Food and Wine Adventures in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County


Video shot and produced by John Beck.

Last July, I was invited to the incredible Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County for a multi-day excursion in tasting and learning about the region’s wines and the combined food experiences that can be had throughout the area. The wines the region is known for are primarily Zinfandel are Sauvignon Blanc but also some distinct, under-the-radar Rhône style wines.

The experience really changed how I viewed Zinfandel; I now consider it one of my dinner wine candidates — reframing its peppery-ness as an asset. It was so great to hear about the county’s aim to be an entirely sustainable and how the wine-growing region is already 70% there. In the video, I visit 3 vineyards in a day — however, I basically visited 7 overall. It’s hard work, really. Tasting wine.

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Culinary Experiences at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Dry Creek Valley

Now in its 27th year, the Passport to Dry Creek Valley event this weekend promises to be a great time to visit and taste Pinots, Zinfandels and other Sonoma wines. If you fly to Sonoma (via Alaska Air), you’ll get to take home a case of wine free of charge. And if you wisely decide to take a bottle from a Dry Creek vineyard to dine at one of the participating charter restaurants, you’ll also get free corkage as a part of their culinary cooperative.

While I love wine, food and wine always taste better when together, so I’ve highlighted some culinary-focused opportunities at certain wineries to turn your attention to this weekend:

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First Taste: Terrine, Whether For Dinner or Brunch, is a Delight

Charcuterie at Brunch

There have been a lot of openings as of late, and I’ve been lucky to catch a few, because it’s led to some not-so-surprisingly stellar food already enjoyed in the new year. Terrine was no exception during both visits I made: One dinner and one brunch, one week in from when these respective services were launched. Los Angeles has long-awaited this latest venture from Managing Partner Stephane Bombet and Chef Kris Morningstar, most recently of LACMA’s Ray’s & Stark Bar, and the early results show that the restaurant is actually living up to all the buzz.

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Saint Martha: An Unexpected Dining Destination in Koreatown

Pecan wood smoked brisket with hoisin, tiny lettuce & root vegetables

There’s something incredibly freeing, even liberating about a Western restaurant that sets up shop in a strip mall in Koreatown. While you’d find a stellar sushi restaurant – and Korean BBQ joint, for that matter – in many a plaza in Metropolitan L.A., you wouldn’t hardly ever find a modern American restaurant in one.

But Saint Martha, named after the patron saint of cooks and servants and sister of Mary and Lazarus, demonstrates that this is where Los Angeles is, today. That smart, exciting food isn’t indicated by how hard it is to get a reservation, nor how hard a battle with L.A. sprawl is fought. The vibe was comfortably casual and inexclusive; I took the subway from my Spanish Revival apartment near East Hollywood.

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Piedmontese Beef the Star at Star King BBQ

Tomahawk Piedmontese Steak

Known as one of the only restaurants in Los Angeles that serves Piedmontese beef, Star King BBQ is an unlikely destination for the genetically advantageous, double-muscled, super lean meat. But the truth is that you’ll never find this Italian breed at any other Korean BBQ, and at less than a handful of other restaurants, such as in a burger at Stefan Richter’s L.A. Farm.

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First Moments at Curtis Stone’s Maude

Chicken Terrine, Pain Perdu, Dijon Mustard Ice Cream

A reservation at the tasting menu-only Maude will present you with 9 courses, with the first course actually being a series of precious but oh-so-delicious bites. Expect to be here from 3 – 3.5 hours. Naturally, you’ll have a conversation with the server about your allergies and preferences, to tailor your meal to you. Here are my foremost thoughts on my experience:

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Enjoying Scarpetta Classics at the Chefs Counter

Scarpetta Spaghetti

If you ever needed a reason to dine at Scarpetta inside the Montage Beverly Hills, I’ve got a few reasons.

After the unexpected exit of Executive Chef Alex Stratta and the re-entry of Freddy Vargas, a Scarpetta veteran, they’ve started offering a rather reasonably priced prix fixe menu featuring the restaurant’s classic dishes in a four-course dinner featuring none other than their famously simple yet delicious spaghetti (that is, if you choose it over the agnolotti, which sounds pretty decadent itself). It costs just $45 per person; the wine pairing option is additional.

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Lobster Paella and Other Spanish Wonders at Bar Pintxo

Lobster Paella

As the Los Angeles “chill” continues, it’s only natural to crave the comforting foods in which we take refuge. Luckily, there’s Bar Pinxto, a tapas place that has reinvigorated the Spanish traditions behind the term that was once disgracefully applied to all “small plates.” The place has the most mom and pop feel of anywhere in the tourist hub of Santa Monica, and the reasonable price points, accommodating happy hour specials and prix fixe menu options clinch its status as a neighborhood favorite.

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The Little Truffle Maker Cocktail Kicks Off 16-Course Black Truffle Dinner at SAAM, The Bazaar

The Little Truffle Maker: First Course in Saam’s Black Truffle Dinner

Starting tomorrow and every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening only for a limited time (until March 2nd), you can taste a 16-course black truffle dinner at SAAM for the ultimate, seasonal private dining experience at José Andres’ The Bazaar. The masterminds behind the dinner are Think Food Group’s research and development Chef Aitor Lozano, Executive Chef Joshua Whigham and Sous Chef Holly Jivin.

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Gorge: Uncharacteristically Fantastic French Food on The Sunset Strip

Charcuterie Board

There was a post I did awhile ago on “Bars That Don’t Belong,” and the essence of that article was that the particular bars listed weren’t categorically all good or all bad – just that their ambiance and drink were divergent from those of the surrounding establishments. What that entails is a problem with the diffusion of foot traffic from nearby establishments.

Belgian endives poached in aromatic broth, vanilla bean sauce, toasted almonds

Located on Sunset Boulevard, Gorge is just a few doors down from The Whiskey. It goes without saying that The Sunset Strip is not a place you’d expect to find a French wine bar, much less one that makes all their sausages, terrine and pâtés in-house, as a proper French wine bar would. So I was surprised as anyone that at Gorge, not only is the food delicious, but the food-wine pairings are exceptional thanks to Master Sommelier Darius Allyn, who just so happens to also be the husband of head chef Elia Aboumrad. It’s quite a departure from where he came – that is, the Montage Beverly Hills – but the results of their efforts have captured all my admiration for doing so. While the food and atmosphere is comfortably no frills, it probably leans towards exotic in the perspective of your typical Sunset Boulevard patron.

The same of which could be said of Night + Market, not too far west of Gorge. And so the culinarily adventurous restaurants along The Sunset Strip continues. Thank goodness both examples are on the mark in their respective disciplines.

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