A Summer Evening at Stella – Wine & Food Pairings in Truckee – Tahoe

Looking for a unique dining experience in the Lake Tahoe area this summer? Stella, located at The Cedar House Sport Hotel is offering up some of the best cuisine in in the Truckee/Tahoe area.

Spending half my time in Lake Tahoe and the other in Napa Valley, I would say I am pretty lucky to live in two beautiful vacation destinations. The landscapes and views are beautiful, and an abundance of outdoor activities are always available. But there is one thing in Napa Valley that surpasses even the greatest of tourists destinations, the cuisine.

In Saint Helena alone, there are at least ten world-class restaurants that I can walk too. In that respect, I would say I am pretty spoiled, not to mention a bit of a food snob. When I moved to Incline Village, I saw a completely different food culture, one of pizza delivery and bar food. I am not saying that there aren’t excellent restaurants scattered around the not so quaint town of Incline. But again, going from one place to the other, was quite the culture shock.

So I sought out some information on social media and came across a small group on facebook called Tahoe Food Scene, a group dedicated to promoting food diversity around the Lake Tahoe/ Truckee area. It was there that I saw a post about an exclusive wine/food pairing opportunity at Stella located at the Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee. The menu sounded intriguing as well as the fact that they were pairing wines from Mustilli, an Italian winery in which the owner was joining us to discuss her fascinating wines.

Stella and the Cedar House Sport Hotel has a lovely mountain modern design and a beautiful open dining room with patio. We arrived at Stella and were served a glass of ColBel Prosecco DOCG along with a plethora of various Canapés and Hors d’oeuvres. We all agreed that the Prosecco was much drier than the typical ones you find available. One of the guests attending, Katie Brookshire, Sommelier and Wine Specialist from Casa de Case explained that most Prosecco consumed in the U.S. is in the dry category, which is right in the middle of the sweet/dry scale. ColBel, on the other hand, was Extra Brut or driest on the Prosecco scale.

ColBel Prosecco - Extra brut on the Sparkling wine scale
ColBel Prosecco – Extra brut on the Sparkling wine scale

I’m not a fan of Prosecco, but the Extra Brut was excellent in flavor, bright in acidity and just the right amount of effervescence, pairing wonderfully with our starters. I began with the chilled green garlic vichyssoise, fennel fronds, and Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. A creative presentation with vibrant colors as well as the flavors, of garlic, saltiness, and coolness, it was a refreshing start to an exciting culinary journey.

My favorite starter of the evening was the Texas 1015 sweet onion jam in puff pastry tartlet with braised bacon and gorgonzola. The light, fluffy pasty with the smokey, heavy flavors of the bacon, jam, and gorgonzola was divine. The extra brut Prosecco showed its acidity through the flavors of the tartlet.

Texas 1015 sweet onion jam in puff pastry tartlet, braised bacon & gorgonzola - Stella -Truckee
Texas 1015 sweet onion jam in puff pastry tartlet, braised bacon & gorgonzola – Stella -Truckee

As I couldn’t get away from the bacon puff pastry, I sampled the crispy fried artichoke heart with a housemade cayenne pepper sauce and chive crème Fraiche. https://www.instagram.com/chefalexdowning/Chef Alex Downing, very experimental in his menu, used oil and alcohol to create a cayenne pepper sauce with no heat, only flavor.

Thoroughly impressed with the appetizer portion of the meal, I was extremely excited to try the next courses. Guests were encouraged to tour the kitchen while dinner service was in progress, engaging in the inner workings of the kitchen and chefs.

Crispy fried artichoke heart, with chive crème fraiche and housemate cayenne pepper sauce - Stella at Cedar House Sport Hotel
Crispy fried artichoke heart, with chive crème Fraiche and housemate cayenne pepper sauce – Stella at Cedar House Sport Hotel

While waiting for the first course to commence, the winery owner of Mustilli, Paola Mustilli, gave us a brief overview of the history and wines that she produces.

Located in Sannio di Campania, south of Rome, the Mustilli family had been growing grapes since the 1700’s only recently making wine in the 70’s. Paola’s father spent time doing micro vinification to identify several lost grapes that had been growing throughout the region for years. One of the varietals he found was Falanghina, which we enjoyed with our first course.

Chef Alex Downing explained that our dinner was a marriage between spring and summer, with produce from both seasons. My first course was also a marriage in different flavors; each component thoughtfully prepared to create a dish of bright, fresh, rich and savory.

My favorite dish of the night - so many flavors from Chef Alex Downing
My favorite dish of the night – so many flavors from Chef Alex Downing

Sweet corn éspuma, grilled peach, delta asparagus, smoked duck prosciutto, mushroom-broth poached egg, virgule rouge fish sauce and fennel pollen topped with violas and micro herbs was as visually stunning as it was technically ingenious. It was paired with the Mustilli Sannio Sant ‘Sgata Dei Goti Falanghina 2016 and the Mustilli Vigna Segreta Sannio Sant ‘Agata Dei Goti Single Vineyard Falanghina 2015.

This first course was a lot to take in. One of my favorite aspects of the dish was the mushroom poached egg, using a concentrated broth made from various wild spring mushrooms;  morels, porcini, shiitake, chanterelles, and black trumpets. The attention to detail and creativeness impressed even this food snob. In fact, I was blown out of the water.

The egg added richness; the smoked duck prosciutto added a salty component bringing out the complexity of each wine, dry with long finishes, opening up with each added bite. The corn éspuma, a corn puree made from a stock of the corn cob and the peach grilled over cherry wood showed off the sweetness of the dish. An excellent first course.

The next course had me a little nervous all day, mostly because I don’t eat red meat let alone raw red meat but I had told myself that I was going to go out on a limb and try it because it sounded fascinating.

Lamb tataki was the most adventurous dish of the night for me personally - It ended up being excellent
Lamb tataki was the most adventurous dish of the night for me personally – It ended up being excellent

Chef prepared a Lamb Tataki, using Japanese techniques to enhance Mediterranean flavors. The lightly seared lamb loin sourced locally and crusted with salt and harissa spice had a buttery texture, was not overly gamey but still fatty and rich. The English pea puree made with mint came straight from Tahoe Food Hub. Charred onions, and a buttermilk yogurt, contrasted nicely with the fat of the lamb. The dish was topped with chive oil, more harissa, preserved lemon rind and crispy bulgar wheat for texture and chive flowers for visual impact.

I have to say it was delicious, all of my scary lamb thoughts went out the window. It was paired with Mustilli Sannio Aglianico 2012, vanilla on the nose with cherry, licorice and an ancient minerality that comes only from Europe. We also tried an off-menu wine, the Piedirosso Sannio Sant’Agata dei Goti doc. Piedirossa means “red fruit” and is fermented in ceramic, oxygenating the wine slowly and adding body as well as an earthy quality. The lamb dish mellowed the tannins out and was an excellent pairing.

We got an extra bonus pour on our second course - Mustilli Piedirosso Sannio Sant’Agata dei Goti “Artus” 2015
We got a bonus pour on our second course – Mustilli Piedirosso Sannio Sant’Agata dei Goti “Artus” 2015

For our entree, we were served Asian Pear Dashi Poached Filet of Sablefish, wilted chard, fingerling potato chips, kaffir lime oil, black garlic, and scallion. Sablefish is similar to a black cod and has a nice meaty flavor yet buttery and mild with a nice texture. It was brined, pan seared and placed into a lovely Dashi broth steeped with Asian pears. Blanched chard and fingerling chips soaked up the sweetened broth and the black garlic and kaffir lime oil added other levels of complexity.

Our entrée was a complexity of flavors from many places which made this dish unique
Our entrée was a complexity of flavors from many places which made this dish unique

Our wine was Mustilli Cisco Di Nece Sant’Agata Dei Goti Single Vineyard Aglianico 2014 which spends 18 months in oak. Dark ruby in color, it was smoother on the tannins than the 2012 Aglianico. The finish hangs on the back of the tongue and has a velvety quality, complementing the meaty fish and withstanding the black garlic and kaffir lime flavors.

Dessert was as enjoyable as every other course, with Apricot Clafouti, an old-school French dessert, typically made with cherries. The pastry mix was poured over fruit and baked to a nice cake-custard texture. It was served over whipped sour cream, adding richness and tartness, contrasting with the sweet components. Macerated blackberries added a sour candy flavor. A spiced rum syrup was drizzled over with toasted coconut and carrot cake crumbs adding fantastic texture. It was a sexy dessert.

Paola had brought us over a treat as well; a Bianco Dolce called Phileno. It sat stored away for nine years before someone noticed it and they decided to bottle it. Having such a tiny production, we were lucky enough to share a bottle between all of us. It was fragrant and flavorful without being too sweet, the perfect pairing to end the perfect meal.

I was visiting the kitchen as our first course was being plated with Delta asparagus - Stella
I was visiting the kitchen as our first course was being plated with Delta asparagus – Stella

As dinner was drawing to a close, I truly enjoyed the experience. My introduction into real Italian wines, history, and winemaking by Paola was as insightful, and her wines were genuinely spectacular.

I was impressed with the thoughtfulness that went into every dish. Chef Downing has a real gift, bordering between, creativity, experimentation, attention to detail and an impressive flavor palate. If you want to experience something unique in the Tahoe/Truckee area, sign up for one of the ‘Summer Evening at Stella Dinners’ here. Space is limited, and are running Fridays and Saturdays through July and Thursday through Saturday to the end of August. Menu changes each week.

Dinner is $97 per person with optional wine pairing by request.

Enjoy… Wine Ho

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