Two decades ago, when Nena Cosic arrived in the Tri-Cities after fleeing war-torn Bosnia, she didn’t see much of a wine and food culture.
Fortunately, her sister, friends and her colleagues at Kadlec Regional Medical Center convinced Cosic to put down roots in the Columbia Valley and transform her childhood passion for baking and cooking into a professional career. Now, Cosic has teamed up with one of the Pacific Northwest’s top winemakers — Victor Palencia — to form a vibrant mobile catering company they’ve named Culture Shock Bistro.
Their new business also has become a featured attraction at the Columbia Gardens Wine & Artisan Village and serves as the anchor for the Port of Kennewick’s Food Truck Plaza.
“Victor and I want to highlight our background, who we are and where we come from,” Cosic said. “We want to highlight some of the dishes that come from his culture and my culture.”
Inspired by her Mediterranean heritage and Palencia’s ties to not only the Yakima Valley where he grew up but also his native state of Michoacán in Mexico, Culture Shock Bistro offers tapas and charcuterie. It’s an ideal match for the Columbia Gardens Wine Village where their business is one of six food trucks providing options for wine lovers visiting the four tasting rooms.
Forming the cluster are two wineries — Monarcha by Palencia and Bart Fawbush’s Bartholomew Winery — and satellite tasting rooms for Cave B Estate Winery in Quincy and Gordon Estate in Pasco.
A few years ago, the Port of Kennewick acquired and cleared 16 acres on Kennewick’s waterfront to create the Columbia Gardens Wine & Artisan Village. The intent was to leverage wine production and tasting rooms to bring new jobs and economic vibrancy to the historic downtown, says Tim Arntzen, Port of Kennewick CEO.
“Those businesses are helping transform the neighborhood into a regional destination with award-winning artworks, great food, wonderful wines and recreational paths — all nestled alongside a scenic waterfront,” Arntzen says. “The port is now working to sell or ground-lease the remaining shovel-ready parcels to help encourage additional, complementary development such as cafés, boutique shops, breweries, production wineries or more tasting rooms.”
Alas, the pandemic took its toll on the Columbia Gardens Wine Village, particularly during weekends when wineries generate most of their tasting room sales. On weekdays, the Food Truck Plaza often does a bustling lunch business beyond wine tourists.
However, not all of the food trucks operate consistently or are open on the weekends, and that didn’t match up with Palencia’s stated mission for Monarcha at Columbia Gardens, which is to build upon the food-and-wine culture in the Tri-Cities, so he bought a food truck.
“It was hard to coordinate the food trucks’ schedules with ours,” Palencia said. “A lot of our traffic is on the weekends, whereas a lot of the food truck business is during the week. I needed to make this investment, and we want to help all of the wineries in the group. We encourage our winery customers to try the other wineries in the area and find their taste.”
Freddy Arredondo, award-winning winemaker for Cave B and a professional chef who studied at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Asti, points out not only are wine lovers benefiting from the arrival of Culture Shock Bistro, but so are the neighboring wineries.
“We at Cave B are so thankful that Victor and Nena took the plunge into the food truck world in order to provide consistent food options for all of the Columbia Gardens tasting room guests,” Arredondo said. “Culture Shock Bistro has a consistent schedule, and we feel confident in telling people when they call to inquire about food options near us while they are visiting us to taste our wines.”
The assortment of fare at the Food Truck Plaza is as diverse as the wines available at Columbia Gardens.
▪ Culture Shock Bistro is the latest addition to Cosic’s business portfolio, which includes European Dessert and Appetizers by Nena in Kennewick.
▪ Swampy’s BBQ is owned and operated by Ron Swanby.
▪ Ninja Bistro, which features an Asian fusion menu, is owned and operated by David Phongsa.
▪ Ann’s Best Creole is owned and inspired by Ann Lockhart, whose Southern menu is also available at the popular Ann’s Best Café at the Richland Airport.
▪ Bobablastic Tri-Cities, operated by Joseph Beltran, creates bubble tea, rice bowls and portable frozen desserts. Bobablastic is part of a regional company with its bright red food trucks in more than a dozen Northwest cities.
▪ Don Taco serves Mexican fare created by owner Mario Zuniga.
Each winery tasting room offers seating outdoors within a lightly fenced area adjacent to its tasting bar, and because of the nature of the business, state laws dictate strict protocols.
“We allow food from anywhere on our outdoor deck area, and there are no restrictions as to which food is allowed,” Arredondo says. “Of course, wine cannot leave our licensed area, but anyone is welcome to bring food to eat while they are enjoying Cave B wine. This is not open seating if they are not purchasing wine.”
Cosic’s popular selections of charcuterie — a tribute to her father’s special touch with cured meat — are easily transportable. Beyond that, one of the features Culture Shock Bistro provides across the four tasting rooms is a pager-type system that alerts patrons to know when their order is ready for pickup.
“Baking is my passion and my therapy, but I’ve loved to cook ever since I was 5 years old,” Cosic says. “I worked at Kadlec as an endoscopy tech, and we would have these potlucks every week. So I would take my food and all the doctors and nurses and the other techs would always tell me, ‘You have to start your own business!’ They basically pushed me.”
So in 2018 she began catering, launching European Dessert and Appetizers by Nena not long after. Her culinary work led her to the kitchen at the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser, where she credits Rachel Mercer with much of her success.
“I knew absolutely nothing about wine, and I had no idea who Victor was!” Cosic says. “Rachel was my boss, and she said, ‘Victor is going to be here today and you have to meet him. You are going to love him.’ So I walked up to Victor and handed him my business card and said, ‘You have to hire me for your events!’ ”
A month later, she began catering for him, including the grand opening of his Bodega Palencia.
“I saw her amazing talent and energy right off the bat,” Palencia says. “We were always looking for a great caterer, and, of course, I loved her story. It aligns with our story. It was a perfect fit.
“COVID changed the way we were doing business and selling wine, so I think it pushed us both over the edge to take the plunge of faith for the food truck,” Palencia continues. “The dots started connecting. We talked about it over a glass of wine, and I said, ‘If I build it, you’ll run it, right?’ ”
And Palencia also stayed right in Kennewick by having Western Food Trucks & Trailers create the mobile stage for Cosic.
“With COVID, so much of the food industry has been take-out, even for a lot of restaurants,” Palencia said. “They’ve needed to rethink how they prep the food and repackage the food so that it still has the same quality.”
Cosic works six days a week, devoting her one day off to exploring the food and wine culture in the region.
“Rachel gave me so much confidence and taught me a lot about cooking with wine,” Cosic said. “I didn’t know anything about wine. My dad made brandy back home. Well, it’s moonshine. We lived in the mountain region, and we didn’t consume wine.”
Now, Cosic has the benefit of working with Palencia’s wines, which rank among the best on the continent year after year.
“Monarcha will be the guinea pig customer of Culture Shock,” Palencia said. “We will start rolling out these around-the-world winemaker dinners, food-and-wine pairing classes, charcuterie classes, open-air dining. And I hope these will inspire others to do the same things.”
For her Match Maker assignment, Cosic worked with the Vino la Monarcha 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Palencia Wine Co., 2018 El Viñador Albariño.
“We picked our two favorites and also super-easy dishes to make at home — Mussels in Albariño and Margherita flatbread,” Cosic said.
The ingredients and approach serve as extensions of what Culture Shock is about.
“We want these dishes to be more of a lifestyle than a special occasion thing,” said Palencia. “We want people to enjoy this life on a daily basis.
“Albariño in general is such a good appetizer wine, and it’s delicious with the mussels and the richness of them together,” Palencia added. “There’s the minerality and brininess of the Albariño with the saltiness of the mussels, and Nena sautés them with a little bit of the Albariño. It’s just a really good way to enjoy the Spanish/Iberian theme.”
Of the Albariño, Cosic said, “This is the most perfect pairing of wine and food I have come across in the last five years!”
Historically, many Old World wines carried some residual sugar, and one of the underlying thoughts when pairing dessert wines is that the food must not be as sweet as the wine. Phongsa at Ninja Bistro deals with that dilemma deliciously by presenting his Kimchi Quesadilla, a savory and lightly spicy dish, with the Gordon Estate 2019 Estate Gewürztraminer Ice Wine.
“David is very familiar with our wines, and our ice wine would likely pair well with most anything from Ninja Bistro’s menu,” said Katie Gordon Nelson.
For the Cave B Estate Winery’s 2017 Caveman Red, Swanby offers up his BabyBack Sammie, which features bacon and pork. And a trip to Cave B patio brought an additional delight with a glass of Tempranillo that tasting room manager Linda Moran points out plays quite well with the dairy component in the Smoked Macaroni and Cheese, which Swanby serves as a side to the BabyBack Sammie.
Swanby declined to provide the recipe for his barbecue sauce or the method for the Smoked Mac and Cheese.
“I’ve won competitions with both, so I don’t want to help my competitors out there,” Swanby said with a smile that might seem a bit familiar for fans of Bergevin Lane Winery in Walla Walla. Annette Bergevin is a cousin.
Swampy’s doesn’t operate on Sundays and typically is open at the Food Truck Plaza on one Saturday each month to present its Cinco de Nachos.
“People line up early for them,” says Swanby. “And we sell out of them every time.”
Sharing the parking lot with Monarcha is Bartholomew Winery, and while both programs are routinely feted by Wine Press Northwest, their portfolios offer quite a contrast.
Last fall marked the 11th commercial vintage for owner/winemaker Bart Fawbush, and while he attracts acclaim with varieties such as Primitivo, Graciano, Aglianico and Souzão, his calling card is Carménère — an obscure red Bordeaux grape. He’ll soon be able to offer customers five vineyard-designate examples of Carménère from four AVAs, but this Match Maker spotlights his 2018 from Red Mountain.
“One of the things I like about Carménère is that it pairs with a lot of different foods,” he said. “It’s kind of like the curry of wine. There are a ton of different peppers and spices and flavors in there. It’s like a Cab Franc — a medium-bodied red wine that’s not going to overpower your food. I like it with barbecue, smoked meats or garlic. And creole food has a LOT of flavor, a lot of spice.”
At Ann’s Best Creole, the Catfish PoBoy, a Louisiana-inspired sandwich with blackened catfish, brings spices and pepper to the party, and it highlights a delicious boysenberry note in the Bartholomew 2018 Carm from Kiona’s Heart of the Hill Vineyard.
“I’ve found that most people like Carménère — I’d say about a 90/10 split,” Fawbush said. “Sure enough, we never have a problem selling out of it.”
The Fawbush family — but not Bartholomew Winery — provided the foil for those seeking dessert from the Food Truck Plaza. And it involves Jaxon Fawbush, the son of Bartholomew’s winemaker. He expressed an interest in wanting to help market the family business, so amid the pandemic and at-home learning, Jaxon got on-the-job training last fall.
“It was his senior year, and we thought he should have some sort of project,” Fawbush said. “I saw a meme that said, ‘Start your day with coffee and finish it with wine.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, most of my customers do that — including myself.’
“So we decided to start a coffee company and do it by subscription — like what we do with our wine club,” he added.
It is Chimeric Coffee, a collaboration with Rockabilly Roasting Co. in Kennewick.
“Having online businesses that allow you to ship products out to people was our thought process,” Fawbush said. “If people are homebound, they are still going to have their coffee and their wine. And Rockabilly is a small company like us — and they’ve been a fantastic company to work with.”
For the Match Maker, Fawbush first wondered if Bobablastic offered coffee cake, but then he thought, “chocolate and coffee.”
And while the core of menu for Bobablastic — which has grown to 15 locations throughout Oregon and Washington wine country since 2016 — revolves around Taiwan-inspired bubble tea, there are chocolate-covered desserts on a stick, and the Cheesecake Chocolate Dipper with chopped nuts plays nicely with the Chimeric Coffee Club Bold blend, bringing out notes of cinnamon, toast and earthiness.
Fawbush also offers a Medium blend, which are available via subscription and purchase in the Bartholomew tasting room. While coffee by the cup is not an option yet, there are plans to provide tastings and education on the second floor of the tasting room.
“When you have people come in for wine tastings, you often have a designated driver or someone who says they are a beer person,” Fawbush said. “So hey, what about offering them a cup of coffee or a cup of tea? We are looking to make sure that everyone has a great experience here — even the designated driver.”
ERIC DEGERMAN operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.
Mussels in Albariño
By Nena Cosic of Culture Shock Bistro paired with the Palencia Winery 2018 El Viñador Albariño
1 pound of your favorite mussels in the shell
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh garlic
1-2 stalks of thyme
1 cup of Albariño from Palencia Wine Co.
1. In a medium sauté pan, heat up olive oil, add garlic and brown it before adding stalks of thyme.
2. Once you add your thyme and you start to smell the aroma of garlic and herbs, it’s time to pour in the Albariño. Then drop in your bag of frozen mussels.
3. Place a lid and let it steam for about 10 minutes on medium heat.
4. Don’t forget to sip on the remaining Albariño
By Nena Cosic of Culture Shock Bistro paired with the Monarcha 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
One store-bought naan bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons pizza sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
One pinch of sea salt
1. In a small microwaveable dish heat up tomato sauce, olive oil and sugar for one minute.
2. Spread this on your naan bread, place mozzarella and fresh slices of tomatoes on top.
3. Sprinkle sea salt and bake in a preheated oven at 400F for 10 minutes.
4. Once baked, drizzle balsamic glaze and sprinkle freshly chopped basil.
By David Phongsa of Ninja Bistro paired with the Gordon Estate 2019 Estate Gewürztraminer Ice Wine
1 large flour tortilla
2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup of seasoned cooked protein of choice (we offer Kalua Pork, Sesame Beef, Shoyu Chicken or fried tofu)
1/4 cup of diced kimchi (Beyond Pickles in the Tri-Cities offers a great KoreanKimchi)
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of spicy mayonnaise (optional, for topping. Lee Kum Kee Sriracha Mayo is a great choice, or you can make your own like we do)
1 tablespoon of chopped green onions (optional for garnish)
1. Heat your oil in a skillet on medium heat. Once oil is hot, place the flour tortilla on the skillet to lay flat.
2. Add the shredded mozzarella cheese to cover the entire tortilla
3. Add seasoned cooked protein of choice and diced kimchi to cover half of the tortilla
4. Once cheese starts to melt, fold your tortilla in half to cover the protein and kimchi. Your tortilla should be brown and crispy from the heat on the skillet.
5. Remove tortilla from skillet and cut into four large triangle pieces, like pizza.
6. Arrange cut pieces on serving dish, add spicy mayo on top (optional) and chopped green onions for garnish (optional).
7. Serve with your favorite hot sauces or salsa for dipping. (We serve ours with our Pineapple Habañero and Chili Garlic sauces.)
By Ron Swanby of Swampy’s BBQ paired with the Cave B Estate Winery nonvintage Caveman Red
1 rack of babyback ribs
Your favorite dry rub
1. Peel membrane from back of the ribs.
2. Apply rub generously
3. Place ribs directly in the smoker at 250 degrees for three hours. Wrap in foil and cook them for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the bones slide out clean.
Candied Bacon and Onions
1. Dice bacon and onions, equal amount of each.
2. Cook bacon, then sauté onions with the bacon. When the onions are translucent, drain grease. Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar and syrup and heat on low, until the mixture has reduced and thickened.
3. Cut the rack of ribs in quarters, then place on a toasted bun.
4. Top it with the candied bacon and onions.
Social media, particularly via Facebook, is the best way to check in with each food truck for its menu of the day and hours of operation:
Culture Shock Bistro
Mussels in Albariño with the Palencia Wine Co. 2018 El Viñador Albariño
Margherita Flatbread with the Monarcha Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
Ninja Asian Fusion
Kimchi Quesadilla with the Gordon Estate 2019 Estate Gewürztraminer Ice Wine
Swampy’s BBQ Sauce and Catering
BabyBack Sammie with the Cave B Estate Winery 2017 Cave B Vineyard Caveman Red Wine, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley
Ann’s Best Creole and Soul Food
Catfish PoBoy with Bartholomew Winery 2018 Carménère, Red Mountain
A shrimp or Ensenada-style fish taco filled with shaved cabbage, fresh guacamole, Mexican cream, and both red and green salsa with the Cave B Estate Winery 2019 Cave B Vineyard Gewürztraminer, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley
Cheesecake Chocolate Dipper with Nuts with the Chimeric Coffee Club Bold by Rockabilly Roasting Co.