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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ariane Kitchen & Bar

I have praised the food of chef /owner Ariane Duarte served at Culin Ariane in Montclair on 3 previous occasions in WWN.  A few months back she and her husband Michael closed their Culin Ariane Restaurant to focus on a new venue, Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona, N.J.  The new restaurant opened about a month ago, and as expected is packing them in nightly. In her new home she has replaced her more classic Continental Cuisine with what I would label as “comfort food” taken to a new level.  The new restaurant has a full liquor license and Ariane’s husband Michael has put together a terrific and very reasonably priced wine list (most of the wines are in the $25 to $50 price range) comprised of wonderful artisan wines from around the world.  BYOB is allowed at a corkage fee of $20 per bottle and limited to one bottle per two people.  Unlike her former place AKB is open 6 nights a week.  The bad news is that reservations can take a couple of weeks to obtain.  The good news is that AKB accommodates walk-ins at the bar and 3 large communal tables in the bar area.  These tables seat 8 people each on backless stools.

While the menu has retained a few of the Culin Ariane classics such as Cornmeal Crusted Oysters, Crab Cakes and Sashimi Tuna Flower, the emphasis is more on casual bistro type food, and as one would expect, it is fantastic.  We have already been there four times since it has opened.  A bar menu, also available in the dinning areas, is composed of homemade snacks as Ariane calls them.  The regular menu is available throughout the restaurant.

On our first visit, friends and family night, we began with a complimentary drink called Pear of Wings, which turned out to be a refreshing cocktail composed of Tito’s Vodka, Pear-sage cordial, lemon juice and sparkling wine.  While it was quite tasty I usually like to begin my meals with a Bourbon Manhattan straight up. Tonight’s was made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon and it was excellently prepared.

We began our meal with three starters.

Deviled eggs, espellette.  The Espellete Pepper is a variety of chili pepper that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette.  Here it is lightly ground atop smooth and silky deviled eggs giving it just a hint of heat.  If you are a fan of deviled eggs as I am, you must try these.

“Cuban Sandwich” pork, ham, homemade pickles, grain mustard, served with homemade potato chips.  Without question, this was the best version of this classic I have ever tasted.  My only complaint was that the appetizer sized sandwich disappeared much too quickly.  Ah, but I have the solution…a double order next time!

Forest Mushroom Ragout, Cheesy Grits, Rosemary Oil.  I guess you could call this the American version polenta with mushrooms.  Whatever you call it, color it absolutely delicious. An amazing combination of flavors and textures on the palate.

For entrées Carol enjoyed Braised Short Ribs with Charred Broccoli, Pearl Onions, Whipped Potatoes, braising jus.  Cooked to fork tender perfection, she enjoyed every forkful.

I was equally happy with my crisp and moist "Fish and Chips" made from Atlantic Cod and served with crispy house cut fries and a dill tartar sauce.  Comfort food simply does not get much better than this.

We also shared a classic rendition of that staple of comfort food, Mac & Cheese.  As I said earlier, Ariane is taking comfort food to a new level...and this dish exemplifies that statement.

As I am a big fan of wines, especially whites, from the Languedoc in the South of France, I immediately selected a bottle of 2013 Mas de Daumas Gassac Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Blanc ($28) from the Pays D'Herault appellation of the Languedoc to drink with our meal.  The wine is a white blend consisting of 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Clairette.  The wine was delicious, clean and crisp on the palate with bracing acidity, complexity and finesse and finished with considerable length. Often referred to as the Grand Cru of the Midi (South of France), the Mas de Daumas Gassac top-tier wines have reached international cult status. Located in the majestic Gassac Valley, the estate benefits from the cool microclimate derived from the Gassac River, several natural springs (from which the Guibert family drinks), and the influence of the nearby mountains. The soil that dominates the valley is a rare and still unexplained red, powder-fine glacial soil, which is strikingly similar to that found in the prime areas of Burgundy. This combination of characteristics is quite unique in Southern France. A screw cap wine that retails for about $11, I intend on adding some to my cellar.  Wine-Searcher.

We finished the evening with her homemade Banana Cream Pie.

On our three subsequent visits enjoyed the following:

Pretzel bites with beer cheese dipping sauce.  Wow are these homemade soft pretzel morsels delicious.  I can envision an evening in the future when I am dinning alone and doing so at the AKB bar with theses pretzel bites, the Cuban sandwich and one of the artisanal draft beers served there.  Sorry, I was to busy devouring these to take a photo.

AKB Burger made with ½ lb. American Kobe Beef, fried green tomato, pickled shallots, cheddar cheese and harissa aioli.  Cooked to medium rare perfection this was juicy, tender and delicious.  A multi-napkin burger.  I was not crazy about the fried green tomato, but I think a slice of good old red tomato will go perfectly.  Carol had hers with house made French Fries, while I had mine with house made Jalapeño, cheddar tater tots, a grown up version of the classic tater tot.

Each night there is one pasta special and on one of these visits it was homemade Taglierini Carbonara.  Ariane adds some baby peas to her rendition, which is a fantastic interpretation of this Roman classic.  In my opinion it is the best pasta dish she makes and I only wish it were a menu staple.

The wine list turned up 3 more excellent wines at very reasonable prices.

2011 Produttori di Carema Nebbiolo Piedmont ($44).  From Northern Piedmont this is the normale bottling that drinks with the elegance and finesse of a fine Barolo or Barbaresco.  $20 retail. Wine-Searcher.

2012 Cascina Ca'Rosso Langhe Nebbiolo Piedmont ($39).  We drank this along side the Produttori and it possessed the same elegance and finesse as the Carema, but with a bit more depth on the palate.  Both of the wines finished with good length.

2013 Foret des Dames Sancerre ($36).  This is a delicious, crisp and clean Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France.  A wonderful melange of acidity and wet stones on the palate made for a delicious quaff.  $15 retail.  Wine-Searcher.

If you live in the area and have not yet been to AKB, treat yourself.  You will enjoy it.  Oh, tell them Mark and Carol sent you.


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