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A Champagne toast to 2009

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  One of the best New Year’s Eve events I thought I had planned turned out to be the worst one I ever attended. Rock-and-roll pioneer Little Richard was performing in San Francisco, so I bought tickets (I, too, question my judgment since he was popular before we were born). After dining out, my husband Dan and I headed to the concert where we discovered the news that wasn’t revealed until after we gave our tickets at the door: Little Richard had found religion (a good thing) so he banned the sale of alcoholic beverages (a very bad thing). It’s not New Year’s Eve without Champagne for the midnight toast! 

  Looking back, the best New Year’s Eve parties we’ve attended have always been in wineries or restaurants, not private parties or concerts. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than sharing a table with fellow wine lovers and indulging in a gourmet multi-course meal perfectly paired with wine for each course. The wineries bring in a great chef to prepare the meal, except Justin Vineyards & Winery where they have a full-time chef in their upscale restaurant, Deborah’s Room. Most of the local chefs I know are wine connoisseurs, too, so you can expect them to prepare delectable foods perfectly paired with local wines. 

  With wine country trails all around us in SLO County, there are many events to choose from. I scouted around to find some of the best, and I’ve started with the wineries since they can only accommodate a small crowd, meaning reservations are required. The restaurants make their parties unique, too, and have much more room, making them a great choice whether your party is a table of two or of twelve. And they all promise free Champagne for the midnight toast!

New Year’s Eve Parties 

  Robert Hall Winery is holding their New Year’s Eve dinner in the wine caves beneath the tasting room. With the talented chef Jeff Scott preparing a multi-course dinner with tasty bites before and after the meal, all of it paired with Robert Hall wines, you can’t go wrong. I’ve attended some of their fabulous parties and always leave impressed. After dinner, guests will dance to live music by Funk 30 in the Meritage Room, and toast the midnight hour with Robert Hall sparkling wine. It’s $130 per person, $120 for Cavern Club members and the wine industry, all inclusive. Call 239-1616, ext. 24 or visit  "http://www.roberthallwinery.com" www.roberthallwinery.com. 

  At Justin Vineyards & Winery the celebration takes place in Deborah’s Room with a Bailly Champagne and Hog Island oysters to kick off the occasion. Chef Will Torres will pair seven gourmet courses with Justin’s specially selected library wines. Dinner is $195 per person, with wine pairings $245, lodging fares are additional, $325 - $395 per night. Limited reservations available, call 238-6932, ext. 137 or visit  "http://www.justinwine.com" www.justinwine.com. 

  Summerwood Inn’s executive chef Kirk Sowell offers a ten-course dinner featuring a popular dish from each of ten decades, starting with 1900. Each course will be paired with an array of Summerwood wines. Among the treats are grilled pheasant, Caesar with abalone, Salisbury steak with macaroni and cheese, coquilles St. Jacques, soupe aux truffles Bocuse, duck confit, and éclairs on a cloud of spun sugar. After dessert, the countdown at midnight will be celebrated with Champagne. Normally, this dining room is only available for guests of the inn, seating is extremely limited. Call 227-1365 or visit  "http://www.summerwoodwine.com" www.summerwoodwine.com. 

  Chef David McWilliams at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort is preparing a three-course dinner on the 31st that begins at 3 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m. It starts with an amuse bouche of housemade gravlax, main course choices of Maine lobster tail, prime New York roast, or porcini malfatti with black truffles. It’s $75 per person, $90 with wine pairings. The party starts at 8 p.m. in the bar, no cover charge even if you don’t dine there, with classic movies, live music and a midnight Champagne toast. Reservations recommended, call 595-7365 or visit  "http://www.sycamoresprings.com" www.sycamoresprings.com. 

  Have you ever wished you could toast everyone with Dom Pérignon at midnight? Then get over to Level Four (L4) where this costly Champagne will be offered at a lower than usual price, said L4 co-owner James Glass. For diners the regular menu instead of expensive specials will be offered because of the tanked economy, he added. There will be good deals in the lounge thanks to Dom Pérignon and Belvedere Vodka Co., which lowered prices and supplied party favors for everyone. Glass intends to pass those savings on to his guests.  After 10 p.m. the cover is $15 if you didn’t dine here. Call 237-2111 or visit  "http://www.level4speakeasy.com" www.level4speakeasy.com. 

  South of the grade, Lido at Dolphin Bay offers many choices on the 31st. You could order from the regular menu, sit in the lounge and order from the bar menu, or feast on chef Evan’s special five-course dinner. The latter during one seating at 9 p.m., $90 per person, $138 paired with wines. Live jazz by Pat McCormick Band goes on from 8 p.m. to midnight, There will be complimentary party favors and a Champagne toast at 12 a.m. Reservations highly recommended. Call 773-8900 or visit  "http://www.thedolphinbay.com" www.thedolphinbay.com. 

  If you’re driving to Ragged Point Inn—a terrific hideaway perched over the Pacific Ocean (north of Hearst Castle)—you’ll want to take advantage of the overnight package. You can get a room at the cliff’s edge and with it New Year’s Eve dinner. Chef Kennie said they’re preparing such treats as prime rib, ribeye steak, duck with cherry brandy sauce, salmon Newberg, filet mignon wrapped with bacon topped with bleu cheese, lobster tail, or filet and lobster combo. Guests are provided a bottle of the house wine, live music by Rough House from 9 to 1 a.m., and a Champagne toast at midnight. And what a view to wake up to on New Year Day, you’ll enjoy a generous breakfast in the solarium dining room before driving home. The entire package is $300 to $450, all inclusive. Call 927-4502 or visit www.raggedpointinn.com.


You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com

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