The first of a Wagyu and Whiskey dinner series at Two Birds One Stone Restaurant in St. Helena simply over- delivered. No other words can best describe the orchestration of flavors and textures that this event showcased.
Chef Doug Keane, in collaboration with Jim Geller and Kevin Reilly, shared their expertise on the subject. Keane, whose name is synonymous with captivating cuisine, delivered memorable experiences to many guests from his renowned eatery, Cyrus, (which is about to be reincarnated). After two appearances in the Top Chef Masters TV show, where he took the big prize on the first season, he is now at the helm of Two Birds one stone alongside Chef Sang Yoon.
Jim Geller, with three decades of experience and having lived in Japan, is one of the most important importers and suppliers of Wagyu (Japanese beef) in the United States.
Kevin Reilly, a Master Sommelier who oversees the beverage program at Two Birds One Stone, procured an extensive side-by-side pairing including the most famous Japanese whiskies rivaling some impressive American counterparts.
The evening kicked of with enticing and colorful small bites. The first beverage I chose was a glass of sake, Sawahime Tokubetsu Honjozo, from Tochigi Prefecture.
The first bite was a perfect square of silken tofu served with a blood orange segment and succulents. A good part of the greenery was farmed by Master grower Tucker Taylor.
The next amuse Bouche consisted of the most flavorful cured hamachi garnished with a flower petal and sea bean.
Shortly after, we headed to the private dining room. The cozy space has a rustic feel, and a glass partition separates it from the main room providing great acoustics. The group consisted of nine of us, including Jim, which made for an intimate and jolly evening.
Keane walked into the room carrying a butcher block holding three beautiful pieces of beef, all three of which were different in appearance. He explained the reason, which had to do with the cut and the country of origin.
Reilly greeted us with the first two pairings, Suntory’s Hakshu 12-year single malt from the Yamanashi region on Japan. This sake exhibits a wonderful array of smoke tones with a sharp and lean complexity.
Suntory was the first Japanese whisky brand dating to the early 1900s. By its side was the Michter’s Single Barrel Rye from Kentucky a spicy and rich Whiskey with a long lasting finish.
The first course, A5 Waguy Tenderloin Tataki was served with aged soy, tiny succulents and edible yellow flowers. The Tataki method, originated in the Tosa region of Japan, sears the outside of the meat leaving the center uncooked. This turned out to be a delightful dish with the combinations of char and raw flavors intertwined with the aged soy sauce. The texture was soft and tender thanks to the marbling of the cut.
For the second course, we enjoyed the Nikka Coffey Malt from Miyagyko, which exhibited barley tones with elegant savory notes. Its counterpart, Four Roses Single Barrel, Sang Yoon Selection Bourbon from Kentucky, a highly complex whiskey showed a hint of stone fruits, toast, caramel and a characteristic umami finish.
The pairing, a grilled American Akaushi striploin served with roasted daikon and ponzu was nutty and zesty, quite a mountain of flavor. The daikon was soft and tender, and ponzu, a soy and citrus sauce, added a complementary, bright component to the dish.
The Akaushi breed first arrived to the U.S. in 1994 and landed in Texas. Today it is widespread throughout the country. Its meat, like Japanese Wagyu, is heavy marbled due to the cow collecting fat between the muscle and not on the outside.
For the following set of whiskey, we encountered Suntory’s Yamazaki 12 Single Malt, a hard-to-find bottle these days in the United States. This Japanese whiskey shows balance between caramel and hints of smoke with a toasty and gentle finish. By its side was a modern American cult whiskey, Lone Whisker. This brand is fairly new to the market and not easy to come by due to its tiny production. A captivating campfire aroma dominates the nose transitioning into a sea of burnt caramel, stone fruit and coffee.
For the last of the savory presentations an A5 Wagyu striploin. A5 refers to the marbling grade, this level being the gold standard. Higher grades can be encountered but the fat content dominates over the meat.
This cut was served with a variety of crudités, which included asparagus and baby radishes. Tableside, an exquisite oxtail-umeshu consommé was poured over the bowl. The aromas had too many layers to describe; Mitsuba (Japanese parsley) finished the dish. The verdict: simply delicious. The meat melted in your mouth, the vegetables added a pop of brightness, and the broth was subliminal.
For dessert, we experienced the Nikka Taketsuru, Pure Malt 17 year, a perfectly aged complex beauty with layers of lightly roasted espresso beans, an underlying savory tone and a pleasant seaweed finish. It is no surprise this award-winning whisky delivered the promised land.
Taketsuru is considered the grandfather of Japanese whiskey — having traveled to Scotland in his youth to study the art of Scotch whiskey and applying the knowledge in his native country.
The dessert portion was unforgettable, a layered custard that consisted of a base of black sesame panna cotta with “shattered” white miso custard and matcha masago arari. The textures and flavors ranged from crunchy to creamy and sweet to savory. Hard not to lick the beautiful and artful bowl in which was served.
In the course of the evening, Jim shared his Wagyu knowledge along with some great anecdotes of his professional career. Keane’s culinary expertise was magically applied through every dish showing balance and purpose on every ingredient and preparation.
The Wagyu and Whiskey series will continue throughout the year; Keane mentioned most likely with a date in the next month. But he also said the experience is available at the restaurant for smaller groups as long as it is requested ahead of time.
For more information, check their website at twobirdsonestonenapa.com.