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