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.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sette Cucina Italiana

A couple of weeks back I had a fantastic lunch at Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville, NJ.  I really wish this place was closer to my home in North Caldwell, because the food is amongst the best in New Jersey, or anywhere for that matter.  Chris Cree, owner of 56º Wine (around the corner) introduced me to this gem at a wine tasting he hosted a couple of years back.  On this occasion, we lunched with Fr. Anthony Randazzo, Pastor of Notre Dame Church, in North Caldwell to discuss the annual Notre Dame wine dinner fundraiser.

I would describe the food of chef/owner Allan Philip Russo (check out his bio on his website) as refined and elegant Italian peasant food.  Every dish I have ever had here has been a combination of fresh ingredients in harmonious balance that create fantastic flavors and textures on the palate.  On this occasion, we put ourselves in his hands regarding the menu.  He did not disappoint us.

Many Italian restaurants start their diners of with a complimentary platter of Bruschetta, sort of a tomato and onion salad atop toasted Italian Crostini.  It is a starter I routinely pass on as it is usually devoid of flavor.  The version served today may well have been the finest example of the dish I have yet to taste.  It is hard to improve on a fresh NJ summer tomato…that is unless chef Russo uses it for his Bruschetta.  Perfectly seasoned and dressed, I found myself wishing more would materialize on the plate.  He followed this with a delicious Antipasto of fresh Burrata, Prosciuto di Parma, grilled Zuccchini & Roasted Peppers bathed in a delicious extra-virgin olive oil.  I was too busy stuffing my face to take any photos.

We sipped a delicious bottle of 2012 Venica Ronco delle Mele Collio Sauvignon that Chris brought along.  13.5% alcohol and crafted from 100% Sauvignon Blanc it was a great complement to the Bruschetta and Antipasto with its focused crisp acidity, stony minerality and beautiful balance.  While this was a new producer for me, the white wines from the Collio in Friuli are amongst some of the best whites I have tasted and this bottle underscored that claim.  The grapes are macerated (crushed) for the last 12 hours at low temperature then pressed under CO2 to prevent oxidation. 20% of the juice is fermented in big French oak casks (27 hl) and aged there for 6 months. "Batonage" (stirring the wine with a metal rod) once a week for two months improves the body.  $42.50.  56º Wine.

Our antipasto plates were replaced with an appetizer portion of Ricotta Stuffed Gnocchi with Cherry Tomato Sauce.  Light as a feather, these soft pillows were deftly stuffed with fresh Ricotta Cheese, topped with barely cooked cherry tomatoes and served atop a light and ethereal tomato sauce.  It was outrageously good and a dish that would be hard to beat…or so I thought, until the main course arrived.

Keeping with the fresh tomato theme, Chef Russo presented us with Pan Fried Bronzino with diced fresh tomatoes as our entrée.  This dish is testimony to my earlier statement about his food being “refined and elegant Italian peasant food”.  The fish was PERFECTLY, cooked to a tender and moist interior, while the skin provided a magnificent crisp texture to each bite.  The addition of olives and fresh cherry tomatoes added symphonic harmony to each forkful.  Simply magnificent.

Chris choose one of my favorite wines from Northern Piedmont to drink with the Gnocchi and Bronzino, a 2009 Produttori dei Carema Riserva.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, the wine reminds me of a young Villages Burgundy in its color, feminine palate, freshness and elegance. It possesses terrific balance and complexity.  Open the wine at least an hour before drinking and you will be amply rewarded. The superb acidity of the wine should enable it to drink well for another 10 years at least.  At $28, this offers great QPR.  $28. 56º Wine.

Fresh made Chocolate Covered Profiteroles with Espresso rounded out the perfect lunch. 


1 comment:

  1. Mark, Thank you for capturing the very essence of a delicious lunch! Sette Cucina is a gem and one of my fav places to dine, with chef Allan Russo's pure ingredients and gentle and understanding touch making it a truly special experience. Yet the great cuisine and wine we enjoyed only set the table for the further exploration of the deeper connections about food, wine, history, humanity and religion that come up in our conversations with Father Anthony, and make those lunches together such a joy.

    Thank you for all you do and your passion for bringing us all together in celebration of food, wine, love and life!

    Chris Cree MW
    56 Degree Wine
    25 Claremont Rd
    Bernardsville, NJ 07924
    Blog: www.downtoearthwine.com
    Twitter: www.twitter.com/chriscreemw
    908.953.0900 work