Many restaurants label themselves as “farm to table.” At Surrell in Seattle, Chef-owner Aaron Tekulve sources produce within 50 miles and 90 percent of all ingredients within 300 miles. Less common, Tekulve lists only wines from his state.
It is rare for a chef to say, “I always pair the dish to the wine, versus the typical way of pairing a wine to a dish. I think of the wine as a sauce on the plate that needs to tie the entire dish together.”
Pairing philosophy aside, Tekulve hit an obstacle early on with Surrell. His opening date of March 2020 was delayed until November 2021. Fortunately, Surrell is located in a former residential site with a large back patio accommodating early crowds.
Approaching Surrell from a quiet street near downtown with a group of journalists, I found that Surrell maintains its heritage as a family home. The restaurant features a front room, library dining areas, a wine bar/open kitchen, and a private dining room upstairs.
Tekulve is well versed in the state’s wine industry, the second largest in the U.S., comprising 1,000 wineries producing 80 varietals from 20 appellations (AVAs). While the menu highlights Modern Pacific Northwest cuisine, the chef added, “My wine program is my love letter to Washington wine country. I believe it is one of the most exciting wine regions in the world now. I am proud that Surrell is the first all-Washington wine list and wine bar.”
The first pour at dinner was a classic methode Champenoise sparkling wine from Domaine Ste. Michelle 2017 LUXE Sparkling, Columbia Valley. Parent company Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is considered as the winery that kickstarted the fame of the Washington region fifty years ago and continues as a major player in the state. Diners were taught the “Washington Wine Wave.” Each person, in turn, greeted their neighbor with a welcoming “Cheers”—like a sports fan’s wave, only more appetizing.
The place settings were extraordinary. The array of hors d’oeuvre was displayed in a natural setting on driftwood with artistic presentations.
The star of the culinary treats was the roasted porcini macaroon. I had tasted savory macaroons before, but none with the ultimate umami punch that Tekulve packed into the bite with powdered porcini mushroom. The tiny, roasted spring vegetable taco was topped with a special crunch — pickled turnip.
The menu was placed under the next course, grilled vegetables in a caramelized shallot vinaigrette. Yes, literally presented under the spray of produce. With an eye to sustainability, Tekuve sources rice paper for the edible menus that most of us gobbled down.
The savory starters were fine accompaniments to Latta Wines 2021 Kind Stranger Rosé. Made by owner Andrew Latta, Kind Stranger is what he calls the “geeky” sister to his eponymous label. Made with native yeast, profits from the pale and fresh rosé help a non-profit that works with the homeless.
The vintner is known for crafting wine, not usually bottled as single varietals. Take the Latta Wines 2019 Roussanne Lawrence Vineyard in the Royal Slopes AVA. The well-balanced white wine paired especially paired well with grilled vegetables.
Pairing the Food to the Wine
The course most exemplifying Tekulve’s careful food-to-wine selections was the Olympic Peninsula pan-roasted sablefish with peas, fava beans, charred turnips, and chili crunch paired with Cairdeas Winery 2017 Caisléan a Papa from the Lake Chelan AVA.
In the design of the sablefish dish, Tekulve built a bridge to the wine with the broth. The savory elements of the broth, he said, enhanced the earthy and black pepper of the wine’s main components, Syrah and Grenache. The chef added, “For the broth, we use our own version of the popular Chinese condiment Loa Gan Ma, known as chili crunch, that we make with porcini, Calabrian chilies, and a variety of spices plus fried shallots and garlic.”
When I sipped the Caisléan and Papa, I was intrigued by the complex, deep flavors. Cairdeas winemaker Charlie Lybecker and his wife Lacey Lybecker, the winery’s CEO, attended the dinner. Charles explained that he named the wine as a Gaelic take on Chateauneuf-de-Pape, his favorite Rhone subregion wine, known for a multitude of wines such as Syrah and Grenache, grapes that thrive in the Lake Chelan area.
To pair with the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2017 Impetus Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Tekulve presented grilled lamb from Anderson Ranches in Oregon. The chop and lamb belly was accompanied by a jus from black cherry and New Mexico chilis.
The meat brought out the earthy, deep notes of the Impetus. Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Katie Nelson labeled the Impetus bland as a CSM. “This wine is our 50th-anniversary nod to three great varietals of Washington state— Cabernet, Syrah, and Malbec.”
Tekulve’s creativity manifested in dessert, too. He added freeze-dried corn with basil for the crumble that was served with the cake for dessert. Topping off the dish were Bing cherries soaked in spiced red wine. The sweet-savory dessert paired well with one of the most famous Washington State wines, Eroica Select Riesling, a collaboration of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen of Germany.
Tekulve handed out lemon white chocolate bites with strawberry ginger for a final sweet touch. A fitting end to a meal with fine wine and well-chosen food.