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Satisfying Saturdays
ZAP Wine and Food Pairings

By Charles Olken

Spent Thursday night at the ZAP Wine and Food Pairings event. I like this event very much because it is smaller than the Saturday Grand Tasting and thus affords more opportunity to interact with old friends and subscribers who stream by our table. And then there is the food. Over 50 wineries present their wines, and every one of those wines is paired (hopefully) with complimentary foods provided by some very fine restaurants and well-regarded food purveyors.

We did not get to taste all fifty combinations. If anyone did, they have more persistence and stronger stomachs than we did. But there were several foods that we will remember and seek out again, and some we will go out of our way to avoid. Here are brief comments on those that impressed us one way or the other, including the name of the restaurant.

Flavor, SantaRosa: Sweet potato soufflé-Timbale with a trio of cheeses. Not sure how much we would call this Zinfandel food, but this sweet potato mash of sorts would make a fine partner to the smoked pork chops we like with Zinfandel. So, this one is a winner.

Rose’s Café, San Francisco: Crispy pork belly, caramelized onions on crostini. Frankly, the sound of this dish had us running up the hall to seek it out. And it turned out to be less than advertised. The pork belly was good, but it got lost. Still, we like a well-turned out pork belly so we dumped the bread and ate the square nugget of protein. A moderate success. Not sure we would pair pork belly with Zin however.

Town Hall, San Francisco: Chicken and Andouille Gumbo. Not surprisingly, one of our favorite “comfort food” restaurants came up with a tasty, perfectly seasoned gumbo. Whether it would be a Zin dish is open to question, but a lighter Zin might do it. As for the gumbo, we want more.

Brutocao’s Bocce Grill, Hopland: BBQ Spareribs, Zin Sauce. If you travel up towards Mendocino, your first stop will be in Hopland just over the border from Sonoma County. The last time up there, we stayed in Hopland and wandered over to Brutocao to watch the Bocce on their manicured courts. This sparerib was well-cooked has a nice splash of sauce and did work extremely well Zinfandel.

Calcareous Vineyard, Paso Robles: Spicy Beef and Blue Cheese Tacos: Tasty bits to be sure, but more likely to go with Syrah or a Rhone Blend than with Zin.

Central Market, Petaluma, Liberty Farm Spiced Duck Chili: In this case, the spices were not hot but were instead flavor deliverers like coriander, cilantro and something a little sweet, savory possibly cinnamon. We are not fans of hot (picante) dishes with Zin. Heat with heat does not work for us. This dish, because it avoids heat in exchange for flavor, worked well with the Ravenswood Zins with which it was paired.

Compadres Rio Grill, Napa: Tacos Al Pastor: We have had our fill of Tacos Al Pastor—mostly composed of dried bits of grilled pork absent flavors spilling out of small corn tortillas. So we passed. But then, first Blake Gray and then Lynne Bennett came by to ask if we had tasted the dish. We admitted that we had not and corrected that oversight. And they were right. This Al Pastor was the usual bits of pork, but they were presented in a savory sauce that extended their flavor. It was our favorite dish of the night and would be good Zinfandel food.

A Chef For You, Philadelphia: Chocolate Spring Mix. It’s hard not to ask what a Philadelphia firm is doing at a California event, but this awful sounding dish was even worse in presentation. Putting chocolate into salad dressing not only looked terrible but tasted worse. It was not long before it was totally ignored, and then those dressed greens wilted.

One Market Restaurant, San Francisco: Zinfandel Risotto with Duck Confit and Applewood Smoked Bacon. Loved the sound of the dish. Big fan of this San Francisco dinner house, but what we found was a gluey mix that was grey and uninviting in appearance.

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