SIMI WINERY AT SEVY’S GRILL
by Andrew Chalk
Restaurateurs: How do you keep a creative chef challenged while serving the menu your regular customers expect? Answer: Hold monthly wine dinners! That’s how Eric Freidline, executive chef at Sevy’s Grill, gets his endorphins and, based on his recent wine dinner menus, its working!
This week Sonoma County legend Simi was the featured winery and, despite the late non-arrival of some rabbit for the 50+ diners, it was a tour de force.
For amuse-gueule we started with Chawanmushi. Don’t spend too much time trying to pronounce it, just dig in with a teaspoon to this classic Japanese egg custard and savor the ‘fifth taste’, umami, from the dashi base and shitake mushrooms. The mint strewn on top was a nice touch, adding a kick to the earthy tastes.
The next course was a colorful feast of white and green asparagus, octopus, and deep brown homemade venison sausage (which they should put into grocery stores) all concealing a mound of millet polenta with the millet finely ground. The whole was encircled by a dash of parsley oil, tart romesco sauce and mandolined radish. The latter positioned as though on guard. A definite hit with the crowd who may not have chosen octopus on a menu. Its five-hour sous-vide preparation abolished fears of chewy tendrils as the al dente texture and sweet flavor came on.
The second course had been intended to be made with rabbit but a supply problem with the farmer meant the late substitution of Cheshire pork porchetta. It was cooked so that the skin crisped up into crackling. What appear to be beans in the picture are actually nuggets of spätzle, the German take on egg pasta, here sauteed with garlic and olive oil and then made into a pasta-type dish with cream and chard from the farm of a friend of Eric’s. The supporting role was played by English peas, Thumbelina carrots, pickled ramps, and grain mustard jus. This was not just right at home with Simi Merlot, it would have been a great winter night ‘comfort food’ dish as well.
Prime ribeye is a great cut of meat, but prime ribeye aged 40-days is something else. The drying concentrates the flavors, producing almost a blue cheese taste when it is grilled. The steak was served with an unusual jalopeño grit raviolo, charred rapini, and little crisps of potato all bathed in veal demi-glace.
Finally an indulgent dessert of homemade mango ice cream, on a bed of Valrhona chocolate and rice. Bonito leaves from the appetizer were used to candy cashews, adding a savory textural touch.
Chris Teague, from Constellation Brands representing Simi, explained that Simi Winery goes back to the nineteenth century and described the storied place it had in California wine history. In the modern era it was the winery where winemaker Zelma Long practiced her trade (before moving to South Africa) making it one of the most awarded California wineries in the 1980s and 1990s.
Of particular note at the dinner was the rich and full-bodied Sonoma Merlot which was such a ready match with the porchetta. Also, the ‘Landslide Vineyard’ Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon resembled more of an avalanche in how it delivered its power and flavors to the ribeye.
It is easy to forget that Sevys, more an institution than a restaurant, has been at its current location for more than 22 years. Jim Severson (‘Sevy’) showed me, next to a hickory-burning stove emitting glorious smoke flavors, the enchilada steamer that he used as a smoker for the first food that went out to customers. It continued in that role today.
The same longevity goes for the staff. Nine out of the 45 staff have 22-year badges and that includes chef de cuisine Michael Zeve (‘Buzzy’). He was an old friend of Sevy’s who worked at the Mansion under Dean Fearing. One day at Primo’s (a hangout place for Dean and crew) Jim announced that he planned to open his own restaurant and Buzzy asked to join on the spot.
Eric and Sevy connected quite fortuitously in early 2016. and the ‘odd couple’ has forged a stronger restaurant ever since.
Sevy’s wine dinners continue this summer with Duckhorn (June 25th), Silver Oak (July 23rd), Cakebread Cellars (August 21st), and August Briggs (September 21st). A sellout is near certain so reserve early.