Sunday, June 29, 2014

Al Fresco in Palo Alto

My buddy Dan's pile is a paradise-like pocket-cottage-garden tucked behind a house on a leafy neighborhood street in Palo Alto. He is an intense gardener, as well as a long-time wine enthusiast and food maven. Fortunately for his friends, he loves to entertain at home.

The first time Dan invited me for dinner was several years ago, in the initial phases of his evolving garden that started with heirloom tomatoes. Today, his patio is dense with various edible plants, and his garden empire has expanded to a nearby off-site community garden plot, where he grows a ton of heirloom tomatoes, including rare varieties, even San Marzano!

The cherry tomatoes are still green. A pretty special variety, says Dan.

The padron peppers are also just starting to form.

But the shiso is constantly leafing. Dan served a concoction of infused shiso in water. Wow! Such a refreshing herbal tea.

In the kitchen, Dan and our friend Ash get supper ready. With these two accomplished cooks we are in good hands.

Jazz piped-in at the terrace via blue-tooth Bose speakers connected to a phone, soothing the air.

When night fell pesky bugs started to hover around but there was at least this electronic UV light protection.

Dan sauteed fresh mussels in a mixed chicken broth which was very tasty, especially with the new Champ Rose I brought from Lelarge-Pugeot, an organic and biodynamic producer in Vrigny. It's made with all Pinot Noir with low sulphites and minimal dosage.

I've always looked forward to trying the cuisine of our friend Ash, a skilled and really technical home cook, and I was rewarded. He made a version of gambas al ajillo in thick, garlicky Spanish olive oil sauce which was so good I couldn't stop mopping up the oil in the skillet with baguette!

Dan's homemade pappardelle pasta in tomato sauce (garden grown San Marzano) was simplicity itself but was so intense flavored. An perfect match for the luscious 2011 Massa Vecchia Berace, a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Sauvigon made totally naturally, without addition of sulfites or any additives.

Another supper guest, Francisco, whom I met for the first time, turned out to be a Portuguese professional caterer. He brought a tray of tender barbecued pork ribs, which was drop-dead tasty but unlike any barbecued ribs I've had before. It wasn't marinated or slathered with sweet barbecue sauce, like the usual, instead the sauce tasted dry and flavored with peppermint! Terrific with the Massa Vecchia.

Final plate just in case anyone isn't satiated yet, was more pappardelle pasta, this time buttered with black truffles and a drop of lemon juice. Lovely. What else can I say, except, to quote Anthony Hopkins in "Meet Joe Black": I don't want anything more.

Among Dan's legion of friends an invitation for a Sunday supper at his cozy lair is the golden ticket. How could it not be? It's a gastronomic treat with his culinary prowess and the beautiful wines that always flow. Not to mention the serene, jazz-filled, bug-free garden atmosphere. Dan, don't lose my number, dude!

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