The Tasting Panel magazine

March 2012

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CHEF TALK Scents Of Sonoma I LASALETTE'S CHEF MANUEL AZEVEDO BRINGS PORTUGUESE CULTURE TO SONOMA story and photos by Suzie Rodriguez n 1998, when Chef Manuel Azevedo opened LaSalette, a highly-rated Portuguese restaurant in Sonoma, California, he found it difficult to obtain wines from Portugal. "These days," he says, "it's much easier." And it's bound to become increasingly so, because Portugal, along with its fabulous cuisine and excel- lent wines, seems poised to garner long-overdue attention in the U.S. The White Port Tonic pairs with this chourico- crusted scallop dish. White Port Tonic ◗ Fresh lemon wedge ◗ Taylor Dry White Port or Churchill's White Port (sweet) ◗ Tonic water ◗ Fill an Old Fashioned glass ¾ of the way with ice. Squeeze the lemon over the ice and place rind atop the ice. Fill the glass halfway with white port of your choosing. Fill to the ¾ level with tonic. Insert a black straw and serve immediately. For starters, this year the small country is home to 12 Michelin-starred restaurants (two have double stars). The New York Times included Portugal's sun-drenched Algarve coast—site of the January 2012 International Gourmet Festival—among this year's top travel destinations. The capital city of Guimarães, named "2012 European Capital of Culture," expects 1.5 million tourists this year. And all of this follows on the heels of last year's Society of Wine Educators Conference, held in Rhode Island and based around Portuguese food and wine. Why has it taken so long for Americans to appreciate the wine and food of Portugal? Some wine experts theorize that Americans, habituated as we are to varietal-based wines, are skeptical of Portuguese wines, which are usually made from a blend of native grapes. In Portugal, wine labels focus on the region and producer's name; if the grapes are named at all, they appear on the back label. To many Americans, this approach seems like an alternate wine universe. As for Portuguese cuisine, it isn't easily categorized. Big-flavored and lusty, it's at once simple and exotic. It's a healthy cuisine that uses a great deal of fish and produce, but also includes ingredients not seen at cafés on Main Street. "A menu that contains items like tripe, pig's ears and blood sausages," says Azevedo, 50 / the tasting panel / march 2012 "tends to attract people who have traveled, who know the world." Azevedo, who emi- grated in the 1960s from Portugal's Azores Islands, points to his homeland's fascinating culinary history. "Portuguese people have traveled the world Chef Manuel Azevedo. for centuries," he says, "bringing back to Europe prized ingredients such as tomatoes and hot peppers, or spices like black pepper, cinnamon, saffron. We've left the mark of our cuisine all over the globe. In each former colony—Goa, Macau or Mozambique, for example—Portuguese cuisine takes on its own style. And that too makes its way back to the mainland." At LaSalette, Azevedo continues this centuries-long tradition of culinary adaptation, combining the Sonoma region's bounty of fresh produce, fish and farm products with traditional Portuguese flavors (garlic, vinegar, wine, port and "lots of paprika"). He utilizes both tradi- tional and modern techniques in his kitchen. The California wines on LaSalette's menu come mainly (but not only) from Sonoma and Napa Counties. Excellence and compatibility with Portuguese food is the starting point, but after that "I make a lot of choices based on relationships. I like smaller wineries like Peter Spann or David Noyes—mom-and-pop opera- tions. After all, I'm a mom-and-pop too."

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