Rule # 46 – Learn something from every experience.
Day 1 of vaca:
Scene – Massanutten Summit unit with sister-in-law. Brother and Hub are in the background, “discussing” the political news. We are perusing the weekly events calendar for the site.
S – Let’s do something different.
Me – You don’t want to hit the winery tours?
S – No, we’ve seen them all and no one has invented a new way to make wine.
Me – Ok, so what haven’t we done around here? We are all a bit too decrepit for rafting down the Shenandoah again.
We look. We both agree it must include the lovely fermented grape juice.
Me – How about this? The Winemaker’s dinner? What do you think?
S – Expensive.
Me – Yes, a bit. But what else are we doing to stimulate the local economy around here?
S – Yo, what do you think about the Winemaker’s Dinner?
B – How much?
S – (quotes price)
B and Hub – WHAT???!!!
S – But it sounds interesting.
Me – It sounds fattening too. Yeah!
B and Hub – Hmmmm…..
B – What the heck! Let’s do it.
Hub – Make 4 reservations.
And so we did just that.
Fast forward to day 5:
We all arrive on time for the meal. We pay for the experience (ouch!!!). And we enter the dining room.
S – Welcome to the Titanic!
B – Holy crap! This all for me?
Hub – What the….?
Me – Just start on the outside and work your way in.
Seriously, we entered into a dining room set with the high formal table settings. We were anticipating a five course meal with wine. What we got was an experience fit for kings and queens, or at least Food Network exec chefs.
The Winemaker’s Dinner at Massanutten features a local winery and a local chef, who focuses on local ingredients. It’s not a dressy dinner, but the table setting alone reminds you of those company manners your mom taught you all those years ago. The “dressy” ambiance brings out the “polite and civil” in everyone.
We were seated with another couple from Michigan and the six of us bonded immediately… over baseball and football. The evening began with lots of friendly conversation, talking about kids, where we are from, do we own there or trade in. Then, our master of ceremonies began the evening’s educational program by introducing the chef and the winery representative. The chef was an executive chef from one of the onsite restaurants. His credentials were impressive and his training – well, it reminded me of the chefs I brought into the high school classrooms to talk about the career. He described how he shopped at local farms for the ingredients for the evening’s meal. Our winery representative was from Stone Mountain Vineyards. I’ve seen the signs for the vineyard as we drove around the area, but I’d never experienced their wares until this year. Both people gave us an overview of our menu of food and wine for the evening with an approximate timetable. They also explained how the food and wines were matched up. And they introduced us to the kitchen staff, a clear nod to the teamwork that is a professional kitchen.
Then the chef introduced the first course – an appetizer of garlic flan, with a mushroom salpicon. Fresh garlic was used for the flan. The mushrooms were rendered in a wine and butter sauce. It was presented with a garnish of greens. This was paired with a 2011 Pinot Grigio from Stone Mountain. The wine has a gentle taste, for a Pinot, and blended perfectly with the appetizer. The portion size was a small 4-ounce serving placed in front of the individual diner. No sharesies here! And no wine in any glass after the course was finished.
Our second course was billed as a tomato soup with cilantro and jalapeño oil. It was paired with Stone Mountain’s 2010 Chardonnay. The soup was served cold, very appropriate for the 97 degree day. It was also not a smooth puree, like a gazpacho would be. You could see the chunks of tomato and onion in your bowl. The jalapeño oil was lightly drizzled on the top of the presentation. The taste was refreshing and surprising… almost needing nacho chips, but not quite. The white chardonnay set off the spicing in the soup. There was a nice balance of zest between the two menu items. And again, there was no leftover wine.
Then… the salad course. I’m used to a tossed salad with lots of flavors mixed together, with no dressing. We were presented with a small plate of fresh spinach greens, with a generous portion of fresh onions roasted in a berry sauce. This was topped with gorgonzola cheese and roasted pecans, with a bit more berry flavoring for a dressing. It was time for a more imposing wine flavor, so Stone Mountain brought out their Maquillage. This wine was a rose` blend that took our taste buds to a new level. It was a gentle wine that added a bit of punch to the flavors of the berry sauce and gorgonzola cheese. The wine tempered the strong flavors of the food and allowed all essences of the course to blend perfectly. This was, however, our third glass of wine and you could tell a buzz was setting in. Conversations were becoming louder and there was a real party atmosphere developing in the room. Small amounts of wine were left behind, not because of flavor, but in the interest of sobriety.
The main course was next. All the other courses could be deemed vegetarian friendly, but not the main one. We were treated to braised Angus beef shanks with apples and a side of fingerling potatoes. The beef, apples and potatoes were braised together with fresh roasted garlic, onion, and slight spicing. The food was served “dry” (no gravy, although there was some natural juices on the plate) and presented with a garnish of greens and apples. This was hearty fare, not for the small of appetite. It was paired with a very hearty red wine, Massanutten Mosiac. This wine was a blend specifically for Massanutten Resort and is only sold at one location on the property. It was a smooth compliment to the hearty flavors of the meal. The red wine drinkers among us had no problem finishing our glass and looking for more. The white wine drinkers… not so much. But there was no wine left at the table when the course was finished. All abandoned red wines found a suitable home.
|Braised Angus shanks with fingerling potatoes and apples.|
Me – Now I know how my Thanksgiving turkey feels… so stuffed.
S – One more course to go. This is going to be a pain to figure the Weight Watcher points for this meal. Oh well, get back to it tomorrow.
Last but not least was dessert. After all the heady flavors we consumed before now, we were all looking for something a bit light and sweet. We were not disappointed. The chef presented us with a slice of apricot pie, garnished with a brandy glaze. Apricots were blended with vanilla custard and placed in a baked pie shell and served cold. Apricot brandy was rendered into a glaze and drizzled over the serving. As stuffed as we were, we had to try it. Does the phrase “epicurial heaven” sound appropriate? It just melted in our mouths. We were served a yellow branch cherry wine as an accompaniment. This was a sweet dessert wine, designed to be sipped in small amounts. The wine was a bit too sweet for my tastes, but the white wine aficionados enjoyed the lightness on the palate.
I look back on this event as a real educational experience. Like I used to do in my classes, I needed to sit and reflect on what I learned for the lesson. Let’s see…. I learned:
- You can eat well, eat healthy and eat delicious all in the same meal. (Ok, I knew that already as a teacher… prior learning)
- You need to take your time eating a great meal. Savor the flavors. Enjoy the company. Drink wine if you can.
- Put yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m not a formal dining person, but I think I held my own through the evening.
- Chefs like to talk about their products. They like compliments. They are not just kitchen gnomes, to be hidden and ignored.
- Kids need to experience this event too, without the wine. They could learn formal dining manners, an appreciation for the work in the kitchens, and that food other than Big Macs really do taste good.
- They will also learn visual portion size. They will learn when enough food is enough – you know, pacing. They will see teamwork in action, in a venue that doesn’t involve a ball.
- I want to do this again… and soon.
S, B, Me, Hub - Very soon….
Check out Stone Mountain Vineyards at their website:
It’s worth the trip!