Eureka Springs Food & Wine Weekend was started in 1993, with most restaurants participating in this food lover’s event. November was a quiet month and the weekend was chosen because it was two weeks before Thanksgiving, and yet visitors could do some Christmas shopping while the weather was still very pleasant. All categories of restaurants are involved, offering everyone something to taste, such as a six course meal with wine pairings to a flight of wines.
My mom and I attended the recent Eureka Springs Food & Wine Weekend on Nov. 7-11. We could only make it for Sunday night, but managed to have a wonderful and delectable time in our less than 24 hours. (You can read more about that by clicking here.)
We were excited about our Wine Dinner at The Garden Bistro, so we arrived about 15 minutes early. The bistro is located in downtown Eureka, between the Eureka Springs Railway and the Grand Central Hotel in a charming turn-of-the-century home that has been converted into a restaurant. It’s known for its fresh food, and by that I mean its mission, which is “From the Garden, to Our Kitchen, To Your Plate.”
We started the evening with a special Bistro Cocktail – the Garden Mary. Now, I don’t usually care for Bloody Marys all that much, but this was no ordinary Mary. It was made with pureed veggies and was as beautiful as it was delicious with a toothpick of skewered colorful vegetable slices resting on top. It was even a bit chunky though we were still able to sip it through a straw. Our server, Irena Sivyer, playfully described it as “a salad with vodka dressing.”
Our taste buds were in heaven and we had yet to start the wine pairing dinner menu. We were having a six course meal with wine pairings at a cost of only $80 per couple. It was $60 for just the six courses and no wine. That’s a great price for all the food and fun that comes with it.
Lana Campbell is the owner and chef at The Garden Bistro. She came out to greet us and checked back with us at each course.
The appetizer was a Bok Choy Roll filled with Ahi Yellow Fin Tuna, sesame oil roasted peppers, onion, garlic and jasmine rice. It was presented on a creamy wasabi cilantro sauce that I thought would have a kick, but was surprisingly sweet. This warm roll paired nicely with Chateau St. Michelle Dry Riesling, a crisp, dry, refreshing Riesling with a hint of white peach and mandarin orange.
It was funny to me that this was the first wine on the list because I have become quite fond of this wine over the last 15 years. My husband and I just celebrated our 15th anniversary. His parents have been buying this wine for me for every family gathering for years because they once asked me my favorite wine and I said Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay. I didn’t have the heart to tell them until the last year or so that they had gotten it wrong.
Our next course was soup, a Pumpkin Bisque topped with a curry, honey crème fraiche. It did not have a strong pumpkin taste, nothing like pumpkin pie, which is the taste that springs to mind when I hear that word. It was a soft, subtle creamy goodness that still held its own against the sharper Kenwood Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which has fruit forward aromas of boysenberry and strawberry jam with spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. This was the most perfect combination of the night to me. I truly would have licked the bowl of bisque clean.
The salad was arugula and baby greens, dates, candied walnuts, red onion and apples topped with a caramelized onion, red wine, crushed peppercorn vinaigrette. The peppercorn of the vinaigrette kicked a lot of heat into this salad but was offset by a mellow Upper Cut Sauvignon Blanc. This California white wine had vivid aromas of lemon grass and key lime with a zesty citrus finish. It seemed almost bubbly.
The first entrée course was a scallop that was pan seared, then poached in fresh herb buerre blanc sauce and set atop a candied sweet potato slice. It was finished with a black truffle oil, honey crème fraiche. The textures of scallop and sweet potato played well together. It was served with what was my favorite wine of the evening, Matua Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I’m a big Sauvignon Blanc fan and this one was a vibrant acidic wine bursting with fresh gooseberry and zesty citrus aromas. It dares you to be distracted by anything but its superb taste and I was happy to oblige it with all my attention.
The second entrée course (and you know you are eating excellently when you have first and second entrees) was a choice cut 4-5 oz. filet mignon on a savory, earthy vegetable coulis with marsala sauce. It was paired with local root crops – beets, turnips and Yukon gold potatoes – as well as Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is an impressive concentration of dark fruits, black cherry, currant and fig aromas. Ripe, oaky tannins are balanced by fruity complexity. The full flavor of the wine was a faultless fit with the perfectly cooked filet. Its warm red center melted in the mouth. I have to admit I was halfway through this course before I remembered to try the wine because I was so enraptured by the food. As for the root crops, I’m always in awe and jealous of people that can take something as simple as a potato slice and make it taste so extraordinary. They were sliced and browned. I wish I knew what seasoning she used to make them simply delicious, even the turnip. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten a turnip before. Chef Campbell said that “when you get local turnips they have a different flavor.” Perhaps I should add them to my garden next year. The flavors of the vegetable coulis set the dish apart from other simple steak dishes. I was more than satiated by this point, but continued to finish as much of it as I could.
Dessert was shared, thank goodness. We couldn’t finish it even with two of us eating it – a Penthouse Pecan Smore Tower. It was a rich moist pecan brownie with a chocolate pecan icing on graham cracker dustings, drizzled with a marshmallow liqueur sauce, then topped with pecan pieces and chocolate shavings. I feel overcome by its richness again just in typing those words. I’m a chocolate lover, so this was absolutely divine to me. It went well with the bistro’s specialty coffee – Patron XO Café liqueur, a rich cocoa coffee flavored delight paired with locally ground coffee and cream.
Lana Campbell isn’t a classically trained chef. She said she learned to cook from growing up on the farm. “I learned how to cook using things that we grew.” I admire her ability to make the seasonal harvest taste so good and thank her for sharing it with us in her restaurant and by participating in the Food and Wine event.
Put the Eureka Springs Food & Wine Weekend on your “must go to” list for next November. There are wine pairing dinners like this and wine flights offered at restaurants all over town. Your taste buds will thank you. And try The Garden Bistro the next time you’re in Eureka Springs. An added bonus, it has plenty of free parking.