Bill Kills: The best meal of 2007: Dinner with Mondavi

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Since opening Grappa restaurant in 1993, Bill White has been seducing Utah food lovers, visitors and food writers with his extraordinary vision as a restaurateur. His hit streak at present includes Park City’s Grappa, Chimayo, Wahso, Windy Ridge Café & Bakery and, most recently, Ghidotti’s. Where most restaurateurs would be more than happy with a single successful restaurant, White has created five—and I don’t get the sense that he’s quite finished yet. Each eatery is fabulous in its own way; each is unique. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Bill White has single-handedly raised the bar for fine dining restaurants in Utah by being his own harshest critic and setting adventurously high standards for food, service and ambience. Quite honestly, I’ve never met a restaurateur who is any more driven by his search for excellence. It’s in everything White does, both within and without his business ventures.

So when I heard that White had decided to host his first-ever wine dinner earlier this month, I had an inkling it would be good. On the occasion of a Utah visit from Peter Mondavi Jr., White decided he’d host a get-together for 40 or so of his most loyal customers as well as a handful of lucky media types. He called it “An evening with executive chef Bill White and Peter Mondavi Jr.” I call it the best meal of 2007.

This being White’s first formal wine dinner, it would have made sense to locate it in one of his restaurants. But that would’ve have been too easy. Instead, White chose to challenge himself and his staff by holding the wine dinner in the beautifully remote Wolf Creek Ranch development in Woodland, near Kamas … in a barn. Or, more specifically, the horse stables of Wolf Creek Ranch’s barn/clubhouse. To do so, White and his crew had to schlep everything from tables, chairs and rugs to an eight-burner industrial gas range and full kitchen setup (borrowed from Wahso) some 30 miles outside of Park City to the out-of-the-way location for the Mondavi dinner. White gets a kick out of overcoming obstacles and solving sticky problems. He also thought that the adventure would be a “good team-building experience for his managers,” all of whom were enlisted to help execute the Wolf Creek Ranch dinner. They hit every curve ball thrown at them.

Upon arrival—having been shuttled up from Park City in a convoy of Blackwater-esque Ford Excursions—guests were treated to Schramsberg Rosé poured by Bill White Enterprises managers like Mike Brown, Alain Viny and Larry Pontarelli. Hors d’oeuvres were passed as we mingled, listening to a classical guitarist whose repertoire included the theme from The Pink Panther. Peter Mondavi Jr. made a few comments to the crowd about his Charles Krug Winery (see Grapevine, p. 32) and we were then escorted into the main dining room/stable. What followed was a six-hour orgy of 10 food and eight wine courses.

First up was a clever “cocktail” of fresh sardine filets and julienne celery in a cocktail glass, paired beautifully with Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc, and followed by an ingenious Maine diver scallop “Wellington.” This was a Diver scallop encrusted in porcini dust, wrapped in crisp pastry in a foie gras sauce with a wild mushroom salad and Charles Krug Carneros Chardonnay alongside. We were just getting started.

Did I mention that each table in the stable had been covered with Ralph Lauren-style plaid blankets and adorned with fresh flowers, all surrounded by glittering Christmas trees? Oh, yeah! And each course was formally delivered by White’s crack team of servers/managers. With each new dish, a team of six to eight servers would surround the table, stand at attention and then simultaneously present the dish to each guest in a synchronized culinary symphony.

A strudel of Dover sole with shrimp-and-herb mousse preceded my favorite menu item of the evening: small gnocchetti floating in clear pheasant consommé with what White called a pheasant “drummie.” Breast and leg meat was deboned, minced, blended and formed into a boneless drumstick and then reassembled onto a leg bone and served in the consommé. This is the sort of thing I’d expect to see at Paris’ Taillevent or La Tour d’Argent, but not in Woodland, Utah. As I fawned over my consommé and drummie and sipped Charles Krug Pinot Noir, it dawned on me that none of these dishes were ones that I’d seen on a Bill White restaurant menu. Indeed, just to make things more interesting, White had built his Mondavi dinner menu from the ground up. Like I said, the guy loves a challenge. And I should note that White was doing most of the cooking himself. It’d been a while since I’d seen him in chef’s whites.

My recall gets a bit foggy by the time we hit the course of grilled juniper-scented elk loin with Charles Krug Zinfandel and then the roasted Wagyu beef, served prime-rib fashion with truffled French lentils, Béarnaise sauce and Charles Krug “Generations” wine from Napa Valley. But not so foggy that I don’t recall the abundant artisan cheese course paired with Lot XII Charles Krug Zinfandel Port, or executive pastry chef Stephanie Krizman’s outrageously scrumptious wild huckleberry pie (huckleberries brought in from Canada) with home-style toasted almond ice cream and Cline Late Harvest Mourvedre. Her chocolates and petits fours with French-press coffee rounded out the absolutely marvelous evening.

If your name is Mondavi, you’ve attended more than a few wine dinners. During Bill White’s superb soiree, Peter Mondavi Jr. commented that this was in the top 1 percent of all the wine dinners he’d ever attended. For me, it was the very best. Bill killed. I can’t wait to see what White does for an encore.

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