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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!

Restaurant Files: Gastro Bar in Stamford, CT

September 29, 2014 8 comments

Stamford, the town where I live, is a vibrant, “alive”, modern city, with no shortage of the restaurants (according to the Trip Advisor, Stamford, a city of about 123,000 has 390 restaurants – I believe that accounts for McDonalds “restaurants” as well, but still). And nevertheless, when I think about new interesting restaurants or when I’m asked to recommend a restaurant in Stamford, I almost start mumbling – especially, if the request is for the new restaurant. I can easily recommend places in Norwalk and other towns near by, but Stamford is always a challenge. This is why I was very happy when I was invited to yet another bloggers dinner at the new restaurant in Stamford, called Gastro Bar.

I like it when the name of the restaurant becomes part of the experience, as it builds anticipation. Think about it – when you are planning to visit a restaurant called “Corner Cafe” – does it create any level of expectations and excitement? Not unless you do the research and figure out what people think about it and what is served at such a restaurant. At the same time, when you hear the name “Gastro Bar”, such a name right away creates a feeling of excitement, as it hints at the upcoming gastronomical experience.

Gastro Bar is located in one of the busiest restaurant enclaves in Stamford – Columbus Park. From the street you walk into the nicely decorated space – it has charm, but doesn’t overwhelm. The front wall of the restaurant is pretty much made out of glass, so even while you are inside, you have a feeling of the open space and feel connected to the street outside. Bar is very substantial, and looks very appropriate for the place which has the “Bar” as part of the name. As usual, we started our visit from a few drinks. The cocktails list was small, but the drinks were outstanding. Slow & Low (Slow & Low whiskey • muddled oranges & lemon • ginger beer) had delicious fresh orange, very refreshing. Gastro Mule (Hendricks Gin • pineapple juice, triple sec • St. Germain • Rose wine) was my favorite – I really don’t like sweet cocktails, and this was a perfection – very tasty and again perfectly refreshing. Wine list had a good selection, mostly focused on California and Italy. We ended up choosing 2011 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – the wine was rich, with dark fruit and tobacco notes, beautiful depth and excellent balance; this was definitely a spot on selection for our dinner.

And then there was food. We started with the Fried Calamari (Smoked Aioli) which had a very good texture. Next appetizer was Oysters (Crispy oysters, avocado, pureé, grapefruit & radish), which were deep fried and served in a very unique way, with avocado and grape fruit. We had two pizzas, which were more of a tart style, with a very think and crunchy crust. Fig Pizza (goat cheese, 10 year balsamic, prosciutto, arugula) was delicious with large chunks of prosciutto and fig wonderfully balancing the goat cheese. Mushroom Pizza (mushrooms, bacon, fontina) was outstanding, with each ingredient contributing its own flavor profile, and every bite been cravingly delicious.

Up next – Salmon Tartar (Jalapeños, shallots, crispy potatoes, cilantro) – perfectly salmon, perfectly clean profile with nice heat in the back and textural contrast of crispy potatoes. Brussel Sprout Salad (Shaved Brussel sprouts, truffle oil, lemon juice, crispy risotto cake) was also very tasty, a nice combination with risotto cake. Fried Quinoa (Mango Chutney) had perfect balance of flavor and was quintessentially Mediterranean, very much resembling falafel – and it was very tasty in cobination with the mango chutney. Artichoke-stuffed Portabello Mushrooms also had an excellent balance of flavor, with artichoke complementing and extending the mushroom flavor. Albondigas (lamb meatballs, pomodoro, baby kale) had a clear lamb profile, and the dish worked perfectly with the Cabernet Sauvignon we were drinking. Crab Cake (arugula, fresh tomato, cherry pepper sauce) finished our appetizers selection, and what finish this was! Beautiful presentation, and the freshness of the crab cake was on par with the best crab cakes I had in a restaurant in Chesapeake Bay, made from the freshly caught crabs. Even thinking about this crab cake makes me salivate…

Out entrée started with Panzotti (butternut squash, toasted almonds, brown butter), delicious homey pasta, a perfect comfort food. Baked King Salmon (horseradish, beets, whipped potato, braised celery) was outstanding all the way. While salmon was perfectly cooked, for me the stars of the dish were vegetables – sweet beets and braised celery were just spectacular.

Then Chef Fernando Gomez showed up to personally present the Paella:

Chef Fernando Gomez presenting PaellaPaella (clams, shrimp, chicken, mussels, calamari, sweet peas, chorizo, saffron rice) was excellent, great flavor and texture, very well executed.

After all this food, I’m very glad that dessert was of a reasonable size. The Cheesecake had very nice density – not too hard, but not easily falling apart either. And as I like all the things coffee, the Espresso Crème Brûlée was just a wow finish to this outstanding meal with its clear coffee profile.

As usual, a big thanks to the Executive Chef Fernando Gomez, and I’m also glad that I had an opportunity to include into the picture our tireless guide to all the culinary extravaganza – Lin Kavanagh.

Linda Kavanagh and Chef Fernando Gomez

We are done here, folks. I hope I didn’t make you too hungry. And I’m also glad that Stamford now has restaurants such as Gastro Bar, where classic perfectly mingles with innovation and creativity. Cheers!

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

Gastro Bar Stamford
78 West Park Place
Stamford, CT 06901
203-817-0392

http://www.gastrobarstamford.com

Gastro Bar on Urbanspoon

 

Do You Wine Club?

September 9, 2014 14 comments

International Wine of The Month ClubWhat do you think of the Wine Clubs? Do you belong to one, or two or five? Have you in the past? Would you recommend a wine club membership to your friends?

Yes, I know, the subject of the wine clubs was well discussed in the past, and it is hard to say something new here. However, a few months ago, I was asked if I would be interested in receiving a sample from the International Wine of the Month Club, which I accepted with the usual condition – I will write about the wines only if I like them. I tasted the wines a while back, and yes, I liked them – only now I finally found the time to write about it. But – I don’t want just to share the tasting notes and be done with it – I would like to take this opportunity to ponder at the subject of the wine clubs (beer and spirits too for that matter).

My love for the [wine] clubs started the way back, in the middle of 1990s, when I subscribed for the first time to the Beer Across America monthly club. To begin with, the club had a great story of two friends quitting their IT jobs, coming up with the concept and trying to (unsuccessfully) start the business, then literally with the last of their savings creating leaflets and going in Chicago neighborhood door to door, leaving those leaflets in the mailboxes of people in time for the holidays – and seeing the business to pick up. Every month UPS would deliver a box to my doorstep with two six packs of beer – not just any beer, but only microbrewery products, coming from all over the country. Today any wine store carries literally hundreds of selections – but this was 20 years back, and microbreweries very hard to find. Every shipment would also include information about microbrewery, about the particular beer we received, recipes  and lots more. I was definitely looking forward to those shipments – you would never know where the next beer would be coming from, and what the story might be behind it, so it was definitely fun.

I think I stayed with that club for about two years – the club changed the concept slightly at some point and went from the regular 0.33 beer bottles to the large format, 22 oz, and those started to accumulate, so I had to stop it as the whole process became somewhat boring.

Since that time I had a few other club experiences. For about year and a half, I was in the D&M Scotch club – this was great, very unique selections, but I just don’t drink enough Scotch, so it started to pile up, and I had to stop it; to be entirely honest, if I would be able to reduce the frequency of the shipments, I would still continue it. A few years back (say 6-7, to be more precise), many newspapers started their wine clubs. I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal wine club, but that experience wore off very quickly, as out of the case of wine, only 3-4 bottles would be somewhat drinkable, so paying about $180 for 4 “okay” bottles was not my idea of the bargain. I wouldn’t recommend the newspaper wine club – the selection there is simply not good.

All in all, I think all the wine clubs are different, and some of them have their place. For majority of the cases, you get a great deal of information with your wine club shipment – and I really like that. Also, for those few bottles which you will be receiving, you get two additional [oenophile-specific] benefits – you don’t need to chose anything, and you have an element of surprise with every “mystery” box you receive. As it was the case with the my sample shipment from the International Wine of the Month Club.

This club offers three different levels of membership – Premier, Masters and Collectors. The difference between the levels is in the price of wine you will be receiving – otherwise, each shipment contains 2 bottles of wine, which can be red and white, or just two reds. The sample I received contained the 2011 Bellingham The Bernard Series Small Barrel S.M.V. from the Masters series, and 2012 Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc form the Collectors series, both wines from South Africa.

2011 Bellingham The Bernard Series Small Barrel S.M.V. South Africa (14% ABV, 75% Shiraz, 22% Mourvèdre, 3% Viognier) took one day to open up. Dark, Concentrated, with raspberries and blackberries on the nose, touch of tobacco and earthiness. On the palate, the wine was firm, structured, with cherries and lavender, touch of espresso, good acidity, hint of eucalyptus and sage, well balanced. Long finish with tobacco aftertaste. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc Estate Wine, South Africa (13.5% ABV, 89% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Semillon) is produced by the famed Klein Constantia, makers of the iconic Vin de Constance, favorite wine of Napoleon. This Sauvignon Blanc had gooseberry, fresh grass and lemon on the nose, with touch of sweetness. On the palate, the wine had nice zippy acidity, lemon zest, lemon and a touch of freshly cut grass and mineral complexity. It is interesting that this wine also required a day to open up and to develop a balance – from the pop and pour, the wine a was a bit disjointed and sharp, and it became soft, balanced and cohesive on the second day. I believe this wine can age, and it would be interesting to see what would happen with in a few years. Drinkability: 8

Remember I started this post with the question? How about a simple poll – I’m just curious what you think about wine clubs, so here are two questions for you. First, just tell me if you ever belonged to the wine club:

And now, if you did (or still do), how often do you get your shipments?

So, what do you think? Is there a wine club for you out there? Oh yes, before I will forget – wine clubs make perfect gift! I heard the holidays are coming… Cheers!

Sharing the Pleasure – Two Cabernets for the #CabernetDay

August 28, 2014 9 comments

Yes, it is a #CabernetDay, and a post about Cabernet wines should be rather appropriate – but somehow, I was on the fence about it, until the AME opened up a little bit… When the wine give you lots of pleasure, why not talk about it? Well, this is how I felt anyway.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc make some of the very best wines in the world, both when they fly solo, and when assisted by the other grapes. Myriad of love letters err tasting notes, blog posts and articles had been written to those grapes and wines, and hundreds millions of dollars traded hands for the pleasure of owning and drinking the Cabernet wines. Yes, we love our Cabernet wines (even Miles didn’t dare to poop on them). Thus I will not inundate you with another ten (or fifty) interesting facts, and instead will simply share the pleasure I had drinking the wines.

The greatness of the #GrapeDay is in the fact that it helps to select the bottle to be open. It also makes it appropriate to break a special bottle, and so I did.

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

The first bottle opened was 2009 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley. What makes it special? I had only one bottle, and read some rave reviews advocating giving this wine some time – thus I was waiting for the “special occasion” (thank you #CabernetDay).

I don’t know how this works, but when I think about the wines in the terms of how I would describe them, I get some random analogies at random times. This time my brain decided to go with the athletes analogy. To give you an idea of how this wine tasted, imagine a runner, may be a sprinter – perfectly built slender body, perfectly visible muscles, everything is tightly wound and ready to spring at any moment. A perfectly looking, but minimalist body. That was the impression of this wine – restrained cassis notes, espresso, earth, plums, clean acidity, firm and perfectly structured – a great package all around. (Drinkability:8)

Neyers AME Cabernet Sauvignon

The second wine was 2005 Neyers Vineyards AME Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. What makes it special? I love Neyers wines – their 2003 Cabernet was spectacular, for instance. And I had only two bottles of the AME (I rarely buy wines by the case, so having only two bottles is rather common). I would say that this wine was special even for the Neyers – the AME constitutes first initials of the names of their 3 children – Alexandra, Michael and Elizabeth.

Going to the sports analogy, imagine the same perfectly built athlete, but make all the muscles at least 3 times bigger – still perfect body, no fat, just muscles, but much bigger frame and much bigger muscles. We are not getting to the bodybuilder sizes, but this might be Stallone rather than Schwarzenegger – I hope you got my point.

Delicious open nose of dark fruit, cassis, loads of cassis, eucalyptus, earth. On the palate – so many things happening – cassis, plums, earth, pencil shavings, dark chocolate and espresso combined, clean acidity, perfect balance, firm structure and powerful tannins – a wow wine. (Drinkability:9).

There you have it, my friends – two great wines in honor of #CabernetDay. What is in your glass? Cheers!

Wines of the World – A Sequel Challenge

August 15, 2014 4 comments

Yesterday I posted about the challenge of trying the wines from all 50 states in US and visiting wineries in those 50 states. One of the comments had a suggestion – how about the wines of the world? Really, how about it?

It is not that simple even to create the list of wine-producing countries of the world. Considering that the wine is at its peak of popularity, many countries are entering the winemaking arena. Yes, of course, there is a core of the wine-producing countries – about ten or so – but based on the data in Wikipedia (which also differs between different articles), about 60 countries produce the wines in the world today, give or take a few.

I wanted to find a good map to illustrate the wineries concentration around the world, but that didn’t happen, so here is the map of the winemaking areas according to the Wikipedia article:

Map of wine making areas in the world

Source: Wikipedia

Now, how many of you tried the wine from Algeria or Thailand (well, I know that Oliver did)? I’m sure those are not easy to find in your local wine boutique. I would argue that the typical [good] wine store in US would have the wines from about 15 countries; some of the best stores will probably account for about 20 at a time. Thus if you really want to try the wines from many different countries, you will have to make an effort.

Is that a worthwhile effort? That is strictly a personal question. I’m genuinely curious how the different wines taste like, so I’m excited to try the wines pretty much from anywhere. Should you expect to find great wines? You definitely will – I had many mind-blowing wines from Serbia, Croatia, Lebanon, Israel, Georgia and other lesser known wine-making countries. Of course you will encounter a lot of plonk along the way, that is also given.  So, should you take upon this challenge? I can’t answer that question – as I said, this is strictly driven by the personal interest, so you be the judge.

If you are curious where do you stand now, use this word document to track your progress. As a reference, I can tell you that at this point, I tasted wines from 36 different countries out of 58 listed in the document, and visited wineries in 6 (yeah, need to travel more…). What would be your score?

Below is the table showing my exact list of wines and wineries per country.Challenge yourself! Cheers!

Read more…

Are You Ready For The Reality TV Wine Drama? It Is Coming, And May The Best Bottle Win!

August 8, 2014 3 comments

best bottle reality TV series: CA versus ORDo you like wine? (Argh, with an opening question like that in the wine blog, I probably lost half of my readers on the spot)  When you look at the shiny wine bottle in the store with an artfully (or not) designed label, do you know about – better yet, can you vividly imagine – all the hard work which went into making sure that bottle will get to you and [hopefully] will also taste good? Soon, you will get a chance to get to know it first hand and almost experience it – with the help of the big TV. No, I’m not talking about the new Sideways or SOMM – I’m talking about the real winemaking drama taking place in the format of the Reality TV.

10 aspiring winemakers, two teams, two great wine regions. Lots of vineyard and winery chores. Clash of characters. And pain of elimination. Until only two contestants are left to make their best bottle of wine. Then celebrity judges will put an end to it and decide who gets the $100K and opportunity to bottle one vintage under the Best Bottle label. That’s all there is to it. Intrigued? Want to learn more? Great, as I was intrigued too and wanted to learn more when I heard about Best Bottle Reality TV competition series and its kickstarter campaign.

In an effort to learn more, I got an opportunity to interview Scott Krauger, the executive producer of the Best Bottle series – and I would like to share with you our conversation. Oh yes, before we get to the interview, here is the Best Bottle trailer, for you to get an idea of what to expect from the series:

 

And here is our Q&A:

How did you start your love affair with wine?

In 1993 I was brought on board to help develop the estate vineyard at Archery Summit Winery in Oregon. My mentors Bernard Lacroute and Gary Andrus taught me about the love of wine, showed me how wine is crafted and the terroir. I was exposed to people who had a deep love for wine-making, and through their art and style, learned to craft exceptional wine.

How the idea for Best Bottle was born?

Three years ago I was producing a documentary called Heart of the Vine which highlighted the terroir, Mother Nature, and the vineyard people who craft the wines. I wanted to show how wineries and winemakers express a wine’s location and vintage.

Why California versus Oregon?

First, this show is all about Community (yes, with a capital ‘C’)! Thus the region vs. region. My mentor, Gary Andrus, gave me a huge shot early in my career when he hired me. Gary taught me so much and Community was at the top of the list. So, Best bottle is a celebration of wine regions and those individuals who delicately craft amazing wines for the world to enjoy. Future seasons are planned to expand into a global competition by shooting future seasons in New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, and so on.

What was the selection process to select 10 “aspiring winemaker” contestants?

It really goes to the most entertaining characters with great back drop stories. They have an appreciation and love for making wine. They are artisans, aspiring or established wine makers. This show is used to showcase their skill and art on a world stage.

What makes you think that looking at the winery chores will be attractive enough for the viewers to make it a successful TV program? 

With more than 20+ years of experience in the wine industry, it really comes down to the characters we cast for the show. We have exciting episodes planned for 14 seasons. The show takes the contestant and viewers through the wine-making process…”behind the scenes”. We are also demonstrating what happens out in the vineyard and the sale side as well. This all done in an exciting competition/challenge and elimination format.

Will the show be available on YouTube, or would it be a live TV-only program? Where on TV?

We have partnered with Mance Media, our World Wide Distribution agent. They will show case and take this show to VOD and foreign markets. They are already working on establishing the domestic broadcaster and global distribution into other television markets. We’ll also have YouTube clips and other video content highlighting not only the show but supporting aspects…i.e. Interviews and additional content from tasting events at food and wine shows all over the United States.

When the first episode will be coming out?

As you know, the wine industry is dependent on the seasons. Right now we are looking at Harvest of 2014 in the northern hemisphere or Harvest 2015 in the southern.

Do you think this show will be as successful as the movie Sideways? Do you expect your show to change the dynamics of the wine consumer market, as Sideways did for Pinot Noir versus Merlot?

That’s the million dollar question and I’d love to say, “Hell yes!” I do think the show will really showcase the thousands of vineyard and winery workers, who are often the unsung heroes. Everyone remembers the winery owner, but do they even think about the men and women who harvest and process the grapes? Or the many who spend hours blending and tasting to get just the right blend? Best Bottle will open people’s eyes, minds and hearts to the entire Community (there’s that word again).

Can you tell us what wineries will be involved in California and Oregon?

Not yet. That’s still super secret Hollywood stuff. We can say we have commitments for locations, support, and participants.

* * *

Here are some additional links and information for you:

Site: WineBestBotte.com

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/595310313/best-bottle-show-for-wine-enthusiasts-and-reality

Producers: Scott Krauger, Rob Richards, Matthew Wilson, Annie Tonsiengsom, Matthew Mancinelli

Media contact: Kari Fredheim Karig@geminidigitalfilms.com

Please understand that Best Bottle series needs your support – visit the Kickstarter project page to learn about sponsorship options and use the opportunity to help to create first ever reality TV wine drama. Cheers!

 

 

Daily Glass: World Cup-Appropriate Wine

July 9, 2014 7 comments

As I didn’t have time to look for the interesting news and articles for the traditional Meritage post, I will skip it and will give you the quiz answers next week. And for today, let’s just talk about an interesting wine find.

Literally days before the World Cup started (even if you are not following the World Cup 2014, I assume you are aware of the soccer’s (it is football for the world outside of the United States) main tournament, taking place in Brazil), I got an e-mail from the Last Bottles Wine, offering the wine with the picture of the soccer ball on the label.

Leo Malbec

How appropriate, I thought, I definitely should get this wine, especially considering the price of $18 per bottle – and so I did. Not only this wine has a picture of soccer ball on the label, it is also associated with one of the best known names in the soccer today – Leo Messi, the star of the Argentinian team and one of the very best players in the world.

Same as Leo Messi, the wine hails from Argentina, and yes, it is a Malbec (star player to star grape), and it is produced by the Casa Bianchi, an excellent Argentinian winery which makes a wide range of wines, from simple everyday wines to the ultra-premium, cellar-worthy bottles. The connection between the wine and Leo Messi? Simple. As the back label says, “collaborate with the Leo Messi Foundation in long lasting commitment to building projects focused in health-care and educational developments for children with social disadvantages”.

Leo Malbec Back Label

Let’s talk about the wine – 2011 Casa Bianchi Premium Leo Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (15% ABV). It was definitely World Cup game -worthy. Dark garnet color in the glass. Beautiful nose of supple fruit, herbs and spices – a touch of eucalyptus, a bit of the dark chocolate – very promising. On the palate, the wine opened up very dense, balanced and smooth, then showing some spicy spikes as it was breathing in the glass. On the second day the wine showed more of that spicy nature, with some acidity and tannins not always dancing together. I believe it will come around in another 3-4 years, it is a bit too young at the moment to show its full potential. Drinkability: 8-

That’s all I have for you – go back to the game and wish Leo Messi all the luck – he and his team will need it. Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Canoe Restaurant in Atlanta – Great Food, And Close Encounter With The Rare Bird

June 26, 2014 6 comments

Think about your best restaurant experiences – what do they consist of? Of course the company is first and foremost – if you are in the wrong company, nothing will taste or appear right – this is given. So outside of the company, food, wine, service, views, decor, ambiance – all play a role, these are all essential factors of your great restaurant experience.

As I mentioned many times before, when traveling, I always look for the opportunity to experience new restaurants. My last trip to Atlanta, Georgia was not an exception by all means – of course I looked for a good restaurant to visit. I used Yelp as my reference source, and it worked quite well. Canoe restaurant, located in the Vinings neighborhood, was well worth the 4.5 stars yelp rating out of 626 reviews (this was the number of reviews at the time of our restaurant visit).

I read in some of the reviews that the Canoe Restaurant had a perfectly romantic appeal. It definitely had, especially considering how dark it was in the dining room (hooray to all the FlashLight apps on the smartphones, we would be left hungry without them). But on a more serious note, the restaurant is situated right by the river, with luscious greens and smart lighting making an outside look like it was a Thomas Kinkade’a painting. My photos will not do any justice to that outside setting, but I hope they will give you an idea of beauty and tranquility.

Going back to our dinner, while everybody were looking at the menus, I grabbed the wine list (what a surprise, right?). That wine list…. How can I describe it… It was probably the best wine list I ever held in my hands – there was an incredible amount of the excellent wines (that it not necessarily unique), priced in a very (did I say “very”?) appealing way. Moreover, one line in that list almost made me speechless – the rare bird was there, and it looked almost, almost – for the group of like-minded friends – affordable. Take a look below – can you spot the rare bird I’m talking about?

P1010323
I’m assuming you found it – yes, it is the Screaming Eagle. Of course $850 is an exorbitant amount of money for the bottle of wine, but considering that this wine is simply impossible to find at any price, it might not sound that bad – I have a few friends who would simply jump at such an opportunity. But I was not with those friends, so as you can imagine, I was left salivating about such a close encounter with this rare bird.

Have you ever got excited of seeing something, took a picture, and only later on, looking at the picture, noticed that there was a more to see in the object of your “excitement-driven” photograph? This was precisely my case. Only looking at. The picture I realized that the Screaming Eagle bottle was actually a second label of this cult wine, called Second Flight (it doesn’t make a difference from point of view of the opportunity of trying this rare wine). Then also noticed lots of other cult wines being present in that list, such as Harlan and many others, many at a extremely reasonable price (for example, Peter Michael Le Pavots retails for $175 – $225 on the wine list is a steal). Anyway, I think I have a great incentive to go back to Atlanta, and drag a couple of friends along.

Enough about the wines we didn’t drink, let’s talk about the wines we had. For the white, we got the 2012  Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri, Santorini, Greece – touch of minerality on the nose, white stone fruit, refreshing palate with crisp acidity and more of the white stone fruit undertones. Our choice of red was 2011 Chehalem Three Vineyards Pinot Noir from Oregon – nice smokey nose, good fresh red fruit on the palate, some raspberries and sweet cherries, good acidity and good overall balance. It was nice and easygoing wine to drink, and it complemented well most of the group’s dinner selections.

Now, let’s talk about the food. Our waiter (we had a great service, by the way) explained that the restaurant’s specialties are the game and seafood. Somehow, I felt like embracing seafood (we only scored 9 pm reservation, so it was rather a late dinner), and I didn’t regret that at all. For the started, I had an Grilled Australian Octopus (Chorizo, Peppers, Horseradish Tomato Broth) – the octopus was perfectly cooked and it was chewy just enough to preserve the texture, and very tasty overall. For the entree, I went with Bacon Wrapped George’s Bank Monkfish (Asparagus, Brioche, Grape Tomato Vinaigrette), which was absolutely delicious – perfectly cooked, the flaky fish was melting in the mouth, and the vegetables were nicely fitting in.

And then it was the time for a dessert. Our waiter, who brought the dessert menu, mentioned that restaurant’s pastry chef was a genius, so after such an endorsement I had to change my mind (I wanted to skip the dessert altogether). With the dishes such as Caramelized Goat’s Cheese Cake (Bourbon Cherries, Balsamic) or Rhubarb Crisp (Strawberry Ice Cream, Oatmeal Crunch), it was almost impossible to decide on something.  I ended up taking Popcorn Ice Cream Sundae (Canoe’s Cracker Jack), which was absolutely delicious and very unusual. Freshly made vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered popcorn and caramel sauce – this might be one of the possible spellings for “nirvana”.

P1010338
To conclude my report of the wonderful dining experience, I can only say that this was an excellent and very memorable meal, and if your travel plans will take you to Atlanta, I highly recommend you will find the time to visit the Canoe Restaurant – and you can thank me later. Cheers!

Canoe Restaurant
4199 Paces Ferry Road, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30339
(770) 432-2663

http://www.canoeatl.com/

Canoe Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pairing Life’s Happy Moments with Wine

June 13, 2014 28 comments

When you have happy moments in your life, how do you celebrate them? Of course Champagne is a choice number one for all happy events – marriage proposal, wedding, birth of the child, major promotion at work – all good causes to open a bottle of Champagne. But those are more of a major happy moments. And then there are other, smaller scale happy moments, which don’t call for major celebration but still need to be acknowledged. Like the one I had today. I passed yet another Taekwondo tip test, inching very close to becoming the 4th degree black belt candidate. 4th degree in Taekwondo is very special – this is the first black belt when the person owning it is called a “master”. No, I don’t have an amazing martial arts skills, like Bruce Lee, or Jet Lee or anyone like them. Nevertheless, I love Taekwondo, and becoming the Master is definitely a dream. And I’m one tip away from becoming a candidate for the 4th degree black belt. It is very close now.

Taekwondo Belt

So, for the simple happy moment like this, what would you pair it with, especially when your test just ended at around 9 PM? Somehow, I didn’t even think of Champagne. As I mentioned many times before, I don’t have any kind of lists for my wines, so finding the wine to drink is always fun. Especially when you are looking for the wine for the special occasion. So I went through many shelves in the wine fridge, until I saw the bottle which just clicked – this is it. 2003 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon Neyers Ranch – Conn Valley,  Napa Valley (14.5% ABV). Probably the last bottle I had. The reason this wine worked with the happy moment? Sheer exuberance. On the nose, it had beautiful dark fruit, fresh berries and the touch of barnyard. The palate was even better than the nose – lots of stuff happening, eucalyptus, herbs, sage, bell peppers, cassis, blueberries, truffles, dark chocolate, espresso – just beautiful, beautiful wine. Perfectly balanced, perfectly complementing happy moment, and becoming a happy moment on its own. (If you care to know, I would rate Drinkability at 9).

Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon

There you have it. What is your choice of wine for the happy moments in your life? Cheers!

From Family Recipes: Olivie Salad

June 12, 2014 12 comments

There are recipes. And then there are family recipes. What is the difference, you ask? Family recipes are more of a traditions. They don’t have to be secret recipes (well, let’s leave the secret recipes discussion for another time), but they are passed from a generation to generation virtually unchanged. They are treasured, and they have a lot of memories connected to them.

It just happened that for me and for my wife, as we were growing up in the same city (large one, mind you – with about 1.6M people living there), one and the same salad was a food icon. This salad, called Olivie, was probably the most popular and famous salad in Russia, or may be I’m simply biased. The origin of the salad is unclear. I was always under impression that this salad came to Russia from France – but according to many sources on Internet (well, they all might be copying from each other), the salad was created in 1860s by the Belgian Chef Lucien Olivier (hence the name of the salad), who was working in Moscow in the French-style restaurant called Hermitage. It seems that the list of ingredients supposedly in the original salad varies widely from the source to the source, and really has nothing to do with the Olivie salad as I know it. But, at this point, I think this is rather a matter of historical curiosity, and not overly important  for what we are talking about here.

The salad essentially is very simple, and has only 7 ingredients – potatoes, carrots, meat, pickles, boiled eggs, sweet peas and mayo. Of course a number of variations exists, firstly evolving around the use of different kinds of meat (bologna, boiled/roasted chicken and boiled beef are all possible options), but then some of the other ingredients sometimes can be omitted or substituted. But – once the recipe is changed, it is not the family recipe anymore, it becomes “some other recipe”. In a nutshell, here are all the ingredients of the Olivie Salad:

Deconstructed Olivie Salad
Here is the same, but zooming in on all the individual ingredients:

The family recipe is often associated with the happy moments in life, as it would be typically invoked for the special moments, whatever they are. While now we can make this salad any day (it was not always the case growing up back in Russia – some of the ingredients, like sweat peas, for instance, were very hard to find), it is still typically associated with holidays or at least special dinners of some sort (like a visit of good friends). Also, it is almost a privilege to make this special recipe – 95% of the time my wife simply doesn’t let me to make this salad, exactly as my Dad was, as I don’t always cut all the ingredients uniformly, and this is a big issue in her eyes (and I can’t argue with perfection).

In general, when I cook, I take very relaxed approach to the substitution of the ingredients, use of specific brands etc. – I believe it is totally okay to perform substitutions as needed. Except when it comes to this Olivie salad. If you want to make Olivie salad according to the Levine family recipe, no substitutions or changes are allowed, outside of what I will mention below. Don’t get me wrong – you are free to do what you want, it just not going to be the Levine family Olivie salad.

Okay, time to get to it. Below is the list of the ingredients you will need, and the instructions (very simple, mostly in pictures!) are follow. One more important note – the recipe below will yield the amount good enough to feed a small army, but this is the only way we make it, so feel free to cut it down accordingly.

Levine family Olivie Salad:

4 Medium Potatoes, whole, unpeeled (Russet, White or Idaho – don’t use Yukon gold, it will not retain the shape after it is cut)

4 Large Carrots, unpeeled

1.25 lb good bologna, whole or sliced into quarter an inch rounds (don’t use supermarket deli Bologna, go to the German or Polish specialty deli)

8 medium size pickles, use only Vlasic Whole Kosher Dills, no substitutions!

8 medium hard boiled eggs

1 large can of sweet peas (any brand :))

About 1/2 cup Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise – no substitutions!!!

Wash potatoes and carrots, don’t peel, and boil them for about 20 minutes (start timer after the water started to boil). You can check readiness with the knife – you should be able to poke through with very little resistance. You want to boil carrots and potatoes with the timer, as you don’t want them to overcook – if they do, they will lose shape once cut. Once potatoes and carrots are boiling, boil eggs for about 10 minutes. When potatoes and carrots are done, transfer them into the cold water to stop cooking process, also cool down the eggs. Get all the ingredients on the plate, and let them cool off so you will be able to handle them.

Next step – peel off and discard skin from potatoes and carrots. Peel off the shell from the eggs, then wash them and dry – you don’t want any pieces of shell in the salad. Okay, now all the prep work is finished, and all you have to do is to cut the ingredients (dice might be a better word).

Dice potatoes into about quarter of inch squares, same goes for carrots, eggs, bologna. Cut the pickles and put them in the strainer – you don’t need extra liquid in the salad. Open sweet peas, drain them completely (again, use strainer), and add them to the bowl.

At this point you need to mix everything together – tread lightly, as you don’t need a mush instead of a salad. Once you are done mixing, taste it – you looking for the balance of flavors. If you think you need more salt or acidity, add more pickles – in the end of the day, you just want to arrive to the tasty combination.

Now, the last step – you need to add mayo. This should really be done “by the taste”. Start from the small quantity, mix it, taste it, and add more if you think you need it. This salad must be served cold, so you have to put it in the fridge before you will serve it. The best thing to do is to let the salad chill, and then add more mayonnaise right before you will serve it – this way it will look and taste the freshest.

There are few possible modifications to this recipe. One is to replace bologna with chicken or beef. The trick is that to cook either one just enough that it will be ready, but not overlooked, because overlooked meat will just break down and it will not be Olivie salad anymore. You can bake or boil chicken breast (should be breast only, as you don’t need any extra fat). If you will use beef, you have to boil it – or if you will decide to roast, it will have to be well done, as you can’t have any blood in this salad.

Last modification you can make is to add a tiny amount finely finely diced white/yellow onion. My dad used to do this, and it adds a nice note to the salad in my opinion, but it is a big no-no in our house now.

There you have it – Levine family recipe Olivie salad. Feel free to comment, especially after you will try it. Cheers!

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