BELLEVUE, Wash. — Rick and Ann Yoder created the benchmark for Pan-Asian cuisine with Pacific Northwest wines in 1989 when they launched Wild Ginger in downtown Seattle.
That recipe for success continues to fit deliciously for their fans on “The Eastside” who need only drive to The Bravern in Bellevue, where Wild Ginger’s luxury brand neighbors at the tony two-tower high-rise includes stores for Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Neiman Marcus.
Many Bravern residents also appreciate cooking at home, with Seattle’s iconic kitchen store Sur La Table just an elevator ride away.
Therein lines some irony. The Yoders launched Wild Ginger 25 years ago near Sur La Table’s flagship store at the Pike Place Market. Yet the origins for their dishes require extensive, hands-on research, and the Yoders’ annual travel partner is executive chef Jacky Lo, who collaborates with culinary director Nathan Uy to bring these ideas to reality in both restaurants.
“They constantly are looking for new flavors or ways to integrate those authentic Asian flavors — from Malaysia, from Cambodia, from Thailand — into the cuisine here,” said wine director Cortney Lease. “Both are very traditional in the Asian culinary aspect. It’s where they learned to cook, and it gives them a very strong connection to the food they are producing. And they’re always looking to bring in new dishes.”
This summer marks the 25th anniversary of the restaurant company founded by the Yoders, who met as students in the University of Washington fisheries department. Their inspiration stemmed from frustration, a struggle to find dishes in Seattle similar to those they enjoyed while traveling in southeast Asia. Rick put himself through college while working at renowned McCormick & Schmick’s Fish House and Bar, so they dreamed of a concept focusing on authentic cuisine from Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam with Western-style service, style and wine. The list is heavy on Riesling, regional labels and bottles from around the world.
The depth to which the Yoders continue to develop their culinary program is apparent at each of their three restaurants, which includes the Triple Door adjacent to Wild Ginger in Seattle. Their longtime staff is led by Uy, who escaped from Cambodia in 1975, and Lo, a native of Hong Kong.
“In the past two years, I’ve been to Vietnam and Singapore,” Lo said. “We’re trying to find authentic recipes and see what’s going on in the other parts of the world. We bought quite a bit of fun stuff in Malaysia. A majority is being shipped to Bellevue. There are some interesting clay pots and a giant cast-iron pan that weighs 180 pounds. Once we get those in, we’ll try some new recipes.”
Each year, Lo also travels to California and Vancouver, British Columbia, and returns home to Hong Kong nearly every year for research. He will then collaborate with Uy.
“Nathan, he’s the guy behind a lot of these foods,” Lo said. “We’ll look at the recipes, see what makes sense and what kinds of execution we can do when we are doing dinners for 400-500 people a night.”
Lo then takes the recipe, loads it into the computer with photographs to serve as models for presentation, and trains the staff. There’s little turnover in the kitchen, Lo said, in large part because of the Yoders.
“I’ve only been here five years, but it’s been so comfortable, it seems like I’ve been here 20 years,” Lo said with a chuckle. “Everyone is like family, and Rick and Ann treat everyone in the company like family. I have about 100 people between the three kitchens, and they love the owners so much. When we close our restaurant to clean it three times a year, Rick is there every single time. He’s cleaning. He’s scrubbing. That type of support is why our longevity in our kitchen is so great. People that have been working here just five years, we call them, ‘new people.’ People just love to work here.”
Lease is another example. She first worked for the Yoders en route to her chemistry degree at the University of Washington. She graduated in 2005, then learned more about the wine trade while in Cambridge, England. When she returned home in 2007, and the Yoders gave Lease the cellarmaster position, and when they opened Wild Ginger at The Bravern, she was promoted to company cellarmaster. In 2010, she became wine director for the Seattle restaurants. A year later, she took over the entire portfolio.
She’s also rapidly become one of the Pacific Northwest’s most acclaimed sommeliers, and her array of offerings — including perhaps the world’s largest for Riesling — delivered the restaurant its fifth Grand Award from Wine Spectator last year. The famed Canlis is the only other restaurant in the state to receive the publication’s top honor.
“I do wax on about Riesling and can get taken away with it,” she said. “Sometimes I tell myself I just need to calm down and step back. It’s amazing to see the versatility of Riesling in Washington state. We run the gamut of styles here, and you see that all over the world, too.”
For the Match Maker assignment, Lease and Lo paired the EFESTÉ 2011 Riesling with the Siam Lettuce Cup. The protein is focused on sea bass, and Lo said he makes sure the 26,000 pounds he orders each year are sustainably harvested.
“We have a lot of people come in and ask, so we started putting pressure back on the vendor,” Lo said. “I tell them, ‘If you want to sell to us, give us all the proof — where they caught it, what day and how they transported it.’ We gather this, and we give it all to guests when they ask. It’s the same with salmon. We’ll have people who say, ‘I don’t think it’s a wild fish, I think it’s a farmed fish.’ Now we can prove it to you. And we do — I’ll put the invoice right in front of them.”
One of Lease’s favorite producers of Riesling is EFESTÉ, which sources from Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley near the town of Quincy.
“Evergreen is a fantastic site for Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, and EFESTÉ pulls both from there,” she said. “I love the steely minerality in the wine. I love the fact that it has the aspects that you think it’s going to be dry — and it’s drier than the average Riesling — but it does still have just that touch of residual sugar to give it nice body and weight. I wouldn’t consider it an off-dry wine, which is why we didn’t go with a spicy dish. We wanted something that had a lot of savory and herbaceousness to bring out the savory qualities of the Riesling, which can have so much fruit, but also has so many other aspects to it.”
Red blends made from Rhône varieties have been on the rise, and the Gilbert Cellars 2011 Allobroges, made with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, made for a seamless pairing with Lo’s Grilled American Kobe Steak.
The beef comes from Snake River Farms, which began its Wagyu cattle program in 1998. The Idaho-based company, with operations in Washington, also raises Berkshire hogs for the Kurobuta pork that Wild Ginger has used for a decade, Lo said.
“You’ve got this pepper and this meatiness character and this inherent richness in the wine, and also texture is very important,” Lease said. “It’s quite simple, and it works with the grilled, charred aspect and the meatiness of the Syrah and the pepper of the Mourvèdre. I thought it would be a match in heaven, and it’s something that anybody could do in their backyard.”
Wild Ginger regulars are encouraged to call in and order the Grilled American Kobe Steak a day in advance — whether it be as takeout or dine-in — because of the marinade involved, yet Lo offered up these Match Maker recipes with the idea that both could be replicated at home.
“When the press writes about us, we try to find something that’s simple with ingredients that you can get,” Lo said. “I can go with a recipe that has 46 ingredients, but no one is going to read that or make it, they’ll just come in and eat it. But for this purpose, you make this marinade, then you can keep it in the fridge, marinate steak and marinate mushrooms for the summer barbecue. It works out great.”
Wild Ginger at The Bravern
11020 NE 6th St., Suite 90, Bellevue, WA 98004
Gilbert Cellars $22
2011 Allobroges, Wahluke Slope
— 998 cases, 14.2% alcohol
Pacific Northwest winemakers, consumers and restaurants continue to embrace blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, and the Spring 2014 issue of Wine Press Northwest reflected that as more than 60 GSMs were entered in our Red Rhône judging.
When it comes to identifying trends, few wineries in the region are as in tune as the vibrant young team at Gilbert Cellars in Yakima.
“I’m the oldest one, and I’m 34,” said winemaker Justin Neufeld, a minority partner in the business that’s largely family owned. Gilbert Cellars launched its GSM program with the 2006 vintage, and Neufeld has been in charge of the blending since arriving seven years ago from Silver Lake Winery.
“There were maybe a handful of wineries in the Northwest doing Rhône blends back then, but the family had Grenache and Mourvèdre coming into production, and Sean had made several trips to France,” Neufeld said. “It’s really gotten a following, and the price point is really good, making it a glass pour at a lot of restaurants.”
The 2011 vintage finished at Syrah (47%), Grenache (35%) and Mourvèdre (18%), with the Syrah coming off the Gilbert family’s Doc Stewart Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, while the other varieties from the estate 24 K Vineyard. The barrel program featured 75% neutral oak allows for the light- to medium-bodied structure with notes of plum, boysenberry and baking spices.
“It’s not a big wine, so it’s really approachable, and it’s very aromatic from the Grenache,” said Neufeld, who enjoys his GSM with flank steak.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Gilbert Cellars, and the five-generation farming family is celebrating with a label redesign featuring Gilbert Peak. The highest point in the Goat Rocks Wilderness was named by William O. Douglas, famed U.S. Supreme Court Justice, as a tribute to his longtime hiking partner — Curtiss Gilbert.
The winery also plans to change the name of its GSM, starting with the 2013 vintage, Neufeld said, after historical inaccuracies were discovered regarding the presence of the Allobroges, an ancient Celtic tribe, in southern Rhône.
“It was a tough one to pronounce, too,” he said with a chuckle.
Gilbert Cellars, 5 N. Front St., Yakima, WA, 98901, 509-249-9049, gilbertcellars.com.
Grilled American Kobe Steak
4 cuts Kobe steak (8-10 ounces each)
Marinade (Yield is 1 cup)
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine
1. Combine the marinade ingredients and mix well.
2. Mix marinade with the steaks and let sit for 3-4 hours.
3. Grill steak to desired doneness.
4. Let steaks rest for 5 minutes before slicing in a bias angle and serving.
Note: The marinade can sit in fridge for up to one week.
2011 Evergreen, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley
— 1,059 cases, 12.1% alcohol
Several wineries and growers have played significant roles in the renaissance of Riesling in the New World, and EFESTÉ’s collaboration with Evergreen Vineyard quickly became one of the leaders in Washington state.
This Woodinville winery continues to work with Block 9 within the Milbrandt brothers fascinating site near the Gorge at George Amphitheater. The hard-pan caliche soils over basalt make this vineyard farmed by Ryan Flanagan perhaps the one most coveted by Washington producers of acid-driven white wines.
Winery owners Daniel and Helen Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin and Angela Taylor — the first letters of their last names form F-S-T — sought to source their Riesling from Evergreen starting in 2007.
EFESTÉ quickly emerged as one of the state’s cult wineries. It first worked with DeLille Cellars winemaker Chris Upchurch, who introduced them to Brennon Leighton, whose career path at Chateau Ste. Michelle included assisting Ernst Loosen with the Eroica Riesling project. Evergreen historically has been a significant component in the award-winning Eroica.
The 2011 vintage marked the final harvest at EFESTÉ for Leighton. He left for Charles Smith’s Chardonnay program the summer of 2012, and Peter Devison was hired from Precept Wine in time for the 2012 harvest.
Leighton took the 2011 Evergreen on Nov. 2, 10 days later than EFESTÉ’s harvest for its 2012 Riesling. The completely stainless-steel production finished at 1.15% residual sugar with florals akin to a Wenatchee Valley orchard with Granny Smith apple, pear and white peach. Flavors include tangerine, and the linear attack of the acidity — 3.08 pH and total acidity of 9.9 grams per liter — with Evergreen’s inherent dusty minerality gives the wine remarkable balance with crisp and fresh Asian cuisine.
It’s worth noting EFESTÉ also focuses on Evergreen for its popular Lola Chardonnay and its Feral Sauvignon Blanc.
EFESTÉ, 19730 144th Ave. NE, Woodinville, WA, 98072, 425-398-7200, efeste.com.
Siam Lettuce Cup
3 ounces sea bass (or halibut)
1 ounce vegetable oil
4 ounces jicama, julienned
small pinch Thai basil, chopped
small pinch cilantro, chopped
small pinch Thai chili, minced
1 tablespoon peanut, chopped
2 ounces, Siam dressing
6 leaves, butter lettuce cup
1 cucumber, sliced as garnish
1 lemon wedge
1 sprig, fresh dill
1. Pan-fry the sea bass (or halibut) until just done, then drain. Do not overcook the fish.
2. Toss fish, jicama, herbs, chili, peanuts and dressing in bowl, then mount the mixture in a cup.
3. Turn the cup upside down on the plate.
4. Place lettuce cup, cucumber, lemon and dill as pictured.
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces shallot, sliced
1/2 ounce, garlic, chopped
1 chili, whole, chopped
4 ounces palm sugar
2 teaspoons tamarind water
3 ounces lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1. Saute “A” components in wok until vegetables are soft.
2. Remove “A” ingredients from heat, then add “B” ingredients.
3. Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.
4. Taste, label and refrigerate.