Miraflores Zin and bouchon santa barbara

"When I see people relaxed, chatting, enjoying a great meal, that's when I'm happy", says Mitchell Sjerven, proprietor of bouchon santa barbara. He has been in the restaurant business all his life, first in the kitchen after he fudged on his age to begin working at 15, and later, in the front of the house, working his way up to manager and earning a degree from UCSB in International Relations on the way. After managing several restaurants, he started bouchon santa barbara, then opened Seagrass and more recently partnered in the re-opening of the venerable Wine Cask. Mitchell would like to erase the term "fine dining" from bouchon because it represents a stuffiness and pretense that goes against the convivial, relaxed atmosphere that he wants to create. He thinks times have changed and people are looking for a chance to unwind and feel at home when they dine out. He works hard to provide a welcoming environment, which is reflected in the top marks bouchon receives in sites like Yelp where customers extol his exemplary customer service. We're here for a specially prepared five course meal, thanks to his hospitality and our amazing Culinary Arts teacher Chef Vincent Van Hecke, who has been bringing his fourth  semester students here for a dozen years or more to celebrate their graduation. We were treated to an hour of personal time, hearing the ins and outs of setting up and running a restaurant. Some of the students hope to open their own one day, so it's a terrific opportunity to learn about the business from a very successful proprietor. Then Chef Brandon Hughes (a SBCC Culinary Arts graduate!) prepared a lavish meal. Bouchon sources locally, using fresh farmer's market produce, locally harvested seafood, locally raised meat and poultry and California wine, most from our own Santa Barbara county's Santa Ynez and Ojai.
An amuse bouche of ahi tuna and avocado dressed with ponzu sauce was followed by a first course of pan-seared sweetbreads or escargot with artichokes in a red wine reduction. The escargot were meaty and tender, nothing like the rubbery, garlic-y discs served in some places. Wine pairing: 2008 Peter Bruce Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Cold Heaven Viognier which is aromatic and not too sweet, a good match for the escargot. The main course was tangerine-seared sea scallops with Ridgeback shrimp risotto plated with a lovely tarragon creme or a Kurobuta pork chop, nicely cooked and finished with a delicious Dijon emulsion. Wine pairing: 2006 Consilience Pinot Noir and the fruit-forward 2008 Beckman "Cuvee Le Bec", a well-balanced Rhone Ranger. The meal was capped with a chocolate molten lava cake with Brazilian coffee ice cream and bananas brûlée with white chocolate brownie, candied pistachios and strawberry ice cream. A big thanks from all of us!
On a sunny afternoon, we had the chance to sit out on the deck with friends and try some wines from Miraflores for the Touring & Tasting wine clubs. In the Sierra foothills, Miraflores creates handcrafted, artisanal, small-lot wines--Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Muscat Canelli, Rosé and dessert wines. We tasted the 2007 Syrah, 2007 Zinfandel, 2009 Viognier and 2009 Rosé with this week's wine pairing recipe--the blackened salmon. I made the avocado and grapefruit salad with citrus dressing from the 4/14/10 post to accompany the salmon and a friend brought a rice, mushroom and Parmesan bake. We loved the wines, especially the Syrah (the 2005 received 92 points from Wine Enthusiast) and the Zinfandel--a smooth Zin redolent of blackberry, with the spicy, jammy intensity of the varietal and luscious and silky in the mouth. The Zin will be in upcoming Touring & Tasting wine clubs--take a look at their wine club specials this month and try this wine!
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. cumin seed
1 Tbsp. thyme
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. tarragon
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. powdered ginger
7 Tbsp. butter, in two parts
1 lb. wildcaught salmon fillet
1 quart salad greens of your choice, for example 2 cups arugula and 2 cups lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Vinagrette or Italian dressing to taste
Grind the fennel and cumin seed together, then grind in the rest of the spices. Put into a shallow bowl to be used later to coat the fish. Melt 3 Tbsp. of the butter in a shallow bowl. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and slice into four equal strips. Dip each piece in the butter on all sides except the skin side, then into the bowl with the spices, coating all of the fish surface not covered with skin. Put the remaining 4 Tbsp. of butter into a heavy frying pan; a cast iron pan is best, and turn the heat on medium high. As soon as the butter melts, place the fillets in it skin-side up. Pour the remaining butter from the shallow dish over the top. Let the fish sizzle in the butter to cook until almost done through--adjust the heat so the butter doesn't burn. It should take just about 3 minutes for the fish to cook almost all the way through. Carefully turn with a spatula and cook skin-side down for another minute. Serve immediately by peeling off the skin and topping your salad with the salmon slices. Serves 4.

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