By Wendy Lemlin
Ok, I admit it. Life can taste pretty sweet when you’re a food writer. It’s especially enjoyable when gourmet dining amidst great conviviality with the growers, harvesters, and curators of the delicacies on the plates in front of me.
This was the case last night (January 15) at San Diego’s Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar for the Baja edition of their Farmers, Friends & Fisherman Dinner series, which proved so popular that seating spilled over into The Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge, Red Door’s adjoining sister restaurant. The seasonal series showcases area farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and wine or spirit makers who personify Red Door’s sustainable, local and organic credo.
Collaborating with executive chef Karrie Hills in the kitchen was Chef Flor Franco, whose new Chula Vista restaurant, Zarco, brings the gourmet Baja experience to the San Diego’s South Bay. The Red Door truly celebrates the farm-to-fork concept, with a sizeable portion of all produce served in Chef Karrie’s dishes sustainably grown at the Red Door’s own organic garden in La Mesa by owner Trish Wattlington.
Participating farmers were El Campito Farms for produce and Spur Valley Ranch for the quail that was the star of the 3rd course. San Diego commercial fisherman Dan Major brought the goodness of the sea, and Fernando Gaxiola of Baja Wine + Food curated the selected wines from the Valle de Guadalupe.
The evening started with a farmer/fisherman cocktail hour meet and greet featuring a crisp Chenin Blanc from Monte Xanic and tray passed hor d’oeuvres such as savory carrot gnocchi and flaky slices of apple butter tart.
Seating at dinner was mostly at group tables, allowing guests to become acquainted with new friends who shared a love of fine food, and the rooms were abuzz with happy chatter— always a good indication of successful social interaction among participants.
At the start of each of the four courses, the featured chef, farmer, and protein harvester talked a little about the dish being served and their part in its ingredients, while Gaxiola introduced the paired wine.
Course #1 : Baja Pulpo
This dish showcased octopus caught by Dan Major and prepared by Chef Flor and paired with a Sauvignon blanc from Monte Xanic. The tentacles were first cooked sous vide, resulting in a pleasing tenderness, and then grilled on the plancha for the signature smoky flavor. Accompanied by a small dollop of octopus pate, it was highlighted by dark green leafy mache from El Campito Farms, a smear of cilantro Pesto and a powdering of tortilla dust.
Course #2 “Box Crab”
Brown box crab is a rarity on dinner plates—it’s a deep, cold water species and San Diego
is at the very southern tip of its range. The silky sweet meat which we devoured was caught by Dan Major 60 miles off our coast. The small mound, topped with crunchy morsels of dehydrated red quinoa, sat in a pool of house-made cascabel chile Hondashi broth with umami-rich compressed oyster and shitake mushrooms from El Campito. Chef Flor explained that she used very little seasoning in this dish so that the amazing, fresh taste of the unique crabmeat would shine on its own. Although a red wine, the Paolini Wines Brunello de Guadalupe was a surprising complement to the delicately flavored dish.
Course # “Spur Valley Quail”
To be honest, I’ve always considered quail more trouble to eat than it’s worth—those tiny wings and breasts just leave me wishing for something more substantial to bite into. However, the rich flavor of Chef Karrie’s grilled pomegranate brined quail, which came cutely perched on a crispy little vermicelli nest went a long way towards making me a convert. Red Door Family Farm’s golden beets, butternut squash puree, and fennel confit with preserved meyer lemon gremalata matched the fruity sweetness of the sustainably and humanely raised quail from the Spur Valley poultry and rabbit ranch located east of El Cajon. Hacienda La Lomita Sacro cabernet/merlot blend paired well with the dish.
Course # 4 “Mini Dark Chocolate Cake”
Dessert—always my favorite course, and this one by Chef Karrie was outstanding. A rich dark chocolate cake with spiced garden pumpkin mousse filling, a chocolate maple ganache and topped with edible flowers, along with a dab of pumpkin crème puree was about the most delicious way to use the bounty of pumpkins in the Red Door Garden. Rather than a wine, this course was paired with a “Sweet Tequila Surprise”, which put smiles on those faces not already grinning from the chocolaty wonderfulness of the dessert.
The next Farmers, Friend & Fisherman dinner will be held in April.
The Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar 741 W. Washington St., San Diego, CA 92103 thereddoorsd.com