Alexander was the founding chef/co-owner of the highly lauded Seven Hills restaurant on Hyde Street in the Knob Hill/Russian Hill cusp. 2 weeks ago, he left the restaurant & is now looking to open his own place. His food is contemporary Italian with real classic roots. Here is the menu & wine pairings of the night.
Crispy Polenta with seared Bay scallops & a chanterelles mushroom reduction
We tried many wines in an effort to find the right pairing. As it turned out surprisingly, we ended up using the 2011 Birichino Malvasia Bianca. Produced from Monterey grown grapes crafted by former long time Bonny Doon winemaker John Locke, this wonderfully & exotically perfumed, DRY & crisp white wine really proved to be a very dynamic partner. Working with aromatic wines like this, has the same kind of heightening effect with the food as does throwing on some roughly chopped Thai basil would……just uplifting the dish’s flavors & accenting the nuances. The wine’s innate aromatics also connected with the onion chive component AND the wine’s lime like edge just deftly cleansed the palate between bites. Furthermore, with too many of the wines we tried with the dish, a real bitterness came out of the closet, which was not noticeable when one tasted the wine or the dish by itself. That was NOT the case with the Birichino.
Braised Octopus with caponata & Italian butter beans
This was a pretty tasty, interesting dish to say the least. The octopus was braised with white wine, bay leaf & peppercorns for 2 hours….AND then quickly grilled/marked to add flavors & texture. Pairing wine with this component is fairly easy & straightforward. The real challenge, however, is finding a suitable wine which will also work with the sweet & sour caponata. A very noticeable & detracting bitterness becomes VERY glaring with so many white & rose wines we tried. It has become almost cliche-ish in our VINO restaurant to say…..when all else fails try the My Essential Rose. Guess what? It certainly worked its magic again. At least part of the reason I would surmise is because this wine comes from limestone/calcareous oriented soils in this case down in Provence, France. Furthermore, because this wine is vinified first by direct press, the resulting wine is VERY light in color & drama leaving little to clash with. PLUS the wine’s soil driven minerality is a riveting foil for the octopus’ meatiness & the earthiness of the caponata. This pairing again showed how incredibly food friendly this wine really is.
Raviolo Uovo with brown butter, Parmesan cheese & truffle oil
Here is one of Alexander’s signature dishes. The runny egg hidden in the ravioli adds richness & impact to this dish without gaudiness or fanfare. The wine we actually paired, was the Sommariva Prosecco, a light, delicately nuanced, amazingly light & airy Italian bubbly produced from the Balby heirloom selection of Prosecco grown in the Veneto region. Quite an amazing dish & pairing. Delicate with delicate.
Crispy Skin Kampachi with brussel sprouts, barley & almond cream
This dish actually proved to be the most challenging to pair wines with, eventhough on paper it looks so easy & straightforward. It must have been something about the almond cream. In any case, we selected the Domaine Skouras Moschofilero. Grown at roughly between 1000 & 2000 feet elevation in the Peloponnese, this colored Moschofilero grape variety has such “quitely” exotic perfume, with surprising viscosity & a lime edge to it. The lack of perceived bitterness is because the grapes are direct pressed, with negliable skin contact. Working with these kinds of aromatic grape varieties can really uplift the flavors & aromatics of dishes & give it a much more dynamic & standout edge.
Poached Apple with sweet biscotti, apple puree, grated cinnamon, caramel & upside down tuile (photo courtesy of Jo McGarry)
This is how we ended the evening. Although we did not pair this course with a wine on this night, a natural pairing would be with the effortlessly light, minerally, deliciously fruity Elvio Tintero Moscato d’Asti.
On behalf of our customers, our staff and my wfie Cheryle, we say thank you to Chef Alexander Alioto for a wonderful & amazing evening.