Wine in the Woods: a delicious mystery

An enchanted “mystery dinner” brought together friends and friendly strangers.

A bunch of friends signed up late last month for an exciting culinary excursion organized by Chef Robert Allen and his cohorts at Citico’s restaurant and WindRiver resort in Lenoir City.

Called “Wine in the Woods Mystery Dinner,” here was the plan. Guests signed up and paid a very reasonable $150 per person fee. They then showed up at Citico’s for a special cocktail and were ushered onto a boat by which they were transported to a mystery location on the sprawling Tellico Lake property. A gourmet dinner with wine (and other beverage) pairings ensued. At the conclusion of the magical evening, everyone was ferried back to their cars at Citico’s.

The evening was a success in every sense. First of all, it was a sellout. Then, although some of us were worried about it, the weather ended up cooperating. (There was a rain plan which, thankfully, was not needed.) The company was convivial, the food and wine delicious and the setting beautiful.

Come along!

Chef Robert Allen greets Bruce and Monique Anderson in the parking lot of Citico’s as the evening commenced.

First things first: a cocktail gathering in the dining room of the private home that was transformed into the tony eatery that is Citico’s.

The signature cocktail: a Strawberry Gin Smash! Sounds festive and summery, doesn’t it? That’s the way it tasted, too!

Mandee McNew invented the libation.

Carmen Lane helped prepare them.

Guests Michael Higdon, left, and Scott Bird enjoying their “smashes” on the back porch overlooking the lake.

We waited for the signal to walk down to board our boat.

All aboard!

Our captain was Joe Ayres, who bought the WindRiver development out of bankruptcy several years ago.

Shaun Fulco and Dave Ballance on the ride to the mystery location.

Landfall after about 20 minutes.

This looks promising.

As does this.

First course was set up as a help yourself station. It consisted of rabbit rillette with pickled vegetables and artisan cheeses.

When we were seated, the rillette was brought to the table. Rillette is a French meat preparation similar to pate. It is to be spread on toast.

The rabbit rillette was paired with Veuve Clicquot “Ponsardin” Brut. Yum.

Carole and Joe Ayres.

Citico’s sommelier, Collin Ginebaugh, described the pairings.

Chef Robert Allen said the entire meal was inspired by “walking along the trail.”

Steve and Kaye Maynard with his sister, Linda Pedersen, center, visiting from Idaho.

Here’s the Mauer family. From left, Robert, Colleen, Ryan, Shannon and Brendan.

The red snapper crudo which came next looked like a beautiful piece of modern art. The raw snapper was complemented with tomato, citrus, truffles and squid ink!

It was served with cold Joto Junmai sake, which I thought was delicious.

Shaun shows us how to kill a shot of sake!

So does Michael Foltz. His tongue is showing signs that it has tangled with the squid ink!


Shaun is allergic to seafood, but Dr. Doug Leahy, seated across from her, assured us he was ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary! Fortunately, it was not!

Melissa Brinley and David Flynn.

We were a chatty group!

Mandee and Eric McNew. They write the Knox Foodies blog.

Eric and Lauren Speckner.

Next up: local greens in a salad that also contained asparagus, snow peas and black garlic. It was served with a Famille Hugel riesling.

Fire roasted veggies consisted of mushrooms, broccolini, carrots and garlic sauce. The wine was a Ken Wright “Shea Vineyard” pinot noir.

Bean pots were spaced out on the table.

Colleen and Dave Brethen.

This was my favorite dish: razor clams with chorizo, onion, oregano and chardonnay. They were served with Soave Classico Suavia.

Venison duet: cabernet marinated loin and short rib. They were served with sunchoke, squash, huckleberries and tomato. Wine accompaniment was Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Syrah.

It was beginning to get dark at this point. The lights were run by a generator.

Dessert was a version of s’mores: cardamum pots de creme, graham crackers, strawberries and marshmallow.

Chilled framboise beer came with dessert. It’s fermented with raspberries.

We hated for the evening to end. But we were grateful for all the thought and work that went into making it possible. Can’t wait to do it again!

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