It’s amazing to think that just two months ago I fell and injured my left leg requiring major surgery. I’m delighted to report I’m driving again and had a rather busy weekend rediscovering my backyard: the Temecula Valley’s magnificent wine country. This past Saturday I went to Thornton Winery for Executive Chef Steve Pickell’s BBQ cooking class. Steve has spent most of the past two decades overseeing the kitchen at Thornton, and his easy going manner lends perfectly to his ability to impart his knowledge.
First on the menu was grilled summer vegetables with Harissa dressing, a spice blend featuring coriander, caraway, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt and cayenne. This exotic seasoning added the perfect touch to red and yellow bell peppers, Japanese eggplant and squash. Topped with cilantro and feta cheese, this was a great start to our afternoon. Sous chef Anthony Bartolotta displayed a huge wheel of Danish blue cheese and proceeded to make an amazing blue cheese dressing that topped grilled romaine lettuce. Grilled lettuce? Absolutely. Try it sometime. It’s delicious. Chef Sara Costello also braved the heat, lending both of the other chefs a big hand.
With the mercury hovering in the low 90’s, Chef Pickell kept the grill smoking as he assembled grilled pork tenderloin with black Mission figs, honey and rosemary. The air smelled delicious and the dish delivered what the aromas promised. A second meat dish? But of course. Our next offering was a grilled flatiron steak sandwich with roasted corn mayonnaise (whisked fresh on the spot) and grilled peppers on baguette.
Were we done? Not quite. Chef Steve had one more trick up his sleeve. For dessert he created grilled pineapple on flatbread topped with a creamy Marscapone cheese. Belly happily full, I bid farewell to our trio of chefs and Thornton winery and headed down the road to join some friends at their home overlooking lush vineyards.
I turned off De Portola Road and drove up the hill to join my friends as we shared wine and conversation and soaked in the incredible view of our magnificent Temecula Valley. We enjoyed a stellar Pinot Noir and then settled in for a grilled filet with roasted potatoes and a broiled tomato. With that we enjoyed a fine Napa Cab. What a perfect way to wrap up my first full day out after nearly two months under “house arrest.”
Sunday morning dawned gray, and then the fog burned off to reveal another perfect day with a high in the 80’s and a wonderful cooling breeze. Lorimar Winery opened the doors to their new wine country location right around the time I fell and injured myself. I ran into Chef Kelly Kingman in the morning and she told me she was heading there to prepare pizzas al fresco. That sounded like a good enough excuse to me, so I set my sights on Rancho California Road and a chance to try the highly controversial traffic roundabout. Those who feared this was a disaster in the making are so far being proven wrong. In my eyes, it’s a Godsend and I look forward to the additional circles that have been proposed.
I was thoroughly impressed when I saw Lorimar’s new facility. The last time I had visited the foundation was being poured. The finished product is stunning. I stepped inside and had a brief visit with winemaker Marshall Stuart, and then stepped out to the spacious patio where I stopped to visit with Kelly who was preparing handmade pizzas in a 575° oven. She prepared a half Mediterranean, half BBQ chicken pizza. The fresh tomatoes with Kalamata olives and feta cheese hit the spot. Co-owner Lawrie Lipton stopped by and brought me a glass of sparkling Grenache Rosé. The live acoustic music in the background added just the right touch. Temecula artist Jami Tobey‘s work is on display all this month. I highly encourage you to check it out.
As the day drew to an end, I met wife Laura at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. Francesca and Alessio are preparing to celebrate their restaurant’s 5th anniversary and it’s always a joy to see them. Alessio delivered a plate of fried squash blossoms and stuffed olives. We both enjoyed a delicious cioppino and I savored a glass of homemade limoncello for dessert. Ah, it’s so good to be back out.