Between writing this column and interviewing chefs for my show on KPRi, there is no shortage of memorable dining experiences.
That said, once in a while, I stumble across a meal that just sticks with me to the point that I feel the need to share that experience with readers. It’s happened in the past at Firefly Grill & Wine Bar and it happened again recently at Solterra Winery & Kitchen in Leucadia.
I know, I’ve already written about Solterra, but what I’m about to describe was not on the menu then and it really is worth describing in detail.
Chef de Cuisine Suzy Williams and owner Chris Van Alyea helped me out on this one, with Suzy providing the details on each dish and Chris expertly pairing wine from Solterra with each course. With that, let’s get to it.
I started the evening with the kale salad. Now this is not just any kale salad, which on its own can be a little bitter for my tastes. Suzy combines purple and green kale that has been marinated in lemon juice and salt. The kale is tossed with house-cured bacon, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese and macerated onions with pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.
For those of you unfamiliar with macerating, it’s a process that makes the onion light up with an almost stained-glass quality, but it also tempers the onion’s familiar acridness and partially cooks it. The taste is mellower, and the after-burn is gone. While I was eating solo at the Solterra bar, this salad could easily be shared, it’s that hearty. I’ve never experienced this combination of ingredients in a salad and simply put, it was incredible.
Every ingredient complimented the others and the pomegranates added an unexpected burst of flavor and texture. Of course the bacon was a nice addition, but it was not there to add that trendy bacon element as bacon often is, it really worked with everything else going on. This was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. The suggested wine pairing from owner Chris Van Alyea is the Solterra 2011 Valle de Guadalupe Grenache. Its smoky Grenache harmonizes nicely with the house cured bacon.
Next up was the hanger steak covered with chimichurri served with crispy fingerling potatoes and a garlic confit. It’s a unique spin on the classic steak frites with the fingerlings taking the place of French fries. The chimichurri is both herbaceous and tart and the steak is sliced and cooked a perfect medium rare … leaning toward rare which is exactly the way to cook this as the juices from the settling steak tend to drip down over the fingerlings.
Please don’t order the steak medium or well done, it just won’t work and I’m quite sure you will upset the kitchen. This is meat and potatoes taken to the highest level. It was a very generous serving and I love it when it comes out sliced as it did. It was halfway through this dish that I realized this meal was something special and could be worthy of sharing with The Coast News audience.
Chris’ wine pick was a Christopher Cameron Petite Sirah. It had the structure and fruit to stand up to the steak and flavors of the chimichurri. I’d take this guy’s wine advice every day if I could, his pairings are always spot on.
I would have been very happy walking away from the meal after the steak and fingerlings delight, but there was an offering on the dessert menu that sounded so amazing it lured me in so I toughed it out. Yes, I know, woe is me! It was the butternut squash upside down cake. Again, something new for me and wow, it took this meal off the charts. It involved butternut squash cooked with brown sugar, butter, and house spices on top of a cake similar to a coffee cake, served with spicy syrup and crème fraiche whipped cream. A 2012 Solterra Viognier is what Chris is suggested with it, describing it as a full flavored white with substantial French oak to amplify the flavor of the butternut squash.
I was perfectly content to be alone with this meal, just me and three spectacular dishes and no distractions. I found myself smiling often, not wanting the experience to end. And I must add, that in addition to all those flavors and textures, there are a lot of healthy ingredients involved. I certainly felt full and satisfied, but not in an over-the-top way.
My advice, go to Solterra and enjoy these dishes while they are still on the menu. Check them out at www.solterrawinery.com or 934 N Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas or call (760) 230-2970.