Scratch the surface of a Cactus Club wine list and you’ll often find what constitutes an unlikely line-up of wines—for what we now refer to as “Casual Fine Dining” restaurants.
Much of the reason for more interesting than usual selections (especially at ‘flagship’ locations like Cactus Coal Harbour or Bentall V) is due to the work of Sebastien Le Goff. Aside from being the group’s service director, Le Goff overseas the wine program. And makes sure that the wines on offer are not only interesting but also work with the food.
It all sounds so simple but Le Goff (who’s also a founding member of the BC Chapter of the Certified Association of Professional Sommeliers) goes above and beyond. He source wines that are a cut above, yet still suit the style and budget at a given Cactus Club location.
Meet the Cactus Matchmaker
I was reminded again of Le Goff’s wine prowess this past week, as well as of the group’s ongoing inventiveness under chef Feenie. A media lunch at Cactus Club Coal Harbour highlighted several new tastes.
These include a spectacular Northern Divine Caviar “staircase” to be offered only at flagship locations, as part of an exclusive Chefs Table. (I find it fascinating that Cactus Club now competes with leading-edge independent luxury restaurants.)
All the wines Le Goff chose to go with Chef Rob Feenie’s plates were truly smart choices, and some were excellent.
Not always the most obvious pairings, they also offer some useful hints for what you can do at home.
These matches in particular jumped out…
With mildly spiced Albacore tuna sushi tacos, Le Goff needed a wine that would stand up to and also complement the soy chili dressing, without overpowering the delicate flavour of the fish. Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Chardonnay 2012 sports just the right balance of orchard fruit and acidity. It also has well-managed oak (only 20 percent new) and a sleek, mouth filling texture. It added the right element of umami for the texture of the tuna sushi. $30 at the winery. 91 pts. I absolutely loved this dish (and the pairing), which you “assemble” yourself. I can’t wait to taste it again.
For Feenie’s Cactus Club sous-vide, flash frozen halibut with pine mushrooms and chanterelle foam, Le Goff went with Lemelson Vineyards (Willamette, Oregon) Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir 2011. This medium bodied Pinot has red and black fruit up front before a gently spicy bright palate. It also sports distinctly earthy notes that picked up on the mushrooms. You won’t find this particular, pretty Oregonian (except at Cactus Club). Here was a textbook example of how a well balanced, truly elegant Pinot (much more used oak than new) can really show off even white fish really beautifully. It was a delicious combination. 92 pts. (You’ll have to wait to try this one as local halibut is now out of season.)
Curry can be a challenge—although you can usually defer to a white aromatic such as Gewurz or a slightly off-dry Riesling. But what to do when red meat’s on the plate? How about grilled lamb chops and Bengal curry—over Israeli cous cous, with a mango and mint chutney, to boot? (This is a generously portioned main course that yields plenty of protein with some really excellent, complex layers of flavours.)
Le Goff hauled out a ‘big gun’ from the Cactus cellar: Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel 2010. It’s a black cherry and anise toned treat with approachable but definite tannins and enough (again mainly used) oak that keeps the wood and toasty notes in check. 90 pts. Curry and Zin—why not? You could also try a medium bodied Syrah. But the key in all these wines is also, very much, their balanced oak profile.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning dessert: a new hybrid that should satisfy even the most demanding sweet tooth, Rob’s ‘Banoffee’ pie, a mildly uber-calorific indulgence that marries bananas, toffee and hand-whipped cream, with chocolate and salted caramel sauce. Much discussion at the table as to whether it should actually be known as “Bananoffee”! We’ll see.
Oh, and did I mention that every seafood item on this menu was Ocean Wise? Kudos to cactus Club for being, truly, a sustainable pace-setter!
(This post also ran in the North Shore News)