The Tasting Panel magazine

March 2014

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Page 32 of 128

32 / the tasting panel / march 2014 A Conversation with John Pisto Chef/Owner, John Pisto's Whaling Station Steakhouse, Monterey photos by John Curley BEHIND THE SCENES WITH FRED DAME Fred Dames: John, talk about déjà vu. I think the first time we sat down to talk about wine was 1975. I also recall sitting out in the parking lot with Lee Royal and a truck full of samples of what were then brand new wineries: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Dry Creek. Pull some corks and taste away. John Pisto: It seems like yesterday! I remember that we'd call Tom Kincheloe of American Shellfish in Moss Landing and he would load up the truck with samples of clams and oysters and hurry over. They were the first purveyor to purge the shellfish of sand. Before that it was a gritty business! Fred: I remember it vividly! Sitting on Cannery Row and tasting wines that are now legends and eating fresh shellfish. I think that John Steinbeck and Doc Ricketts would have loved it. John: When I look around Cannery Row today I can't believe it. All that open space where the fishermen, like my father, would dry their nets. I used to have 90 artichoke plants in what is now our parking lot. It's funny that now the farmer's markets, organic ranches and vineyards are all the rage. I was doing it in the '70s. Fred: And today we're drinking Talbott Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir. And it's delicious. Did you ever imagine back then that we would one day be sitting here drinking Pinot Noir from Monterey? The Santa Lucia Highlands didn't even exist as we know it today. John: I've enjoyed, and served, Robb Talbott's wines from the first vintage. I went to France for the first time in the middle '70s. Where else can a simple lunch become an event? Their approach to food and wine was so sophisti- cated. I loved it. This Talbott Pinot Noir reflects that philosophy perfectly. Fred: John, I used to come here for the Sicilian-style seafood. I can still taste the clams—vongole. But today you are a steakhouse. Why? John: Frankly, the quality of seafood that we get today is in my opinion not as good as it was back then. So I decided to shift to Midwest beef. I get all of my beef from Newport Meat Company in Irvine and dry-age it myself. I guarantee Prime beef will always be served here. I have my own aging room, saw and break-down table, and once I got into it I couldn't stop! Fred: John, I look at the list today and I am impressed with all the cutting- edge selections. I remember when you and I were doing French and Italian heavy lists but you've always stayed loyal to the Monterey vintners. But I see that you are really featuring the finest American wines today. How are sales since the change to American wines? John: They're great. I am especially pleased with our by-the-glass pro- gram featuring Ballard Lane. The house wines should be quality and like the names says, reflect the quality of the house. I also stopped a lot of time being wasted tasting wines that have no place on my list. Fred: John, to finish up—and if I see one more incredible steak go by I may attack the waiter—I always like to ask what you would change in the world of wine today. But I think I know the answer. Let's turn back the clock. I'll call Tom and have him get some clams and oysters, I'll bring some great new wines and we'll raid your cellar. Some things never change! John Pisto with Fred Dame, MS. Talbott 2011 Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highland's Sleepy Hollow Vineyard.

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