Quick — Valentine’s Day is only days away: Better think about the ideal romantic dinner.
Are oysters involved? Caviar? Does the sparkling wine have to be Champagne? And how much chocolate?
Dewey LoSasso has another take on what makes a dinner romantic: It has less to do with what’s on the plate than the ambience in which it’s served. What’s more, the ideal Valentine’s Day dinner is home-grown, says LoSasso, recently installed culinary director at Schnebly Redland’s Winery and Miami Brewing Co. in Homestead.
“Valentine’s day is always about sharing, it’s about intimacy,” said LoSasso, who will kick off the winery’s venture into restaurant dining with a special Valentine’s Day dinner that will start and end with shared dishes.
Peter and Denisse Schnebly — fruit growers who began producing tropical-fruit wines in 2004 and added a brewery in 2011 — are not easing gently into the restaurant business. They and LoSasso are planning a big romantic splash on Saturday.
Schnebly will offer not one dinner but three, each with its own outdoor venue and live music — a gourmet picnic on the front lawn, a four-course dinner with wine pairings under the Waterfall Tiki in back, and the same four-course menu with unlimited sparkling wine in a more intimate setting amid passion fruit vines, where diners can watch the sun set over the Everglades.
Schnebly is making two new wines just for this occasion. And instead of French Champagne, there is sparkling passion fruit wine from Homestead.
LoSasso, whose résumé includes four years as executive chef at The Forge as well as his own Miami restaurant, North 110, will prepare dinner in a food truck that is parked behind a wall at the winery. The food truck will serve as the kitchen until a full restaurant is built on the premises, probably in two years.
Next week, the “restaurant” will begin serving dinners on weekends only, with a menu that will offer ceviche, fish, Florida beef, local vegetables, local pork and “sometimes wild boar that Peter [Schnebly] and I hunt,” LoSasso says.
Saturday’s main event is the four-course dinner, which starts with a platter of appetizers meant to be shared. The dessert course is also a selection of items for two — including chocolate, of course. In between are carrot-poached lobster and a choice of steak or grouper.
“It starts off with sharing and it ends with sharing,” said LoSasso, who calls himself “kind of a romantic.”
For Valentine’s Day, he said, “People like eating hedonistically a little bit. They don’t want roasted chicken. They want something they don’t normally have at home.”
So there is lobster served on a risotto-like bed of cracked wheat and barley that is a by-product of beer-making at Schnebly’s Miami Brewing Co.; black grouper grilled over lychee wood from Schnebly’s orchard; filet mignon atop a vegetable chowder made with Schnebly’s guava wine. They are certainly not dishes you normally would have at home (although LoSasso has provided recipes for two of those dishes so you can try them).
Schnebly will unveil two new wines: Love Potion No. 9, a slightly less-sweet-than-usual blend of passion fruit, carambola and lychee that will be aged 10 weeks and served with the picnic dinner; and Carambola Reserve, which will have its residual sugar removed so it is a dry wine, aged six weeks and served with the carrot-poached lobster at the four-course dinners.
The picnic basket will include Florida lobster salad, a tabbouleh-like salad made with the brewery grains as well as bread made with the grains (called “Meredith’s grains” after beermaster Meredith Gotz), carambola pickles, sliced beef tenderloin, dark chocolate torte and a bottle of Love Potion No. 9.
LoSasso has long championed the use of local ingredients, and he has stuck with that for Valentine’s Day. There is spiny Florida lobster, black grouper fished from Florida waters, filet mignon from grass-fed Florida cattle. Most of the produce, including oyster mushrooms, watermelon radishes, kale, strawberries, wing beans, canistel, red giant collard greens, shiso and edible flowers, is from nearby Paradise Farms or other south Miami-Dade farms. Only a few items, including lentils and the cracked wheat and barley from the brewery, were grown outside Florida.
Florida beef and lobster are different than their counterparts in the Midwest and Maine, said LoSasso, who favors the flavor and texture of the local products.
When he tasted the Florida beef, LoSasso said, “I felt the mouth chew was a little firmer on the filet. It had a really nice beef flavor. Sometimes you see filet mignon that is buttery and almost too soft. I like the texture of Florida beef better.”
As for lobster, “Maine lobster is more tender. Florida lobster has more flavor, especially when you cook it in the shell in a bouillabaisse method … or fish stew or fish chowder. I like the flavor you get off the shell,” he said.
It’s risky business, launching a new restaurant on Valentine’s Day, when dozens of relationships may depend on everything being just right.
“The choice of a Valentine’s Day launch is pretty insane,” LoSasso said, “but if you think about relationships in general, especially the great ones, they have a sense of play and insanity; but a sense of sincerity and trust must be part of the night.
“That’s where we come in — food, wine, great company, great sunset, amazing surroundings.”
Produce: LoSasso recommends produce from Paradise Farms, which is available at farmers markets, including Miami Beach Botanical Garden on Wednesdays, 11.a.m.-4.p.m.; Coral Gables at the corner of LeJeune Road and Miracle Mile on Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1.p.m.; and at Kendall Village Center on Sundays, 10 a.m.-3.p.m.
If you go
What: Valentine’s Day dinner. Choice of Waterfall Tiki Dinner, four-course meal with Schnebly wine and beer pairings, $120 a person; dinner among passion fruit vines, same menu as above, plus unlimited sparking passion fruit wine, $300 a couple; Valentine’s picnic in a basket on the Great Lawn, gourmet picnic dinner plus a bottle of Love Potion No. 9 wine, $125 a basket.
Where: Schnebly Redland’s Winery and Brewery, 30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead.
Information: 305-242-1224; schneblywinery.com.
Carrot-Poached Spiny Lobster
This small-plate recipe uses “Meredith’s Grains,” a mix of cracked wheat and barley from the brewery’s mash tank. It is available at Schnebly or you can substitute cracked wheat (available at Whole Foods and elsewhere) that has been cooked about 1 1/2 hours. Serves 4.
1 raw lobster body, chopped up
1 cup Schnebly’s dry avocado wine
1/2 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 gloves garlic, chopped
8 cups water
4 teaspoons avocado oil
1 cup Meredith’s Grains
6 leaves fresh Thai basil, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
1 bunch scallions
1/2 charred serrano chile, seeded but not peeled
Sea salt and black pepper
8 ounces spiny lobster meat, uncooked, cut into small dice
Put lobster body, wine, onion, celery, garlic and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then cut to a simmer. Simmer for three hours or until liquid is reduced to one-quarter of its original volume. Strain to separate the liquid, then strain again through cheesecloth or coffee filter. Reserve.
Heat the avocado oil over medium heat in a small sauce pot. Add the grains, stir and heat for a few minutes, then add the Thai basil and season. Reserve.
Juice the carrots with scallions and peppers. Put the carrot liquid in a small sauce pot with 1/2 cup of the lobster broth. Simmer 10-15 minutes until it reaches sauce consistency. Add sea salt and pepper as needed. Add the lobster meat and cook over low to medium heat 4 to 5 minutes until the lobster meat is just done.
Place grains in the middle of plates, then scatter lobster around the perimeter and drizzle with carrot sauce.
Source: Dewey LoSasso, Schnebly Redland’s Winery.
This chowder will be used as the base for grilled filet mignon at Schnebly’s Valentine’s Day dinner, but it can also be served in larger portions as a soup course. LoSasso recommends using Lila onions, a locally grown, red-fleshed spring onion, and Homestead Heirloom Tomatoes, both of which may be found at some farmers markets. Scallions can be substituted for Lila onions. Serves 4.
1/2 small calabaza , peeled and diced into 1/2-inch squares (about 2 cups)
1 yuca, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 small malanga, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 Lila onions or scallions, diced
4 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 medium onion, diced (about 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups diced oyster mushrooms
10 Homestead Heirloom tomatoes, peeled, diced and deseeded
2 cups Schnebly’s guava wine
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup chopped arugula
1/2 cup chopped watercress
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss first five vegetables with 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt. Spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet and place in the oven for 25 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked through and browning on all sides. Set aside.
In a large sauce pot over low heat, add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, onion and garlic. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until transparent and soft, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and half the tomatoes. Then add wine, vegetable broth and roasted vegetables. Simmer for 25 minutes.
Remove half the soup and purée, then mix back together with unpuréed soup. Add the rest of the tomatoes, arugula and watercress. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Spoon soup into four bowls and serve, or sliced a grilled steak (preferably a Florida filet mignon) and use it to top the soup.
Source: Dewey LoSasso, Schnebly Redland’s Winery.