Jason and I had a wonderful dining experience at the picturesque Ballard Inn restaurant last night.  We were seated immediately at a romantic two person table near the fireplace.  We took a look at the wine-by-the-glass list and were impressed with the carefully chosen list of fabulous –mostly local- wines.  I ordered a glass of the 2007 Ampelos Rosé of Syrah (gorgeous deep pink color, bright taste –no oak, no malolactic fermentation, nose of citrus, watermelon, florals, mineral qualities, soft tannins).   Ashley, our young but very well informed and professional server, recommended a wine for Jason – the Kaena Hapa (a mouth filling, fruit/spice bonanza of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre – nothing short of WOW).  Kaena (which means “potential for greatness” in Hawaiian) is the personal label made by Mikael Sigouin whose day job is head winemaker at Beckmen. This talented and hardworking young winemaker is officially on my radar as one to watch!  Potential for greatness, indeed!  But, I digress.  Getting back to the food, we started off with two beautifully presented appetizers.  First, room temperature short rib meat with truffle oil served on a bed of watercress, garnished with small dollops of aioli and four purple potato crisps.  I’ve never thought of making a salad out of short rib meat, but this was amazing – moist, flavorful and rich, but not too heavy to eat in the summertime.  And who knew potato chips could be so decorative – and pretty?  Our second appetizer was crispy sweetbreads served with mizuna salad and arugula with macadamia nut pesto.  All the different textures and tastes in this dish blended harmoniously together.  Wow!  Ashley surprised us with a hamachi sashimi appetizer with soy-yuzu vinaigrette which paired beautifully with the Ampelos rosé.  Our entrées arrived soon after we finished the hamachi.  Jason’s entrée was the crispy skin barramundi with chive risotto and soy mushroom broth.  Barramundi is a white fish, though not as delicate in taste or texture as halibut.  Its firm texture and rich taste was complemented well by the chive risotto.  Jason ordered the 2007 Kaena Hapa Blanc (a white Rhone-style blend of  Grenache Blanc and Roussanne – well balanced, elegant, tropical fruit notes, luscious mouth feel and a long finish- only 170 cases made) to go with his fish.

Duck at the Ballard Inn

Duck entree at the Ballard Inn

I ordered the pan seared duck breast with sweet potato purée and balsamic reduction.  I decided that the Kaena Hapa (red) that we had with our appetizers would be wonderful with the duck – and it was!  Dessert was almond panna cotta with strawberries and coconut tuile, and a bottle of 2005 Cold Heaven Late Harvest Viognier (wonderful florals on the nose, rich on the palate with peach, apricot and honey).   Chef Budi Kazali, who was recently won the 2009 Ultimate Chef competition, came out of the kitchen for a few moments to greet diners.   Jason and I were happy to thank Chef Kazali in person for all the amazing food we enjoyed tonight!