An Evening at La Mar with Freeman Winery

At La Mar Cebicheria in San Francisco, even dessert comes with a little pisco.

The quenching, tart Pisco Sour may be the usual drink of choice at La Mar Cebicheria in San Francisco, but about once a month, the restaurant also hosts winemaker dinners.  And you know these events are guaranteed to be stellar when they’re presided over by the restaurant’s consulting wine director, Emmanuel Kemiji, a certified Master Sommelier who not only makes his own wine, but has worked with some of the best chefs in the Bay Area.

In fact, Kemiji was responsible for introducing me to one of my new favorite Pinot Noir producers — Freeman Vineyards and Winery of Sebastopol.

Freeman wines.

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for Oregon Pinot Noirs, with their more earthy profiles, rather than the jammy fruit-forwardness of so many California-style Pinots. Freeman Winery — owned by Ken and Akiko Freeman — make Pinots in that elegant style with notes of dark cherry, loamy mushroom and gravel. They are pure silky pleasure to drink.

Recently, I was invited to be a guest of the restaurant at a special dinner spotlighting Freeman wines. When the San Francisco fog gives way to warmer evenings, the wine dinners are held in the spacious back patio with its spectacular view of the Bay. But on a chilly night like this one, it took place at a long chef’s table beside the bustling kitchen.

The chef's table at La Mar is next to, but separated from, the exhibition kitchen.

La Mar is famous for its cebiches — raw seafood that’s “cooked” with citrus. But Pinots and Chardonnays typically clash with such acidic fish preparations, so there was no cebiche on our tasting menu that night. Instead, there was an amuse that paid homage — a shot glass filled with spicy, tangy, prickly cebiche-like marinade transformed into almost aperitif.

A wake-me-up amuse with the tang of cebiche marinade.

The first course arrived dramatically with a huge Gulf prawn standing upright in a mash of lima beans that actually tasted rather potato-like.

Gulf prawn with lima bean puree, peas and quail eggs.

Next came creamy pesto risotto with slices of ahi fanned out over the top. A creamy sauce of aji amarillo peppers added a whisper of heat.

Ahi with pesto risotto and aji amarillo sauce.

Those same chilies turned up to accent seared chicken, a dish with rich components of fresh cheese, potato cannelles and a soft-cooked quail egg in a dish that was a quite French-like.

Moist chicken with olives, aji amarillo cream sauce and quail eggs.

Next, my favorite dish of the night — fall-apart tender beef cheeks braised with red wine, and the Peruvian red pepper known as aji panca. The meat was deeply beefy. It’s like your favorite beef short rib — only 10 times better.

The beef came with mashed potato puree — one of several purees or mashes that night on the dishes, which were maybe one too many. It might have been nice to mix up the variety with a crisp vegetable or two instead on one of the dishes.

Heavenly beef cheeks.

Dessert packed a fun kick. A scoop of vanilla ice cream arrived atop a thin slice of buttery pound cake, along with two little glasses — one that held espresso and the other, pisco, the clear grape brandy of Peru. You pour as much as you want of each over the ice cream. Think of it as the Peruvian version of an Italian affogato, but with a tipsy finish.

After all, it may be a wine dinner, but you just have to have a little pisco in there for good measure.

More: My Q&A with La Mar Chef-Proprietor Gaston Acurio

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Date: Wednesday, 6. April 2011 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Enticing Events, General, Restaurants, Seafood, Wine

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13 comments

  1. 1

    I’ve only eaten here once but had an excellent dinner. I have been meaning to go back and your post is a good reminder. Sounds like a wonderful night.

  2. 2

    How lovely! And such mouth-watering presentations. I loved looking at them…such a big part of eating is looking. Then tasting. I sure hope I can visit here some day!

  3. 3

    […] My Dinner at La Mar Cebicheria Share and […]

  4. 4

    The prawn looks like a real art sculpture. ;) Good to know they have special winemaker dinners.

  5. 5

    I like that dessert! It’s a very interesting variation on affogato!

  6. 6

    what a great dinner!

    How long did you wait to catch a pic of that flash fire in the kitchen? LOL

  7. 7

    Nate: I didn’t have to wait long at all. I was just sipping a Pisco Sour before we all sat down to dinner, when I saw the cook in the corner of the kitchen flaming something in a pan. So, I put down my drink, and picked up my camera. ;)

  8. 8

    foodgal – What a great dinner! I noticed you had an alfajor on your dessert plate! Even though it’s off to the corner of your plate, the alfajor is actually a pretty big deal in Peru. It is similar to the classic shortbread cookie, and is accompanied by a smooth manjar blanco in the middle. A definite tasty treat!

  9. 9

    Ahh this brings back memories of Peruvian dinners that I’ve had here. We have a great Peruvian chef and I always look forward to his dinners!

  10. 10

    I had one of my best dining experiences at La Mar with two friends. We definitely ordered the cebiche tasting sampler and some pisco sours. I’ll have to go back and try the beef cheeks though – it looks amazing. Lucky La Mar is located right across from my office!

  11. 11

    Mel: Oh, believe you me, I snapped up that alfajor. I LOVE those cookie sandwiches and can’t resist buying them whenever I come across them at a farmers market or specialty store.

  12. 12

    I’m ready to go back! I love the location and the food is delicious.

  13. 13

    […] More South American Fare: La Mar’s Peruvian Cuisine in San Francisco […]

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