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Posts Tagged ‘tasting’

Approaching Riverbench

View approaching the vineyard

As you wind your way down Foxen Canyon road aka the Foxen Trail, you can’t help to think about the wonderful scenery that the road bisects. On either side ancient oak trees grow in pastures, some with grazing cattle others now planted with wonderful vines producing a host of fruit from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir and the noblest of grapes Cabernet Sauvignon. The nice thing is that you can choose to sample a handful of wines or less on your way to Riverbench or better yet hold off, show some restraint, have patience and wait till you arrive at the oasis nestled amongst the vines on the flat plain just past

Entering Riverbench

Coming into the winery

Rancho Sisquoc in the Santa Maria valley. The vines surround their beautiful tasting room, a converted craftsman style home, with a wonderful outdoor seating area perfect for a relaxing tasting and picnic.

Upon exiting the car we were struck by the quiet stillness of the area so peaceful, the perfect environment for wine tasting. Upon entering the tasting room you’re greeted by a warm comfortable room complete with fire place, lots of windows, a gift area and a long robust wooden bar for tasting with the days offerings written on the chalk board.

View of Vineyard

Having been to Riverbench several times at all different times of the year I have found the experience to encompass the seasons, a roaring fire during the colder months or enjoying a tasting out on the back patio during the warmer summer months. The winery has been around since 1973 growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes and producing wines as well as selling their grapes to other wine makers.  In 2004 it was purchased by a group of families in the area and is making some of very fine chardonnay and pinot noir that are amongst some of the finest in the region. A few of my favorites are the One Palm Pinot Noir that makes the trek worth it on it’s own it’s deep rich cranberry color with notes of cherry and strawberry and an earthiness to it clearly reflecting the region that it comes from. From the first sip of this wine I was hooked, small case production which doesn’t take long to sell out every year. On another recent tasting I had the pleasure of tasting their Bedrock Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Rosé two other fantastic selections.

Budding Grapes

The Chardonnay is a crisp Chablis style wine that is completely fermented in stainless steel tanks that keep the flavors of the grapefruit and pineapple with a richness that lingers on the palate making it a pleasure to drink. And last but not least is their Pinot Noir Rosé, a delightful wine that is refreshing, a perfect summer wine that gives you the best of pinot noir flavor in a lighter wine that has notes,

Riverbench, Chardonnay, Rosé & Pinot Noir

believe it or not of jolly ranchers and watermelon with a dry finish that lingers to reveal a host of citrus flavors that make for a perfect ending. This Rosé reminds me of the Rosés from Provence that I tasted recently at an event. These are but 3 from their collection of wonderful wines that I have sampled. Each time I am in the tasting room there is a different flight of wines to taste. Laura the general manager is always very helpful and is always ready to answer your questions as it the rest of the very knowledgeable and friendly staff who are always ready to pour and engage in some good conversation time permitting. This is one vineyard in the Santa Ynez/Santa Maria region that is well worth a visit. For more information check out their website – www.riverbench.com

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So I arrived at the Hotel Vitale to find the FoodBuzz Blogger Festival Table to my left in the lobby. At the table to greet me were several FoodBuzz employees including Dorian Asch whom I met at the Beso event several months earlier in Los Angeles. My festival pass around my neck and program in my pocket I proceeded upstairs to the 8th floor terrace for cocktails. As I walked out to the terrace I saw a sea of people with a bar in the corner.

Bar

Skyy vodka cocktails, sparkling wine and beer

The interesting thing about this sea of people was that they were all food bloggers. A bunch of foodies all in one place all talking about food.

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The Ferry Building at night

The backdrop to this cocktail party was a picturesque night scene looking down the Embarcadero.  The yellow street lights illuminating the street trolly car tracks glistening as vintage trolly cars passed, each ringing their bell from times gone by. Behind that rises the Ferry Building perched at the waters edge, clock tower standing tall signaling that there is something special about this building. A building whose contents consist of some very special merchants who bring only the best culinary products to those who desire them. And isn’t it fitting that here on the terrace overlooking this marvel are about 200 to 300 foodies enjoying cocktails and telling each other of their culinary adventures.

I found my friend Adam Rubenstein from VivaLaFoodies on the lower terrace. We got caught up with the latest food goings on. He’s making sushi a the corporate café at Guess in downtown LA. It seems like he is having a good time.  Adam loves food and the blogging world. He has carved out a niche for himself writing restaurant and event reviews. The interesting thing about being amongst all these bloggers is that no two are alike. Everyone has their own story both about how they got into blogging as well as why they chose to write what they do on their blogs. Tomorrow I will have more information about some of the various bloggers here at the festival. Once the cocktail hour was finished we descended down the stairs to go to the Ferry Building where a veritable feast was awaiting us.

entry sign-4109We arrived at the Ferry Building arcade where they street food fair was awaiting us. We walked in to first have some beer from Speakeasy Ales & Lagers was pouring a wheat beer and an Ale. I chose the Ale and Adam and his wife went for the wheat beer.

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Adam Rubenstein and his wife, capturing beer images for his blog

They had a nice refreshing taste to begin the dining portion of the evening. I was greeted by a woman holding a tray of chichharones to tantalize the guests with. porkrinds-0162These fried swine skin delicacies had a nice clean flavor with a spice mixture sprinkled on top.  The only problem what there was little to no crunch. Although they weren’t stale they were not crispy, but the flavor was good. So what goes with chichharones? You guessed it ice cream. Coffee ice cream to be exact. Why not. Who says you need to eat your meal in any particular order, this is after all street food which can be eaten as it comes to you. So there it was staring at me. the Strauss Family Creamery table. Topped with 2 containers of Ice Cream one coffee flavored and the other vanilla. This family owned dairy makes cream, yogurt and a wonderful european style butter with an 85% milkfat content for added flavor. The second generation agreed to stay on provided that he could make ice cream. Thus the Strauss Ice Cream was born. This is no ordinary Ice Cream it has a rich and creamy texture similar to that of gelato. There are no artificial binders or ingredients in it. The result speaks for itself. cupcakes-4115

Right next to this was the Mission Mini’s Gourmet Cupcake table. They make an assortment of cupcakes including Pumpkin, lemon custard, chocolate, ginger, red velvet and more. If you like cupcakes you’ll love these. I had the pumpkin and the lemon custard and they were both very good. Not too sweet and the frosting made a excellent compliment to the cake enhancing the experience instead of masking it.

So now it’s time to have some real food. I noticed people coming toward me with these wonderful looking tacos so I went in search of them. Luckily I didn’t have to go far. I got to the Tacolicious stand and found them busily making tacos. The were serving 3 kinds – Braised short rib, potato chorizo and blackeyed pea. I spoke to the proprietor and he told me that they were looking for something different to do with their tacos. Many tacos they tried were made with meat that was dry. So they came up with the idea of braising their meats to keep them moist. They also endeavor to use locally sourced product for all their tacos. The quality shows through.

tacos

Tacos, Tacos and More Tacos

I went to go see the Pie Truck table where they were serving 2 kinds of pies – Zucchini mushroom and steak & gruyere. These pies are all made from scratch. They have  converted catering truck that they use to cook their pies in and roll around the city serving these crusty saucers of deliciousness to their eagerly awaiting patrons. The great thing about these pies is that they are heavy on flavor and filling and light on crust. Which in my opinion makes for the perfect combination. There is just enough crust to encapsulate the filling so you get the full flavor without all the extra doughiness.

meatpies

The best meat pies

Next was Hog Island Oyster company who was shucking their Kumamoto oysters which they raise in Tomales Bay. These oysters are small with an oceanic sweetness to them. They need nothing other than perhaps a drop of tapatio or tabasco to add that bit of spice that I like with my oysters. Later they were also shucking Malpec oysters which are a bit bigger and very flavorful as well.

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Kumamotos, shucking and the larger Malpac

I had seen these pork sandwiches going by and as you know I love all things pork. The meat has a sweetness that is not found in any other. I walked over to the Roli Roti Truck whos motto is I love crispy skin. And boy do they live up to that. In speaking with the owner who has a deep seeded passion for his craft. He is Swiss and he lives by the philosophy to do what you do the best that you can do it. He raises all his own hogs, which keeps his quality way up. He only butchers his hogs when they are at their optimum flavor. If they are not quite ready then he waits until they are. As he said – “If I have to wait a week until they are ready then I wait a week.” That is the type of passion that I admire in the culinary world. He makes a large roll out of his pigs with the skin on the outside of the roll. Then he slow roasts it on a spit to ensure that the meat stays tender and the skin becomes crispy. The sandwich contains succulent pork with crispy pork skin, onions carmelized to a dark brown with greens and placed on a fresh cibatta roll. This was my hands down favorite of the evening.

pork

The ultimate porcine experience

Next I explored the world of Raw food with Chef Leland Jung from Alive. He specializes in raw food. He was serving 3 things- 2 kinds of pizza and a lavender cheesecake. The pizza was made with a flaxseed crust that was dehydrated and topped with tomato and avocado. I had that one and it was surprisingly good for what it was. Not my favorite but if you are into the raw food thing then you’ll probably love his stuff.Raw pizza and cheesecake

I stopped by Spencer on the Go to see what was cooking. He had a mushroom dish comprised of oyster and shmeji mushrooms in a light cream sauce on top of a puff pastry topped with watercress and truffle cream. This was a wonderful dish. He added just a touch of parmesan cheese which gave offset the richness of the cream. He also made a beet salad from both red and golden beets. He slow roasted the beets in a 300º oven for about 4 hours to maximize the sweetness of the beets. It was a simple dish with only a very light olive oil vinaigrette and Point Reyes blue cheese which complimented the sweetness of the beets beautifully.beet&mushroom

So I’m getting kinda full. The bloggers are buzzing all around and some of them are beginning to dwindle down. I pressed on to find a mobile wood burning oven that was cooking pizzas to perfection. The pizzas that Pizza Politana was making were topped with spinach, olives, feta and mozzarella cheese. They got their start at the farmers market in Novato. They found that they really love what they are doing and are happy to make pizzas at all hours of the day or night. They buy all their ingredients locally with the exception of the mozzarella cheese which comes from Wisconsin and the San Marzano tomatoes which come from Italy. It’s interesting but when I was speaking with the owners wife she told me that the reason they import their tomatoes from Italy is because the American tomatoes were just too sweet. I thought to myself, that’s a first. I was always under the impression that most commercial tomatoes were relatively tasteless and not anywhere near the sweetness that I have found overseas, particularly in Greece. They also use a combination of 2 different flours for their crust. One is higher protien content which is good for building up gluten which gives it a good structure and the other has a malt flavor so the combination gives the dough the perfect flavor, structure and elasticity for their use. An you know what, it works. Their crust is thin and with a nice balance of flavor. Their woodburning oven is on wheels for easy transport to some of the street corners and farmers markets they frequent as well as the evening bar crowd.

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Simply great pizza

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Last cocktail of the evening

So last but not least on my trek was to have a cocktail from Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. It was called a blood and sand that was made from Glenrothes Select Reserve whiskey, orange juice, Cinzano and cherry liqueur. The drink was a perfect way to cap off a wonderful evening filled with great food interesting people and the ambiance of San Francisco as a backdrop for the entire event.

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