Culinary orgy of Lodi wines & chocolate dishes in San Francisco’s Naked Kitchen

Chef Joshua Oakley in Naked Kitchen (with Chef Ben Robert)

Lodi Wine Country’s Wine & Chocolate Weekend (our 16th Annual!) is nigh upon us, this coming February 9 & 10, 2013!

To get the our juices flowing, this past January 9 Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, invited eight influential members of the Northern California media to an intimate dinner in San Francisco’s Naked Kitchen – an underground eatery of sorts, housed in a classic Valencia St. Victorian, where chefs and artists gather for periodic exchanges of nourishing ideas.

For this particular occasion, Mr. King asked Joshua Oakley – one of the Bay Area’s more talented underground chefs (having no permanent brick-and-mortar home, Chef Oakley’s Tango & Stache cooking company simply pops up, like a culinary Robin Hood, or the proverbial Underdog) – to execute this challenge:  a dinner around Naked Kitchen’s dining room table (which seats only 12 comfortably) consisting of five courses, all made with chocolate as a core ingredient, each course matched to a Lodi grown wine (or two).

And Chef Oakley came through magnificently!

As everyone knows, chocolates go terrifically with sweet red wines, like Port, or the occasionally seen bottlings of Late Harvest Zinfandel.  Sweet dark chocolates + sweet dark wines = no-brainer match.  But who wants to sit down to a dinner of five courses of sweet chocolates and dessert wines?

The challenge for Chef Oakley was to come up with multiple dishes utilizing this basic principle:  that chocolate, which comes from pods of the tropical Theobroma cacao plant, starts off as a very dry and bitter food product.  It is only after it is processed, then sweetened with sugar and blended with milk, that it becomes more of a confectionery.  A chef or chocolatier, however, can control the level of sweetness (or unsweetness) when cooking or baking with chocolate by starting off with unsweetened, or bitter tasting, chocolate ingredients, which still add gloriously earthy, taste bud tingling sensations.

Valencia St. door to Naked Kitchen

As a matter of fact, it is the very bitterness of unsweetened chocolate that makes it an ideal food match for completely dry red wines; even those with moderate to high degrees of tannin – tannin being the bitter, sometimes astringent tasting phenolic component naturally found in red wines, derived from the seeds, skins and stems of grapes (to produce red wine, black skinned grapes are crushed and fermented in situ, in order to extract the color, flavor and tactile sensations contributed by the skins, seeds and, often, stems).

Therefore, with the artful use of bitter chocolates, Chef Oakley was able to regale his media guests with three deep and earthy dishes, perfect for the type of full flavored dry red wines in which Lodi specializes.  He started us off, however, with a mildly cocoa flavored appetizer, soft enough to taste great with a dry white wine; and then finished with a more traditional sweet dish to go with a sweet red.

The menu, composed with the use of chocolate products generously provided by our 2013 Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend sponsor, Brix Chocolate:

Cocoa braised borlatti (French beans) appetizer
2011 LangeTwins Family, Lodi Musqué

Sautéed duck liver with cocoa nib vinaigrette & frisée
(for the vegetarians:  sautéed mushrooms with cocoa nib vinaigrette & frisée)
2010 Bokisch, Lodi Graciano

Goat’s milk & Brix Chocolate stuffed ravioli with winter spices
2010 Borra Vineyards, Lodi Heritage Blend (Barbera, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Carignan)

Braised goat in Brix Dark Chocolate sauce, on farro risotto with mint and pomegranate
2010 m2 Wines, Soucie Vineyard “Select Block” Lodi Zinfandel
2010 Viñedos Aurora, Lodi Petite Sirah

Brix Chocolate fritters with homemade strawberry preserves & sweet cream dipping sauce
2007 The Lucas Winery, Late Harvest Lodi Zinfandel

Charles Communications' Skye Morgan greeting Off Metro writer Kaitlyn Ellison at door

In the appetizer course, the cocoa simmered heirloom beans were served with wilted greens, and it was that combination of the buttery borlotti and leafy greens that made it a perfect match for LangeTwins’ Sauvignon Musqué, which has just a whisper of leafy herbiness, and much more of a flowery, honeyed flavor in its lightly tart, bone dry taste.  The LangeTwins is just one of many wines produced in Lodi today that dramatically disproves the mistaken notion that the region’s Mediterranean terroir is not conducive to crisply balanced, light and dry white wines.

In the second course, the earthy taste of both the duck liver and wild mushrooms (the latter served to the vegetarians around the table) made a wonderful mirror image of the earthy varietal flavor of Bokisch’s Graciano – a grape of Spanish origin that produces round, soft yet zesty red wines, further enhanced by the chocolaty taste of cocoa, scrubby thyme seasonings and the mildly refreshing bitterness of the frisée lacing the dish.

In the ravioli dish, Chef Oakley balanced the lightly sour notes of goat’s milk with earthy chocolate and use of pungent star anise, clove, nutmeg and sage in the ravioli stuffing.  Savory shavings of umami-rich, sheep’s milk pecorino cheese went even further to balance the deep, richly berryish, composted/loamy, yet zesty natural acidity components of Borra’s red wine blind, composed in the heritage field-blend style (all grapes picked, crushed and fermented together) of Lodi’s of old-time Italian families (Lodi’s Borra family is in its fourth generation, descended from immigrants from Italy’s Piedmont region)

Chef Oakley’s pièce de resistance in this orgy of chocolates and wines may very well have been his goat braised in bitter chocolate seasoned stock, and spiked with earthy ingredients like garlic, onions, chili, allspice and mace; leafy fresh mint and zesty pomegranate seeds adding more layers of flavor.  Chef envisioned a full blooded red for the dish:  in this case, the thick, peppery, blueberry toned Viñedos Aurora Petite Sirah proved more than up to the task; whereas the softer, rounder, jammy m2 Zinfandel added a loamy earthiness to the equation, mingling with the richly reduced, earthen-chocolate textures in the dish.

Cocoa braised French beans, ready to go

Finally, for our dessert course of chocolate fritters – giving sensations tasting more savory than sweet – dipped into discreet cups of thickened sweet cream, the Late Harvest Zinfandel grown by David Lucas and crafted by winemaker Heather Pyle made another intriguing match:  the wine’s moderate, complimenting sweetness (7.3% residual sugar), full body (completely natural 17.2% alcohol) and dusty/earthy, autumnal berry flavors wrought by a painstaking process of taking fresh, ripe (not overripe or vine raisined) Zinfandel grapes and drying them on mats (in the old Italian passito style), before crushing and fermenting.

At Naked Kitchen table: Camron King (Lodi Winegrape Commission), Ziggy Eschliman (KRSH Sonoma Radio's "The Wine Gal"), Skye Morgan, Robert Moon (Google's Academy of Friends), and Laurie Farr (SF Travel Examiner, CBS Local & Yahoo! Travel)

The following day, one of our media guests, Anneli Rufus, posted in the The Huffington Post (re My Journey Back to Liver: the Ultimate Sacrifice) that the Bokisch Graciano and duck liver match was a “glorious echo chamber of layered dark, soft, fruity-spicy-chocolaty richness sip after bite and sip after bite.”  This almost exactly describes the experience of the thousands upon thousands of wine lovers who flock to Lodi each year for this Delta region’s annual Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend.

You can expect, going from winery to winery and tasting Lodi wines and chocolate dishes, many more “glorious echo chambers” in this year’s rendition.  Hope to see you all out there, come February 9 & 10!

Plump pillows of duck liver, ready for their cocoa bath

All about the chocolate-friendly Lodi wines

Haute Living's Angella Sprauve with her braised mushrooms on farro risotto; with Joel Riddell (Dining Around with Joel Riddell 910 KKSF), Kimberly Charles (Charles Communications), and Anneli Rufus (The Huffington Post)

 

 

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