One of the things that distinguishes The Firehouse as an excellent restaurant is its enduring commitment to wine dinners. They're major events in their own right, featuring multi-course prix fixe menus with wine pairings from some of the best producers going. The next such dinner, on Jan. 25, will showcase Spoto Wines, a rarity in the California wine trade. These highly regarded wines are made with grapes from the Oakville appellation at Spoto's tiny winery in a residential neighborhood in Sacramento.
This is where the Firehouse staff really demonstrates its knowledge, hospitality, talent and keen attention to detail. As I noted in my review in April, these special wine dinners also offer executive chef Deneb Williams an opportunity to showcase his impressive repertoire in an expanded and sometimes edgier way than what guests might encounter during a regular dinner or lunch.
"I'm very honored to be featured there," Spoto told me when I asked about the Firehouse event. "When I see the magnitude of the wineries they've had in the past, I've got some big shoes to fill."
To prepare for the dinner, Spoto told me he took all of his wines to the restaurant in October and went through a tasting with key members of the staff, including wine director Mario Ortiz, sommelier Paul Marsh and Williams. This is the time to zero in on all the nuances of the wines and begin the long process of determining how these flavors will express themselves with various foods. The kitchen would later test various dishes with the wines to fine-tune the pairings. It's a combination of research, experience, skill and art that go a long way toward bringing value to the dinner when it happens.
That said, these extra-special experiences are not not for the faint of heart. It's a full evening, and it costs $165. The more prepared you are and the more interest you have in food and wine, the more fun you'll have. With tax and tip, you're looking at $450 for two.
How prestigious are these winemaker dinners? For Christmas, Spoto gave his parents, Henry and Lenore Spoto, two seats at the event. They're going to eat and drink very well (the Cuvee is named for Lenore).
For reservations, contact Mario Ortiz at (916) 442-4772
Here's a look at the menu. Spoto Wines have a fervid following. A check of the winery's website shows most of the wines are sold out, including the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon private reserve, which retails for $110 a bottle. You'll find that wine served with the fifth course at this dinner.
Smoked trout, confit potato and caviar
Duck confit crÃªpe with brandied cherries
Tartufata beef tartar with sunny side quail egg
N.V. J CuvÃ©e 20 Brut, Sonoma County
Curry Crab Salad
cauliflower panna cotta with Dungeness crab and crisp Granny Smith apple
curry-coconut vinaigrette and turmeric-pickled lotus
2011 Spoto Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Smoked Duck with Rhubarb
slow smoked, sea salt and spiced rhubarb consommÃ©
2010 Spoto Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Lamb & Sweetbread Croustade
braised lamb cheeks and poached sweetbreads
balsamic-roasted root vegetables in Tunisian brik pastry
2010 Spoto CuvÃ©e Lenore, Oakville-Napa Valley
wild mushrooms and black truffle cream
confit Kennebec potatoes
2009 Spoto Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville-Napa Valley
house-made burnt caramel ice cream
garnished with red currants and vanilla bean anglaise
2005 Le Tertre Du Lys D'Or CuvÃ©e d' Exception, Sauternes
served in the wine cellar
Deneb Williams ~ Executive Chef
Paul Marsh ~ Certified Sommelier
Nichol Santisteven ~ Pastry Chef
Shad Smart ~ Sommelier
Mario Ortiz ~ Wine Director/Sommelier
Nick Haag ~ Sommelier
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.