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Monday, Sep. 15, 2008

Scallops & salmon: Salty & sweet, Ponzi & Pendleton

The Dundee Bistro, Dundee, Ore.

Don't tell anybody, but Jason Stoller Smith loves working with and for Richard and Nancy Ponzi.

"I have a chef's dream job," he said with a smile. "A lot of chefs feel like they get to eat like kings. I positioned myself so that I get to eat and drink like a king at the same time.

"I don't like to get that out there because then everyone will want to be a chef in wine country," he added.

Where does the envy come from?

"Portland," he said.

The job certainly didn't get served up to Stoller Smith, which explains why he's been at The Dundee Bistro for eight years of its 10-year history.

"I bugged the Ponzi family for a good eight months to get in," he recalled. "They already had a chef at that point, so it was a matter of waiting it out to see what happened. He moved on, and I interviewed for them for two days. I cooked for the whole family four days straight. It turns out they liked what I was doing."

Stoller Smith, age 37, is a man in demand. His apron strings get pulled in many directions. There are requests for appearances and contributing recipes for books. He also sits on the board of directors for the International Pinot Noir Celebration, arguably the premier wine event in the Northwest.

The common thread for his participation in events is staying local, which starts with the Ponzi family.

"It's always been Nancy Ponzi's vision for the restaurant to have local and sustainably farmed food, as well as highlight the wines of the area," Stoller Smith said. "It's been under her guidance that I really developed my menu and cooking style."

Perhaps most astounding is the manner in which the Ponzis promote more than just their wines at The Dundee Bistro and adjacent Ponzi Wine Bar and Tasting Room.

"That's why you have the wall of wines that you have here," Stoller Smith pointed out. "How many tasting rooms are selling this number of other people's wines? The focus has been the area as whole, not just their business. We're all here for each other."

As a member of a military family, Stoller Smith grew up in various regions of the country and the world. Mom cooked during the weekdays.

"On the weekends, my dad took the helm of the kitchen," he said. "That's when all the cookbooks came out, and he was into the cooking shows. As I got older, it was my responsibility to cook dinner one night a week for the family, and I was having fun with it."

He worked at restaurants as a college student in Olympia, Wash., to make ends meet, then dropped out of school to accept an executive chef position in Olympia. At that point, he recognized that the Northwest would be where he'd put down roots.

His career took off during his four years as executive sous chef for Leif Benson at Mount Hood's Timberline Lodge.

"I really learned a lot from Chef Benson, especially about Oregon foods and Oregon products, and I gained my appreciation for wine while working up there," Stoller Smith said. "That really drove me for wanting to be down here in Oregon wine country, and when I got the job here, he was the first one to congratulate me."

That's because Oregon's ingredients afford him all he needs.

"I traveled to Manhattan a couple of years ago for a James Beard dinner, and I met a lot of chefs who knew about Oregon products and told me that I was in a great spot," he said. "There are only two or three places in the country where there is this concentration of growers and ranchers focused on quality products, not just mass producing it. That's what I love about Oregon."

Food, travel and outdoor activities with his family would seem to be all he needs outside of his work at The Dundee Bistro.

"We have a 10-month-old baby boy, and he's the focus right now," he said. "We went up to Mount Hood and went camping in the woods with him for the first time, and it was really relaxing."

There would appear to be no end in sight at The Dundee Bistro for Stoller Smith. It comes into view with something as simple as his title of executive chef/partner.

"It means that I am here for a while," he said. "Just a little bit of a stake in the business helps keep everybody in, and in line."

His Match Maker assignment marked the first time that a restaurant got to use a wine made its ownership, but this was a natural - the Ponzi Vineyards 2007 Arneis.

"I love it," Stoller Smith said. "It's a great wine and a great food wine - nice, crisp, light and fruit-forward. I love it in the summertime chilled down, and in Italy it likes to be paired with sweet and salty things. It's traditionally served in Italy with canteloupe/melon and prosciutto appetizers, and the recipe that I did was kind of reflective of that with the melon and prosciutto."

The scallops are served raw, which won't bother fans of sushi, but those less intrepid may need a bit of coaxing. However, Stoller Smith skillfully used the Ponzi Arneis to play off the sweet and salty aspects of the appetizer, which could serve as an entree and easily satisfy a couple.

The Dundee Bistro, 100-A SW Seventh St., Dundee, OR, 503-554-1650, dundeebistro.com.

Cucumber and Scallop Carpaccio with Cantaloupe, Vincotto and Crispy Coppa

Serves 2

1 cucumber

2 ounces dry pack, U-10 scallops

1 cantaloupe, scooped into balls

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

1 shallot, minced

1 tablespoon Italian flat leafed parsley, minced

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 ounce coppa, julienned and fried in oil until crisp (See Notes below)

2 ounces vincotto (See Notes below)

1. Slice the cucumber and scallops into very thin slices. Arrange on a plate in an alternating pattern into a circle.

2. Top with a stack of the melon balls.

3. In a small bowl, whisk in the vinegar, shallot and parsley. Then, slowly drizzle in oil to make a vinaigrette.

4. Correct seasoning of the vinaigrette with salt and pepper, then drizzle around scallops and cucumbers.

5. Garnish with crispy coppa.

6. Right before serving, drizzle with vincotto.

Notes: Capicola, or coppa, is a traditional Italian cold cut made from pork shoulder or neck and dry-cured. Vincotto is similar to Balsamic vinegar but is made by the slow cooking and reduction of red wine grape must.

Hamley Steakhouse, Pendleton, Ore.

This historic Eastern Oregon town is famous for its wool and rodeo.

And Erik McLaughlin's latest mission is to help make Pendleton and Hamley synonymous with history and great steak.

"We're looking to make it one of the world's best steakhouses, and it's right on the edge of the Walla Walla wine country," McLaughlin said.

Considering his background, it should be an easy chore.

 "A lot of people who know me think of me as the guy who moved up from San Francisco to bring a lot of wine experience to Boise, but I'm a kid from ranch stock," he said. "I was born in Eastern Oregon, and my family on my father's side were ranchers in Medical Springs."

One of the key ingredients adding to Hamley's rising fame around the Walla Walla Valley and the Tri-Cities since opening in October 2006 is a thoughtful wine list that's devoted to the Northwest.

"Parley Pearce and Blair Woodfield have opened up the most incredible steakhouse I've ever seen," McLaughlin said. "The facility is first class, and through a very long and strange set of circumstance, we got put together."

The centerpiece is the 30-foot-long bar from Butte, Mont., in the Slickfork that once rubbed the bellies of Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley and Teddy Roosevelt. It's all a part of the $6 million spent by Pearce and Woodfield in renovating the famed Hamely & Co. saddle shop and Western store in connection with the restaurant.

At 65,000 square feet, McLaughlin's family friends provided plenty of room for him and his brother, Chip, to grow the wine program. They continue to home in on the Columbia, Walla Walla and Willamette valleys. It's heavy on nearby Walla Walla wineries such as Abeja, áMaurice, Dunham, L'Ecole, Leonetti, Saviah and Woodward Canyon.

McLaughlin traveled the world as the corporate wine buyer for San Francisco-based Cost Plus World Market. That gives him the perspective to appreciate Northwest wines.

"Oregon is making the best Pinot Noirs in the world right now, rivaled only by Burgundy, which had a 2,000-year head start," he said. "Washington is making some of the most exciting and unique wines in the country. And Idaho wines are at the breakout stage. The quality is there, and people are just beginning to discover that."

This summer, McLaughlin pulled the plug on his 8th Street Wine Co. in Boise. His was the third downtown Boise restaurant with a Northwest focus to cease operations during the summer, following Moritmer's Idaho Cuisine and Andrae's.

"I think it's really sad and unfortunate that some of my friends and I have had to close our restaurants," McLaughlin said. "I don't think it's a reflection of the quality of the restaurants or our ability as business people. It's a reflection of the marketplace. In a tightening economy, people cut back on their spending on luxury items such as fine dining."

Andrae Bopp, who now has his sights set on Walla Walla, said, "Downtown Boise is pretty much folding up in the restaurant scene. It's a shame, and it's no aberration. It will become bars and chains within the next few years."

McLaughlin made Idaho wines a key component to his Boise operation, one that included wine education classes, but that wasn't the reason for its failure.

"Local consumers and tourists are very, very interested in Idaho wines," he said. "The thing we struggle with as an industry was getting Idaho wines established with the people called 'the gatekeepers,' the restaurateurs and retailers. A lot of people are laboring under the perceptions that they draw upon Idaho wines in the early days. There is a remarkable number of really high quality wines coming from Idaho right now."

And yet, it was Oregon's wine industry that led McLaughlin down his career path.

"I was a student at Linfield College in McMinnville, but I was a scholarship kid in need of money to get through college," he said. "It was in the early '90s, and around McMinnville at that time were grass-seed farms, hazelnut orchards, a steel mill, a Purina dog food factory, a manufactured home plant and a few people making Pinot Noir. I looked at them and said, 'That wine thing looks all right.' "

In fact, he shared a house in college with Todd Hamina, who went on to make wine at Maysara near McMinnville until launching his Biggio-Hamina Winery last year. Employment took McLaughlin through restaurants, wine stores and his own wine brokerage firm before his five-year stint with Cost Plus.

McLaughlin, who grew up in Boise, returned home to the Idaho capital in 2001 with his wife to raise his three children.

"And I wanted to bring great food and great wine in a casual atmosphere to Boise," he said.

One of the dishes he and his longtime executive chef Dustin Williams brought to Hamley's was the most popular item on the menu at 8th Street - Maple-Chile Glazed Salmon. And it made for a delicious Match Maker pairing.

"I love the Arneis grape, and frankly, I think the Ponzis do a better job with it than a lot of the people in Piedmonte," McLaughlin said. "In Piedmonte, it tends to be a little waxy and dull, whereas the Ponzi is really fresh, crisp and vibrant."

The maple chile-glazed salmon features sweet elements from the maple syrup, spicy elements from the Vietnamese red chiles, tart acidity elements from the lime juice and savory aspects from the salmon and the salty crust created during the frying process. 

"It's a full-palate experience, but the dish could use a bit more acidity to cut the fat of the salmon and the sweetness of the glaze, and that's what the Ponzi Arneis brought," McLaughlin said. "It's a good dish, but it's a more complete dish because the wine brings what the dish lacks on its own."

Hamley Steakhouse, 8 SE Court, Pendleton, OR, 877-3HAMLEY, www.thehamleysteakhouse.com e

Maple Chile-Glazed Salmon

Serves 6

11⁄2 cups pure maple syrup

2 ounces chile garlic sauce (See Note below.)

3⁄4 cup fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

6 six-ounce salmon filets

Kosher or sea salt & fresh-ground pepper

Vegetable oil

1 tablespoon butter

1. To make the glaze, mix the first four ingredients together. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 375° F.

3. Salt and pepper salmon filets enough to taste.

4. Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil (enough to coat the pan) in a large frying pan (not non-stick) until it is extremely hot. Use vegetable oil, not olive oil, to avoid burning the oil.

5. Place salmon filets in frying pan, sear on high heat until salmon is cooked about 1⁄3 of the way through. Gently slide thin spatula under salmon to separate from pan and turn to sear the other side until the opposite side is cooked 1⁄3 of the way though.

6. Gently slide thin spatula under salmon to separate from pan and remove to a baking dish. Place in oven until firm to touch.

7. Keep frying pan at high temperature on the range. Add pre-mixed ingredients for glaze to the pan. Glaze should start to bubble. With flat spatula, scrape the remnants of salmon from the pan to mix with glaze.

8. Once it is bubbling nicely, add butter and continue to mix. Reduce heat until it barely simmers.

9. Remove salmon from oven and place on serving plate. Pour glaze from pan over salmon.

10. Serve with Coconut Rice.

Note: Huy Fong brand chile garlic sauce can be found at most Asian groceries or gourmet stores. It come in a small red jar with a rooster on the label. Do not confuse with Sambal or Shiracha.

Coconut Rice

Serves 6

2 cups short grain Calrose rice

11⁄2 cups water

1 8 oz. can coconut milk

3 tablespoons toasted coconut shavings (See Note below)

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Put rice, water, and 3⁄4 of the can of coconut milk in a rice steamer and hit start.

2. When rice is nearly ready (starting to go dry in the steamer), add the rest of the coconut milk, salt and pepper to taste, and the coconut shavings. 

3. When steamer is finished, fluff the rice and serve with salmon.

Note: You can toast coconut shavings yourself at 250° F on a bare baking sheet in the oven until they start to turn just golden brown.

Ponzi Vineyards 2007 Arneis, Willamette Valley, $20 - 662 cases produced, 13.4% 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.

In this case, we were required to ship the wine to just one restaurant. That's because the other restaurant was The Dundee (Ore.) Bistro - owned by the Ponzi family of Ponzi Vineyards.

And Luisa Ponzi is the only Oregon winemaker to produce a wine with this variety from Italy's Piedmont region. Her family became enchanted with the grape during vacations in Italy and visits with the Currado family of Vietti Winery.

By 1991, the Ponzis began planting Arneis in their Aurora Vineyard, which has an elevation ranging from 300-600 feet. The block is within the 65-acre site in Laurel-wood soil on Chehalem Mountain. It's also adjacent to a block of Dolcetto, an Italian red variety.

"The vineyard is up by Dick and Nancy Ponzi's house, and there's just a small portion of it planted to Arneis," said executive chef Jason Stoller Smith. "It's just one of those special wines that when it comes in, you want to get it before it's gone."

Luisa, who has produced the wines at Ponzi since 1993, presses the fruit in whole clusters, then lets the juice settle for 24 hours. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel at low temperatures. She stops malolactic fermentation at 50 percent to maintain the crispness that chefs relish.

Delicious balance is achieved with the alcohol in check at 13.4% and acidity at 3.18 pH. It is finished virtually dry with residual sugar of 0.48%.

Production for this wine is tiny, but demand is high. It was released in February, and it was long gone by June. Even the Ponzi Wine Bar had none available at the time of this assignment.

"Our next release of the Arneis will be spring 2009," said Laurel Dent, marketing communications coordinator for Ponzi Vineyards.

Few white wines prompt thoughts of buying on futures, but this exquisite and unique release warrants such consideration. Or start calling on Groundhog Day.

Ponzi Vineyards, 14665 SW Winery Lane, Beaverton, OR, 503-628-1227, ponziwines.com.