The Yellow Dog Café truly is one of the area’s most beautiful waterfront venues, where the manatees play and the dolphins leap just outside its panoramic windows on the riverside in Malabar. This visit was for a dinner that featured the wines of American vintner Rodney Strong, including some pleasantly surprising stuff.
It took place in YD’s magnificently redone downstairs room, which now is ringed with big, bold (but not obnoxious) artwork and features elegantly set tables and that spectacular view of the riverfront.
The evening’s festivities have started with Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2009, a lovely, crisp wine with just enough notes of fruit (a bit of pear, if you please) to make it interesting and nothing sweet about it. It is served with cubes of melon dressed with a balsamic jelly that would be marvelous with lamb, pork, or, in our opinions, just about any grilled meat. Lamb stands out here though, and Stuart agrees.
Yellow Dog actually stopped doing wine dinners, having been rather prominent for them for several years.
"About 10 years ago, everyone started doing it, but the prices grew ridiculous . . . They would charge more for wine dinners than we would charge for menu items,, and they required (a lot of planning) so, because we were so busy, we just stopped," Stuart Borton said. "Not long ago, our junior chef (Miles Matthews) said, 'Can I do a wine dinner?' so I said, Let’s see what you can do."
The result clearly was positive, visible in this five-course presentation.
The second wine on the tables is a Davis Bynum Chardonnay 2007, a full-flavored Russian River white that is 75 percent barrel-fermented with the creaminess that is imparted by malic acid. It is served with tuna carpaccio topped with a fennel slaw which, thankfully, is not too heavy on the seeds. The accompanying arancine was marvelous: cheesy, ricey, creamy and perfectly fried. This belongs on the menu.
The Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2007 is another Russian River product, a toasty thing aged in French oak that’s a little more redolent of apple and notes of butterscotch, with a nice, long finish. It really is s surprisingly nice Chardonnay, worthy of consideration by those who aren’t particularly fond of whites in general or chards in particular.
It was served with one of the most exceptional scallop presentations you will ever savor: a large, perfectly seared sea scallop topped with a lovely caper-raisin relish and a cardamom and ginger sauce that Yellow Dog really should consider bottling. Everything about this dish is perfect: no drowning-in-sauce, no overwhelmed-by-spice, no intrusive garnishes: an absolutely wonderful dish that should be shared with the dining public. It also belongs on the menu.
The reds started with Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 2006, which is all pinot noir and no syrah, as opposed to some members of the genre. This one is a rather big wine, with hints of cherry. It was served with a completely unique dish, suckling pork ragout with orrechietti and a dollop of gremolata. This is a great, stick-to-the-ribs meal.
The oenic piece de resistance was a Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, a big, bold wine that is everything you’d want in a good cab: a glass-coating, palate-loving delight. It was paired with a remarkable grilled prime strip steak, which was sliced thickly and served over potato rosti and topped with a chunky chimichurri. Again: this belongs on the menu.
The final wine of the evening is a darling of lovers of American ports, Rodney Strong True Gentleman 2006. It is just sweet enough to remind the drinker that it is port and just piquant enough to remind him or her that it is wine; a very winey port. It was served with orange-vanilla pastry cream filled mille crepe cake.
The dinner was a triumph for the restaurant and the winemaker. It also should serve notice of two additional things: 1) It’s official: Miles Matthews is a force to be reckoned with among Brevard County cooks; 2) Yellow Dog Café remains one of the most vibrant restaurants in the area and can hold its own in the “gourmet” genre as well as it does in the more casual area that diners here have come to love.
If you have the opportunity to attend one of the Bortons’ wine dinners, by all means, go. You will not be disappointed.