We recently returned from a mini-vacation in the wine country of Paso Robles, CA. In addition to tasting many wonderful wines, we also enjoyed several memorable meals. Paso has plenty of well-known dining options but were were in search of someplace that wasn’t on the typical tourist trail. The manager at our hotel turned out to be a great resource, not only for directing us to wineries that excelled at the lush, fruit-forward red wines we most enjoy drinking, but also for restaurants. Her top suggestion for lunch was The Cass Café at Cass Winery.
The Cass Café doesn’t look like much upon entry. In fact, it is open to the tasting room of the winery and consists of some small round tables and metal chairs on a raw concrete floor. Our server (who simultaneously conducted wine tastings between visits to wait on us) brought us a menu and made a few recommendations. After our server told us that the Benny Burger had “changed her life,” I read the description and decided to order it.
1/3 lb of estate-raised, grass fed beef. Topped with house-cured bacon, Hook’s Paradise bleu cheese, horseradish aioli, pickled onions, and organic arugula, served on a local seeded brioche bun. Prepared medium. Served with your choice of side salad or garlic parmesan potato chips with a garden basil aioli dip.
It was the right decision. This was no ordinary burger. My first bite revealed a nice crusty char on the outside, juicy and pink in the middle. The brioche bun gave it a nice sweetness, while the horseradish aioli and pickled onions provided just the right kick. The bleu cheese was creamy and the bacon gave it a hint of salty smokiness. The arugula added the perfect freshness. The potato chips were house made (of course) and were surprisingly delicious. Topped with a generous sprinkle of parmesan, they would have been exquisite on their own, but when dunked in the cool, rich basil aioli dip, they were taken to another level!
This delicious meal got my creative juices flowing and I pondered how I could recreate it in a more sophisticated way. Instead of hamburger, how about filet mignon? What if I wrapped the filet in bacon and topped it with a bleu cheese-horseradish sauce? To upgrade the chips, I envisioned a flavorful and decadent mashed potato which incorporated parmesan and basil. An arugula side salad would complete the meal.
I purchased two filet mignon steaks and wrapped a piece of applewood smoked bacon around each, securing the bacon with toothpicks. I seasoned them well with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper and placed the steaks on a hot grill in hopes of getting a similar crust and char to the burger.
After the steaks had achieved some nice grill marks, I put them in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking. (We prefer our steaks medium well, but you can adjust the time according to how you done you want yours.)
While the steaks were cooking, I prepared the bleu cheese horseradish sauce. I found a recipe online that seemed to have all the ingredients of the sauce on the burger. Here is a link: http://www.food.com/recipe/blue-cheese-horseradish-hamburger-sauce-92443
I began the mashed potatoes by roasting a small head of garlic drizzled with olive oil in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. The roasted garlic takes on a sweetness without the strong taste of raw garlic. You can use all of the roasted garlic or just a little. I used 4 cloves for this recipe and will blend the rest into a salad dressing for later.
The mashed potatoes were prepared by peeling and cutting into 1″ cubes four large potatoes. Place in a pot with enough water to cover and boil until fork tender. Drain the potatoes, and use a hand mixer to break up them up. Once most of the lumps are out, add in the roasted garlic and slowly begin adding the ½ cup of half and half. Then add ½ cup of sour cream. Finish with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, a tablespoon of chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste. (Be careful not to overbeat the potatoes or they will become gummy.)
The meal was complete with a simple arugula salad dressed with a basic vinaigrette of 1 part lemon juice to 2 parts olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. A nice glass of Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon was the perfect compliment.
Here are the results. The flavors were very similar to the delicious burger we enjoyed in Paso. Wouldn’t this make a nice romantic dinner for two, perhaps for Valentines’ Day?