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Rockin’ the Moroccan food in the Vail Valley

Wren Wertin
wren@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado
Paul Wertin/Special to the Vail Daily Vail Valley Dining: Anneka Foushee entertained attendees by playing on a variety of drums, accompanies by Moroccan music, over the course of the evening.
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VAIL, Colorado – It ended with drums, sweet almonds and the occasional chirp of a Balinese frog. Sleepy, full bodies lazed against the banquettes spinning tales, and there probably should have been a hookah making the rounds. Pollyanna Forster, Chris Irving and Jenna Johansen of dish started their Wine Dinners Out Of the Box series Wednesday night. Forty people piled into three communal tables in the back room for a Moroccan feast paired with wines from Lioco Winery of Sonoma County.

That’s right: California wines were paired with traditional Moroccan cuisine. It was a first for many – including winemaker Matt Licklider who was there with his drumming bride, Anneka Foushee. Damned if they didn’t pull it off.

“I’ve been to probably a thousand wine dinners,” Forster said. “And every single one starts with a savory dish, then a salad, a pasta, a meat and then we have dessert. So we wanted to do something different, pique people’s interest. By incorporating food that people wouldn’t normally have – and having everyone eat with their hands while there’s Moroccan drumming – it’s going to be different.”

The evening started with sparkling wine laced with pungent saffron syrup, but the festivities began in earnest with the shake of a tambourine. Johansen sent out large platters of carrot and garlic salad, orange and olive salad, and sweet roasted eggplant crowned with tomatoes. At the tables, we curled our fresh naan bread around the savory dishes, popped them into our mouths and washed everything down with Lioco’s 2008 rose of pinot noir. The lean wine wouldn’t have been out of place on a summer patio with a bowl of fresh strawberries; as it was, it gave an impression of effervescence without actually being so. It seemed to hold aloft all of the food’s sharp, intensely spiced flavors, and then smooth them out.

The dinner progressed amicably, with Forster or Linklider popping up occasionally to pour or talk about the wines. Foushee divided her time between a trio of drums (she used to teach drumming classes to kids) and her spot at one of the tables. Others would sometimes sit next to her and pick up the hollow Balinese frog, a percussive wooden instrument.

Lioco wines are the product of a partnership between Linklider, who used to sell wine in the valley, and Kevin O’Connor, a sommelier at a slew of notable restaurants. After talking about making wine for years, they decided to do it.

“Matt’s wines in particular are very terroir driven,” Forster explained.

“Lioco wines are about clean farming, clean horticulture, clean winemaking,” Linklider said. “We’re trying to make wines that are honest and pure.”

They don’t grow their own grapes, but buy them from local farmers. That allows them a lot of variety in their wines, and they’ve been adept at seeking out unusual grapes. From the stony and floral Demuth Vineyard chardonnay to the spicy Indica old-vine carignan blend, the six Lioco wines were diverse and addictive. And every bottle had a story Wednesday night – the grapes came from a foggy, wet coastal region and were so intense because the multiple stresses on the vines, or they were currently unfashionable grapes and thus a good bargain – and each one paired beautifully with the multiple courses that came out of Johansen’s kitchen. Sauteed skate with the brownest of all brown butter, sweet fava beans, chicken and date pastries hit with honey and cinnamon, winter-thick lamb tagine: The combinations were heady and exotic.

And that was the entire point. Forster wanted people to feel like they were in a wind-whipped desert, seated on cushions on the floor of a large tent. Most of us sat next to strangers, and as we got deeper into the Moroccan cuisine and California wine we sifted through the stories of the people around us. It was a one-of-a-kind evening.

The Moroccan evening is just the beginning of the dish wine dinner series. Next up is a dim sum evening paired with grower’s Champagnes. Following that will be an Easter-time lamb feast, working from the nose to the tail with lamb in every course. The dinners are priced at $55 per person and include all the wine, food and occasional entertainment. Though really, entertainment isn’t necessary. At dish, the party’s on every plate.

Special Sections Editor Wren Wertin can be reached at wren@vaildaily.com.


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