1921 by Norman Van Aken, which opened last fall, presented its first wine dinner event recently with Van Aken himself serving as host. I was invited to sit in.
The dinner featured the wines of Fèlsina, a Tuscan winery, with winemaker Andrea Bonivento also in attendance.
Even though the boss was in town, chef de cuisine Camilo Velasco oversaw the dinner, a five-course feast that highlighted, as the restaurant always does, locally sourced ingredients.
The dinner began with Grilled Cape Canaveral Mackerel that was cured in Florida winter citrus with olive oil, which was also from Fèlsina. The fish had a wonderful unctuousness that was accentuated by the fruity olive oil. Although Fèlsina is known more for its red wines that feature the sangiovese grape, Bonivento presented his chardonnay, I Sistri, a 2014 vintage that had wonderful peach and vanilla notes.
Crispy Ponce Inlet Octopus came next, but this was octopus with a story, even beyond that it was local octopus (most of what we see served in the area is imported from Spain). As fishmonger Kelly Probst of Kelly and Kris Seafood explained, this octopus is bycatch, that is collaterally caught in traps set for something else. In this case, the fishermen were going after stone crab, which, like people, octopi consider a delicacy. So the octopus gets caught in the traps and with nothing better to do, starts feasting on the expensive stone crab. And all that sweet meat affects the taste of the octopus. (It really is true: You are what you eat.)
Velasco breaded the tentacles and served them with a ‘nduja vinaigrette and sauce romesco. Delicious, especially with Fèlsina’s Berardenga Chianti Classico 2013.
The Braised Lamb Neck Ragu may have been my favorite entree. The lamb had just a hint of good gaminess, and the sauce was reduced to a coating texture that clung to the polenta agnoletti. We moved up the Chianti Classico ladder to a Riserva, Fèlsina’s Rancia ’12. The wine had good forward fruit with red and black berries notes coming through and enough tannins to stand up to the rich lamb and jus.
Wood grilled and vegetable ash crusted Eye of Ribeye followed, the meat served atop a cassoulet of flageolet beans and black olive vinaigrette. The 2011 Fontalloro, made with grapes from vineyards on the border between Chianti Classico and Chianti Colli Senesi, had earthiness in the mouth but a balanced finish.
Goat’s Milk Ricotta, introduced by the owners of Zenn Naturals who milked the goats, was a nice finish, not too sweet unless you layered on more of the Apopka Honey that pastry chef Gloriann Rivera served with it. A 2005 Vin Santo del Chianit Classico paired nicely, though I’ll admit I returned to the Rancia I still had in front of me.
The staff, under the direction of general manager and sommelier Scott Geisler, kept the dinner flowing. The wine, too.
This was just the first of what I’m sure will be many wine dinner events at 1921 and I can’t wait to see the next one.
1921 by Norman Van Aken is at 142 E. 4th Ave., Mount Dora. The phone number is 352-385-1921.