Katherine Stern of La Posta knows her greens. Photo by Chip Scheuer.

Just how was this going to work, I wondered? A flotilla of us were convening on the main dining room of Gabriella Cafe in hopes of hearing the loquacious über gardener Orin Martin orate on the topic of peppers, while his artist wife Stephanie demystified a few complex points of intaglio printing.

Nicely. That’s how.

A very diner-friendly prix fixe of $35 for three courses offered plenty of feather-light house focaccia and the pleasure of learning and listening over a cozy glass of wine.  The side dining room bulged with university brass, including Chancellor George Blumenthal and renowned astrophysicist Sandra Faber. In the large room, tables had been tightly grouped close to the main speakers’ table, which was loaded with Martin admirers as well as Farm and Garden alumni and master growers from Everett Family Farm.
I enjoyed my entree of pan-roasted trout, served with polenta and sautéed green beans, but the real stars of the evening were the heirloom peppers that formed both appetizer and talking points.

A gorgeous and delicious assortment of sweet corno de toro joined New Mexico peppers and small emerald patrons, followed by yet more brilliant “peppers of color,” as Orin called them, and a final salvo of fiery (!) serrenos, both green and red. Three courses of peppers! All were heirlooms and all put to shame the bland green bell peppers of my childhood. Dessert was also a welcome melange of heirloom apples—including Newtowns and Roxbury Russets—sliced beside Manchego and Tellagio cheeses. I sampled the brilliant new scarlet “A” Alfaro label covering a robust Syrah. Great company, nice evening. Afterwards Chancellor Blumenthal worked the room, congratulating the Martins and shaking hands with many attending professors, students and alumni at surrounding tables. Thanks to Paul Cocking for putting together an old-fashioned salon evening.

La Posta Spin: The kitchen of Katherine Stern makes it look so easy. Those paper-thin crusted pizzas, the imaginative contorni and salads, the unexpected spins on culinary staples. For example, thick slabs of gossamer polenta infused with nettles. Beautiful and intriguing, the green of the side dish was reinforced by slivers of green olives. The polenta was the guest side along a large, deliciously moist duck leg.  My dining companion began with a small plate of tangy, lemony roasted brussel sprouts and garbanzo beans, followed by one of those sure-fire house pizzas topped with mozzarella, yellow bell peppers and house Italian sausage. We have grown quite fond of both the price and flavor of the house carafe of Montepulciano ($7 for a glass and a half!). So our dinner of a shared pizza, a shared entree (enough to take home for lunch) and shared app always hovers around the $50 mark. Somehow this makes us inclined to go out to eat more often, rather than less often.

Thanksgiving Wines: Put rosé —such as Birichino’s pink grenache or West Cliff Wines new Rosé of Syrah—on your list of sprightly liquids that enjoy pairing with turkey. And remember, you can never ever go wrong with bubbly. . . . which brings me to my next item. You can discover your new favorite champagne at this Saturday’s Soif Champagne tasting. From 2-4pm ($20) you’ll be guided through some very small-scale, handcrafted Champagnes that are loaded with regional terroir and varietal characteristics. Join this lively, nay sparkling tasting of small grower sparklers from Franck Pascal, Lassaigne, Larmandier-Bernier and even a few that you can pronounce, led by the ever-interesting Jeff Vierra of Farm Wine Imports. That’s Saturday, November 17 at 2pm.

Call Alyssa for your reservation at (831) 423-2020 or email alyssa@soifwine.com.