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.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Two Terrific Local BYOB Restaurants

There a lot of things I love about living in New Jersey.  The finest beaches in the country (Sandy tried to take them away, but they are coming back strong), Jersey tomatoes in the summer, proximity to NYC and more BYOB restaurants than any state in the country.

This week Carol and I visited two of our favorite BYOBs.  Ichiban Sushi Restaurant in West Caldwell is usually a weekly dinner stop for us.  Located in a strip mall, Ichiban serves pristinely fresh sushi and sashimi as well as a number of authentic Japanese dishes, my favorite being tempura fried shrimp with Japanese curry.  I usually bring an Alsatian or German Riesling to enjoy with the food here.  I find a dry Riesling to be a beautiful compliment to Asian food.  On this visit I brought a bottle of 2009 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs (Grosses Gewachs mean Grand Cru in Germany).  The wine possessed a gorgeous translucent hue and a bracing acidity, impeccable balance and pristine focus.  A bit young, it nevertheless drank beautifully.  A couple of more years cellar time will definitely benefit the wine. Weingut Hermann Donnhoff is a legend in Nahe region of Germany.  His wines are considered legendary.  Importer Michael Skurnik says of his wines, “…these are the greatest Rieslings on earth. No other wine, anywhere, exceeds the clarity, polish, complexity and sheer beauty of flavor of this grower’s finest wines. “  $60.  I picked this up at 56º Wine a couple of years ago.  I don’t believe this vintage is available, but a number of others are.  If you like dry Riesling, these are great and at very reasonable prices.

On this visit we began with Pork Goyoza (not pictured).  These are delicate and light as a feather dumplings as compared to the thick varieties found in most Japanese restaurants.  The Cucumber Salad topped with crab meat in a soy dressing is another of my favorite appetizers here.  It is always fresh, crisp and delicious.

Carol enjoyed one of her favorite plates here, BBQ Salmon.  The fish is never overcooked and the Japanese BBQ sauce takes the dish to new heights.  

I went for a combination platter of Sashimi and Eel Sushi, with an order of Curry Rice.  As I mentioned earlier the fish here is pristinely fresh, but the Curry is amazing.  It is really a brown gravy with a hint of spice that is magical with rice or tempura shrimp and vegetables.  I cannot go here and not order it.  I guess this is what they call addiction.   I usually order the Curry dish with Tempura shrimp and vegetables.

Shrimp Tempura w/ Curry (Ebi Curry)

During the day Capo’s Grill, Woodland Park, NJ (formerly West Paterson) serves breakfast and lunch in what is best described as a small, no frills luncheonette operated by Anthony Capo, Sr. At night however the luncheonette is transformed into a wonderful Italian Ristorante.  Son Anthony, Jr. spent 5 years in Tuscany cooking authentic Italian dishes and learning from some of Italy’s top chefs.  He even spent some time with Mario Batali.  He learned his trade very well and his dishes are prepared with skill and are expressions of authentic Italian cuisine.  He is especially deft with fish and pasta dishes.  So with a bottle of 2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo in hand Carol and I headed over to see Anthony, Jr. the other night.

While not up to 2004 or 2006 vintage, 2005 was another good year in Piedmont. The year produced a medium-bodied style of Barolo, with about 1% less alcohol than recent years. Most importantly, it is ready to drink now while we wait for the 2004 and 2006 to mature in the cellar.  Maria Teresa Mascarello can be counted out to produce spectacular wines in any vintage she makes wine, as is the case here.   This bottle was simply gorgeous. I decanted it for 3 hours at home before drinking. It possessed an enticing and characteristic Piedmont earthy bouquet.  The pure, perfectly balanced and focused fruit danced on the palate before finishing with elegance.  Here is a wine with soul that should last for another 10 to 15 years.  It went beautifully with both our appetizers and pasta dishes.  About $100 a bottle from various sellers; NY Wine Warehouse; Italian Wine Merchants; Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.  

We began our meal with a salad of fresh mozzarella and tomato (not pictured) and Cozze al Vino Bianco (mussels in white wine).  The briny fresh mussels were bathed in an ethereal broth of diced fresh tomatoes, white wine and spices.  It was one of the best versions of the dish I have had in a long time.  I only wish that I could have sopped up every last drop of the broth with the crostini the dish came with, but I am really trying to pay attention to my waist line.

Spaghetti Putanesca is one of my all time favorite pasta dishes.  Simple as it is to make, many restaurants over sauce the dish with excess tomatoes.  Properly made it consists of oil, garlic, anchovies, capers and a couple of diced FRESH TOMATOES.  Whoever taught Anthony how to make this dish in Italy certainly did a great job.  The spaghetti was perfectly al dente and the balance of the ingredients, especially the tomatoes was as harmonious as a Manhattan Transfer song.

Carol had the pasta special of the evening, which was Spaghetti with red and yellow peppers, capers, garlic and olive oil.  Another perfectly cooked, balanced and harmonious dish.  We both dug in with huge smiles on our faces.

Spaghetti w/ Red & Yellow Peppers

Capo’s space is very small, so reservations are strongly suggested on the weekends.  Wine glasses are tiny, so in addition to your wine, you may also want to consider bringing your own stemware. Both restaurants are very, very reasonably priced.


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