We Bag Our Pheasant Limit in South Dakota

hunting.072904I’m writing this brief report in a motel room about 20 miles south of Omaha, Nebraska.  We’re on our way to St. Louis Monday night after bagging our pheasant limit over three days in South Dakota, about 40 miles east of Pierre, the state capital.

This is, arguably, one of the top pheasant hunting spots in the country.  The season just opened here, and the fields are absolutely laden with these majestic birds.  While the birds are plentiful and aren’t the fastest on the wing, when the winds are blowing, they can be tough to keep in your sights.  In fact, when it comes to my personal shooting skills, the birds had little to fear.

Drew, on the other hand, is developing into a capable marksman, and he made up for any of my deficiency.  Altogether, we brought home 18 birds.

Twelve other hunters comprised our group, including our good friend, Grenny Sutcliffe of Auburn whose father and brother joined us at the Wagon Rut Ranch near Harrold, SD.  The accommodations were Spartan, but when you have 14 men sleeping in what was essentially a dormitory, no one really cared.

We’ll be back in Auburn on Wednesday morning, ready to enjoy the Greek prix-fixe.  It will be great to be home again!


This “Med Cruise” is a Culinary Adventure

This month’s prix-fixe event, My Big, Fat, Greek Island Tour, is winding down our annual series with a menu that will make you want to bolt out of your chair and scream “Opah!”  Chef Alexander has dug deep into his bag of culinary tricks to cobble together 10 dishes that will make you want to taste everything in the line up.

Inspiration for this culinary tour came from Carpe Vino regular, Milt Champs, who participated in our contest over the summer when we challenged customers to get creative and send us their ideas for a prix-fixe theme.  Milt’s suggestion came in second place, just a couple of votes behind the winner, but we thought it was excellent and deserved to be produced.

My Big, Fat, Greek Island Tour runs October 28 through November 1 (Sunday is preempted by a private party), with seating starting a 5 p.m. each evening.   Cost is $59 per person, plus tax and tip.  Reservations are highly recommend; call 530-82-0320 or go online to www.opentable.com.

As is our custom, I sat down with Chef Alexander for insight into the preparation of each dish.  This month, you truly need a scorecard–and perhaps a translator–to understand the menu:

Mezes (choice of one):

Selection of Greek Spreads, Favosalata, Tzatsiki, Meliznosalata, Olives, Grilled Flatbread.  The Island are renown for spreads, and with this dish, you get grilled triangles of flatbread to load up.  Think “hummus” with the Favosalata, a creamy bean dip made from puree of yellow split peas, garlic, red onion and real Greek olive oil that has been imported for this menu.  Tzatziki is a cucumber yogurt combined with garlic, lemon and dill. Melitzanosalata is a tasty blend of roasted eggplant, roasted tomato, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic (are you seeing a trend here?).  Served with a mix of imported Greek olives.

Grilled Lamb Ribs, Yogurt, Lemon, Oregano.  Lamb is, of course, abundant in Greece, so it appears twice on this menu.  This appetizer features lamb spare ribs, marinated in lemon juice, oregano, garlic and kosher salt, and then slow-cooked before being finished on the grill.  Served with a vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice and dried oregano; for creaminess it is finished with yogurt.

Octopus and Mussel Stew, Tomato, Ouzo, Orange, Barrel-Aged Feta. Octopus is more common in the Med than chicken, so it earns a top spot on the Chef’s tribute to the Islands.  Commonly grilled, Carpe Vino’s own is putting his twist on the dish:  the squid will be slow-cooked with crushed tomatoes, ouzo, orange zest and cinnamon, finished on the stovetop with mussels; garnished with imported Greek feta.

Salate ke Soupe (choice of one):

Fasolada Soup, Gigante Beans, Horta, Butternut Squash.  Here’s a hearty and rustic soup that starts with Greek gigante beans prepared in chicken stock with diced butternut squash, tomatoes and olive oil.  Be careful. . .this authentic dish that dates to ancient Greece is a meal in a bowl.  FYI, “horta” is a mixture of wild greens blanched for this dish.

Roast Beet Salad, Almond Skordalia, Dill, Manouri Cheese.  Deceptively simple, the beets are slow-roasted and then peeled, served with almond skordalia, garlic pounded with potato and olive oil that is pureed, rendering a garlicky spread.  Manouri is a tasty, simple Greek cheese produced from the whey left over from making feta.

Kyria Piata (choice of one):

Roast California Swordfish, Fried Potatoes, Artichokes, Fennel, Avgolemono Emulsion.  A straightforward  preparation. . .the swordfish is roasted with lemon, oregano and olive oil.  Served with potatoes and artichokes–both crispy–as well as fennel and avgolemono, an emulsion of lemon and eggs whipped over a double boiler to develop volume.

Attiki Honey-Glazed Pork Shoulder, Pumpkin Orzo, Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Pomegrante.  The attiki honey is the star here, a sweet, sultry substance produced from wild flowers and thyme and just off the boat from Greece.  Although this is not a traditional Greek preparation, it is a tasty ode to fall using Greek ingredients.  The pork shoulder is glazed with the honey and slow-cooked for hours, producing a crackly crust.  Orzo, a small pasta, is transformed into a creamy delight with house-made pumpkin puree.  Served with crispy Brussels sprouts and a pomegranate relish (this fruit is revered in Greece but never cooked!).

Classic Moussaka, Lamb, Eggplant and Potato Casserole, Béchamel Gratin.  This is the real deal. . .you’re going to think you’re on Mykonos.  This dish is all about layers and lamb that has been cooked with onion, garlic, tomato puree and cinnamon.  Chef assembles the dish with multiple, alternating  layers of roasted potatoes, roasted eggplant and the lamb mixture.  It’s all topped with Bechamel gratin, a white sauce made from flour, milk and cheese.  Chef defines gratin as “brown on top,” so you’ll get your serving after it has been baked in a casserole until it is golden brown.

Glyka (choice of one):

Pistachio “Halva” Pudding, Persimmon Sorbet, Honey Nut “Baklava”.  Chef McDonald has produced two awesome endings. . .your problem is to pick one (or just order one of each!).  This is a hybrid, baked pudding cake made from semolina flour.  It is garnished with cookies that are reminiscent of baklava.

Greek Yogurt-Mandarin Cake, Golden Raisins, Olive Oil.  Okay, so this isn’t a traditional Greek dessert, but it is Mandarin season and the ingredients are spot on:  flour, Greek yogurt, olive oil and Mandarin zest.  Garnished with a relish of golden raisins and spices; drizzled with olive oil.

Sounds awesome, no?  Don’t miss this boat to the islands–make your reservations now by calling 530-823-0320, or dial us up on the web at www.opentable.com.

If It Flies, It Dies. . .

pheasant.074116It’s Father & Son Week at Carpe Vino.  For the first time ever, Drew and I are embarking on a hunting trip. . .we’re both armed to the teeth, headed to South Dakota with the aim of limiting out on pheasant.  I haven’t been in the field since we left Illinois some 15 years ago, so this could be a very exciting adventure.

Going after birds is the only kind of hunting in which I have an interest, and like most wing shooters, I eat everything I kill.  And, no, I don’t feel badly about it, because I am a carnivore and I know where meat comes from.

Drew, on the other hand, is an avid hunter, and he has gone after all kinds of game:  wild boar, turkey and deer.  He loves it so much,  I think he probably even has a Cabella’s credit card.

I’m not sure how this is going to end up.  We’ll be living in a dormitory situation with about a dozen other guys, all friends or family of Drew’s buddy, Grenny Sutcliffe of Auburn.  Guess it’s going to be a guy thing.

We’ll be back next Wednesday, just in time to sample the Greek menu.  Maybe I can talk the Chef into roasting up some pheasant, Athenian style.

We’re on the Vintage Highway in Southern Oregon

Emigrant Puddle

Emigrant Lake where we stayed near Ashland is actually a puddle, evidence of the serious nature of the drought in Oregon.

October 6, 2014:  After months of procrastinating about embarking on a trek to southern Oregon’s nascent wine region, I’ve been here for a week now and I don’t want to go home.  I’ve decamped to Emigrant Lake—actually a puddle after our prolonged drought—the centerpiece of a bucolic Jackson County park adjacent to Ashland’s southern edge.

For a long time now, I’ve been aware of the fact that wine is vinted here, but I never bothered to stop on trips to the Willamette Valley at the top of the state.  But then a story in the travel section of the Sunday New York Times back in July piqued my interest.  The piece depicted this place as a throwback to the Napa of the 70s: small, family-owned wineries on back roads before tasting fees were invented.  Quaint on steroids.

All of that is certainly true, and while the region has received more hype from a Sunset magazine one-page primer, it is still very much in its infancy.  Southern Oregon compared to Willamette Valley is equivalent to El Dorado County vs. the Napa Valley.  Both AVAs produce wine, but. . .

Moose Riding Shotgun

Moose always insists on riding shotgun.

I planned on staying for no more than four nights before heading up to Bend for a three-day look-see.  Extending for the second time, however, I’ll have been parked in space #7 for six nights.  My 1958 DeVille is, by a wide margin, the smallest and most basic mobile shelter here (15 feet and no bathroom).   But after digging in, my dog, Moose, and I are quite comfortable with all the comforts we need (except high-speed Internet access).

So what’s the draw here, beyond the wine?  Well, pretty much everything else.  The Ashland area delivers the best of all worlds thanks to the presence of Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  You want culture, you’ve got it here, plus no shortage of wonderful restaurants that prove conclusively Sacramento has no exclusive when it comes to farm-to-fork prowess.

A series of valleys bisected by I-5 comprise the prime vineyard locations and wine-making operations, five all told:  Umpqua Valley to the north and Applegate Valley to the south, with Illinois Valley, Rogue Valley and Upper Rogue sandwiched in-between.  No doubt this diversity is what ails the region in terms of branding: disparate pockets struggling to create a common, plausible identity. . .complicated by multiple associations and predictable infighting.  Given time, I suspect, they’ll either figure it out or die.

My reason for coming here was to find new wines to introduce in Carpe Vino—I expected to encounter low-production, value wines that would be virtually unknown in our part of the world.  After my first few winery visits, however, my hopes were dashed for one crucial reason:  although some wineries were willing to sell direct, none has a licensed distributor in California.  Add the cost of shipping to wholesale discounts that were on par with what the wineries offer to their wine club members, and the costs are just out of whack with the quality of the wine.

It would be unfair to characterize an entire region based on my perception of quality, but there is a consistent dynamic that does have a measurable impact.  And that is a large percentage of winery owners here started out as farmers—some producing pears and/or peaches; others were pure vineyard operators.  Many segued into winemaking through custom crushes using a handful of winemakers.  The result is a sameness to many wines and the quality—even within a single winery—can be all over the map.  There is a dearth of individual winery styles. . .there are few collections exhibiting a connectedness.

Simply put, the wines are generally okay, though I encountered some wonderful examples of whites—chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and vigonier.  Red varieties that flourish in toasty climates—such as Rhones and tempranillo—can be found here as well.  Oddly enough, I noticed a high number of older vintages being poured in tasting rooms. . .one dating back to 2003, but lots of ‘05s and ‘06s.

More and more professional, full-time winemakers are being hired by wineries, though, and as their work comes online over the next few years, there are other attractions:  specifically places and people.  This is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet if you are partial to rolling hills, roiling creeks and open land that is home to cattle raising, orchards and all manner of truck farms.

The winery folk are uniformly engaging and welcoming.  They are honest, too, and acknowledge the problems that need to be solved, while pointing to successes.  One of these is southern Oregon’s annual World of Wine competition.  This year’s five-day event drew 200 wines from 50 local wineries and featured three imported judges:  two master sommeliers and Mike Dunne, the former wine and restaurant critic for the Sacramento Bee who still contributes frequently to the newspaper.

It’s tough to ferret out the best wineries because they are located across a wide area and there is no contiguous trail.  I visited roughly 10, and the place I enjoyed most was EdenVale, just outside of Medford.  The centerpiece of the estate is a beautifully restored farmhouse—more accurately a manor home—with an adjacent carriage house cum tasting room.  The place is totally green, with a tree-lined driveway and formal gardens surrounding the buildings.

I particularly enjoyed three red wines:  a 2005 Reserve Claret (cab franc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon), $25; a 2007 Syrah-Merlot, $20; and a 2007 Reserve Merlot, $32, that earned 99 points and double gold at the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition.  That’s a big deal!


The McMansion at Belle Fiore in Ashland, OR.

Two other wineries with excellent programs were Ledger David in Central Point and Pebblestone Cellars outside of Medford.  Not to be missed is Belle Fiore, just beyond the Ashland airport. . .not necessarily because of the wine. . .the place is the big draw.  An allergy doctor who created Flonase owns the winery (or so I was told in the tasting room of the “Chateau” the owner’s 19,000-square foot residence overlooking estate, winery building and entire valley.  This tasting room is open to the public only on Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m., so I guess I got lucky!).  The 20,000 square-foot winery building is the most lavish winery facility I have ever seen:  two story-tasting room with a wooden domed ceiling; expensive woodwork everywhere; restaurant, wine bar, function rooms and a football-sized, multi-level patio.  If you visit Ashland, you absolutely have to visit this joint. . .

I am a sucker for college towns, and no doubt that is one reason why I’m reticent to leave this place.  It is an engaging place to hang out, though Main Street is way too noisy for my ears.  It is Rte. 99 and was the main passage through the valley before the freeway was constructed.

One box I was able to check here was attending a play, though what I saw wasn’t written by Shakespeare. . .no, I saw Irving Berlin’s musical, Cocoanuts, featuring the Marx Brothers. . .Groucho, Harpo and Leonard.  This is what you would imagine a Broadway theatre would deliver.  Lots of accomplished dancers, complicated choreography, visually exciting sets and a cast that spewed rapid-fire comedy clichés with ease.  The talented actors who portrayed the Marx boys were absolutely spot on.  One problem:  I was exactly one minute tardy so I was barred from my fifth-row seat and spent the first half of the play on a jump seat in the last row of the theater.

Many readers may be aware that I have recently returned to bike riding (of the pedal variety, not motorized) and I brought mine along to tackle the 18-mile Bear Creek bike trail that runs from Ashland to beyond Medford.  Sitting in a coffee shop after pedaling to Medford, I consulted my map and I decided to ride six miles to a Jacksonville, an absolute clone of Sutter Creek where I had lunch the day before (very nice at the historic Jacksonville Inn!).

The route was rated “steep,” but amazingly enough I handled it without difficulty.  I had a quick bite in Jacksonville and jumped on Stage Road South and reconnected with the bike trail in about 12 miles.  I’ll readily admit to running low on juice at about the 30-mile mark, but I made it back to the car.  Stats:  37 miles, in 2 hours, 49 minutes.  That’s 12.6 mph, approaching my goal of averaging 13 miles per hour.

After I finish writing this edition of WOOT, Moose and I are headed back to the trailer for lunch and then on to the park for a little weight training (I brought two kettle bells) and I hike.  Tomorrow morning our tour continues four hours north in Bend, and a place I really want to visit and maybe even play pickleball.  I’m hoping to be back in Auburn on Saturday evening (October 11).

But don’t bet on it!

Eric & Courtney Wow Sac with Four Grilled Lambs


Now this is a man’s grill: Eric and four lambs from
the family’s farm

Carpe Vino’s finest took their talents on the road late last month, showcasing their culinary skills and the bounty of their Placer County farm.  Chef Eric Alexander and Pastry Chef Courtney McDonald grilled four lambs raised on their farm at a charity gala benefitting Sacramento’s Food Literacy Center, a non-profit with the goal of helping people “improve their knowledge, attitude and behavior towards real food.”

Dubbed “The Dinner at the Overlook,” the event was held on September 28th, the same evening as the Tower Bridge dinner for 700+ people sponsored by Farm to Fork Week.  The “covert” and sold-out Overlook event for 120 foodies was ramrodded by Carpe Vino regular Peg Tomlinson-Poswall, who used her long experience in the Sacramento food scene to reel in chefs to produce the dinner.

The location was a secret, but participants rallied for a reception at the Sixth Street Bridge and H Street before moving on to the old Sacramento railroad yard that had been transformed into an elegant dining venue.

The four lambs raised on Eric and Courtney’s farm were processed in Davis just before the dinner.  Grilled outdoors, the dish was the hit of the evening which raised a substantial sum for the non-profit.


Just Two More Prix-fixe Dinners. . .Greek Isles are Next!

Time is running out quickly for the 2014 prix-fixe dinner series at Carpe Vino.  There are just two more opportunities: October and November.  Because of the crush of private holiday parties in December, we just don’t have the bandwidth to do an event.

So mark your calendar for the last week of October for “My Big, Fat Greek Island Dinner,” a theme suggested by Milt Champas during our customer contest we held over the summer.  Milt’s idea came in a very close second place, earning him a $100 Carpe Vino gift card.  We liked his theme so much, Chef Alexander is creating a menu to bring the idea to life.

We’ll announce the full menu next week, but you can make reservations now. . .dates are October 28 through November 1.  The sharp-eyed among you observed that this is only five days, and that’s because we’ll be closed on Sunday, November 2 for a private party.

So all the more reason to reserve now by calling 530-823-0320 or by going online at www.opentable.com.  Same deal you’ve come to love:  four course with choices for $59++ per person.

More information
Carpe Vino (Find Us) 1568 Lincoln Way Auburn, CA 95603
Phone Number: 530-823-0320
Get Directions to Carpe Vino
Bar & Restaurant Hours Tuesday - Saturday
4:00pm - 10:00 p.m.
Closed: Sunday and Monday
Dining Room Hours Tuesday - Saturday
5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Closed: Sunday and Monday
Make A Reservation Guests must be 21 years of age or older.
Reservations are suggested for preferred seating, especially on weekends.