Find the Per­fect Pair­ing at Cooper’s Hawk

Cal­i­for­nia-style wine ex­pe­ri­ence comes to Naples

RSWLiving - - Culinary - BY GINA BIRCH

South­west Florid­i­ans can travel across the coun­try to Sonoma or Napa for the ul­ti­mate Cal­i­for­nia wine-tast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence—or they can get a taste of the real deal without ever leav­ing the area, at Cooper’s Hawk in Naples. The Napa-style tast­ing room and restau­rant opened in March 2016, and its suc­cess has ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions, ac­cord­ing to gen­eral man­ager Ryan Quisen­berry. A part of the Illi­nois-based com­pany for six years, he says, “It’s like noth­ing I’ve seen be­fore; a tast­ing room, restau­rant and bar.”

When peo­ple first walk in, most are amazed by the size of the tast­ing room. It’s full of wine, gourmet food items and trin­kets geared to­ward oenophiles. The tast­ing bar can ac­com­mo­date big crowds and is a pop­u­lar spot for birth­day par­ties and pre­din­ing con­gre­gat­ing.

While the tast­ing room cer­tainly is unique to South­west Florida, it’s the restau­rant that seals the deal. De­signed to bring the out­doors in, with lots of nat­u­ral light­ing, the de­sign of this more than 10,000-square-foot space is con­tem­po­rary rus­tic.

The menu is also ex­pan­sive. Emily Yar­nell, ex­ec­u­tive kitchen man­ager, says, “The va­ri­ety, the menu, it’s pretty big. It spans lots of cuisines, so you can bring a whole group and ev­ery­one

can find some­thing they like.” One of her fa­vorites is the short rib risotto, com­fort food at its best with a rich mix of c om­ple­men­tary el­e­ments that in­clude mush­rooms, sweet onion, shaved Parme­san and white truf­fle oil. “It’s some­thing that is ex­e­cuted flaw­lessly every sin­gle time; I al­ways rec­om­mend it,” she says.

The risotto is one of Quisen­berry’s fa­vorites as well, but, he adds, “I can’t come here and not get a steak and glass of the bar­rel re­serve; it’s one of my go-to’s.”

The ginger soy-glazed New York strip is another crowd pleaser. The cen­ter cut is mar­i­nated for an hour in a ma­chine called the tum­bler; prongs hold the meat, gen­tly toss­ing it in the marinade be­fore it’s grilled.

The gnoc­chi is made from ri­cotta in­stead of potato and is sautéed, re­sult­ing in a lighter con­sis­tency than what is served at most restau­rants. It comes with roasted but­ter­nut squash in sa­vory sage-brown but­ter cream or in a hearty Bolog­nese with braised short ribs.

For an ap­pe­tizer, the Mex­i­can Drunken Shrimp is per­fect for shar­ing, if you can sur­ren­der the plate. They are ba­con wrapped and served in a te­quila lime but­ter sauce with gua­camole.

The por­tions here are gen­er­ous, so if you’re not as hun­gry or watch­ing your caloric in­take, the Life Bal­ance menu has se­lec­tions and serv­ing sizes all fit­ting in the 600-calo­rie and un­der range.

There are dozens of wines on the menu and special se­lec­tions in the tast­ing room every month. It can be over­whelm­ing to a first-, even second-time diner. That’s where Cooper’s Hawk el­e­vates the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence by tak­ing the guess­work out. Wine-pair­ing sug­ges­tions are of­fered for every sin­gle menu item, in­clud­ing the desserts. You can also or­der wine flights: four small pours of red, white, sparkling and more to taste side by side.

Dessert wines in­clude those made from fruits other than grapes, as well as an ice wine and a port-style red; it goes nicely with the s’more budino. Rem­i­nis­cent of child­hood, a thick layer of toasted marsh­mal­low caps a clear glass full of caramel cus­tard, Val­rhona choco­late mousse and brown-but­ter toasted gra­ham cracker. It’s in­sanely sweet.

Con­sis­tency is an im­por­tant word in the kitchen cul­ture at Cooper’s Hawk, not just in the day-to-day ser­vice, but also from restau­rant to restau­rant, from Illi­nois to Florida.

Not only does the staff go through ex­ten­sive train­ing, chef Yar­nell says, “We have fam­ily mealtime where we talk about fla­vors, the menu, sell­ing points. It’s un­like any­thing I’ve ever seen.”

Cooper’s Hawk is the cre­ation of Tim McEn­ery. He got the idea for the ven­ture dur­ing a tast­ing at a small bou­tique win­ery out­side Chicago with his fu­ture wife. McEn­ery re­mem­bers, “They brought in grapes from Cal­i­for­nia and Wash­ing­ton, and I thought, ‘Too bad they don’t have a restau­rant here; that would be kinda cool.’ That was the gen­e­sis of the idea.”

McEn­ery searches wine re­gions world­wide, sourc­ing grapes for the Cooper’s Hawk brand. It’s not just served in the tast­ing rooms and restau­rants, but also pur­chased monthly by mem­bers of the pop­u­lar wine club.

The en­tre­pre­neur says he trav­eled to Naples 25 times over the course of a cou­ple of years, look­ing for “the right cor­ner” to ex­pand. It was a good de­ci­sion, ac­cord­ing to McEn­ery, who says, “This is our 22nd restau­rant, and by far it’s the most buzz we’ve ever had.”

For as large as the restau­rant is, it stays booked; reser­va­tions are sug­gested.

Cooper’s Hawk cel­e­brates its 12-year an­niver­sary this Oc­to­ber. There are now eight restau­rants across the Sun­shine State, nearly 30 na­tion­wide.

Cooper’s Hawk el­e­vates the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence by tak­ing the guess­work out. Wine-pair­ing sug­ges­tions are of­fered for every sin­gle menu item, in­clud­ing the desserts.

The menu in­cludes wild mush­room-crusted chicken with sweet corn and pea risotto (below left); Asian pork belly tostadas, held by chef Emily Yar­nell (below right); and a va­ri­ety of wine flights (above).

Cooper’s Hawk Lux is a pre­mium line of wines in the com­pany's col­lec­tion. Above, pan-roasted bar­ra­mundi is on the Life Bal­ance menu of lower-calo­rie dishes.

A board full of ar­ti­san cheeses and can­died ba­con is the per­fect start to a meal at Cooper's Hawk, and the s'more budino (inset) is a great way to fin­ish.

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