By Darren Delmore
As my 2023 National Sales travels for Tablas Creek swirled into a smooth finish, I noticed my phone's photo collection featured as much food as family. Miraculously, my waist line remained the same at the close of the year, but it did entail adding yoga to my repertoire to pull that off. Here's a round up of some of my most memorable dishes and meals of the year.
Gjelina, Venice, CA
My 10 year old son and I did a mid-summer trip to LA, and besides a visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery and some tennis in Echo Park, we mostly ate our way through my favorite food spots. Every cuisine on the planet is available in the city of angels, from food trucks to fast casual to prix-fixe, and on the last night we braved the crowd at Gjelina and snuck into a communal table straight away, where chef Travis Lett's "Braised Sweet Corn with Fresno Chile" dish, dressed with cilantro, briny feta, and lime, was warm-weather perfection, as was the sun gold tomato, burrata and squash blossom pizza.
Joseph's Culinary Pub, Santa Fe, NM
This Santa Fe gem has the most lamb options I've ever seen on a menu, and the best lamb tartare in the world. When I'm out representing Tablas Creek at the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta every September, you can find me here on two of the three nights in town, at the dark, friendly little bar, dipping some glistening, salted, house fried tortilla chips into the tender, raw lamb puck topped with a cured egg yolk and parsley emulsion. I recommend pairing this with wine manager Starr Bowers' Rhone focused list, or a bowl of green chile-spiced beef bone broth. You'll leave like a well fed, culinary vampire.
The Waverly, Cardiff, CA
I'm not one to get excited about salads, having been raised in the iceberg ages of lettuce, but the Caesar salad at The Waverly in North County San Diego has changed all of that. Fresh, textural Romaine with a garlicky Baja Caesar glaze, shrimp if you want to add it, but what you don't see buried inside here are the infamous, lovingly deep fried, cheese filled crouton blocks. During happy hour you can just order the croutons! To deep dive, watch this clip of chef Brian Redzikowski in action, or just cut to the two minute mark to have him blow the very notion of a "crouton" out of this galaxy. And that's my glass of Patelin de Tablas Rosé, poured on tap from kegs here since 2019.
Chez Bacchus, Long Beach, CA
We get asked to do a lot of wine dinners on the road, and the most successful ones tend to be when the chef tastes the wines first, then plans the menu accordingly. Such was the case at the Tablas Creek wine dinner I hosted in June at this new restaurant in Long Beach. The amuse alone of Sushi grade ahi, with a chunk of avocado, crowned with tobiko red Caviar and served with Esprit de Tablas Blanc, was practically worth the price of admission.
Gemma, Dallas, TX
I'm pretty sure the Rabbit Pappardelle at Gemma has made it onto this list before. One of our first Tablas Creek keg accounts in the lone star state continues to be an industry hot spot, open later than most fine dining establishments, with killer service and a beautiful long bar to comfortably consume a solo meal. Though the menu has plenty on offer, I stick to this classic dish every time. Fluffy housemade pasta, braised juicy slabs of rabbit, pancetta, Swiss chard, pecorino and thyme, wisely paired with a glass of Patelin de Tablas Rouge.
Easy Bistro, Chattanooga, TN
If you'd told me I'd end up in Chattanooga and fall in love with a gluten free pasta made out of squash, I would've said you've lost your mind. Easy Bistro got interested in Regenerative Farming a few years ago and sought our wines out in Tennessee. I did a Covid-era Zoom presentation with their entire team in late 2020. This fall, in person, I grabbed a bar seat in front of their large wood oven and enjoyed this guanciale-enriched twist on a carbonara with some Patelin Blanc, and left feeling light as a feather.
Ember, Arroyo Grande, CA
Ember continues to blow SLO county minds with their wood fired cuisine. When in season, the local Halibut pictured here, puts the bounty of Central Coast waters and farms on show. We were shocked to hear of Ember selling, but apparently the staff is staying on and the new owners are big fans with plans to keep things blazing. Congratulations to Brian and Harmony Collins for believing in their backyard and bringing Chez Panisse-style fare to our palates.
Burger She Wrote, Los Feliz, CA
Best Burger of The Year (and restaurant name) goes to these guys. They don't serve wine, but just marvel in the majesty of this one for a second or two. If they opened a Paso Robles outpost, I'd surely be on heart medication.
Grater Goods at an AirBnB, Jacksonville, FL
Oftentimes the most memorable meals don't happen in a restaurant. In early October, between working Georgia and Florida, my good friends Mike and Brianna from Charleston went in on a Jacksonville Beach AirBnb with me in hopes of scoring some surf. As the autumn time Atlantic ocean is unpredictable, the chances of getting good waves in a three day window was risky. I popped into this great cheese shop in Jacksonville en route to the rental, filling up an exotic sack of cheeses, all from Georgia's Sweet Grass Dairy. This photo is the afterglow of surfing epic, warm water waves for three hours on that Saturday afternoon, in spite of bull sharks all around us, celebrating our luck, timing, and friendship. We complemented this golden platter with a bottle of Vincent Girardin 2020 Le Cailleret Chassagne Montrachet.
I hope this inspires you to go out to eat and support your favorite restaurant before the year's end. Or, if geography is in your favor, maybe seeking one of these specific spots out. I'm already getting a tad hungry for 2024, so I'm going to go now. Happy feasting!