Tony Clark and Simi Winery shine at Viviano in Valley Forge

Northern California wine from Simi meets fine dining at Viviano inside the Valley Forge Casino Resort. Photo: B.Kolesar/

VALLEY FORGE, Pa., July 3, 2013 — A casino in the suburbs with great dining options? Sound like an impossible stretch?

Not at all impossible at Viviano inside the Valley Forge Casino Resort.

Approximately 25 miles west of Philadelphia is the barely one-year-old resort property where celebrated chef Tony Clark landed last year to oversee the property’s two signature restaurants, Viviano and Pacific Prime.

This high-profile top toque addition contributes to the growing reputation of the resort’s restaurants and the ability to stand on their own apart from the casino and hotel.

Recently, Clark showcased the best of his kitchen with wines from Simi Winery (Healdsburg, Calif.), a subsidiary of Constellation Brands. The dinner was on the travel itinerary of the winery’s Director of Winemaking, Susan Lueker, who was in the Northeast region for the week and led the dining room of almost fifty people through the wines served with the five courses of food.

Lueker, with roots in Arkansas, has lived in Sonoma long enough and carries herself with enough an ease to be considered a true Californian. She walked guests through some of the winery’s background to entice diners to visit and experience “the ghost of Isabelle (Simi),” a long-time winery owner that pulled the winery successfully through Prohibition.

The winery, located on the outskirts of downtown Healdsburg, has a history that dates back to 1876 and has some of the charming, rustic feel that reminds many of old Sonoma wine country. Sonoma County resident and colleague here at The Communities, Sherrie Perkovich, describes Simi as “…super nice and friendly…make some good wine, especially a small lot of hand-crafted wines…and has an historic tour that is one of the best around.” She recently wrote about a visit and conversation she had with Lueker at the winery. 

During the night of the dinner at Viviano, guests upon arrival were treated to a taste of the Chardonnay which later accompanied the decadent first course of foie gras, which coincidentally was recently banned from production and sale in California. The smooth, mostly barrel-aged wine (85% oak, 15% stainless) is a strong, fruit-forward wine with enough backbone to cut through the rich appetizer. A worthy pairing, no doubt, to start off the dinner in style.

Lobster on the plate and Merlot in the glass were next up on the menu and created unlikely pairing candidates for most, including Lueker, who before the dinner pointed to it as one of the courses she was most curious to see how would turn out. Merlot, however, is an easy-drinking wine that did not overwhelm the generous stack of lobster meat and its dark fruit flavors tied in quite nicely with the lobster’s accompanying bean puree and sauce.

Appetizer course of Lobster with fava bean puree and tagliatelle paired with Simi Winery Merlot and served at Viviano for a Simi Wine Pairing Dinner.


As if the lobster course was not enough of a treat, the pork belly and Pinot Noir took the dinner to another level. It was a generous square piece of succulent and meaty pork rimmed with a thin layer of fat, and the ripe-fruit-meets-pepper-spicy pinot noir made the third course stand out as one of the best paired courses of the evening.

It would be a dinner barely worth writing about, however, if the dessert course did not challenge for one of the best of the night. As with the lobster and Merlot pairing, a Sauvignon Blanc paired with dessert certainly raised eyebrows, including Lueker’s own as she also freely admitted prior to the dinner.

Most seemed to agree that a slight tartness in the yogurt along with the floral addition from elderflowers made the zesty grapefruit flavors from the crisply acidic Sauvignon Blanc a perfect match and ending to a delightful meal.

Dessert course of Krenshaw Melon Soup with elderflower and yogurt foam served at Viviano for a Simi Wine Pairing Dinner.


Check back on Friday for a few recipes shared from the kitchen of Simi Winery.

Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.

Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Bryan Kolesar

Bryan Kolesar has been tracking down great beer for over twenty years. From the most hard-to-find delicately balanced low alcohol beer to the big monsters weighing in at over 10% ABV, he has yet to find a style that does not have a story to tell and a taste to share. Though, when pushed, Kolesar has historically staked a claim to the Saison style as one of the most versatile and his favorite.

In 2005, Bryan co-founded The Brew Lounge blog/website as a canvas to illustrate the best of the craft brewing industry and to document his own travels within it. Though he has lived in Philadelphia and is currently headquartered in the city's western suburbs, Kolesar shares a wealth of information and images that he collects from his travels around the world and some of the best beers that he has tasted along the way.

In 2010, Kolesar came aboard the Communities section of The Washington Times to contribute stories from across the craft brewing industry as it continues more than ever its explosive growth amongst increasingly more of the mainstream alcohol-consuming public. 

While the beer - its tastes, aromas, and incredible pairing opportunities with food - is often the beginning of a story, he often finds it more interesting to dive into the stories behind the people, places, and events associated with the final product. 

Locally around Philadelphia, he has been named a Beer Writer of the Year finalist multiple times, hosted beer/running events during each annual Philly Beer Week, served as a Philly Beer Geek judge, paneled local beers for submission into the Great American Beer Festival competition, judged beer and food competitions, been featured in local publications chronicling the beer scene, and been named the "Best Beer Guy" of 2008. 

In addition to his beer-y pursuits, Kolesar works a professional career in the business world by day and dabbles in distance running, cooking, homebrewing, gardening, photography, and is a staunch advocate for animal rescue/adoption. He lives with his wife, Patty, of fifteen years and has been a long time, mostly suffering, supporter of local Philadelphia sports.

Contact Bryan Kolesar


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