dish to be paired with the Pinot Grigio was the Oil-Poached Escolar which is a white tuna that is poached in a light olive oil and topped with with a chunky puttanesca sauce. I loved the contrast of the mild fish with the spicy sauce and the Pinot Grigio's acidity was a wonderful complement.
Our last three pairings were done with the Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva. The first dish to pair with the Chianti was a perfectly cooked and juicy Costolette di Agnello, a herb marinated rack of lamb served with glazed pistachio nuts. While the lamb was indeed excellent, I have to say that I fell in love with the pistachio nuts, which were softened and cooked down like beans. If I wasn't told that they were pistachio nuts, I wouldn't have had a clue. It was such a transformation, but a delicious one. The tannins of the Chianti was helpful in cleansing the palate from the strong flavors of the lamb.
The final savory dish to go with the Chianti was the Trofie con Anatra e Finocchio, which are homemade trofie pasta with duck sausage, caramelized fennel and Parmesan cheese. When it came to the pasta dish, I enjoyed it except for the fennel. Fennel tastes too much like anise or licorice to me and I'm just not a fan. As for the wine, its dark fruit notes went well with the gaminess of the duck.
As for dessert, they were both also paired with the Chianti. First, there was the Torta al Cioccolato, an individual flourless chocolate cake served with vanilla gelato and a chocolate and coffee cream sauce. Second was their homemade cannoli encrusted with pistachios and chocolate chips filled with ricotta.In truth, I was pretty full by this time so I had only a few bites of each dessert and skipped the wine altogether.
Overall, this was a wonderful meal. I think the wine pairings went well with Chef Fabio's food, which was so delicious, that I couldn't believe that I hadn't visited Firenze Osteria earlier. As for the wine, I really liked that the wines worked well with so many different types of dishes. That really speaks well of their versatility and if I need to bring a bottle of wine to meal, a Santa Margherita wine just make it in my shopping basket.
4212 Lankershim Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 91602
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