As a member of Foodbuzz’s Featured Publisher program, I’ve had the unbelievable fortune of attending two of their Community Table dinners in San Francisco in just as many months. September’s dinner at EPIC Roasthouse was a memorable evening of networking, utterly delicious food and entertaining conversation with Bay Area bloggers like Vera, Stephanie, Mark and Chef John. Three nights ago, I made my way up to the city for yet another blogger evening at the über-chic Spruce in the city’s Presidio neighborhood. Collaborating with the lovely folks at Black Box Wines, Foodbuzz treated us to a four-course dinner menu which was paired with seven different (boxed) wines.
We started the evening with a charcuterie selection served with a 2008 Riesling from Washington’s Columbia Valley and a 2007 California Merlot. Arriving later than the rest, I sampled a cured pig’s ear with the Riesling, which I found surprisingly balanced and fruity, perfect for cleansing the palate between bites of gelatinous ear. Shortly after, we were ushered into the private dining room where Steve Hosmer, Director at the Constellation Academy of Wine, sought to demystify the concept of ‘boxed wines’, shared founder Ryan Sproule‘s story and gave an overview of the wines we would taste that evening.
The first course was a carpaccio-style Beet and Pear salad topped with a handful of arugula and served with a scattering of aged goat’s milk cheese and a walnut vinaigrette. It was nutrition on a plate with the countless slices of earthy beets complimenting the intense sweetness of the pears. Paired with a 2008 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc made from a blend of grapes from the Eastern towns of Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Gisborne, I found the wine more acidic than your typical New Zealand Sauv Blanc although it had a good nose of herbs and tropical fruit. It paired really nicely with the salad although its not a wine I’d savor on its own.
Up next, we had Roasted Halibut with fennel, chanterelles and a fennel fumet which was nothing short of excellent. The fish was perfectly tender, the mushrooms were divine and the fennel was a genius touch. It was a pleasant surprise to bite into jellied cubes of fennel when you got to the bottom of the dish, a pairing that made great friends with the 2008 Chardonnay from Monterey County. We had two Chardonnay pairings with this entreé – the other was a 2008 Napa Valley Reserve – and of the two, I preferred the Monterey variant simply because it really tied the whole dish together with a balanced acidity.
Once that was done, we eagerly anticipated the Bavette Steak with Duck Fat Fries. This classic steak frites formula was paired with the jewel in the Black Box crown: a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes produced in Paso Robles, Monterey County, Lodi and the northern coast of California. The slices of flank steak were achingly tender and the fries….oh, the fries….thick-cut strips of potato were twice poached in duck fat, confit style, before being fried to a crisp and drizzled with salt. Fortunately, a serving of broiled kale marshalled up the nutrition contingent for that dish, offering a great respite from the full-bodied flavors of steak and potatoes.
After three courses, we had a short break where, apart from raving about the fries, the bloggers at my table (Janet, Allison, Denise and Lenny, Chef John and Mark) discussed matters of high importance such as:
- The lunch fiasco at September’s BlogHer Food
- The emerging stylishness and Brooklyn-ization of Somerville, MA (where Lenny grew up)
- What November’s Blogger Festival was going to be like
- Why all reality shows feel compelled to subject their contestants to ridiculous time limits to complete their tasks
The next course arrived with a selection of three Farmstead cheeses alongside garnishes like honey, almonds, cherries and black pepper paired with a 2007 Central Coast Shiraz. I’m not a cheese fan so I’ll focus on the wine, which was superb. Bold and luscious with a strong nose of dark berries and a full finish, the first sniff and sip brought to mind the vivacious Australian Shiraz typically found in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions.
Sufficiently stuffed and delightedly inebriated, we rounded off the evening with a short conversation with Executive Chef Eric Sullivan about the restaurant’s partnership with SMIP Ranch, a five-acre organic farm 20 miles away in Woodside that supplies up to 80 percent of its produce while savoring tiny morsels of pear candies and coconut-dusted marshmallows.
We left Spruce that evening each armed with a Black Box decanter, three (three!!!) liters of their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and, for me, plans for my next meal at Spruce. The restaurant’s philosophy of serving up ‘Contemporary American’ cuisine with an emphasis on local and organically-grown produce rang through clearly across the dishes we savored that evening and the thought of dining on Seared Dayboat Scallops, Foie Gras with poached and preserved apricots and Buttered Maine Lobster with gnocchi has got my <insert appropriate garment> all up in a twist.
Well, ok, not literally, but you get the idea.
As for the wine? Definitely a mainstay in our refrigerator for those stressful days when a few glasses would be perfect, but a whole bottle too excessive. Because each box (containing the equivalent of four standard bottles) stores the wine in a biodegradable, vacuum-sealed plastic bag, oxidation is minimized, keeping the wine as fresh as it gets for weeks on end. No more hassles with vacuum-sealing a half-empty bottle or lamenting the waste of improperly kept wine just because someone forgot to pump the air out before heading to bed. Fresh, deliciously chilled wine “on tap”? Yes please!
Thanks Foodbuzz, Black Box and the team at Spruce for a great evening! Check out what everyone else said about dinner and boxed wines below: