Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dunham Winemaker Dinner at BOKA

BOKA Kitchen & Bar, Seattle

Recently, I got invited by dear friend Kathy McLean, and daughter [and lawyer-to-be] Chelsea –who used to work for me at The Beach House at Purdy to a Wine Tasting dinner at BOKA (an acronym for Bold Original Kitchen Artistry) restaurant in Seattle.
Our mutual good friend and award-winning chef, Monique Barbeau, was also invited. [Monique was voted Seattle's Best Chef by the readers of Seattle magazine, April 1995. She was also voted Best Chef of the Pacific Northwest by the 1994 James Beard Awards.. and worked for celebrated New York City restaurants: The Quilted Giraffe, Le Bernardin and Chanterelle, 1985-1989]. There are rumors that Monique may be planning to open her own restaurant in the Tacoma area, rumors that I hope become reality.

We had been planning this dinner for literally months but unfortunately, this nasty winter weather conspired to keep Monique in Sun Valley, as she was unable to get out of town due to blizzard-like conditions.

In her place, Kathy invited another Kathy [McGoldrick] who had just returned, the day prior, from a fabulous-sounding trip to Thailand, Laos & Myanmar. I was fortunate enough to be seated next to her as I had recently returned from a trip to Thailand myself, and was eager to compare notes.

The Winemaker Dinner was purchased by Kathy McLean at a charity auction.

The meal was planned around the wines of celebrated Walla Walla winemaker Eric Dunham, of Dunham Cellars, and his wines were MUCH better than the so-so meal. He has developed a cultish following-- with several of his wines selling out before their release. Below are my tasting notes of the food & wine:

…from their website: “BOKA boasts a team of passionate and talented culinarians led by Executive Chef Angie Roberts dedicated to a vision of “Bold, Original, Kitchen Artistry”.

1st Course
Dungeness crab salad, with celery root remoulade, and blood orange gelée
This was paired with a delicious buttery 2006 Chardonnay “Shirley Mays” Columbia Valley that thankfully had not been over-oaked, and had nice acidity to cut through the richness of the crab. It had a wonderful fresh green apple flavor that was a good match to the salad. The blood orange sauce did not interfere with the wine, but I felt the remoulade sauce a tad salty.

2nd Course
Tuscan Bean Soup
Cabernet Sauvignon, Lewis Vineyard, 2004, Columbia Valley
This was a gutsy pairing on the part of the chef, I mean—who drinks cabernet with soup? I was afraid that the acidity from the tomatoes would throw the wine off. But it worked. This is what is fun about a Winemaker Dinner for me, to confound expectations, and make you re-think what it is you are tasting. The corona beans in the soup were a little tough (HINT: always soak dry beans over-night in salted water, which will help soften the bean’s shell when it cooks the following day). The drizzle of basil pistou worked with the wine too.

3rd course
Butter Poached Sole with risotto, black olive oil, and paddle fish caviar
Syrah, Lewis Vineyard, 2004, Rattlesnake Hills
Another gutsy match-- a bland fish like sole (did I mean to say delicate?) with a big richly structured cassis flavored wine. This syrah was immense and DELICIOUS.
To further emphasize the blandness of the fish-- it was poached in butter-- so the fish had no caramelization to add any depth of flavor to the fish itself. The "black olive oil" was delicious and tasted great with the syrah, but the risotto was mushy [WAY over-cooked], and also bland—needed salt. The caviar was good by itself but I didn’t see why it was on the dish. Plus for a tasting-- the portion was immense. Thank goodness it didn’t taste very good so I wasn’t tempted to finish it. Also the dish was only lukewarm, as it must have taken too long to plate-up in the back because of all the extra garnishes.

4th Course
Braised Lamb Shank, creamy polenta, fennel confit, Niçoises sauce
Syrah, 2002 Columbia Valley
The braised shank of lamb seemed like a good marriage to the syrah, but I would have rather had the 2004 with the lamb as it seemed bigger than the 2002 which with a little bottle-age has allowed the wine some time and was perfectly structured. This wine would have better matched the fish. Again the portion for a tasting was too huge. Several of us groaned when we saw the portion, but the lamb was delicious, if only the polenta had been hot (a problem with every course) and better seasoned. Anytime your mouth says “bland” the dish needed just a sprinkle more sea salt to bring the rich polenta into focus. The fennel confit added nothing to the dish, it appeared like onion scattered on top of the lamb, but had been cooked so long it was devoid of any identifying flavor. The Niçoises sauce was good-- the olives again working with the wine…but I thought it odd that 2 sauces in a row would be olive-based.

5th course
Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
Semillon Ice Wine, Double River Estate, 2005, Walla Walla
Even the crème brûlée was too huge, but it was delicious so I ate the whole thing!
The wine was spectacular. Thick & syrupy it tasted of pears, apricots & honeysuckle flowers. A great match!

Over-all the Wines were superb, the food only so-so, the company—Stellar.

Kitchens need to remember that food should be presented simply so that it can be plated fast enough to not lose its heat before it makes its way through the dining room and to the waiting guests.

The dining room of BOKA is very hip. Gorgeous imprinted off-white leather chairs. Cozy booths. Dramatic painted bamboo “still-life” in the middle of the room. Very chic. I would go back, (I bet on a slow Sunday night they might not have had enough help in the kitchen to plate the food). The menu was gutsy if not entirely successful, but I would go back to try several of their “small plates” and starters to see how they do when a famous winemaker is not at the table!

kitchen + bar
1010 1st Ave Seattle, WA 98104(206) 357-9000

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