Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

China Food and Wine Experiences

November 18, 2015 18 comments

For the first time ever, my business took me to China. Not only China, but it was also my first visit to Asia, so definitely a new experience. Of course I read and heard many China food-related stories from people, but as we all know, there is a big difference between the two – “virtual” and “real-life” experiences are vastly different, especially when it comes to something which you put into your mouth.

During the week in Beijing, I had an opportunity to try many different dishes and visit a number of restaurants. One challenge is that for the most of the restaurants I visited, I don’t have their English names or addresses, so what I will share with you will be mostly a collection of impressions, primarily in the pictures, without much useful references for you in case you will be visiting China any time soon. But I hope at least you will get an idea for what to expect, especially if you grew up on mostly European food. I also plan another post which will be just about the “tourist” experiences, for things outside of the food per se.

First restaurant I visited was a “Noodle House” type if I’m not mistaken, and it was located right around the corner from the Sheraton Great Wall hotel where I was staying.

The main dish at Noodle House was of course, the noodles, but before we got to them we also had lots of appetizers. Pork belly with roasted garlic and Quail eggs was particularly tasty, and it became only better with time, as it had its own heat and garlic continued cooking. Noodles were good, but hard to finish after all the food prior. Chicken with peanuts (as opposed to traditional cashew nuts in US) were also very tasty.

Now, I have to mention the first one experience (well, the actual “first” was undrinkable wine at the reception, but that we will skip). When I poured myself a glass of Chinese Chardonnay (at a happy hour), I had no expectations – just curiosity. First sip, and  – wow – not bad at all! 1421 Gold Chardonnay Xinjiang China had a characteristic nose of Chardonnay, with touch of vanilla. The palate had touch of golden apples, vanilla, good acidity – overall, very enjoyable. I like the brand’s description on the 1421 web site: “1421….the year Admiral Zheng He, leading one of the largest fleets ever seen, sailed to many, many parts of the world. Wine much like travel, has served as a link between different cultures, people and countries. Today at the beginning of the 21st century, 1421 follows the same mission as Admiral Zheng He, sharing his spirit for a better world.” – the Chardonnay I had was definitely the wine worth sharing.

My next experience was a first encounter with the traditional Peking Duck, a whole duck seasoned and roasted in the special oven, with its crispy skin been the most sought-after delicacy. The place we went to, Dadong Roasted Duck Restaurant, defines itself as an Artistic Concept Food, and it does it – “Artistic Concept” – very successfully – in ambiance, food presentation, service – all the elements are there, definitely a world-class restaurant.

Of course my encounter with the restaurant started from the wine list, which was something to look at. The list was very substantial, with the wide range of offerings, adequately priced for the “concept restaurant”. I don’t remember which exact Bordeaux wine was that, but it was priced at a measly ¥28,000 (the ¥ symbol depicts Chinese Yuan, often also called RMB), which would translate into roughly $4,800. You could also have Penfolds Grange for only ¥7,200, which would be roughly $1,200 – which is almost reasonable (hope it was not a young vintage).

So after hopelessly scanning the wine list for a few minutes, I finally discovered what I was looking for – a small section of Chinese wines. Luckily, I already was given the name of one of the best wines in China (according to the local sources, of course) – the wine called Changyu, and there it was on the list. There was no vintage listed, but there were three wines offered with different “age” – 1, 3 and 5 years. I’m not sure what it means, but one year old looked as good to me as all others, and at ¥196 ($33) I felt very comfortable with my choice, whether the wine would be good or bad.

Turns out that Changyu was the oldest commercial winery in China, started in 1892, then of course significantly destroyed in 1949 and now getting back to their roots. The only thing I was able to figure out from the label was that the wine was made out of the grape called Cabernet Gernischt, which, according to the article by Jancis Robinson, is actually a Carmenere. I couldn’t figure out the vintage or any other details, but I can tell you that this Changyu Red Wine Blend Ningxia, China was simply outstanding –  delicious nose of black currant with touch of mint, and perfectly balanced body of the classic Bordeaux blend which is ready to drink – nothing green, just cassis, eucalyptus, firm, good structure, welcoming pinch of tannins, good acidity and perfect balance. I got 2 bottles of Changyu at duty free, so probably there will be another post on the subject.

While I was working through the wine list, my host was navigating through much bigger book – here is the look of the menu at Dadong restaurant:

I can only say “kudos to my host” for been able to select anything from the book of that size – I would probably spend half a day flipping through the pages. Anyway, we started our dinner with a couple of exotic appetizers. Both were vegetables, one had sweet sauce and was crunchy, may be some sort of squash, but cooked very lightly? The second one was somewhat reminiscent of pickled mushrooms in texture, but didn’t have pickled taste. Both of course had a beautiful presentation. Then the duck arrived, was quickly presented to us (yes, I forgot to take a picture) and then it was sliced table-side. The only part which made it to the table was duck breast, with maximum skin exposure, as this is the most prized part. I was explained that proper way to eat duck is to take the top part which is mostly skin, dip in the sweet crunchy beans (more reminiscent of a sugar), then sweet soy-based sauce, and then put it in your mouth, where it literally melts – it seriously disappears without much chewing effort. The second way is to take a paper-thin pancake, and assemble a tiny taco if you will, by combining few slices of duck with thinly sliced vegetables and addition of the sauce – and this is how it is mostly consumed.

Once we were done with the main course, first the branch with tiny mandarins appeared, beautifully presented on top of a bowl with ice – when it showed up, it looked like the smoke was coming from the plate. For my dessert, I decided to try a pastry filled with cream made with the fruit called Durian. Durian is known to have the taste which is extremely polarizing to the people – only love/hate with nothing in between. Imagine the taste of raw onion, rather intense pungency of the shallot, mixed with strawberry cream – that would give you an approximation of the taste of that dessert. I personally liked it, but I can easily see how lots of people wouldn’t even touch it.

I’m not planning on give you the daily report on our eating, but I still want to include a a few pictures for probably the best lunch we had – two different dim sum and then a simple shrimp dish:

Next traditional cooking style we experienced was so called Hot Pot. The idea is that you have a special cooking vessel, which looks like a sombrero hat, if you will, with the channel filled with aromatic broth, and the middle section containing burning charcoal, which quickly brings broth to a boil. Technically, the channel is split into two parts, so you can have spicy and non-spicy broth separately – however, no matter what, by the end of the evening it becomes all the same.

You can order very thinly sliced meat (pork, beef, lamb), vegetables and noodles. You cook it all in the broth, and then you have a choice of dipping sauce. To be entirely honest, hot pot is not my thing – the meat, which is cooked for 10-15 seconds, has no flavor and simply becomes the vessel to eat the dipping sauce. Vegetables should be dumped in for the longer time, and then it is really hard to find them in the boiling murky liquid. This is not the worst food I ever had, but still – I had to have it twice, and only marginally enjoyed it both times.

I’m almost done with my China food stories. We experienced one more Roasted Duck restaurant, called Xile Village Roasted Duck Restaurant, located in the brand spanking new shopping mall.

Here the duck was sliced in 3 different ways  – just the skin, top of the breast with skin and meat, and mostly meat pieces. At this restaurant, mustard was also served as a condiment for the duck breast, which was quite tasty. There were lots of dishes before the roasted duck arrived, as it takes 50 minutes for it to cook. My highlights here were delicious shrimp and very very tasty eggplant (one of the best vegetable dishes I had in China). Also, once all the meat was carefully cut off the duck, the carcass was chopped up and deep fried – nothing goes to waste :)

Okay, I hope I didn’t bore you to death – but I’m finally done. There you have it, my friends – my Chinese food and wines escapades. I plan to share some traveling advice regarding China in the next post. If any of these pictures triggered any thoughts – you know where the comment section is. Cheers!

For The Love of Chowder

October 13, 2015 16 comments
Definition of “Chowder” according to Google:
noun: chowder; plural noun: chowders
  1. a rich soup typically containing fish, clams, or corn with potatoes and onions

Cup of chowder, anyone? As I happen to live in the area of the United States called New England, the soup, most often known as New England Clam Chowder, can be seen on the menu of many restaurants. In most of the cases, it is called Clam Chowder, as it contains clams; two most popular versions are called New England Clam Chowder (milk/heavy cream based) and Manhattan Clam Chowder (red tomato based).

As Chowder is a type of soup, the question might be “what makes Chowder different from the Soup”. This is why I started this blog post with the definition of Chowder, which is a very good one. I would, however, make one small improvement, based on this interesting article – the chowder should have small chunks of [clams, vegetables, etc], which would perfectly distinguish it from the “cream of” soups , such as Cream of Asparagus, for instance. So the better definition of Chowder can be “a rich soup typically containing small chunks of fish, clams, or corn with potatoes and onions”.

Blue skies at the Chowder Fest

Anyway, why all of a sudden studious exercise in the “science” of soups? On Sunday, I attended 7th annual Chowder Festival, which took place at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. It was really a Chowder deep immersion – 39 competitors from 12 different states brought their best Chowder offerings to be sampled during 4 hours. There were lots of other things to try – juices, Dunkin Donuts munchkins, Cabot cheese, The Farmer’s Cow ice cream – in the other words, lots of fun for all ages.

The competition was conducted in 4 different categories – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowder, Creative Chowder and Soup/Bisque. Focusing just on clam chowders, it appears that there are 4 of them (surprised?). The Classic New England is the chowder which is white in color because of the use of heavy cream or milk. Traditional Chowder includes two different types – Manhattan, which is tomato based, and Rhode Island, which is “clear”.  Rhode Island clam chowder is something I discovered earlier this year for the first time – it simply looks like a thick, rich soup with clams etc, but without milk or tomatoes. At the Chowder Fest I learned that there is a newly popular style – Long Island Clam Chowder, which also can be called “half and half” – it is a mix of Traditional New England with Manhattan. There was one chowder of that type at the festival, served by Parallel Post from Trumbull, Connecticut – it was very tasty.

As I mentioned, 39 chowders and soups were presented at the competition. I didn’t try all 39 (wonder if someone did), but I did try at least 30. Just to explain how competition works: as you enter through the gates, you are given a ballot and a pencil. The ballot contains the list of all the chowders present at the festival – as you taste, if you happen to like the chowder, you give it a rating from 7 up to 10. The ballots are tabulated later on, and voila – the champion and two runner ups are declared in each category.

ChowderFest Ballot

[bad] picture of my ballot

It seems that Festival’s organization is quite efficient – the winners are already announced, right on the next day. Care to guess from what state was the winner of the Chowder Fest 2015 in the Traditional New England Chowder category? Pike Place from (drum roll, please) Seattle, Washington. This was not the first time they are crowned as “Chowder Champions”  – their whole counter was covered with the 1st place medals:

I tasted Pike Place chowder and it was one of my top favorites, with “just enough” of everything – I’m glad to see that this was crowd’s opinion too. If you are interested, here you can find the list of all winners, current and the past.

I’m glad that I was able to attend the event – learned something new and tasted lots of delicious chowders. I plan to make it my annual tradition from now on – and may be you should join too? I have to finish with the question though – do you like clam chowder? If you do, what is your favorite style? Don’t be shy here… Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Tabard Inn in Washington DC

October 11, 2015 3 comments

Tabard InnDo you like restaurants with charm? In a lot of cases, people go to the restaurant for the good food and good service. Don’t get me wrong – these are my priorities too. But for me, experiencing a pleasure of just “being inside” is a great bonus too. You walk in, just glance around and say “ahh, I like it here” – this is what I mean by “charm”. You are at the restaurant, waiting for your dining companions to arrive, then you are walking to your table, get seated and situated, and all that time you are thoroughly pleased with surroundings and the atmosphere – I hope you get what I’m talking about here.

If you happened to be in the Washington DC, and would like to visit a restaurant with the charm, I got a recommendation for you – Tabard Inn Restaurant in the area known as Dupont Circle. The restaurant is located inside of the actual hotel (I would designate it more as a B&B) under the same name – Tabard Inn, with the rooms available throughout the three adjacent townhouses – but as I didn’t have a pleasure staying there, we are, of course, will be talking only about the restaurant.

I’m assuming you got my point about the atmosphere and ambiance (relaxing, pleasant, “old glove” comfortable), so let’s talk about food and wine – starting with the wine of course. I really liked the wine list at Tabard Inn – lots of good selections with reasonable prices. The wine list was well rounded internationally, so we managed to make two very interesting ( and highly successful!) choices. For the white, we had 2013 Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko Santorini, Greece (14% ABV, 100% Assyriko, $55 at the restaurant). The group I was dining with typically prefers red wines. However, after trying this wine, the waiter had a hard time to keep the open bottle on the table – the wine was disappearing very quickly. Delicious nose of the white fruit, same white fruit on the palate, crisp, refreshing, medium-bodied, perfectly round – this was one excellent wine (Drinkability: 8).

I managed to surprise myself with the choice of red. It is seldom that I would consciously choose Bordeaux at the restaurant, don’t ask me why. Somehow this wine caught my eye – 2006 Bordeaux for $52. 2006 was a good year in Bordeaux, so why not? When the wine arrived, there was a nice surprise – it was from even a better vintage, one of the best from the 2000 decade – 2005. 2005 Chateau La Croix St André, Lalande-de-Pomerol (13% ABV, 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc),  was at the peak of maturity. Stunning depth of dark fruit with spices, black currant, eucalyptus, classic, concentrated and delicious (Drinkability: 8+).

While Tabard Inn restaurant is not necessarily advertised as “farm-to-table”, the menu is focused on the seasonal ingredients and changes all the time. As the group, we usually like to share some appetizers, but somehow this time around, everybody were really focused on conversation (and the wine :) ),  so pretty much no food sharing took place. That simply means that I can only tell you about the dishes I selected for my dinner.

For the appetizer I had Tuna Tartar – very tasty, served with the sesame crisps. My main dish was Gumbo (Andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken confit, swordfish, fried oysters) – overall it was tasty, but when I hear “Gumbo”, my first thought is “Louisiana Gumbo” – the dish I had was lacking spicy heat for my personal preference (try to guess if I left anything on the plate because of that).

I had dessert in both standard and liquid forms. I’m a sucker for a bread pudding in any form, so when I heard that dish mentioned by our waiter, I had no choice – and it was very tasty. For the liquid dessert we shared a bottle of 2014 Elio Perrone Sourgal Moscato d’Asti Piedmont DOCG, which was perfectly balanced, not overly sweet, with fine bubbles and nicely refreshing, just a right finish for an excellent dinner.

Looking for the restaurant with the ambiance, charm, great wine list and delicious, seasonally-appropriate food in Washington, DC? I think I just told where to find it. Cheers!

Tabard Inn
1739 N St NW
Washington, DC 20036
Phone:(202) 785-1277
Tabard Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Dinner Party Collective – Full Spring Menu and Smoked Salmon Recipe

October 10, 2015 7 comments

TDPC Logo The Dinner Party CollectiveAs Fall settling in the most of the Northern Hemisphere (slowly, I have to admit – it is still very warm and green here in Connecticut), the Spring is coming to the people of Southern Hemisphere, who are I’m sure very happy to forget the cold and embrace the sun. With Spring comes The Dinner Party Collective Spring Menu (if you need more information about The Dinner Party Collective, please see one of my previous posts about TDPC, as we call it for short).

Our Spring Menu had been fully published, and I was very happy to pair all the delicious dishes the wines, as you will see below in the wine pairing suggestions post:

Spring Menu 2015

Wine Pairings – Spring Menu

Appetizer – Smoked Salmon Salad

Main course – Lemon Thyme Lamb Racks with Goat Cheese Aioli

Dessert – Lemon & Coconut Cheesecake with Strawberry Purée

I think all the dishes are absolutely spectacular, and I hope you are all already inviting your friends over for a delicious dinner (and let me know how the wine pairings would work).

This time around, I want to take a liberty to add a little trick, if you will, to one of the dishes on this menu – a Smoked Salmon Salad created by Margot from Gather and Graze. You see, my family loves smoked salmon in any shape and form – on the bagel, in the salad, in the appetizer, anywhere. When you buy smoked salmon from the store, there are couple of issues. First one is the taste and overall quality – sometimes it can be oversalted, dry or even rubbery. Second, the better quality smoked salmon is often quite expensive – Fairway store in Stamford charges $24 – $30 per pound of that smoked salmon. So instead of dealing with uncertain quality and high prices, you can make smoked salmon on your own – it is very easy – and you fully control the flavor profile. That’s right – when making smoked salmon on your own ( and you don’t have to make it taste “smoked” if you don’t like it), you can add any spices – dill, pepper, herbs – anything – and it is really easy to make.

Here is what you will need:

  • 3 lb fresh salmon fillet, preferably with the skin (make sure all the pin bones are removed)
  • 1 cup kosher salt (Kosher salt without iodine is a must for curing and brining)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I use “sugar in the raw”)
  • pepper – by your taste
  • liquid smoke (if you want to make “smoked salmon”)

Smoked Salmon RecipeAbove you see everything you need – please note the bottle of Liquid Smoke there  – available at most of the supermarkets or you can order it online. Few drops will impart smoke flavor on any dish you are making.

Prepare the mix of kosher salt, brown sugar and pepper – feel free to add any other spices here you would want to use, and mix it all up  – I do it right in the measuring glass:

Kosher Salt and Raw Sugar in the cupPut a very thin layer of the mix at the bottom of the large glass cooking dish (I’m sure you can use the foil tray as well, but I prefer using the glass tray), and put salmon filet on top:

Smoked Salmon - Step 1Now, completely cover the salmon with the mix, top and sides:

Smoked salmon - Step 2Cover with the plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 24 hours. The next day, take it out of the fridge, and you will see something like that:

Smoked Salmon 24 hours markDrain the liquid (as much as you easily can, don’t strain it completely). Technically, salmon is now ready to eat – it is completely cured. From now on, I like to make it “smoked” so I add a few drops of Liquid Smoke all over salmon and around, cover with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for another 12 hours. Important note – the longer you will keep salmon with the salt, the drier and denser it will become, as it will lose more juice.

After 12 hours, your smoked salmon is fully ready – get it out of the fridge, wash it thoroughly to rid of any salt, and lay it to rest on the board – you can keep it there for an hour or even longer. This is how it will look like:

Smoked salmon  - doneI like to give it even longer rest time if I’m not too hungry, so I would typically wrap it completely into the plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge for a few hours. Salt dries the surface completely, so by letting the salmon rest, it will redistribute the juices so it will become all moist and delicious. Last step – slice and enjoy!

smoked salmon - slice and enjoy!I would typically slice it off the skin as needed, and keep the rest wrapped in the plastic wrap in the fridge. As it is cured, it will last for a pretty long time – between a week and two for sure. It is also very easy to freeze as it is, right in the plastic wrap – and it can be thawed quickly as needed.

There you have it my friends – a simple smoked salmon recipe. Yes, do that at home!

If you will decide to make it  – let me know how it will come out. Cheers!



The Dinner Party Collective – Full Fall/Autumn Menu

September 29, 2015 3 comments

TDPC Logo The Dinner Party CollectiveA quick update on the fun project I had been involved with – The Dinner Party Collective (TDPC for short). For those of you unfamiliar with TDPC – it is a collaborative project of food and wine bloggers, aimed at creating full dinner menus with focus on seasonal ingredients in both northern and southern hemispheres, and with all the dishes on the menu coming with suggested wine pairings. TDPC is a brain child of Margot from Gather and Graze, which started early in 2015. TDPC was mentioned in the WordPress article in July as one of the 4 food blogs to watch. Earlier in the year, we published a set of Winter and Summer menus.

Now the time has come for the Fall/Autumn and Spring menus. First, the Fall/Autumn menu was fully published, so here are all the links:

Autumn/Fall Menu Overview

Appetizer – Trio of Root Vegetable Dips

Main Course – Beef Bourguignon

Dessert – Blackberry Tart

All the recipes include wine pairing notes and suggestions from Stefano (Flora’s TableClicks & Corks).

Spring menu overview will be coming out tomorrow, with the wine pairings and all the dishes to follow. Happy cooking! Cheers!

Daily Glass: Red with Dessert

September 12, 2015 11 comments

When ordering wine with dinner, especially eating by myself, I practically never think of wine and food together. I usually look for the wine which would be interesting and affordable, without regard to the color or style. As last night was probably my 4th dinner of the trip at the same hotel restaurant, I knew that my choices were limited – I already had some (didn’t want to repeat), and some where just out of my price range. After scanning the list back and forth multiple times, I finally settled on 2013 M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes-Hermitage AOC (€7.20 per glass at the restaurant).

That choice combined together a few of the favorites. First, Crozes-Hermitage is an appellation which encircles the famous, but tiny Hermitage, and the wines in both areas are made from the same grape – Syrah, one of my absolute favorites – with Crozes-Hermitage been a lot more affordable. Second, this wine was made by Michel Chapoutier, one of my favorite producers, who I had a pleasure of meeting (and still have a blog post about it in the works :( ). The wine was just absolutely delicious – expressive nose of lavender and red fresh berries, touch of smoke, luscious, velvety palate with perfect black pepper and red fruit core, clean acidity and perfectly balanced.

M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes-Hermitage

I was very happy with the wine just by itself, but it also perfectly matched the main course, which I was contemplating for almost the whole trip, somehow not finding the right moment for – Steak Tartar. I don’t know when and how it became one of my favorites – I still like to recount the story of my horror when I ordered it for the first time at one of the Paris restaurants (8 years ago), and the plate with simply chopped raw beef appeared in front of me. After mixing the beef up with all the condiments, I found it absolutely delicious, and I do ever since. You can find steak tartar in US restaurants, but for some strange reason served already mixed, so I was definitely happy to have the classic version where I’m in control. And yes, the wine was working with the dish just fine.

Steak Tartar at Cafe Novotel

As I loved the wine very much, I was in the mood for another glass, which quickly appeared on the table. Now it was the dessert time, and all of a sudden I was on the mission to find a good pairing. Desserts and dry wines are a tricky combination – more often than not you can end up having sweetness fighting with structure and tannins of the wine. I didn’t feel like cheese (also pairing of cheese and wine is greatly overrated – it is actually very difficult to create matching combination). My only option seemed to be a chocolate cake, but with that I was a bit concerned that chocolate might overpower the wine which was luscious, but quite light. Thus I decided to ask for the advice of my waiter. I found his recommendation a bit surprising – a modern dessert which combines fresh raspberries with almond tartlets and vanilla cream. However, he had a point, suggesting that the fruity core of the wine (same raspberries) would match well with the fruit in the dessert. Well, why not?

Raspberry Dessert at Cafe Novotel

The dessert arrived, I took the first bite and the sip of wine – and couldn’t hold a smile. The dish and wine worked together like a charm, perfectly complementing each other and blending together, with the peppery notes of wine adding an interesting twist.

There you have it – a story of successful red wine and dessert pairing, something I would be skeptical of before – but now I know. Love all this learning opportunities the world of wine holds for us – and may your glass never be empty. Cheers!


Wine Dinner at Brasserie Louis

August 30, 2015 11 comments

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania I love traditions. I’m not talking about anything which is covered in dust and lasted for hundreds of years. I’m talking about simple life pleasures which you call traditions as long as it is something you do repeatedly, hopefully with joy and pleasure.

For about 5 years, we get together with group of friends for a weekend in August, which we call an “Adults Getaway”. The program for the “adults getaway” usually includes driving to an interesting small town within 200 miles radius, a wine tasting if there is a winery near by (doesn’t have to be a winery – one year we visited Hudson Distillery, for instance), a tasty dinner, a stay over at a nice B&B – but primarily lots great and fun time together.

When it comes to the tasty dinner, we usually try to control that experience as much as possible – that translates into finding local restaurant which will be willing to host us and work with us to create tasting menu, and ideally, allow us to bring our own wine which we will of course pair with the dishes on the menu.

Brasserie LouisFew weeks ago we got together for our “adults getaway” at Lewisburg in Pennsylvania. Our “anchor” for the trip was visit to the local winery, Fero Vineyards, which will be a subject of a separate post. For the dinner we contacted a few local restaurants, and finally decided to have our dinner at Brasserie Louis.

We didn’t have any specific dining theme in mind, and the suggested menu we received from Scott, owner of Brasserie Louis, exceeded our expectations – 11 different dishes – the dinner looked very promising. Now we had to decide on the wine pairings and go have fun. 11 dishes doesn’t mean we have to have 11 wines – we settled on 7 wines, as two of the desserts really were calling for the two different wine pairings.

The day arrived and we all got together (overcoming some interesting difficulties, such as flat run-flat tire, which appears to be a serious ordeal, especially during long distance travel) and here is the account of the wine dinner with all the details.


We started with Shrimp Ceviche (diced raw shrimp pieces in lime juice with cilantro, bell pepper, salt and pepper) – very nicely executed dish, great flavor, touch of heat. Our wine pairing was  2014 Fattoria Laila Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, Italy (13% ABV, $11) – wine had a good open profile with some flower and white fruit notes, but most importantly, it paired perfectly with the flavor of ceviche, complementing and enhancing the dish.

Our second dish was Wild Mushroom Tart (puff pastry with wild mushrooms, Gruyere cheese and shallots topped with greens and a balsamic glaze) – another excellent dish, with peppery arugula melding well together with the earthy mushrooms and adding lightness to the cheese. The wine pairing here was NV Anna Codorniu Brut Rosé, Spain (12% ABV, $13, 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) – one of my favorite Sparklers, Anna Codorniu always over-delivers, with good structure and good body. Here the pairing was also successful, with the wine complementing the dish very well.


Our “in-between” dish was Harvest Salad (baby arugula with goat cheese, beets and candied walnuts tossed with a Champagne vinaigrette) – nice crunch, fresh, simple – and we used the same Anna Codorniu with this dish, and again, this was an excellent pairing.

And now, for the Main Course:

We started with Hand formed Crab Cake (lemon Beurre Blanc sauce, green pea risotto) – this was easily the best dish of the evening. You know how often crab cakes contain a lot of other “stuff”, various fillers (corn, peppers, etc)? This crab cake had just honest goodness of a pure, delicious crab meat – I only had anything similar in Maryland, which can be called a crab cake capital with its blue crab. This was just a “wow”dish. Our wine pairing was also excellent – 2013 Jean-Luc Colombo La Redonne Cotes du Rhone, France (13.5% ABV, $20, 70% Viognier, 30% Roussanne)  – Jean-Luc Colombo is a very good producer out of Rhone, and this was one of his higher end wines – plump, full bodied, silky – complemented mild crab cake flavors spot on.

Next up – Black Sesame Crusted Yellowfin Tuna Steak (Yuzu teriyaki glaze) – the dish was nice and simple (tuna was a touch overcooked to my taste, I like it rare), and it paired very well with one of my all-time favorite red wines – 2013 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley, California (13.9% ABV, $20). Laetitia makes an excellent range of Pinot Noir wines, where Estate is an introductory level wine – which makes it perfectly ready to drink young. Delicious California Pinot Noir profile – smoke, plums, touch of earthiness – outstanding. The pairing worked quite well by complementing and enhancing the flavors of the dish.

We continued with Duck a l’Orange (pan seared duck breast, Grand Marnier reduction) – this was an okay dish (my piece of duck was slightly overcooked), but the sauce was excellent and fresh. We used the same Pinot Noir for the pairing, and wine and food worked together well.

Taking a break from the proteins, our next dish was Ratatouille (Provencal vegetable stew of zucchini, squash, wild mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, eggplant and sweet potatoes, touch of Parmesan cheese). This was the dish where the mastery of the Chef combined with amazing Pennsylvania vegetables (I’ve traveled all over East Coast – nothing beats PA vegetables, I’m dead serious) to bring out simply a perfection on the plate – vegetables still had a crunch, and the whole dish was just another “wow” experience.

Our choice of wine for the this and next 2 dishes was 2008 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem Cotes de Roussillon Villages, France (14% ABV, $55/magnum). M. Chapoutier needs no introductions as one of the very best producers in Rhone, and this wine was outstanding – complex, with a touch of roasted flavors, great minerality, lavender. However, there was one problem – this wine didn’t pair well with Ratatouille, and it didn’t pair well with two other dishes. In some cases, it was indifferent (didn’t complement or contrast), and with Ratatouille it was even working against the dish. Well – it is what it is – we still enjoyed the wine and the food – just separately.

Our next dish was Lamb Chops (herb mustard crusted rack of lamb, minted demi-glace) – meat was nicely cooked, and of course lamb and mint jelly is a classic combination.

We finished our main course with Filet Mignon (grilled filet, scalloped potatoes and wilted spinach, truffled veal demi-glace) – the presentation was very interesting, with the steak knife put directly into each piece of the meat. The meat was cooked very well, and overall dish was tasty. And this was probably the only dish where Cotes de Roussillon wine paired marginally acceptable.

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Finally, we are at Dessert!

We had two desserts to finish our evening. Strawberry Zabaione (egg yolks, sugar, Marsala wine, fresh strawberries) was very tasty and not too sweet. We paired it with NV Tütidì Brachetto Piemonte DOC, Italy (7% ABV, $12/1L). Brachetto is a lightly fizzed wine with a nice fruit notes, and it perfectly complements wide range of lighter desserts – and this was a case of a perfect pairing – they were delicious together.

We finished our dinner with Flourless Chocolate Cake, which was paired with Mount Palomar Limited Reserve Port, Temecula Valley, California (18% ABV, $38). Port and Chocolate – do I need to say more?

There you have it my friends – our wine dinner at Brasserie Louis in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. What is left for me to do here is to say Thank You to the owner Scott, Chef Chris Rubino and all the staff at the restaurant who made sure we will have a great time. Cheers!

Brasserie Louis
101 Market Street
Lewisburg, PA 17837
Phone: (570) 524-5559
Facebook: Brasserie Louis

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Restaurant Files: Skipper Restaurant and Chowder House, Cape Cod

August 16, 2015 10 comments

Sipper RestaurantAnd we are back again to the wonderful and relaxing Cape Cod. No, I’m not lucky enough to visit Cape Cod again, but I get to re-live some happy and tasty moments while writing this post.

Skipper Restaurant (full and official name: The Skipper Restaurant and Chowder House) first opened in 1936 in South Yarmouth, and it had been around ever since, opened from April to October. I’m not sure how we found The Skipper Restaurant last year – I guess by reading some of the online reviews, but I can tell you – when we were planning this year’s trip, visiting Skipper Restaurant was unquestionable, mandatory part of the Cape Cod vacation.

Skipper Restaurant serves quintessential New England food. I’m using the word “quintessential”, which sounds big and imposing, but to me, there are few dishes which say, or better yet, scream “New England” – New England Clam Chowder, Baked Seafood, Fish and Chips and Lobster Roll would be my perfect list. You can find all these dishes at the Skipper Restaurant, and boy, are they tasty!

When it comes to the New England Clam Chowder, I don’t know what places have better bragging rights than the Skipper Restaurant, which is a triple crown holder, as the winner of Cape Cod, Boston and Newport Chowder festivals. If you like New England Clam Chowder than Skipper Restaurant is a must stop for you, as the Clam Chowder doesn’t get any better than the one which is served here. It doesn’t have anything extra, like bacon – just cream, clams and potatoes, honest, dense and delicious. I know this picture will not do justice to the dish, but then taking pictures of the soup is not that easy in any case:

Clam ChowderIt is not only seafood which is tasty at the Skipper Restaurant – they are also famous for the overabundant appetizer of onion rings – a very dangerous dish, as once you start eating those, you can’t stop! And the bread basket which shows up on the table first, belongs to the same “dangerous” category – I think we went through three of them before the main dishes arrived (and it was not because we had to wait for the long time :) ).

And our main course included all the best dishes New England cuisine can offer – Baked Seafood Sampler, Fried Calamari, Fish and Chips and of course, the Lobster Roll:

Each and every dish was excellent in its own right – fresh, succulent, flavorful and delicious – let’s leave it like that to avoid excessive drooling on your part. And of course, I have to mention the service, which was friendly, attentive and helpful –  exactly what you need to make it for the great restaurant experience.

If you plan to visit Skipper Restaurant (and if you are on the Cape Cod, I would say this is simply a must), just a bit of advice. The restaurant doesn’t accept the reservations, therefore you need to prepare to wait – but the experience worth the wait. If you are okay with an early dinner ( and considering the amount of food you will be offered, early dinner is a great idea), come to the restaurant at around 4:30 or 5 – your wait will be quite reasonable. Another “duh” advice – if you can, avoid Friday and Saturday nights – those are the busiest and your wait will be the longest.

We are done here, my friends. If you would like to experience quintessential New England cuisine, you don’t need to look further than Skipper Restaurant – I’m sure you will not be disappointed. Cheers!

The Skipper Restaurants and Chowder House
152 South Shore Drive
South Yarmouth, MA 02664
Phone: 508-394-7406

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Restaurant Files: C Salt, A Wow Dining Experience on Cape Cod

August 4, 2015 7 comments

C Salt Wine Bar and GrilleCape Cod, a small strip of land off the coast of Massachusetts, is a vacation land. Of course people live on the Cape, as it is often abbreviated, throughout a year, but ask anyone about Cape Cod and the first reflection would be “vacation!”.

Cape Cod is located in the part of the USA which is collectively called New England, and I like to call it a quintessential New England. On Cape Cod, there is a tremendous focus on preserving that traditional “New England/Cape Cod” feeling. There is traditional style for everything – architecture, landscaping, re-purposing of the old houses as shops, bakeries and restaurants, and of course, the food itself.

When it comes to the food, it is not surprising that “traditional Cape Cod” cuisine is focused on the fresh seafood – remember, it is a strip of land surrounded by the water on all sides. So the seafood it is, and in most of the cases it is either deep fried or oven baked – we can also call it a part of that tradition. One more observation, while not directly food related (more of a cultural norm), as Cape Cod is an easy going vacation land, shorts and t-shirt are the most popular attire anywhere, including the restaurants.

Every once in a while, even during the lazy Cape Cod vacation, you might want your dining experience to be more elevated (not the Michelin-star necessarily, but a bit more than just a casual comfort food – what do you say?). I’m glad to report that this is experience is not too difficult to find on the Cape, and I have a perfect example for you – C Salt Wine Bar and Grille in Falmouth.

On outside, the restaurant looks exactly as a re-purposed cape-style house – actually I think from the back you would even never guess that this is a restaurant. I also really like the fact that the restaurant had its own parking lot in the back, which is not usual on the Cape, and looking for the parking on the busy Main street is always a hassle. On the inside, the restaurant was rather small, so we were definitely glad that we made a reservation – the restaurant completely filled up withing 15 minutes of our arrival at 5:30.

First, of course, were the drinks and the wine. Pear Martini was not too sweet and refreshing – this is what I’m always looking for in the cocktail. Overall, the cocktail list had good variety, including few of the barrel aged cocktails. The wine list was also very good, with reasonable selection of the wines by glass and half bottles (excellent selection of half-bottles). Lots of wines were priced close to the double retail, which always wins points in my book. We settled for 2011 Waterbrook “Reserve” Merlot Columbia Valley , Washington, which was perfectly classic Bordeaux style, dry, earthy and nicely restrained, excellent overall. It also worked quite well with various dishes we had.

For the appetizers round, we settled on two dishes: Crispy Thai Calamari (Lightly Battered and Fried, Hot & Sour Vinaigrette, Baby Spinach, Mango Pea Shoots, Grapefruit, Cashew) and Sesame Hoisin Wings (Ten Lightly Breaded and Crisp Fried Chicken Wings with Sesame Hoisin Sauce). While Calamari and Wings sound pedestrian, it is all the matter of execution. I would say that our family are connoisseurs of the Calamari – if we are in the restaurant, and Calamari are on the menu, 9 times our of 10 we would order them. The Calamari dish at C Salt was outstanding – a very unusual combination with mango, grapefruit and spinach, but perfectly crisp despite the presence of the fresh fruit. Really a delicious dish.

For the wings, again – what can be unique and different, right? It appears that it is not just the sauce which can be different – in this case, the wings themselves were outstanding – not a tiniest drop of fat left, they were perfectly crispy and super tender – may be the best rendition of the chicken wings I ever had (bold statement, I know).

For the main course, each one of us got different dishes (but of course we shared the taste – we are a foodie family :) ). I personally had Grilled #1 Sushi Grade Tuna (Sushi Grade Tuna Grilled Rare, Crispy Jasmine Rice Cake, Sesame Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy, Wasabi Vinaigrette, Soy Syrup, Pomegranate Syrup, Lime & Cilantro) – perfect quality fish, perfect execution, an outstanding balance of flavors, perfect amount of heat – very tasty. My wife had Five Hour Root Beer Braised Short Ribs (Caramelized Brussels Sprouts), which was a melt-in-your-mouth type of dish. Short ribs generally is one of my favorites – when cooked right (slowly), at home or at the restaurant, the flavor and texture are incredible – and this dish was a perfect example. Kids went for Statler Chicken Breast (Whipped Potato, Grilled Corn & Tomato Salad with Sriracha Aioli Drizzle, Pan Jus) and 8 oz. Grilled Filet Mignon (Organic Wild Mushrooms & Roasted Cipollini Onions, Choice of Sauce). Everybody cook chicken at home, so what can be exciting about chicken, right? Well, visit C Salt and try for yourself – chicken was delicious, great flavor, and grilled corn and tomato salad was just a perfect accompaniment.
The steak was perfect in its own right (I know I’m abusing the word “perfect”, but this is the right word to use here). The crust was perfectly crispy and satisfyingly salty to properly contrast sweetness of the meat. C Salt offers a choice of sauces for the steak, and the Cabernet reduction was simply elevating already very tasty bite to the next level. One of the very best steaks I ever had, period.

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We also took two additional side dishes to share – Roasted Sweet Potato Steak Fries and Chef Style Whipped Potatoes (mashed potatoes with addition of bacon) – both were very tasty.

What is left? Dessert! We were quite full already, but considering the great experience we had with the meal, we had to try the desserts. “After Hours” Brownie (Ale Brownie, Irish Whiskey Ice Cream, C Salted caramel, Brown Sugar) was gooey and delicious. “Mason Jar” Chèvre Cheesecake (Creamy Goat Cheese, Lemon and Poppy Seeds, Rhubarb Raspberry Compote, Graham Cracker Streusel) was fluffy and light, and it was an excellent ending to our delicious experience.

I can’t end this post without commending our server, Sarah, for the wonderful, helpful, smiley and attentive service throughout the eventing. If you are looking for the upscale dining experience in the Cape Cod vacation land, visit C Salt Wine Bar and Grille, and leave me a thank you note after. Cheers!

C Salt Wine Bar & Grille
75 Davis Straits
Falmouth, MA 02540
Phone: 774-763-2954

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Restaurant Files: Paloma in Stamford, Connecticut

June 28, 2015 11 comments

Paloma RestaurantI don’t think I ever confessed my love to the city of Stamford in this blog. Meanwhile, it is the city where I live for the past 20+ years, and it is one of my absolute favorite places in the US (yep, I’m biased like that). Compared to many towns of the same size (about 128,000 people live here), it has very unique and different architecture, beautiful downtown, and lots of areas directly adjacent to the water – the Atlantic Ocean (Long Island Sound, to be more precise). You don’t have to take my word about “unique and different” – come for a visit one day.

Over the past 5-7 years, number of areas in Stamford completely changed their appearance, especially at so called South Side (this is the area mostly by the water). The industrial landscape of the small repair and hardware shops and construction companies was replaced by the beautiful apartment buildings and brand new stores, such as Fairway Market, with obviously lots of people now living in the area. So all those people have to eat somewhere, right? Besides, Connecticut is considered one of the primary “foodie” areas, so it is a given that the newly developed areas attract new and interesting restaurants.

This is exactly what I want to present to you today – recently opened (second half of 2014) Paloma Restaurant at Harbor Point district of the city of Stamford, a brand new development which is still sporting lots of construction cranes as the major decoration. Paloma is a Latin-themed restaurant, part owned by the celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez. We visited restaurant with the group of bloggers, so as usual, I would like to share with you our experience (don’t continue reading if you are hungry, please – I’m not responsible for any excessive drooling and its consequences).

We started with cocktails before the dinner. Allegre Hemigway (Avion anejo tequila, atlantico reserve rum, lime, ruby red grapefruit, maraschino liquor) was nice, may be somewhat simplistic, but refreshing enough. The Bacon Old Fashion (the duke’s baconized bourbon, simple syrup, bitters) was somewhat disappointing. My problem is that if it says “bacon”, I need to taste that bacon – this was not the case here. It was definitely very potent, but I was unable to taste any bacon. If anything, I would probably serve this cocktail with a piece of bacon in it – well, I finished it anyway.

You know that I have to talk about the wine next. The wine list at Paloma is short, but well constructed with a good international selection of wines, both by the glass (generous 6 oz pour), and by the bottle. For the white, we had 2013 Adelsheim Pinot Gris Willamette Valley Oregon – bright flowers and white stone fruit aromatics on the nose, dry, crispy and restrained on the palate. For the red we had 2013 Casas del Bosque Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Maipo Valley Chile – typical mint and black currant aromatics of Chilean Cabernet, velvety texture, perfect balance, dark fruit with a touch of herbs, full body – one delicious wine with a great QPR ($41 at a restaurant). I can tell you that Casas del Bosque is becoming one of my favorite Chilean producers – I recently had their Rosé, Carmenere and now Cabernet Sauvignon – all excellent wines.

Before we get to the food I have to mention that the wine list at Paloma greatly extends into the Bourbon, Scotch, Tequila, and my perennial favorite, Mezcal. I should’ve probably mentioned that as an “after-dinner” element, but while we are talking about all the drinks I would like to make sure you will be aware of that. I had one of the beautiful Mezcals from Del Maguey, which at $12/pour was an excellent value – and it was delicious. If you like this type of drinks, don’t miss it when you will visit Paloma, as they probably have the best list in Stamford in both selection and the prices.

Now, to the food! We started with Shrimp Tempura Tostadas (creamy aji mirasol, mango salsa) and Crab  Tostadas (chile arbol aioli, avocado puree) – nice single bite appetizers, good flavor and very easy to eat.

Our selection of appetizers continued with Lobster Ceviche (passion fruit, habanero sauce) – pleasant, but too sweet to my taste. Next, Tai Tiradito (snapper crudo, aji rocoto sauce, crispy hominy) – the snapper had nice crunch to it; overall, this was very spicy, but refreshing. Albondigas (meatballs, chipotle broth, mint, queso cotija) had very good texture, nicely done. But to be entirely honest, Mexican Street Corn (chipotle crema, queso cotija, herbs) was one of my two most favorite appetizers – an excellent array of flavors, very delicious. Combination of spicy chipotle crema and cotija cheese was just spot on. And the Queso Fundido (huitlacoche, wild mushrooms, corn tortillas) was another favorite – there was not a morsel of a crunchy cheese left in the skillet – everyone at the table loved it.

Next it was the time for the main course. Cuban Style Chicken (Cuban marinated roasted chicken, pickeled salad, tamarind chicken fried rice) was perfectly cooked, with lots of flavor in the meat – it was definitely well marinated. Fried rice was excellent, and the sauce was marrying all the dish’s components perfectly together. Braised Short Ribs (ancho-cacao rub, seasonal vegetables, horseradish gemolata) was one big chunk of beef – fork-tender and very flavorful, one of the definite highlights of the evening.

Camarones Mojo de Ajo (jumbo shrimp, chile de arbol butter, crispy grits cake) were first of all beautifully presented. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, but the real star of the dish was the crispy grits cake, as it had an excellent texture and flavor profile. Garganelli Pasta (chorizo, cauliflower, grilled escarole, tamarind reduction) was a comfort food – homey, satisfying, delicious; something you can poke at for a while, just trying to stretch the pleasure.

Now the last but not least – desserts! First, we had Churros (dolce de leche and agave-vanilla crema) – an absolutely delicious rendition of one of my favorite treats; a different shape, but a very familiar taste. Cheesecake (salted caramel, cherry chunk cookie cumble, ice cream) also had an unusual presentation, and the salted caramel component made it into a perfect after-dinner treat.

On the subject of the liquid desserts I would like to once again mention the excellent drinks selection at Paloma – from the liquors to bourbons and on to the mezcal, this is definitely something not to miss.

Overall, it was definitely a very good meal, and I’m glad we have another interesting dining option in Stamford. Hope you enjoyed the pictures. Cheers!

15 Harbor Point Road
Stamford, CT 06902
Phone. 203-998-7500

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