May 2018

Wining and Dining at Alexander’s Restaurant & Wine Bar: Lagoon-side restaurant to host series of wine dinners

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

On April 10, as the Lowcountry shooed the last of the winter chill out the door, Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort welcomed spring at Alexander’s Restaurant & Wine Bar by inviting guests to partake in the first of its 2018 wine dinners, featuring La Crema wines and a most imaginative menu to match. CH2 was on the scene for an inside-out look and a chance to experience the full flavor sensation, along with many surprises.

The first surprise was the relaxing vibe. This was not your typical stuffed-shirt, extended-pinky kind of event. While the food, wine and ambiance were set for a most elegant evening, a palpable sense of cheer prevailed over any hint of pretense—a natural extension of the restaurant’s resort setting and friendly management style.

The staff at Alexander’s takes pride in presenting sophisticated food and fine wine in a non-intimidating atmosphere; special wine dinners allow the chef to pull out all the stops, offering guests an elevated dining experience in an intimate environment that feels familiar (like home, only with a private chef, attentive servers, and a clean-up crew).

“The reason to go to a wine dinner is to see the complement of the wine with the food as prepared by the chef,” said Brian Couey, Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort’s food and beverage manager. “At a wine dinner, you always find something different—a little off the beaten path. Some people may be foodies but may not be familiar with the wine—or vice versa. It’s a great opportunity to see the best of both worlds.”


Executive Chef Sean Carroll plates the first course.

La Crema Wine Dinner
To get the party started, upon arrival, guests were received in the newly renovated and expanded bar area, where a variety of hors d’oeuvres were passed, complemented by a refreshing La Crema pinot gris to wake up the taste buds. The 30-minute icebreaker gave the 40 attendees time to mix and mingle, setting the tone for a fun and social evening to follow.

Next, the group was invited to step out onto the screened porch, overlooking Palmetto Dunes’ tranquil lagoon, where long, community-style tables were dressed in white linen with gleaming crystal wine glasses awaiting the first pour. With a tantalizing four-course menu outlined, the room began to hum with anticipation as a composed, confident chef, Sean Carroll, made his way to the microphone for a brief explanation of his inspiration for the evening. “I really tried to get playful with this menu and give you guys something that maybe you wouldn’t have every day,” he said.

For the first course, staying on trend with the Hong Kong-style bubble waffle, Carroll created a soft, eggy, slightly sweet and airy accompaniment for his delicate spring greens with chicken cracklins, blueberries, ricotta and a white zinfandel (blush) vinaigrette. Served alongside a La Crema rosé from Monterey, the opening act was a subtle blend of flavors and textures to excite the most discriminating palate.

Enter Marita Esteva, who introduced herself as “the galactic brand ambassador” for La Crema, putting the crowd at ease with her genial personality and playful approach. (Officially, she is national brand ambassador, but she has her sights set on taking La Crema to Mars, she said.)

La Crema makes over 60 wines, according to Esteva, and the winery is considered the godfather of pinot and chardonnay. “We are all about the dirt,” she said, “La Crema is about capturing the essence of that fancy French word terroir, which means place. We own, experience and interpret the land in different areas, from Oregon all the way to Monterey—two extremes.”

The grapes in Monterey experience hurricane-level winds every day (75 mph), she said. “Because grapes can’t go inside and have a hurricane party, they have to deal with it.” They do this by shutting down and going to sleep during the day, which means you can keep them on the vine for a longer period of time, thus producing riper flavors while maintaining structure. Meanwhile, the wind coming off the ocean is coating the grape skins with salt, so you have that trinity of balance: sugar, salt, and acid, she explained, encouraging guests to notice the characteristics of the rosé set before them.


Jackie Andrus and Marita Esteva sip Rosé.

Moving on to the second course, Chef Carroll took off on a local theme with a Lowcountry perogi—a dumpling filled with pulled pork, plump shrimp, crispy rice, and Picholine olives, lightly dressed with a flavorful barbecue buerre blanc. La Crema’s French-oaked chardonnay from Monterey stood up to the complexity of the dish with its citrus and floral notes, round mouthfeel, and touch of spice.

Next, Carroll wowed his guests with charred hangar steak, served with Robuchon potatoes, Amish butter (for a higher fat content and more flavor, he said), carnival cauliflower, morel mushrooms, and romesco—a perfect match for La Crema’s deep, earthy pinot noir, produced in Oregon, where less sunshine (in comparison to California) allows the grapes to soak in the environment, Esteva explained. “It’s a great wine to taste from different areas around the world, because the pinot grape takes on its environment more than any other grape.”

Esteva continued to educate and entertain by sharing a few insider secrets. Knowledgeable yet witty and down-to-earth (“I know I get prettier as the night goes on,” she said), she invited guests to play a game, tilting her glass of pinot noir towards the table as she demonstrated the transparency of the wine. “Pinot noir is called the princess of grapes, very delicate, very thin skinned. If you can’t see through it, there is either a dye, a coloring agent, or a different grape added,” she explained, pointing out that all La Crema wines are 100 percent what they say they are on the label and are gluten free and completely vegan.

She also shared this practical drinking tip: On the rare occasion when you might not finish a bottle of wine, keep a clean, empty half bottle on hand so you can decant the leftover wine and keep it fresh longer. Eureka!

With the timbre of the room escalating, between courses, Esteva again surprised guests by suggesting a singalong. While reluctant at first, a couple of brave souls crooned a few bars of their favorite tunes, before the crowd broke into a rousing rendition of “You are my Sunshine.” For the record, no one was inebriated, just relaxed and going with the flow.

The fourth and final course, Carroll’s play on milk and doughnuts, was a crema catalana (Spanish-style custard and cousin to crème brûlée) with a side of vanilla malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts), lightly fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar. Dessert was accompanied by Villa Rey Caffe Vecchio, a rich, full-bodied gourmet coffee blend with an acidic character and hint of nuttiness.

Performance complete, Carroll emerged from the kitchen to take a final bow and thank his guests. “I hope you enjoyed eating it as much as we enjoyed preparing it,” he said, followed by clapping, cheers, whistles, and chants of waf-fles, waf-fles.

In addition to enjoying a memorable meal with perfectly paired wines, guests made new friends, shared lots of laughs and went home feeling contented—perhaps just a little happier than they were upon arrival. Isn’t that what a wine dinner should be?

Alexander’s Restaurant & Wine Bar will host its next wine dinner May 17, featuring Tuscan winery, Lamole di Lamole. Alexander’s is located at 76 Queens Folly Rd., inside Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort on Hilton Head Island. Dinner is served nightly from 5:45-10 p.m., with early dining available from 5:00-5:45. For more information, visit alexandersrestaurant.com; make reservations online or call (866) 921-6639.

How to get the most out of a wine dinner
Whether you are a connoisseur of fine wine (aka wine snob) or a newbie, a wine dinner is an excellent opportunity to learn more about wine, expand your culinary horizons, meet new people, and have fun. Here are some tips for making the most of the experience:

• Go with an open mind and sense of humor. Expect to be introduced to flavor profiles and presentations that are unfamiliar to you. Remember that the chef has carefully crafted the menu to complement the wines, so clear your mind of any preconceived notions of what you like or don’t like, and prepare to be surprised and delighted.

• Mingle with other guests. Introduce yourself to other participants and discover how your common interest in food and wine translates to a relaxing and pleasurable shared experience.

• Zero in on flavors being highlighted. A wine dinner is not the place to gobble down your food and answer texts under the table. Pay attention to the explanations offered by both the chef and the wine representatives; make a point to notice the subtle nuances of the food and wines and the way the flavors comingle.

• Be curious. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the wines presented by asking questions. No inquiry is too elementary, and chances are others have the same question.

• Purchase wine. While guests are never pressured to buy, representatives will make order forms available so you can stock up on your new favorites. Buying by the case is both economical and environmentally friendly, saving you time and money, while saving the earth’s resources by eliminating your need to burn fuel making extra trips to the store.

2018 Wine Dinner Series at Alexander’s
May 17: Terrazas & Numantha – A Spanish Inspired Evening
August 8: Lamole di Lamole, Tuscana w/ Erin Harris
September 18: Cliff Lede, Napa Valley
October 17: Rodney Strong, Russian River Valley
November 17: Michele Chiarlo, Piemonte w/ Erica Taylor
For details and reservations, visit alexandersrestaurant.com/wine-dinner.

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