[Tommy Oldre is Tablas Creek's national sales manager. This is the first entry in "All Things Consumed," an occasional chronicle of some of the highlights of eating and drinking around the country. Follow Tommy's journeys through the world of food and wine on Twitter: @TommyTablas]
I feel fortunate to represent a vineyard and winery that aspires to have its wines carried by the finest restaurants and retailers in the country. And I appreciate that they fly me all over to support this effort. I truly love visiting and working with these establishments; it is challenging, exciting, educational, fascinating and quite fulfilling.
For its population size, the greater Paso Robles area has a remarkable number of great restaurants. However, the range and diversity of our restaurants is tiny compared to what is available in most of the places I visit to sell wine. We're still waiting for the artisan pizza movement ... the Korean burrito ... and the banh mi to arrive in Paso.
Are these things you search out? I thought I would highlight, for my first blog post, some of my favorite places, restaurants and people that I encountered in 2009. Think of it as a gourmand's alphabet. Have a spot you think I should check out in 2010? Suggest it in the comments section.
A is for Austin, TX. I visited this hip little city twice in '09 and always ate well. The standout meals of my visits were at Mirabelle (where Michael Vilim, the Austin Food and Wine pioneer, hosted another great Tablas Creek dinner) and at Olivia, a great new(ish) restaurant that was designed by a college buddy of mine.
B is for Beast in Portland, OR. I had read many great things about this restaurant and I was excited that I had the chance to spend my birthday there back in September. The food did not disappoint and I loved the unhurried pace of the meal. I also read a quote on the wall there that has stuck with me since: "If it has four legs, and it is not a table, eat it."
C is for Catalan in Houston, TX. Over the past few years, I have eaten (gorged?) here a few times and it has always delivered. The menu is broad, inventive, regionally driven and well executed and the wine program is excellent (particularly if you like grower Champagne, an extensive dry Rose selection, and a few options from the Jura region of France........... which I do). Antonio, Chris, and everyone else, I look forward to saying hello in 2010.
D is for Destin, FL. I had no idea. Back in April, I attended the Sandestin Wine Festival and couldn't have been more impressed with both the festival and the area. I had the chance to spend time with friends from the trade, met some new great people, and I am still amazed at how pretty that stretch of the Gulf Coast is.
E is for eruption, as in Mt. Redoubt. I visited Alaska back in March for the first time to participate in our distributor's trade shows. I -- and many other sales reps -- saw more of Alaska than we'd planned. Because of the temperamental volcano, and its grounding (literally) effect on airplanes, our distributor had to charter a bus to take us from Anchorage to Fairbanks, roughly seven hours to the north. Oddly, I enjoyed every minute of it.
F is for Flour + Water in San Francisco. The hand made pasta, pizza, and salumi, all of which is done in house, is fantastic. This straight-forward, time-tested concept does not yet exist here in Paso.
G is for Gjelina on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, CA. Eat here. The food, across the (rather expansive) board, is fantastic and so are the wine list and overall feel of the place. I had many great meals here in '09, hung out with some great characters, and I will be returning soon.
H is for Hush in Laguna Beach, CA. I was fortunate enough to do a dinner with the talented staff from Hush back in November and it was a very memorable night. The weather was perfect, there were friendly, familiar faces in attendance, and the food and wine pairings were lovely. I still think about the bison medallions with huckleberry reduction.
I is for Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, NM. Every year Tablas Creek chooses to participate in the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta and I have been lucky to have represented us the last three years. This past festival, we partnered with the gifted culinary crew at the Inn of the Anasazi for an incredible meal. The dining room was festive and fun and the food and wine pairings were spot-on.
J is for John's in Boulder, CO. (File this one under met cool people) Some places I don't even get to eat at. Yet. I really enjoyed all the staff I met here when I called on the account; they were attentive and serious enough, but not full of themselves or claiming to be reinventing anything. The restaurant itself is kind of tucked away, has a great reputation to go along with its non-pretentious feel and I can't wait to get back to eat, drink, and say hello.
K is for K&L. A class act. Both Jason and I participated in tastings at different K&L locations this past year and they were both great experiences. The staff is knowledgeable and a joy to work with, their wine selection is tough to beat, and they attract a great clientele. True retail pros (and probably the best Web site of any wine retailer).
L is for Lou in Los Angeles. I love everything about this place: the location (generic Hollywood strip mall), the menu, the wine list; you name it. If you are not on the Lou mailing list, sign up for news on his Monday night suppers and his rants, and don't miss Lou's blog.
M is for Miami, Fl, and the two restaurants I fell in love with during my trips there in 2009, Michy's and Michael's Genuine. This is probably no surprise, but many of the restaurants I have been to in Miami have seemed to be more about the scene, and the business of being seen, than the actual product that is served. This is not the case with Michy's and Michael's Genuine. Both restaurants are chef-owned and -operated and both are staffed with friendly, knowledgeable, and professional help. Oh, and the food at both is incredible.
N is for NOVO in the town I call home, San Luis Obispo, CA. I think one of the main reasons I have not made the move up to Paso is that I can walk to this restaurant in ten minutes. I love the wine list here, the variety of small plates to be enjoyed, and their back patio overlooking San Luis Obispo Creek is one of the first thoughts that comes to mind when people ask why I like living in SLO.
O is for OneSpeed in Sacramento, CA. OneSpeed is the new pizza joint created by Rick Mahan of Waterboy, also in Sacramento. I visited shortly after it opened and had one of my top five pizzas of the year there. Additionally, I love the simple and bright feel of the dining room; it definitely made hammering three-fourth's of a pie at one in the afternoon a little less debilitating than it should have been. I know it is pretty easy to rag on the whole fancy pizza fetish/trend, but if our country's pizza culture were to become less connected to Domino's, I would be alright with that.
P is for Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AZ. You foodies have likely all heard about it. Believe the hype; it is that good. I talked a high-school buddy of mine into going with me (he asked for Ranch dressing to dip his crust in; it was awesome) on a recent trip to Phoenix, we waited an hour, and then had two incredible pies. I will go back every time I visit family in Phoenix.
Q is for Quahog, as in the type of clams that were in my favorite chowder of the year at Wimpy's in Osterville, MA. (Kind of a reach, I know. Q's are hard. I will be eating at Quince this year so as to make this endeavor easier next year.) I was working on the Cape in March of last year and, naturally, wanted to take down a bowl of chowder before leaving. My coworker for the day, Tony, suggested Wimpy's and I'm happy he did. The chowder was incredible, considerably brinier than most, which I like, and the sweet couple that now own and run the restaurant were a lot of fun to visit with.
R is for Root Down in Denver, CO. This funky neighborhood restaurant inhabits an old auto garage in the Highlands area of Denver and it focuses on locally grown and organically farmed ingredients. I'm a sucker for restaurants that have a varied selection of small plates (entree commitment issues) and can also make a properly bitter pre-meal Negroni. Root Down did both well.
S is for Seattle, WA, one of my favorite markets to work. Mountains, water, great people, and an endless number of places I want to eat and drink; this city covers just about everything for me. This past year, we partnered with the talented Chef Jason Wilson of Crush restaurant for what was an exceptional dinner. Each course was beautifully executed but the highlight for me was the sous vide of Neah Bay black cod with roasted mushrooms in a dashi broth, paired with our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc.
T is for The Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York. This was my favorite eating experience of this past year. My brother and I were both wrapping up a day's work and we met here to have a couple dozen oysters and a few beers. I enjoyed seeing our Esprit Blanc on the wine list and knowing that we were indulging in a ritual that has been performed at the same location since 1913.
U is for Uchi in Austin, TX. I was rather skeptical about this place prior to actually eating there. All I had heard was that the fare was sushi (in Austin, mind you), that the chef was not Japanese, and that it was expensive. While all of this proved to be true, Uchi was fantastic. If in Austin, and you don't mind splurging, this restaurant is not to be missed.
V is for V. Mertz in Omaha, NE. 2009 was the third year in a row that we have partnered with this family-run, fine dining restaurant in Omaha for a wine dinner and it was a lovely event once again. The Stamp family, and the talented cast they employ, have made Omaha perhaps the unlikeliest entry on my favorite-places-to-visit-each-year list.
W is for Wexler's in San Francisco, CA. Just about every item on this menu looked intriguing to me and I was bummed that it was just myself and one other the only time I ate here. Had we been more, I surely would have had the chance to try more of the menu. I will be returning to Wexler's in the near future so I can continue to sample the soulfully updated classics that are offered.
X is for WineX (Wine eXchange) in Orange, CA, one of the savviest retailers out there. Even more than the cheeky humor found in their near daily emails, I appreciate the candor with which they discuss the current state of affairs in the wholesale wine world. This is an account call I look forward to every year.
Y is for York Street in Dallas, TX. We teamed up with Sharon Hage and Co. at York Street back in October for a six-course meal that may have been my best work meal of 2009. Every component of the evening was superb; the wines showed beautifully with Sharon's wonderful food, the York Street staff were professional and fun, and the dining room was full of people that were enjoying one another. It was a night I simply felt lucky to be a part of.
Z is for Zazie in San Francisco, CA. I first visited Zazie a few years ago and I was enamored with it from the beginning. It epitomizes the neighborhood bistro I wish I had where I live. I have tried a few of the bistro classics that are offered here and they have never disappointed. The croque monsieur I had in 2009 was the best I had all year. I imagine, and hope, Zazie will be an annual visit of mine for years to come.