It's Never Too Hot To Eat

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gougere blt.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Sunday's Wine Women and Shoes event at HALL St. Helena had the largest, hottest turnout to date... literally.  The temperature felt like it was well into the triple digits, and guests were gulping down the white wine and water like camels at an oasis.  Fortunately, many of the participating food vendors anticipated the fiery June inferno and were dishing out cool, refreshing nibbles to reinvigorate our appetites, help us cool off... and inspire follow-up visits to the kitchens from whence they came.

Several savvy restaurants were offering chilled soup shots to down in between mouthfuls of sauvignon blanc.  The Restaurant at Meadowood offered up elegant shooters of their peak-of-the-season English pea soup with yogurt and hazelnut oil, a beautiful layering of earth, nuts, sweetness, and tang.  Zuzu Restaurant also went green with their avocado gazpacho, a naturally buttery, round and soothing little cold compress for your mouth.  I had to escort myself from the area to avoid stealing all the remaining samples from Betty Teller of the Register, who was womanning Zuzu's table that afternoon.
rosewine.jpgChilled raw items also made a strong showing, with dueling steak tartares from La Toque and Press Restaurants.  True to form, La Toque went for the classic French mélange, with all ingredients evenly incorporated and perched atop a thin baguette crisp in impressively perfect, textbook quenelle shape.  Press dished out a more toothsome, beefier, mustard-ier version, chopped coarsely and piled onto a circle of tender toasted brioche, and even raised La Toque with a second tartare of hiramasa fish on cucumber canapés, sweetened and ever so slightly spicy with tiny diced mango and red chilies.  Its southeast asian flavors were right at home in the sweltering heat, and were all too easy to scarf down with fabulous Azur rosé as a chaser.

Solbar at the Solage Resort whipped out their bar snack of choice, an ingenious combination of French gougères with American bacon, lettuce, and tomato.   Looks like a slider, tastes like a BLT, with the best crispy cheese bread base ever.  I foresee great things for the gougère-based mini-sandwich.

serrano ham crostini.jpgBut top edible honors in my book went to Chef Sean O'Toole of Bardessono, who had prepared crunchy baguette crostini slathered with a chilled brunoise of ripe tomato, thick slices of my beloved Serrano ham (sooo superior to prosciutto), and a generous drizzle or two (or three?) of fabulous olive oil.  The crunch of the bread, the cool lushness of the tomato, and the rich meaty depth of the ham combined in a pure taste of summer.  I managed to inhale three of these marvels before the crush of the crowd pushed me out of the way and onto easier prey.

Although the extreme heat made for a slightly uncomfortable afternoon, the hors d'œuvres on offer did serve their purpose--whetting the appetite for future visits to the sources of all these hot weather delights.

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