Recent holiday travel brought me to Disneyland in Anaheim, California where I went with friends to relax. On the way to the resort, I heard nearly fantastic tales of a particular chef who made dining at the Wine Country Trattoria a magnificent adventure. The friends with whom I traveled have extensive lists of allergies which occasionally prohibit them from eating many foods that are not always allergies for other people. There are also more-common allergies, but akin to second tier technical support, their food issues usually go beyond the go-to solutions typical for allergies. As mentioned in an earlier post, I follow a diet sans coffee, alcohol, tea, and even cola products although I do not share their allergies and sensitivities.
According to the friends, Disneyland has a policy with dining that when describing allergies and similar issues, diners talk directly with the chefs. Considering the chefs run the lines, keep up with orders, keep charge of food purchases, handle schedules for timing kitchens for prepping courses for reservations and walk-in’s when the dining room gets slammed, (and front house defers to them and follows orders with military precision), this is a big deal. I have no personal experience with internal workings of professional kitchens, but one of the friends of our trio worked with back and front house for sixteen years. A Food Network junkie, I learned a little from watching the different line-kitchen shows, reading Michael Ruhlman books (The Making of a Chef, The Soul of a Chef, and The Reach of a Chef), and watching Ratatouillie. My experience comes from four generations of fantastic cooks and bakers who sold pies to department stores and sold candy across the East Coast, growing up cooking at home and with Church functions, and trying food from LA, NY, DC, and Chicago learning what is good, what to expect, and what works.
Chef Frances Vogt (permission granted to use her name), Assistant Chef at Golden Vine Winery (Wine Country Trattoria) is a magician. She is Mickey from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice if the apprentice got it right the first time. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu-Paris, across Europe and the United States, Chef Frances is creative, spunky, warm, and extremely intelligent. She readily accepted the challenges of my friends and exceeded expectations thoroughly. Newer to the Trattoria, she also works with Chef David, a chef with a great smile whose eyes lit up and twinkled when hearing of a customer’s love of seafood.
Never over-done, Chef Frances is a natural legend in her time. A writer-friend from Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn once taught me that a person eats with their eyes before they eat with their mouths. She is right. Although one friend contemplated the Quattro Pomodoro this first night, Chef Frances chose an off-menu item for him. “Yes, Chef!” The normal lunch or dinner menu and World of Color Menus are solid and regular substitutions typically satisfy needs. Instead of Quattro Pomodoro, one friend ate a stroganoff of divine contemplative origin from Chef this night. The other friend had a beautiful chicken and vegetable menu dish, perfectly complimentary to the mushroom-tomato-Parmesan bruschetta appetizer, and the Fritto Misto from paradise. Calamari done right (not chewy but tender and delicate), mussels without a metallic aftertaste (with a tiny touch of sand, but I think that depended on the mussel), and yummy bites of beans and artichoke that left one not in food coma, but in trance of bliss. For the two seafood lovers at the table, sheer heaven.
My entrée was technically on the World of Color menu, but went perfectly for my mood. I did not know what to expect when opening up the menu to whatever the chefs felt like knowing my seafood obsession and personal preference against broccoli, but had a grand time. The scallops were perfect. Larger scallops (silver dollar size) are less chewy, lighter in flavor, and pack a less-intensive punch than their smaller cousins. Ocean scallop fibers are more like poultry if cut cross-grain while still retaining impeccable tenderness with fresh flavor. The balanced combinations between the seafood and tomato acid, combined with solid good spaghetti made me happy. Having eaten the World of Color menu item before, but not seeing it on the regular menu, it was coming home after a long day to a good meal with a perfect breeze on the patio, complete with soft Spanish music and soft (nearly sweet) water with lime. For this evening, the balsamic vinegar/oil and variety of glutenous and gluten-free breads were sweet and heady.
My dessert was the perfect chocolate chip cookie accent to vanilla ice cream. Reading Hannah Swenson books concerning the perfect chocolate chip cookie (buttery, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside), I wondered if such a thing existed, especially for friends with gluten and other sensitivities. All of the desserts brought out were edible by anyone at the table. Upon consuming the cookie at the end of my dreamland meal, the cookie tasted like the book’s description: I could taste the butter, and the crumb of the cookie was perfect for the texture of the ice cream. This was not just a cookie and ice cream. It had depth of ingredients and followed the meal beautifully.
Chef Frances asked our party to show her pictures from our night of “Glowing with the Show,” the current World of Color promotion. “Yes, Chef!” We took her request seriously, and back we came again the next day for lunch complete with pictures on smart phone. This time, Chef Frances made a guest a true pomodoro for the previous night’s stroganoff, then another guest the delectable arugula, fennel, goat cheese, and fig salad, and then my Tuscan Salad with grilled shrimp where Chef Frances used a light vinaigrette and portioned each of our entrees for diners who hadn’t had time for breakfast but still needed park time and walking ability.
Between us, we agree that Chef Frances deserves knighthood. Chef David increased in our mutual respect and admiration, and overall the experiences were magical. Going above and beyond is the mark for this restaurant, and we hope to patronize it for many years to come.