Valentine’s Day can be tough for a lot of people. For those who have recently experienced great loss, especially. For those who are single, it can be a time of feeling excluded. As a restauranteur, it was always a really long, but profitable, day of work. As someone who is now single myself, I see it in such a mixed way. For starters, I like to think that great relationships don’t need a special day to be reminded to celebrate each other but I am also truly inspired by couples who remain lovingly and steadfastly committed to each other. Since my separation I have, in many ways, slowly gained a renewed or even totally new love of self and sense of who I am and what I want. That’s something pretty awesome and powerful to celebrate, I think!
My special dinner this Valentine’s Day? Tonight, it’s leftovers with my boys, embellished with some chocolate covered strawberries from Buttermilk Bakery and lovely Chardonnay (for me) and chocolate milk (for the boys). Followed by a new episode of This is Us. And writing this piece.
This past Sunday? You would think that I go to wine dinners every week, I really don’t! However, I’ve had the fortune to attend three in just the past month, lucky me! Along with four great friends, I headed north to Manchester to Camden’s Dogtown Market for a “Pre V-Day Wine Dinner”. Or as host/owner Chef Andy Howell likes to call it, “a culinary roll in the hay”. He loves playing with words as much as food….he partnered with Brandon Hamlet, fine wine specialist for Republic National Distributing Co. to produce a master class of a wine dinner. Andy did confess however, to using one of his all-time favorite cookbooks “Intercourses” for inspiration and the names of the wines were no coincidence. Brandon and I have something in common, we both worked for Andy many years ago, Brandon in the kitchen at Avenue 805, and I worked as a server at Portabella here in Petersburg almost 20 years ago!
Keeping it light while we sipped on Schramsburg Vineyards “Mirabelle” Brut, Andy and Brandon thanked us for forgoing the chance to see Rick Astley at The National tonight in order to indulge in their wine dinner. No complaints from anyone!
To pair with our glass of bubbly: House Cured and Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Croustade. Perfect start!
Next up on this menu chock full of aphrodisiacs… Parmesan Oysters, paired with Virginia Dare Winery “Two Arrowheads”. Sublime. Oysters were plump, sauce was creamy, coating was crunchy. Enough said.
The wine for the next course, “Complicated” Chardonnay from Taken Wine Co., is a wine I’ve tried before and struggled to love. Took a sip before the food arrived and sure enough…same again. But wait, along came the Crab Quesadilla with Peach Salsa and all of a sudden, I’m all about some complication in my life. THIS is what a great wine dinner is all about…that moment when you realize what the chef and sommelier want you to know and feel. Gorgeous.
Being a Brit, I love Roast Lamb and typically cook it with Rosemary and Garlic. Andy chose to use a Coffee Rub and it worked beautifully especially alongside a lovely Potato and Artichoke Salad. Served with “Taken” Red Blend, which was FABULOUS, it was the perfect meat course after all the yummy seafood!
How do you finish this? With my old kinda sorta friend, Banfi “Rosa Regale”, which as I learned at the last wine dinner, must be paired with a dessert less sweet than itself. In this case it was with housemade Dark Chocolate Pate, Ricotta Cheese and a freshly baked Pine Nut Cookie. Mind and tastebuds blown, I finally understood this wine. Rich dark chocolate with slightly sour cheese and a chewy pine nut laden cookie along with the rose petal, raspberry, and strawberry notes of this sparkling red, we were all wowed by the pairing and the quality of each component. What a conclusion to a phenomenal meal.
Let’s not leave out the bread……
So, I kind of feel the need to disclose the fact that Andy and I do work together on some catering. I love his style and feel for food. He’s sarcastic, sometimes cranky, witty, very clever and a really great friend. He’s much more organized than I am. He’s obviously a brilliant and talented chef. But I’m more of a people person. It’s a fun partnership and I’ll NEVER stop enjoying his Wine Dinners. I also happen to know that he hates having his photo taken……cheers!