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Sunday, Jun. 15, 2008

Primo pairings: Northwest chefs match salmon and steak – even cigars – with Frenchman's Gulch Ketchum Cuvée.

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.

El Gaucho, Portland

One step inside the El Gaucho in downtown Portland transports you back to the halcyon days of the sophisticated nighttime steakhouse of the 1950s with low ceilings, candle lighting and servers in black tie. There's table-side service of Bananas Foster or flaming swords of shish kabobs. Ambiance includes a piano player and booths surrounded by famous bottles of red wine. Diners Club card is accepted.

What's missing from this scene? Power brokers conducting business, seeking seclusion in a darkened corner puffing cigars as they close deals.

In fact, they can exist at this self-described "retro-swanky" establishment on the corner of Broadway and Stark. They are sequestered in the cigar lounge in back.

"We've had this cigar lounge since we opened the restaurant," said executive chef Michael Macfarlane. "It has always been true to the things we consider to be 'El Gaucho' - great steaks, great wine, great cigar, great service."

El Gaucho originated in Seattle in 1953 and closed in 1985. Regional restaurateur Paul Mackay, whose background included managing 13 Coins, Yarrow Bay Grill, Metropolitan Grill, Flying Fish and the original El Gaucho, revived and relaunched it in Seattle's Belltown in 1996. The Portland location - adjacent to the historic Benson Hotel - came next in 2000, followed by Tacoma (2002). Mackay Restaurants plan for the next El Gaucho to open this fall in Bellevue, Wash.

At least for now, Portland's

El Gaucho stands out for one thing, aside from maitre d' extraordinaire Sherwood Dudley. It is the only cigar-friendly restaurant in the group after Washington state voters banned indoor smoking. Oregon fires up its version of the law Jan. 1.

General manager Todd Moore said, "To the best of my knowledge, we will fall within the criteria of acceptability when the smoking ban goes into place. We will be one of the very few, if not the only, cigar room in Portland proper."

As pleased as Moore and Macfarlane are with that possibility, the real pride centers on the steaks and their preparation.

"Certified Angus beef means never, ever having to apologize for your product," Macfarlane said. "There are approximately two criteria to be a USDA prime steak, there are 10 criteria to be a certified Angus beef steak."

And whether you request an eight-ounce filet mignon or the Flintstone-esque 50-ounce porterhouse, each El Gaucho steak will be dry-aged for 28 days and charbroiled over Kingsford briquettes.

"It's not convenient," Macfarlane said. "We'll go through six to eight bags a night, and each bag is a double 40-pounder, but we do it because of the quality. You just don't get the caramelization and nice char any other way."

Macfarlane, 41, graduated from Portland's Lincoln High School and played a year of college football at Eastern Oregon before focusing on his culinary career. Stints included Salty's on the Columbia, Elephants Deli and another of Portland's famed steak spots - the Ringside. He then spent a decade in Miami Beach restaurants, where he gained business acumen, learned to scuba dive and met his wife, who grew up near Buenos Aires.

"I kind of ran with a large group of Argentineans and Uruguayans, so it was a big beef culture," Macfarlane said.

Family ties brought him home in 2006, and he "landed very well by scoring this gig," saying with a smile.

Moore continues to oversee the wine program, and he offers some well-establish Pinot Noir from Oregon and bold Washington reds. There are some up-and-comers, too, including Left Coast Cellars, Roxy Ann, The Four Graces and Troon from Oregon as well as Cougar Crest, Watermill and Zerba from the Walla Walla Valley.

"Steak and big Northwest reds are profiled quite prominently," Macfarlane said. "It's like peanut butter and chocolate. Two great tastes that go great together."

One expects a mouthwatering steak and pairings with big reds when visiting an El Gaucho property, and Macfarlane did not disappoint with the Frenchman's Gulch 2005 Ketchum Cuvée.

"There were hints of cherry and berries, but cherries stuck in my mind more than the berries," Macfarlane said. "It was like Cherries Jubilee. There was nice balance and acidity to the wine, so I added the blue cheese for a creamy note. And we took those flavors and pulled it into the cigar."

Several years ago, Moore participated in our Match Maker featuring the Benson Hotel's London Grill. This time, rather than assist with the food pairing, Moore selected the cigar. And his choice of a Davidoff Aniversario No. 2 ($25), proved to be spot-on. Its mild Connecticut shade wrapper makes perfect sense for an afternoon conversation or this well-balanced wine.

"I picked up on the cherries and raspberries with some good leather notes," Moore noted. "On the second pass, I pulled out some plums and cedar, then more leather. I thought it would be perfect with a nice, light cigar. So I leaned toward the Davidoff Aniversario No. 2, which has creamy and nutty flavors."

It was a remarkable pairing. Moore first toasted the foot with a gas flame. Then, rather than relying on a match or lighter to ignite the cigar, he lit a "spill," a strip of the cedar used to line the cigar box. It allowed me to blow a cloud with just the right draw.

After a puff or two, I returned to the Ketchum Cuvée. What stood out in the glass at this point was cedar in the aroma and cherries in the flavors. But most remarkable was discovering that smoking this Davidoff enhanced the acidity in the wine.

Then, Moore made a rather ironic comment.

"My second choice for the cigar pairing was the Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story," Moore said.

This 4-inch perfecto from the Dominican Republic ($7) features a Cameroon wrapper. Arturo Fuente began producing a series of cigars honoring the Ernest Hemingway back in 1986.

And the great American writer committed suicide in a house just a short walk from Frenchman's Gulch Winery in Ketchum, Idaho.

El Gaucho, 319 SW Broadway, Portland, OR, 97205, 503-227-8794, www.elgaucho.com.

Primo Grill, Tacoma

Many restaurateurs across the United States saw more of their tables go empty in the months after 9/11.

The terrorist attacks produced the opposite effect for Primo Grill in Tacoma.

Indeed, Charlie McManus and wife, Jacqueline Plattner, continue to enjoy the sweet smell of success - a mouthwatering whiff of alder smoke that wafts over the rejuvenated Sixth Avenue District neighborhood.

"I think after 2001, the whole local movement became stronger," Plattner said. "People started to ask, 'What have you got that's local?' So we started to press for selling local. And that's been the trend for the last several years."

That regional concept comes as second nature for McManus. He has lived in the Puget Sound since emigrating in 1979 from war-torn Belfast, Northern Ireland, at age 19.

Little did he know that great Washington wine would become a part of his heritage.

"When I came to the States, I stayed with the Camarda family," McManus said. "Chris Camarda now owns Andrew Will, one of the great wineries in Washington state, but he and his brother were working at Il Bistro in Seattle and got me a job as a dishwasher."

In time, McManus worked his way up to executive chef at the Pike Place landmark, and he also can thank the Camardas for Plattner.

"I was dating his cousin, Lawrence, who was working as a waiter at Il Bistro," she said with a smile. "And he brought me into dinner at Il Bistro, and Charlie was the chef. That's how we met."

There's a dash of an Irish left in McManus' voice, but his culinary focus is straightforward Mediterranean, using fresh Northwest ingredients in his open kitchen that showcases a wood-burning oven and grill.

"There are no convection ovens, no sauce pots, no steamers, no deep fryers," he said. "We've pared it down to this very simple grill-oriented operation. We cook with olive oil and lots of fresh herbs, and our food is very wine friendly because it has big, bold, simple flavors."

Ingredients feature meat from Lopez Island Farm and Walla Walla's Thundering Hooves, as well as organic poultry from Stokesberry Sustainable Farms in Olympia.

And Washington wine has been a staple at Primo Grill from the beginning.

"Northwest terroir is something people feel familiar with," Plattner said. "Our guests have been to the wineries, so they know what the flavor profiles are. And most of the winemakers we feature make food-friendly wines."

Winemaker dinners staged by McManus at Primo Grill since its debut in 1999 include L'Ecole No. 41, McCrea, Nicholas Cole, Reininger and Tamarack.

It is Plattner who oversees a wine list that hones in on the Northwest. There is Pinot Noir from Oregon's A to Z and St. Innocent, but Washington reds dominate. DeLille, McCrea and Novelty Hill represent the west side, but the focus is Walla Walla. Offerings include Abeja, Buty, Forgeron, Rulo, Woodward Canyon and Yellow Hawk.

A share of the credit goes to one of Plattner's regular customers - Tacoma philanthropist Howie Meadowcroft.

"I mentioned to him that I was traveling to Walla Walla for the first time, and he said, 'You must meet my sister, Jane,' and that's how it started," Plattner said. "Jane Robison and her husband, Jim, are the best docents for Walla Walla. They introduced me to every single winemaker I know, and I am very grateful to them."

Plattner and McManus also enjoy serving up goodwill to the community through both the Primo Grill and Crown Bar, their nearby pub.

"Charlie is out there with his shiny head," she said. "He does cooking classes. We do a lot of charitable work, and we've been in the newspaper frequently about our relationships with local businesses and farmers."

They fund an art scholarship at Tacoma Community College and partner on the Phyllis McGavick/Charlie McManus culinary arts scholarship at Clover Park Technical College. That is seeded in part by the sale of McGavick Winery Merlot at their two North End restaurants.

"We were the only independent, well-financed restaurant that had opened in this neighborhood in a long time," McManus said. "We're still a mom-and-pop operation with working owners, and after nine years, I'm still on the line in the restaurants five nights a week. I really enjoy the process and meeting with our customers."

When it comes to the Match Maker, husband and wife teamed up to pair Alaskan king salmon with the Frenchman's Gulch 2005 Ketchum Cuvée.

The teetotaling McManus picked up floral aromas from the Cabernet Franc along with ripe berries and tobacco. As always, he relied on Plattner to educate him of the wine's flavors, weight and finish.

"As a restaurateur, to open a bottle of wine and have it so approachable right away is a plus point," she said. "It's delicious with cherries and berries with silky tannins and a silky and long finish. I'm looking forward to hopefully adding it to our list."

Precise and simple preparation left the fish moist and flavorful, and what native Northwesterner isn't a sucker for alder-smoked salmon? The grilling also played upon the tobacco that McManus nosed in the wine.

Most remarkable was the lithe and skillful transition between food and wine, particularly the complete absence of the metallic finish that often occurs with fish and red wine.

"The ruby Port sauce is a rich sauce, and it's got a bit of cream in it that works well with the fat content of the salmon," he said.

Primo Grill, 601 S. Pine St., Tacoma, WA., 98405, 253-383-7000, www.primogrilltacoma.com e

Grilled New York Strip with Cherry Demi-Glace and Melted Roquefort Cheese

Serves 4

4 cups of Cabernet Sauvignon

1⁄2 cup minced shallots

1 cup fresh Bing cherries, pitted and halved

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped

3 cups veal stock

2 red onions, sliced thin

1⁄2 cup butter plus 1 tablespoon, separated use

salt and pepper, to taste

4 16-ounce New York Strip steaks, cut 11⁄2- to 2-inches thick

1⁄2 pound vein blue cheese such as Gorgonzola, Roquefort or your favorite

1. Simmer the wine, shallots, cherries, thyme, rosemary and carrot until the liquid reduces to 1⁄4 its original volume.

2. Add the veal stock and reduce until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

3. Purée the ingredients and put through a fine mesh strainer. Set aside.

4. While the sauce is simmering, in a separate pan, sauté the red onions with 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat until dark, sweet and caramelized.

5. Preheat grill or charbroiler to medium-high heat and season steaks with salt and pepper. Grill to your satisfaction with 8 minutes on each side - the target for medium rare. Using thick-cut steaks makes it easier to achieve medium-rare while still getting a nice char and some caramelization on the outside without overcooking the inside.

6. Place steaks on a metal tray and place blue cheese on top. Then place the steaks in a broiler just long enough for the cheese to begin to bubble.

7. While the cheese is melting, reheat the cherry sauce and whisk in 1⁄2 cup of butter for richness. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

8. Pool the cherry sauce on four plates. Place each steak on the sauce and top with caramelized onions.

Alder-Grilled Alaskan King Salmon with Ruby Port Sauce

Serves 2

1 tablespoon minced shallots

4 ounces ruby Port

1 1⁄2 ounces red wine vinegar

2 ounces heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

salt and pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon minced chives

2 7-ounce Alaskan King salmon filets, no more than 3⁄4-inch thick

olive oil

1. To prepare the Ruby Port Sauce, combine the shallots, Port and vinegar in a small, nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Reduce by half and turn the heat to medium low.

2. Add the cream and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Whisk the butter into the sauce and season with salt and black pepper.

4. Garnish with the minced chives. The sauce can be set aside and kept warm on a double boiler.

5. Prepare the grill, preferably using alderwood.

6. Heat the grill so there is a bed of coals appropriate for very high heat cooking.

7. Use a pastry brush to apply a thin coat of olive oil on the salmon. Season with salt and pepper.

8. Grill the salmon for approximately 2 minutes, then turn for about 90 seconds to score the flesh. Flip, then cook for another 3 minutes until just cooked. Serve over Ruby Port Sauce accompanied by Roasted Asparagus (see recipe, below).

Roasted Asparagus

Serves 2

10 ounces asparagus

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and then add the asparagus.

2. Cook the asparagus until it is bright green but still crisp, about 3-5 minutes.

Tip: If the asparagus is thin, salt and pepper after cooking to avoid wilting because salt draws out moisture. If the spears are thick, salt them at the start of cooking. Salt helps break down the fibrous texture of thick stems.

The wine

Frenchman's Gulch

2005 Ketchum Cuvée, Washington, $20, 550 cases produced, 14.3% alcohol

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.

And according to judges at the 2008 Northwest Wine Summit, this stands out as one of the year's best releases.

Steve "Mac" McCarthy buys Washington grapes and escorts them to his winery in Ketchum, Idaho. It's an arduous task, and gold medals don't come easily at the Mount Hood competition. But the really tough part comes when Mac tries to sell them to the transplanted Californians he shares Sun Valley with.

"I think my wines are made for those who appreciate Northwest wine and cuisine, but there's a large element of people from New York and California who live here, and - well - they don't have the same makeup as wine drinkers in Portland, the Willamette Valley and Washington state," McCarthy said.

There's a double-edged sword most Idaho wineries face. Price their wines much above $20 and they scare away the inexperienced. Price them affordably, as most Idaho wineries do, and the uneducated believe the wine must be plonk.

However, the wealthy wine drinker likely is unaware that some of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Ketchum Cuvée came from Matador Ranch, which contributes to Quilceda Creek's "100 point" reds.

Quilceda Creek purchased the Horse Heaven Hills vineyard starting with the 2006 vintage and renamed it Palengat.

"The Cuvée is nothing glamorous on my part," McCarthy said. "It's just grapes from the vineyard, and I just keep the focus on the fruit. The Cuvée is our biggest production and it gets more of the lesser - or neutral - barrels."

The blend starts off as a 60/40 split of Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly from the Horse Heaven Hills, and Merlot.

"Then it evolves into what is tasting best," he said.

The Cab Sauv (52%) is from Aldercreek in the Horse Heaven Hills, Dwelley in the Walla Walla Valley and the erstwhile Matador. The Merlot (28%) is from Dwelley. The Cab Franc (28%) is all from Chandler Reach near Red Mountain.

We rated it "Outstanding" in our Spring 2008 issue, noting its cordial cherries, cedar, pencil shavings, slate and earth aromas. Tremendous balance is wrapped around the chocolate, cherries and tar flavors.

Frenchman's Gulch Winery, 360 9th St. E., Suite 9, Ketchum, Idaho, 83340, 208-726-0118., www.frenchmansgulch.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.