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Friday, Mar. 12, 2010

Picazo 7Seventeen: Yakima Valley chef pairs local wine and ingredients

Most wine tourists wouldn't go to a restaurant in Bordeaux and expect to see a bottle of Russian River Pinot Noir.

Which explains the premise behind Frank Magana and Picazo 7Seventeen Wine Bar & Restaurant in Prosser, Wash.

"I came here to open a wine country restaurant in the Yakima Valley and showcase the great winemakers who are here - and who are now my neighbors," Magana said.

In fact, at Picazo 7Seventeen there's a tariff of sorts on "foreign" wines. If the bottle is from the Northwest, corkage is $10.

"It's $25 corkage if it's from California," chuckled Trina Cortez, Picazo's general manager and wine director. "Frank came up with that because he loves Washington wines so much. We don't get a lot of California wines in here, which is good."

His neighborhood appreciates the devotion.

"He's dynamite for Prosser. Heck, he's dynamite for the Washington wine industry," said Jarrod Boyle, winemaker for Alexandria Nicole Cellars.

Magana, 35, and his wife, Tricia, opened Picazo 7Seventeen in October 2007. Two years later, the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers awarded Picazo its 2009 Washington Restaurant of the Year.

"We're a little surprised at the amount of support that we get, being recognized by growers, rather than just the wineries," Magana said. "So it goes much more into the community level, which we are now a part of."

And yet, the farm-to-table concept stretches beyond local grapes for Magana. It's why Wine Press Northwest chose Picazo 7Seventeen to begin our new Match Maker format, which profiles restaurants that work with regional wines and local farmers.

"My kids are going to school with their kids," Magana explained. "We run into them at the skating rink; we run into them at Boys Scouts. We run into them just at the regular store every day. We have breakfast together.

"So why wouldn't you want to know the farmer who is putting the food on your plate?" he continued. "If we did this restaurant in Seattle, we'd have just as great of restaurant, but I wouldn't have the chance to know my farmer. And that's what I really want to do."

There may not be a more connected chef in Eastern Washington, and his Wednesday night promotion factors into that.

"It's 'Industry Night' here, so we offer some industry discounts and we waive all corkage fee for anybody in the industry," Magana said. "It goes for the grape grower to the tasting room attendant to the winemaker. We want everybody to come in here, drink their wine with our food, then go back and talk about it.

"It's a nice friendly environment, and there's a lot of sharing and community," he continued. "People who haven't seen somebody for a season, will say, 'Hey, how are you doing? You should try this (wine). It's from that vineyard I was telling you about.' "

Magana began to create connections with Yakima Valley winemakers during his days at Puget Sound restaurants such as Salty's on Alki in West Seattle and The Lobster Shop at Dash Point near Tacoma. Along the way, he turned a former co-worker, Tricia, into his wife.

"Winemakers would invite us over for the weekend, and we always wanted to come to a restaurant similar to this when we were here - and there wasn't one," Magana said. "I was surprised because everything is grown right here. On any regular night, you'll see our farmers and our grape growers and winemakers here eating dinner. Why anyone wouldn't take advantage of that prior to me, I wasn't sure."

Soon after, the Maganas arrived in Prosser. In April 2007, they launched the catering side of Picazo Inc., named after the maiden name of Frank's mother.

Six months later, they opened Picazo 7Seventeen at 717 Sixth Street on the ground floor of the historic Mercer Building.

"I knew that he would make it successful because he's talented and he works his ass off," Boyle said.

A native of Washington state, Magana was born at Fort Lewis and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Tacoma.

"I'm actually an Army brat," he said. "My dad was in the service, and we traveled every two or three years all over the United States. My parents liked Washington the best, especially the west side, so they bought a house in the Fircrest area.

"Shortly after I graduated high school, I went to the Seattle area because when you are young, that's what you do," he said with a smirk. "I ended up working in a restaurant for a family friend and one thing led to another. I was really enjoying the culinary life - a lot of wine and a lot of food."

Now that he's on the east side of the Cascades, he's not spending as much time hiking in the Cascades and Olympics. Instead, he drives through wine country in search of ingredients. He's got executive sous chef Andrew Jones doing the same.

"We hit the farmers markets in Pasco, West Richland and here in Prosser looking to make contact with local farms that fit the needs of the restaurant and catering company," Magana said. "As we make these contacts, relationships develop and friendships with our neighboring farms grow. We typically get a couple deliveries a week from these suppliers when the season is cranking along. And you'll even see us at one of the markets sourcing a few products for our nightly fresh sheet specials."

Beef comes from nearby Toppenish. One of his primary sources of produce is Buggirl's Garden. Stacey Gingras and her family in Prosser produce peppers, onions, green onions, parsley, jalapeno, tomatoes and 40 varieties of apples among their seven acres.

"My father oversees the orchard, Mom and I run the nursery, and at the Prosser Farmers Market you can find my husband roasting peppers," said Gingras, a Washington State University graduate.

Other Yakima Valley purveyors include ApresVin, which produces oils and flour make from grape seeds, and Chukar Cherry. And Magana appreciates the effort that farming demands.

"When it's something you believe in and it comes easily, you don't get up and think about going to work," Magana said. "You get up and think about doing what you love."

That passion and his congeniality also show outside of the kitchen.

"He's there behind the scenes, but he also walks out and shakes hands in the restaurant," said Boyle, who also owns Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. "He brings other chefs in and allows them to shine, too."

A talented supporting cast allows Magana to expand his knowledge, network in the industry and develop businesses. Jones, second in command in the kitchen, won a 2009 "Iron Chef" type competition in the Tri-Cities sponsored by a regional Hispanic grocery store chain. Cortez manages the restaurant. Magana's wife manages accounts and coordinates the catering.

"We never say 'No' to anything," Tricia said with a smile.

Most of the catering is for what he terms as "partners" in wine industry, including the Washington Wine Commission, Wine Yakima Valley business tours, a long list of Prosser wineries, a growing number on Red Mountain - including Col Solare - and Columbia Crest.

He's an unofficial ambassador for the Washington wine industry and an admirer of Oregon Pinot Noir. Between he and Cortez, they feed three Facebook pages and talk "hash tags" on Twitter at picazo717. Cortez is PicazoWineGal. He is ChefMagana. Tricia also tweets at wifeofchef.

There's the Picazo fan page, www.picazo717.com, and he's set to launch a blog at ChefMagana.com.

"We are very plugged into what's going on in the valley," Magana said. "The wines we taste, the vineyards we see, the wineries we are catering to - we see all this. So we bring it back in and put it back out, and not just on our Web site - where it's just one direction - we're able to tap into social media and to allow people to see, 'Oh, so you were at Olsen today.' And to allow them to ask questions and we can answer them back. We want to be able to communicate with our guests. Just go right ahead. Log on and ask away. We'll give you the answer."

Few chefs in the Northwest seem willing to make the time and the continued commitment to social networking, but it pays for Picazo and its "neighbors."

"We are big followers of Oregon wines, so we want to stay keyed into the Oregon Pinots that are coming out," Magana said. "Oregon Wine Blog is one of the blogs we follow. They twittered they were going to be in the Yakima Valley, so we invited them to the restaurant and guided them through a Yakima Valley dinner. In the process, we were able to introduce them to a new winery."

Yakima Valley wines make up about 80 percent of the list at Picazo 7Seventeen.

"We carry Walla Walla wines, too, but the fruit has to come from the Walla Walla Valley. That is one of Frank's rules, as well," Cortez said with a smile.

Ironically, Cortez's career at 717 Sixth Street predates that of Magana. That space housed Alexandria Nicole Cellars' tasting room and restaurant for several years, and Cortez worked there starting in 2000.

In 2007, Magana hired her.

"I get to taste all the wines and put them on the list," said Cortez, who raises a family in her hometown of Grandview. "We try to bring the diners a new experience, so we have some varietals that you normally don't see at restaurants like Mourvedre, Cinsault, Petit Verdot. It takes a lot of talking with the guests to get them to go that route."

One lesser-known Bordeaux variety is Malbec, which begins to explain half of Magana's Match Maker assignment.

Olsen Hills 2007 Malbec from the Columbia Valley - a tasting-room-only bottling - was the selected red wine. Next door to Olsen at Prosser's Vintners Village is Airfield Estates, which produced the 2008 Thunderbolt White Wine.

"We don't try to pair wines with our foods so much as that we taste the wine and then figure our what we can create to help showcase the wine," Magana said. "Being here in the heart of wine country, that's fairly easy to do."

Initially, Magana angled toward his Chipotle Shellfish Cakes with the Thunderbolt and grilled hanger steak marinated in his smoky chimichurri - based on dark chili powder, paprika, garlic - with the Olsen Hills 2007 Malbec.

"We find components in the wine that we want to highlight, then we go back to the dish to make sure they go completely," he said.

On the eve of the photo shoot, he changed his attack. He decided upon Seafood Pasta Paella with the Malbec, and Signature Ceviche for the Thunderbolt.

"Here, being with a Spanish-influenced restaurant, we try to come up with items that are unique to us and you can't find anywhere else in the valley," he said. "One of those is the squid ink fettuccine that we are able to source. It's a fresh ingredient that helps us bring complexity to a dish that is already in the wine. We also build an underlayer with spices to add just enough heat that you taste it throughout the wine, in the middle and then again in the finish. It's another way to build upon the wine."

Preparing the dish with pasta, rather than the traditional rice, allows Picazo guests to order a single plate and not have to wait 45 minutes for the rice to marry with the paella ingredients. In this case, squid ink pasta - a fascinating component - accents the earthiness and rich black fruit inherent in the Olsen Hills 2007 Malbec.

As for the Airfield Estates 2008 Thunderbolt, it's brisk and refreshing because of the Sauvignon Blanc.

"With the ceviche, we wanted something so fresh and so clean tasting because the wine is just about the same," Magana said.

As the weather warms this spring, both the Thunderbolt and the ceviche should be ideal. There's a real freshness to this light, balanced and twice-marinated dish that highlights scallops, prawns and avocado.

Magana plays off the Thunder-bolt's acidity by including both lemon and lime juice. And the subtle heat from jalapeno and chili powder will have you reaching for that palate-cleansing wine.

"It's complete," Magana said.

Throughout this spring - in commemoration with this feature - Magana will feature both Match Maker pairings on the menu at Picazo 7Seventeen. So friends, fans and followers of Magana, Cortez and Wine Press Northwest can get that neighborhood experience.

Picazo7Seventeen, 717 Sixth St., Prosser, WA, 99350, 509-786-1116, picazo717.com.

The wines for this Match Maker

Olsen Hills 2007 Malbec, Yakima Valley, $19, 400 cases produced, 14.4% alcohol

The game plan for this estate juice was to join other Bordeaux varieties in a blend for Olsen Estate.

After all, these were unproven vines producing for the Olsen family's new showpiece winery at the Vintners Village in Prosser, Wash.

"That was third-leaf for those vines, so it's pretty astounding to get that out of them so early," said winemaker Kyle Johnson. "It was one of those things where we'd just wait and see what the quality would be."

Tasting is believing, but the family hedged its bets. They bottled their 2007 Malbec under the lower-priced Olsen Hills label, which is primarily sold only in the tasting room.

Olsen's fans have cheered, including those at nearby Picazo 7Seventeen Wine Bar & Restaurant. Executive chef Frank Magana handpicked the 2007 Malbec to be the red wine for his Match Maker project.

"It's gotten down to such a level now that it's only offered to our wine club," Johnson said. "There are only about 15 cases left."

However, Magana's guests can find it on his wine list.

"That was our inaugural vintage for Malbec, and the wine can stand on its own," Johnson said. "It's got nice fruit and the dried tobacco component is pretty prevalent."

The ripeness shows with notes of plums and black currant jam. There's also a thread of minerality, and the underlying earthiness paired well with the squid ink pasta in Magana's Seafood Paella Pasta.

Olsen Estates' plantings cover 765 acres spanning 26 sites, fanned out between Whitstran and Benton City near the Yakima River. The 21 varieties Johnson works with range in elevation from 600 to 1,000 feet. The Malbec vines are clones 4 and 9 from the same hillside block.

"It comes off a slightly cooler site, but it still gets a fair amount of heat," he said.

For the winemaking, Johnson employed 60 percent new French oak barrels for 16 months. "It was on the lees for a good 10 months," he noted.

Outside of Argentina, it's rare to see a Malbec available for less than $20, so what's in store for the 2008 Malbec?

"It will still be in the Olsen Hills label," Johnson said. "There's an increase in the quality, but we'll keep it in the lower tier for now. It's really doing well at the price point."

Olsen Estate, 500 Merlot Drive, Prosser, WA 99350, 509-786-7007, olsenestates.com.

Airfield Estates 2008 Thunderbolt White Wine, Yakima Valley, $14, 428 cases produced, 13.5% alcohol

Airfield Estates winemaker Marcus Miller gets to decide when to pick his father's 40-year-old vineyard in Prosser.

In 2008, just when to bring in the Sauvignon Blanc for their Thunderbolt program was a tough call.

"It was very scary," Miller recalls. "Our harvest typically begins with Sauvignon Blanc, but 2008 was a very cool vintage. We didn't harvest our Sauvignon Blanc until Oct. 8, which is a month behind when we typically harvest that variety. It took a lot of patience on my side to wait for those flavors to develop."

It's primarily Sauvignon Blanc (95%), with Semillon to add some lemony citrus. In the Fall 2009 issue of Wine Press Northwest, this same wine received an "Excellent" and appeared in the Best Buy category for white wines.

And rather than labeling the wine as Sauvignon Blanc, the family continues its tradition of naming blends after World War II fighter planes. Thunderbolt was the Army nickname for the P-47, the largest fighter and capable of air combat as well as ground attack.

"We try to make the names of the planes fit the personality of the wine," Miller said. "The Thunderbolt would take tons of shots and stay airborne, and no ace pilot ever was shot down in one. And our Thunderbolt is a tank of a wine. It's all stainless steel, and there's no razzle-dazzle. I just stay out of the way."

In previous vintages of Thunderbolt, Miller played with skin contact, barrel programs and higher percentages of Semillon.

"Earlier in my career, I was overmaking the wine," he said. "One day I would freak out, so I'd overreact. And in 2005 and 2006, deciding on crop levels were huge battles for us."

For 2008, it's a clean and mean drink with apricot, peach, honeysuckle and grassy flavors with bold orangey acidity that plays nicely with white fish, green salads and grilled asparagus.

"The Semillon adds a little body and mid-palate weight because our Sauvignon Blanc tends to be lean and acid-driven," Miller said. "But we know the Thunderbolt is all about the aromatics and nice crisp acidity, so (for the 2009 vintage) I'm leaning toward not adding any Semillon. We'll still call it Thunderbolt, though."

Airfield Estates, 560 Merlot Drive, Prosser, WA, 99350, 509-786-7401, airfieldwines.com.

The recipes

Seafood Pasta Paella

Serves 2

A twist on the Classic Seafood Paella, this dish was created for those who want the entire flavor of the traditional seafood paella - without all the time. The pasta brings a richness that isn't found in the original.

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces uncooked ground chorizo
1⁄2 pound Manila clams, live, cleaned
1⁄2 pound Penn Cove mussels, live, cleaned, bearded
1 cup onion, julienned
1 cup bell peppers, variety of colors, large dice
8 jumbo prawns, peeled and deveined
6 ounces fresh salmon, 1-inch dice
6-8 sea scallops
1⁄8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
1⁄4 teaspoon saffron
12 ounces fresh squid ink fettucine (find at The Spanish Table in Seattle or substitute plain fresh fettucine)
1 cup vegetable stock
1⁄2 lemon plus extra wedges for garnish
salt and pepper, to taste
4 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Heat pan to medium high heat, add oil, chorizo, clams, mussels, onions and bell peppers. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Add prawns, salmon, scallops, paprika, salt and garlic. Saute for 3-4 minutes, then deglaze with white wine. Add saffron and fresh pasta. Add vegetable stock. Cover for 3 minutes. Remove the lid, squeeze juice from half a lemon into paella, add salt and pepper to taste, toss, garnish with lemon wedges, green onions and parsley. Serve.

Signature Ceviche

Serves 6-8

This ceviche is the perfect fit for a hot summer day to cool off. There's a fresh flavor combination of seafood, tomatoes and avocados with just the right amount of heat.

1 pound scallops
1 pound prawns, peeled and deveined
1 pound fresh fish
3⁄4 cup lemon juice
1⁄2 cup lime juice
1 pinch of chili powder
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1⁄2 red onion, diced
2 green onions
1⁄2 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
2 avocados, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Rough chop the seafood and toss with lemon and lime juice, make sure seafood is completely covered by the juice. Refrigerate the seafood for 2 hours. Remove seafood mixture from refrigerator and add chili and jalapeno, tomato, onions and fresh herbs. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 hour in the refrigerator so ingredients marry. Drain excess lemon and lime juice, add avocado and serve. Serve with tortilla strips.