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.
Few 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.
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!
101 Market Street
Lewisburg, PA 17837
Phone: (570) 524-5559
Facebook: Brasserie Louis
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:
It 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
Cape 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.
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
I 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
I’m sure that everyone involved in the craft, no matter what it is, has passion for what they do. Sometimes the passion simply shows through their work. But every once in a while we come across the person who simply exudes that passion, readily sharing it with the world through the words and deeds. In this series (as an engineer, I like to organize things), which I call “True Passion”, I plan to share my encounters with such a True Passion.
We (bloggers) got together for the dinner at Amore Cucina & Bar in Stamford, Connecticut. Amore has an interesting story – in essence, it was the second oldest restaurant in Stamford, originally opened in 1975. In 2014, the original owner of the restaurant sold it, so we were visiting a new reincarnation of the Amore.
As we were finishing our customary chat and the round of cocktails before the dinner, the man walked in with a glass jar in his hand. Bruno DiFabio, Six-time World Pizza Champion and a new owner of Amore restaurant, came to share with us his passion about the … dough. Look, I love bread and all the things made out of dough, but I never even tried to think about dough as something which can solicit emotions (no problems, you can call me whatever you want, I’m still a student of life, one moment at a time). The dough for me was something you can quickly put together, or maybe buy at the local supermarket for a $1 for a big plastic-wrapped ball.
Make no mistake – dough can be an object of passion. Have you heard of the mother dough, essentially a dough which is always alive and used to start a new batch of dough every day? How about foraging your own wild yeast, from the different and totally unexpected places, every morning? How about super-digestible pizzas, which are a rave now in Europe – heard about those? When you meet a person like Bruno, you realize how the true passion looks like. And don’t discount the Pizza passion – having both gas and wood-fired oven in one relatively small restaurant? I think it really means something.
Well, this is the post about Amore restaurant, so as much as I would like to continue talking about our conversation with Bruno, I want to move on to the food, so I can inundate you with pictures. But if you want to know more about Bruno, here is the link – besides, visiting Amore restaurant might be a right thing to do as well.
Okay, let’s talk about our dinner, which was a true demonstration of the Bruno’s Pizza magic, and mastery of the Chef Jarred, who joined Bruno after his previous gig at Washington Prime. As usual we started from the cocktails. I had French Quarter (G’Vine Floraison Gin, St. Germain, Green Grapes, Basil Leaves, Lemon Juice, Fever-Tree Tonic), which was nice and refreshing. The the food started arriving on the tables, in multiple sets, above and beyond our expectations.
We started with the Bruno’s Bread w/ Sunday Sauce – very simple, but delicious. By the way, according to Bruno, it is a myth that you have to cook tomato sauce for hours and hours – you can pretty much develop the flavors within an hour, there is not much else you can achieve with the extra cooking time.
The next section of our menu was called Round Pies. The Round pie pizza at Amore is a thin-crust pizza, cooked in the wood-fired oven. Here is what we had:
New Haven White (little necks, Amore bacon, house mozarella, smoked lemon juice) – this pizza is a tribute to the Connecticut staple, Frank Pepe‘s White Clam Pizza, and it was excellent.
For the Queen (San Marzano, flor di latte mozarella, pecorino romano, basil, local egg) – while we think that adding egg to many dishes is a new discovery in the US, it appears that Italians had put an egg forever on Margherita Pizza – I love that food learning. The pizza was outstanding.
The Holy Cheesus (House Mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, fontina, burrata) – that was simply a Wow. No further comments.
Next up – Square Pies. This is a Neapolitan style pizza, also known as deep dish. This pizza is made in the gas-fired oven, where the temperature can reach 900F. It all comes down to the dough – I always thought of the deep dish pizza as heavy, but it is not in Bruno’s hands… Here is what we tried:
Juliet (Houze Mozzarella, gogonzola dolce, fig jam, prosciutto, agrodolce) – excellent, great combination of flavors.
Pitt Master (Pulled pork, red onion, mozzarella, BBQ sauce, agave nectar) – different and excellent again
You must have Greens with dinner, right? So rest assured, we had a salad – pretty unique:
Arugula and Beet Salad (Goat cheese and candied walnuts) – what is unique about beets and arugula? How about beets which were braised in veal and chicken stock, and then pureed? This is not your typical beet salad, isn’t it?
And then there were Plates – with literally no holds barred. Take a look:
Meatballs (Sugo, house ricotta, agrodolce) – these were okay, a bit dense.
Octopus Puttanesca (Tomato, Sicily olives, garlic, n’duja sausage, capers) – this was excellent, the capers were deep fried, very nice heat overall.
Tuna Crudo (Calabrian chiles, toasted pumpkin seeds, red onion, torn parsley) – outstanding.
Shrimp & Polenta (tomato, house bacon, polenta) – that sweet polenta was just something else – another wow dish.
Lasagna Balls (Bolgnese and sugo) – forget arancini – this is what you really want to eat. Perfect crunch, and you can taste real lasagna, inside and outside. Yep, another wow.
Chicken Scarpariello (house sausage, peppadew, garlic, Italian polenta, green shallot) – spectacular flavors, really an excellent dish.
Whole Branzino, roasted and fried – wow!
Pasta Carbonara (linguine, guancalle, parsley and egg) – and wow again – so fresh and so light, you just can’t stop eating it.
After all that food do you think we still had room for Dessert? Well, actually, we did – but luckily, only for one:
Budino & Fat Pizelle (butterscotch, whipped cream, berry reduction) – a delicious concoction.
Yes, this was the end of our evening. I hope you were not too hungry before you read this post – sorry, forgot to give you my usual warning. If you are local, or if your travel will take you to Stamford, Amore Cucina & Bar might be your little neighborhood gem… Until the next time – cheers!
921 Hope Street
Stamford, CT 06907
With some of the blog posts, you spend literally days trying to come up with the post title where you can say to yourself “yes, I like it”. And then some just jump into your head – your task is to remember it, or better yet – write it down right then and there.
This was my case with the title of this post. I was [pretty much] lucky to spend almost two weeks in Miami and Miami Beach. Yes, I escaped the cold weather of Connecticut, but it was not a vacation, it was work – yeah, okay, I got me – I was still in Miami as opposed to back in New York or a Calgary, for instance. For someone who is a foodie, most (not all) of the business trips still allow some room for the favorite form of entertainment and exploration – finding the great restaurant experiences. This trip, I managed to come across 4 restaurants which I would like to write about – just in case travel will take you to Miami, whether for business or pleasure – these restaurants well worth your attention. Here we go.
A small place, I would say just a bit bigger than a typical “hole in the wall”, Bali Café serves Indonesian cuisine, as you might expect from the name. The restaurant is decorated very appropriately, creating an authentic feeling despite rather a constrained space. To be honest, I think this was my first ever experience with Indonesian cuisine, and it was definitely a positive one. The dishes on the menu had general “Asian flair”, especially if you will look at the large sushi selection. At the same time, spices were a bit different for many of the dishes, let’s say, from a typical Chinese or Thai restaurant.
I liked the restaurant so much that I managed to visit it twice during the week for lunch. First time I had the dish called Bihun Bakso Kuah – Indonesian style rice noodles with spinach and fish and meatballs in beef broth soup – the dish essentially consisted of two separate plates – the noodles and the soup, both delicious on its own and together.
The second time I got Ikan Pesmol, a pan fried fish with stew in aromatic Indonesian spices, which was outstanding, a combination of curry and sweet chili pepper spices, delicious until the last morsel. You should definitely pay a visit to Bali Café if you are in the area. Keep in mind that the place is small, and accepts cash only (no credit cards).
109 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33131
Ph: (305) 358-5751
The next restaurant I want to bring to your attention is called Cvi.Che 105, and it presents itself as a Peruvian restaurant. It is located very close to Bali Café, so it will be easy for you to visit both on the same day :)
As we had a dinner at Cvi.Che 105, let me start from the few words about the wines. The wine list is of a reasonable size, and it is very well composed, featuring good selection of wines evenly distributed over many regions, from New Zealand to Spain, Italy and France, to Napa and to Chile, all at a reasonable prices. We went with 2012 Sin Palabras Albariño Rias Biaxas (13% ABV, $34), which had a nice acidic profile with perfect limestone minerality, the one which makes Albariño such a great companion to any seafood dish.
We started with the grilled octopus as an appetizer. You know, it is very hard to describe the dishes in its perfection – I can’t be saying all the time “this was the best ever” dish, right? It is impossible that every new dish is “best ever”, so okay, this was not the best ever grilled octopus – but I’m not sure if I ever had a better grilled octopus. Perfect texture and outstanding flavor – if you like octopus, don’t waste your time, go and try it.
Next, very appropriately to the restaurant’s name, we had a ceviche called Ceviche Seafood Orgy, which was outstanding, with perfect flavor and interesting textural contrast provided by white beans and roasted corn kernels. Considering the successful experience with the main course, we simply had to go for the dessert. The Lucuma Cheesecake was good, but a bit lackluster in flavor. However, the Coconut Flan was exceptional, even considering the fact that I’m not a big fun of coconut – perfect flavor and texture.
I also want to mention an excellent service. You know, I like to conduct a “service level test” from time to time. Don’t get scared with the big words. All I do is ask the server for the wine recommendation and see if the most expensive wine will be the first recommended choice. In case of Cvi.Che 105, it was not – which in my book is a hallmark of an excellent service. All in all, the restaurant is highly recommended.
105 NE 3rd Ave
Miami, FL 33132
Ph: (305) 577-3454
Now we are moving a few miles east, from Miami to Miami Beach. The first restaurant I want to bring to your attention goes under a simple name Cleo, and this was the restaurant which made me to come up with the title of this blog post, as “dancing flavors” was the best way to describe my feeling after visiting the restaurant.
When we asked our waitress Molly to explain the wide variety of dishes and flavors on the menu, she said that the restaurant is best characterized as “Eastern Mediterranean” in its cuisine. Chef, who is of Moroccan descent, traveled quite a bit, and his cooking brings together flavors of Italy, Israel, Lebanon and other Mediterranean cultures. Combine that with an impeccable precision of execution, and you get into the foodie heaven (yep, it’s worth mentioning in bold).
First things first. The wine list at Cleo features a number of interesting selections from US, Italy, France, Israel and even Lebanon, and when I saw a Chateau Musar (the most famous producer in the Lebanon) wine on the list for $51, that was really an easy decision. 2011 Chateau Musar Jeune Red Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (13% ABV, $51, 50% Cinsault/35% Syrah/15% Cabernet Sauvignon) had an open nose of fresh red berries, medium to full body with good amount of spices, soft tannins and sweet oak, overall perfectly balanced and well supporting the wide range of flavors of our dinner.
The menu at Cleo is built somewhat in the tapas style, with lots and lots of “small plates”, delivering the fiery of flavors from the different regions. The job of selecting is not easy, as menu lists more than 30 selections of Mezzes dishes. Also keep in mind that while the small plates are small, they are quite filling so you really need to control yourself. We started with Lebaneh with Feta, which was served with probably the best pita bread I ever had (yeah, here I go again – “best ever”… but it was very tasty!). We continued with Dolmades, and then two sausages – Boudin Blanc with Truffle and Venison. Each and every dish was simply perfect, keep adding to that dazzling, fascinating dance of flavors.
Our main dish was Lamb Tagine (Apricots, Silan, Couscous, Sesame Seeds), very flavorful and delicious. And then, of course the dessert, and doesn’t matter that we were full already. Greek Yogurt (Greek Yogurt Gelato, Blood Orange Granite, Pine Nut and Rosemary Tuile, Local Honey) and Apple Almond Tarte (Roasted Apples, Almond Cream, Vanilla Gelato) were devoured in no time. Do you know that you can actually convince yourself that the dessert is very light and has no calories in it – if you really like it? Yep, we did it successfully.
Before we finish talking about Cleo, I have to also commend the service for the perfect attention – the dishes were showing up just on time, allowing us to fully enjoy one dish without worrying that another dish is already here and getting cold (out experience at another Miami Beach restaurant was quite opposite).
All in all, one of the best ever restaurant experiences – yes, it is a serious claim for a foodie, but I will stand by it, period.
1776 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Ph: (305) 534-2536
Chalán on the Beach
And I still have one more restaurant for you. To compare it with Cvi.Che 105 (never mind Cleo), this is definitely much, much simpler restaurant – however, it delivered a very pleasant dining experience, hence I feel compelled to share this experience with you. This restaurant is called Chalán on the Beach, and it is a Peruvian restaurant in its roots. Similar to Cvi.Che 105, ceviche is a staple here as well, coming in many varieties. We had fish and octopus ceviche, which was delicious, very refreshing. After the ceviche, which we shared, we made a mistake – we ordered each a separate dish. Yes, super tasty, but if I will tell you it ain’t the French restaurant portions, you better believe me.
Pescado Con Mariscos (seafood combination of fish, mussels, squid, octopus, and shrimp in a special mushroom seafood sauce) had a great flavor, perfectly prepared. While I would prefer seafood over meat 9 times out of 10 in a restaurant, I have to admit that the second entreé, Lomo Saltado (sauteed flap meat mixed with onions, tomatoes, and french fries with a side of white rice) was so succulent, with meat been perfectly seasoned and having a hint of smoke, that I would honestly say that it would be my entreé of choice when I will visit Chalán next time.
Restaurant features a very small wine list, but our drink of choice that night was red Sangria, which to my delight was not overly sweet. Also in case you wonder, we had to skip dessert, as to say that we were full would be an understatement.
Lastly, the service was once again excellent – friendly and timely. If you are looking for a great meal at an extremely reasonable price, don’t be dismayed by the simple looks of Chalán on the Beach – this is the place to eat.
Chalán on the Beach
1580 Washington Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Ph: (305) 532-8880
And we are done here. If your travel will take you to Miami, I hope you will find my recommendations useful, and if you ever been to any of these restaurants, I would love to know what do you think. Cheers!
What’s up with Grenache? One of the most planted grapes in the world, a star of Spain, and often a foundation of greatness in the wines of Australia, France, California and Washington. A grape with the range of expression from light, fruity and frivolous to the dark, firm, brooding and confident. Yep, Grenache is well worth an oenophile’s attention. And a special wine dinner.
The theme was set, and then the dinner’s day arrived. This time around, we were a small group (6 adults), so we decided to skip the usual formal blind tasting with the multiple glasses, and instead simply integrate the tasting (still blind) into the format of the dinner. Each couple brought a bottle of Grenache wine, wrapped in paper bag. The wines were numbered at random and then poured one by one. All in all, quite simple.
But before we got to the Grenache, I wanted to share two special bottles. Don’t get all jumpy at the word “special” – it means different things for different people. Your idea of special bottle might be Chateau Latour, Penfolds Grange or Amarone from Quintarelly – well, if you want to share any of those with me, I’m available any day of the week. However, my idea of special is often limited to something simply unique and different, such as “rare grapes”, for instance – an opportunity to add to my grape count and reach the coveted Wine Century Pentavini (500 grapes).
Along these lines, the first “special” was the white wine from Spain, which was made mostly from Roussanne, but also contained the grape called Albillo. 2011 Navaherreros Blanco de Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid DO (14.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Roussanne, Albillo, Macabeo and other varieties) had beautiful golden color, inviting nose of white fruit, touch of vanilla. Full bodied, creamy, luscious on the palate, touch of earthiness and baking spices, touch of vanilla, good acidity. (Drinkability: 8). This was definitely a delicious way to start the evening.
The next wine was Rosé. It was not just some generic Rosé – it was actually made form the grape which is practically impossible to find, at least in US – and it was on my “target” list for the very, very long time. Just to explain – if you will look at the original Wine Century Club application, you will find 186 grapes listed there, so we can consider those 186 to be a mainstream. In that list, there are still 6 grapes which I never tasted. Well, let me take that back – now there are 5.
There is a good chance that you heard of or even tasted the wine called Picpoul de Pinet, a light, crisp white wine from Rhone made from the grape called Picpoul Blanc. Picpoul Blanc has a cousin, a red grape called Picpoul Noir, which is literally impossible to find. During one of my countless searches online, I found that Picpoul Noir Rosé was available in one (!) single store in US in San Francisco – and luckily, I had a friend there who was kind enough to get it for me. Here is what I thought of the Rosé made out of this super-rare grape: 2013 Julie Benau Pink Poul Rosé Vin de France (12.5% ABV, $17, 100% Picpoul Noir) – restrained nose with a hint of strawberries. The same restrained profile continues on the palate – limited fruit expression, medium to full body, good acidity, food friendly. (Drinkability: 7+)
Okay, now we can finally talk Grenache, which I mentioned 3 times in the title of this post, right? I think when it comes to the range of expression among 7-10 most widely known red grapes, Grenache offer the most versatility, competing may be only with Syrah. From over the top dark chocolate, tar and sweet cherries to the soft, earthy and even acidic, Grenache can showcase quite a range of winemaking styles and terroirs. Thinking more about our tasting, it served exactly as a confirmation to this statement.
The first Grenache we had was that exact over the top style – dark, concentrated, firm, loaded with sweet pleasure in every sip. The second Grenache couldn’t be more different than what we experienced – smoke, mushrooms, forest floor, earthiness, herbs – a restrained beauty which I would never even think of as Grenache – but it was. And the last bottle was all too shy and closed at the beginning, showing again differently from the first two – but as it opened up, it became a younger brother of the first wine – same traits, only dialed down. The 3 bottles we chose completely at random managed to demonstrate that tremendous Grenache range. When we removed brown bags, we learned that we traveled from Spain to Washington and then to France – a very interesting journey.
Here are a bit more formal notes for the the wines, in the tasting order:
2007 Vinyes Doménech Teixar Garnatxa Vella Montsant DO, Spain (14.5% ABV, $75) – Delicious! Dark chocolate on the nose, very intense, ripe red fruit. The same continues on the palate – firm texture, dark chocolate, touch of plums, earthiness, perfect balance and long finish. 8+/9-
2008 No Girls Grenache La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.2% ABV, $65) – very interesting. Both nose and the palate show a profile of concentrated Oregon Pinot Noir. Smokey fruit, earthiness, very concentrated, touch of coffee, licorice, raspberries, sage and lavender. Very unique. 8
2012 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $16) – closed nose, similarly closed palate. Opened up after a while, just enough to show some dark fruit (plums, cherries) and a touch of chocolate on the palate. 7+
Okay, enough about wines. Now, this was a dinner, and I promised you the recipe, remember? The dish I made, and the recipe I would like to share will perfectly pair with the cold weather, and it is one of the ultimate comfort dishes ever – braised short ribs. Starting from the ease of cooking and the simplicity of the recipe, and then admiring the goodness of the smell during the long, slow cooking – this is definitely one of the ways to properly spell the word comfort.
Here is the recipe:
Braised Short Ribs
Prep time: about 1 hour. Cooking time: 4-5 hours
Yield: 10 servings of two ribs each
8-10 lb beef short ribs – I don’t go specifically by the weight – I generally like to cook considering 2 ribs per person
1 bottle of red wine – Pinot Noir or Beaujolais
5 medium yellow onions
8 sticks of celery
4 large carrots
BBQ/Grilling spices – I use Penzeys spices
4 tbsp Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Serve with: mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.
First of all, decide on what spices you want to use. I generally combine different Penzeys spices, but really – feel free to use anything you have:
Next, take the meat out of the fridge and line it up on the prepping board, then sprinkle with the spices on both sides, add salt and pepper as needed:
Let meat warm up to the room temperature. Preheat over to 325ºF. While the meat is warming up, you can start working on your “trifecta”. Dice the onions and start sauteing them in the skillet or dutch oven with 2 tbsp of olive oil on the medium heat. Dice carrots and celery. Once onions become soft and translucent and then start gaining color (usually takes about 20 minutes), add carrots and celery and sauté all together for another 10 minutes, then set aside.
Now, put remaining olive oil into the dutch oven, and heat it up to the high heat. Start searing the short ribs, meaty side down first. You might have to work in the batches, as you want all of the ribs to be nicely seared on both sides:
Here we are, my friends. A few rare grapes, an amazing range of Grenache wines, and winter-storm-alleviating-ultimately-comforting dish. Stay warm and drink well. Cheers!
What do you think of the following evening – fresh, super-fresh burrata (burrata any fresher is still inside the cow), pizza – made right in front of your eyes, and a flight of wine. How is that for the definition of a good life? Yep, I thought you would agree. And you know the best part, my friends? I can tell you where you can have all of that and much more!
Brick+Wood in Fairfield, CT is it – the new restaurant where you will find burrata, pizza, fried calamari, an Italian street food called Panzerotti and lots more. And to top it off, the wine flights! How many restaurants do you know where you can build your own wine tasting flight? Here you can! And as an extra bonus, Brick+Wood is probably one of the most cheerful restaurants I ever been to – just look at the t-shirts the staff is wearing (aren’t you making your reservation yet?)!
Let talk about cocktails and wines first. We started with two cocktails – The Brick and The Wood – it was purely unintended, only when I started to write the blog post I realized that we got cocktails to match the name of the restaurant. Nevertheless, The Brick (bulliet rye, aperol, fresh mint, lemon) was very potent and refreshing. The Wood Martini (orange flavored vodka, limoncello, campari, fresh squeezed orange juice) was surprisingly not sweet, with the good balance of flavors.
Now, let’s talk about the unique wine program at the Brick + Wood. The “unique” part is that all of the wine on the list (about 30 in total between whites and reds) are available in any size you want – by the tasting pour (2 oz), glass (6 oz), carafe or a whole bottle. You can build your own flight and have a tasting or pair different wines with the different dishes – everything is possible, and all the wines are priced quite reasonably. The selection represents California, Washington, Oregon, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain and Italy – you can see fragments of the wine list in the picture below:
Okay, time to talk about the food. We started from what was called in the menu a “Neapolitan Street Food”. House Made Crostino was very simple but every bit delicious (you can’t go wrong with prosciutto which is sliced right there at the kitchen table). Loaded Potatoes were very tasty, boasting tangy cheese. Next we had Panzerotti (fried dough stuffed with salamino, fresh mozzarella and basil, marinara sauce) which were even served as the street food would be, wrapped in the parchment paper. Fritto Misto (Fried Calamari and shrimp with cherry peppers, chipotle and miso aioli) was excellent, crispy and light, complemented very well with the aioli. Last in that part of our dinner were Arancini (4 cheeses, vodka sauce), which seems to be all of a sudden a very popular appetizer and every and each Italian restaurant around.
I don’t know if this will sound right, but culmination of our dining experience happened right in a middle of our dinner – we were introduced to the Mozzarella and Burrata Bar at Brick+Wood. Imagine the mozzarella been pulled right in front of us, and stuffed with the cream to become a burrata, tied up and served to us right at that very moment. Yes, as I mentioned before, the mozzarella any fresher will still be inside the cow. Here is a series of pictures which will show you creation of burrata – but pictures don’t do the true justice to the food wizardry – you better get yourself to the Brick+Wood and taste for yourself:
Next it arrived at our table – Burrata (house made mozzarella with a cream filled center, assorted meats and vegetables) was served two ways – regular and with truffle oil. The addition of the pungent truffle flavor to the burrata created yet another level of magic – the melding of flavors was just spectacular.
Next dish was yet again nothing short of spectacular – Girelli (thin mozzarella layered with the eggplant, prosciutto and roasted peppers) – I never had mozzarella sliced so thin, used as a perfect dough-like wrapper – it was definitely a wow dish. Last dish in this part of the dinner was Irving Salad (mixed greens, dried cherries, glazed pecans , goat cheese) – fresh, light, with delicious combination of flavors and the goat cheese which even goat cheese haters would be able to enjoy.
Remember I mentioned Pizza in the title? Yes, Pizza time! Brick + Wood sports a wonderful wood-fired oven where you can see pizza been made, right there, right then:
We had 3 different pizzas, all made with the double zero flour: Margherita (San Marzano tomato sauce, basil, fresh mozzarella, evoo) – very good crust, nice flavor profile; Spizy Pizza (San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, sopressata, prosciutto cotto, bacon and jalapeno, red pepper infused honey) – perfectly spicy!; Mare a Monte (shrimp, corn and crispy pancetta) – delicious with the nice sweetness, the corn was very interesting on the pizza.
Last but not least – dessert! We had Maple Cheesecake, which was excellent, and Peanut Butter and Nutella Pizza, which had a great combination of salty crust with Peanut Butter and Nutella – simply outstanding.
There you have it, my friends – a delicious evening and a unique and different experience. If you are in the area and looking for a great food and wine, in good company of friends, accompanied by a great service with the smile, I can’t recommend Brick+Wood highly enough.
Have fun and cheers!
Disclaimer: I visited restaurant as a guest of the management. All opinions are my own.
Brick + Wood
1275 Post Rd Ste 7
Fairfield, CT 06824