About this Blog
The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.
Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.
Friday, December 2, 2011
The Chef’s Table is a comfortable 18-seat restaurant that is attached to the gourmet grocery, Brooklyn Fare in Brooklyn, NY. The seats are around a stainless steel counter that is in the kitchen. Pristinely clean and intimate it is the setting for an amazing prix-fixed extravaganza that is compromised of approximately 25 courses (plates), the last of which is meat. Reservation information can be found on their website.
Mexican by birth, Mr. Ramirez’s family moved to the United States when he was four years old. In lieu of going to cooking schools, he learned his trade by working in some of the country’s top restaurants including David Bouley’s Danube in NYC. He learned his trade very well. He believes in using only the freshest and finest ingredients available, no matter where he must obtain them from. I would characterize his food as European influenced in which the simplicity of Japanese preparation technique plays a big role. The resulting dishes are absolutely stunning. Trying to explain them is like trying to explain to a child why the sky is blue. So I will refrain from trying and simply list what we enjoyed with minimal comments. Special thanks to Jack and Pete who’s detailed notes on each course made this post possible.
Let us begin with the meal, which was comprised of fifteen one-bite appetizers, 6 small entrées and 3 desserts, each of which was an explosion of flavors, textures and temperatures on the palate.
Butternut Squash soup flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon and topped with yogurt foam. A perfect choice to prepare the palate for what was to follow.
Fluke with pickled Daikon. Sashami grade, impeccably fresh & delicious. I could have eaten 6 of these.
Amadai (a red snapper from Japan) with scales. The scales were crunchy and created a fabulous texture contrast. Oh yea, could have eaten 6 or more of these easily.
Kumimoto Oyster w/Granny Smith Apple topped with a disc of apple gelée. This was a textural tour de force.
Tasmanian trout with Trout Roe served atop celery root and apple remoulade. According to Cesar this fish is only available for 6 weeks each year and only available from Seattle, WA. Amazing, amazing, amazing.
Hiramatsu with Golden Trout Roe. Spectacular!
Wild Japanese Sea Bass with dried domestic caviar. Spectacular again!!
Striped Horse Mackerel with Ginger dressing. Whatever the superlative above spectacular is, it fits this dish.
San Diego Sea Urchin and black truffle on brioche. According to Jack, the best course so far. I offer no opposition to his testimony as it was fabulous.
Whipped Tofu with soy and wasabi. Interesting, tasty, but not what you will come back for.
Porifera Sardine with sage and potato. Don’t know where this comes from, but if I find out I may go there. Delicious!
Octopus with hearts of palm served with a chipotle Japanese Mayo (Kewpie Mayo). It is simply not fair how food can taste this good. I love octopus, but this was ridiculous. The texture and flavor combination of this dish were symphonic. Best octopus dish I have ever had, bar none.
Tempura Langostine with Saffron infused Kewpie mayo. Crunchy, briny and decadent. I want to sit down to a meal of just this.
Caviar (American sturgeon) with cod and potato gently smoked at tableside. I am not a caviar fan, but more plates like this one and I will be.
Fois gras & Sea Urchin Custard with egg crab and Abalone, finished with a truffle Dashi. Jack’s comment on this dish was that it is his last meal request. Need I say more?
These were only the appetizers, for entrées we enjoyed:
Pan seared scallop with pork belly, foam and micro greens and served with a celery root purée. Incredible combination.
Black Bass with Blue Foot Mushrooms in a smoked chanterelle sauce with snow pea leaves. Wow!
Chestnut filled Angnoletti in a buerre monte sauce with shaved white truffles. I wish there had been a dozen of these spectacular pasta pillows.
Red Mullet with saffron sauce and served with a Japanese rice that was treated like a risotto. Magnificent.
Dover Sole and Foie Gras wrapped in cabbage & served with a parley purée. Two of my favorite foods performing together to thunderous applause.
Duck served with baby turnip, and crosnes with a caramelized sunchoke puree. I am not a duck fan, so I gave mine away to the joy of one of my duck loving friends.
On to the desserts.
Reblochon Cheese with honeycomb
Greek Yogurt Sorbet with huckleberry sauce & elderflower fluid gel
Calvados & Caramel ice cream with apple granola cake.
All of these were very good. My favorite was the Calvados ice cream.
With this amazing meal we enjoyed seven amazing white wines from Domain Leflaive and one exceptional red from Domaine Pascal Maillard. All the Leflaive wines were from the 2007 vintage, a fantastic year for white Burgundy.
Domaine Leflaive is considered one of Burgundy’s greatest white wine (Chardonnay) domaines. The wines see very little new oak (12%) and are consistently elegant of the palate. There is great harmony between acid, minerality and fruit in all their wines. The wines on this night were no exception. The Domaine owns parcels in three of the four Montrachet grand crus and four of the best premier crus, for a total of 23 hectares in all.
While we waited for dinner to begin we sipped a 2007 Domaine Leflaive Macon Verze. Mâcon is a small commune in central France, in the region of Bourgogne, and the capital of the Mâconnais district. This is a stunning Villages white that has good balance and vibrancy and is drinking very well now and should continue to do for the next 3-5 years. I always keep a case or two in my cellar as it never disappoints and at $30 a bottle is a remarkable value.
Next in our glasses was a 2007 Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc. The straw hue sparkled in the glass and was subtlety elegant on the palate. A declassified Villages that is drinking very well and will continue for the next 5+ years. Another great value at $45.
Next we enjoyed a 2007 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montracet Villages. Wonderfully fresh and vibrant with a nice finish. For a Villages level white this is very good, although the $78 price tag is, in my opinion, a bit high. For the price I would stick with the Verze and Bourgogne at this level.
The first Premier Cru to make an appearance was the 2007 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montracet Clavoillons 1er Cru. Pure, fresh and expressive on the palate with a lengthy finish. This will set you back about $115, but is reasonable for a premier cru of this quality. Drinking well now, but will benefit from additional cellar time.
The next Premier Cru was a 2007 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montracet Les Folatieres 1er Cru. An absolutely lovely wine. Rich and complex on the palate with a monster finish. $169
The final Premier Cru was a 2007 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru. Terrific minerality and complexity in this wine. This should drink well for a long time. $184
The final white was a 2007 Domaine Leflaive Batard Montracet Grand Cru. The elegant bouquet of this wine soared from the glass. A rich, complex wine that tantalized the palate and finished with great length. While it was a delight to drink this needs five or more years of cellar time before it reaches its potential. Not cheap at $325. The wine of the evening in my humble opinion.
With the duck course we had the only red wine of the evening a 1993 Domaine Pascal Maillard Aloxe Corton Les Grandes Lollieres 1er Cru. A spectacular example of a great Burgundy. Fabulous purity of fruit on the palate with a lengthy and elegant finish. A great wine at a reasonable price. $125
These wines were a fantastic compliment to the meal and are available from 56º Wine in Bearnardsville, NJ.
Well there you have it. This was truly a dinning experience and one that I plan on repeating many times next year. I believe the prix-fixe meal on most nights is $185 per person, which is an absolute bargain when you consider other highly rated NYC restaurants are about three times the price. At the moment Chef’s Table does not have a liquor license so it is BYOB. However a liquor license is pending. I do not know if, when procured, this will eliminate the BYOB part.
Hail Ceasar, Chris and Joe for staging an incredible evening of food and wine.
Until next time,
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
For the second time in a week we went to Bivio Pizzeria Napoletana in Little Falls, NJ. And for the second time in a week we savored the wonderful pizzas crafted by Tomasso Colao, who is the owner along with his wife Jackie.
Before opening Bivio, Mr. Colao befriended Anthony Mangieri, proprieter of Una Pizza Napoletana, formerly of NYC and now San Francisco and learned all he could about making pizza dough. Mr. Mangieri makes his dough with the aid (I hope this is the right word) of a starter dough. I am a bit fuzzy here, but as I understand it, in lieu of adding yeast to the day’s dough production a piece of “mother dough” is added allowing the dough to “rise naturally”. Whatever the case is, the resulting dough is amazing and produces an incredible pizza. For a video of Mr. Mangieri making his dough and pizza click here.
Mr. Calao has been feeding his pizza dough his “mother culture” (the foundation of his pizzas) daily for 6 years. The pies are baked in a custom-built brick oven made in Naples, Italy.
The pizza that emerges from the oven is a thing of beauty. It is comprised of a puffy, sporadically charred blistery crust that is neither crisp nor soggy but has the tenderness reminiscent of a great loaf of Italian bread and is the perfect setting for the limited number of toppings available to compliment it.
The menu lists 5 pizzas plus two daily special pizzas, and 3 salads along with one salad special. My favorites are the Marghrita made with San Marzano tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and the same pizza with the addition of Italian sausage.
While I love an ice cold beer with my pizza, pizza this good deserves a great wine and a 1996 Bovio Barolo Vigna Gattera was a perfect match on this evening. A traditionally made, great old world wine that is singing at the moment. An earthy bouquet greets the nose in an almost intoxicating fashion. On the palate there is an explosion of pure fruit with a finish that is pure elegance. A wine full of soul as was the pizza. $75 at De-Vino Wine Boutique in NYC.
Ah, but let us not forget dessert. We enjoyed homemade cannelloni and Italian Orange Cheesecake that were the ideal compliments to our espresso.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the staff is courteous, friendly and very professional. Only open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations for 5 or more accepted. BYOB.
Until next time,
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
As you know I am a traditionalist when it comes to wine, and so it should come as no surprise that the ensuing wines fall into that category. They tantalize the palate with their purity and balance and finish with elegance. Simply put they are delicious, inexpensive and possess soul. The only down side is they may not be that easy to find as most wine shops probably do not carry them. If you subscribe to Wine-Searcher.com, I suggest you avail yourself of this resource if you are interested in purchasing them. You will be glad you did.
Touraine is a Loire Valley appellation around the city of Tours, France. Pineau d'Aunis, also known as Chenin Noir is the red grape variety around Touraine and Anjou. The vineyards of Clos Roche Blanche were planted on the Touraine hills bordering the Cher River by the Roussel family at the end of the 19th century and have remained in the family since. Organically farmed, the grapes are hand-harvested. The must is handled by gravity at all stages. The wine then ages on its lees, is bottled by gravity by hand without filtration to avoid mechanical manipulation that would unsettle it. Instead of using sulfur at bottling, the bottles are blanketed with CO2. The resulting wines are a terrific expression of the grape, the land and the climate, i.e. terroir. I have recently tried two of the wines from this amazing producer and they are destined to occupy space in my cellar for years to come.
2010 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Pineau D'Aunis Rosé. This is quite simply one of the most delicious Rosé wines I have ever tasted. It possesses a cloudy pink hue and is dry & peppery on the palate, similar to Grenache. The wine is completely round and must be tasted to appreciate, and at $20 a bottle is a fantastic value. Equally impressive is the 2010 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine L'Arpent Rouge. This is a wine filled with terroir. Upon opening you are met with a bouquet that is pure barnyard. After about 20 minutes in the glass the barnyard is replaced by a peppery & earthy bouquet, also reminiscent of Grenache. Delicious, and also only $20 a bottle. Both of these wines are full of soul.
The Jura is a small and relatively obscure wine region in eastern France, between Burgundy and the Swiss border. Its geographical isolation has helped it to remain a rare bastion of traditional winemaking techniques, and today it produces some of the most distinctive wines in the world. Reds from the Jura are often light-bodied, earthy, berried, and reminiscent of the village wines of Burgundy (though here they are made of local grapes like Poulsard and Trousseau) and are best appreciated if served with a slight chill on them. Arbois is a small commune in the Jura and produces some of the best wines of the Jura. Jacques Puffeney is one of the superstars of the Jura (among his colleagues he is known as the “the Pope of Arbois.” His wines are fantastic. The 2006 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Poulsard M, a blend of Pinot Noir, Trousseau & Poulsard, is an elegant, light red wine that is delicious. A perfect accompaniment to pizza, eggplant ptarmigan or spaghetti and meatballs. $24.
Philippe Bornard is another superstar of the Arbois. His 2006 Arbois Pupillin Melon le Rouge Queue is a spectacular white from the area. A blend of Melon and Malbec grapes the wine is stunning. The wine has wonderful complexity and balance and is fresh and pristinely pure on the palate with a hint of viscosity. The wine keeps evolving in the glass during the course of sipping it. Whenever I drink this wine I am reminded of the difference between enjoying and experiencing a wine.
My favorite white wine grape is Chenin Blanc. A grape of high acidity it is used to make spectacular still wines, sparkling wines and well-balanced dessert wines. In the hands of master traditional producers such as Gaston Huet and Francois Pinon these wines will rock your world. The wines hail from the Vouvray district of the Loire Valley in France. They are made to contain a percentage of residual sugar, which means fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. The resulting wines rather than being "sweet" have a beautifully integrated sweetness that seduces the palate. One of the beauties of these wines is that they can be enjoyed young (when they are inexpensive) or kept for 50+ years (when their value has increased by 10 to 30 fold) in the cellar. Here are some of my favorites that are drinking well now and will for decades to come.
2009 Francois Pinon Vouvray Silex Noir $22
2009 Francois Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition $22
Francois Pinon NV Touraine Brut Rose $19
2009 Huet Lieu Demi Sec $36
The red wines of Burgundy (Pinot Noir) continue to occupy more and more space in my cellar. They are for me they a wonderful expression of feminine elegance in a glass. Grand & Premier Cru Burgundies command a big price tag. Fortunately there are the Bourgogne and Villages levels of these wines, which are meant to be drunk earlier and are very affordable. They are usually made of the grapes that do not make it into the Grand & Premier Cru bottlings, but are crafted as the higher priced wines are. Here are a few from top producers that are worth trying. One note, do not worry about the year so much in as much if these producers make a wine in any given vintage it will be very good.
2007 Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les Beaune Villages Red $15
2004 Denis Bachelet Bourgogne Rouge $21
2009 Faiveley Ladoix $25
2006 Camille Giroud Marsannay Les Longeroles $30
Occupying even more space in my cellar are the red wines of Piedmonte, Italy. While Barbaresco and Barolo are the superstars of the region, do not over look the Barberas, Dolcettos and Arneis (white) made from top producers. Give these a try.
2007 Flavio Roddolo Dolcetto d’Alba at $17 is one of the best Dolcetto’s I have ever tasted. Pure & earthy with a long silky finish.
2007 Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba. From the master Barolo producer, this is a beautiful wine for under $25.
2004 Ada Nada Barbaresco Elisa, $36, along with Produttori Barbaresco, $35, these wines represent some of the greatest values for Nebiolo you will ever find.
The white wine grape of Piedmont is Arneis. It is most commonly found in the hills of Roero, northwest of Alba. Arneis wines are dry, full bodied, crisp and delightful to drink. Two of the best producers of Arneis are Bruno Giacosa and Ceretto. Ceretto’s Arneis Blange has a slight bit of spritz upon opening, and is very clean and soft on the palate. It is my wife’s favorite wine and has been for many years. $20.
Giacosa’s Rorero Arneis is also very clean and crisp on the palate. The wine has more complexity than the Ceretto and is my favorite Arneis. A bit more expensive at about $30 a bottle.
The following shops carry some, if not all of these wines.
Chambers Street Wines, NYC
New York Wine Warehouse, NYC
Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ
De-Vino Wine Boutique, NYC
ShopRite Liquors, West Caldwell, NJ
Until next time,
"Life’s too short to drink bad wine"!
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Along with good friends Cosmo and Gabrio I had another memorable meal there a couple of weeks ago. We began with Fried Baccala (Cod) and Trippa alla Trasteverina. I cannot go to Maialino without ordering the Baccala. Lightly battered and fried to perfection it is simply delicious. While I am not a fan of tripe, I tried a bit of Gabrio’s and I must admit it was very good. Made with Pecorino and mint, Gabrio enjoyed every morsel of it. BTW, when in season the fried artichokes ala Judea with anchovy sauce are an absolute must.
For pasta we licked our chops over the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe and Malfatti al Maialino.
The party continued with the Malfatti, large homemade pasta squares, sauced with braised suckling pig (from the leg) and Arugula. This was magnificent. Perfectly sauced with perfectly al dente Malfatti, this is a pasta I will never forget and will be sure to return to it when I next visit Maiailino. No description can do it the justice it deserves; it must be tasted to be appreciated. I have yet to be disappointed by a pasta dish here. In the past I have enjoyed such Roman classics as Spaghetti Carbonara (Italian version of bacon and eggs) and Bucatini alla Amatriciana.
Gabrio, owner of DeVino Wine Boutique in NYC, is one of the most knowledgeable wine people I know and so we deferred to his selections. To accompany the pasta dishes he selected a 2006 Marion Valpociella. Gabrio had introduced me to Marion Amarones a few years ago (the 2001 is simply magnificent) and I was impressed with their purity, balance and elegance. This was my first taste of Marion Vapolicella and I was equally impressed. The wine was terrific. A traditionally made wine with great balance and purity. Like their Amarone, it was a wine with soul. I guess this is not surprising when you consider that Celestino Gaspari who was the wine maker at Quintarelli for 20 years makes the Marion wines. It is the closest to a Quintarelli Amarone and Valpolicella than any other Amarone or Valpolicella I have tasted. And it sells for a fraction of the price. $64 on the wine list. An absolute bargain. Available at DeVino.
We also shared a plate of Pollo alla Diavola (Peppered Chicken, Arugula & Chili Vinaigrette). Another simple yet divine preparation, the chicken was perfectly cooked, moist and had just the right amount of spice on the palate. We enjoyed a delicious side dish of sautéed Italian Broad Beans with the chicken.
For these entrées Gabrio selected a 1995 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva. Located in the heart of Chianti Classico, I have always enjoyed the wines of this legendary producter. I had not tasted the wine in a few years and so this was a treat. The wine soared from the glass, danced on the palate and finished with a velvet elegance. It is drinking beautifully right now and should continue to do so for at least 5 years. It was round and delicious. $86 on the wine list, another great bargain. Available at DeVino, NYC.
We finished with espresso and drove home with a huge smile on our faces.
For a copy of chef Anderer’s Cacio e Pepe recipe click here.
Until next time,
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Since the Internet reviews I read ranged from bad to amazing I knew I had to drive up to New Haven and check this out for myself. My good friend Mario and I made the 90 minute drive on Thursday to check it out.
Before I tell you my experience some additional information is necessary. The only option at Louie’s is a hamburger or cheeseburger. The only toppings available are a slice of tomato and/or cooked onion. NO KETCHSUP OR MUSTARD OR MAYO IS PROVIDED OR ALLOWED. The burgers are made from a blend of beef that is freshly ground daily on the premises.
So how were they? Drum roll please!!! THE BEST CHEESEBURGER I HAVE EVER HAD, AND I HAVE HAD SOME GREAT CHEESEBURGERS IN MY TIME!!! The burger was thick, incredibly juicy and greaseless.
Louie’s is a very, very small place (300 – 400 square ft. would be my guess) with only two employees. One takes your order and collects your money while Louie’s grandson, the current proprietor, makes the burgers. Since there are only 3 burger ovens be prepared to wait about 30 minutes to get your burger. But the wait is worth it. Nibble on your potato salad while you wait and you will be happy as a lark.
For a video of Louie’s Lunch click here.
By the way, readers of this blog know that I do not pay attention to point or star ratings so I will not give one. I will however tell you that the most coveted rating in the world a restaurant can receive is a 3 star Michelin rating. A 3 star Michelin rating, according to Michelin, means that the dining experience is worth buying an airline ticket to go to the restaurant. Now I am not suggesting this, but if you are in the New Haven area it is definitely worth a detour. And if you are like me a 90-minute trip for an incredible burger experience is well worth it.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Polaner Selections, a wine importer and distributor in NJ & NY (perhaps elsewhere also), sports a prodigious portfolio of traditional style producers. Alongside the better-known giants such as Giuseppe Mascarello, Giacomo Conterno, & Gaston Huet are upcoming stars such as Cedric Bouchard and Lignier-Michelot. Doug himself is a young, articulate, passionate and knowledgeable wine guy.
Sharon Severns, Amanti Vino owner, supplied the wines for last night. Sharon, a customer of Polaner, shares Doug’s passion about wine and her spiffy, well-stocked wine shop in the heart of Montclair was recently voted best wine shop in Suburban Essex County.
The wine theme for the evening centered on Sharon & Doug’s passion for traditionally made Champagne, Burgundy and Barolo. As I share this same passion, I knew I was in for a great tasting. I was not disappointed.
While we found our seats and met other attendees we sipped a 2009 Cedric Bouchard Inforescence “Val Vilaine” Champagne, made from 100% Pinot Noir. This was my first experience with his champagne, and to say I was impressed would be a gross understatement. It was sheer elegance with tiny bubbles. The wine tantalized the palate and nose. The wine was drop dead gorgeous, and kept evolving as the night progressed. This is a Champagne that gets better (bubbles replaced with threads of silk) as it sits in your glass. As Doug explained this young maverick of a wine maker does not follow the usual convention of blending different grapes from different vineyards as well as the juice from different vintages to make champagne. Rather his champagnes are made from a single varietal (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), from a single vineyard, and single vintage cuveés. To quote the Polaner web site “Each wine is made only from juice from the first pressing, fermented only with indigenous yeast and handled meticulously in the cellar to guarantee the finest wines possible”. I understand that this champagne is his entry level offering, so I am looking forward to trying some of his other champagnes. $65
The dinner began with a remarkable dish; Butter Poached Lobster with Corn Flan. I apologize for not taking a picture of this, as it was as spectacular to look at as it was to eat. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, the lobster and corn flan played together in harmony like a piano duet by Ferrante & Teicher. With this we drank 2008 Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet “La Broudriotte. A 1er Cru Chardonnay wine from a great producer. This wine however, in my opinion, needs more cellar time. At the moment it is dominated by oak (on both the palate & nose) and is very acidic. Given a few more years of cellar aging, this should turn out to be an excellent wine. It was my least favorite wine of the evening. $80
The next course was Roasted Forest Mushrooms with Polenta, Truffle Oil, Parmesan Fondue. I am a fan of all these ingredients, and while the dish was a bit rich, it was none the less delicious. The wine chosen to pair with this dish was 2009 Morey St.-Denis “En Rue de Vergy” from Lignier-Michelot, another producer that was new to me. This wine knocked my socks off. The purity, balance and finish of this wine soared on the palate. This wine was a great example of the feminine elegance found in Pinot Noir wines from Burgundy. If it was the only wine I drank all night, I would have been happy… no make that ecstatic. 2009 was a terrific vintage in Burgundy and readers will do well to add wines from the vintage to their cellars. Especially wines of this quality at well under $100 a bottle. The domaine has only been estate bottling and selling their wines for the past 9 years. Yes it is a hidden gem. Currently the wine only qualifies for a Villages level designation, although efforts are underway to get it elevated to 1er cru. The wine is drinking beautifully now and will age well for at least 15 to 20 yeas. $60
The entrée consisted of Seared Duck Breast & Duck Confit with Almond Wild Rice. As I am not a fan of duck, Ariane was kind enough to make me chicken. She has told me about her buttermilk-fried chicken in the past and so she made it for me instead of the duck. Except for a breading that was on the salty side, the chicken was moist, tender and delicious. I enjoyed it immensely. 2005 Domaine Michel Gaunoux Pommard “Rugiens” 1er Cru accompanied the entrées. The terroir of the Cote de Beaune soared from the glass upon sampling its bouquet and continued on the palate with the first sip. Old world purity in spades, its finish was soft and elegant. To really appreciate this wine I would give it at least 5 more years of cellar aging, and then drink it over the next 50 years. $90
We were also treated to a tiny bit of this same wine from the 1999 vintage. It was spectacular. 1999 was a great vintage in Burgundy and this wine certainly attests to that. Again beautifully elegant and pure with a gorgeous earthy bouquet. This too will benefit from cellar time. $120
The final course of the evening was a cheese plate that was comprised of blue cheese, aged Gouda and another cheese, the name of which escapes me at the moment. The wine however I will remember for a long time, 2004 Roagna Barbaresco “Pajè” from Piedmont, Italy. I am a huge fan of Roagna wines and they occupy a fair amount of space in my cellar. This was my first taste of the 2004 and it was spectacular. From the Paje vineyard, Roagna made 3 Barbarescos in 2004. The normale, Pajè, as well as a Pajè Riserva and a Crichët Pajè Riserva, both of which I can not wait to try. For many, myself included, it was the wine of the night. The Nebbiolo grape, like the Pinot Noir grape, produces wines that soar with feminine elegance. I would think that is why Burgundy lovers also love Barolo and Barbaresco. This wine is drinking beautifully now and will continue to do so for many years to come. a bargain at $70.
All the wines are available at Amanti Vino.
Until next time,
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Howard was in charge of the wines last night and brought 5 wines from the Northern Rhone. We enjoyed these wines over dinner at Scalini Fideli Ristorante in Chatham, NJ. The restaurant does have a full bar and wine list, but as I understand it they allow customers to bring their own wine during the week. As I was a guest, I don't know if there is a corkage fee assed per bottle. I suggest you check with them to get the facts about bringing your own wine.
I have not been to Scalini in many years as I found the food, while good, to be a bit rich for my taste. I was glad to give it another try last night. For my appetizer I had a terrific pan-seared foie gras over roasted apples. It was delicious and went very well with the 1999 Jean Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc. JL Chave is an icon in the Northern Rhone and his wines are superbly crafted. This Marsanne (80%) & Roussanne (20%) blend was delicious. Chave uses only old oak or stainless steel for aging and as a result the wine possessed great purity and balance and finished with power and elegance. This wine, in my opinion, has another 20 years of enjoyable drinking. This was my first experience with the 1999. I am glad I have a few bottles in my cellar. At between $120 - $150 a bottle, while a bit pricey, it is well worth the indulgence. I rated this the #2 wine of the evening.
A 1993 Chapoutier Ermitage le Pavillon also went superbly with my foie gras. Crafted by yet another great Northern Rhone wine maker, this 100% Syrah comes from a small granite soiled 4-hectare plot. Yields are tiny and typically only about 600 cases are made annually. The nose upon opening would have made any farmer smile broadly as it was pure barnyard. On the palate it was soft, complex and balanced. The wine kept evolving in the glass over the next hour with the barnyard bouquet retiring and replaced by an enticing earthiness, while on the palate the wine took on a soaring elegance with a gorgeous finish. I rated this the #3 wine of the evening. This will also hit your pocketbook for about $120, a bargain in my opinion for an 18-year-old beauty.
For my main course I had Papparadelle pasta with a veal osso buco ragu, which was good but the addition of Mascarpone cheese, unneeded in my opinion, took the richness of the dish over the top. With our main courses we had 3 more Northern Rhone Syrahs. The next wine was a 1999 Guigal Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis. This wine is made from grapes from six hillside vineyards of the d”Ampuis property. (La Garde, La Clos, La Grande Plantee, La Pommiere, Pavillon Rouge, and Le Moulin). The wine is aged in both barrel and large foudre for 30 months prior to bottling. There are approximately 3,000 cases produced annually. While the wine is aged in new oak for 42 months, the oak is very well integrated. The wine had good balance and nice complexity, but in my opinion not worth the $200 price tag. I rated this the #4 wine of the evening.
The next wine of the evening was 2003 Delas Freres Cote Rotie la Landonne. This was definitely more modern in style with oak dominating the wine. Perhaps the reason can be found on their importer’s website which states that Delas wines are made by “a panel of experts headed by winemaker Jacques Grange . Together, the team makes wines that have been heralded for their intensity of flavor and excellent value." Perhaps there are too many cooks in the kitchen? At about $200 a bottle I think the team needs to reconsider the words “excellent value”. The wine was overshadowed by the other wines. Everyone was of the opinion that it was the #5 wine of the evening.
The final wine of the evening was a 1997 JL Chave Hermitage. Wow! Consensus had it as the wine of the evening. This wine absolutely soared from the glass. Nothing more to say than it was full of terroir, balanced and outright delicious. As Jeff so aptly put it, this was a wine with soul. This will set you back about $200. A small price to pay for such soul.
Howard you did a great job. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Drinking great wines with friends, old and new, is surely one of life’s finer moments. Thanks again for inviting me.
Until next time,
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I first learned about Joe Dressner in Alice Fiering’s book “The Battle for Love and Wine or How I Saved the World From Parkerization”. Her segment on Joe made me sit up and pay attention. As someone who was just beginning to discover wines that were made as a pure expression of the grape, soil and climate of the region, I started to purchase some of his wines and was richly rewarded with how good wines can be when they are produced this way. I would encourage you to consider trying them. One warning however, if you do, they will begin to occupy space in your cellar ( a very good thing if you are serious about wine). Here are a few of my favorites from the Dressner portfolio.
Teobaldo Cappellano Barolo. Baldo, as he was known until his untimely death last year, was one of Piedmont’s iconic old world wine makers. His Barolos are beautifully crafted expressions of the Nebbiolo grape. His Dolcetto and Barabara are equally expressive of their grapes. His wines are reasonably priced and would be a great addition to any cellar. I had the good fortune to visit with Baldo at his estate in 2008. It is a highlight of my wine experiences.
Another Piedmont icon is Luca Roagna. Like Cappellano his Barolos and Barbarescos are gorgeous expressions of pure Nebbiolo. Also reasonably priced for wine of this quality, if you are a fan of Nebbiolo his wines are a must.
Stanislao Radikon from the Friuli Venezia region of Italy at the Slovanian border is another completely natural wine maker. His white or “orange wines” such as Ribolla Gialla & Oslavje (white blend) are stunningly pure and balanced on the palate and provide a remarkable drinking experience. At about $45 a bottle, they represent a fantastic bargain.
The most recent Louis Dressner wines that I tried (and purchased) were a rosé, Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Pineau D'Aunis Rosé, and a red wine, Clos Roche Blanche Touraine L'Arpent Rouge from Clos Roche Blanche from the Loire region of France. To say these wines impressed me would be an understatement. The rosé is one of the best I have ever tasted, pure and peppery on the palate with a wonderfully dry finish. The red exhibited a peppery Grenache-like palate that was also very pure and balanced on the palate. The grape in both of these wines is Pineau D’Aunis, also known as Chinon Noir, a red wine grape variety that is grown primarily in the Loire Valley around Anjou and Touraine. The price, hold on to your hat, $20 a bottle. Unbelievable for wine of this quality.
Other Dressner selections that I own and enjoy include Francois Pinon, Olga Raffault, Bernard Baudry, Domaine de Moor and Dard & Ribo. All are in the $20 to $40 price range. I encourage you to check them out and the rest of the portfolio at Louis/Dressner Selections. I promise you, you will be glad you did. Many of these wines can be purchased at Chambers Street Wines in NYC.
Joe, you will be missed, but I am sure your legacy and portfolio will continue on under the guidance of your family and partner.
My heartfelt condolences to his family and may his soul rest in peace.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
First the wines in the order in which we drank them. The (number) at the end of each wine description is my, not necessarily the consensus, ranking of the wines. I ranked the dinner wines 1 through 7, and dessert wines are ranked 1 & 2.
1997 Louis Jadot Echézeaux. Jadot has made some very good wines, unfortunately the 1997 Echézeaux is not one of them. The wine was past its prime and the fact that the bottle was too warm upon opening did not help matters. Not a lot to say about this bottle except that it was my least favorite of the wines. $45. (7)
1979 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe This was the bottle I brought and decanted for 3 hours. It is a classic old world Barolo with lots of earth on the nose and palate and nice complexity. Production is small with only 1500 case made each year. The grapes are macerated on the skins in steel vats for 26 days; the wine is then aged in Slovenian oak casks of different capacity for 4 years. This bottle however seemed to be a bit tired. Perhaps the wine is in its decline or it just may be this bottle. I am learning that when you buy older vintages of good wines it is always going to involve some risk. Since I have had some magnificent older vintages, I for one will continue to take the risk. $140. (4)
1997 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe Upon opening, this bottle had harsh tannins on the back palate, but after about 30 minutes the wine began to blossom beautifully. Like the 1979 it possessed an enticing earthy bouquet, but was much more elegant on the palate than the 1979. In short this is a terrific wine with lots of soul. I wish I had more than 3 bottles in my cellar. $90. (3)
2000 Armando Parusso Barolo Riserva. This was my first time tasting this wine and it had more oak on the palate than either of the Cavallottos. I have since learned that Parusso ages his wines in small oak barrels for 24 months. The type and age of the barrels I have been unable to determine. The wine showed good complexity and balance, but the finish was very short. I think the $100 price tag for this wine is a bit much. (6)
1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno. If you recall I wrote about this wine in my last blog Birthday Food & Wines. Last week's bottle was softer and more elegant on the palate than this one, although it was by no means an inferior wine. However against the other wines we drank it did not fair as well as it did last week. (5)
1986 Giuseppi Quintarelli Amarone Riserva. For me the wine of the day. First a story about this wine. About 15 years ago was the first time I tasted a Quintarelli wine and it happened to be this exact wine. Once again it was Gino who brought it. Gino had just begun his career in the wine industry and he wanted me to taste "this amazing wine". I did, and I did not like it. I commented that it was much to sweet to be good. This was at a time when I drank wines based on the points Robert Parker or The Wine Spectator gave them. My cellar at the time was loaded with California & Australian reds because they got "big" points. When my epiphany regarding what made a wine truly great came about 10 years later I began to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of the wines Quintarelli made and I began to acquire them . Today they are the single largest selection of wines in my cellar.
There is only one way to describe a wine like the '86 Amarone Riserva, it is the wine equivalent to the mesmerizing music of Andre LLoyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera. Just as this music transforms one to a whole new level of experiencing musical greatness, so does this wine. The power and harmony of the wine on the palate must be experienced to appreciate. It is a wine you think about for days after drinking it. The wine, if you can find it, will set you back about $1800 a bottle. When Gino had me taste it I could have bought it from the store he was working at for about $100 a bottle. While I have had few regrets in my life, not listening to him on this wine back then is one of them.
1986 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino A Brunello that is in the class of Soldera in my opinion. This wine, only the second year Giulio Salvioni, began to bottle and sell his wine was seductive. It had a wonderful earthy bouquet, purity on the palate and good length on the finish. A wine with soul. This vintage does not seem to be available anywhere. (2)
For dessert we tasted side by side a 2001 Chateau Climens Sauternes and a 2003 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes. Both wines were great but my favorite was the d'Yquem. 2003 is my favorite vintage of this wine. It is like drinking liquid candy and does not have the medicinal finish I usually experience with other d'Yquem vintages. The finish here is lengthy and delicious. A truly amazing wine. The Climens was also fantastic, but it did not possess the finish of the d'Yquem. Both of these wines will set you back about $300 for a 750ml. New York Wine Warehouse in NYC usually has these very sought after wines.
Next came a platter that contained deliciously fresh Tuna Tartar and fork tender Grilled Octopus Salad.
A great day, with great food, wine and friends. Happy Birthday Gino!!
Until next time,
Sunday, August 21, 2011
In any case for me there was no better way to celebrate my birthday week (why limit it to a day) than with my family, friends, good food and great wine.
Birthday Food & Wines (In order of their appearance)
My birthday festivities began with a family dinner at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany on Friday night. I have lauded Il Capriccio’s great food and service on many occasions before, and this evening’s meal was no exception. We enjoyed:
Fresh Burrata Cheese with Jersey tomatoes (Italian cheese in which the outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains both mozzarella & cream. It is creamy and sensuous on the palate.
Sepia Affogati (cuttlefish stewed with tomatoes and peas). A bit spicy, but ooh so good.
Vitello Tonnato (poached loin of veal., thinly sliced and served over a creamy tuna and caper infused mayonnaise). This delicious dish is the perfect summer appetizer or lunch plate.
Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Bottarga (homemade, guitar string formed pasta in “Aglio e Olio” with grated gray mullet roe and spicy peperoncino) could not have been better. The dish was amazing. Perfectly cooked al dente pasta that combined the freshness of the land with the brininess of the sea.
Main courses included Center Cut Swordfish “Con Mollica” (Oven Roasted Swordfish topped with breadcrumbs and wild Calabrese oregano in a tangy lemon sauce); Penne Primavera (pasta with fresh garden vegetables in a light tomato sauce); Beef Short Ribs “Stracotto” (slow cooked boneless “Piemontese” beef short rib “Al Vino Rosso” served with risotto alla Parmiggiana & English peas); Medallions of Veal “Con Porcini” (tender, milk fed veal prepared in a creamy Porcini mushroom sauce); Lemon Sole “Crosta di Noci Miste” (filet of lemon sole encrusted with almonds, walnuts and pistachios nuts); sliced Filet Mignon in a Balsamic reduction.
The evenings wines:
2007 Giuseppe Quintarelli Secco Ca del Merlo Bianco. From my favorite producer, this superb white is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning "flavor" in Veronese dialect). The wine was perfectly balanced and pure on the palate with a lingering finish, and at about $44 a bottle, it is a fantastic value. DeVino Wine, NYC, Italian Wine Merchants, NYC, New York Wine Warehouse, NYC.
1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato from magnum. I decanted the wine for 6 hours and wow did it respond. This was without question one of the greatest Barolo’s I have ever tasted. Inhaling the bouquet was akin to inhaling the earth and air of Piedmont Italy. This was a sense of place in spades and a portent to what would take place on the palate. On the palate the elegance of the wine soared and became even more elegant with each sip. This is a wine that can not be explained in words, it must be experienced to appreciate it. I have written in the past of he difference between enjoying a wine and experiencing it. This wine was a perfect example of that difference. It was round and delicious with a monster finish. My son-in-law Nick commented, “Wow! I have never tasted a wine like this. It is the best wine I have ever drunk!” If you can find it expect to pay about $350 a magnum and about $200 a bottle.
Espresso and Il Poggione Grappa de Brunello completed a great evening.
The celebration continued on Saturday evening with dinner at Divina Ristorante in Caldwell. Divina is one of our favorite restaurants in NJ. We have been regulars there for the 17+ years it has been open. I'd venture to say that we have had more than 1500 meals there and never a bad one. Consistent food of very high quality has been Mario Carlino’s trademark from day one. Mario hails from Calabria, Italy and his food is representative of great Southern Italian cuisine, with many of the recipes, such as Veal Valdostanna and Pasta al Forno (Rigatoni pasta that is combined with baby meatballs, sopresatta, hard boiled eggs, tomato & bechemel) inspired by his mother. A friendly and highly competent staff ensures that each dinning experience is an enjoyable one. Wine service is excellent with appropriate glasses for both red and white wines.
On this occasion we began with fresh stuffed baby eggplants and spaghetti al pesto. The eggplants were tender and stuffed with a mixture of eggplant, breadcrumbs & mozzarella and topped with a delicate tomato sauce. All pastas are cooked to order, as was my spaghetti. Perfectly al dente, each forkful was sublime.
For my main course I strayed a bit from traditional Italian an opted for Veal Holstein, a German dish that is comprised of a breaded veal cutlet topped with two sunny-side up eggs. The combination of flavors and textures is wonderful, especially with veal as tender as Divina’s. My wife had the same breaded veal cutlet, but hers was topped with a fresh Jersey tomato salad, while my mother-in-law enjoyed a perfectly cooked Risotto Bologonese.
While Carol had her favorite Ceretto Arneis Blanghe, I had a bottle of 2003 Damijan Collio Bianco Kaplja. This wine falls into the category of an “orange wine”. It is fermented on the skins (thus giving it its orange hue) with natural yeasts. While a white wine (a blend of Chardonnay, Tocai and Malvasia), the wine is meant to be drunk at red wine temperature to fully appreciate and experience the purity and complexity of the wine. Damijan Podversic, a disciple of Josko Gravner, bottles the wine in December under a waning moon.
I must add that the wine is not to the liking of everyone as it is a bit oxidized on the nose & palate. For me it is a great expression of a pure wine with soul. $40. De-Vino Wine, NYC.
Sunday found Carol and I babysitting our grandchildren Mia and Nicholas as their mom & dad were celebrating their 8th wedding anniversary at a resort. While Carol watched the kids I was home making a fresh batch of meatballs to bring over for a simple meal of Ziti and meatballs, which was delicious.
A bottle of 1993 Camille Giroud Vosne Romanee Les Chaumes Premier Cru was my choice to go with the Zitti. I am a big fan of this producer and have a number of vintages going back to 1969 in my cellar. The wines are classic examples of red Burgundy. They are elegant and pure on the palate and are built for longevity. Unfortunately this bottle was not up to the one I had 2 years prior. While very drinkable and good, tt was a bit reserved on the palate and light on the finish. The wine, even after 2 hours of decanting, never seemed to blossom into the bottle I had 2 years before. It was a wine I could enjoy, but not really experience. $130, if you can find it. I would look instead for the 2006 vintage, especially the Marsannay Les Longeroles. While this is an entry level wine, it is drinking divinely at the moment and for $25 represents a fantastic bargain.
In 2002 the California cult wine producer Ann Colgin and her husband, Burgundy guru Joe Wender, headed a group that purchased Camille Giroud. The job of winemaker was given to David Croix who arrived with a stellar recommendation from Benjamin Leroux of the Domaine du Clos des Epeneaux. As Becky Wasserman says on her website, David Croix is “representative of his generation: clarity of terroir rather than a house style, and an intuitive feeling for both appellations and the nature of individual vintages”.
On Wednesday of the following week my friends Gino, Emil, Tony & Carlos treated me to lunch at Il Cinghiale Trattoria in Little Ferry, NJ. Owner Nicola Moncada is a good friend and we all used to eat regularly at his previous restaurant Due Nicola in Little Falls, NJ which he sold about a year ago. After a brief hiatus, he opened Il Cinghiale (wild boar in Italian) a few months ago. The food is as good as ever and we had a great lunch to go along with the wines we brought.
Highlights from the lunch included, Sausage, potatoes and hot peppers; baby octopus in a spicy tomato sauce; stewed tripe in tomato sauce; risotto with red wine and my favorite spaghetti ala carbonara, Italy's answer to bacon and eggs.
There was certainly no shortage of wine as each person brought a terrific bottle of wine. The wines included a 1979 Giovannini Moresco Barbaresco Podere del Pajore. This was the fifth bottle of this wine I opened over the past three years and bottle variation, as can be the case in older vintages was most evident. Three were magnificent, one was terribly flawed and this bottle, which came around a bit after 4 hours, was drinkable, but not memorable. The wine suffered from some oxidation and lacked the vibrancy of the three good bottles. Still it displayed good complexity and earthiness. Moresco was revered by Piedmontese winemakers in the 1960's and 1970's. A traditionalist, the good bottles of this wine were beautiful examples of traditionally made wine. Earthy on the nose and palate, with great purity and a long finish. 1979 was the last year he made wine before selling the vineyard to Angelo Gaja.
1998 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. One of my 3 favorite CDP producers (Rayas & Bonneau are the others), this vintage is drinking beautifully at the moment and this bottle was no exception. It possessed good balance with a peppery palate and velvet finish. Owned by the Perrin family since 1909 they are one of the few CDP producers that use all 13 allowed grape varieties in their wine. The skins of the grapes are heated briefly to 80 °C / 176 °F and then cooled to 20 °C /6O °F before the bunches drop into enamel tiled vats for twelve days' maceration. The free-run juice is then drained off and the must in the vat pressed in a pneumatic wine-press. To my knowledge they are the only producer to follow this practice. $90. Widely available.
1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno. Rocche dei Manzoni was one of the first producers to adopt the more modern wine making methods, especially in the use of barrique to age the wine. As readers of this blog know I usually do not like wines made this way, but this beauty is an exception. The oak is completely integrated into the wine. If I did not know better, I would think this is an old world Barolo. It has complexity, superb balance and a wonderful sense of place. The wine is fermented on the skins for three weeks in temperature-controlled stainless steel, followed by threeyear’s aging in oak barriques and 12 months’ aging in bottle. $95. DeVino Wine, NYC.
1996 Rocche Costamagna Bricco Francesco Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata. This was a new wine to me and it was good. Had it been decanted for a couple of hours it would have been very good. Old world in style, I have since learned that it is aged for twenty-four months in Slavonian oak casks, and at least one year in the bottle. It is from one of the historic single vineyards in La Morra, Rocche dell"Annunziata. A good value at $45.
2000 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. One of my favorite Barolo producers, these wines, now under the direction of Barolo's daughter Maria Teresa, are gorgeous examples of how good a wine can be. While this bottle drank very well, had it been decanted for a few hours it would have really showed its mettle. The wine is still a baby and should last another 20 years or so. $120. DeVino Wine, NYC & NY Wine Warehouse, NYC.
As you can see I ate and drank very well for my birthday. However just when I thought it was over until next year, Gino & Cosmo twisted my arm and took me to Esca in NYC for lunch this past Monday. Esca (Italian for bait) is my absolute favorite restaurant in the city. David Pasternack and sous chef Katy do magical things with seafood and pasta here. On this Monday Katy was in the kitchen and at the top of her game.
Cosmo & Gino began with Crudo (3 daily selections of raw fish in various preparations), while I enjoyed a half dozen pristinely fresh oysters with fresh shaved horseradish. We also shared baked clams and grilled octopus with giant corona beans. The baked clams at Esca simply have no peer. The breadcrumbs always contain different ingredients and on this occasion they were spiked with pancetta. They are never overcooked and always briny and delicious. The octopus here is fork tender and melts in your mouth.
With these appetizers we enjoyed a bottle of 2009 Laura Aschero Pigato. An Italian white grape, Pigato is primarily found in Liguria. Along the cost of Liguria lies Cinque Terre a small area of five villages. It is here that the Laura Aschero Pigato grapes are farmed on dry stone wall terraces with minimal mechanisation. The grapes undergo a 24 hour period of cold maceration prior to pneumatic pressing. Fermentation occurs with natural yeasts at around 18-20C, followed by cold stabilisation, filtration and bottling. The resulting wine has a marvelous balance between minerality and acidity. Crisp, clean and pure on the palate, it is simply a delicious wine. Not easy to find. If you do expect to pay about $45. There are a couple of other terrific Pigatos available. DeVino Wine, NYC has a couple of Pigatos from a terrific producer, Bruna, while 56º Wine carries Poggio dei Gorleri. Both are reasonably priced and delicious.
For our main course Cosmo and I opted for two half portions of pasta. We began with Spaghettini with oil, garlic and Bortaga. Bortaga is a dried fish roe that is made from either tuna or red mullet. Today it was tuna. The Bortaga, briny & salty, is grated on top of the finished pasta dish. It is spectacular. It is spaghetti Alio e Olio taken to a new level. The other pasta we absolutely lapped up was Spaghetti Neri, a house made squid ink spaghetti with cuttlefish, scallion and green chilies. This is a tour de force. Super tender cuttlefish in a spicy and briny tomato sauce that teases the palate.
Gino enjoyed local yellowfin tuna with eggplant caponata and sungold tomatoes.
With the main courses we were captivated by a 2010 Passopisciaro Guardiola. This 100% Chardonnay from vineyards at the base of Mt. Etna in Sicily sees no wood in the vinification process. The grapes are hand harvested at night when the temperature is around 60ºF. The final product is crisp and delicious with a unique bubble-gum palate and lingering finish. A beautifully round wine. Owner/winemaker Andrea Franchetti also owns Tenuto di Trinoro in Tuscany. $40. Also at DeVino wine, NYC.
I want to thank my family and friends for making this another terrific birthday experience.
Until next time,
Monday, August 1, 2011
For appetizers I made Clams Oreganata, and served them along side a couple of dozen Coconut Shrimp that I purchased from Runners Fish Market & Restaurant in Lavalette. The clams were moist and tasted of the sea, while the shrimp were lightly fried and delicious. Runners is one of our favorite places at the shore. The seafood is always fresh and the service very friendly. No reservations are accepted, so get there before 6 or after 9 if you don't want to have a long wait.
For me no seafood meal is complete without Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce, so I purchased a few dozen little neck clams from Runners and cooked up a bowlful.
With these dishes we drank another bottle of 2008 Huet Molleux Premiere Trie Vouvray. As I mentioned in part one of this post, this wine soars from the glass. It was a great compliment to the spaghetti. For the red I opened my remaining bottle of 2005 Domaine du Caillou Les Quartz Chateauneuf-du-Pape. See part one of this blog for my comments on these wines.
On Sunday we welcomed our good friends Cosmo, his wife Jane, and Gino. During the more than 40 years I have been going to Cosmo's barber shop, Via Veneto, I have become good friends with him and his brother Jerry. In addition to being a great hair stylist, Cosmo is quite adept in the kitchen, thus it is my pleasure to have him down each year to cook some of his signature dishes such as Lobster Arrabiatta, and Risotto. Gino, who I have known since he was 2 years old, is in the wine business and always brings great wine to these get togethers. Also joining us were good friends Tony and Anita. Anita is also a great cook and her assignment for the evening was the pasta course & dessert. While Tony doesn't cook he enjoys good food and wine and always contributes a good wine or two on these occasions.
While Cosmo began preparing his famous lobster and other dishes, Gino uncorked a magnum of 1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Ca del Merlo, a single vineyard Valpolicella named after a plot of land where a large Merlo (bird) sat perched on a tree overlooking the hillside. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC; DeVino Wine, NYC.
Tony also opened a bottle he brought, a 2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. A wonderfully elegant wine that comes from 4 vineyards in Sant’Angelo in Colle. The wine was nicely balanced, had good purity and a soft finish. This wine will benefit from about 5 more years in the cellar before one can really appreciate its beauty. About $50 and should be widely available.
The whites opened simultaneously with the Quintarelli came from Gino's company's Spanish portfolio. They included a Nora da Neve, a white wine made from the Albarino grape. For me it was like drinking liquid oak. Not my kind of wine at all. The ladies seemed to love it however. Another white he brought was Herencia del Capricho, a white wine that is fermented and aged on the lees in the barrel. It is a blend of Bierzo Godello 80% / 20% Doña Blanca and is aged 13 months in new French oak barrels. While these grapes were new to me, the oak in the wine was overpowering. I remain befuddled as to why wines with such pronounced oak are so popular. They mask the essence of the grape and eliminate any chance of elegance. I believe both were from the 2010 vintage. As they were sample bottles, the vintage was not shown.
A 2009 La Crema Chardonnay from Sonoma also made an appearance, but I did not taste it so I have no comments on it. While enjoying the Quintarelli, Cosmo's first dish of the evening appeared,
Pasta time. We all sat down at the table and marveled at Anita's pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata. What a great summer pasta.
With the pasta Gino opened two bottles of 2006 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. One was their regular bottling, the other was their Riserva. These wines were once again from the impressive portfolio of Robert Chadderdon. They are made from 100% Prugnolo Gentile (a particular clone of the Sangiovese grape) and are aged in large Slovanian oak barrels and in French barrique. The resulting wine is almost Bordeaux like on the palate. It has good balance and a soft, lush finish. Both, especially the riserva, are still very young and in need of a few more years in the cellar. About $45 for the regular and $70 for the Riserva. DeVino Wine, NYC.
Main course time and Cosmo's famous Lobster Arrabiata. Here he cuts the lobster in the shell in
In addition to the lobster, Cosmo made Shrimp sautéed with Panta Negra. Panta Negra is a cured ham from Spain or Portugal. This particular one Gino acquired directly from Spain's top producer of the ham and is virtually impossible to get. Even he will not divulge the details of how he gets it. Suffice to say it is an amazing, sort of an over the top prosciutto. The dish was superb.
The last wine opened was a 2003 Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de Mon Aieul. This is a big, macho Chateauneuf-du-Pape made from 95% Grenache and the rest Cinsault and Syrah. Very high points from Parker for those of you who like points.
For dessert Anita made a delicious peach and blueberry pie. Flaky crust, it was the perfect end, along with a couple of cigars, to a perfect meal. A grand time was had by all, especially by I Quatro Amici.
On Monday a bunch of us went to 709 in Point Pleasant for lunch. This is a great new spot with a trendy decor, friendly staff and good food, including pristinely fresh clams, oysters, crab and sushi. Oh, and you must order the house made German pretzels served with 3 different mustards. The Tuna Sliders are also remarkable as are the salads. Good spot.
Dinner time and Cosmo is back in the kitchen and making one (actually two) of his signature risottos, Risotto w/ basil & tomato.
We served buffet style tonight so along with the risotto Cosmo made a salad of mozzarella & tomatoes with fresh basil, string bean (from my garden), tomato and onion salad, grilled hot & sweet sausage with grilled hot peppers.
For white wine we finished the wines from Sunday evening. For red we were blown away by a 2001 Giovanni Rosso Barolo Ceretta. It was the first time any of us had tasted this wine and we was really impressed with its purity and old worldliness. It danced on the palate and finished long and big. I am grateful to my friend Gabrio Tosti, owner of DeVino Wine, NYC for recommending the wine to me. In fact I called Gabrio the next day and ordered another case of the wine. $83.
A 2004 Ceretto Bricco Asili Barbaresco was opened alongside the Barolo and it did not appear right, so we place it aside and replaced it with a 2007 Joseph Drouhin Chorey-lès-Beaune. The Drouhin is a villages red from a great vintage and is just a beautiful expression of a young Pinot Noir from Burgundy. It possesses a great nose of young fruit and is pure, light and soft on the palate. I have tasted the spectacular premier and grand cru wines from Drouhin and have them in my cellar, and while I wait for them to reach drinking age I can enjoy this beauty. Best of all at $15 a bottle it is hard to beat. This is one of the greatest wine values I have ever discovered. New York Wine Warehouse, NY and Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ.
For the white I opened my last bottle of 2009 Francois Pinon Cuvée Tradition Vouvray. See my notes in part one of this blog on the phenomenal wine.
I tasted the Ceretto today, 4 days later, and it is drinking fine. What appeared to be a slight corked palate was completely gone. Not a perfect bottle but drinkable.
On Tuesday we met our good friends George & Jeanette and their son Jason at Shogun Legends in Wall, NJ. This is a great Asian spot that my family and I really enjoy. A large and very attractive restaurant, the second floor features Habachi style dinning, while the lower level is dedicated to Japanese and Chinese fare. The menu is extensive and sure to please the most discriminating diner. We dined downstairs and began with a bevy of appetizers that included pristinely Fresh Kumamoto Oysters; Chicken Soon, (diced white meat chicken with brown sauce wrapped in lettuce); Vegetable Dumplings; Spicy Peppered Tuna Tataki, (seared peppered tuna sashimi, daikon finished with ponzu sauce).
For entrées most had sushi but a couple of us went Chinese. My mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed her Legends Duo, a dish that combines filet mignon and scallops served in a brown butter sauce with seasoned vegetables. For me, I opted for flounder. I love flounder, but the Shogun Flouner served here is a remarkable dish.
Joseph Drouhin made another appearance at our table tonight, this time as a couple of bottles of 2008 Joseph Drouhin Meursault Villages White. This is a beautifully balanced & rich Chardonnay that is fresh on the palate. This wine is drinking very nicely now. Both bottles went down easily with our meal. $38. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC.
On Wednesday we loaded the kids into two cars and headed for Dinino's Pizza in Brick. This place is a real find (thanks Tony P.), the pizza is thin crusted and the real deal. The original Denino's is on Staten Island, NY, and has been there since 1937. Denino's opened a location at the Jersey shore a few years ago. I had an absolutely delicious pasta e fagioli to begin with and my wife had a delicious Italian wedding soup. The Ceasar Salad was excellent and the pizza's, one plain and one half pepperoni and half sausage were cooked well done, crispy and delicious.
I am told that 5 gallons of water is transported from Staten Island each day to make the pizza, because the Jersey shore water is not good for pizza making. Heinekin Nips were the perfect accompaniment for the pizza. Oh, we also tried the meatball sandwich...stick with the pizza.
Thursday evening found us dinning out with friends Tony, Anita, Lou & Lynn. Our destination was Daniel's Bistro in Point Pleasant. I am told that this is the hottest spot in town and any hope of obtaining a reservation requires calling weeks in advance, as we had done. I browsed the internet for reviews prior to going and found a mixed bag. Comments ranged from best restaurant I have ever been to, to rude & indifferent service and okay food. Our friends had been there before and said the food is very good and service can be a bit rude, especially from the chef/owner's wife. We were looking forward to trying it and forming our own opinion.
We arrived at our designated time and promptly seated, good sign. Since it is BYOB our wine was opened in short order, another good sign. Then the wine glasses arrived. They were made to be a water glasses, but often they double as a white wine glass in far too many restaurants. Not a good sign. When I asked if they had red wine glasses our waiter responded quickly that it would be to expensive, due to breakage, to buy Riedel wine glasses. When I mentioned that there are numerous, less expensive glasses available, he simply shrugged. Wine does not appear to be a priority here or should I say providing good wine service to the customers doesn't seem to be a high priority.
On to the food, which overall was very good with a few misses. Hudson Valley Foie Gras (pan seared, poached pear, fresh strawberry, raspberry sauce) was very good while a special appetizer of Black Mission Figs, halved and baked with gorgonzola cheese were so-so at best. Pera Salad (Baby field greens, poached pears, strawberries, honey roasted walnuts, goat cheese, hazelnut vinaigrette) was given a thumbs down by Lynn & Lou as the poached pears and goat cheese seemed to have been away on vacation as they made no appearance in the salad. Additionally, the vinaigrette was lacking vinegar and had to be added at the table. Fresh Burrata cheese with cherry tomatoes and 40 year old Balsamic Vinegar was a much better choice.
A 2007 Francois Mikulski Meursault Villages White went perfectly with the foie gras. A Becky Wasserman selection, this is a lovely rich, straw colored Chardonnay that finishes with length and elegance. $60. New York Wine Warehouse, NYC. Ms. Wasserman has been in the wine business for a long time and has a remarkable palate. She lives in France and represents a number of small domaines and negoçiants that produce beautifully crafted wines. If you should see the words "A Becky Wasserman Selection" on the wine label, you can be sure it will be a very good bottle of wine.
Berkshire Double Cut Loin of Pork (dusted with cracked peppercorn, grappa, oven dried tomatoes, golden raisins, roasted pignoli nuts) was the highlight entrée of the meal. Although I did not have it, after one taste of Tony's, I wish I would have ordered it. it was cooked to a perfect medium rare and was oh so tender and juicy. This will be my choice should I visit here again. Second place went to the Osso Buco served with saffron risotto. Although I did not taste this, the dish looked mouth watering and received high praise from Lou. I opted for a the Soft Shell Crab special. The crabs were pan seared with oil and garlic, white wine and lemon. While the crabs were nice and meaty, I neglected to ask that the lemon be eliminated as I am not a fan of citrus based fish dishes. My bad as the dish was overpowered with lemon. The accompanying saffron risotto on the other hand was delicious. Hudson Valley Duck Breast (Pan roasted, seared foie gras, black currants, Pinot Noir) was more to Anita's liking than the pan seared Grouper Special served over broccoli rabe and white beans was to Lyn and Carol's. They complained of its saltiness.
We had 3 reds with our meal. A 2005 Rufino Chianti Ducale Riserva (Gold Label). Never a great wine, but usually a consistent one although I think that for $40+ you can find much better wine.
Next was a bottle of 2007 Renato Ratti Barbera d'Alba Torriglione. Renato Ratti is one of the top producers in Piedmont. While he is best known for his Barolos, he makes a very nice Dolcetto and Barbera. I have not had a Ratti wine in a while, but the pronounced oak in the wine suggests to me that the wines are being made in the more modern style that unfortunately seems to sweeping the wine world. The wine started out nice on the palate, but the finish was quite harsh. $20.
The final red was a 1999 Alessandro E Gian Natale Fantino Barolo Vigna Dei Dardi Riserva. Another wine from the Robert Chadderdon porfolio, this wine filled the glass like an opera singer's voice fills the auditorium with harmonic resonance and soul. I opened and decanted the wine 4 hours prior to pouring and it paid off in spades. The wine evolved in the glass with each sip. A completely round wine, made in a very traditional style. It sees no new oak. If you like old world style Barolos, this is one to get. $75. DeVino Wine, NYC.
Ok, so how did my experience compare to the mixed reviews I read. I have to say the reviews paint a realistic picture of Daniel's Bistro. For example as I sat with my entrée plate in front of me at the end of the meal with one uneaten soft shell crab on it, the owner's wife came up to me. She looked at the dish then at me and queried if I wanted to take it home. I told her no and why to which she replied with complete indifference, "Oh well" and took my plate away. Will I go back. Probably, if only to have the pork chop and if I do you can rest assured that I will bring along my own wine glasses with my wine.
On Friday, our last night in Normandy, Carol and I drove through torrential rains to the Ohana Grill , a relatively new eclectic bistro in Lavalette where we had a pretty good meal. My Spicy Tortilla Soup was delicious. However two appetizers, Vegetable Spring Rolls and Panko and Wasabi Encrusted Shrimp were very greasy. It appeared that the oil they were fried in had not been changed for some time. Main courses of Pomegranate Glazed Grilled Chicken Breast served with coconut rice & seasonal vegetables and Grilled Ahi Mignons with sticky rice cakes and a ponzu sauce were much better.
With dinner we drank a 2006 Domaine Tollot-Beaut Chorey-Cote De Beaune. Another Burgundy Villages red that is drinking beautifully right now. For the $28 a bottle, this wine is always on the money. Wonderfully pure on the palate and soft on the finish. While the wine does not exhibit the elegance of a premier cru or grand cru, it possesses ripe fruit and is extremely fresh on the palate. A joy to drink. Chorey-les-Beaune is one of the wine communes of the Côte de Beaune. The wines of Chorey-les-Beaune grow on the relatively flat land of the Saone plain rather than on the slopes of the Côte d'Or, and for this reason the commune has no Premier Cru (or Grand Cru) vineyards.
Well that's it. The 2 weeks flew by. Our grandkids had a ball, and we enjoyed having friends and family visit with us.
Until next time,