No offense to all the wonderful local restaurants who teamed up with distributors and wineries throughout the pandemic to host virtual wine dinners, but I am ecstatic that in-person functions are now starting to happen once again.
I attended one of these dinners last night at Ciao Baci with 30 other folks. I can’t tell you how good it felt to converse with others while eating and imbibing on the restaurant’s side patio. To top things off, a summer storm blew in during our first course, bringing with it a rain shower, along with a nice breeze and unseasonably cooler temps throughout the dinner.
As for the actual dinner, it featured a 5-course meal from Chef Owen and Chef Heien paired with Forlorn Hope Winery’s full line of Queen of the Sierra wines, all four of which can be purchased at Colonial Wines & Spirits. The first course of Pickled Shrimp with Cauliflower/Quinoa Tabouli proved to be my favorite of the evening. I enjoyed the light and refreshing taste of the shrimp and quinoa combo and thought it paired well with the 2019 White Estate Blend, which, coincidentally, I would use the same two adjectives to describe.
Admittedly, the next course of Fried Chicken Livers with Spiced Watermelon & Mint was not one I was looking forward to eating, but I always keep an open mind, especially when a chef of Owen’s talents puts them in front of me. Sure enough, he managed to eliminate that off-putting aftertaste I’ve grown so accustomed to with livers. Combining the fried protein with super sweet chunks of watermelon was a brilliant move. The 2020 Rosé was also a nice pairing, and who doesn’t enjoy a good rosé in June?
As with most multi-course meals, there were some hits and misses, and I’d put the Seared Scallops with Street Corn Hash and Chipotle Aioli under the latter category. The scallops lacked both a good sear and that subtle sweetness associated with top-quality crustacean, while the corn hash’s texture and stick-to-my-teeth nature made it somewhat of a challenge to consume. But guess what? I finished the entire dish, so it wasn’t all that bad, nor was my glass of crisp 2020 Amber Estate Blend.
By this point, stomach space was at a premium, so I powered through the enjoyable course of hearty comfort food: Pork Tenderloin with Zucchini & Chevre Mashed Potatoes and Truffled Oyster Mushroom Demi Glace. The loin was cooked just right, no small feat given the number in our party. A bite of it with the mashed potatoes, followed by a sip of 2018 Red Blend was another reminder of Ciao Baci’s successful wine and food pairings throughout the evening.
Our dessert course of Brandied Cherries, Green Tea Gelato & Candied Pecans was fun, creative, and, above all else, delicious. The bold flavor and vibrant red color of the cherries shined with the subtle taste of the green tea gelato. The pecans sealed the deal with some added crunch and texture.
Overall, it was a fun evening at Ciao Baci, and one filled with great conversation, fantastic food, and attentive service. But more than anything, it was just so nice be around people at a restaurant I love.
Cheers to that!