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.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cafe Matisse

One of my favorite restaurants on the planet is Café Matisse in Rutherford, NJ. Chef/owner Peter Loria is a great chef who really enjoys pushing the envelope when it comes to providing a dining experience…and each meal here is a dining experience. Chef Loria puts a lot of ingredients, many in unique combination, on each plate and somehow they really work. Each ingredient is pristinely fresh and cooked to absolute perfection. The resulting dishes are a marvelous combination of flavors and textures that dance on the palate.

Café Matisse is a small intimate space that matches the food with first class service. Maitre’d Larry and his staff provide courteous and professional service from start to finish. The restaurant is BYOB and the wine service is magnificent. Wine is decanted with a smile and there are always appropriate glasses to match the wine. Café Matisse also owns a small wine shop that is located at the front entrance where you may also purchase wine to enjoy with your meal.

The only thing I enjoy more than going to a great BYOB restaurant is going with friends who share my passion for wine, as the wines that show up for the night never disappoint. Tonight was no exception and they went beautifully with chef's creative menu options.

The menu concept here is what Peter calls a “grazing menu”. He explains, “…we do not offer traditional appetizer or entrée portions. All of our portions are grazer portions. Grazer portions are larger than an appetizer yet smaller than an entrée. We offer three and four course grazer options.”

On this evening the six of us grazed on the following;

Pan Seared Cajun Spiced Cubed Tuna with Crab, White Bean Pancake and Asian Slaw with Sesame Soy Vinaigrette Topped with Tempura Fried Avocado and Julienned Scallion Drizzled with Wasabi Jus. Cool & a bit spicy on the palate, it was the perfect match for the NV Demiere-Ansiot Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru. This is a terrific champagne from a great small producer that produces only 2000 cases a year, and only in years he deems good enough to put his name on the label. 100% Chardonnay, the wine is round and sensuous on the palate. It set the stage for the wines that followed. $50 at 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.

Crispy Panko Crusted Crabcake, Cheddar Glazed Shrimp with Dollop of Guacamole, Sweet Corn Jus, Corn Jalapeno Relish, Chipotle Foam and Cilantro Yogurt also matched nicely with the champagne. This crab cake preparation will redefine crabcakes for you. Kind of crabecakes on steroids.

Rye Toasted Reuben with Fresh Sliced Pork Loin, Spec Ham, Tasso Ham with Smoked Gouda, White Cheddar, Caramelized Onion, Dill Pickle, Hot Mustard Mayo and Side of Braised Green Cabbage with Apples and Caraway Seeds. My absolute favorite “grazer”. I order this whenever it appears on the menu. The combination of 3 types of pork with cheese, etc. is an absolute tour-de-force.

Apricot Chili Glazed Chicken Wing, off the Bone with Gorgonzola Fig Jam Wrapped Scallion Pancake Topped with Cracklin and Pear Celery Relish Drizzled with Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette Pear Jus. Did not taste, but my wife gave it a definitive thumbs up.

Grilled Cheese with Oven Roasted Tomato, Endive, and Duck Confit with Side Salad of Heirloom Tomato, Peruvian Sweet Peppers, Burrata Cheese and Arugula Pesto Topped with Crispy Fried Onions Dusted with Smoked Paprika and Drizzled with Tuscan Olive Oil, Pepper Jus Vinaigrette. A new menu item that takes this classic sandwich to new heights. It had me applauding loudly.

The red wines that we began the evening with were a 1994 & 1986 Giuseppe Quintarelli Ca del Merlo Valopolicella . From Quintarelli’s single hilltop vineyard, Ca del Merlo, this wine is aged for a longer period in barrel. It is a Valpolicella that in my opinion is better than any other producer's Amarone. While both bottles were terrific and soared from their glass, the 1986 had more lively fruit than the 1994. Do not know if this was due to bottle variation or the vintage. In any case these were typical of Quintarelli wines, they had a great sense of place and were balanced and pure on the palate with a lengthy finish. $100. The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ.

As good as the Quintarellis were the next wine, a 2001 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino soared even higher from the glass. Made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso (per Italian wine law) this is a stunning example of how good traditionally made wines can be when left in the hands of an artisan wine maker. Each sip of this wine transported me to the hilly terrain of Montalcino. The wine had it all, intoxicating earthy bouquet, pure and rich expression of fruit, stunning balance and a lengthy and elegant finish. $155. The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop, Bedminster, NJ.

Keeping pace sip for sip with the Salvioni was a 2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. There is really no sense in repeating myself, as everything I said about the Salvioni applies here. The only difference is the Nebbiolo grape in the Mascarello. Maria-Teresa Mascarello, who took over the reins when her father passed away a few years ago, continues to make wine the way her grandfather and father did before her, by blending the grapes from their four vineyards Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rue and Rocche into one spectacular Barolo. Fermentation is in old cement tanks with aging in large old Slavonian Oak for 3 1/2 years. The resulting wine seems to be deified as this bottle was on this night. $118. De Vino Wine, NYC.

Finally dessert. Banana Crème Pie With Almond Graham Cracker Crust, Caramelized Bananas and White Chocolate Malted Mousse Topped with Strawberry Ginger Jam and Candied Almonds, Drizzled with Malted Honey Vanilla Jus. As a banana cream pie freak, this did not disappoint.

Another enjoyable evening with friends, food and wine.


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