Fabio Viviani and Jon Butler work together to plate the dessert course.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MOLLIE KIMBERLING
Dinner guests who splurged on an opportunity to enjoy an intimate three-course meal during Palm Desert Food & Wine left the ballroom at the newly renovated Desert Island Country Club in Rancho Mirage praising the artful platings, the bright wine pairings, and the fabulous chefs who orchestrated this memorable evening. Top Chef fan favorite Fabio Viviani joined chef Jon Butler — formerly of République in Los Angeles, he now helms the kitchen at Desert Island’s restaurant and lounge, The Penney & Parlour.
With preparations underway in the kitchen, ticketholders trickled into the reception area inside the main restaurant space, where the walls of glass were flung open, connecting the chic interior to a breezy patio and views of the verdant putting green and golf course beyond. Guests sipped sparkling wine while savoring the perfect weather and scenic mountain backdrop that set the scene at The Penney & Parlour, outfitted with a sage green bar, playful pink chairs, and an impressive spirits library behind the counter.
After a solid hour of socializing, everyone was welcomed into the ballroom itself, a more romantic scene with red curtains, panoramic views, and a disco ball overhead. Guests took their seats as wine representative Tyler Noble introduced the first of three carefully selected pairings from The Calling, a winery based in Sonoma County that was co-founded by Emmy Award–winning sports commentator Jim Nantz and his close friend Peter Deutsch.
“Jim and Peter founded this brand to follow their calling and work with people who are passionate about their heritage and family. We work with family growers throughout Sonoma County — family growers who grew up on that land, who grew up with that dirt between their toes,” Noble said of the winery’s mission.
The first California-produced pairing was a soon-to-be released 2021 Sonoma Coast chardonnay. “This is a very clean, lean, crisp chardonnay, with a little bit of citrus, a little bit of sea spray, and little bit of green apple. It’s 50 percent oak and 50 percent stainless steel,” Noble added as guests took their first sips at the tables.
The light, summery wine would later balance the first course — Hokkaido scallop crudo prepared by Butler. The seafood dish was slightly spicy, featuring burnt salsa, cucumbers, and jalapeño oil with a ceviche-like consistency and tart notes from paper-thin kumquat slices, halved cherry tomatoes, and mandarinquats. For a finishing touch, Butler caramelized peppers and seeds with apple cider vinegar, oregano, and oil, bringing a hint of nuttiness to balance the delicate scallop flavor profile, and sprinkled cilantro flowers and blue borage flowers as a garnish. Vegetarians received plates that swapped the tender scallop slices with fermented brassicas, from the broccoli and cauliflower family.
For the second course, Viviani introduced the simple recipe to a captivated crowd. “My dish is on the complete opposite spectrum,” he joked. “Three ingredients: beef, mushroom, demi-glace — that’s it.” He took a moment to praise Butler’s incredible attention to detail.
“Creating a good dish with a lot of ingredients, it takes skills,” Viviani said. “Creating a dish with three ingredients, you’ve got to make sure they’re phenomenal because you can’t fake it.” Viviani’s course featured a whole roasted tenderloin, expertly seasoned with salt and pepper, cooked medium-rare, sliced to order, and slathered in a reduced veal demi-glace made by cooking down marrow, vegetables, beef stock, and red wine. Roasted porcini mushrooms elevated the demi-glace; vegetarians also enjoyed fungi atop a creamy risotto that was just as mouthwatering as the beef.
A ripe and rich 2019 Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon, featuring notes of cocoa, vanilla, dark fruits, and oak, complemented the flavorful main course.
For the final act of the evening, Butler again played with intricate ingredients for a dessert plate that was itself a work of art — yet incredibly delicious — paired with another light, fruity 2019 chardonnay made with grapes grown at Sullivan Vineyard in Napa Valley. Guests indulged on dollops of coconut crémeux, a pat of frozen Pandan cream, sticks of raspberry-dusted meringue, ceremonial green tea cake, and a sweetheart honeycomb veil made of beets, resulting in the perfect tangy, tropical combination.
As the evening came to a close, the chefs thanked all those who chose to spend their time with them at Desert Island Country Club. The volume of the music increased, the lights turned low, and the overhead disco ball began to spin, casting dancing specks of light across the satiated crowd. The party continued with a DJ and plentiful drinks late into the night, and the happy patrons eventually spilled out of the country club — thoroughly impressed.
Palm Desert Food & Wine continues through Sunday, March 26. For the complete lineup of events and more information, visit palmdesertfoodandwine.com.