16 July, 2017
Visit Lodi for…Food Worth Finding!Comments : 3 Posted in : Bars and Tasting Rooms, Dining in Lodi - CA, Restaurants, Tasting Rooms in Lodi - CA, Travel, Travel Guide for Lodi, CA on by : The Gourmez
In late May, the Visit Lodi tourism bureau invited me and a few other bloggers out for a press trip introducing us to all Lodi has to offer for a weekend trip. The word has spread about Lodi’s quality grapes and up-and-coming wine estates, but there’s not a lot out there yet on what else a trip to Lodi might entail to supplement the wine tasting experience.
Thus, I’ll be offering up a series of suggestions on what you should seek out when you visit Lodi in addition to wineries and tasting rooms. Obligatory disclaimer: That means everything mentioned in this post was free for me courtesy of Visit Lodi and the participating businesses.
My initial focus will be on the all-important stomach and where you can fill it in between wine tours or a kayaking jaunt. Ah, who am I kidding? Filling your stomach is a worthwhile activity all on its own! And in Lodi, finding the best specialty food vendors can be an exciting adventure by itself.
Vino di Vita Patio Pairings at Viaggio
Viaggio Estate and Winery isn’t hard to find (100 E. Taddei Road), though it is a 7-mile drive out of town and into the Acampo area. Rather, it’s Viaggio’ s amazing food that’s hard to experience as it’s only available on Friday evenings and weekend afternoons! Which is a shame, because talent as strong as Chef Bernardo Martinez’s needs to be appreciated every day of the week.
I really and truly mean that, as our four-course dinner at Viaggio was the most memorable meal we had all trip, and not merely because Viaggio Estates is beautiful all over, including the formal dining room.
Y’all know I am not a mushroom lover, but this toast topped with six different types of mushroom nearly made me a believer.
The sauce soaked into the bread was heavenly, and yes, even bites of the ‘shrooms themselves were tasty. It paired well with the Viaggio 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine brought to mind a carpenter’s bench on which a beautiful wardrobe might be molded into perfection out of cherry wood.
The dessert made for a rich finale to an equally rich meal, with an impressive almond brittle cookie serving as a scooping vessel for mascarpone cream, preserves, and berries. I couldn’t get enough of the Viaggio Sip of Heaven Chocolate Dessert Wine, either.
It tasted so much better than most chocolate wines, with an appealing chocolate-orange nose and notes of oranges steeped in cardamom and thick chocolate syrup in the glass – there’s even a fleeting impression of raspberry.
As mentioned, you can catch Chef Martinez’s artistry at the Vino di Vita Patio Pairings on Friday nights and weekend afternoons: expect him to wow you with oysters, pizza, and wine pairings. Or if you’re lucky enough to be visiting on 8/12/2017, you can purchase tickets to a four-course Winemaker’s Dinner of your own for $75.
Cheese Tasting at Cheese Central
I didn’t see Cheese Central for myself this trip, but I did see the passion of its proprietor, Cindy Della Monica, at Calturas Winery and Brewery, where we enjoyed a cheese and wine pairing course to start off our weekend. Calturas’s wines will be somewhat harder to find soon, as they’ve just sold their tasting room, which was quirkily housed in a remodeled auto mall.
But the Cheese Central shop remains a downtown fixture (11 N School Street), and you should absolutely schedule time for Cindy and her crew to aid in your cheese discovery.
Cindy’s absolutely delightful, and the sheer knowledge she has of each cheese she stocks is impressive.
To sum up the experience, we had brie with the texture of dried porcini (delightful!); a velvety, mild manchego (surprising!); taleggio that offered forgiveness for a wine’s off notes (delicious!); an impressive young cheddar (intense!), an aged, yet mild, cheddar (more, please!); and a cambozola for the ages (so good!).
Each of those bites was paired with a Calturas wine…or two.
The younger of the two cheddars went unexpectedly well with the Calturas 2013 Zinfandel. Light-bodied with notes of mild clove and anise, waxy blackberry, and lightly toasted wheat bread, the wine functioned almost like cream to cut through the cheddar’s intensity.
The cambozola made for a super fun pairing with the Calturas 2013 Cabernet Franc, though the malbec was our original intention.
That wine made me feel as though on a stakeout in the rugged mountains, waiting to ambush an escaped outlaw – it was rough at the edges but had a heart of silver and vanilla. The wine didn’t pair with the cambozola so much as play with it, amplifying their contrasts.
You can currently seek out Calturas wines online or at their quarterly wine release parties. Cheese Central is open seven days a week, though with limited hours on Sundays. Say hi to Cindy for me!
Olive Oil Tastings by Olive Drop
The Olive Drop Olive Oil Company, formerly Cecchetti Olive Oil, doesn’t have a sign, so it took me several drive-bys to realize that yes, Google was right and that driveway covered by olive trees was where I needed to be for this tasting.
Proprietor Karen Chandler was the consummate host, joined by her daughter, Nicole Chandler Gross. The family didn’t quite believe Karen when she said she was going into the olive oil business over a decade ago, but they are all believers now, helping with every aspect of it, including the grandkids selling at farmers’ markets.
We were treated to a full line-up of olive oil tastes in Karen’s beautiful home, and I was greatly impressed by her products. They dry farm, harvest by hand, and get the olive oils to the press within 45 minutes of picking, when they are at peak flavor in the fall. And that hard, detailed work yields quality in spades.
What most sets Olive Drop apart from their competitors, however, is their flavored oils. They are never infused; rather, the oranges, lemons, garlic, basil, rosemary, and chiles are pressed right along with the olives, and that makes for a fantastic product bursting with flavor. The herb offerings were my favorite, with a bottle of the basil coming home with me, but I also could not say no to the orange and lemon. Heck, if I had room in my cabinet, I’d have bought a garlic and a chile too! At $20 a bottle, they are excellently priced for such gourmet offerings—made from olive trees that have been growing on the property for 100 years!
Also impressive were the chocolate chip cookies Karen cooked up to pair with a glass of Thomas Allen Collections 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Made with the Olive Drop orange olive oil, the cookies were fantastic. They had perfectly crisp edges and bold orange flavor that paired remarkable well with the wine, even mid-morning! The wine offered bright, yet rich, fruit with tingly notes of cinnamon and allspice.
Although such a personal tasting is likely not available for all visitors to Lodi, it just might be if you have a big enough group and contact Karen ahead of time. For a sure bet, however, visit an Olive Drop stand at the Thursday night Lodi Farmers’ Market or at any of the retailers in town that carry their oils. Here’s a list. Refills are only $13!
Find Your Slice at the Dancing Fox
While finding the Dancing Fox isn’t difficult, with its convenient downtown Lodi location (203 School Street), finding your favorite pizza will be! This is the place to go when you need carbs to soak up all those wine calories…and maybe a little more wine or beer to increase your deficit. 😉
This charming restaurant, bakery, brewery, and winery offers a fairy tale feel with heavy, dark Belgian furniture filling the space and fanciful foxes and gnome palaces hiding all about. There’s even a jackalope among the decorations, if you can spot it.
I could live in this space, I’m pretty sure, especially if I could keep the constant flow of food coming like happened for us this media trip. So many specialty pizzas and salads to choose from!
I am glad we didn’t venture onto the sausage page, because that would have just been too much wonder to take in at one time. But having tried at least eight combinations of pizza that night, I can confidently proclaim the Don Pedro my favorite.
In addition to a slew of veggies, it offers house-made chorizo, cotija cheese, and a delightfully spicy tomatillo salsa for dipping that had too much heat for the other bloggers…which only made me love it all the more. I quite liked how small the slices were and how bubbly the crust was from the Spanish wood-fired oven. Ask for a barbecue chicken and bacon combo pizza if you want something a little less racy.
For the salads, the poppy seed dressing on the Mandarin Almond and chipotle dressing on the Southwestern were excellent.
Like many Lodi establishments we visited, the Dancing Fox is truly a family affair. Speaking with winemaker Gregg Lewis was a delight, especially learning how the paintings hanging around the space and on the label art are inspired by the fairy tales he used to tell his children and that he someday hopes to collect in a book.
Gregg’s wife bakes the bread and his son brews the beer. Of the solid wine selection, the 2013 Dancing Fox Petite Sirah stood out most with lush strawberry notes and a mist of fog and salt. I found it dramatically romantic.
I’m sure Lodi has a great many more food-based quests just waiting to be taken, but do let me know if any of these inspire your own journeying when visiting Lodi and its winemaking wonders.
Trip taken 2-4 June 2017.