The Highlands’ Paul Fried and Matt Bolton combine talents to deliver an impressive wine dinner series.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
With few exceptions, when it comes to ultra-premium, multi-course menus paired expertly with notable wines from around the world, the distance between Monterey and the Michelin-starred chefs and wine cellars of San Francisco and Napa is achingly apparent.
Thanks to Pacific’s Edge restaurant, however, that gap is closing. Recently appointed Executive Chef Matt Bolton and newly hired Wine Director Paul Fried have joined forces to launch the “Exquisite Wine Dinner Series,” a mouthwatering triumph for local food and wine aficionados, and a sign of what the team can do for diners on any given night.
The Highlands Inn wisely granted the pair an opportunity to flex their creative talents in a five-dinner series, each one highlighting a specific wine-growing region with seldom-available vintages from high-profile producers. Upcoming dinners will tour guests through the world-famous winemaking regions of Spain (next Thursday, Sept. 23), Italy (Oct. 21), California (Nov. 18), and France (Dec. 16). They’ve also added a vertical “Cellar Gems” tasting series that sips Opus One vintages Saturday, Sept. 18, and Numanthia & Termanthia Saturday, Oct. 16.
Inspiration for the dinner series came from the desire to introduce and promote Chef Bolton, who is assuming the executive chef reigns following Mark Ayers’ move to Coastal Luxury Management. Bolton’s heritage includes sous chef at Bernardus flagship Marinus, chef de cuisine at Quail Lodge, and executive sous chef at Pacific’s Edge.
The program has the enthusiastic support of Resort Manager Jonathan Doepke, whose soft-spoken professionalism and friendly demeanor complement the Highlands’ relaxing atmosphere, and Scottish-born Director of Food and Wine Donald Conn, a recent arrival from the Park-Hyatt Washington D.C.
Both were present to add their warm welcome to the first dinner in the series, “An Evening in Burgundy,” a $300 affair featuring six courses paired with four Grand Cru and two Premier Cru wines from arguably the most revered – albeit fickle – winemaking region in the world.
As the small group of guests assembled and mingled in the sophisticated elegance of Pacific’s Edge private dining room – a working red wine cellar – we were treated to Island Creek oysters sous-vide with Golden Imperial caviar, porcini mushroom sliders on parmesan gougères and salmon rillettes while sipping a 2006 William Fevre “Bougros” Chablis Grand Cru.
The attendees read like a local who’s who, including CLM’s Rob Weakley and David Bernahl, Jeanne Johnston of Carmel’s Pastries & Petals, Calvin Wilkes of P.G. favorite Fifi’s with Dennis Zadell of Cambria’s Wine Shop, and Mark Buzan, formerly with the Highlands and now wine and spirits director for Pebble Beach Company.
As we settled into elegant seating, Fried, with extensive experience from L’Auberge de Sedona, Marinus, various Sonoma restaurants, and most recently, opening the St. Regis Deer Crest in Park City, humbly commented that he was perhaps leading a dinner “where the guests know more about wine than me.”
True or not, certainly none of us have the Highlands’ award-winning cellar of some 1,200 labels of exceptional caliber wines at our disposal.
When asked how the menu was developed, Fried said the wine led the charge. “I pulled gems deep from within the cellar of my predecessors,” and then he and Chef Bolton sat down and tasted, collaborating on the best flavors to complement the premium juice.
The pairing of palates worked.
The dinner progressed through beautifully presented plates of über-thin yellowfin tuna carpaccio with truffles and caviar (2000 Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet “Champgains” 1er Cru), a meltingly-soft Monterey spot prawn with sweet corn, chanterelles and more truffles (1997 Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru), smoked duck breast with foie gras and port-bing cherry jus (2002 Groffier Chambolle Musigny “Les Amoureuses” 1er Cru, which Buzan deemed “perfection” and the highlight wine of the evening – high praise indeed), dry-aged prime rib-eye with heirloom ratatouille and sauce bordelaise (2001 Dujac Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru), ending with a cheese trio of époisse, tartuffo and valencay (2000 Georges Vogüé Musigny ‘Vieilles-Vignes’ Grand Cru).
Fried introduced the wine and Chef Bolton materialized to describe each dish, adding charm and intimacy to the dining experience.
Then, an unexpected seventh glass appeared, which soon contained a 2001 Emmanuel Rouget Echézeaux Grand Cru to accompany an assortment of chocolate truffles. Fried’s smile conveyed the pride and pleasure of his unadvertised gift. He later commented that each of the wine dinners would contain a similar surprise.
Every bite was delicious, every sip exquisite, the combinations confirming the magic of knowledgeably pairing the food flavors and textures with wine.
The next menu – dedicated to Spain – has already been crafted. For $150 (inclusive of tax/gratuity), guests will savor, among other treats, sea bass, king salmon and halibut crudo, red abalone paella, Berkshire pork belly, and Colorado lamb alongside exotic varietals like Albariño, Verdejo, Viura, Garnacha, Tempranillo and Monastrell.
Though not exactly cheap, these epicurean and enological journeys can be enjoyed without TSA approval. Simply bring your culinary passport to the Highlands Inn and let Bolton and Fried be your guide.