By Paul Rubin
We didn’t get three steps inside James Porter’s wonderful Tapino Kitchen Wine Bar last Thursday night when a woman asked, “Are you slow foodies, or just foodies?”
Since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I responded, “I guess you could say I’m a hungry.” The occasion was Tapino’s second “Locavore Wine Dinner,” locavore referring to those who only eat foods grown or produced locally.
“Would you like to meet some farmers?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said, and promptly was introduced to Tolleson dairy farmers David and Janet, and to a nice couple who raise grass-fed beef cattle (ah, memories of my trip to Argentina last Christmas) outside of Prescott.
For $40 per person (plus tax and tip), those attending got to eat some remarkably diverse and delicious food, and to hang with some remarkably diverse and delicious (conversationally speaking) folks. Seemed as if there were about 150 people in the room, but that’s a guess.
To make an already cool evening even better were the paired wines harvested and bottled at three Arizona vineyards. The price was right, Chef James told the packed house, because of the financial aid of the City of Scottsdale, Local First Arizona, the Arizona Farm Bureau and the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.
An engaging host, Chef James grabbed a microphone before his staff began serving the first of four courses (plus dessert) and waxed poetic about the wonders of eating locally grown foods. He conceded that he still drives an SUV “for work purposes," but said he is “trying to reduce my carbon footprint” by serving the freshest food around. The chef/owner noted that he buys from Arizona farmers, cattle ranchers, small, artisan-type growers and so on whenever possible—which turns out to be more often than not (about 70 percent, he told us later).
We were seated at a table of ten that included a woman whose forte is bacon—her recipe for bacon brittle, which wasn’t on the menu, is supposed to be her tour de force—a couple from up in Strawberry (John and Joyce Bittner) whose Fossil Creek Goat Cheese was part of the dessert treat, and a delightful onetime sportswriter-turned- spokeswoman for Local First Arizona.
Now to the food and, of course, the wine.
First up was something called amuse bouche, a kind of tomato, melon and cucumber gazpacho topped with chunks of just about the sweetest melons ever grown. Served in a mini-parfait cup, this taste treat instantly sent our appetite into overdrive.
First official course was Arizona desert sweet shrimp lumpia (which is a Filipino spring roll, we’re told) with Arizona citrus ponzu. The shrimp are farmed out in Gila Bend—Gila Bend!!—and are as sweet as advertised. What a melange of tastes, accented by the 2006 Rose created by Sam Pillsbury, a film director with a love of wine whose tiny vineyard, the aptly named Pillsbury Wine Company, is down in southeast Arizona, near Willcox.
Second course were some “desert roots” with a vegetable terrine from Duncan Farms, with the wine a 2007 Tazi from Arizona Stronghold, also located near Willcox. Tasted healthy and good, a combo we like.
Next up was a highlight, a hardy and tender piece of roasted pork from Konrath farm, paired with what we considered Pillsbury’s best, the 2006 Road Red. With impeccable timing, Mr. Pillsbury stopped by our table to see how we were enjoying his wine. The compliments flowed, as did a fresh pour from a generous server.
“When you buy 100 acres of desert, it would be really bad if it tasted like shit,” the fledgling vintner said, cracking everyone up. He doesn’t have to worry about the taste of his Roan Red—it’s a keeper.
Hard to top, but the generous cut of beef (ours was a chuck) from the O X Ranch was every bit its equal. Jay Murphy’s ranch is about 45 minutes north of Wickenburg, and the animals he eventually slaughters live a stress-free life on pastoral grazing land that is the antithesis of what usually ends up on an American plate. Reminded us again of Argentina, where the beef is in a whole different league than here—the major league.
Chatted with Murphy after dinner, and he’s quite a guy. Lives most of the time near Central Avenue and East Palm Lane, so that makes him an urban cowboy of sorts. He can raise one hell of a cow, that’s for sure.
Finally, the dessert, the aforementioned Fossil Creek goat cheese mixed with a Green Valley pecan fudge tartlette. Nobody on our table left even a nibble on the plate. Phenomenally complex taste, and the 2007 Zinfandel from Page Springs Cellars complemented it perfectly. We spent a few moments with an exhilarated Chef James on the way out.
“This kind of thing is why I got into this crazy business,” he told us. “Good people, good food, right?”
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