It is a beautiful day and we are driving south on I-5 freeway headed towards Fallbrook. We stop to visit some friends and enjoy some beautifully luscious avocados before making the short drive to Vista Valley Country Club, hidden within the hills of Vista, so much so you wouldn’t even know it is there. We drive through a residential area before the club comes into view.
I am here for a wine dinner, a collaboration between Vista Valley Country Club’s Executive Chef Marissa Gerlach, and Saxon Brown Wines. Chef Marissa is a talented young chef who made a huge impression on me years ago while at the helm of The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel’s Raya restaurant. I remember how taken I was by her ability to present flavors which always appeal to my tastebuds. I’ve been trying to pin her down every since her departure, and after several years, I am finally able to sit down to one of her meals.
Although Vista Valley Country Club is usually only open to members, the monthly wine dinners are open to the public. These dinners not only allow you to experience the delicious food and wine pairings, but also, give you the opportunity to purchase the featured wines at prices below anything you’d find at stores.
Tonight, Saxon Brown Wines is here and we are joined by winemaker, Jeff Gaffner, who takes us through each wine, as the meal progresses, with anecdotes and stories — my favorite is the one about how the name Saxon Brown came to be.
However, before we sit down to dinner, there is champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Wild Ramp Deviled Eggs are not only beautiful, but tasty, taking advantage of the extremely short ramp season. Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with pineapple salsa is so delicious and I manage to eat two.
Once we sit, a jar of pickled carrots with garlic and dill arrives. I do not hesitate digging into it more than once. The carrots also help cleanse the palate between wines.
Our first course of Dungeness Crab Salad is actually a crab beignet with an accompaniment of pickled mango, chayote and kiwi slaw. I am in love with the slaw and the pairing between these three ingredients is a novel idea, but one that works incredibly well. The 2012 Fighting Brothers Semillon it is paired with is slightly sweet, and works very well with the varying degrees of sweetness from the crab and slaw.
Smoked Chicken Mushroom Terrine is next combining chicken with seven types of mushrooms in a mousseline, creating a light but umami-filled second course. Spring peas, watermelon radish and arugula accompany. I am not wine savvy by any means and won’t be able to tell you about the intricacies of each wine. However, I do enjoy drinking them and am always amazed by how food changes its flavor profiles. The 2011 Sangiacomo Green Acres Chardonnay pairing is a perfect example. The chardonnay is a little sharp when I first taste it, but takes on a far more enjoyable finish after a bite of the terrine.
My favorite dish of the evening is AK Black Cod, reminiscent of the miso butterfish I love at Raya. Chef Marissa’s fish dishes are always flawless and the one tonight is no different. It is fork-tender and oh-so-moist. The morel mushrooms may just be the piece de resistance of the accoutrements, but honestly, everything meld together perfectly. I love the use of wild ramp here again in the form of puree and also, gribiche sauce. I relish the entire plate between sips of the 2011 Glass House Pinot Noir — possibly my favorite wine of the evening.
Honestly, I am rather full by now. Each course is a full-sized portion, and we have another entree coming . Salmon Creek Pork Tenderloin with cauliflower, caramelized cippolini onion and a apple raspberry rhubarb compote is once again generous, but I only manage a few bites of the pork. I especially love the sweet tart compote as a condiment. The 2009 Parmalee Hill Owl Box Syrah is another example of how a wine mellows on the palate when paired with food.
We end our meal with a cheese plate comprising Explorator/Barley Buzzed/Bayley Hazen Blue with a pour of the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The cheeses are robust, and I love them all, but definitely partial to the latter. The honeycomb from local bees is exceptional, and I wish I have room in my stomach to eat it all.
But dinners with Chef Marissa is always more than what you think you’re getting. A plate of sweet bites arrive — carrot cake and Italian wedding biscuits — to satiate those with a sweet tooth. And if THAT’S not enough, we all leave with a home-made brownie to take home for later.
The Saxon Brown wine dinner is a steal at a mere $85/person. I promise you will leave more than satisfied with a belly full of great food and wine.
Next month, on June 20th, Chef Marissa will be partnering with Tamber Bey Vineyards (RSVP by June 15). The seats go quickly so I suggest securing a spot if you’re interested in attending. In July, the highly anticipated Pig & Pinot Feast (RSVP by July 14), will be held on the lawn of the Country Club, featuring a whole pig.
Vista Valley Country Club
29354 Vista Valley Drive
Vista, CA 92084