When I got the email announcing a Winemaker's Dinner from Curran-D'Alfonso Winery, there wasn't even a second thought that I would attend. I am a big fan of their wines, and really enjoyed my time spent last November at their Tasting Room in Solvang. They have a good selection of wines, designed by owners and winemakers Bruno D'Alfonso and Kris Curran. I had just opened another bottle of their wine, a 2007 Gewurztraminer, with my home-cooked dinner the night before and was excited about seeing which wines would pair with each course on the dinner. I had never been to the Catch Restaurant before in it's recent reincarnation. For those of you who remember, the Catch was located for years across the street from Angel Stadium. That location is no more, but they still are a curve-ball's throw away from Angel Stadium, located right next door to the stadium in the new AvalonBay Residential Building. From the crowd that I saw as soon as I approached the building, the new location seems to have become very popular.
As we walked through to the private rear room, we noticed delicious-looking fresh oysters and a scrumptious looking hamburger on the kitchen counter. We were walking through at the tail-end of Happy Hour and the place was packed and lively. We were there, though for a special event. As the General Manager, Kevin Anderson, told us, this is part of a series that they are trying to develop featuring premium wineries.
With D'Alfonso-Currnan, they made an excellent choice. Kevin paired each wine with it's associated dinner course and made some amazing matches. The wines were each presented by winemaker Bruno D'Alfonso. Not only is he a very knowledgable and talented winemaker, but his introductions of each of the wines were interesting and even sometimes humorous. Bruno described the process of creating each wine and the many differences that set apart the way he makes wine from other wineries. He has learned well, spending time at Edna Valley and Chalone as well has having been the winemaker at the Sanford Winery for over 20 years. Kris, who unfortunately was unable to attend tonight, put in the same number of years at Cambria and Sea Smoke wineries.
The table was set nicely, with five wineglasses of varying size and shape before us. First to be poured was the Di Bruno Pinot Grigio, 2009. The wine, from their Santa Ynez vineyards, had a bright, almost “citrusy taste. Kevin had paired it with a special appetizer, an amuse bouche he called “Cured, Smoked and Raw”. On the left of the plate it had a raw diver sea scallop grilled and filled “ravioli style” with a puree of fava beans. In the center was a mound of smoked Tasmanian Ocean Trout and a grapefruit essence. Finishing the trio was A cured truffled brandade of cod, mixed with sea salt and a bit of olive oil, resided on a fingerling potato chip.
I'd had the Pinot before at the tasting room and was prepared for it's deliciousness, but had no idea of the scope of food to be presented to us that evening at the Catch. They seem to combine creativity with very fresh ingredients in a way that I was not expecting in a place that is close enough to walk to during the seventh-inning stretch. It was hard for me to decide what I liked best out of the trio. The trout was very lightly smoked and was up there with the best smoked salmon that I've had and the scallops had the fresh sweetness you can only get out of diver scallops, accentuated the flavoring fava bean puree it was filled with.
I found out that this menu had been created expressly for the wine-tasting dinner by Executive Chef Nelson Barillas. I am looking very much forward to returning again to the Catch to try his regular menu. He designed dishes worthy of any top-line place in Orange County.
For the first course, Bruno told us about the Curran Grenache Blanc 2009. This wine, designed by winemaker Kris Curran who unfortunately was unable to attend, was what Bruno described as an uncommon way to use a common grape. It was a masterful wine, fruity but smooth with a vanilla scent that complemented the plate set before us. That was a salad consisting of fennel, grilled endive and watercress. Surrounding it were luscious vanilla-poached lobster medallions, chunks of apricot and almonds. It was topped with an apricot honey cider vinaigrette. The chunks of lobster were still warm and contrasted nicely with the slightly chilled wine. Bruno explained that the vines were being pulled out, so with the bottling of the 2010 vintage which he had in the tank, that would be the last one of that type. Too bad----it was really good!
The group of approximately 40-some people was totally captivated by the dish and the wine. Some were familiar with the winery, others with the restaurant, but all appreciated the chance to combine the two. Between some of the courses, Bruno came around the tables to talk with all of us personally.
Next up, Bruno introduced his Chardonnay, the D'Alfonso-Curran White Hills Chardonnay, 2008. Like all his wines, they are sourced from local vineyards, this one in the Santa Barbara area. Not being a big fan of Chardonnay (I think most winemakers these days go for too much of a big, oaky flavor) I was pleasantly surprised by this wine. Smooth, not overly fruity and not smoky. Bruno told us a story about the tanks and the casks which only added to the flavor of the expertly crafted wine. Meanwhile, another work of art was being placed in front of each of us. A pan roasted Alaskan halibut cheek was presented, placed on a spring ramp potato cake with an asparagus puree and a French breakfast radish salad. The halibut was delicious, but for me, the hit was the potato cake. Mixed with spring ramps, a seasonal forest veggie that I haven't seen in use here before, the cake was light but crusty, fried to an appealing golden brown.
So far, both dinner and wine had been excellent. It was great to discover a new restaurant!
It was time for the third course. For this, Bruno brought out a red wine. This wine, the D'Alfonso-Curran Pinot Noir from the Rancho Las Hermanas Vineyard, was a 2006 vintage. Now I was in my zone. I love a good Pinto and this one was up with the best----good mouth feel, not tannic but tasting of the grape's deep essence. An absolute winner, one of those wines that I can savor a glass of for an hour, swirling the glass and inhaling the aroma alternating with every sip. This was not intended as a wine-only course however. We were treated to a story of how this cut, which they called the “lamb porterhouse”' was the ultimate cut of Spring Colorado lamb. With lamb being my favorite meat, it was a treat I was ready for. It was served with a goat cheese-brioche pudding, roast black garlic and cipollini onions and a reduction of the au jus that perfectly accented the lovely medium rare meat. The pudding was nice, almost like a souffle, but the lamb was the real star-----and it shone very brightly. I could see the fireworks in center field in my mind as the lamb's flavor burst filled my mouth.
Finally finished with the third course, the other discussion—besides how delicious everything was and how full everyone felt---was what they had in store for us for dessert. Bruno's specialty is Spanish grapes and he brought with him the Curran 2006 Tempranillo, another grape from the vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. It was unexpected, not the usual sweet dessert wine but just enough to complement the dessert. And for that, Kevin introduced the Catch's chefs, Executive Chef Nelson Barillas and Chef Cody Bagley. He then explained how, instead of the usual sweet dessert course, they had decided on a savory dessert course to complement the wine.
As Bruno described the wine, we enjoyed a trio of cheeses—a Blue Brie Souffle, a few slices of Spanish Mahon cheese (looking like sliced parmesan but with a less salty taste) and a goat cheese with a fruit glaze on the side. The goat cheese, named California Purple Haze, elicited several laughs and comments from the group, remembering the 60's. The dessert, though was not 60's----it was a cutting edge dessert that was amazing. With the souffle came a berry reduction made with the Tempranillo wine. It had nice sweetness as did the fruit with the goat cheese. As is with most people, I am not used to a savory dessert but this one really worked. All in all, an unexpected but delicious way to end the meal.
After the dinner, I had the opportunity to talk with Kevin and Chef Cody. Chef impressed me very much with his passion for cooking and using the freshest ingredients. I think we'll be hearing a lot about this young man in the future. And Kevin was impressive too—he had personally done the pairing of the wines with the menu. He is out to make the Catch not only a fun place for drinks, food and Happy Hour, but a place with a serious commitment to fine wines and fine cuisine to match.
If you find yourself wanting a weekend getaway, a nice drive to Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley for wine-tasting and Danish food should definitely include a stop at the D'Alfonso-Curran Winery Tasting Room.
Sipping the last of my wine, I was delighted with what I had enjoyed----world-class wines with world-class food. Both the Catch and D'Alfonso-Curran Winery had hit one out of the park.
The Catch Restaurant
2100 E. Katella Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92806
1557 Mission Drive
Solvang, CA 93463