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Cox: Pairings to Partake

  • Two oysters with white verjus and pickled cucumber are served at Partake by K-J restaurant in Healdsburg, an example of the wine-pairing focus. (CONNER JAY / PD)

A couple of decades ago, wine and food pairing rules were simple: white wine with fish and chicken, red wine with red meat.

But the American palate has gotten more sophisticated since then, and both foodies and wine lovers have grown more intrigued by the subtleties involved in matching the flavors in a food with the flavors in a wine.

Now Kendall-Jackson, Sonoma County's own wine behemoth, has come to the rescue with Partake by K-J, a restaurant — or is it a wine bar, or is it both? — in Healdsburg that's all about pairing foods with the company's 16 most popular wines.

Partake At K-J

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The emphasis at Partake is on the wine, with each of the 16 wines available as a 2-ounce taste or a 5-ounce glass matched to a small plate called a Chef's Pairing Recommendation. The food choices are made by Executive Chef Justin Wangler and his two chefs, Lucia Gama and Sarena Stern. This team is focused on how much pleasure a good wine and food pairing provides.

For instance, Two Oysters ($5, 4 stars) were paired with a $3 taste of the 2010 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from the Mendocino coast. And while raw oysters and Sauvignon Blanc make a classic marriage, the real pleasure came from the seamless merging of the sweet grapefruit flavor of the wine with the white verjus and minced pickled-cucumber mignonette on the Drake's Bay oysters.

Another pairing that stood out like a perfect marriage was a $5 taste of the 2010 Grand Reserve Merlot with a whole Tempura Maitake Mushroom ($8, 4 stars). The sweet Bing cherry flavor of the Merlot reflected the sweetened soy sauce that was used to finish the maitake. The mushroom's woodsy notes echoed in the woody oak used to barrel-age the wine. Salt in the tempura batter and in the soy finish tied the hot mushroom's flavors together.

Partake is in the room that once was Tre Scalini, a very good Italian restaurant, and has been several incarnations since — most recently chef Doug Keane's short-lived Shimo Modern Steak. It's now painted all white, with solid hardwood tables, couches and low glass coffee tables, a second room with a bar, and shelves filled with K-J wines, which can be purchased by the bottle for takeout as well.

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