On a recent trip to Paso Robles, we were lucky to attend a pretty magical dinner at Venteux Vineyards in nearby Templeton. It was a beautiful, warm summer night made complete by Chef Eric Cioffi’s Tuscan menu. The delicious wine didn’t hurt either, and owners Scott and Bobbi Stetzle made sure it flowed and flowed.
Cioffi took a “locavore” approach to creating the rustic Italian dishes, which were served family style to about 30 guests on the old-timey porch of the vinyard’s b&b. Ninety percent of the ingredients came from farms within 10 or so miles of the winery. “Every time I do a dinner at Venteux, I try to meet a new face, a new farmer, a new friend,” Cioffi told me.
Cioffi is a self-taught amateur chef, but there was nothing amateur about his execution. The freshness, flavor and detail of this meal rivaled some of my most memorable food experiences, even in actual Tuscany. He simply says he prefers food with “soul”. Someone give this guy a restaurant already!
The first course was a Parpadelle with Duck Ragu. So delicious. Made with cherries steeped in Zin Alley port, the ragu was a heavenly mix of sweet and savory. The fresh pasta, which was hand rolled and cut, was as much of a main attraction—the chef credited its silky texture to “lots of yolk.”
Next up was Pork Loin with Spinach and Ricotta. The pork came from Charter Oak Style Meats and Rocky Canyon Farm (great article here), both dedicated to producing organic, naturally fed meat. It was extremely juicy with just the right amount of fat. And the ricotta, well, what bad things can you say about ricotta?
Dessert was lemon cake, topped with a giant dollop of whipped cream and served with fresh berries. The lightness of the cake was the perfect complement to the hearty meal—I loved the tart flavor and the fluffy texture. I also love that it was served with limoncello. Though I probably should have stopped after one glass, but I never learn my lesson.
I can’t wait for the Chef Cioffi’s next dinner at Venteux. I’ve been dreaming about it while sipping on the fab Farmhouse Cuvee–we actually bought all the reds they served at the meal, so kudos to Venteux for their delicious marketing scheme.
P.S. Chef Eric Cioffi live in the LA area and is available for private dinners. Write me and I’ll put you in contact with him.