I began my 2010 Stern Eats year with the Pleasantdale Chateau's Spanish Wine Dinner, a cocktail hour followed by a five-course gourmet dinner, with Spanish wine pairings. This was the second such event that I have attended at the Chateau, and it was an absolute pleasure.

The evening started with a cocktail hour in the Fountain Room, where a fully stocked bar, especially featuring Cava, Don Roman Brut NV and Tempranillo "Roble", Algairen Carinena 2006, was on hand to quench the thirst of hungry diners. An elegantly presented cheese display, with figs and other fruits, consisted of two creamy sheep's milk cheeses, Idizabal and Petite Basque, and Forme D'Ambert, one of the oldest French Blues. There were no hors d'oeuvres served…this was a Spanish-themed dinner. Only Tapas tonight.

These small plates, which were both passed and at stations were daintily plated on small chinaware. My absolute favorite was the Clams and Chorizo with Garlic. I could have been happy with a couple of dozen of these with a loaf of crusty bread and a glass of wine, but there was other food to sample. Coming in a close second was the Smoked Mackerel, which was served over a Cucumber Salad. A friend said, "This is like taking a bite of the sea..." The salty smokiness of the mackerel was complimented by the crisp freshness of the cucumber-like the salt and the water in one bite. A tie for second was the Squid ala Plancha, a simple clean presentation of perfectly tender pieces of squid with olive oil, garlic and herbs. The third in the three-way tie for second was the Linguisa (a type of Portuguese cured sausage) with Onions and Broccoli Rabe. Other tapas included a salty and sweet Salad of Serrano Ham with Dates and Almonds, a Spanish Tortilla with Potato and Cepes and a Spinach Croquette.

The ring of a bell meant that dinner was served, and we filed into the Music Room for the feast. The first course was a Pan-Seared Robalo with Mediterranean Vegatables, Romesco Sauce. The Robalo, a white flakey salt-water fish, had a nice sear, was tender and flakey, and was classically paired with a smooth Romesco sauce. Salty olives and a Garlicky slice of crusty bread complimented this dish.

This first course was paired with a Mas La Mola Blanco, Priorat 2007.

The second course was a Seared Duck Breast with Stewed Plums, Grilled Chickory and Steamed Brioche filled with Duck Liver.

The duck had a perfect sear to the skin without overcooking the flesh. And the small bits of crunchy skin and pan drippings that were drizzled over the water fowl accentuated the richness of the dish. This, however, was cut by the fresh smokiness of the chickory and clean crispness of the stewed plum. I ate the brioche with liver at the end of the dish, which was I found to be a lite, mini dessert. This was a very enjoyable dish.

This second course was paired with a Las Doses, Chozas Carrascal, Utiel Requenia, 2006.

The third course was a Trio of Pork, Crispy Belly with Pimento Mousse, Stuffed Trotters with Mushrooms, and Braised Shoulder over Cauliflower Puree.

My absolute favorite part of this dish was the Braised Shoulder, which was fork tender and packed full of star anise and cinnamon flavors. The Pork Belly was also tender and as indulgent as ever. The Trotter was well executed and over a bed of delicious mushrooms.

This third course was paired with two reds, a Garnacha, Algairen, Carinena, 2006 and a Garnacha "Ladera", Algairen, Carinena, 2005. This pairing was most interesting, as the two wines are of the same exact grape, from the same exact vineyard. The only difference is that one only saw stainless steel and one was finished in oak barrels, giving the same grape two totally different characterics. My choice for this dish was the oak.

The fourth course was a Sliced Rib Steak served rare, with Estofado de Carne de Toro and Grilled Baby Leeks.

I was most looking forward to the pork course, but this wound up being my absolute favorite. The beef had a bold peppery crust and was beautifully rare throughout. The chunks of stewed veal meat were tender and mild, which balanced the plate.

This dish was paired with a Crespiello, Pulchrum, Carinena, 2003. This spicy red paired perfectly with this bold beef dish.

The fifth and final course, dessert, was Layers of Bitter Chocolate and Orange Curd, with almonds and Black Currant.

Elegant and delicious is how I would characterize this dessert. The presentation was beautiful and this dish was the perfect ending to this feast. In the center, accenting this dish, was a wafer-thin slice of candied orange, which balanced against bitter wafers of chocolate, layered with fluffy and light orange curd. Across the way were two cubes of black currant gelatin with a ribbon of candied orange zest. This was wonderful presentation of the classic marriage of chocolate and orange.

I also really enjoyed the pairing of this dessert (the bitter chocolate) with the deep red El Cabernet, Chozas Carrascal, Utiel Requenia, 2006.

This, my second time enjoying a Wine Dinner at the Pleasantdale Chateau, was as enjoyable as my first. The facility is incredibly beautiful, the service was spot-on, the menu was thoughtfully prepared and the execution of the dishes was terrific. Chef Robert Albers and his staff did another wonderful job creating a feast fit for a king.

I recommend The Pleasantdale Chateau for your next affair and would certainly suggest enjoying a Wine Dinner at the Chateau is a perfect way to experience the caliber of excellence that they achieve.

Lars Johnson, manager of The Pleasantdale Chateau, said that he is hoping to host such a wine dinner once every quarter in 2010. Stay tuned to TheAlternativePress.com for future announcements.

The Pleasantdale Chateau is located at 757 Eagle Rock Avenue, West Orange, New Jersey 07052 (973) 731-5600 and on the internet at www.pleasantdale.com. The Pleasantdale Chateau is one of four establishments owned and operated by the Knowles Family. You can check out their other fine facilities at www.knowlesrestaurants.com 

It is time for me to move onward, in my search for the perfect meal. Check back soon and join me again, as Stern Eats.