Heading to the beautiful Hotel ZaZa, I was conflicted on how this dinner might go. I had heard the rumors of a one star review for Dragonfly from Leslie Brenner of the Dallas Morning News (I cannot read behind a paywall…) and yet many people whom I trust told me that Dan Landsberg, the executive chef at Dragonfly, could really cook. So as I walked by the pool of beautiful people and into the restaurant, I had a clean slate to judge the food and the wine.
Davis Family Vineyards is definitely a family affair. Guy Davis is the grape grower and winemaker in this two man show. The other man is his son. Located in the bend of the Russian River Valley, Davis Family Vineyards has your standard Sonoma varietals: Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. What was also interesting was the other two wines that were from juice outside the estate, a white blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. They made for some great compliments to the food.
Speaking of the food, the evening started with introductions by both Guy Davis and Dan Landsberg, along with a quick review over the reasoning behind the pairing. I found it interesting that to hear what the chefs taste in wines because they usually have the more developed palate than I do and I have used their opinions to help develop my own vocabulary. After the explanation, it is time to eat.
Course 1: Hamachi Crudo, guava fluid gel, snap dragons, Landy Farms chives, puffed faro paired with 2009 Cuvee Luke, Sierra Foothills (48% Roussanne, 33% Marsanne, 17% Viognier)
The fish was silky and slightly sweet, playing nicely off the tart guava and slight bite from the chives. The faro pieces provided that textural crunch to complete the bite. First impression: what the hell did Leslie Brenner eat? This is not one star food, more like 3 or 4 star. It also was a great pairing with the wine, which had a lot of honeysuckle, apricot, pear and pineapple upside down cake on both the palate and the nose. Great start to the meal.
Course 2: Foie Gras, sea scallop, Texas peach and Basil paired with 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Chardonnay
To quote Christina LaBarba from FreshPoint, my dining companion for the evening: “If I knew foie gras was this good, I would have eaten a lot more of it!” The foie was lightly seared, providing that sweetness from the caramelization while maintaining the waxy mouthfeel that coats your tongue and makes me happy. The scallop was done well and played with the peach but for me it was all about the foie and the Chardonnay. The Chardonnay had a crisp acidity that would cleanse the palate, with strong flavors of green and red apples and hints of grass and blossoms.
Course 3: Grilled Cherry Cola Texas Quail, Humbolt Fog grits, rhubarb, watermelon and yellow cherries paired with 2008 Estate Pinot Noir “Soul Patch Vineyard”
The grits were drenched in cheese, helping bring out the sweetness of the marinade on the grilled quail. The surprising ingredient was the watermelon. It worked to help contrast the cheese in the grits and was a welcome addition. But, as good as the food was, this course was all about the wine. Most Sonoma Pinot Noir has a strong cola note that takes away the other flavors of the wine but Guy Davis was able to make it a background note while accentuating the bing cherry, rhubarb and raspberry fruit notes and the nice French oak flavors of vanilla, clove and anise. As Angie Soden said sitting next to me, “this is a Badass Pinot.” My favorite wine of the night by far.
Course 4: Roasted New Zealand Elk, fennel pollen pork belly, Lemley tomato, goat milk foam, Pedro Ximenez, cajeta, and micro greens paired with 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Chef Dan started his lecture off by saying he wished he could have found ostrich but after a fruitless search, he resorted to using elk. To me, he could have used whatever meat he wanted as long as it had that sauce/foam stuff with it. God it was awesome! It was like caramel toffee foam that just lit up your mouth. The elk and pork belly were good but with the foam, it took it to another level. The foam also provided a bridge between the food and the wine. 2007 Napa Valley Cabernets are usually fruit-forward and the Davis Family was no exception. With so much primary black fruit (currants, blackberries and black cherries) caressed by hints of leather, vanilla, clove and licorice, that sweet foam helped fight back the tannins and made for a good pairing. I would love to see what this wine will taste like in 5 years.
Course 5: Chocolate/Cherry/Mocha/Blueberry paired with the 2005 Rapport, an old vine Zinfandel dessert wine from the Russian River Valley
There have been only a few times where I have had what I thought was a perfect pairing. A bite of seared foie gras with Chateau Rieussec Sauternes at the French Laundry, roasted lamb with a 2004 Roda I Reserva in Haro, Rioja, the rice crispy/chocolate coffee cake thing at Dragonfly with this old vine Zin dessert wine. To talk about one without the other would be wrong so I will just say that the beautiful fruit and liquor flavors of the Rapport paired with the crispy, chocolate and coffee flavors of the cake was a symphony in your mouth. Everyone was talking about this course 30 minutes later. It was as if every other course did not exist.
I have had several questions answered. Can Dan Landsberg cook? Hell yeah. How good are Davis Family Vineyards wines, something you cannot easily find around Dallas? Pretty damn good. Can the staff at Dragonfly create a memorable meal and pairing? Let’s just say they need to sign me up for the next event. I only have one question that was not answered: What the hell did Leslie Brenner eat that she would think about giving Dragonfly one star?