Remembrances of menus past (Roy’s through the years)

During the years that James Beard Award winning Chef Roy Yamaguchi and I worked together in our Roy’s restaurants (from late 1988 to 2001), composing dishes for specific wines became, for us, a kata-like discipline; and admittedly, we often combined sensations just to see what would happen, particularly among our guests. Never a dull moment at Roy’s, but at least we lived and learned.

We also collaborated with dozens of world’s most inventive chefs and wine personalities to stimulate ourselves, our staffs, and of course, to entertain our masses. Figures like Joachim Splichal, Paul Bocuse, Paul Draper, Traci Des Jardins, Kermit Lynch, Jim Clendenen, Madeleine Kamman, Randall Grahm, George Morrone, David Ramey, Mark Miller, Tony Soter, Cory Schreiber, David Rosengarten, Jeremiah Tower, Ronn Wiegand, Nobu Matsuhisa, Joy Sterling, Bradley Ogden, Ken Wright, Drew Nieporent, John Williams, Mark Miller, Julie Johnson, John Ash, Lynn Penner-Ash, Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti, Pamela Starr, Jonathan Waxman, George Bursick, Kazuto Matsusaka, and the late Jack and Jamie Davies (not to mention all the talented, inventive Hawaiian Regional Cuisine chefs – such as Roy’s close friend, Alan Wong – thriving in our own backyard) all marched through our doors in the Islands, sometimes several times over, to help us discover just how far we could stretch the boundaries of contemporary food and wine matching.

The memories, like belted experiences, live on in stacks of menus and newsletters. Here are some of the more memorable ones:

A DINNER for ‘45s
July 1991

The easiest way to handle classic, well matured French wines is to serve white fish with beurre blanc, followed by roast beef or grilled lamb in natural jus; but where is the fun in this predictable progression?

Yamaguchi and I were constantly called upon to devise menus for serious private collectors looking for a little more thrill than what they would normally do for themselves at home. Re this dinner in 1991, highlighted by two classic ’45 Bordeauxs:

Lobster Terrine with Asparagus, Olives & Mustard Aioli
Krug, Champagne 1975

Lasagnette of Wild Mushrooms, Sweet Basil & Pistachio
Montrachet, Louis Latour 1983

Wood Roasted Squab with Confit of Onion & Potato
Zind-Humbrecht, Tokay-Pinot Gris “Clos Saint-Urbain” 1983

Grilled Lamb Chop in an Explorateur Thyme Sauce

Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945
Château Latour 1945

Tropical Fruit Blanc-Manger
Château d’Yquem 1967

The simplicity of layering sheet pasta with a lightly creamed, scented basil and lobster sauce, and a royal mixture of nostril tingling fungus (chanterelles, enokitake, oysters, morels, shiitakes, and the like) with the creamy-sweet scent of pistachio, struck a resonating chord with soft, smoky, earthen, mildly nut toned taste of the eight year old Montrachet.

Super-powered (or “Parkerized”) whites from Alsace always present a culinary challenge, but the caramelized sweetness and oils combined in the squab and confit gave the huge (14%), fleshy, exotically sweet edged Zind-Humbrecht more than enough to take its measure.

I always liked the idea of blending a magnificent triple crème (Explorateur) and thyme into a natural sauce as a way of filling out the full scaled opulence of a classic Pauillac (the Mouton and Latour) at the height of maturity, without bruising the polish and bouquet that took years to build.

November 1994

Flat Iron Grilled Scallops with Crispy Lumpia & Mango
Pouilly-Fumé, Baron de Ladoucette 1990 & 1989

Hawaiian Seafood Sausage with Caramelized Fennel, Maui Onion & Tuscan White Beans
Riesling “Clos Ste. Hune,” Trimbach 1981 & 1976

Wood Roasted Rocky Senior Chicken with Kona Lobster, Sweetbreads & Truffle Oil
Corton-Charlemagne, Louis Latour 1983 & 1979

Full Moons of Oxtail with Porcini, BoKe’ Farm Escargot & Foie Gras
La Tache, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1972
Vosne Romanee “Les Petits Mons,” Leroy 1972

Kupua Cooperation Ranch Lamb with Puna Chèvre Crêpinette
Château Gruard Larose
1961 Double Magnum
1953 Magnum
1943 Jeroboam
Fresh Hawaiian Poha Berry Crème Brûlée
Château d’Yquem 1976

Vintage Hawaiian Chocolate Petits Fours
Blandy’s Malmsey, Solera 1808

What is it about wine collectors with d’Yquem and DRC? These wines became unavailable to the common wine lover (and even to the common wine professional) long ago; but there were still many occasions to have fun with them. The poha berry is a wild, natural Hawaiian variant of the gooseberry (it’s said New Zealand sauvignon blancs smell like gooseberries), and its typically soured green, sticky/oily sweetness added a sharpness to the palate that the big, fat vintage of d’Yquem perhaps lacked. The crème creaminess was just enough to make the contrast work.

If, of course, this was even noticed at the end of this Bacchanalian feast. For me, the highlight was the smoke tinged, free range chicken rolled with sweetbreads and lobster and bathed in a silky, sensuous double (or was it triple?) strength natural stock. If ordinary California chardonnay is for everyday roast chicken, this was surely the answer for the heady, charred, expansively matured Corton Charlemagne, electrified by its mildly acidic underpinnings and stony notes of terroir.

Steamed rounds of Asian rice paper were used to wrap slow roasted oxtail punctuated with goose liver, porcini and the meat of Hawaiian raised snails. It’s a far cry from beef vin à la bourguignonne, but pretty much accomplishes the same earthy, soft, savory meatiness that classic red Burgundy calls for.

June 1993

1 – The Salty Solution:
Rare Ponzu ‘Ahi Tuna with Sticky Mountain Potato Relish & Olive Soy Vinaigrette
Gunderloch, Nackenheimer Rothenberg Riesling Kabinett 1991

2 – The Acid Test:
Shellfish Donut Salad with Crispy Potatoes & Hazelnut Caviar Vinaigrette
Savennières, Château d’Épire “Cuvée Spéciale” 1991
Jurançon “Sec,” Clos Girouilh 1991

3- That Red Wine with Fish Thang:
Grilled Shutome (Hawaiian Swordfish) with Puna Chèvre Crêpinette and Bandol Sauce
Bandol, Domaine Tempier “Cuvée Spéciale” 1988
Au Bon Climat, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 1991

4 – The Real Red Hot Chili Peppers:
Grilled Wild Boar in Korean Style Sauce

Roy’s “Anniversary Cuvée” 1989 Sparkling Wine (by Iron Horse, Green Valley)

5 – Some Like It Hot… and Sweet:
Bistro Style Nectarine Tatin
Vouvray “Moelleux,” Champalou 1989

It was a thrill for us to have the respected food and wine writer, David Rosengarten, entertain our guests; so we decided to entertain him in turn with some culinary points from his own classic treatise, Red Wine with Fish (composed with Joshua Wesson).

Admittedly, in the first course, the slippery, sticky taste of Japanese mountain potato (or satoimo - also undoubtedly the hairiest potato in the world) is an acquired one, but it added a textural dimension to the onslaught of interacting sensations (re the penetrating citrus of ponzu, the fatty red flesh of raw Hawaiian tuna, and the saltiness of soy) we wanted the Gunderloch riesling’s pointedly sweet/tart/stony character to play with.

Savennières (from the northerly Loire) and Jurançon (the French South-West) come from opposites sides of France, but are two of the most acidic white wines in the world (so also an acquired taste); but a circle of barely seared scallops and shrimp drizzled in a vinaigrette touched up with steely black roe reduced the wines’ perception of sharpness, allowing fruity flavors to mingle.

Hawaiian shutome is more tender and meatier than the usual type of swordfish; but by putting it in the context of red meat flavors (pungent, herbed Chèvre and minced meat wrapped in caul fat, and veal stock reduced with Bandol), we could swing that “red-wine-with-fish thang.”

I’ve always thought the best way to freshen the palate between doses of, say, hot, garlicky Korean spices is with a dry, effervescent sparkling wine such as that memorable ’89 “Anniversary Cuvée,” which I had personally blended (at Iron Horse Vineyards with Forrest Tancer) as an aggressively yeasty, crisp yet silken textured, faintly pink tinged pinot noir based blend. Also, as it were, a handy way of showing that fine and unique sparklers need never be relegated to the role of apéritif.

Paul Bocuse

April 1994

Paul Bocuse dropped by after wading to shore from a Hawaiian canoe ride manned by six muscular, if not downright gorgeous, wahine just outside our restaurant windows. Of course, this was all carefully staged for press and everyone’s amusement, including this menu which makes an interesting study of progression through subtle variations of classic French champagne:

Fresh Island Mahi Mahi with Crispy Ogo & Sea Vegetables in Sesame Uni Sauce
Mumm, Cordon Rouge Brut

Kiawe Smoked Lobster Sausage with White Beans & Nalo Farm Greens in Cordon Rouge Caviar Vinaigrette
Mumm, Cordon Rouge Brut “Millésimé” 1988

Napa Valley Rabbit with Puna Chèvre Hash & Mexican Mint Marigold Mustard Sauce
Mumm, “René Lalou” Brut 1985

According to John Heckathorn, the longtime editor of Honolulu magazine who we sat next to Bocuse, the best part of the first course was not the flaky white, quintessentially Hawaiian fish (mahi mahi) itself, but the tiny, lightly batter crisped mounds of ogo (green Hawaiian seaweed) on the plate. I liked the ogo touch because it gave us the airy lightness and textural relief as a counterpoint to the silky beurre blanc, reflecting the crisply acidic yet finely textured contrasts in classic nonvintage champagne. Toasted sesame seeds mingled with the wine’s yeastiness, and the uni (sea urchin) gave the sparkler’s acidity something to bite into.

Mumm’s vintaged bottlings are fuller and yeastier, but still fluid and finesseful. Kiawe (Hawaiian mesquite) wood smokiness in the lobster sausage and specks of pancetta amidst the al dente white beans splashed with the champagne vinaigrette and three colors of caviar (mackerel, flying fish and sturgeon) effectively raised the intensity level without running roughshod over the wine’s length and grace.

But don’t take my word for it. Heckathorn went on to write (in Honolulu magazine), on Yamaguchi’s rabbit: During the last course I finally got Bocuse to comment on the food (up until then he was just cleaning his plates). A dish more typical of France than Hawaii, the rabbit was presented as a tenderloin sliced atop a hash made of Hawaiian goat cheese and mashed potatoes, the rack, its tiny bones still intact, served on the side… the bones gave you pause because you were reminded you were eating a real animal. But this was the best rabbit I’ve ever had, full-flavored yet mild.

My concern, of course, was complimenting the more intensely yeasted, caramelized, meatier texture of the “René Lalou.” The use of Chèvre gave a natural touch of similarity to the champagne’s acidity, but the brothy rabbit stock laced with the flowery, mildly licorice/tarragon-like quality of Mexican mint marigold was what really did the trick for me: giving a contrasting definition to both the well matured champagne and the meager white meatiness of the rabbit.

Kermit Lynch

April 1997

Kermit Lynch’s visits were almost yearly affairs, and we particularly enjoyed working with his French vin de pays (but not so much his high ranked Burgundy and Rhône Valley crus) because they would prompt us to stretch our culinary wings. One of the more adventurous forays:

Hawaiian ‘Ahi Tuna Three Ways --
Maui Onion Poke, Tiger Eye Roll & Blackened Rare in Hot Soy Mustard Vinaigrette
Mercurey “Les Montots,” A. et P. de Villaine 1994

Island Style Bouillabaisse
(Pacific Shellfish and Dumplings in Saffroned Super-Natural Broth)
Montlouis “Les Tuffeaux,” Francoise Chidaine 1995

Napoleon of Fresh Opakapaka, Scallops & Lobster
(with Braising Greens in Essence of Kona Lobster Sauce)
Tursan, Baron de Bachen 1993

Confit of Lamb & Roasted Garlic Salad
(with Nalo Farm Asian Mesclun in Warm Balsamic & Herb Reduced Natural Jus)
Irouleguy, Domaine Arretxea 1995

Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate Truffles with Anglaise & Kona Coffee Sauces
Banyuls, Domaine la Tour Vieille 1994

Served almost cold, modestly scaled pinot noir based reds like Mercurey are an easy choice with raw tuna, especially with earthy mustard, sweet onion and sesame oil components.

Bouillabaisse may be more typical of Provence than the Loire where the steely dry, chenin blanc based Montlouis is grown, but there is something about fragrant salinity of Pacific Island fish that rings true with the stony, chalky, lemony sharp qualities of the wine, especially when couched in the richly organic, flowery taste of saffron fused into a concentrated stock. A great example of the liberties that may be taken far from a wine’s region of origin.

Tursan has always been one of my all-time favorite whites: vinified from the little known baroque grape in South-West France, it mixes a creamy edged dryness with a lightly acidic core and fragrance that is positively tropical (mango, passion fruit, and papaya), making a strangely natural (supernatural?) fit with sweet Hawaiian snapper in lobster essences. What an undiscovered treasure!

Irouleguy is a rambunctiously black, peppery Basque blend of tannat and cabernet sauvignon, with a chewy texture to boot. But the wine has soul, and is really not so big in the final analysis; and so with the contrasting sweetness of lamb confit and balsamic jus, plus the balancing taste of mildly bitter Asian mesclun, the exotic nature of this red could start to gel.

Merlot master, Marco Cappelli

July 1996

We’ve always covered the world’s waterfront of alternative style wines, but there was also a ton of work done with the “standard” varietals. The following menu was conceived by Roy Yamaguchi in collaboration with Seattle’s James Beard Award winning Tamara Murphy (at that time, presiding at Campagne). The guest winemakers present at this dinner in Honolulu: David Lake MW (Columbia Winery), Tom Rinaldi (Duckhorn Vineyards), Marco Cappelli (Swanson), and Rob Sinskey (Robert Sinskey Vineyards):

Crispy Nori Crusted Salmon with Enoki & Truffle Oil Vinaigrette
Swanson, Napa Valley Merlot 1994

Lamb Tartare with Scotch Bonnets, Mushroom Salad & Herb Chips
Duckhorn, Napa Valley Merlot 1994

Seared ‘Ahi Tuna with a Smoked Pepper & Citrus Glaze
Columbia, “Milestone” Red Willow Vineyard Merlot 1993

Boneless Quail Stuffed with Fig & Prosciutto on Almond Couscous
Robert Sinskey, “RSV Reserve” Los Carneros Merlot 1992

Black Chocolate Mousse Cake with Espresso Sauce and a Candied Twist

The Yamaguchi/Murphy menu for merlots reflects the broad range of food matches – incorporating hot (habanero in the lamb tartare) or sweet (fig in the quail), salty and umami (nori, truffle, and enoki mushrooms in the salmon), and even bitter and sour (smoked pepper and citrus in the tuna) sensations -- possible for a grape that portrays an outwardly soft, sumptuous fruitiness, even when brimming with equal doses of tannin, oak, and alcoholic strength, as those particularly full scaled merlots certainly did.

CHARDONNAYS of the 1990s with
June 1995

In this orgy of chardonnays, rather than isolate each wine with a dish, we allowed our guests to sample all five wines with each course, each representing the remarkably concentrated, barrel fermented, largely cold climate grown style of chardonnay that was the cutting-edge in the early 1990s.

Chris Gesualdi, then the chef of Montrachet in New York, collaborated with Roy Yamaguchi to fashion three Pacific Rim style seafood dishes -- each packing a wallop -- that were as good as anything I’ve ever tasted, with a strong emphasis on the creamy, buttery aspects of the grape.

The third course had Gesualdi infusing lobster coral (unfertilized eggs) into his sauce, and the resulting force of this combination with the astoundingly rich, Montrachet-like whites (wham, bam, thank you ma’am) was certainly not for the faint of heart. But somehow we pressed on:

The courses:
Roasted Lobster with Chardonnay Ginger Lemon Butter
Sesame Seared Mahi Mahi Salad with Crispy Limu Ogo and Essence of Uni & Lobster
Herb Crusted Opah (Moonfish) with Summer Vegetables & Coral Butter
Three Napoleons of Lilikoi, Ginger & White Chocolate Crème Brûlée

The wines:
Au Bon Climat, Santa Maria Valley Gold Coast Vineyard Chardonnay 1993
Chalk Hill, Estate Chardonnay 1993
Saintsbury, Carneros Reserve Chardonnay 1993
Simi, Sonoma Reserve Chardonnay 1990
Stonier’s, Mornington Peninsula Reserve Chardonnay 1994

Guest Winemakers:
Jim Clendenen, Au Bon Climat (Santa Barbara)
Tod Dexter, Stonier’s Winery (Mornington Peninsula, Australia)
Nick Goldschmidt, Simi Winery (Sonoma)
David Graves, Saintsbury Vineyards (Carneros)
David Ramey, Chalk Hill Winery (Sonoma)


February 1998

I think few chefs love and understand California’s cold climate Santa Barbara grown pinot noir – for all its billowing spice, sass, silk, and intrinsic zest – as much as Joachim Splichal of the Patina and Pinot family of restaurants in Los Angeles.

For the ninth anniversary celebration of our original restaurant in Honolulu, I brought together Splichal with Au Bon Climat’s iconoclastic winemaker/proprietor, Jim Clendenen, and together with Roy Yamaguchi and his Chef de Cuisine Gordon Hopkins, they produced a marathon collaborative culinary event proving, in retrospect, to be one for the ages:

Joachim's Truffled Hors d'oeuvres on Spoons
Cold Heaven, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Viognier 1996

Roy’s ‘Ahi Tuna Vegetable Tortellini in Ogo Nage
Au Bon Climat, Sanford & Benedict Reserve Pinot Noir 1992

Joachim’s Day Boat Scallops with Egg Pasta Sheets, Black Chanterelles & Truffle Oil
Sanford, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Barrel Select Pinot Noir 1993

Roy’s New Angels on Horseback (Crêpinette of Oysters in Lardon Pinot Sauce)
Sanford, Sanford & Benedict Barrel Select Pinot Noir 1994

Joachim’s Cube of Potato with Brandade & Parsley Jus
Au Bon Climat, Sanford & Benedict Reserve Pinot Noir 1995

Roy’s Rack of Lamb with Confit of Portobello & Polenta
Au Bon Climat, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 1996

Joachim’s Venison Medallion with Foie Gras & Celery Root Remoulade
Au Bon Climat, “9th Anniversary Cuvée” (Rosemary’s/Sanford & Benedict) Pinot Noir 1996

Roy’s Black & White Chocolate Decadence with Freshly Dried Cherries

How do you spell umami? Try Splichal’s postmodern rendering of brandade (salt cod poached and pureed with olive oil) with the slinky, sweetly spiced, leather-on-palate-slapping ’95 ABC Sanford & Benedict Reserve; undoubtedly, similar to what you could experience on any sun washed day in the French Mediterranean town of Collioure with bottles of the sharp, leathery reds (never mind the whites and pinks) of that region. The palate knows when it experiences ecstasy.

Second case: Yamaguchi’s smoky, savory oysters wrapped with lardon in caul fat and a syrupy pinot infused sauce, reduced to melting qualities by the slippery sheen and sharply scented zest of the ’94 Sanford Barrel Select. That’s why I love pinot noir.

A Culinary Ode to Wines of the Pinot Family
June 1997

This was one of our more memorable, month-long tasting menus simply because it involved wines of the pinot family in all their guises; re pinot noir and pinot gris, separated as they are by several centuries of viticultural evolution.

Terrine of Salmon & Crab with Red & Gold Pepper Coulis
Robert Sinskey, Carneros Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 1996

Pot-a-Feu of Hawaiian Fish in Fresh Sea Vegetable Nage
King Estate, Willamette Valley “Reserve” Pinot Gris 1995

Roasted Boneless Rack of Lamb & Portobello in Roasted Elephant Garlic Sauce
Babcock, “One Ton Per Acre” Santa Ynez Valley Pinot Noir 1995

Melted Puna Chèvre Mousse with Nalo Farm Mesclun in Shallot Sherry Vinaigrette
Au Bon Climat, “Bien Nacido La Bauge” Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 1995

Macadamia Nut Tart in Island Rum Sauce
Librandi, “Le Passule” Vino Passito

Of our numerous tasting menus, I liked this one because it illustrated some aspects of similarity-and-contrast 101: as in the fourth (salad) course, with its use of mildly acidic Chèvre to underline the snappy, mildly acidic quality of the cold climate grown pinot noir, plus the use of mildly bitter edged salad greens (typical for us: baby arugula, baby spinach, cress, watercress, mizuna, radicchio, romaine, escarole, Manoa and red leaf lettuce) to round out the mildly bitter, young red wine tannins.

When sensations are balanced within both the dish and the wine (and then between the dish and the wine), the palate does not taste the sharpness of acidity or bitterness of tannin, but rather, lively, refreshing sensations. It is like long term acclimation to painfully hot chiles: the more you use them, the less you notice them, and it eventually becomes invigorating.

You could find the same phenomenon in the salty/briny effects of the Hawaiian fish pot-a-feu balanced by the flowing minerality of a matching pinot gris; the umami strengths of the softer style Babcock pinot noir with the portobello and garlic infused lamb jus and veal stock reduction; and even the brightly colored fruitiness of the bell pepper coulis bouncing off the effusively fruity, neon colored vin gris of pinot noir by Sinskey.

Okay, the dessert was not matched with a pinot. But I had been in love with Librandi’s sun raisined moscato ever since my first visit to Southern Italy in the early nineties, and there was nothing I liked it better with than with sweet tarts of roasted Hawaiian macadamia nuts.

The palate is like the heart: it has its own mind, often not in agreement with your preconceptions or sense of what is right. But why fight it?

Ocean sunset from original Roy's Restaurant in Honolulu (Robbyn Shim)

September 1999

In the fall of 1999 Roy’s was in the midst of transitioning far beyond the Islands and into other parts of the country. We were making culinary jihad. Yamaguchi’s kitchens were always laboratories anyway, with 20 to 25 new dishes crafted each day by teams of future executive chefs working under Gordon Hopkins’ brutally (to be perfectly frank) intense supervision.

The basic principles of food and wine matching were very much a part of the process. The following was a working piece developed to illustrate menu progression and the Asian/fusion methodology of balancing taste and tactile sensations that touch the entire palate.

Complete with the wine descriptions printed on the menu to familiarize the chefs with the range of wines at their culinary disposal:

Hot Iron Kabayaki (Eel in Shoyu) Seared Sea Scallops in Sweet Ginger Kabayaki Butter Sauce
Domaine Delmas, Crémant de Limoux 1993 (light, frothy, appley fresh, off-dry “half sparkler” from the French South-West)

Steamed Hawaiian Snapper in Sizzling Hot Chinese Style Peanut Oil, Ginger, Soy & Cilant
Weinhaus Heger, Pinot Gris 1996 (wonderfully crisp, balanced, stony dry, light and buoyant style of white from Germany’s Baden region)

Soy Charred Scallops & Mango Watercress Salad with Couscous in Thai Citrus Vinaigrette
Weingut Bassermann-Jordan, Riesling Kabinett Pfalz 1997 (delicate, off-dry, refined and minerally scented white wine from Germany’s Pfalz region)

Teriyaki Glazed Slow Roasted Hudson Valley Duck Breast in Black Bean “Dragon” Syrup
Beaux Frères, “Belle Soeurs” Oregon Pinot Noir 1996 (sultry, silken, fragrantly spiced and earthen red from a meticulously farmed Willamette Valley estate)

Shichimi Charred Rare New York with Lomi Lomi (Chopped) Tomatoes & Sizzling Truff
le Oil
Robert Biale, “Old Crane Ranch” Napa Valley Zinfandel 1996 (intensely full, jammy, spicy, yet satiny smooth style of this uniquely Californian varietal red)

Wood Roasted Rack of Lamb in White Balsamic, Fig & Pomegranate Reduction
Treana, Paso Robles 1996 (lusciously full, original “Super Paso” blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sangiovese & petitesSirah)

Napoleon of Strawberry and Haupia (Coconut Pudding) with Sugar Cookies & Lychee Ice
Bonnezeaux, Château de “La Chapelle” 1993 (sumptuously honeyed, zesty, headily perfumed late harvest style chenin blanc from the Loire River)

Hawaiian Regional Cuisine & Wine Matching in New York
February 1999

When Yamaguchi and a posse of Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs invaded New York City for the opening of Roy’s New York in 1999, I invited Joshua Wesson – the other mind behind Red Wine with Fish – to share some of his thoughts on the printed menu, which he did with his own inimitable flair:

D.K. Kodama's Panko Crusted 'Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Soy Butter, and
Asian Rock Shrimp Cake with Ginger Lime Chili Butter & Cilantro Pesto
Iron Horse, Sonoma/Green Valley Late Disgorged Brut 1992
Savory shrimp and tuna hotted up with chili and wasabi met their match in the fire extinguishing fizz of Iron Horse’s deeply flavored, yet utterly refreshing, style of sparkling wine.

Philippe Padovani’s Big Island Hearts of Palm Salad
with Pan Seared Day boat Scallops, Prosciutto & Mango
Rex Hill, Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Gris 1997
Rex’s gris gris cooks up Cal-chard-like richness with mouthwatering Oregon acidity, well suited to the twin-forked taste of Philippe’s salty-sweet surf n’ turf style salad

Alan Wong’s Steamed Hawaiian Onaga in Truffled Nage
Murphy-Goode, “The Deuce” Barrel Fermented Fumé 1997
JW: MG’s pristine but earthy, toasty barrel fermented SB only enriches Alan’s truffled tropical swimmer

Troy Guard & Roy Yamaguchi’s
Thai Herb Grilled Lobster with Black Rice Risotto & Spicy Shrimp Sauce
Ken Wright, “Celilo Vineyard” Washington State Chardonnay 1997
JW: You gotta love the Roy & Troy team’s softly spicy shellfish dish with Ken Wright’s unusually crisp and flinty cool-climate coastal Washington chardonnay

Troy Guard & Roy Yamaguchi’s
Mongolian Rack of Lamb with Minted Fruit Compote & Euro-Asian Style Curry
Il Podere dell’ Olivos, Ragazzo Lenoso Riserva (Barbera/Nebbiola) 1994
JW: Who needs mint jelly when the Boyz under the Hood offer their own minty compote as a condiment of choice? Add that to Big Jim’s California twist to two big fruit Piemonte grapes, and you’ve got a match that boldly goes where no wine and food has gone before!

Noah French’s Hawaiian Medley of
Coconut Crème Brûlée, Yuzu Lemon Tart & Chocolate Macadamia Toffee Cake
De Loach Vineyards, Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 1997
JW: This hand harvested sumo-gewürz takes on a trio of sweets in a celebrity match for the heavyweight title of dessert champ. Are you ready to rumble!

November 1999

For a good ten years running we would visit De Loach Vineyards during the late winter or early spring following each vintage, and purchase a full barrel of one of their super-powered single vineyard old vine Russian River Valley zinfandels. The idea was to give everyone back at home a chance to taste a wine that had never been bottled, in all its wild, pristine, unrestrained intensity.

Because it normally took a week for our guests to consume an entire barrel, we would pick the biggest (usually approaching 16%), blackest, spiciest De Loach zinfandel made each year – the essence of autumn! It was always an event, and a cloth staining mess, to pop in the spigot, and it was also the only day of the year when we would clear out space in the dining room for a live band (the first few years it was sophisticated jazz, and then we cut loose with successions of salsa, reggae, and even Cajun-Zydeco).

In 1999 the theme was “Disco Zin,” although I don’t think anyone could come up with any of those flared, hip hugging slacks from the backs of their closet. But it was also a serious night for zinfandel drinkers to experience just how food versatile this grape – making the biggest, richest, and perhaps the most peculiar of the world’s great wines -- can be, with its overridingly delicious sensations of peppery, clovy, blackberry jam.

Starting off with some rare library bottlings from previous vintages, and then building up to our barrel of 1998 juice:

Fresh ‘Ahi Tuna Tortellini in Natural Beef Broth
De Loach, Gambogi Ranch Zinfandel 1994

“Disco Wild” Risotto of Wild Mushrooms, Wild Rice & Aborio with Parmigiano & Truffled Vegetables
De Loach, Gambogi Ranch Zinfandel 1995

Nalo Farm Mesclun Salad with Crispy Gizzard Croutons in Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette
De Loach, Gambogi Ranch Zinfandel 1996

Wood Roasted Salmon in “Drunken” Saké Sauce with Waimanalo Eggplant, Tofu & Scallions
De Loach, Gambogi Ranch Zinfandel 1997

Rosemary Pork Loin Skewers in Fresh Basil Zinfandel Essence
De Loach, Gambogi Ranch Zinfandel 1998 (Barrel)

Bittersweet Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate Petits Fours

The half-sweet chocolate dessert was also adjusted to compliment the barrel of 1998 zinfandel so that everyone could boogie on down the night with one final glass.


Back Burners

The state of Syrah, its ideal food matches, and a short list of inspiring American producers

Chicken (recipes & wine matches) everybody loves

The acid test: sauvignon blanc food matches of our dreams

Is Pinot Noir the ultimate food wine?

Cabernet sauvignons past & present, and the foods we love to eat with them

Culinary matching 101: wines for classic blackened tuna

The underappreciated joys of Zinfandel and cheese matching

Is Riesling the ultimate white wine for food?

Not your daddy's zin (zinfandel's amazing food affinities)

Reconsidering the oyster (and its sensible wine matches)