Vintner Robert Sinskey and wife, Star Chef Maria Helm Sinskey
Gracie’s is a place to create memories. Fine food and wine, attentive service, and a warming atmosphere make it the place to bring someone special for… a proposal? … an anniversary? But during the Star Chef Series dinners, the food is the reason for the evening, and that someone special you bring becomes a fellow explorer in a dining adventure.
Gracie’s Star Chef Series gives remarkable chefs a canvas to create remarkable dinners where the best of New England’s farm-to-table purveyors provide amazing ingredients, wines are expertly paired, and the service is unmatched.
Pancetta-wrapped figs baked with honey and lemon
I had the pleasure of attending a recent Star Chef Series dinner that was doubly marvelous, since not only did renowned chef Maria Helm Sinskey bring her talents to the kitchen, her husband, vintner Robert Sinskey paired the amazing dishes with distinctive and memorable wines from the Robert Sinskey Vineyard.
Beet and potato belini topped with a caviar and whipped lebneh and dill
Chef Maria teamed with Gracie’s Executive Chef Matthew Varga to creating a unique, five-course dinner to remember.
The evening started with meeting fellow food lovers, in my case I had a fascinating conversation with the owners of Hopkins Southdowns, a North Scituate farm that provides lamb to some of the state’s finest restaurants, including Gracie’s. During our conversation, we sampled canapes the hinted at the creativity in store for us – pancetta-wrapped figs baked with honey and lemon, coin-sized beet and potato belini topped with a caviar and whipped lebneh and dill, shot glasses of a tangy heirloom tomato gazpacho with a garnish of pickled rock shrimp, and chickpea panisse with chèvre and spicy tomato preserves.
Chickpea panisse with chèvre and spicy tomato preserves
Heirloom tomato gazpacho with a garnish of pickled rock shrimp
Robert Sinsky presenting the wine pairings
The wine paired with this was the Robert Sinsky Vineyards’ Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2015. This wine was a rosé, light and refreshing with flavors of peach and apricot along with a hint of grapefruit. The 2015 vintage was sold out, so not only was a rosé wine unusual choice for a pairing, it was literally a rare wine.
After being seated, in my case I shared a table with Rob Sinskey and other food lovers, we started a dining experience where each dish was a delight to the pallet and imagination. Chef Maria Helm Sinskey stayed largely in the kitchen, coming out for introductions. As each course was served, Rob Sinskey explained the wine. In most cases he talked about the wine itself, but in some cases we learned about the story of Rob and Maria – how they met, how the winery is run, and about their shared love of food and wine.
Fattoush torn bread salad with peeled summer tomato, cucumber, feta, and sumac
The first course was paired with the Vineyards’ Abraxas, Vin de Terroir. Rob Sinskey explained that some wines are wines are the result of careful blending and technique, while others are distinctive because the place they are creative is distinctive. This old world way of looking at wines makes a “vin de terroir” a “wine of place”, and embodies the founding philosophy of Robert Sinskey Vineyards. The Abraxas has a mineral quality, with an aroma reminiscent of peach and melon.
Wine awaiting serving
The wine complemented a “fattoush”, a torn bread salad featuring peeled summer tomato, cucumber, feta, and sumac. The second course was a ricotta and soft herb agnolotti, with lemon, crab, and brown butter. Angolotti looks like tiny ravioli, and is a type of pasta typical of the Piedmont region of Italy, made with small pieces of flattened pasta dough, folded over filling of roasted meat or vegetables.
Preparing the fattoush
The angolotti was paired with the 2013 Pino Blanc, that Rob Sinskey proudly proclaimed had never seen oak, so the flavors come completely from the grapes. A 2012 Pino Noir went with the third course. A bright ruby red, the Pino leaves behind the earlier apricot and melon flavors of the earlier selections and provides a spicy cranberry/raspberry flavor.
In the kitchen
Ricotta and soft herb agnolotti, with lemon, crab, and brown butter
Smoked quail served on roasted cracked wheat, mushrooms, and parsley
The third course was a deboned smoked quail served on roasted cracked wheat, mushrooms, and parsley. Chef Maria Helm Sinskey currently cooks at the Robert Sinskey Vineyards after a career including an education at the California Culinary Academy and a pastry school in Denmark, serving as chef at several noteworthy restaurants: Boz Scagg’s Blue Light Café, the venerable Sherman House – a Relais & Chateaux Hotel, and Plumpjack Café. Along the way Maria also worked in France at several Michelin starred restaurants, toured Italy and realized that life was good, very good.
Maria Helm Sinskey showing the way
Blueberry basil sorbet
After the smoked quail, a palette cleanser of blueberry basil sorbet got our taste buds ready for the herb roasted lamb, with crushed potato and salsa verde. In my earlier conversation with the Hopkins Southdowns proprietors made me very aware of the ingredients in the delicious dishes. The quail came from Cavendish Farms in Vermont, but most of the food came from even more local sources, like Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton.
Herb roasted lamb, with crushed potato and salsa verde
Following the pattern of heavier and darker wines as dinner progresses, the lamb was paired with a 2011 Marcien, a small batch blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend, or “covee” to wine connoisseurs, carries intense and complex flavors, with spices like nutmeg and cardamom, cocoa, and a hint of bramble-berry fruit. Rob Sinskey described it as coming from Napa Valley’s “Right Bank”, evoking the flavors of the French countryside.
Decanting the wine
Robert Sinskey, Maria Helm Sinskey, and Gracie’s Executive Chef Matthew Varga
The final wine of the night was a sweet dessert wine, labeled “Pino Gris Late”. The golden-colored wine maintained a high sugar level, starting around 30% sugar from the grape due to the late harvest, its sugar levels are maintained high after fermentation. Instead of the sub-1% sugar levels of most wines, dessert wines are bottled around 10% sugar levels. The Pino Gris Late has lower acidity, enough to keep the wine refreshing, with flavors of crystalized ginger, citrus and ripe pear.
The final dish of the meal was a raspberry shortbread cloud with pistachios. It melted away with the sweet pino gris late.
raspberry shortbread cloud with pistachios
Dining at the Star Chef Series is always an adventure. The 70-seat restaurant, just steps from Trinity Repertory Theater, entices guests with fresh and inventive food inspired by the seasons, focusing on locally-sourced foods — including some grown on downcity rooftops, but during the series, when the Chefs have their chance to show off, the purveyors bring their best, and the wines are carefully curated to enhance each bite, Gracies shines bright.
|All photography ©JWessel Photography 2016