Last week I had great timing while in Sacramento for a two day golf tournament. My in-laws had planned a winemaker's dinner at one of my favorite area eateries The Chef's Table in Rocklin. What was the occasion? The release of four new wines from Dono dal Cielo.
The Chef's Table is the brainchild of Chef David Hill and a perfect place for a winemaker's dinner. They call themselves a "Market Fresh Bistro and Wine Bar" and they are always serving up tasty small plates that make for perfect sharing and pairing. I have never eaten there without sampling a half dozen menu items and multiple pours. They often run out of items because everything is made from scratch and based on ingredient availability. However, disappointment is never a factor because the crew at The Chef's Table are adept at preparing and innovating. They can think on their feet and cook accordingly so whatever they serve reflects it. Sometimes The Chef's Table almost makes me feel like I am dining at a culinary academy because of Chef Hill's flexibility and spontaneity. It seems like we are forever making substitution requests to test wine pairings and our suggestions are not only taken in stride but our expectations exceeded. To see Chef David Hill's impressive culinary background which includes teaching at Cordon Bleu College in Sacramento click here.
As an example of this spontaneous deliciousness The Chef's Table is known for we were greeted with a crostini appetizer with goat cheese smear that wasn't even included on our special winemaker menu. Chef David's little surprise starter paired beautifully with our first wine of the evening, the new 2010 Sauvignon Blanc.
I could have easily made a meal out of these tasty little toasties but I restrained knowing very well that a host of more great offerings awaited me from this tiny boutique bistro.
Crostini Close Up
Our first official course came in the form of a Thai Green Papaya Salad with Grilled Red Curry Salmon. Both the portion and big flavor of this dish was so satisfying that I almost hesitate calling it a small plate. The papaya had a nice crunchy texture and the red curry perfectly complimented the salmon without taking over. It was a natural segue from the crostinis as they continued to pour the Sauv Blanc.
Thai Green Salad topped with Grilled Red Curry Salmon
The next course was a beautiful seafood bisque made with Shrimp and Scallops. Wine #2 was their second vintage of Chardonnay 2008.
We then moved into the new 2010 Ta Rosé for a Grilled Spring Onion Panzanilla Salad with Roasted Beets and Strawberry Vinaigrette. This bread salad was hearty and could stand alone in a larger size as an entree itself. Grilling the spring onions and roasting the beets added serious earthy goodness tossed with the sweet berry dressing.
Grilled Spring Onion Panzanilla Salad with Roasted Beets
The signature wine of Dono da Cielo is their Zinfandel. Here Braum on the left and Joe keep both the 2007 and the brand new 2008 Zins flowing as we headed into the main course of the dinner.
There was nothing small about the plate or flavors of the main course, Pork Loin Saltimbocca. It was full entree size and served with a Roasted Potato Salad, Pesto Oil and Tomato Fondue. As you can see the colorful presentation was as impressive as it was actually delicious.
To cap things off we finished the evening with Chocolate Espresso Cake, Blackberry coulis and Candied Pecans paired with Late Harvest Zinfandel Port.
Chocolate Cake, Coulis and Candied Pecan Conclusion!
The vibe at The Chef's Table is both bustling and intimate at the same time. There is seldom enough space for the crowds who line up every night to be there but that creates a buzz and spontaneous chatter among the tables. Meeting and greeting the other patrons is almost unavoidable. The food and wine sharing/pairing along with the staff's expert suggestions just brings the whole experience together. This wide room shot really shows the open kitchen and bar seating which is a focal point.
Open Kitchen with bar seating is the hub of the action at The Chef's Table
My favorite seat in house is right at the bar where I can watch the cooks do their thing in a very open kitchen. Reservations for dinner are highly suggested but they are now also open for lunch Tuesday through Friday. 916-771-5656 or online.
My parting shot is of Dono dal Cielo's Director of Sales, Hunter McGillivray (left) and Chef David Hill hamming it up for me at the end of a very successful winemaker's dinner to debut four new wines. This evening paired some really good food and wine. It also paired two small boutique purveyors of food and wine who excel at their crafts by keeping it handcrafted. You have to look hard to find The Chef's Table tucked away in a strip mall in Rocklin. Dono dal Cielo Vineyards is definitely off the beaten path on a Newcastle country road you won't find near any freeway exit. However, if both these brands continue to deliver as they have been, they will no longer be two of the best kept culinary and viticulture secrets in the greater Capital City area.