Chef’s Counter at the Wine Cask a Culinary Treat

I had my first encounter with the Chef’s Counter at the Wine Cask this week and my tastebuds are still dancing with delight.

For those of you who haven’t heard, every Monday through Thursday night Chef Brandon Hughes is now offering a special Farmer’s Market fresh tasting menu paired with local wines, for an all inclusive price of $65 per person.

Courtesy Wine Cask

Courtesy Wine Cask

While it is typically a three-course menu, this week’s menu (still available tonight) included four courses. Sous Chef Nik Ramirez says he and Chef Hughes typically shop the market on Saturday morning and “duke it out over the week’s menu.” Their draw resulted in a victory for us, as we got an extra course on Monday, since “things looked so good we couldn’t decide on just three.”

First up, Rancho San Julian Sweetbreads with Green Farm Artichoke Saint Germain and truffle hollandaise, paired with Firestone Walker Brewery “Honey Blonde Ale.” Let me preface this by saying that, as much as I love Rancho San Julian (owner Elizabeth Poett was Seasons’ first Farmer’s Market profile when I took over as Editor in Winter 2010/11), I would never order sweetbreads if given the choice. However, one timid bite quickly convinced me they were AMAZING! Seriously, this dish deserves a permanent place on the menu. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.

Next was Mud Creek Ranch Kumquat Glazed Kurauta Pork Loin with “The Garden Of …” braised Chinese cabbage, sous vide shallots and the ’10 Margerum “Wine Cask” Sauvignon Blanc, which paired perfectly with the pork.

Our third course was Pan Seared Wagyu Strip Steak with Green Farm asparagus gnocchi, Northern California “Orchard” morel mushrooms and Earthtrine Farms Persian mulberry demi-glace, paired with an ‘09 Brander Cabernet Sauvignon. So tasty. Those Persian mulberries are out of this world. They’re definitely going on my Farmer’s Market shopping list.

Finally, for dessert Pastry Chef Rosie Gerard served an Almond Macaroon with chocolate marshmallow, almond nougatine and macerated strawberries, along with a ’10 Margerum “Alamo Creek” Grenache, which was the icing on top of a truly fabulous meal. Talk about spoiled; we also got to try a very special Margerum M3 Mourvèdre available only from the Wine Cask’s green tap system. This is the latest green trend in winemaking—no corks, no bottle waste, reusable kegs—definitely a great idea whose time has come.

The Chef’s Counter is definitely a fun place for a night out with that special someone, but the counter’s close proximity to the kitchen and one-on-one interaction with the chef also makes it a nice option for dining alone, if you want to treat yourself, and it’s a great and relatively inexpensive way to sample a taste of the Wine Cask.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on May 12, 2011.