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Wine Blogging Wednesday#38: Portuguese Table Wines

October 9th, 2007

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This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme, put on by Ryan and Gabriella Opaz of Catavino is Portuguese Table Wines. Who better to host this theme than the king and queen of blogging all things Iberian wine? Personally, I have little experience with Portuguese wine aside from Vinho Verde so this was a wonderful opportunity for me to experience what these guys have been raving about.

The wine I’ve chosen is a Eugenio Fundacao de Almeida Cartuxa Evora Alentejo 1999. Alentejo is a Southern region of Portugal. Reading this label was certainly tricky! I’m ashamed to realize how much I’ve forgotten as of late. Someone needs to hit the books again! I picked it up at Landmark Wine and Spirits which unfortunately has nary a Portuguese wine section. I asked the clerk if they had anything from Portugal and he used a step stool to point out six bottles of Portuguese wine on a high shelf above the many shelves of Spanish wine. I suppose it’s true that Portuguese wines do not get much love in the states :( And as my taste buds will attest, they deserve it.

After aging for nearly a decade, this wine is wildly aromatic with notes of black cherry, plum and violets yet it has a beautiful softness as well. The tannins are soft and it has a seductive, silky texture on the palate. I found it to be well rounded and balanced with a pleasant, lingering finish. This is a lovely wine for Fall and would be delicious with a rich veal dish with sautéed mushrooms. It isn’t the cheapeast wine on the shelf at $25, given its DOC status, but it is truly rewarding. This is my first Alentejo experience and it certainly will not be my last.

Michelin 2008 Revealed

October 8th, 2007

The highly anticipated 2008 Michelin Guide to New York City was released today. As expected, there was good news for some and disappointment for others. Hearts bleed for Tom Colicchio’s Craft, which was demoted from 1 star to zero and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon which was awarded 1 star despite earning a lofty reputation at the James Beard Awards this year. Jean Georges, Le Bernardin and Per Se were the only triple star winners. I was shocked to see Del Posto earning two stars amongst such culinary kings as Bouley, Daniel, and Masa. How can Del Posto earn 2 and Babbo earn 1? I also enjoyed Spotted Pig but don’t think it worthy of a star along side Babbo. A loud applause for Jewel Bako which earned a star and Picholine which has re-emerged after revamping its menu and decor to earn two stars. Shockingly, Eleven Madison Park was nowhere to be found. Check out the complete list here. What do you all think? Any disagreements?

I also learned about Michelin’s “Bib Gourmand” category which awards restaurants for exceptional value. Restaurants like Beyoglu (a turkish UES staple), Blue Smoke, and Momofuku made this category.

Michelin is hosting a discussion panel on Thursday evening at 7PM at Borders in the Time Warner Center. Unfortunately I cannot attend because I have to teach my spin class :( If anyone goes, please fill me in on what happens!

Per Se

October 7th, 2007

Per Se

There are few restaurants in the world that consistently deliver perfection. These are the restaurants against which all others are measured. Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is one of those restaurants and Per Se, his New York replica of the French Laundry, is as well. Per Se was not given 3 Michelin stars by accident. Just as with anything that has notoriety, one wonders- will it live up to the hype?

It absolutely does. The 9 course menu at Per Se changes daily, consisting of either the “chef’s tasting menu” or the “tasting of vegetables.” We chose the regular chef’s tasting menu and incorporated some additional courses from the vegetable. Our waiter, Michael, catered to our every whim, making recommendations and adjustments as we saw fit. The attention to detail in the service at Per Se is unparalleled. A caviar dish is served with a mother-of-pearl spoon because of the poor effect that metal has with caviar. A gin and tonic is made with homemade tonic, taking the drink to another level.

I really enjoyed exchanging banter with the female sommelier who spoke to me like an equal. Sometimes sommeliers forget that the purpose is to listen and help the patron, rather than showboat their wine knowledge. She was fun to rant with and helped us select the perfect bottles as we progressed through each course.

The décor at Per Se is meant to mimic the French Laundry, with its famous blue door and simple, quiet tones of brown and white. The space is not highly stylized, allowing the food to shine without distraction. Its high position in the Time Warner building, however, allow for spectacular views of Central Park. Seats by the windows are worthwhile.

The meal kicked off with the signature Thomas Keller salmon tartare ice cream cones along with some mini gruyere filled puffs. Now begins an absolute circus of dishes. We began with the celery root veloute then had two dishes each of a confit of young fennel bulb with mission fig marmalade as well as a soft boiled hen egg with hen of the woods mushrooms. Following this was a cauliflower “panna cotta” with an oyster glaze and white sturgeon caviar. A Gruner Veltliner that Michael suggested was an appropriate partner for the veggies.

We move on now to two foie gras dishes: the peanut butter “financier” which is composed of layers of foie gras and concord grape gelee with a balsamic glaze. A fancy PB and J. The other foie dish was a sautéed foie gras with frisee. We gobbled up both on brioche. A silver tray with tiny pots of exotic salts was placed on our table, containing anything from red Brittany salt to “Jurassic” salt, to a black volcanic salt from Hawaii. These were fun to match with each subsequent course.

We then sampled pastas including a papardelle and a risotto with corn and Parmigianno-Regianno, both served with a mountain of freshly shaved truffles on top. Seafood came next with langoustines “a la plancha” served with a confit of Yukon gold potatoes. A sea bass followed with chanterelles, artichokes, carrots and a violet artichoke emulsion. Both seafood preparations were delicate, allowing the freshness of the fish to be in the spotlight. Seafood was paired with a 1996 Mersault which was showing really nicely after being decanted for us.

Next came a braised pork belly with cream peas, sweet potato puree, and pea tendrils, hedonistically salty and rich. Cervelle de veau (veal brains) with beet, Burgundy truffles, and caramelized endive arrived next. This was my first veal brains experience. They certainly had a distinct, chewy texture but were cooked perfectly, erasing any squeamishness. My friend has a love for Amarone so we ordered a Giuseppe Quintarelli to enjoy with our final meat courses. A saddle of lamb was tender with rainbow swiss chard and pepper scented yogurt. Finally a sirloin of Wagyu beef melted in the mouth with bone marrow and matsutake mushroom.

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It is difficult to compete with such an array of explosive flavors during the main meal but desserts held their end well. Two cheese courses followed: an aged goat and then a blue. Our dessert wine was an Amabile del Cere Bandito, a 1990 late harvest. It was honey sweet and had a beautiful amber color from its old age. The real sweets began with individual creme brulees, a testament to traditional French desserts. A “tentation au chocolate” followed with a milk sorbert and hazelnut streusel. Dessert continued (can you believe it?) with the famous coffee semifreddo with sugar coated doughuts, a course of espresso with candies and then finally the king of all chocolate trays. A server emerged with a tray containing nearly 60 individual chocolates in unique flavors like fennel, pumpkin, and quince. They were lined up and separated into milk, dark, and white. We each selected our final few sweet bites. I was amazed at the server’s ability to recite each choice by heart. We exited with amazingly full bellies and a gift of Per Se macaroons in hand.

The cuisine at Per Se is a graceful fusion of borrowings from Asian, French, and Italian cuisines. Very high expectations were surpassed with course after course of successful dishes. With nearly twenty courses, one would expect some to fall flat, but I was consistently impressed for the entire six hour meal and full for three days afterwards ;)

Per Se- 10 Columbus Circle at 60th Street, 4th Floor
Cuisine- New American, French

Word to the wise- Those blue doors don’t operate. Use the glass doors on the sides when you enter the restaurant. Learned that lesson the hard way.

Per Se in New York

Andy and Machmoud Ahmadinejad Love Affair

October 4th, 2007

You can deny the Holocaust all you want, but you can’t deny that there’s something between us. (they don’t allow embedding so just click through to Youtube… it’s worth it!)

Hearth

October 2nd, 2007

Hearth Hearth, as its name suggests, was a warm reprieve from an arduous day of fasting last week for Yom Kippur. Despite sleeping until noon and passing time with a three-hour facial, I was ready to eat my hand off when we finally sat down at 6:30. Hey, it’s tough ;)

The Hearth sentiment is more present in the décor with its warm red tones, exposed brick walls and textured fabric wallpaper than in an actual Hearth at the restaurant. Though I’ve heard there is one tucked away in a corner somewhere. Our waiter was very understanding of our plight so he brought some red snapper crudo to take the edge off as soon as we sat down.

The restaurant was started by Marco Canora, who previously cooked at Gramercy Tavern. He continued the legend that Tom Colicchio began of focusing on fresh ingredients, without too much pomp and circumstance. The menu changes daily, further emphasizing the freshness factor. All of our dishes were very well executed from a grilled quail with farro salad, tomato preserves and poached quail egg to a roasted striped bass with calamari, chick peas, swiss chard and garlic. The food is mainly new American with some Italian influences in pastas like a delicate papardelle with tomatoes and large ruby red shrimp. The wine list at Hearth is truly special, meant to educate and not intimidate with whole sections entitled: “German Riesling” which yells: “RIESLING IS NOT AN INHERENTLY SWEET WINE.” It compares a well balanced wine to a match between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin on a Monday night while enjoying pigs in a blanket. Someone is giving a lot of thought to making wine approachable, and I love it. Aside from the wine there is also an impressive array of microbrews and other “libations.”

The meal was rounded out with a delightfully airy goat cheese cheesecake with grape sorbet. The final icing on the cake was the coaster for our espresso which read: “Food: 1. Buy it with thought 2. Cook it with care 3. Serve just enough 4. Save what will keep 5. Eat what would spoil 6. Home grown is best. Don’t Waste It. We learned this little excerpt is from the depression. What a charming spot- I highly recommend it.

Hearth- 403 E 12 street and 1st Ave
Cuisine- New American, Italian

Hearth in New York

Apropos Cafe

September 30th, 2007

Apropos Cafe is a quaint little wine/panini spot in Park Slope. I checked it out last week when visiting a friend who recently moved there. Overall, I wouldn’t travel far to get to Apropos but if you find yourself in the neighborhood it’s not a bad place to know about. The restaurant is casual with exposed brick walls, a handful of tables, and a small bar. The menu consists of small salads, pizzas, bruschettas, and paninis with Italian influences. We started with a meat and cheese plate consisting of sopressata, montrachet, and piave vecchio (an Italian cow’s milk cheese). The platter was rather meager with four tiny crostinis for the three of us and a smatter of each cheese and meat. Honestly, it felt a bit cheap to me and the crostinis had nothing to offer in terms of added flavor. Someone should tell these folks to spring for some nicer bread. Afterwards we shared two personal pizzas: a portabella with garlic-shallot puree and pecorino fresco then a gorgonzola with caramelized onions and arugula. The pizzas were tasty enough but once again seemed lacking in flavors- the arugula was thrown on top without any seasoning and added nothing to the pizza. The wide open spaces between toppings didn’t add anything either. We shared an espresso- banana bread pudding to round out the meal (and fill ourselves up) which was nicely made though the ground espresso beans thrown on top seemed a bit silly. Just call it a banana bread pudding! They did have a thoughtful selection of wines with a decent assortment by the glass which I appreciated. I do have to say that the meal was incredibly affordable, a nice departure from a typical meal in Manhattan in that aspect.

Apropos Cafe- 186 5th Avenue at Sackett , Park Slope Brooklyn
Cuisine- Italian, Small Plates

Apropos Cafe in Brooklyn

Kung Fu NuNu’s

September 28th, 2007

The 86 Rules of Boozing

September 24th, 2007

Any respectable imbiber can tell you that there are certain unspoken rules of drinking, especially in public. This list of “rules of boozing” from “Modern Drunkard” magazine was published a little while ago, though somehow it slipped through the cracks until today. In any case, I figured I’d share some of my personal favorites with you all. Which are your favorites? Do you disagree with any of them?

10. Do not make eye contact with the bartender if you do not want a drink.

14. If you offer to buy a woman a drink and she refuses, she does not like you.

15. If you offer to buy a woman a drink and she accepts, she still might not like you. (mean but true, we’re all guilty of it ladies)

17. If someone offers to buy you a drink, do not upgrade your liquor preference.

20. Drink one girly drink in public and you will forever be known as the guy who drinks girly drinks.

22. Never talk to someone in the restroom unless you’re doing the same thing—urinating, waiting in line or washing your hands.

24. After your sixth drink, do not look at yourself in the mirror. It will shake your confidence.

28. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to drink in a bar. Go to the liquor store.

34. If you bring Old Milwaukee to a party, you must drink at least two cans before you start drinking the imported beer in the fridge.

44. Being drunk is feeling sophisticated without being able to say it. (yes, sophisticated is usually how I feel when I’m drunk)

46. After three drinks, you will forget a woman’s name two seconds after she tells you. The rest of the night you will call her “baby” or “darling”.

47. Nothing screams ‘nancy boy’ louder than swirling an oversized brandy snifter. (I think I just liked the term nancy boy)

55. If you think you might be slurring a little, then you are slurring a lot. If you think you are slurring a lot, then you are not speaking English.

56. Screaming, “Someone buy me a drink!” has never worked.

66. Asking a bartender what beers are on tap when the handles are right in front of you is the equivalent of saying, “I’m an idiot.”

67. Never ask a bartender “what’s good tonight?” They do not fly in the scotch fresh from the coast every morning.

68. If there is a line for drinks, get your goddamn drink and step the hell away from the bar.

73. If you bring booze to a party, you must drink it or leave it.

77. Never preface a conversation with a bartender with “I know this is going to be a hassle, but . . .”

83. The bar clock moves twice as fast from midnight to last call.

Read the full list here.

Crave Ceviche Wine Bar

September 23rd, 2007

Crave

After barely being open for a month, Crave Ceviche Wine Bar has already developed a following. This pocket-sized restaurant was packed to the brim with people pouring out onto the sidewalk last Thursday evening. Chef Todd Mitgang takes ceviche to another level, offering up innovative selections such as arctic char with truffles, strawberries, caviar and sea salt or lump crab with wok fried okra. The fish in the ceviches are cured in anything from champagne to sherry vinegar to grapefruit with thai basil. And to my delight, there was nary a martini glass presentation to be found. The menu really dazzled me as dishes played with ingredients inspired by Italian, Thai, Middle Eastern and of course Latin American cuisine. A killer yellow fin tuna BLT was speckled with pancetta while a calamari salad came with shitaki mushrooms, crispy kimchi, and ginger scallion oil. The dishes were not perfect, the caper crusted wild salmon had a slight fishy taste and the crispy kimche could have been more delicate. However, Crave is doing well for such a newby. I’m sure they will tie up some of the loose ends. The wine list contains a nice variety of wines from Spain, Chile and Argentina with some American selections in the mix. We started with the house sangria which was a “Fall” sangria, infused with cinnamon and cider before ordering a Chardonnay from Navarra. The entire place was held together by one girl who was doubling as hostess and waitress for every table. She did a fantastic job for us and seemed to be keeping other guests happy as well. I hope they get her some help soon though!

Crave is a welcome newcomer to the “culinarily challenged” Turtle Bay/Upper East Side. I cannot wait to return.
Crave Ceviche Wine Bar: 946 Second Avenue
Cuisine: Eclectic, Latin American, Seafood

Crave Ceviche and Wine Bar in New York

Peasant Wine Bar

September 17th, 2007

I stopped in at Peasant Wine Bar, the subterranean space underneath the restaurant of the same name, on Friday night. I really dig the vibe at Peasant- dark and sexy, with stone floors, ceilings, and walls. The low wooden tables are communal and adorned with tall candlesticks, heaping bowls of olives, and breadsticks. Service was friendly though our waitress had her moments of being missing-in-action. This meal had no agenda, so weren’t bothered. The small and simple menu offers up appetizer plates such as bocconcini wrapped in speck, prosciutto with melon as well as full portions of pizza, pasta and steak/seafood entrees. We ordered a richer rose which I’m unfortunately forgetting the name of. It was a great complement to the variety of food we were about to have. My friend and I shared the meat and cheese platter which arrived with a generous portion of proscuitto, bologna, salami, and speck as well as aged parmesan, aged goat, and a rich blue cheese. Following the platter she had the spicy baby octopus with chillis and I had the tripe marinara with Parmesan. Both were good, not great. Her octopus was overpowered by the chilli, seemed like an odd combination. All in all, come to Peasant for a unique space but don’t expect to be wowed by the food.

Peasant Wine Bar: 194 Elizabeth Street
Cuisine: Italian

Peasant in New York