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Dancing Flavors of Miami

February 4, 2015 14 comments

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.

Bali Café

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.

Ikan Pesmol at Bali Cafe

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).

Bali Café
109 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33131
Ph: (305) 358-5751

Bali Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cvi.Che 105

Cvi.Che 105The 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.

Cvi.Che 105
105 NE 3rd Ave
Miami, FL 33132
Ph: (305) 577-3454
http://www.ceviche105.com/

Cvi.Che 105 on Urbanspoon

Cleo Restaurant

Spices at CleoNow 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.

Cleo
1776 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Ph: (305) 534-2536
http://sbe.com/restaurants/brands/cleo/

Cleo on Urbanspoon

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

Chalan on the Beach on Urbanspoon

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!

Grenache! Grenache? Grenache!, Few Rare Grapes and a Recipe

January 27, 2015 20 comments

Grenache tastingWhat’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 Albillo2011 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.

Braised short ribs

Doesn’t it say “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:

Penzey spices

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.

roasted carrots, onions, celeryNow, 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:

Roasted short ribsOnce all the ribs are seared, combine them all in the dutch oven, then add the onions, carrots and celery:

short ribs are doneAdd a bottle of wine, cover, put it in the oven and forget it for the next 4-5 hours (you really don’t want to rush this process). When done, you probably will find something like this:

short ribs are doneAs you can imagine, hearty Grenache is a perfect pairing for such a hearty, homey dish – but of course this shouldn’t be your only choice.

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!

 

For The Love of Life and Pizza: Brick+Wood in Fairfield, CT

December 21, 2014 9 comments

Brick+Wood T-shirts!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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

Brick+Wood Pizza in the makingWe 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
(203) 939-1400
http://lovelifeandpizza.com/

Brick + Wood on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Files: Oyster Bar, One Of The Best Hidden Dining Secrets Of New York

November 16, 2014 7 comments

Oyster's selection at Oyster Bar NYLet me ask you a question – do you think trains and freshest possible seafood have anything to do together? Here is another question – thinking about train station, what kind of food would you expect to find there? Does the word “gourmet” easily associates with the train station?

Of course I’m not talking about an average train station in the town with population of 10,000. The tricky part of my question is that we are talking about New York, and the train station is the famous, beautiful Grand Central Terminal. Still, let’s say if you are visiting New York, how many of you would set the restaurant at the train station as your desired dinner destination? Well, if you like seafood, especially if you like oysters, Grand Central Terminal might be a very wise choice, as since 1913 (!) it houses, on the lower level of the station, one of the best if not the very best seafood restaurant in New York, called Oyster Bar and Restaurant.

As you enter into the restaurant, you get the feel of the authentic diner from the 30th. Nope, I’m not that old, but this is an impression from the movies. Red checkered cloth definitely adds to the ambiance. And once you get to your table and given the menu, especially if you are a seafood aficionado, you understand that you are literally in the heaven. The menu is presented as unassuming large piece of paper. The reason for this is simple – the new menu is printed every day (!), as  the bulk of the menu is a fresh catch. Nope, they don’t offer the coveted but equally anonymous “oysters on the half shell”, where you get whatever single kind of oyster there is. You can pick and chose from the daily selection of about 30 (!) different oysters. Overall, Oyster Bar has a 5 pages long oyster list which includes about 250 (!!) different oysters – here is the link for you to take a look. Of course the menu goes well beyond oysters offering all kinds of fish and seafood. Here is a fragment of the menu from November 15th:

Oyster Bar menu fragmentOysters, fish, lobsters and more – whatever your seafood lover’s heart desires. And don’t forget the soups! New England Clam Chowder at Oyster Bar is my perennial favorite. One of the very best and very consistent. As Grand Central Terminal generally is my link to New York, from time to time, I like to stop by the Oyster Bar for a quick bite to eat – at $6.95, the bowl of clam chowder is literally the best value one can get in New York – definitely beats any deli.

Tokaji Hétszölö Dry FurmintAs we were planning for the oysters to be the main dish, the appropriate wine was in order. One of the traditional choices for the seafood wine is Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, with its steely acidity. But that is exactly the point – this is a very standard and traditional choice, and we wanted to try something new and different. Conveniently, wine list at Oyster Bar listed few very nontraditional wines as the winners of the popular choice as oyster’s accompaniment in the section called “Oyster Wine Pairing Champions 2014″. One of those wines was 2011 Hétszölö Tokaji Dry Furmint from Hungary, which we decided on. This happened to be a great choice, as wine showed not only acidity, but also a wonderful salinity (I can only guess – attributed to the volcanic soils in the vineyard), all together making it practically an ideal pairing for the various oysters.

And then, of course, there were oysters. There is not a lot I can tell you about them, except that the selection included 8 different oysters (you can see the list in the picture above), which were one better than the other, both in the taste and in ability to support the conversation.

Oysters at Oyster BarThere you have it, my friends – now you know about one of the best seafood destinations in New York – lunch, dinner or a quick bite on the way – Oyster bar will serve you well. Oh yes – and reservation is highly recommended if you plan on dinner.

Did you know about Oyster Bar before? Have you ever been there? If you have, what do you think? Cheers!

Oyster Bar & Restaurant
Grand Central Terminal
New York, NY 10017
P: 212-490-6650
http://www.oysterbarny.com/

Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saju Bistro – Great New York Midtown Dining Without Breaking the Bank

October 26, 2014 2 comments

Dining in New York is tricky. Well, if you are on an unlimited expense account, it is pretty straightforward – New York has no shortage of amazing chefs, so your only hurdle might be scoring the reservation, and then you are almost guaranteed an amazing experience. It is a bit more complicated if you don’t have an access to that wonderful “no holds barred” source. In such a case, you have to do your homework, and still you are taking chances.

Going to the concert at the Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan, I did my homework and came up with the French restaurant called Saju Bistro Bar and Restaurant – 3.5 stars on Yelp, French cuisine, two dollar signs. Yes, 3.5 stars is not that much, but being in the Theater district, your options are quite limited, so all together it sounded like a place worth trying.

The place did feel like a French bistro from the moment we walked in. By the entrance, a sitting area open to the street – you can feel as you are in Paris, just sitting down with a cup of coffee, and watching the people and the street. If you do want to be in the more enclosed area, walk to the back and get the table surrounded by the French bistro-type paintings – the atmosphere is definitely there.

We got situated at our table and got the menus. Of course I had to start from the wine list, which was somewhat small. Wine list’s focus was on France and California, with the number of wines priced quite reasonably. Thanks to my encounter with Paul Mas wines earlier this year (here is the post), when I saw a 2011 Paul Mas Carignan Vieilles Vignes from Languedoc, this was a very easy decision (the fact that the wine was priced at $34 was also very helpful). The wine had a fresh red fruit on the nose, and medium body with a touch of warm spice, overall it worked quite well throughout the dinner.

The menu at Saju Bistro has a reasonable size – it doesn’t overwhelm and makes your dinner experience nice and easy. We decided to start with a few appetizers which can be shared among 4 of us.

Grilled Vegetables Aïoli (Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Carrot, asparagus, Eggplant, potato, Broiled Egg, home made Aïoli)  – if you ever tried to grill vegetables, I’m sure you know that behind the seeming simplicity, grilled vegetables are super-easy to ruin. This dish was done perfectly, with the eye-happy grill marks and prefect crunch. Home made Aïoli was a delicious complement to all the vegetables.

Assiette de Charcuterie (Saucisson sec, procuitto, country pate, breseola, garlic sausage, cornichons) – I was a bit concerned that this dish would be enough to share for 4 people in a French restaurant, but our waitress, Alissa, assured us that it will be perfectly shareable – and it was. Very tasty selection, very generous amount, just an excellent dish all around.

Paté de campagne (Country paté, célery remoulade, cornichons, toasted bread) – you can’t go wrong with the Country paté dish in a french restaurant – you just have to make sure you save some bread in the bread basket, which we did. This was another excellent appetizer, again  – perfectly shareable.

For the main course, we wanted to try all the different things, so here is what we got:

Lapin des Garrigues au Romarin (braised boneless rabbit, sautéed gnocchi, French sweet peas, white wine reduction with fresh rosemary) – this was so homey, an outstanding comfort dish, with the perfectly melding flavors.

Pumpkin Ravioli (two-colored pasta, pumpkin filling, truffle sauce) – seasonally appropriate, this was quite tasty, but the filling was a bit too sweet to my taste – I would take it more to the savory direction. Still, I would say it was a successful dish.

Filet Mignon au poivre (French fries, haricots vert, pepper sauce) – when it comes to the steak, proper execution is a key – and this steak was done perfectly – succulent cut of meat, delicious pepper sauce – excellent dish.

Grillade de la Mer (Grilled Shrimp, Octopus, Clams, Mussels, Calamari, Sea Bass, served with sautéed Pommes Rissolées. Grilled Asparagus and Persillade) – in a restaurant, I’m generally a seafood guy, probably 9 times out of 10. There were two dishes which I was considering – Bouillabaisse or Grilled seafood. Alissa recommended to go with the grilled seafood – and boy, was that a great advice. Perfectly cooked calamari, shrimp, mussels  – absolutely delicious.

You can’t leave French restaurant without having the dessert, right? Of course not, that would be a crime! We chose two desserts to finish our evening:

Profiterole (Puff Pastry, Vanilla Ice Cream, Hot Belgian Chocolate) – profiteroles is one of my very favorite desserts, and these were delicious!

Lemon Panna Cotta (Chilled Eggless Lemon Custard and Red Berries Coulis) – perfectly refreshing, very light, great flavor and very generous amount of berries. An excellent dessert!

Before we part here, I want to acknowledge our waitress Alissa one more time – she took a great care of us – the food was coming timely, the wine was always in the glass just at the right amount – she did really an excellent job – thank you Alissa!

There you have it, my friends – a great restaurant experience in midtown Manhattan. If you see any of the Broadway musicals in your future, then you might want to check out Saju Bistro. Cheers!
Saju Bistro Bar and Restaurant
120 W 44th Street
New York, NY, 10036
Phone: 212-997-7258
http://www.sajubistro.com
Saju Bistro on Urbanspoon

Beer Versus Wine (And Don’t Forget The Cider) + Food

October 9, 2014 10 comments

I don’t know what you think based on the title, but the premise of this [short] post is simple. The Wondering Gourmand has a permanent monthly feature in his blog, called “Beer Versus Wine Pairing Challenge”. In that challenge, you are given a choice of a dish, and you are supposed to come up with the wine or beer (and don’t forget the cider!) pairing suggestion which then gets voted for.

As a lucky winner of the September challenge, I had an opportunity to come up with the new dish for the challenge, and my suggestion was … deviled eggs! So now you can suggest a choice of pairing, and may be then get a lucky challenge of coming up with the next dish suggestion. Here is the link to the official post – use the comments section in the Wondering Gourmand post for your beer versus wine recommendations.

Beer Versus Wine Pairing Challenge – Deviled Eggs

Cheers!

Prime Time at Washington Prime

September 8, 2014 4 comments

Washington PrimeWhen you come to the new restaurant, first you discover the food. Then drinks and wine. Then ambiance and decor. Then service. Well, yes, all of the above – but in the random order. The experience is somewhat like peeling the onion, only with an element of surprise – you don’t know what your next excitement will be. May be a new dish. Or may be, as I recently had, a creative interior which all of a sudden dawns on you, after you already spent more than hour in the restaurant.

About two weeks ago, we visited new restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, called Washington Prime. The restaurant is located on the Washington Street, hence the first part of the name. And for the second part, there can be multiple explanations, but as restaurant is a steakhouse, and it serves only Prime cuts of beef (for the readers outside of the US – Prime is a definition from the US Department of Agriculture for the best quality selection of beef), hence the second part of the name.

We walked into the restaurant, immediately got to our table, and started studying the cocktail selection and got into the conversation with our dining companions. Only an hour into our dinner I had an opportunity to walk around and see how creatively the dining room was decorated, with the grape vines on the ceiling above bar and green plants (yes, artificial, not live) covering the walls in the corridor. It became quire dark when I made the discovery, so the pictures wouldn’t do a justice to the decor, but nevertheless, you will get an idea.

The cocktail list was quite interesting, and it was not easy to make a selection. I went with the Basil Smash (basil, simple syrup, tanqueray 10, lemon just) – nicely refreshing and not overly sweet. Moscow Mule‘s presentation also looked quite interesting. Then, of course, we went for the wine. The wine list overall was interesting and well composed – but it was not easy to make a selection as I always go out of my way looking for value, and it was simply not that easy (lots of selections were priced at about triple retail, and you know that I have a problem with that). For the white, we had a 2012 Martín Códax Albariño, Rias Baixas – simple, food friendly wine with clean acidity and touch of white stone fruit. We also had 2013 Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé Provence, which was light and loaded with strawberries.For the reds, we started with the 2012 David Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – young, smokey, light cherry flavor, good acidity. While this was a nice wine, we felt that it wouldn’t really stand up to our dinner which included steak, so the red wine we chose to stay with until the end of the meal was 2011 Ridge Three Valleys Sonoma County – notes of smokey raspberries, espresso, touch of dark chocolate, all weaved together over a firm structure with some earthy notes – excellent overall.

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And now let’s talk about the food. Everything was split into the courses. We started with a few appetizers – Seafood Tower (colossal shrimp, local oysters, little necks, Alaskan king crab leg, Maine lobster, spicy mustard, house cocktail sauce, classic mignionette) and House Slab Bacon (smoked, thick-cut). The bacon more resembled the pork belly than traditional bacon, and literally was melting in your mouth. The Seafood tower was excellent, great selection of fresh oysters and clams.

Our dinner continued with Small Plates. Lobster Bisque (parsley, crème fraische) was very concentrated, with nice flavor. Deviled Eggs (creamy yolk, prime meatball, pickled onions, foie gras powder) were unsuccessful, unfortunately. I love deviled eggs, one of my childhood favorite dishes – and we keep making it almost for each and every party. The deviled eggs served at Washington Prime were way too acidic, with pickled onion been just too much. I think this dish requires some work make it a success. Burrata (creamy slaw, sambal aioli, sesame, pretzel bread) was creamy and satisfying, just as you would expect the Burrata to be.

Poutine (oxtail ragu, house fries, cheese curds, green onions) was an interesting dish. The oxtail ragu was outstanding, with the flavor and texture creating irresistible, homey experience . However, the cheese curd didn’t fully integrate into the dish – at least with my memories of Poutine in Quebec.

Knuckle & Claw (blue cork grits, lobster sauce, tobiko) was okay – yes, I’m not really a big fun of lobster, so the blue corn grits and tobiko were the best components of the dish for me.

Octopus (pickled peppers, duck fat marble potato, pepper emulsion) was to die for. Perfectly cooked, with delicious flavor combination, it was definitely a star dish.

Wings (fried, kimchi sauce, scallions, soy, chilli) were crispy and very tasty (could use a bit less salt).

Finally (after about an hour of eating), the time had come for Salads. First, Prime Wedge (gem iceberg, pickled heirloom tomatoes, bacon, ewes blue cheese, chili, house ranch dressing) was spectacular. I love the Wedge, and I order it quite often – this was the very best Wedge salad I ever had – the bacon, the sauce, the sweetness of the lettuce were  just spot on. And our next salad dish, Chop Chop Salad (iceberg and romaine, bell peppers, onion, carrot, provolone, salami, red wine vinaigrette) was also very much on par with the Wedge – fresh, light and delicious, with the very tasty sauce.

And the time had come for Land & Sea.

We were in a steakhouse, so of course there was steak! USDA Prime Steaks – 8 oz filet Mignon, 18 oz Ribeye, 32 oz. Porterhouse (dry aged 28 days) – were all served on the beautiful wooden boards, in its perfectly simple beauty. The selection of steak sauces, which also included spicy mayo and Chimichurri, was served on the side. The steaks were just outstanding, all three of them had a slight difference in texture and flavor, but they were all simply done at the “wow” level.

Representing the “sea” part, first we had Grouper (Carolina gold rice, tomato, asparagus, carrot butter sauce) – if the steak was  “wow” dish, this was a double “wow”. I know that expression “melting in your mouth” is abused, nevertheless, this is the only way I can describe this dish – great flavor, and the fish was really melting in the mouth… And then there were Scallops (middlins, corn relish, nicoise olives, hunters sauce), my perennial favorite, done at the textbook quality – “perfectly seared, succulent and sweet” – the best way possible.

You didn’t think that we left without having a dessert, right? Of course not! Italian and New York Cheesecake, a Tartufo and an Ice cream cookie sandwich with cereal milk were all included in the sweet ending of our evening. All were excellent, but the ice cream sandwich with the cereal milk was a standout for me in creativity. In case you are wondering, the cereal milk of the day was Fruit Loops…

Executive Chef Jared Falco came out to check on us many times, and we had an opportunity to discuss the dishes and his approach to making his cooking stand out. All in all, we had a great time.

Executive Chef Jared FalcoThat’s all I have for you, my friends. Yes, we had a great evening of food and wine, and the restaurant is definitely worth a visit if you are in a mood for steak, or simply a creative bite of food. Oh yes, and I meant to warn you not to read this post hungry – I guess it is too late now, sorry. Cheers!

I visited restaurant as a guest of the management. All opinions are my own.

 Washington Prime
141 Washington Street
South Norwalk, CT 06854
Located at the corner of Washington and Water St.
TEL: (203) 857-1314
http://washingtonprimect.com/

Washington Prime on Urbanspoon

…And Dinner Becomes an Experience

August 22, 2014 16 comments

The dinner is a dinner is a dinner. Sometimes we eat just to satisfy the basic bodily crave for energy. We put something in the mouth, doesn’t really matter what, hopefully chew on it (or not) before gulping it down, and we are done. Then there are family dinners, let’s say spaghetti and meatballs – everything is home made and tasty, but the school day, upcoming play and huge homework project due tomorrow take over the whole experience. And then there are dinners where the food is perfect, the wine pairing is spot on and the good company of friends is amazing – those dinners become the experience.

We have a tradition with our friends – an adults getaway during late summer or early fall. Find B&B to stay within 2-3 hours of driving distance, visit nature trails, little towns and museums, visit wineries, have a good dinner, have fun and most importantly, enjoy the company of each other. Simple, isn’t it? This year would be the our fourth time doing this, and most of our trips had been described in this blog to the various degree. In 2010, we had a great time in Milford, Pennsylvania, and our dinner was definitely an experience. For that dinner, we were allowed to bring our own wines, so we managed to create the special experience (you can read about it here). The next year we went to the Grafton, Vermont – of course we had a great time, but when in Vermont, the cheese is much bigger deal than wine, so it didn’t really make it into this blog, and dinner didn’t make it into the “experience” level. Last year we stayed in the little town in the area of Woodstock, NY (the town was called Palenville), and the highlight of the trip was the visit to the Hudson Distillery (nope, dinner didn’t make it again). This year, we happened to stay in my home state, Connecticut, in the town of Norfolk. We had a great time visiting Connecticut wineries and visiting places in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts (yep, you can move through all three states within 20 minutes of driving), but the highlight was … yes, you got it – the dinner.

Norfolk, a little town in northern Connecticut, is not exactly a Michelin-starred restaurant oasis. However, does the food needs to be acknowledged with the Micheline star to be good? Not really. It only takes a little bit of love and a little bit of soul. And when we take the soulful food, we can elevate it to the next level with … wine, of course (you didn’t expect me to say coke, didn’t you). And this is how you create an experience – one dish, one wine.

Once we had our plans for Norfolk set (meaning – we reserved our B&B), we reached out to the few restaurants in the area. We said that we are coming in a large group, and we asked for the special tasting menu, which we can pair with wine (preferably brought by us). Chef Heidi Dinsmore of the Wood Creek Bar and Grill offered a tasting menu – and graciously allowed us to bring our own wines without even charging a corking fee. The rest is history – one of the best dinner experiences ever, which you can see (sorry, only see) below.

Appetizers

Crostini with Roasted Pear Gorgonzola and a Balsamic Drizzle

Wine: 2009 Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa

There was a nice combination of flavors in crostini, but we could probably use more pear and less cheese, and the toast itself could probably be a bit less garlic-y. The South African sparkler was very classic, with nice toasted nose, touch of yeast and fine mousse. As for the pairing, I would call it “unoffensive” – both the crostini and wine stayed in its own universe, and they didn’t collide nor complement each other.

Micro greens with Strawberries and a Lemon Vinaigrette

Wine: 2013 La Ferme Saint Pierre Cuvée Juliette Rosé Côtes du Ventoux, France

Salad was nice and fresh (what else do you want from the green salad, right?), and the wine had a nice strawberry profile. The pairing was excellent, the wine really complemented and enhanced the dish, despite the “simple salad” nature of it.

Shrimp with a Champagne Beurre Blanc

Wine: 2011 Bodegas La Cana Albariño Rias Baixas, Spain

Shrimp was cooked perfectly, and Beurre Blanc sauce was outstanding. La Cana Albariño is one of my favorite wines, and this bottle was no exception – bright fruit profile on the nose, but restrained and delicious on the palate. And the pairing? Spectacular, simply spot on. Wine’s acidity was a great complement to the sauce, so the dish was greatly enhanced.

Main Course

Poached Halibut over Spinach, Saffron Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Wine: 2012 Buil & Giné Joan Giné Blanc, Priorat DOQ, Spain

Halibut, which is one of my favorite types of fish, was done “just right”, and together with spinach and the sauce was creating just one spectacular flavor pop. And then the wine… This wine deserves a whole blog post dedicated just to that wine by itself. White Priorat, a blend of 40% White Grenache, 36% Macabeo, 20% Viognier and 4% Pedro Ximenez had stunning complexity – orange peel, white stone fruit, minerality – really an excellent wine, rivaling best Chardonnays. And together with the dish? Another spectacular, spot on pairing, complementing and greatly enhancing flavor.

Beef Tenderloin over Mashed Celery Root, Bordelaise, Tiny mini Potato au Gratin

Wine: 2010 Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rouge Les Restanques de Pibarnon, Bandol, France

Beef was perfectly cooked, and together with the celery root and Bordelaise sauce, every bite was literally divine. The Bandol wine, which is 90% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache, had a warm spice flavor profile, so together with the steak the pairing was just outright delicious.

Guinness Marinated Pork, Cherry Au Jus, Arugula, Crispy Polenta

Wine: 2011 Bodegas Caro ‘Amancaya’ Gran Reserva Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina

The pork was melting in the mouth and the combination with cherries was excellent. The wine, made from two of the Argentina star grapes – Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, had an open nose with spicy, cherry-loaded palate. As you can imagine, cherries in the sauce and in the wine played together wonderfully, creating – yep, again – a super-successful pairing.

Dessert

Fresh-made Sorbetto - delicious, clean, refreshing. Perfectly restored the palate before the dessert course.

Chocolate Tart with Fresh Fruit

Wine: 2000 Philip Togni Vineyard Ca’ Togni Sweet Red, Napa Valley

You can’t go wrong with the chocolate, and this dessert was a great proof of that – every bite was a decadent pleasure. And the wine… What can I tell you? It was definitely a mature wine, fragrant, with some sweet cherry notes and balancing acidity. Based on the information on producer’s web site, this wine was inspired by the famous South African dessert wine Klein Constantia, and it is produced from the grape called Black Hamburg (known as Black Muscat), which is quite rare in Napa Valley  – and it is also a new grape for me (!). The wine perfectly complemented and literally added a new dimension to the chocolate tart, so our final pairing was again “just perfect”.

Chef Heidi Dinsmore

Chef Heidi Dinsmore

As we were settling into the dessert, Chef Heidi Dinsmore, the creator of the delicious experience, came to talk to us, so we had an opportunity to thank her and to tell her how much we enjoyed our evening, and how delicious the food was. If you are ever in the area of Norfolk, Connecticut, Wood Creek Bar and Grill should be on your list. Ahh, and I also have to say a very big thank you to our waitress Jessica, who did an amazing job managing our wine program, opening the bottles, changing the glasses and of course serving food – she was absolutely fantastic.

There you have it, my friends – the food, the wine and the company – a simple recipe for an unforgettable experience.  Cheers!

Wood Creek Bar and Grill
3 Station Place
Norfolk, CT 06058
(860) 542-1200
http://www.woodcreekbarandgrill.com
Wood Creek Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Files: Modern Classic or Classic Modern? Carl Anthony Trattoria in Monroe, CT

July 18, 2014 11 comments

Restaurant Ready for serviceWhen it comes to the Italian cuisine, or probably any cuisine for that matter, what constitutes a “classic cuisine” for you? Old familiar dishes, which stay unchanged for many many years (if it works, don’t touch it)? And then another question is what is the “modern cuisine”? You change the recipe all the time, just to make sure you use ingredients which are “in vogue” (like pork belly or Brussels sprouts today)? Or do you take the familiar dish and put a spin on it? If you ask me, I’m all for the “tasty” – I’ve had classics such as fried calamari or mozzarella sticks done in many unusual ways, so I generally don’t trouble myself with classification “classic versus modern” – if it tastes good, that’s all I want (okay, it is definitely a bonus when food also looks good).

Let me explain why I am taking about this classic/modern relationship. Few weeks ago we visited restaurant called Carl Anthony Trattoria in Monroe, Connecticut. The restaurant had been around for 15 years, and while it has a decidedly Italian flair, the menu represents that exact combination of classic and modern dishes I’m talking about here. You know what – forget this classic and modern – creative is the right word – and I think you will agree with me when we will be talking about food. But – let’s start with cocktails and wine.

The cocktail list was very creative (aha, see, I used that word again) – and here are some of the cocktails we tasted: Mambo Italiano (Averno Amaro, muddled mint and lemons, ginger ale), Black Cherry Mojito (Cruzan Black Cherry Rum, muddled mint and cherry), Cucumber Gimlet (Pearl Cucumber-fresh basil, lemon and lime juice on the rocks) and Clementine Caipirinha (Leblon Cachaça, St. Germain, clementine, orange & lime). Caipirinha was nice, but not necessarily my favorite – I simply prefer more lime.

The highlight of the cocktail extravaganza was the concoction called Campfire (graham cracker glass rim drizzled with chocolate syrup, Smirnoff Fluff Vodka, Baileys, flaming marshmallows). While I didn’t taste it, I captured it in the making:

When it comes to the wine, we didn’t really get a chance to look at the wine list, the wine were preselected for our dinner. The choice of red was 2011 San Giuseppe Pinot Noir Veneto IGT (12% ABV). I’m yet to find a Pinot Noir (or a Pinot Nero as it is typically called) from Italy which I would like – this was definitely not the one. This wine was flat and boring – it was drinkable, but really had no life in it (Drinkability: 7- ). The white wine, 2012 Donnachiara Fiano de Avelino DOCG Montefalcione (13% ABV) was very good – sweet fruit on the nose, plump, open, with touch of minerality and fresh cut grass, nice acidity (Drinkability: 8- ).

And now, to the food!

We started with the two appetizers: Bleu Chips (hand-cut potato chips, gorgonzola fonduta, fig jam, bacon) – a delicious combination, and besides – who can say no to the potato chips? And then the “Original” Balsamic Calamari – the name says it all – it is fried calamari, drizzled with the balsamic reduction – a somewhat unexpected, but a very tasty combination.

Our dinner continued with more appetizers. First, Heirloom Tomato Salad Bruschetta, where you could actually taste a difference in the tomatoes (many times I bought so called heirloom tomatoes in the store which tasted exactly the same as regular tomatoes). Next dish, Charred Hierloom Carrots (straciatella cheese, cilantro-honey citronette) was one of my favorites, as it was simple, yet delicious (I since made the carrots on the grill in the same style, and everybody loved them). Kobe Meatballs (tomato sauce, garlic bread) were very nice, but not necessarily better or worse many other well-made meatballs ( which to me means that they shouldn’t be too dense, and these were just fine). Burrata (bacon jam, pepperoncino) was traditionally delicious, but my very favorite appetizer was Fig & Beet (baby greens, goat cheese ricotta, onion, wildflower honey toasted oats, marcona almonds, Vincotto) – I’m very impartial to the beets salad in any shape and form, and the flavor combination of the beets, marcona almonds and figs was just spot on.

Next we had two entrees family style. “Loaded Baked Potato” Gnocci (hand-made potato pasta pillows, smoked bacon, broccoli, Italian cheddar) was can’t-stop-eating-this delicious and incredibly satisfying. I would even say “homey”, but – this is a descriptor for the next dish. Italian “Ramen” (hand-made noodles, chicken broth, local egg, parmigiano, pepperoncino) had such a surprising simplicity to it, nevertheless the whole table went “wow” after the first sip. I don’t know if chef Sam used some kind of magic potion on this soup, but despite the hot day, this soup was literally warming up the whole body and soul, and this dish alone will definitely worth a separate trip as the temperatures will stop dropping. Our  last entree was served on individual plates, and consisted of Pig Roast (slow roasted “Porchetta alla Romana”, broccoli rabe, pickled farm stand tomato) and Wild Ivory King Salmon (spicy spinach, Sultana raisin vinaigrette, walnut romesco aioli). The Pig Roast was perfectly done – meat was falling apart, while the skin was delightfully crisp. And the Ivory King Salmon? Wow. This was my very first encounter with the white salmon – delicious, mild flavor profile, again, very comforting and satisfying.

Believe it or not, but we still got dessert after such a meal. Blueberry Upside-down cake was every morsel delicious. Then Coffee & Doughnuts. I can tell you that in general, I’m not a fan of doughnuts. But this cappuccino/chocolate semifreddo sauce was beyond delicious, it was divine – together with the doughnut, it was one incredible flavor combination. And the Quattro Crème Brûlée? You must love this dish for the presentation alone – and as a bonus, it was outright delicious.

As usual, we had an opportunity to talk to the Executive Chef and Owner Sam DeVillis:

Executive Chef Sam DeVillis

and of course we thanked him wholeheartedly for the spectacular meal.

There you have it, my friends. I can’t tell you if our dinner was more of a classic or modern, but it was top notch creative, and in and out delicious. As Carl Anthony Trattoria celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, I can only wish Chef Sam and his team best of luck to continue satisfying all the demanding foodies for many many years ahead. Cheers!

Disclaimer: I visited the restaurant as a guest of the management. All opinions are my own.

Carl Anthony Trattoria
Clocktower Square
477 Main St
Monroe, CT 06468
(203) 268-8486
http://www.carlanthonys.com/index.htm

Carl Anthony's Trattoria on Urbanspoon

How Do You Describe Coffee Smell In Words – Visiting Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters

July 7, 2014 14 comments

DSC_0814Seriously, I really mean it as a question – how do you describe coffee smell? I’m asking here the people who cherishes or may be even worships the good cup of coffee – how one can describe that “pick-me-up” goodness when you walk into the room and smell freshly brewed, real, delicious coffee made with love? It is hard, right? You can describe the effects of that smell (invigorating, uplifting, awakening…), but not the smell itself. But – if you are into the coffee, it is enough to say “the wonderful smell of fresh coffee”, and we understand each other. And let me throw in a few pictures for the good measure…

When I walked into the shop of Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters in Trumbull, CT, I felt like a kid in the toy store. It was all about coffee – the smell, the coffee makers, huge bags of coffee beans – it was all coffee, coffee, coffee. Shearwater Coffee Roasters has a very simple mission – to let people experience the best possible single origin organic coffee, one small batch at a time. This is a loaded sentence, so let me explain it in a few more words.

Let’s start with “organic“. All the coffee roasted at the Shearwater is USDA certified organic. The coffee comes from all of the world, from Guatemala., Colombia, Ethiopia, Costa Rica and other places, but only from the producers which had being certified by USDA as organic. USDA Organic requirements cover full lifecycle of the coffee production, from the soil and trees handling until the green coffee beans will be packaged for shipping. That organic certification also includes the Fair Trade Certification, which means that the people who grow the coffee are treated properly. Additionally, the Shearwater production process and the whole facility had being also certified by the USDA, so the final product which goes into the little yellow bags is in and out USDA Certified Organic.

Now, a few words about “single origin“. The best way to explain the concept is in the analogy with wine – this is the wine blog after all! Single Origin is really an equivalent of the appellation, or in some cases it can equated to the estate or even single vineyard.  Same as grapes, the coffee is a product of mother nature – it exist in multiple varieties, and its taste will be affected by the soil type, the climate, the amount of water, the altitude – yes, you can call it a “coffee terroir” – and if coffee beans are treated properly from the bud breaking until it will make it into your cup, you will be able to taste it.

Now, the “small batch“: that simply means that coffee is processed (i.e., roasted) one small batch at a time. How small? 20 pounds to be exact. 20 pounds of fresh coffee beans are roasted at a time. That’s it – only 20 pounds. Working in the small batches, you have much better control over the process, and you can ensure that all the beans are roasted uniformly. And you can also make each batch to taste individually different. Which gets us to the last term I want to explain – “best possible”.

The “best possible” coffee combines everything which we talked about before – the organic, single origin, the small batch – but it is also a process of Artisan Coffee Roasting. At the heart of the Shearwater operation, supporting the passion of Ed Freedman, the Head Roaster, is the highly efficient machine called Diedrich IR-12, an infrared coffee roaster. This machine allows very efficient control of the temperature during the roasting cycle (which is very short – takes about 14 minutes to produce medium roast coffee), and the roasting process can be fitted exactly for each and every varietal and type of coffee, to allow it to achieve its fullest potential! How about that for the “best possible” coffee? As I said, I’m fully relying on pictures to share my excitement, so here is the machine:

The machine is controlled manually, but it allows full recording of the process (time/temperature changes ) on the computer, so for each batch it is known precisely how it was produced and how the process can be adjusted if and when necessary. On the pictures below you will see Ed Freedman explaining what happens during different stages of the roasting process and how it is recorded on the computer:

The process starts from the green coffee beans been loaded inside, and the temperature gradually increased until you hear coffee to start crackling, pretty much like popcorn. Once you hear that noise, depending on the type of roast you are producing (light, medium, French etc.), you will have to decide for how much longer to continue the process. Also you can all the time have the visual of the progress:

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Once you are done, the coffee goes out of the roasting chamber and now it should be cooled off very quickly, to make sure it is not going to roast any more:

Once the coffee is cooled off, it goes into the bin to rest – the coffee needs to rest at least for 2 days before it can be packaged and sold:

DSC_0856That’s it! Short 14 minutes, 20 lb of the green coffee beans become 17 lb of the wonderful roasted coffee, and you have a room full of delicious invigorating smell as a an added bonus. And you can also check what kind of roast did you achieve, using this simple set of the colored circles (of course you can buy a machine for $10,000 which will do that for you, but Ed feels quite happy with the circles : ) ):

That concludes my story about the Shearwater Coffee Roasters. They are located in Trumbull, Connecticut, so if you live close by or visiting the area, that might be a good place for you to visit (they sell all the coffees and coffee makers right at the shop). If you are not local, but still want to experience Artisan single origin organic coffee at its best, you can order directly from Shearwater web site.

I hope I managed to make your Monday morning – no, I can’t deliver the smell, but I hope I gave you enough coffee pictures so you can add the smell on your own. Oh yes, the cup of fresh coffee sounds divine – time to make one. Cheers!

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