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Friday, Feb. 27, 2009

Thirst Wine Bar & Bistro, Andrae's

PORTLAND — An unquenchable desire to be in the restaurant business lured Daniel Martinez from Minnesota to New Mexico to Manhattan.

While it’s no coincidence that Martinez, 27, made his way to Portland, his role as executive chef at Thirst Wine Bar & Bistro is a bit different.

“I was helping out at the front of the house when they had a problem with their chef,” Martinez said. “I stepped in and have been enjoying it ever since. That was more than a year ago.”

Ask the newlywed what he does for enjoyment when he’s away from Thirst, and he’ll tell you, “I kid you not, it’s go home and either cook something for my wife, or we go out to restaurants. We love to do that. And there are some wonderful restaurants here in the Northwest.”

Intel marketing director Leslie Palmer and partner/husband Gary Kneski created the Northwest concept for Thirst. And they nailed the location, positioning it in the middle of the uber-trendy RiverPlace Esplanade, adjacent to Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the Willamette River in downtown Portland.

Martinez’s cuisine continues to help build the business to the extent that Palmer and Kneski are set to open a second Thirst this summer in Lake Oswego.

“We call it a Northwest-style tapas menu, and it’s very seasonal,” Martinez said. “I go to the farmers market whenever I can, and we’ll have three or four daily specials.

“The only problem is the weather really dictates a lot of our business,” he added. “On a nice weekend, we’ll do 200-250 covers a day. But when it’s rainy, that makes it difficult to use everything I buy locally. Sometimes, the staff eats very well.”

And the patrons drink some of the Northwest’s best. The wine list and shop offerings rotate, but the focus is tightly centered on the Pacific Northwest. More than 30 wines are offered as glass pours, and flights of four 2-ounce samples are available.

Each Thursday evening, Kneski and the staff feature complimentary wine tastings. This spring, the lineup included Anne Amie, Elk Cove, Erin Glenn, Maryhill, Medici, Panther Creek, Sineann and Viento.

On Tuesdays, Kneski goes through regional wines that Martinez pairs with artisan cheeses. If you stay for dinner that night and bring your own wine, Thirst waives the $10 corkage fee.

And Martinez, a Minnesota native, seems comfortable with it all. “I got started in restaurants when I was 15, and I was managing when I was close to 17,” he said. “Then I moved to Taos, New Mexico, to help out my grandparents. After a while, I started getting offers to open my own restaurant, but I didn’t feel I knew enough about the back of the house.”

So he gave up the skiing and the cycling, moved to New York and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education. “I wanted to be in New York City. Eventually, I was running the front of the house operations for the NYCRG (NYC Restaurant Group), which owns 18 restaurants,” Martinez said.

He “hopped around stages” at other large-name New York restaurants for five years, including Daniel in Manhattan.

“My time was up, and I decided to move out to the Northwest,” he said. “I love mushrooms — especially morels — Pinot Noir and seafood, including beautiful Pacific salmon. I have no complaints.”

At some point, Martinez and his wife, Beth, hope to open a bio-dynamic restaurant in the Northwest so self-sufficient with green power that it could operate off “the grid.”

His wine list, though, won’t look much different from that at Thirst.

“The sommelier I worked with in Taos loved Oregon Pinot Noir, so when I moved to New York and I was in charge of the wine list at NYCRG’s Film Center Café, I put six bottles of Washington and Oregon wines that were house pours,” Martinez said. “It seems now that all the Northwest wineries are doing something very unique and very interesting. The Syrahs out of Washington are absolutely phenomenal, and Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley is spectacular.”

When it came to his Match Maker assignment, Martinez already was familiar with the producer because Barnard Griffin is a mainstay at Thirst. Martinez — a big fan of rosé — seemed inspired by this 2006 Rosé of Sangiovese.

“Rosé is a beautiful wine,” Martinez said. “It’s got a little more body than most of the whites and less than reds. It has the best of both worlds. And a well-done one is just a wonderful treat.”

Martinez noted that the Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese has “a really nice, dry finish and lot of bright fruit, raspberries and beautiful acidity. It had really nice length on the palate. It hit the front, middle and the back.”

“With this wine, I wanted to think regionally. When I think rosé, it speaks of Provence, but because it is made with Sangiovese, I included a little white bean to think of Italian.”

He produced a pan-seared ahi tuna with a green bean and white bean Dijon vinaigrette salad.

“I thought about salmon, but I thought the wine needed something with more texture,” Martinez said. “Salmon was a little too fatty. And by adding some salty component — the Dijon vinaigrette, finishing the salad with Fleur de Sel, the anchovies and the aioli — it really livens the raspberry in my mouth.”

There is indeed a lot of texture to this colorful, quick and light dish, which required a mere 10 minutes of preparation from start to finish. Martinez kept the green beans crisp, the white beans emerged plump but not mushy, and his adroit use of salt accented the raspberry and white strawberry components of the wine. The Dijon vinaigrette, while spicy, did not overpower.

Thirst Wine Bar and Bistro, 0315 S.W. Montgomery St., Suite 340, Portland, 503-295-2747, www.thirstwinebar.com.

Andrae’s

BOISE, Idaho — Walla Walla’s loss turned out to be quite a gain for the culinary scene in Boise.

Then again, executive chef Andrae Bopp still caters to many of the top winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley.

And they reciprocate by visiting Andrae’s, an upscale, French-inspired restaurant cellared in the basement of a building on Boise’s bustling Eighth Street Market Corridor just a block from the state Capitol.

“I love the Walla Walla Valley and the guys who are making wine there,” Bopp said. “We do a lot of winemaker dinners with them. We just did one at Basel Cellars with Trey Busch. And I’ve done them with Justin Wylie at Va Piano as well as Pepper Bridge, SYZYGY and Abeja. It goes both ways. I’ve got a lot of great friends there. They want to get me over there, and I want to get them over here.”

So why didn’t Bopp — rhymes with “pope” — and wife Michelle chose to open their 42-seat restaurant at the base of Washington’s Blue Mountains?

“I really like the area, but we thought the population base here and how it is growing was a little more to draw from, so we settled in Boise,” Bopp said. “I still think Walla Walla’s an untapped area, really.”

A native of St. Louis, Bopp grew up with a deep-seated interest in fine dining, in large part because his father, a corporate executive, often took him along on business trips.

“I was 5, 6, 7 years old, and we used to eat in those big, fancy steakhouses with high-backed red leather chairs,” Bopp recalls. “I was eating frog legs, escargot, oysters on the half-shell. I just loved it.”

Later, his stepfather’s military career gave Bopp a window to gain cultural perspectives of the West Coast, the East Coast, the Midwest and then Germany, where he spent his high school years.

“We traveled around Europe, and I really found an appreciation for French food, so food and wine have been passions of mine for a long time,” he said.

However, it wasn’t until after years of building a landscaping and sprinkler installation business in Elko, Nev., that Bopp began to chase his dream.

“I came home one night and said, ‘That’s it. I’m done,’ ” Bopp recalls. “Michelle said, ‘Done for the day?’ I said, ‘Nope, I’m done.’ She said, ‘Done with a job?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m done with landscaping. I’ve got to do what I want to do.’ ”

So Michelle stayed home with their daughter, and he moved to New York City. He graduated from the French Culinary Institute, where master sommelier and author Andrea (Immer) Robinson leads the wine program. He received internships at New York landmarks Le Bernardin and Bouley and also worked for the wine director at Balthazar.

Then, it was time for Bopp to return home to launch Andrae’s. Ten years as a competitive cyclist on the West Coast gave him perspective on the setting. Financial sacrifice then success from within his efficient 400-square-foot kitchen attracted a following and led to Bopp partnering with Dave Krick, owner of the popular Red Feather Lounge — a past Match Maker participant — and Bittercreek Ale House. Both are a block away.

“The synergy of having multiple restaurants is great,” Bopp said. “Bittercreek Alehouse is the daytime workhorse, which allows us to take risks with Red Feather’s menu and ultimately refining our dinner-only program at Andrae’s.”

Andrae’s showcases Northwest wines, earning an “Outstanding Northwest Wine List” award from Wine Press Northwest in 2006. This spring, he doubled up at the Washington Wine Commission Restaurant Awards banquet, winning the Best Out-of-State Washington Wine Program Award and the Washington Wine Grand Award for out-of-state restaurants.

“We were very honored and very happy,” said Brandon Bruins, wine director for Andrae’s and Red Feather. “For the restaurant, and Boise as a whole, it means we’re getting some recognition. We’ve had people come to Boise to eat because of the wine awards. Andrae and the staff here are very focused on Washington wines, and we sell a fair amount of Oregon Pinot Noir, too.”

As for local wines, it can be frustrating being an ambassador, Bruins said.

“The problem we face is the challenge of convincing people — even Idahoans — they should try Idaho wines,” Bruins said. “The question I get, is, ‘Come on. Is it really good?’ Well, they really are good, and they go beyond the sweet Rieslings we’ve been famous for in the past.”

Rosé in the Northwest is beginning to flourish, and Bopp’s approach to the Barnard Griffin 2006 Rosé of Sangiovese from the Columbia Valley pays tribute to the terroir of the Walla Walla Valley. He chose to create Sous Vide Alaskan Halibut with Confit of Pearl Onions on a bed of Smoked Walla Walla Sweet Onions Purée.

“We were really impressed with the acidity of this rosé,” Bopp said. “American rosés are usually a little sweet, but not this one. This is clean, it’s crisp, and those are things you are looking for in a summer wine. I think of sitting on a patio, barbecuing with friends, and a nice fish dish.”

Sous Vide is a French technique of vacuum-sealing food into a bag with seasonings. Bopp prepared several days ahead by placing duck fat, prepared onions, seasonings and a halibut fillet in a Food Saver-type bag.

When the time came, he placed the bag in a pot of simmering water and cooked it slowly. It was a marvelous manner in which to prevent the halibut from drying out during cooking. The bed of smoked Walla Walla Sweet Onion purée was fascinating and delightful, akin to a pumpkin squash. There’s enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the onions, and Bopp’s style of “not muddling the dish with any unnecessary garnish or flavors” still allowed the Barnard Griffin rosé to twinkle in the background with a touch of strawberry in the finish.

Andrae's, 816 W. Bannock, Boise, Idaho, 208-385-0707, www.andraesboise.com.

ERIC DEGERMAN is Wine Press Northwest’s managing editor. Have a suggestion for a future Match Maker? E-mail him at edegerman@winepressnw.com.

JACKIE JOHNSTON, a freelance photojournalist, is a regular contributor and the page designer for Wine Press Northwest. Her Web site is WineCountryCreations.com.

Barnard Griffin Winery, 2006 Rosé of Sangiovese, 2,900 cases, $11

Each issue, Wine Press Northwest sends wine to two chefs with a passion for our region’s wines. The chefs are asked to match a recipe to the selected wine.

For this issue, it’s hot pink — and perhaps the most acclaimed wine we’ve ever used for a Match Maker project.

Rob Griffin’s 2006 Sangiovese rosé opened 2007 by winning a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It followed up with sweepstakes awards at two more California judgings: the Riverside International Wine Competition and the Monterey Wine Competition.

And it’s no fluke. Last year, the Richland, Wash., vintner captured double gold at the Chronicle for his 2005 version so he nearly tripled production.

“Clean, crisp and smells like strawberries. What’s not to like?” Griffin asks.

Structurally, there’s a consistency of bright red fruit, ranging from strawberries to raspberries to cranberries with berry acidity, a touch of minerality and vanilla bean.

The 30-year veteran of Washington winemaking does not compromise the food-friendliness of his rosé either, finishing it dry (0.3% residual sugar).

This Italian variety seems to be an ideal choice for rosé because of its inherent acidity and low alcohol. It’s also the key component in arguably the world’s most well-known wine — Chianti.

Fortunately, plantings and production of Sangiovese in Washington state is on the rise. These grapes hail from the Balcom and Moe Vineyard in Pasco, less than 20 minutes from Griffin’s winery.

So why does Griffin chose to work with Sangiovese?

“I think the downfall of the variety is that there’s very little color as a red; the tannins are absolutely brutal, and the fruit is prone to be burned out in normal red fermentation,” Griffin said. “All of these ‘flaws’ are virtues if the grape is made into a rosé.”

Barnard Griffin Winery, 878 Tulip Lane, Richland, Wash., 509-627-0266, www.barnardgriffin.com.

Seared Ahi Tuna Loin with Nicoise Aioli and Warm Bean Salad

Serves 4

4 anchovy filets 1 ounce Nicoise olives, pitted 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, separated use 1 egg yolk 1 teaspoon plus 4 tablespoons rice vinegar, separated use 11⁄2 cups plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, separated use 1 ounce red onion, thinly sliced 1 clove garlic, minced 8 ounces green beans, blanched 4 ounces grape tomatoes, halved 4 ounces white beans, cooked and drained Salt and pepper, to taste 4 4-ounce ahi tuna steaks

1. Make the Nicoise aioli by combining the anchovies, olives, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, egg yolk and 1 teaspoon vinegar in a blender.

2. Slowly pour in 3⁄4 cup olive oil until aioli is a thick, tight texture. Set aside.

3. Make vinaigrette for bean salad by combining the remaining 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, the remaining 4 tablespoons of vinegar and 3⁄4 cup olive oil. Set aside.

4. Sauté red onions and garlic until fragrant in the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.

5. Add green beans, tomatoes and white beans to the sauté pan. Heat until warm.

6. Add vinaigrette to bean mixture and toss until combined. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and keep warm until dish is completed.

7. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add tuna, watch it as it cooks. When it cooks about 1⁄4 of the way up, about 2 minutes, flip it over and do the same thing on the other side. Remove from pan.

8. Lightly coat top of tuna steaks with aioli.

9. Add bean salad to plates first, then top with seared tuna and serve.

Sous Vide Alaskan Halibut with Confit of Pearl Onions on a bed of Smoked Walla Walla Sweet Onions Purée

4 Walla Walla Sweet Onions or similar type of sweet onion 1 cup of mesquite wood chips, soaked 6 tablespoons butter, unsalted 1 cup heavy cream Fleur de Sel (French sea salt) ground white pepper 10 ounces red pearl onions 10 ounces white pearl onions 4 cups duck fat, melted and warm 4 fresh Alaskan halibut fillets (6 ounces each) 4 sprigs of thyme

1. To prepare the purée, first peel and slice the sweet onions in quarters.

2. Place soaked wood chips in a heavy saucepan, put a perforated pan on top and added the onions. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

3. Place pan over low heat and smoke the onions for about 30 minutes.

4. Remove the onions and place in a sauté pan with the butter. Simmer until the onions are translucent and tender.

5. Place the onions and all in a blender and purée. Strain through a fine chinois. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Return the strained purée to a sauce pan and add the heavy cream as needed to taste. Warm and re-season with salt and pepper.

7. Keep warm, and reserve.

8. To prepare the confit of pearl onions, first soak pearl onions in warm water for 10 minutes.

9. Cut off the top and the root end of each onion and carefully peel, keeping the red and white onions separate.

10. Place red onions in one pan, and the white onions in another and cover with duck fat.

11. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper in each pan.

12. Simmer on a stove on low heat for about 30 minutes until the onions are easily pierced with a knife blade.

13. Remove onions from the fat and cool. Place duck fat in an ice bath to cool down and solidify.

14. Once fat has solidified, place one halibut fillet in a vacuum bag, add one sprig of thyme, two tablespoons of duck fat, two each of the pearl onions and season with the Fleur de Sel and pepper. Seal bag with a vacuum sealer.

15. Place the pouch in a pot of simmering water for exactly 71⁄2 minutes.

16. Remove from water, cut open pouch, remove thyme sprig and plate the fish immediately on top of onion purée. Top with the pearl onions.