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Delicious Whimsy at The Cork & Plough with Herman Story and Desparada Wines

Whimsy: whim·sy / wimzē (noun)
playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor; a whim; a thing that is fanciful or odd

You know it's going to be an interesting evening when there is a Buddha's Hand citron soaking in clear booze on the counter of the bar!

Back in the 2015, my piece "Bringing the Farm to Table to King City" appeared in the Fall issue of Edible Monterey Bay. Read it there. And I have seen Chef Travis at different events since, but I hadn't been back to The Cork & Plough since that interview.

So, when they extended an invitation to one of the EMB team to attend their wine dinner - featuring Herman Story Wines and Desparada Wines - last weekend, I happily accepted and immediately snagged a ticket for a friend to join me.

The moment Susana and I entered the doors, we were each handed a glass of Desparada 'Fragment' Sauvignon Blanc and a server made sure we tried their two amuse bouche: grilled shrimp with pickled apple with mango coriander sauce and pear crab cakes with orange blossom aioli.

Fragment is an unusually weighty Sauvignon Blanc. The citrus and herb notes paired well with Chef Travis' seafood bites. And, I'll be honest, the fact that its final aging is done in terra cotta amphorae made my history-loving heart soar. Besides, I just love that word: amphorae. It conjures up memories of wandering the cobbled streets of Pompeii when I lived in Italy.

Russell, of Herman Story, introduced the Desparada wine which is made by his wife, Vailia. He said that the 'her' of their his-and-her-wineries couldn't make it to the event because she was home with their 20-month old child. So, we raised a glass in her honor and enjoyed the pairing.

After mingling with other diners for a little while, we were ushered into a back dining room. Susana and I took seats at the table with both the chef's parents and the winemaker's parents. Throughout the evening they regaled us with tales of their travels and most memorable meals from around the world. Russell's dad told a story about a lobster dinner in France where the waiter released the ice-encased crustacean from its crystal coffin with the mere tap of a bell. Travis' dad shared stories about his twenty-three trips from Seattle to Anchorage - by car! - and a $1000 meal in Amsterdam. What a crew!

We were wined and dined with a parade of pairings that were deliciously whimsical. And, by that, I mean that there was always some surprising detail in the dish.

The 'first plate' was a Warm Cauliflower and Beet Salad with Bleu Cream Sauce and Toasted Walnut. I knew there wasn't any bacon in the salad, so I couldn't figure out from where I was getting the smokiness. Then, Chef Travis mentioned that he had smoked the arugula leaf for a little bit of intrigue.

With this first plate, we tried Herman Story's 2013 On the Road Grenache. Silky and balanced, the wine brought a tinge of sweetness to the smokiness of the dish.

Next up was an 'intermezzo' that Chef Travis introduced as a solid, a liquid, and a gas: Blood Orange Sphere (solid), Buddha's Hand Lemonade (liquid), and Mandarin Foam on a Cucumber Slice (gas).

Later, I asked Chef Travis to explain the sphere. He said, "Molecular gastronomy and mixology can be cool, but I try not to overuse those techniques." He described that the sphere was made through a process called reverse spherification. He and bartender Rob added calcium lactate to blood orange juice and froze them in molds. Then they dropped them in a bath of distilled water and sodium alginate. The chemical reaction creates a thin membrane to form so, as the juice thaws, the liquid is trapped inside. But it was a finicky process. He shared, "We started with 48 pieces and had about 8 of them break during prep, then lost a couple more during plating, but the result is such an unusual experience that it was worth all the trouble."

Here's a closer shot of that Mandarin Foam. It was like eating a cloud, a wonderfully, citrusy cloud.

Chef Travis' entrée was another surprise. The "grains" were melon seeds. What?!? I think the entire table was abuzz, "Did he say melon seeds?" Yes! Braised Oxtail, Melon Seed, Roasted Mushrooms, Brandied Carrots.

Chef Travis said that he found them at a Mexican market in town, labelled as 'Semilla de Melon.' He shared, "I like to pick up ingredients I'm not familiar with and try them out whenever possible." For this dish, he prepared them in a fashion similar to rice, but the cooking time was only about 15 minutes. Then he added white cheddar at the end to try and give it a risotto-like quality.

With this course, Russell poured his 2014 Larner Vineyard. A Grenache-Syrah blend, this is a wine for the Napa Cab fans, he said. Robust and unique, this wine was a perfect blend of fruit and spice. Distinct herbaceous notes merged with nutty coffee to perfectly complement the beef.

And, for dessert, Chef Travis presented Raspberry Pomegranate Panna Cotta on top of a Flourless Chocolate Cake. A small ribbon of pomegranate molasses lined the plate and a white chocolate rose was placed on top.

Surprisingly - or maybe not surprisingly - Russell did not opt for a soft wine to round out the evening. His 2014 Bolt Cutter is big, brash, and fleshy. It's a powerful yet smooth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, and Syrah.

With every course, and every pairing, Chef Travis Childers and winemaker Russell P. From kept our palates entertained with their surprising details. From smoked arugula leaves to melon seeds and wines that just got bigger as the courses continued, the Herman Story-Desparada Wine Dinner at the Cork & Plough was delightful.

I know I'll definitely make a point to stop by Herman Story next time I find myself in Paso Robles. Chef Travis' dishes are always a pleasure! And, until I get back down there, I'll be scouring the markets for semilla de melon.

Find Cork & Plough on the web

Find Herman Story on the web

Find Desparada on the web


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