Holly Grove Vineyard and Chef Johnny Mo, A Fantastic Combination

by: Marlene email

"Wine and Dine" at Holly Grove Vineyards near Cape Charles, VA

Last Saturday night’s  “Wine and Dine”  at  Holly Grove Vineyards  near Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore of Virginia  was the most fun I have had at a winery in a very long time.   Johnny Mo,  cooking and singing  Chef Extraordinaire and  Jonathan Best,  proud vineyard owner explaining his wines,  was a fantastic pairing indeed.  Certainly the approximate 40 other attendees were completely enthralled, as were  Eldest Daughter,  my husband and myself.  Held in the winery building,  with Hungarian oak puncheons lining one wall,  lending the cozy warm feel of wood to the candlelit room and gleaming steel fermentation tanks lining the other wall,  the  5 course meal and wine pairing began about 7 pm,  just as the setting sun was painting the fluffy clouds over the vineyard in wine colored shades of rose’ and burgandy.  And things were still going strong at 9:30  when the silky banana creme brulee’  dessert  was served, signaling the near end of a truly delightful evening.

Jonny Mo plays the guitar for the audience.

Johnny Mo, Chef Extraorinaire, song writer and guitar player entertained everyone at the dinner with his new song, "Living on the Eastern Shore."

Chef Johnny had set up a well-equipt cooking station  positioned so that everyone could see him as he presented the  “how-to”  preparation tips for every course on the menu.  As  the wine for the appetizer was being poured,  Holly Grove’s  semi-dry and crisp  “Sunset Rose’,  ”  Chef Johnny, a rather flamboyant yet laid-back personality, started the evening off  by getting out his guitar  ( one of  many from his apparently large collection of classic guitars)  and sang a song from his new CD  album,  written by him and called  “Living on the Eastern Shore”  ( yup,  it’s so great here people even record songs about it ).   From there,  it was on to the demonstration of  preparation of  the appetizer,  Seared Ahi Tuna over Sushi Rice with Seaweed Salad and  Sriracha  Chili Sauce Aioli.   I don’t eat any fish that isn’t fully cooked but my husband is a sushi enthusiast  so the lucky guy ended up with a double portion,  which he pronounced  “delicious”.

Chef plates his tangy roasted red pepper bisque with the goat cheese "secret ingredient".

The tuna was followed by a red pepper bisque.  Chef explained in great detail the time- honored method of roasting peppers over a flame until well charred,  popping them into a paper bag until the skins are soft, slipping the skins off and seeding,  then slicing the peppers.  Then,  smiling  coyly and to the amusement of the audience,  he held up a large jar of commercially prepared roasted peppers and said  ” Or you could just buy them like I do.”    The “secret ingredient”  in his bisque was goat cheese,  which lent an interesting tang to this otherwise creamy and mild soup.  It was served with a wedge of crunchy jalapeno cornbread placed in the middle of the bowl and accompanied by a large dollop of cream.  ( Johnny loves cooking with cream,  unfortunately for my waistline,  so do I. )   Paired with the bisque was  Holly Grove’s 2008 Merlot,  whose unique toastiness Jonathan Best  attributes to the way it is aged in Hungarian oak barrels.  It was perfect with the salty tartness of the goat cheese.

Exhibit of the various dinner courses and the Holly Grove Vineyard wines with which they were paired

A salad of  orange slices came next,  finished with toasted walnuts,  long curls of an excellent parmesan cheese and a citrus vinaigrette.  Chef prefers Cara-Cara oranges for this dish when available as they are seedless with deep colors  and extra vitamin C.  I have been buying Cara-Cara oranges in bulk at Costco for years and was gratified that someone else loves them as much as we do.  He also demonstrated the best way to peel and slice the oranges and then made the vinaigrette. Chef emphasized that when making a dressing with citrus juice,  the proper proportions are 1/3rd juice to 2/3rds olive oil,  plus a good dollop of honey and some sweet herbs.  Served with the salad course was  Holly Grove Vineyard 2010  “Coastal Trio”,  a very smooth blended white wine whose 2009 vintage won the Silver in the Town Point Wine Competition.

Johnny Mo cooks and Jonathan Best discusses his wine

The luscious Lobster Cream Sauce broth bubbles and reduces as Johnathan Best discusses "Genesis", the Holly Grove red wine served with the entree'.

Next on Chef Johnny’s demonstration list was the dish everyone was waiting to learn about- –  his signature  version of  Surf and Turf…. Filet Mignon with Lobster Cream Sauce !  Guaranteed low cal, ha, ha, ha !   Starting with containers already filled with the main ingredients for the sauce, lobster meat, shrimp and clam juice, Chef  sauteed a bit of garlic in a butter-olive oil combination and then added some white wine,  in this case  Holly Grove Chardonay  and  the clam juice and let it simmer until reduced by half  while chopping the lobster meat and the peeled shrimp.  Once reduced,  the seafood chunks were added to the aromatic broth which was then thickened with cornstarch  (which is Chef’s favorite thickner and mine as well,  forget lumpy flour or making a roux).  The very last ingredient was,  of course,  the heavy cream because after all this is a Lobster Cream Sauce.  The filets,  fresh off the Vineyard’s monster-sized grill,  were plated on a nest of sauce and lobster chunks and accompanied by a mushroom couscous and haricots vert.  Absolutely divine and paired with my favorite wine of the evening,  “Genesis”,  a medium bodied  red,   perfect for the filet-lobster combo.  Everybody raved about this entree !   I ended up buying Johnny Mo’s cookbook on sale in the vineyard store to be sure to have the recipe for this luscious  sauce.  ( Plus he wrote a very nice  inscription to Eldest Daughter and included his CD  “Cook with Me”,  which should be fun too.)

Relaxing after dinner at Holly Grove Vineyard

Relaxing At The End Of A Delightful Dinner At Holly Grove Vineyard's "Wine and Dine" event.

All good things must come to an end and the ending to this wonderful meal was a banana creme  brulee’,  rich and creamy,  not too sweet,  with just the right touch of banana and topped,  southern-style,  with some crunchy mini-vanilla wafers  instead of the traditional crispy burnt sugar.  It was Chef’s mother’s and  neice’s birthday so while the rest of us were savoring our creme brulee’,  he sent out a fabulous looking little cake to their table and everybody  joined in to sing an enthusiastic  chorus of   “Happy Birthday,  Mommy-O and Leslie”.  The wine pairing was a very nice sweet white with a bit of acidity,  the well-named 2010 “Celebration”.    A  huge round of applause ended the evening.   Everyone had loved the wines and the food and the absolutely unique Johnny Mo,  that singing,  song-writing,  guitar playing,  joke-cracking  top notch chef !   I’m really looking forward to the next Johnny Mo at  Holly Grove event,  hopefully to be scheduled every quarter from now on,  definitely we will try to be there every time !   

P.S.  Check out Holly Grove  wines at  www.hollygrovevineyards.com .  Johnny Mo is the beloved chef at Mallard’s  Restaurant which overlooks  the water at  the Wharf in Onancock, VA,  www.mallardsllc.com .  Johnny  also sells his spice blends, etc. on-line at  www.chefjohnnymo.com .

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