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Monday, Jun. 08, 2009

Mindful eating, soulful sipping: Northwest chefs match gluten-free seafood dishes with Abacela's Albariño

Not long ago if you had celiac disease - an autoimmune disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye - or were vegan or plagued by major food restrictions, you were doomed at the table when it came to dining out.

So, unless you sought out establishments that guaranteed gluten-free or vegan fare, you weren't hitting the fine dining or foodie destinations.

These days, however, especially in the Northwest, chefs are selective about their food. They are mindful about their ingredients. They are choosey about where it all comes from. And they are accommodating to those with restricted diets.

Since I suffer from celiac disease, I wanted to showcase how easy it is to patronize two fine-dining establishments in the Northwest that while not billed as gluten-free, have been found to be especially gluten-free friendly.

Union, Seattle

Two ingredients required to run four restaurants in a bustling dining destination such as Seattle - a heaping helping of energy and nimble transportation.

Chef Ethan Stowell has both.

He's a man on the move, thanks in part to his sleek gray Vespa. On this day, Stowell played tour guide to Pike Place Market as he picked up mint from one of his usual vendors, as well as prosciutto from DeLaurenti Specialty Food.

Just around the corner is his first restaurant, Union. Across the street is the Seattle Art Museum.

"Back when I was working as a sous chef, I did some catering on the side to develop a fan base," Stowell said. "I was working seven days a week. I did weddings and other big events, but I also got to do smaller, more intimate dinner parties.

"That's when a client, who happened to own the building that Union is in, approached me about opening my restaurant in their space."

Call him a man of good fortune and brilliant timing, but when you step into one of Stowell's restaurants, it is evident that this young man is one of the hardest-working restaurateurs in the Northwest.

He furiously launched three restaurants within five years - Union, Tavolàta and then How to Cook a Wolf. Last winter, he opened his fourth, Anchovies & Olives.

There's substance and skill to his endeavors. In 2008, Stowell was named one of Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs in America, and he received a James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef in the Northwest.

This year, he merited another James Beard nomination.

"The accolades are good for the restaurant, and they're good for the ego, but you have to work even harder because there are no guarantees that you will continue to receive the acclaim down the road," he said.

Stowell is self-taught and credits the family kitchen as his place of learning. He grew up following his father to farmers markets. He owns more than 600 cookbooks, and he swears he's read each of them cover to cover.

Formal training began with The Ruins catering company in Queen Anne. He then took at job in Atlanta at Seeger's for a year. When he returned to Seattle, he was a sous chef at Nell's and then The Painted Table at the Alexis Hotel.

He targets simple flavors and fresh ingredients. His menu changes daily.

"Union is mostly about fresh vegetables and fish, making it clean, and eliminating the junk you're not supposed to eat," Stowell said. "We don't do a lot of cream, butter or preservatives. We have a farm-to-table approach, with minimal handling."

All of his restaurants feature an Italian theme, but Union is the only one that showcases Northwest wines.

"The list has a nice representation of Oregon Pinot Noir, mostly designated from the larger Willamette Valley," he said. "It pairs perfectly with our food. Union offers multiple courses and the Pinots offer flexibility. The wines we have from Washington reflect people we really like and respect."

Those wineries include the likes of Beresan, Cadence, DeLille, Dunham, K Vintners, Mark Ryan, Syncline and Tamarack. There's an excellent selection from Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and Walla Walla, in addition to the larger Yakima and Columbia valleys.

When Stowell evaluated the Abacela 2008 Albariño, he spoke of the grape variety's origins with regards to his gluten-free meeting of Manila Clams with Controne Beans, mint and Serrano ham.

"I don't try to pick apart the most subtle nuances of the wine," he said. "Instead, I turn to history and place. Albariño is a minerally, lean wine from Spain. Naturally, Serrano ham, clams and mussels are regional, traditional foods that would pair exceptionally well."

When it comes to serving patrons with food restrictions, Stowell said, Union is always happy to accommodate.

"The menu is continually in flow; it's always changing, so it's easy for us to adapt our cooking for guests that have special requests or needs," he said.

So is there a fifth restaurant is Stowell's future? Not exactly, but he's working on a cookbook and plans to distribute a line of signature pasta.

"Mostly, I'm trying to keep things as simple as possible," he said.

Union, 1400 First Ave., Seattle, WA 98101, 206-838-8000, www.unionseattle.com.

Manila Clams with Controne Beans, Mint and Serrano Ham

Serves 4

2 tablespoons. extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 pounds Manila clams

2 cups cooked Controne beans

1 cup white wine

1 lemon

12 large mint leaves, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

8 paper-thin slices serrano ham, diced into squares

In a high-sided sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add garlic and sauté until soft but not brown, about two minutes. Add clams, beans, and wine. Cover. Steam until clams just open, about 2-3 minutes.

Halve the lemon and squeeze the juice over the clams and beans. Add herbs, toss, and check for seasoning. (Because of the clams, the dish probably won't need any extra salt.)

While still hot, pour out onto a platter and sprinkle with ham. Serve.

Note: You can use prosciutto if you can't find serrano ham. If you have trouble finding the no-soak Controne beans, Seattle importer, Ritrovo, carries them online at ritrovo.com.

Paley's Place Bistro & Bar, Portland

Vitaly and Kimberly Paley spent several years working in France. When they returned home to the United States, they sought a similar environment and lifestyle.

They came to find what winemakers already discovered - there's a lot of Burgundy in the Willamette Valley.

The Paleys' love and respect of their adopted home shows with the genuine hospitality they deliver to guests the moment they enter their Portland bistro. The Paleys combine that joie de vive with a signature culinary experience matched with a wine list that spotlights producers from Oregon and Washington.

The couple opened Paley's Place Bistro & Bar in 1995, and from the start, they have been instrumental in the region's local, organic, seasonal and sustainable food movement.

"Back when we worked in France in the early '90s, we were cooking from the source, from what was available in the region, with what's right in front of you," Vitaly explained. "This was deeply ingrained in us when we returned to the States - to remain close to the source."

Just where they would settle after returning was uncertain. A vacation took them through Oregon, and they knew immediately where they wanted to be.

"We put up our apartment in New York City and within three days it sold!" Kimberly said. "We packed the few belongings we had and headed northwest. At the time, we weren't sure if we would land in Ashland or on the coast. But, when we discovered the Willamette Valley was so close to Portland, we felt it was similar to Burgundy. Portland was the definitive place."

As wine director, Kimberly relishes her bonds with neighboring winemakers and grape growers.

"My relationships with the winemakers drive the wine list," she said.

Paley's wine list is heavy on the local selections. You'll always see some of the classics such as Adelsheim, Chehalem, Bethel Heights, Cristom and Abacela, but Kimberly also features the likes of Dominio IV, J. Christopher, Marchesi and Matello. 

"I like the food-friendliness of the wines from the Northwest, especially those coming from our back yard," she said. "There is a sense of place now that Oregon has achieved for making wine. You taste the Pinots and you know they are from Oregon."

Kimberly prides herself on a wine list that is approachable, food-friendly and harmonious with her husband's menu changes. She also regards the importance of a good value, and she wants her guests to have choices.

"We have something for everyone - buttery wines, New World, fruit-forward, Old World, lean, tannic - my list is all over the map in terms of profile."

Before the Paleys arrived in Portland, their New York restaurant friends advised them to get a feeling for their new city. Learn when people eat. When the peak times were. How long Portlanders would be willing to wait for a table.

So, while Vitaly learned from local purveyors in David Machado's kitchen at Pazzo Ristorante, Kimberly chose the front of the house at Cory Schreiber's famed Wildwood Restaurant.

"Working the front door allowed me to get a real sense of Portlanders," she noted.

The early relationships the Paleys made with those in the local food and wine scene has been critical and long-lasting as their culinary friends introduced them to the local vintners and farmers.

"I would be up at 5 a.m. with my coffee in hand, traveling from farm to farm," Vitaly recalled. "I am still working with those same farmers today."

Paley's menu is based on what comes through the door. He speaks to his farmers twice a week to find out what's coming in, and then the ingredients are incorporated into the menu.

"When things are seasonal, you get excited about what's coming up - beets, leeks, heirloom tomatoes, chanterelles and so on."

While their hospitality and cuisine have made Paley's Place a Portland institution, a few things have changed since they first opened the doors of the Victorian home that has housed their restaurant for nearly 15 years. For example, they now own the building and have expanded.

Vitaly remains a vital voice of Pacific Northwest cooking, and recently had two healthy recipes featured in the new cookbook, The Best Life Diet Cookbook by Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer, Bob Greene.

Additionally, Vitaly and Kimberly published with Robert Reynolds their highly anticipated cookbook, The Paley's Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwest, last October. The recipes are incredibly user-friendly and are especially easy to substitute with gluten-free ingredients, though many of the recipes are naturally gluten-free.

He chose to pair with the 2008 Abacela Albariño as a gluten-free match was his Poppy-Seed Crusted Albacore Tuna with Chickpea Puree and Fennel Salad, which is featured in his cookbook.

"This is the perfect dish for a hot summer evening, which is the consummate focus for a crisp white wine like Albariño," he said. "The flavors are incredibly fresh and light."

"There is no fat on the tuna. I sear it dry, in aluminum foil. The saffron, olives, garlic and chickpeas are all indicative of Spanish cuisine," he said. "And the mint really blends well with the herbaceous, fresh flavors of the wine."

Vitaly accommodates guests with food restrictions or allergies, willing to adapt a dish to meet dietary restrictions. In fact, he will work with what the patrons can have rather than what they cannot.

Paley's Place, 1204 NW 21st Ave., Portland, OR, 97209, 503-243-2403, www.paleysplace.net

Poppy Seed-Crusted Albacore Tuna with Chickpea Puree and Fennel Salad

Serves 4 to 6

For results that will yield tuna with a perfect, raw center when cooked, select a loin that after cleansing is approximately 12-inches long and 3⁄4-inches thick. Note that the chickpeas must soak overnight before cooking. If like Chef Paley, you prefer to use olives with pits for this dish, don't forget to warn your guests.

1 1⁄2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large pinch of saffron

3 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

3⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, separated use, plus more for drizzling

2 tablespoons poppy seeds, plus more if needed

1 1⁄2 pounds albacore tuna loin (about 12-inches-long), skin and blood line removed

1 small bulb fennel, greens trimmed

Juice of 1 lemon

3⁄4 cup ripe cherry tomatoes, halved

1⁄3 cup niçoise olives with pits

1⁄4 cup preserved lemon peel

1⁄4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

Sea salt, for finishing

To cook the chickpeas, drain them and transfer to a soup pot. Add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then the saffron. Cook the chickpeas over medium heat until very tender, about 60 minutes. (If you forget to soak the chickpeas overnight, double their cooking time.) Always keep the chickpeas completely submerged during cooking, adding more water as needed. When done, drain and cool completely. Save the cooking water for another use. It will make a great, intensely flavored vegetarian soup stock.

To make the purée, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the cooled chickpeas, garlic and 1⁄2 cup of the olive oil until very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.

To cook the tuna, divide the tuna loin into 3 equal pieces, season on all sides with salt and pepper, then roll in poppy seeds to coat uniformly. Tightly wrap each piece of fish in 1 piece of aluminum foil, keeping the foil smooth and without crimps.

Heat a large, dry skillet over high heat until very hot, about 5 minutes. Sear the tuna, still wrapped in foil, on all sides, about 5 minutes altogether. (This technique ensures that poppy seeds stick easily to the outside of the fish and the inside remains raw.)

Unwrap each piece of fish right after cooking so it does not cook further. Set aside at room temperature.

To make the fennel salad, slice the fennel paper-thin, using a mandoline if possible. Put the slices in a bowl, add the lemon juice, and mix gently. Add the tomatoes, olives, lemon peel and mint. Add the remaining 1⁄4 cup of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and gently toss all ingredients to coat.

To serve, slice the tuna into 1⁄2-inch-thick pieces. Place a dollop of chickpea puree in the center of each plate. Set slices of tuna on the plates next to the chickpea puree and sprinkle the fish with sea salt. Top each plate with fennel salad and drizzle with more olive oil. Serve immediately.

Abacela Vineyards & Winery, 2008 Albarino, Southern Oregon, $18, 1,106 cases produced, 13.3% 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.

This wine - guarded by a screwcap - comes on the heels of the 2007 vintage, which we awarded a Double Gold in our Platinum Judging.

The spring release of the 2008 Albariño already has received acclaim with a gold medal from the 2009 Pacific Rim Wine Competition, and it was a finalist in the 2009 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition.

Abacela's owners, Earl and Hilda Jones, who travel often to Spain, were inspired to grow Albariño after a visit to the coastal region of Galicia.

"We were fascinated with Albariño and what a great seafood wine it is," Earl said. "I later learned there was a nursery in California that could get Albariño cuttings. I bought them on the spot."

Abacela became the third vineyard in the United States to produce Albariño.

"We ordered the vines in 1999," Jones said. "We harvested our first vintage in 2002."

Their bottlings soon received recognition. Jancis Robinson, the famed British wine critic, selected Abacela's 2004 Albariño as a "wine of the week" in 2005.

Abacela's Albariño was planted on the north side of their Cobblestone Hill Vineyard, out of the direct summer sun, as it gets too hot in Southern Oregon for south-side planting. This slope happens to flank a fault line, which Jones proudly points out as a geological phenomenon on his Umpqua Valley property.

"We were pleasantly surprised with the quality of our first wine," he said. "So, we continued with extension blocks in 2003, and we planted more this year so that we now have about nine acres of Albariño in the ground to produce about 1,200 cases."

The 2008 Albariño - crafted by winemaker Andrew Wenzl - has bracing acidity and delicate floral notes. It's rich with flavors of honey and stone fruits. The wine sees no oak and finishes with a distinct minerality that showcases the vineyard's geology. The 2008 vintage marked Wenzl's first crush as Abacela's head winemaker.

Abacela Vineyards & Winery, 12500 Lookingglass Road, Roseburg, Ore., 97471, 541-679-6642, abacela.com

LEAH JORGENSEN is a communications expert in the Portland area who has worked in the Northwest wine industry for a decade. She consults for several wineries and writes about travel, wine and gluten-free living. Her Web site is leahjorgensen.com.