The Grand Poohbah Trip, Food and Wine Festival, Day 1 Part 2

Winemaker Dinner – May 1, 2009 – MacMurray Ranch

Winemaker: Kate MacMurray, daughter of actor Fred MacMurray

Chef: Jason Martin, Executive Chef, Steakhouse 55, Disneyland Hotel

Starter: Crab Cake & Sparkling Wine

Rich’s Comments: As we entered Steakhouse 55 for our Winemaker Dinner with MacMurray Ranch, we were handed a glass of sparkling wine and led to our table for 4. The other couple at our table was already seated and introduced themselves. They were quite nice, and we had a very enjoyable time with them all through the meal.

Our waiter came by and served everyone a mini crab cake. When I informed the waiter that I am allergic to crab, he ran off to the kitchen and returned with a spiced bean cake that looked just the crab cake. It was fine, but the crab cake smelled good, and I wished I could be eating that.

Kathy’s Comments: The sparkling wine and crab was a very nice touch and set the stage for a magnificent evening. We were surprised that we were seated at a table for four, but the room was chopped up – the larger tables were on one side and the smaller tables on the other – with a bit of a divider in-between. We got lucky and were seated with a gregarious, knowledgeable couple from southern California who were also familiar with Napa and the Oregon wine country – all three areas we’re also lived in – so we had a lot to talk about. 🙂

First Course: Pinot Gris, Sonoma Coast, 2007

Gravlax and Calamari accompanied by mixed baby greens with a peach & yogurt dressing

Rich’s Comments: The first course was delicious, although the kitchen got a little over-enthusiastic and left the calamari off my plate thinking I was allergic to that too. I’m not, so thankfully Kathy shared her calamari with me.

The Pinot Gris was surprisingly good. I say surprisingly, because Pinot Gris can be too sweet and cloying. But this one was quite lovely: smooth, dry, and well-paired with the first course.

Chef Martin stopped by our table at the end of this course and personally explained how he created the salmon, cream cheese, chive, and lemon zest accompaniment that was not listed on the menu. He also told us about his 10 years as a Disney chef and his work as the Executive Chef of Steakhouse 55.

Kathy’s Comments: We probably could have grabbed the waiter and explained the calamari to him, but maybe we didn’t want to make too big of a deal out of it – so busy chatting with our tablemates – yes, it felt like we were on a cruise. I agree with Rich about the Pinot Gris – not a big fan – but this was delicious – the best Pinot Gris I’ve ever had.

Second Course: Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2007

Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin with Russian fingerling potatoes, baby beets, and spring cippolini shoots

Rich’s Comments: Wow! This special pork was incredible. Kurobuta (Japanese for Black Hog) is apparently prized as much in Japan as is Kobe beef. The pork was tender and flavorful, but mild, making it go well with the accompaniments and the wine. Even the beets were good, and I’m not a particularly enthusiast beet fan. The only somewhat odd part was the cippolini shoots. Probably could have lived without those.

The wine was very good with a distinct red cherry note, and was a nice pairing with the food. But it was a tad overshadowed by the yumminess of the pork.

Kathy’s Comments: The pork was amazing – tasted familiar yet different. And the wine pairing was awesome. We were enjoying sampling different Pinots since we miss that about living in Oregon.

Third Course: Winemakers Block Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2005

Certified Angus Beef Tenderloin with portobello mushroom en croute, barley risotto and bloomsdale spinach

Rich’s Comments: This was, by far, the best wine of the night. A bold, multi-flavored, black cherry note wine that was probably one of the five best Pinot Noirs I have ever had (and I’ve had a LOT of Pinot Noirs). The grapes were chosen by the winemaker from 3 of the MacMurray Ranch vineyards (blocks) and blended impeccably.

The beef was excellent and cooked perfectly. Our table mates felt that the preparation was a bit pedestrian, but I enjoyed the wonderful texture and flavor of this incomparable Tenderloin. Could the chef have been a little more creative? Perhaps. But when you can cook a cut of beef this well, maybe you shouldn’t fool around with fancy preparations.

Kathy’s Comments: The steak melted in your mouth and this was the best Pinot Noir ever – and like Rich said – we tasted many Pinot Noirs while living in Oregon.

Fourth Course: Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2005

Spring cherry and vanilla cocktail with warm cherry cobbler

Rich’s Comments: Okay, a bit of a stumble with this course. First, the wine was not decanted properly, which made the first sips very bland. With time, the wine improved to very nice level, perhaps the second best wine of the night.

The dessert, while it tasted good on its own, did not go with the wine at all. We had to eat the dessert first, and then drink the wine separately. This dessert would have paired with the wine much better if there had been some chocolate in it. This was really the only disappointment of the night. The 2 reasons I cite for this are: Reason #1 – This Pinot Noir is not really a dessert wine (MacMurray Ranch does not produce a dessert wine). While this alone does not preclude a fine dessert pairing, it turned out to be problematic because of Reason #2 – The chef relied on his own instincts to create this pairing when perhaps he should have consulted his pastry chef. While Jason can undoubtedly prepare pork and beef exquisitely, his pastry skills are a bit lacking.

Kathy’s Comments: Agreed. The dessert was yummy by itself, and the wine (once it “aired”) was tasty by itself – but they clashed together. Our table agreed what we needed was chocolate – where was the chocolate? Would have been perfect.

Rich’s Comments: This was a wonderful experience. The food, wine, stories, and table mates were all wonderful. Kate MacMurray is very personable and was extremely entertaining as she told the history of MacMurray Ranch (Fred MacMurray purchased the land in 1941), the climate that affects the grapes in Sonoma (including invasive fog), how each wine was made, and other fascinating stories and recollections.

After dinner, we got to meet Kate, talk to her about her father and her wines, get some pictures taken with her, and have our menu autographed.

I would definitely do another Winemaker Dinner. It was the highlight of this Disneyland trip.

Kathy’s Comments: Kate MacMurray is so very charming. She’s the kind of person that makes you feel like she’s totally absorbed in whatever it is you are saying. She has a real gift for that as well as storytelling – no wonder she’s also a screenwriter.

One of her dad’s best friends was Walt Disney and she shared some of those stories, as well as mentioned that so many of the Hollywood stars depicted in pictures on the walls decorating Steakhouse 55 were regular guests at her father’s dinner table.

While absorbing the atmosphere, I couldn’t help but notice it had a very local, southern California flavor. Unlike WDW, where most who go to the Food & Wine Festival are from out-of-town, this festival, like Disneyland, is quite local-centric and people seemed so surprised we would come in for this event – all the way from Las Vegas.

It did feel more like a California winemaker’s dinner and not so much a Disney winemaker’s dinner – a very southern California – a very “OC” event – people were dressed up, eager to impress. I can say this because I grew up here and know the people well – and it felt wonderful to be gathered back into the fold – to make that connection again. But I would be curious to know how Disney fans from other parts of the country would feel here.

But this event – and others to come – was big on schmoozing so you have to be comfortable with that to enjoy the event to the fullest. And, ironically enough, it paid off for us at the next night’s event and our reputation seemed to be growing…

Some asked if wine snobs would like this event. Well, the room was full of knowledgeable wine connoisseurs who had their own wine cellars, enrolled in classes, toured wine countries in Europe, etc. I wonder at what point you become a wine snob. We enjoy wine, and are eager to add to our knowledge, but I hope we don’t come across as snobs.

And while we’ve done Sweet Sundays at both parks and will comment on the differences later in the report, we haven’t done a winemaker’s dinner at WDW and it would be interesting to compare them.

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