I do my diligence with attention and care when it comes to considering a restaurant and its dinner and wine list. Does it live up to its story by delivering the goods, like listing all the ingredients for each menu item and describing the wine in detail with vintage, district and taste?
I went through such a selection process when I recently screened several Italian style restaurants in the Coachella Valley with its posh desert communities and panoramic resorts. Many coastal Southern Californians take the short 2 hour drive to experience the scenic wonders and sophisticated lifestyle that is the desert experience. So I was prepared for an authentic Italian dinner with an old world bottle of wine at Sirocco, in the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa at Indian Wells. I got a lot more.
Bouncing out of the kitchen to greet me was Executive Chef Gregorio Calderin, indeed a gregarious, passionate, hands-on chef from a farming family where his Italian wife was raised. Many family cooking secrets are shared by Chef Gregorio with his diners at Sirocco. First question I asked him was the meaning of Sirocco. “It is a name for the winds that blow through Italy from Africa. They usually bring change and we take that idea here with our menu. It changes seasonally. Right now we have a a lot of braised meats and polenta beds.
They make nice, warm comfort foods.” He went on to talk about what he feels diners are looking for these days. “They are a lot more health conscious and want to know where the food comes from. Sirocco offers complete freshness. Either we make it here or we have it brought in daily from our farmer-suppliers.”
I was fascinated by little niceties that are a Sirocco signature, like home made Italian style sorbet for palate cleansing just before the main entrée, a coffee /tea presentation with crystal, truffles and if ordered, cognac. When finished, each diner receives complimentary biscotti.
My menu selections included: Spinaci Al Tangerino, Risotto Allo Zafferano e Gamberi and finally, Fazzoletti Al Bolognese, chef’s recommended family recipe with house made spinach pasta and Kurobuta Pork Ragu. Oh so sweet, and just like his “Nonna” made it.
The wine selection was just as special: a rare Masi Mazzano Amerone Valpolicello Classico 2001, one of the best wine years in Italy. Sirocco is a dinner-only restaurant notable for its awards including four diamonds and a Wine Spectator Best of Award. See www.marriott.com.
Follow-Up: the Wines of Sta. Rita Hills
A few weeks ago TASTE OF WINE profiled the Sta. Rita wine district between Santa Barbaraand Paso Robles, with about 61 vineyards producing mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The early morning marine layer, the right soils and rising elevations make it clearly compatible for these Burgundian favorites.
As noted, some 21 wineries presented themselves at a Sta. Rita Hills Road Show in San Diegolast weekend at Marina Kitchen.
Two standouts happened to be side by side at the event for good reason. Aaron Walker of Pali Wine is Pali’s winemaker, and is also the son-in-law of my other pick, Hitching Post co-owner Gray Hartley. Pali is worth a visit to Lompoc and their winery for its uncompromising Pinot Noir quality.
I found the value impressive for the price. Try the 2012 Huntington Pinot for $22. Hitching Post gained unexpected fame when Sideways, the movie, used the restaurant and winery and, of course, the main character, Miles, loved their Pinot Noir. Try their 2011 Highliner, a top of the line Pinot Noir for $40. Web sites are: www.paliwineco.com and www.hitchingpostwines.com.
- The Hilton Beachfront Hotel in Carlsbad is the location for North Eats, a culinary food festival showcasing 20+North County chefs, Baker & Olive and Solterra Winery, Sun. Apr. 13 from 4 to 7pm. Generous samplings of food and wines with live music. Tickets are $50. ea. at bakerandolive.com. or call 760-207-8212.
- West Steak & Seafood in Carlsbad has a Trefethen Napa Valley Wine dinner Tues. Apr. 15 with rare bottles being paired with an exciting menu. $150. pp. Call 760-930-9100 for details.
- The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s Morada Bar will have a tasting of premium wines and light appetizers Thurs. Apr. 17 during Happy Hour. RSVP required at 858-381-8212.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. His columns can be viewed atwww.tasteofwinetv.com. He is one of the top wine commentators on the web. Reach him at [email protected].