Celebrating Charlie Barra

by Mika Chall

From Left: Mika Chall, Cathy Curtis and Lisa Hasen

On August 28th, the culinary fates smiled on a group of 66 wine aficionados and discerning diners who had gathered at Masa’s Restaurant for a Slow Food dinner honoring long-time Mendocino winemaker Charlie Barra. The proceeds from the event were earmarked for Slow Food’s Youth Food Education Program in support of school gardens, childhood nutrition and healthy eating in schools―a program near and dear to the heart of many Slow Food members, including Naomi Freidman, who coordinated the event and is actively involved with school gardens.

Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, and Lorenzo Scarpone, leader of Slow Food, San Francisco, were in attendance. Each paid homage to Charlie Barra’s embrace of traditional farming methods and adherence to organic principles. The Barra family donated all the wines paired with dinner and each one reflected the integrity of their growing practices.


Masa’s jewel box setting―intimate, sophisticated and elegantly appointed, with subdued lighting―made us all look not a minute over 35. During cocktail hour, a crackerjack wait staff passed many rounds of canapés, including tuna tartare and the most ethereal gougѐres. The accompanying wine was a 2009 Mendocino pinot grigio. This light, well-balanced wine, with flavors of citrus and apple, was a friendly way to start the evening.

Our first course, pan-roasted Massachusetts day boat scallops, was served on a bed of cannellini beans, summer truffle, summer squash and truffle emulsion. The truffle, although less pungent than those harvested in winter, created a winning contrast to the sweetness of the scallops and beans.  The wine pairing was a full-bodied 2008 chardonnay with prominent flavors of ripe apple and Meyer lemon.

For the next course, Chef Gregory Short sautéed Tolenas Farms white quail and served these juicy birds with toasted farro, mission and kadota figs, green leeks, and quail jus. It was another notable combination of flavors and textures enhanced by Barra’s 2007 pinot noir―a fruit-forward pinot that garnered a Silver Medal in the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2011 wine competition.

Pan-Seared Rib Eye of Stone Valley Farms Pork

Our entrée, pan-seared rib eye of Stone Valley Farms pork and braised shoulder, was plated with a ragout of white corn, cepe mushrooms, fingerling potatoes and pork-infused sauce. One taste of this flawless combination and I understood why, in 2001, while Chef Short was working at the French Laundry, Thomas Keller nominated him for the Bertoli Sous Chef Awards Competition. He took first place. Our 2006 Mendocino sangiovese, a medium-bodied wine with flavors of jammy fruit and aromas of sandalwood, clove and raspberry, was a first-rate pairing.

Green Pluot Frangipane Tart

Of course there’s always room to scarf up a homey dessert―green pluot frangipane tart with honey buttermilk ice cream and honeycomb.  Heavenly.  We drank Barra’s 2007 muscat canelli, with aromas of honeysuckle and pear, and a good balance of sugar and acid.

It was an exhilarating evening of vibrant food, perfect wines and delightful table mates.

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