A Love Affair in Fort Worth

4.23pm, Powell St, San Francisco, California, USA
I have to squeeze these posts in on the hotel’s community computer, as you can’t get wireless in the rooms, so bear with me as I’m off and back on.

Thursday, 1st October: Cowtown (Fort Worth) Rewind
That particular morning started like a Stevie Ray Vaughan song “Well, there’s flooding down in Texas …”. The rain just dumping down, but it wasn’t cool. We headed over to Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana in Fort Worth to show our new releases to the retail and restaurant folk of Cowtown, and to catch up with our sales team from Prestige. Pay attention now, because that day in Fort Worth showed me a totally different style of food that they do over there that is not just Tex-Mex tacos done a different way. There is a Texan cuisine that incorporates Mexican condiments and cooking methods that is unique, and we were lucky enough to see two of the best!

Lanny's scallops

Lanny's scallops

From Lanny’s Kitchen, two dishes were standouts. The Chorizo-Wrapped Scallops, Housemade Angel Hair, and Mojo de Ajo actually had chorizo shaved to salami thickness and wrapped around the scallops prior to being seared off. The angel hair was a noodle made in-house the consistency of fairy floss (cotton candy for those from the USA), and the mojo de ajo was the spicy sauce made from dried chilis that everything else sat on. The winner with the dish – equal tie between the Eden Valley Viognier and the Bush Vine Grenache.

The other thing that was just so good was the dessert – cajeta creme brulee. It was made to go with the Botrytis Viognier, as it’s rich and in texture more of a gel than a cream. Cajeta is actually caramelised goats milk and has a toffeed characteristic all its own.

Then it was over to the other side of Cowtown – you have to go. There’s a lovely downtown area with the old style buildings and the Stockyards – the original home of the Texas longhorn herd auctions, having travelled in from all over central Texas. There’s a whole dose of old saloons and dance halls that are still open and having a hell of a good time keeping the Old West alive and kicking. Through listening to Bob Will’s records, I’d always sang along with the song “Big Balls in Cowtown”, never realising that that was the name of the dance hall and honky tonk up the top of the Stockyards. And it’s still there too. I get most of my info on great bars from songs, check out “Lee’s Liquor Lounge” in Minneapolis – I got that one from a Dale Watson song. And that place is definitely still there!

So it was off to Bonnell’s restaurant for a big consumer dinner – and to catch up with the owners Jon & Melinda Bonnell, whom we met 7 years ago when they visited Yalumba as part of their honeymoon in Australia. Thus started a mutual love affair, and we’ve had a bagful of wine on the list there ever since. Jon is the cook and is the king of Texan cuisine as far as I’m concerned. We’ve done a couple of trade lunches before, but this was the first proper consumer “Yalumba wines and Jon’s food matched to them” dinner that we’d done.

Jon Bonnell and his BBQ

Jon Bonnell and his BBQ

Excuse me whilst I write every dish up, and I’ve put in photos of everything – because you need to see this guy’s stuff. From the start to the finish – amazing combinations, and nothing but smiles and clean dry plates from the 60 diners! From the top – firstly this is Jon with his BBQ – a completely different unit to what we use at home. (Find the rest of the photos here.)

Firecracker Texas Shrimp with sweet chilli dipping sauce and Eden Valley Viognier 2007 - really succulent smaller prawns with some get up and go!

Smoked Baby Back Ribs (done in that big barrel BBQ in the picture) with Chipotle Barbecue Sauce, Grilled Watermelon and Southwestern Slaw and MGS (Mouvedre Grenache Shiraz ) 2006. Now, a bit of a translation. Chipotle is a fully ripened and smoked jalapeno chilli, and produces a rich dark smoky sweet result with slow burn heat. Layer that over sweet grilled but still crisp watermelon that was the base underneath the shredded cabbage and dressed “coleslaw” and you start to see why it just loved the chunky old fashioned sweet and dry MGS. Let alone the ribs with their fall off the bone meat! Yep – a goodie!

Australian Grass Fed All Natural Lamb Chop with Roasted Garlic Potato Croquettes and The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet 2003. A lot of oohs and ahs over this one, as lamb generally takes a back seat to beef in this state, so what a treat for folks to see it as tender as it was with just the right partner showing all the blackcurrant and mint eaucalypt aromatics and lush front fruit and French oak granuley length that Coonawarra can do in a skilled set of hands – thanks very much winemaker Peter Gambetta and chef Jon Bonnell!

But wait, just when you think it can’t get any better …

Australian Waygu Beef Top Sirloin with Huitlacoche Grits and Grilled Corn Salsa and The Reserve Cabernet Shiraz 2001. More translation is required! The beef was sensational as expected, but it was the sides that really shone out. You have to say Huitlacoche as “wheet-la-coach-ay”. It’s actually a fungus that grows on the tips of corn ears and “explodes” the corn kernels. It’s treated as a serious delicacy and is known as the Mexican Truffle. For us in Australia, when you see “grits”, think uncooked polenta. So this side dish is really truffled polenta presented in a “cup” made from tortillas and topped with roasted fresh corn kernels tossed in Jon’s secret spice mix! Beautiful stuff and went really well with the Reserve – let alone the beef.

And then … dessert.

Homemade Mini Ice Cream Sundaes with the Yalumba Antique Tawny. Now left to right, these cones were handmade from pie crust, and were Toffee Pecan, Strawberries & Cream, and Chocolate & Fig

The boy is good at the stoves, the floor staff are treated like family, and it’s no wonder we got hijacked to the bar and opened some more Antique Tawny and some Patchwork Shiraz afterward. No one wanted to go home, and I’m not surprised. Looks like we have a bona fide annual event now in Cowtown at Bonnells. And for the record – I’m already free that day!

PS Jon’s just done his first cookbook, and if you’re at all interested in the sort of food I’ve described above – have a look. It’s called “Fine Texas Cuisine” and has a heap of Jonny’s secrets inside.

So that was it for Cowtown, and we limped back into the Big D very late Thursday night for a big sleep. But we’ll be back – definitely!

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