On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah hosted their sixth in a series of Chef’s Wine Dinners, this time pairing with Cesar Toxqui Cellars and featuring mushrooms from start to finish, celebrating the county’s bounty during the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival.
Cesar Toxqui, owner and winemaker at Cesar Toxqui Cellars, described each wine during the evening, and offered insight into some choices that go into winemaking…and selecting the right wines to pair with a multi-course mushroom dinner.
Ruth Toxqui and Lynn Elhardt
Cesar’s wife (and co-owner of Cesar Toxqui Cellars) Ruth Toxqui chatted with Lynn Elhardt (mother of the dinner’s Chef, Jesse Elhardt). Lynn kindly shared that Jesse’s path to Chefdom was as direct as computer science to mechanical engineering to the kitchen. While the path was meandering, the journey led to the right place.
Porcini Bruschetta Bites
The Porcini Bruschetta Bites during the meet & greet reception were paired with the 2012 Cesar Toxqui Pinot Gris, which provided a terrific pairing. Made from a toasted baguette, a concentrated tomato jam, herbed ricotta, olive oil, balsamic, micro intensity, and porcini mushrooms, one of the best pairings of the night was the single one of these I brought to the table and paired with Cesar’s Pinot Noir.
Crush General Manager Kevin serving up 2012 CTC Pinot Gris and Porcini Bruschetta Bites
Kevin was a terrific host for the evening’s dinner, every want was met all night.
Dinner Meet & Greet
Typically folks spend fifteen minutes in the comfortable bar area, allowing late stragglers to arrive, before heading into the special event dining room.
Meet & Greet at the bar
Quite comfortable at the bar, I usually find myself enjoying the first food and wine pairings of the night here at these Crush Chef’s Wine Dinners.
Chef Jesse Elhardt describing the night’s dishes
Chef Jesse’s menus look good, but his verbal descriptions, when he paints pictures with words, well, this is a huge part of the night.
Crush Beverage Manager Nick pouring wines
It is always great to see Nick, and together with the rest of the Crush team, gave guests a perfect service experience.
Polpette al Vino Bianco
Veal, parmesan reggiano, brown butter parsnip puree, caramelized onion jus, chive stick. Sound good? It was better. These veal meat balls, this sauce, paired with the 2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, were beyond mere deliciousness. If God is missing his balls, these might be them. They are Heavenly.
Shiitake mushrooms, diced, then combined with pancetta, green bell pepper, shallot, house made bread crumbs, asiago, compound butter, and smoked chanterelle mushrooms. Again, paired beautifully with the 2012 CTC RRV Pinot Noir.
A full table of happy dinner guests
Sure, these folks could have eaten food off a pizza truck, outside, in the rain, but why would anyone do that? Chef Jesse Elhardt of Crush and Cesar and Ruth Toxqui of Cesar Toxqui Cellars were the evening’s perfect team, offering up taste sensation after taste sensation to a very appreciative group of dinner patrons.
Broccolini, shaved crimini mushrooms, red onion, fried bread, fresh burrata, pickled mushroom relish, sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, and micro intensity. You know the dinner is great when the vegetable dishes are great. This reminded me of a great broccoli rabe, a perfect vegetable dish to pair against veal, with wine.
Cesar Toxqui Pinot Noir almost gone, Second course Cesar Toxqui Zinfandel just poured
Cesar talked about his winemaking, saying, “we’re very small, handmade wines, I’m a hands on winemaker,” and explained that with his wines he, “tries to highlight the year, the varietal, and appelation,” using, “biodynamic, organic, and conventional,” winemaking choices, in that order.
The night’s main wines paired perfectly with the rich and flavorful mushroom dishes
2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Split Rock Zinfandel (certified organic).
Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin
Brussel sprouts and cauliflower gratin with housemade bread crumbs, toasted pine nut, and gruyere,
Yukon Potato Puree
Yukon potatoes and roasted mushrooms.
Drawing to a winning pair
2012 CTC Split Rock Zin and Jesse’s Ragu of Mushrooms
Ragu of Mushrooms
I have written before that Jesse’s 8 hour ragu tastes like 48 hours, with rich deep intense flavors. I’ve enjoyed lamb ragu, beef ragu, and bison ragu from Jesse, but this vegetarian dish, this mushroom ragu is at least as good, if not better than any previous offering. Served with one of the best pastas ever made, a handmade orecchiette pasta, ricotta, basil pesto, and parmesan regianno, this was a show off dish. Cesar’s Zin was also rich, deep, and dark, almost more like a Cabernet Sauvignon, and paired beautifully with the mushroom ragu.
Grilled Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak
My iPad camera makes this meaty look rare red, but it was perfectly medium rare, and served with a red wine and crimini demi glace, and little crumbles of soft gorgonzola. Another dish created to pair perfectly with Cesar Toxqui’s Split Rock Zinfandel.
My Second Course Plate. I exercised portion control, not my strong suit, especially with food this delicious.
I am on a diet, I’ve lost 35 pounds, with many to go. At past dinners, you would not see my plate for all the food piled on it. The quality, brilliantly defined flavors, of the night’s dishes made portion control acceptable…if not desirable. I did have three veal meatballs and a second small helping of the mushroom ragu.
Crush Wine Dinner Series devotees
My dinner mates inspected a bottle of Cesar’s Zinfandel, an organic offering full of flavor.
For dessert, Cesar and Ruth brought their Dulce Paloma, a port like, rich wine, fortified with a little extra goodness from Germain-Robin, the world’s best brandy maker.
Candy Cap Mousse
Mushroom dessert? Yep. Candy cap mushrooms throw caramel flavors, and if no one told you, then you would never guess you are eating a mushroom dessert. This was a dual layer mousse, with candy cap, vanilla bean, blue berry, marscapone, fried quinoa, and mint.
Chef Jesse introduces his kitchen team, to a rousing ovation.
At evening’s end, Chef Jesse brought his crew out from the kitchen and individually introduced each team member, and a round of applause, well earned, was given by the night’s diners.
I was asked to introduce the next Chef’s wine dinner at Crush, and tickets began selling immediately after this night’s mushroom dinner for the Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Dungeness Crab dishes during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Food Fest with the wines coming from McFadden Farm. California’s best sparkling wine, the Wine Enthusiast magazine 90 point rated white wines, a 95 point Wine X/Just Wine Points Old Vine Zinfandel, and a three time Double Gold or better Late Harvest Riesling…with a bunch of Dungeness crab dishes created by Chef Jesse. $75, food, wine, tax, tip included, get your ticket NOW; they will sell out!