By Rick Riozza

Quelle Chance!How fortunate for the intimate party of diners to be enjoying the first of the 2013 Around the World Summer Wine Dinner Series held last week, where the focus of the evening—mais oui, but of course—was France and its famed wine producing regions.

Escena Lounge and Grill is one of Palm Springs’ beautiful restaurants on every level. Scenic surroundings, great array of nightlife music & bar scene, and an inventive & tasty contemporary American cuisine showcasing the talents of new Executive Chef, Anthony Mejia.

Bon Voyage! As we continue on Escena’s summer’s world tour of gustatory designations. On August 14th the next culinary excursion is to SouthAmerica where the locally inspired meals will pair with wonderful Chilean and Argentinian wines. On September 4th look for Australia and New Zealand to be featured, with the concluding dinner on October 2nd with passage back to California and the great Pacific Northwest. I’ll be previewing these dinners in up-coming columns.

Last year, I covered a couple of Escena’s wine dinners, this season I’m covering them all! There’s a brand new kitchen and floor staff who are dedicated to providing the best cuisine, comfort, and panache for their patrons. I met with both J.D. Cole, food &beverage director and Mr. Jeremiah, beverage manager, who impress with their eager determination of putting on the Ritz not only with these fantastic wine dinners but as well with their special nightly meals.

For the evening, I couldn’t have thought of a better name: French Soirée. This can imply a large affair but often times it translates to an intimate gathering. The first thing I became aware of when led into a stylish private dining room, was the large banquet table that was set for only 20 guests. How classy is that! Most wine dinners in our valley tend to crowd a sizable group into a room which can affect ambiance. Here the atmosphere remained elegant, intimate, and made for enlightening conversation about the food, wine, and desert lifestyle.

Immediately, upon entering the dining room we began with a refreshing bubbly, as we acclimated from the searing heat outside. A delicious sparkling wine from France’s Loire Valley, Pol Clément blanc de blancs Brut, possessed the perfect tease of light apple, pear and yeast with a refreshing lemon-crisp finish.

And kudos to Sommelier Phil Haxby for his tasty Gruyere popover. He’s English and his popover very much resembled Yorkshire Pudding as to texture and enjoyment. Further I’d like to commend the Chef and the Somm for their collaboration of the food & wine at this affair.

We know a Chablis is 100% Chardonnay and its classic pairing are oysters. But when was the last time we actually enjoyed this duo? These were expedited when Chef Anthony served up a trio of oyster presentations by way of shallots, ceviche, and lemongrass. I’m hoping these tasty concoctions remain as appetizers throughout the season because they are prepared to perfection—both as to feel and flavor. And I can see enjoying the oyster ceviche at the bar along with an un-oaked Chardonnay or a cold beer.

But this evening the 2011Joseph DrouhinVaudronChablis was the heavenly match. Its lemony and briny aromas and flavors brought the oyster experience up a taste level. 

The next course was pan fried halibut atop haricot verts with a mango & lime butter sauce. The halibut was cooked exquisitely. Whenever a new chef comes to town, the manner he prepares fish speaks volumes. Bienvenu! Chef Anthony.

The wine chosen for this course was a surprise to me. Not that it was a white Bordeaux, but by the fact that it was a right-bank and not the traditional left-bank Bordeaux wine. The 2010 Domaine d’Artfeuille Les Matines Blanc has the same Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blend as its left-bank sister but the fruit was muted–appearing as soft apricot and peach notes. I detected more floral and herb—boxwood, broom and acacia flower. Cheers on this very creative pairing.

Our meat course was as scrumptious as it was resplendent on the plate. The Herb-Encrusted Rack of Lamb with a redcurrant & red wine reduction with a fondant potato bespoke brilliant French dining. The lamb was as tasty as I’ve ever had it and the potato was prepared in duck fat—need we say more?

The 2010Pinot Noir from Burgundy was Joseph Drouhin Chorey-Les-Beaune. This beautiful bright and clear red color wine was very flavorful with those classic cola, spice, and wild blackberry charms, which complemented the rack of lamb to a ‘T’.

For the dessert and dessert wine pairing, we enjoyed the chef’s Ricotta and Kumquat Cheesecake along with the 2010 Chateau Grand Jauga Sauternes.

I’m a big Sauternes fan but I hadn’t heard of this Bordeaux producer. Well—it’s on my radar now! All of the definitive flavors of this traditional sweet wine were apparent: dried apricots, figs, tangerines, light vanilla tones, and honey—with a great mouth feel. And the balance between sweetness and freshness was perfect. Sweet dreams on this course.

Nothing like being in the right place at the right time catching the first leg of this culinary excursion ‘round the world—three further destinations await! As is evident, Five Star dining at the great price of $65 per person plus tax & gratuity. With such a limited seating, I recommend reservations as soon as possible. I’ve made mine—so I’ll see you there!

Escena Lounge & Grill, 1100 Clubhouse View Dr. Palm Springs, Ca. 760.992.0002. .


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