Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The Dinner Party Collective – Full Fall/Autumn Menu

September 29, 2015 3 comments

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

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

Autumn/Fall Menu Overview

Appetizer – Trio of Root Vegetable Dips

Main Course – Beef Bourguignon

Dessert – Blackberry Tart

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

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



Daily Glass: Red with Dessert

September 12, 2015 11 comments

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

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

M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes-Hermitage

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

Steak Tartar at Cafe Novotel

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

Raspberry Dessert at Cafe Novotel

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

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


Wine Dinner at Brasserie Louis

August 30, 2015 11 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

And now, for the Main Course:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finally, we are at Dessert!

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant Files: Skipper Restaurant and Chowder House, Cape Cod

August 16, 2015 10 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 4, 2015 7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant Files: Paloma in Stamford, Connecticut

June 28, 2015 11 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Dinner Party Collective – Full Winter Menu

June 24, 2015 4 comments

TDPC Logo The Dinner Party CollectiveLast week I presented to you a complete Summer Menu from The Dinner Party Collective project – and now the winter menu is published. Here are all the links for you in one place:

The Winter Menu | June 2015

Cremini Mushroom Soup | Winter Menu | Appetizer

Pan Fried Quail with Vincotto Glazed Grapes | Winter Menu | Main Course

Poached Pear Chocolate Puddings | Winter Menu | Dessert

Wine Pairings | Winter Menu | Southern Hemisphere | June 2015

Now we really need to hear from you, our readers – did you cook the full dinners or any of the separate dishes? If you did, how did you like it? Did you try the suggested wine pairings? If you did, what was your exact wine? Did the pairing work for you? Did you like the format of the menus? What would you change?

Bottom line – The Dinner Party Collective is a young project, and we need your feedback to help us grow, so get to it – set the date, call your friends and start cooking.

Meanwhile, I heard the season will change soon – and TDPC team is already back to the drawing board… Cheers!



True Passion: Amore Cucina and Bar, or a Visit with the Dough Scientist

June 19, 2015 15 comments

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.

Amore RestaurantCan a visit to the pizza restaurant blow your mind? I mean the mind first of all, not even the palate? In the nation raised on Pizza Hut and Little Caesars, pizza is such a no-brainer, isn’t it?

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!

Amore Restaurant
921 Hope Street
Stamford, CT 06907
Phone: 203-357-1066

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The Dinner Party Collective – Full Summer Menu and Detailed Wine Notes

June 17, 2015 17 comments

TDPC Logo The Dinner Party CollectiveAs you might be aware, I was recently invited to join a group of food and wine bloggers to create full seasonal dinner menus with suggested wine pairings, to make it easy for the people to bring their friends and families together to have a great time, great meal and great conversation. The project was called The Dinner Party Collective, and after a few month of the hard work, we finally published the first menu, which we simply call a Summer Menu. As you can judge from the name, this is the suggested menu for the Northern Hemisphere, for those of us who are lucky (or not, if it is 90F and humid) to live through our summer season. The Winter menu will be published shortly.

I had a pleasure of pairing the Summer menu dishes with the wines. I don’t know how successful was that pairing, only you, dear readers, will be able to figure that out, hopefully after you will have the dinner based on those delicious recipes. I essentially created a long post, explaining the logic behind each suggested dish pairing, so I will not be repeating it here  – I will provide all the links for the Summer Menu at the end of this post, including the one on the pairing details. However, I still have a few wines to talk about here.

Salmon and Rosé

The main dish of the Summer Menu, Salmon Tikka, was not trivial for me to pair, due to the wide range of spices and the cooking method. I ended up cooking the dish, religiously following the recipe, and then invited a few friends to taste those potential pairings together, to find out what works and what doesn’t. Here are the wines which we tried, with the tasting notes:

2014 Famille Lançon La Solitude Côtes du Rhône, France (13% ABV, $14.99, 70% Grnache, 30% Syrah)
C: bright pink
N: strawberries, touch of lime
P: strawberries, good acidity, soft, delicate, medium-long finish
V: 7+
With Food: nicely complemented the fish, provided delicate backbone.

2013 Casas del Bosque Carménère Reserva DO Rapel Valley, Chile (14%ABV, $11.99, 100% Carménère)
C: Dark Garnet
N: Floral, mint, touch of chocolate, vegetative, hint of dark berries
P: dark spices, mint, smoke, tar, good acidity
V: 8-
With Food: was not universally good for all. The spices had a bit of a mismatch on the finish, but overall was not bad.

2011 Château de Brézé Saumur AOC, France (13% ABV, $17.99, 100% Cabernet Franc)
C: Dark ruby
N: Tobacco, blueberry, good intensity
P: minty, complex, layered, luscious, delicious overall
V: 8
With Food: excellent. Very good match with the wine been just a touch bigger than the food, adding nice sweet profile when consumed together.

2013 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Cariñena DO, Spain (13.5%mABV, $14.99, 100% Garnacha)
C: Dark Ruby
N: minty, herbal nose, green bell pepper
P: herbal dominated profile, but with a lot of fruit, dark chocolate, tobacco, earthy complexity
V: 8
With Food: worked very well, with wine adding some powerful notes to the combination of food and wine.

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The Château de Brézé Saumur was the favorite of all the wines and probably the best pairing – problem is that this was a unique shot, as it was absolutely atypical of Loire Cabernet Franc, hence the absence of the generic recommendation. Yes, I know that suggestion of the Grenache pairing with fish raises more than a few eyebrows, but based on the flavor profile of that dish, I stand by my recommendation.

That’s all I wanted to share with you today. I think we came up with a beautiful menu for a great family and friends dinner, so I hope you will feel inclined to make it – and then I really want to hear your feedback on the wine pairings (and the menu itself).

Here are all the links for the Summer Menu:

The Summer Menu | June 2015 – The menu itself, as you would expect it at a restaurant

Wine Pairings | Summer Menu | Northern Hemisphere | June 2015 – detailed explanation as to why and how the wines were chosen

Fresh Summer Salad with Tangy Buttermilk Lime Herb Dressing | Summer Menu | Appetizer

Salmon Tikka with Mint Chutney | Summer Menu | Main Course

Mango Tarte Tatin with Spiced Syrup| Summer Menu | Dessert

That’s all I have for you for today. I hope you are already following The Dinner Party Collective – if not,  you need to fix it right away, so you will not miss on lots of great recipes and lots of fun. Until the next time – cheers!

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

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.

1776 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Ph: (305) 534-2536

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!


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