13 May, 2017
J Winery’s Bubble RoomPosted in : Bars and Tasting Rooms, Dining in Healdsburg - CA, Tasting Rooms in Healdsburg - CA on by : The Gourmez
I was delighted to say yes to an invitation to check out J Vineyards and Winery’s Bubble Room, as my past couple of years blogging in the Bay Area has somehow resulted in remarkably few visits to wine country. Obligatory disclaimer: That means the meal and pairings I’m about to write about were absolutely free to me.
Remodeled after a recent takeover by the Gallo family, the Bubble Room features the sparkling winemaking of Nicole Hitchcock and the food of Executive Chef Carl Shelton, both of whom seek to pay tribute to original owner Judy Jordan’s vision and passion for food and wine pairings.
The Bubble Room is a great name despite its conjuring of a 70s Playboy Playhouse adventure. The mood here is exactly the opposite, set right away with a glass of bubbles – J’s Cuvee 20 Brut NV.
It’s very smooth and tightly bubbled while served straight from the hostess stand. Get a seat by the window, if you can, to appreciate the beautiful light coming in and enhancing the visual presentation–this was a lunch meal.
Though the lamps do a great job of illuminating on their own. I can’t think of a better representation of sparkling wine in lamp form. Can you?
The wait staff is as fully informed as the tasting room pourers here, so whether opting for a more intimate experience in the Legacy Reserve Lounge—
–or the full-on five-course pairing menu in the Bubble Room, you’ll be well taken care of. I say the latter is more intimate, but that’s because the room is smaller and the conversations taking place are in closer quarters, huddled over the glory of flights and cheese plates. The Bubble Room is airy with room to breathe…as a good glass of wine might warrant. There are also patio spaces attached to both rooms, including a Fountain of Youth.
I did not partake, so I cannot vouch for its miraculous properties.
The Bubble Room menu is served four times per day – book a few weeks ahead for a weekend table, for sure. The menu, designed by Chef Shelton who most recently worked for Meadowood before coming on to J Vineyards and Winery last summer, changes every six weeks to best capture the shift of seasons. That means you are not likely to have the same menu I’m about to describe, but honestly? It’ll be just as amazing if not more so.
My meal took place in early spring, and Chef Shelton dubbed it “Starting to See the Light.” The theme was spot-on for the ingredients used and the presentation thereof. It was a well-considered and well-crafted meal. Revel in it.
Beginning with that amuse bouche of asparagus bisque and the beautiful, amazing, buttermilk snow on top. It was a chilled soup, which was both unexpected and as perfect as the first hint of spring. We may not get snow here in Northern California, but this dish absolutely captured that feeling of anticipation. Bright flavors were restrained by abounding iciness.
The second glass of bubbles, the 2010 Russian River Valley Brut, was aged five years and had a great smell, like a fruit-filled pastry pulled hot from the oven. Yeast buffered strawberry notes nicely, making it taste like a light treat. And it went great with the first course, which was probably my favorite of the meal, but that’s because I love seafood. It featured cubes of black cod and lump dungeness crab. In keeping with the theme, the greenery was muted in color, not yet at full bloom, so to speak.
I love that Chef Shelton used pickled celtuce to enrobe the crab, which required a bit of vegetable glue, as I learned. Celtuce is an Asian lettuce that steals from celery in terms of texture. I honestly thought it zucchini on first bite and loved it; perhaps the light pickle gave it more body. Celtuce’s fleeting vegetal flavor combined well with both the crab and the cod that displayed pungent qualities from the sea. A berry element from the bubbly accented all those flavor combinations. But the star of this dish was the Meyer lemon butter sauce that the rest of the elements floated within. It brightened them with a hug of richness.
We moved away from bubbles for the next two glasses, resulting in my discovery of a lively pinot gris, a varietal that must work hard to please me, usually. The 2015 J Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris had enough buttery elements to impress a chardonnay fan, but the ending acidic finish is what won me over. Mild orange and peach blossom in the nose and a sherbet creaminess throughout.
It was paired with it was a beautiful vegetarian dish that showcased a fuller range of spring’s bounty. The smell of roasted broccoli wafted my way as the dish was served; it featured several baby veggies form the brassica genus that strutted onto the plate along with a sunflower seed polenta and black garlic. Those seeds performed a great impression of rice grains, but their deeply earthy crunch instantly set this polenta apart as its own unique creation.
Yet even with that creativity, the paper-thin rinds of black garlic were the most impressive aspect of the dish. I’ve recently fallen in love with this method of garlic preparation – blame Chef Vaughn at the Union Square Hilton – and it shined in this dish, for sure. After the roasting process is complete, Chef Shelton presses and dehydrates the garlic before making it into a glass; i.e., a thin sheet bound by gelatin. My love for that jerky garlic nearly obscures my critiquing ability, but I would opt for less stem-afflicted vegetables if I were making the selections. I’ve also yet to find crystallized egg yolk that has an actual effect on the flavor profile of a dish…but it does look cool.
The one and only red wine course featured beautifully roasted rounds of lamb over a fantastic green lentil dish with fried sweetbreads and chanterelle mushrooms.
What impressed me most about this dish was how the chef came up with what shouldn’t be a novel idea – pairing elements of a mire poix with lentils – but is and they went great together! Large chunks of carrots, a small dice of celery, and onion powder graced the grains. I thought the presentation quite elegant, and perhaps an attempt at a tumbleweed effect or maybe a simple whirl of a spring storm. I appreciated the sweetbread treatment a lot, as I normally am not a fan of meat’s squishier organs, but small rounds fried? I’ll take it.
The 2013 Bow Tie Vineyard Pinot Noir went quite well with the lamb, providing more depth than many pinot noirs express though its central elements of strawberry Jolly Ranchers and baking spices of cinnamon and mace.
I could also imagine roasted seeds of strawberry in the glass along with bamboo and banana leaf notes, and I thought serving the wine lightly chilled was an excellent idea so it wouldn’t overpower the course. Perhaps in keeping with the early spring theme, none of the courses were bold in flavor, but all were nicely balanced.
At that point in the meal, I could feel the fullness coming, but luckily for you, I trudged ahead. And luckily for me too, as some of my favorite wines came next.
The brut rosé, the most brut of all J’s sparkling wines, had light strawberry and maraschino cherry notes enveloped in bubbles that grew the longer they spent in my mouth. For a fruit & cheese course? Fantastic pairing.
This course’s lightly buttered grilled sourdough dominated my nose, though the pickled beets, far more sweet than vinegary, left the strongest impression. We spread triple cream Red Hawk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery on the bread then piled on dried fruit, beets, and frisee. Every bite was delicious, and I’m amazed at how much softness and buttery consistency the cheese picked up from its wash in a brine rind. The deep, dark mushrooms provided enough contrast to keep this from being full-on dessert…which was next.
I’m ranking that vanilla bean panna cotta with citrus compote right behind the celtuce, crab, and cod course in terms of my favorite of the meal. The panna cotta itself was great, but the use of toasted wheat berries and cocoa nibs candy made it almost breakfast in sensibility, yielding the earthiness of toasted oats, creaminess of cereal, and a hint of coffee–cocoa bittersweet pull that I really dug. It contrasted sharply with the magnum of Vintage Brut 2009 sparkling wine, which I also loved.
That offered tropical flavors galore, beginning with a nose of coconut butter and jasmine and ending with kiwi, lime, and pineapple. The extra aging provides a backbone that keeps all those flavors in balance. I’d drink it anytime.
As is often the case, our meal ended with the undeclared course of cookies and chocolates; it’s a parting gift to the diner that is all the better if they don’t expect it to come.
Each treat was markedly different from the next. The macaron-like sesame and coconut bites were full of black sesame flavor and quite savory—I’d perhaps double the presence of the huckleberry jam on top. The tres leches cake, served in the spoon, was the most conventional offering Chef Shelton offered during the whole meal, but tres leches is quite a complex dessert without modifications. The last two items were a play on PB & J.
I’d recommend the chocolate peanut butter truffle first, as the inner core of creamy peanut butter oozes with intensity. The yuzu-lemon gelée is a wonderful last bite with all the appeal that lighter citrus fruits provide.
All that will run you $110 per person or $95 for members. Honestly, that’s a good price for the level of artistry Chef Shelton provides and the number of wines involved. Expect to linger over this meal, enjoying each and every bite and sip. Take a friend who’ll love it just as much as you do. Sure, it’s a special occasion treat, but you’re special enough for it anytime.