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For The Love Of Chowder – 2019 Edition

October 15, 2019 2 comments

Last Sunday, purveyors of the humble soup, also known as Chowder, assembled at the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, for the 12th annual festival, the Chowdafest. 29 restaurants, mostly from New England, with a notable exception of Pike’s Place restaurant out of Seattle, Washington, competed in 4 categories (New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian) – and a few thousand (“a few” here might be 2, 3, 5 – the last number I heard was 12) of people came to have a good time, and to help to identify the best chowders.

My empty ballot held in place by muffin pans – an essential tool of chowder lover at Chowdafest

Before I will inundate you with pictures, as usual, let me give you my brief personal take on the event.

For the good part, there were plenty of tasty soups to go around, and an absolute majority of the soups I tasted were quite good. There were also lots of tasty giveaways, with Natalie’s All Natural Juices as my personal favorite.

For the not so good part, the event felt really, really crowded. This was my 5th Chowdafest, and all previous years I was able to visit the absolute majority of the stands within about 2 hours. This time around, I simply gave up at some point, as the lines were just unsurmountable. I believe there were two reasons for that – first, the weather was so-so, and people didn’t have much else to do on that Sunday. Second, and more important – there was lesser number of participants in the competition, thus even the same amount of people as usual had to line up to the fewer number of stands – this year, there were 29 restaurants competing versus 37 last year, and 40 in the two years prior. My last gripe would be with scarcely decorated stands – in the prior years, there were a lot more seasonal decorations seen everywhere – this year, the decorations were quite limited.

There was a good number of vegetarian soups presented, such as Gazpacho from Rory’s in Darien. Cast Iron Soup from the Cast Iron House in New Haven rightfully won this category as it was one of the very best soups in the competition.

Shrimp and Corn Chowder from the Ribbon Cafe was one of the most creative at the Chowdafest 2019, served with a cheese wonton:

As always, the Chowdafest went way beyond just the soup – Michelle’s Pies were an excellent addition, and as I mentioned, Natalie’s Natural Juices (Beet Orange was my personal favorite) were an excellent thirst quencher.

There were also some very creative tasting approaches at the Chowdafest, such as this one:

Here you can see a glimpse of the prizes, all made by the local artist, Wendy Marciano:

Let’s talk about the winners. For the 5th year in the row, Pike’s Place out of Seattle took the 1st place in the New England Clam Chowder category. Also for the 5th year in the row, Our House Bistro from Winooski, VT took the Creative Chowder category with its Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder. Gates from New Cannan, CT won Soup/Bisque category with its Crab & Roasted Corn Bisque, and Old Post Tavern/Cast Iron Chop House from New Haven, CT won Vegetarian category with its Cast Iron Soup. You can find all the results here.

I have to say that I’m convinced that Pike’s Place wins the competition not just because they make the best soup (in my opinion, they are not), but because they also provide the best service. While this was one of the most coveted participants, Pike’s Place stand was practically the only one without a line – they were very efficient in pouring out and simply carrying around their chowder on the large trays, so it was easy for everyone to try it without the need to stand in the long line.

I guess that’s all I wanted to share with you. Before we part, I will show you my ballot which is shamefully incomplete, but this is the best I could do:

I’m already looking forward to the Chowdafest 2020 – I hope it will be the best and the tastiest and maybe not as crowded as the one this year.

For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

Blogging is all (mostly?) about traditions, isn’t it? I’m talking about topics, things or experiences we like to write about. If you blog for a while, you have a number of posts which can be called traditional, as they cover the same subject – yearly, monthly, weekly, daily? (ouch!). For sure it works this way for me – there is a number of experiences I like to talk about on the regular basis – as those experiences take place.

One of such experiences is the Chowdafest, a fall event dedicated to the humble (or not) soup, generally known as Chowder – if you want a bit of an education on what the chowder is, I can offer you the post I wrote after attending my first Chowdafest back in 2015, which provides a few details on the different types of chowders.

The 2018 event took place at around the usual time (Sunday, September 30th), at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. Even the weather was the usual – sunny, bright and not too cold. However, the summer and early fall in New England saw an incredible amount of rain, so the grounds were unusually wet and people had to be careful walking around.

As we entered, all visitors were given a ballot and a pencil, to mark down their favorites. The back side of the ballot had a map of the event, as in addition to all the competitors, there were lots of vendors (sponsors) offering other tasty treats, so one didn’t have to survive on the chowder alone. Cabot Creamery, Harney & Sons Tea, Ocean Spray, Stop & Shop, Polar Beverages, and many others were serving Mexican and Italian food, ice cream, juice, tea, coffee, sparkling water – you had a lot of fun food options beyond chowder.

 

Same as last year, there were 5 categories were participants were competing for the title of “the best” – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. The participating restaurants this year represented states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Obviously, I’m not going to give you much of a detailed report here about all the chowders I tasted, so here are my overall impressions:

  • For the 4 years that I’m attending the event, I’m happy with the overall quality and variety. It is not boring and once I get out of the food coma at the end of the event, I’m instantly happy to think about next year’s Chowdafest.
  • The overall level of booth decorations in 2018 was less than in the previous years. Many places would just have a serving station and maybe a recipe. It takes away a bit from the “Fest[ival]” experience. Hopefully, in 2019, we can go back to more festive booth settings.
  • A few vendors run out of chowder/soup in the middle of the day. I saw one just pack up and leave, and another one saying “more soup is coming in 30 minutes” – not good for visitors, and really a bad plan for competitors – you can’t win by serving only half of the visitors.
  • I’m still puzzled how Pike’s Place from Seattle always wins the New England Clam Chowder category – I think it is a combination of service – they carry their chowder around so people don’t have to wait in line, and intimidation – they display all their trophies from the past years, and people automatically think “ahh, they must be the best with so many awards” (works the same way as multiple medal pictures on the wine bottles). To me, their chowder is not bad, but for instance, I preferred the one from 250 Market far more than Pike’s Place. Oh well, the people have spoken…
  • I’m happy that at least in one category – Vegetarian – my top choice matched the people’s choice. Truffle Mushroom Bisque from Old Post Tavern in Fairfield, CT was delicious, and it won the category.
  • I’m also happy that Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder from Our House Bistro in Winooski VT took the top spot in Creative Chowder category – their soups are always good, the presentation is excellent with lots of “self-serve” condiments, and the booth is always a pleasure to look at.
  • For the first time, I saw the competition trophies. At first, I didn’t understand the collection of the old ship memorabilia in a middle of the field – until the later when I saw the plaques and realized that those were actually the trophies.
  • Believe it or not, but in the Chowdafest 2018, my favorite soup was not really a chowder at all – it was a Curried Chicken Chowder from Hale & Hearty from Boston, MA – the only soup I gave the top 10.5 rating.

Here is the list of winners in the 5 categories we mentioned before (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, Vegetarian). For the more detailed list, which includes 2nd and 3rd place winners, please use this link.

Pike Place Chowder
Our House Bistro
Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill
Dunville’s
Old Post Tavern

As usual, let me leave you with a copy of my ballot – just to prove that I take the Chowdafest competition very seriously 🙂

You can already mark your calendars for Sunday, October 6th, 2019 – the 12th annual Chowdafest competition.

Before we part, you might want to check out Chowdafest’s sister event – the Great Mac & Chili Challenge, taking place this Sunday, November 4th at 11 AM at the same Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT. The weather should be great! Cheers!

For The Love of Chowder – 2017, 10th Anniversary Edition

October 6, 2017 3 comments

Last Sunday, October 1st, we had fun. Too-much-of-a-good-food, coma-inducing fun. The 10th Annual Chowdafest was on – the biggest and the busiest of them all (well, maybe not “all”, as I attended only last 3 – but for sure the busiest of the 3).

When I saw traffic slowing down on I-95 about two miles away from our exit, I jokingly said to my wife “see, they are all coming to the Chowdafest”. As we kept driving slower and slower, eventually pretty much succumbing to a complete halt, the smile disappeared from my face. The joke was on me, as yes, this was the traffic getting into the exit of the Sherwood Island Park, and it was moving really, really slow.

Chowdafest 2017All the fears of looking for parking for a long time quickly disappeared once we managed to actually enter the park, and then to find the parking within a minute. A quick walk, getting your hand stamped and – hello, chowder!

What can I tell you about Chowdafest 2017, outside of the fact that it was a great fun? The format was somewhat the same as the last 2 years I attended – there were again 40 restaurants, competing for the “best” title. In addition to 4 of the staples – Classic New England, Traditional (Rhode Island and Manhattan), Creative and Soup/Bisque, the new category for added for the Vegetarian Chowder. Everybody had a ballot and a pencil and were rating chowders on the scale from 7 to 10.5. The ballots were processed right at the event (I saw that magic for the first time – there are few pictures for you down below), and the winners were announced two days after the event – you can see the names of the winning restaurants here.

Unlike last year, the weather was amazing. And I guess the weather, coupled with a great promotion and the 10th Anniversary nature of the event, really drove a lot of people over. Some of the lines required 10+ minutes waiting, but I really can’t complain, as everything was flowing very efficiently. Here it is, the weather and the people:

Chowdafest 2017

Chowdafest 2017

Chowdafest 2017

Chowdafest 2017

What a day!

Chowdafest 2017

Chowdafest 2017

You can’t ask for a better weather

Chowdafest 2017

Beautiful day, isn’t it?

Overall, everything offered was very solid – of course, some were better than the others, but the level was quite high – I only had 4 soups rated at 7, and 3 out of those 4 had a burned flavor. Many soups were really, really delicious. in addition to all the chowders, there were lots of other food offered for tasting – potato chips, cheeses, sodas, iced teas, juices, ice cream – there was definitely something for everyone. Here are my notes – in pictures, of course:

These are some of my favorite decorations:

Chowdafest 2017

Pouring chowder requires focus!

Chowdafest 2017

… and smile

Chowdafest 2017Now, some of my absolute favorites:

Our House Bistro from Winooski, VT – all those condiments, super-tasty:

Truffle mushroom bisque from Old Post Tavern in Fairfield, CT and traditional chowder from Two-fifty Market in Portsmouth, NH:

Here are the winners in the traditional category – Pike’s Place from Seattle, WA:

Last but not least, may be the biggest surprise of the day – vegetarian Smoked Corn & Squash Chowder from Harvest Wine Bar in Westport, CT:

Here you can see all the results getting tallied in the real time by the folks from Blum Shapiro:

Here you can see my vote (yep, with a few stains on it):

Chowdafest 2017 Final VoteComparing my thoughts with public opinion, I’m very happy to see Our House Bistro winning Creative Chowder category with Fried Seafood & Sweet Potato Chowder, and with Old Post Tavern taking top spot in the Vegetarian category with Truffle Mushroom Bisque and Harvest Wine Bar taking second place in the same category with Smoked Corn & Squash Chowder.

I can also get on board with B.R.Y.A.C taking the second spot in Classic New England Chowder category, but Pike’s Place winning that category for the 3rd year in the row simply baffles me – their chowder was overdone – super round and super creamy, it lacked the real burst of flavor of the classic New England clam chowder which both B.R.Y.A.C and Two-Fifty Market had perfectly visible. My only theory is that people get intimidated with all the medals at the Pike’s Place stand, and simply don’t want to be wrong when they think that so many people were right before.

Anyway, this one is done and we can already start thinking (and drooling) about Chowdafest 2018 – I know it is early, but still, mark your calendars for Sunday, September 30th, and see you there!

For The Love of Chowder – October 1, 2017 – Be There Or Else

September 5, 2017 Leave a comment

chowdafest logoSo the time has come to put your chowder face on … wait, is there such thing as a “chowder face”? I know there is a “game face” and a “poker face”, but “chowder face”? Okay, don’t want to make it too complicated – if you like chowder, then happy face with an ear to ear smile is all you need, as 10th annual ChowdaFest is coming up in mere 3 weeks!

On Sunday, October 1st, starting at 11 AM, at the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, 40 restaurants (click for the list) will compete for YOUR vote to become Chowda Champions! I attended two of the past competitions, in 2015 and 2016, and I can tell you from the experience – you don’t want to miss this event. Chowdafest is an incredible amount of fun, good time and good food.

This year, the participants will compete in 5 categories:

  • Classic New England Clam Chowder
  • Traditional Chowder (Rhode Island and Manhattan)
  • Creative Chowder
  • Soup/Bisque (think Lobster Bisque)
  • Vegetarian (new category for 2017!)

2017 Chowdafest will go way beyond Chowder – you will also be able to sample artisan bread and sauces, salsas and chips, farm fresh ice cream, yogurts, cheeses, and lots more.

Just to give you an idea of what was happening in the past years, here is a brief summary:

Chowdafest collage

Everybody get a spoon, a pencil, and a voting chart – you can rate all the chowders on the scale from 7.0 to 10.5, and the best restaurant in each category will be tallied up shortly after the event will end. In case you are curiuous, here you can find the list of the past winners of the Chowdafest.

That’s all I wanted to tell you, my friends. Mark your calendars, cancel whatever non-essentiall activities you had for that day, and just be there, with your family and friends, briging a good appetite and the desire to have fun. You can get your tickets on the Chowdafest website – the link is here for your convenience (note that AAA members get a good discount).

For the love of Chowder – cheers!

For the Love of Chowder – 2016 Edition

October 9, 2016 10 comments

Last Sunday I had a pleasure of attending the New England Chowdafest 2016 event at Sherwood Island Park in Westport, Connecticut. The weather forecast was really “meh”, and we had an event to attend in the evening, but remembering a successful 2015 experience, I was determined – the weather will not stop me from sampling 40 delicious chowders (and lots more), no way.

While the weather was not great, it was not terrible either – grey sky but no rain was good enough to walk around for 2 hours trying all the different chowders, soups and lots more (ice cream, cheese, or Bigelow teas). Similar to the last year, all attendees were given a spoon, a ballot with the names of all participating restaurants and asked to rate what they taste on the scale from 7 to 10.5 (0.5 increments). Juggling soup cups, pencils and the charts was somewhat challenging, but it didn’t stop anyone from voting.

This year I was a bit smarter and remembered to take a decent picture of the ballot before I placed it in the box – have to say that someone else thought of it before me, as this course of action was suggested on the ballot itself (“take a picture before depositing this ballot in the box”) so people would be able to compare their own vote with the official results.

Few fun facts about the event (taken from the summary event sent out by organizers). During 4 hours of the event:

  • Over 2,000 gallons of chowder, soup and bisque were sampled (I believe it would translate to more than 100,000 samples given)
  • Over 3,000 ice cream cones were scooped by The Farmer’s Cow and almost 30 gallons of their farm fresh chocolate and whole milk was sampled

All these numbers easily translate into the main takeaway – lots of fun at the event.

Obviously, I didn’t try to write down tasting notes, just taste, rate and move on to the next. To give you an idea about happenings at the event, let me share you with you the results of the competition, as well as the picture report from the event. In the pictures, you will see my ballot so you can compare my votes with the official results. There were a number of very tasty chowders, but to be entirely honest, my favorite soup was the cream of mushroom with black truffles – the only soup I gave the 10.5 rating. I also have to mention a number of different chowders presented by the Stop’n’Shop, local supermarket chain – as the sponsors, they couldn’t compete, but their soups were simply delicious, I’m sure they would do great if they would actually enter the competition.

Same as the last year, Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington won in the category of New England Clam Chowder. Was it really the best chowder? I don’t think so, I think people were simply intimidated by the huge medal display put out by Pike’s Place. Their chowder was good – but put out for the blind taste, I don’t think it would do equally well. Anyway, New England restaurants should prepare better for the next competition which is already announced for October 1, 2017.

Here are the results:

Classic New England Clam Chowder:
1st: Pike Place Chowder – Seattle WA
2nd: 250 Market – Portsmouth NH
3rd; Take Five Cookery – Hartford CT

Traditional Clam Chowder:
1st: Donahue’s Clam Castle (Rhode Island) – Madison CT
2nd: Dunville’s (Manhattan) – Westport CT
3rd: TIE!
Chef’s Table (Rhode Island) – Fairfield CT
Parallel Post (Manhattan) – Trumbull CT

Creative Chowder:
1st: Our House Bistro – Winooski VT
2nd: Gaffney’s – Saratoga Springs NY
3rd: Smithsonian Cafe & Chowder House – North Hampton MA

Soup/Bisque:
1st: Crab Shell – Stamford CT
2nd: Old Post Tavern – Fairfield CT
3rd: Sam’s American Bistro – Stamford CT

Congratulations to all the winners!

Now I will leave you with pictures (lots of them!) from the event. And next year, make sure to add it to your busy schedule – the event will be definitely worth your time. Cheers!

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One side of the ballot served as a directory

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And another side was an actual ballot with instructions – empty at the moment

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This would give you an idea of the weather – no sun, but still nice

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tasting cups with  are getting ready to be carried around (most times, you had to wait in line, but few participants provided this extra touch

Tasting cups with are getting ready to be carried around (most times, you had to wait in line, but few participants provided this extra touch

Love the way some of the stands were decorated:

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Even with the tasting cups, some of the presentations were clearly a standout:

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This was the top creative chowder winner from Our House Bistro in Vermont – delicious!

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Lots of restaurants offered their recipes/ingredient lists right there:

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The recipe was very intriguing, but in my tasting cups was literally only liquid, no rattlesnake, no turkey – they really have to try better next time

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img_4602Not only their showders won, but their stand desings were a standout –

Our House Bistro from Vermont:

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img_4618and Pike’s Place from Seattle, Washington:

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see what I mean by intimidation? When people see this array of medals, can they not vote for them?

See what I mean by intimidation? When people see this array of medals, can they not vote for them?

Yes, there was more than just chowder there:

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img_4651I’m done with my barrage of pictures – almost. Here is the ballot with my vote:

img_4641Make sure to mark October 1st, 2017 in your calendars as a fun day. Enjoy your chowder!

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For The Love of Chowder

October 13, 2015 19 comments
Definition of “Chowder” according to Google:
chow·der
ˈCHoudər/
noun
noun: chowder; plural noun: chowders
  1. a rich soup typically containing fish, clams, or corn with potatoes and onions

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

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

Blue skies at the Chowder Fest

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

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

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

ChowderFest Ballot

[bad] picture of my ballot

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

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

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

Wine Lover Geeking Out: Pairing Soup and Wine

January 7, 2022 Leave a comment

Finally, the snow was coming. Cold weather can be perfectly paired with the soup. So this was an easy equation to solve – snow means soup.

New England Clam Chowder is one of my all-time favorite soups. I’m generally happy with restaurant versions, but I have a recipe that is much lighter than a typical restaurant version, as it uses half and half instead of heavy cream. One day I might be able to share that recipe, but as this is not my recipe, I would need first to get permission. I can tell you that the main ingredients there are bacon, potatoes, celery, and good quality clams (so far I find that ocean clams are the best). And half and half as I mentioned before.

In the morning, I realized that I’m not sure what wine I should pair with this soup, and I decided to ask the wine folks on the twitter for a recommendation. This turned out into a fun conversation. Here are the recommendations I received (I will try not to miss any, but I can’t guarantee):

  • lightly oaked, moderate-climate Chardonnay
  • Austrian Gruner
  • Siegerrebe, Pinot Blanc, and Chenin Blanc (from South Africa or Loire)
  • Riesling or Pinot Blanc / Gris from Alsace
  • Brut Sparkling
  • Viognier (I missed this recommendation when it was originally sent)
  • Ribolla Gialla, perhaps even a skin-contact (e.g. Gravner)
  • Godello
  • Manzanilla

Not a bad list, isn’t it?

My goal was to use what I have on hand and not to go to the store. This eliminated Austrian Gruner, Siegerrebe (had to use Google to learn about this obscure grape), Pinot Blanc, anything from Alsace, Ribolla Gialla, and especially Ribolla Gialla with skin contact (I wish I had a bottle of Gravner), Viognier, Godello, and Manzanilla. So the only 2 options I had from this list were lightly oaked Chardonnay and sparkling Brut. After careful consideration, I realized that I probably don’t have lightly oaked Chardonnay on hand either. And I didn’t feel like opening Champagne – besides, Champagne perfectly pairs with everything anyway, so this would not be a fun exercise anyway.

Then I realized that I have a few samples of Portuguese wines, as well as a few Sherries – this was enough to experiment, which is exactly what I did.

These are the wines I tried with the soup:

2020 Esporão Branco Colheita Alentejo (Antão Vaz, Viosinho, Alvarinho, 4 months on the lees) – didn’t work. Creamy and round wine clashed with the soup.
2020 Esporão Branco Reserva Alentejo (Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro, six months in stainless steel tanks and in new American and French oak barrels) – it worked! The pairing was complementary, probably because the wine had a good amount of clean acidity, and so it was the most food-friendly by definition.
2018 Esporão Tinto Colheita Alentejo (Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Franca, 6 months in concrete tanks) -trying this wine with the soup was a mistake – can I leave it at that?
Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso – I had big expectations for this pairing, and it didn’t work. The combination was not bad – the wine and the soup simply stayed in their own worlds without impacting each other.
González Byass Solera 1847 Cream Dulce – big mistake. That sweetness of the wine just didn’t go well with the soup.

Here is my report on this simple experiment. I might try a few more combinations tomorrow and will update the post if I will encounter something exciting.

What would you pair a clam chowder with? What do you think of pairing soup and wine in general – does that even makes sense?

A Few Days In Seattle

May 23, 2022 5 comments

You know how you can look at something but not see it? Or think that you know something but really not knowing it at all?

I’m sure I don’t make much sense, but let me try explaining it better. I had been visiting Seattle for many years now, considering that Seattle had been a high-tech hub for ages. Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, space needle, Pike’s Place. So in my mind, I was sure that I was well familiar with Seattle and all it has to offer to the visitors. I knew that in Pike’s Place there is a famous Russian-style eatery, Piroshky Piroshky, and that Pike’s Place Chowder, the winner of all of the New England Chowdafest competitions is also coming from Seattle. But turns out that lots of it was the knowledge, but not the experience. I knew that these places exist, but I actually never experienced them firsthand.

Until now.

I visited Seattle to attend a conference. That conference was actually supposed to take place 2 years ago, but as you are all acutely aware that happened to be the time that never was… The event was hosted by Amazon at their downtown offices, thus I guess for the first time I actually stayed in downtown Seattle and had a little bit of time to explore the city – and gain firsthand experience.

A picture worth a thousand words. So below you will see many, many thousands of words – in the form of the pictures of downtown, Pike’s Place, and the seaside.


















The original Starbucks at Pike’s Place

 

Now, a few more words about the food experiences.

Piroshky Piroshky had been around for 30 years, and it is definitely one of the staples of the Pike’s Place market, always adorned with a line of hungry guests. I was lucky as I walked up to the door because for some reason there was literally no line – or I simply was a jerk and cut people off without knowing. Either way, I tried two Piroshky, one with salmon, and one with beef and onion (the selection there is quite substantial, including sweets and vegan concoctions, but all the Piroshky are rather large, so there is a limit to how many you can have). Both were tasty, but I wouldn’t say that I was blown away. I would be happy to try them again but it is not something I would crave.

After trying to walk off all some of the calories of Piroshky I came across the Pike’s Place Chowder. I had an image of a nice-looking restaurant in my head, as Pike’s Place Chowder always competed in Chowdafest against actual restaurants – but the place was rather a “hole in the wall” style. Well, “hole in the wall” is synonymous with tasty food more often than not.

I never thought of it, but walking around Pike’s Place and looking at what is offered in all of the numerous eateries I was surprised by the similarities of the food offerings with what I would find on a typical visit to Newport or on Cape Cod, the quintessential New England – fried seafood of all sorts, fried oysters, clams, shrimp, scallops, fish, and yada yada yada. So the coast is a coast, whether the east or the west. Taking this revelation into account, it is not surprising that New England clam chowder was offered pretty much everywhere – and of course, it shouldn’t be surprising that Pike’s Place Chowder can successfully compete at the Chowdafest in New England.

 

Let’s go back to the Pike’s Place Chowder. The eatery also offers a full variety of seafood, fried and not. But as their menu boasts 8 or so different types of chowders, that is what I was interested in trying. Luckily, the restaurant offers sample packs, so I went for the 4 samples pack, as I was by myself and there is a limit to the amount of New England clam chowder one can consume (especially when two Pirozhki are still occupying the majority of the available stomach space). Another option was 8 samples pack, but that would be a waste of money and food. I decided to get New England clam chowder, Smoked Salmon chowder, Seared Clams chowder, and Market chowder (whatever the chef feels like on a given day). I got the sample pack to go for two reasons – there was absolutely no space to sit, and I still needed to lose at least 5–10 calories, so a walk to the hotel, albeit short, seemed like a good idea.

Remembering my Chowdafest experiences, Pike’s Place Chowder was never my top favorite, and nevertheless, for many years that I attended the Chowdafest, they have always won the New England Clam Chowder category. I only have two explanations for that phenomenon. Factor 1 – intimidation. They always bring a full display of medals to the competition, and when people see it, they are instantly inclined not to argue with success. I’m absolutely positive that same as with the wine if the tasting would be done blind, the results would be totally different. Factor 2 – customer service. At the Chowdafest, there is always a long line to each vendor’s stand. Pike’s Place always brings enough people to be able to carry their chowders around so the people wouldn’t have to wait in line.

See, I got really on a tangent here. As I got to my hotel room and took a first sip of the classic New England clam chowder, my first thought was “it’s okay, but this is not great” – hence the reminiscence on the subject of the Chowdafest. I can name a bunch of clam chowders (including the one which I make – yep, I have the nerve, I know) which I would unquestionably prefer – Grand Central Oyster’s Bar, Rory’s (a local restaurant in Darien, CT, always serving chowder with a tiny bottle of Sherry), and I’m sure many others. All four chowders were fun to try, with Seared Scallop chowder being my favorite. However same as with Piroshky Piroshky, I can eat it again, but that wouldn’t be something I would crave.

Now, to complete my culinary escapades in Seattle, here is one more, now truly unique experience.

I love the concept of “food in season”. Don’t get me wrong – I need my blueberries 365 days a year, whether they are grown locally in Maine or in Chile or Peru. But if you ever being to the “foodie heavens” in Europe – France, Switzerland, and the likes – there are always products which are only available for a short time – as, for example, white asparagus in Geneva which you can find on the restaurants’ menu only for about 3 weeks in the spring.

I never heard of Copper River Salmon before. Copper River is located in Alaska, and the salmon which is caught there is usually available in its fresh form only for a very short time in the spring, from mid-May through June. Copper River salmon is usually equated to the best Japanese marbled beef in its exquisite, luxurious flavor profile. Pier 66 Anthony’s seafood restaurant had just received their shipment of the Copper River Salmon two days prior to our visit, and it was on the dinner menu. We happened to dine at that restaurant on the last night in Seattle, so it was impossible to avoid such a rare treat.

Was that the best piece of salmon I ever had? Probably. It was soft, fluffy, airy, and full of flavor. This is probably something I would crave, and this is definitely the experience to remember. If anything, you should remember the name – Copper River Salmon – just in case the opportunity would present itself.

That’s my account of the few days in Seattle – well worth a visit even without taking the wine into account. But if you like wine like me, the visit to Seattle might be something you should simply crave. Why? I will tell you all about it in the next post…

Wednesday’s Meritage #146

September 9, 2020 6 comments

Meritage Time!

First, I’m sure I have some explaining to do – all of a sudden here is Meritage #146, while you can’t find #1, #50, or #145. I know I had not been contributing on the regular basis to this blog, and I would like to see how I can change that. Meritage posts were always an aggregation (Meritage) of interesting wine and food news, which were published on Wednesdays, hence the title. I counted all the Meritage posts in this blog during the 10+ years and found out that there were 145 of them published before. Previously, I would give you the synopsis of the post right in the title – going forward, I will substitute that with simply a number. Hope I managed to explain my logic, so now let’s proceed with the news.

Let’s start with some interesting developments in the world of Spanish wines. Classification of the Spanish wines appears to be simple – most of the wines are designated under a certain DO, which stands for Denominación de Origen, and then there are few other categories, such as the highest quality category in Rioja and Priorat, which are interesting enough are written differently but signify the same – it is DOCa for Rioja (Denominación de Origen Calificada) and DOQ (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada) in Priorat. Then you also have Vino de Pago, which signifies a single vineyard and a few other categories. It appears, however, that the simplicity is somewhat crumbling and more classifications had been sought to address different quality levels in Spanish wines. For example, you now have Corpinnat in Penedes, designating Cava made with organic grapes plus few other restrictions, or Vino de Villa and Vino de Paraje classifications which just had been launched in DO Bierzo. If you want to learn more, I would like to offer you this article on the Guild of Sommeliers website – it is definitely technical but well worth the effort of understanding the latest dynamics in the world of Spanish wines.

Ever heard of Tour de France, probably the greatest annual cycling race in existence? I’m sure you have, and if you need any technical details about the 2020 race, you can find it here. Many wine writers use this event simply as a canvas to talk about French wines from all the different regions, as cyclists race through them in the quest for glory. I want to offer you two of the Tour de France wine tours – one which is covering the whole race in one sitting, and another wine which is a series of posts. I don’t know if you are a cycling fan or not, but this is definitely an interesting way of exploring the world of French wines.

The year 2020 is absolutely unique in thousands of ways. Not for the things which happened during 2020, but maybe even to a larger extent, for the things which didn’t happen. Chowdafest 2020 would be one of such “things”. Chowdafest is one of my favorite culinary events in New England, usually taking place at the beginning of October, where thousands of Chowder lovers get together to taste and rate a large offering of the hearty soups, also known as “chowder”. With all of the fun of 2020, getting about 20,000 people together on the beach for a few hours doesn’t sound like a smart idea. But – it doesn’t mean that chowder lovers have to be deprived of their favorite treat. How? Easy. Please meet the brand new initiative of the Chowdafest – the Chowder Club. You can join the club for only $10 (not per month, just a one time $10). 24 restaurants in the program will supply their original chowder recipes and a professional chef will prepare them. You will have an opportunity to buy two different types of Chowder every month, at the $20 per quart of the chowder – if you don’t like the particular offering, you don’t have to buy anything. Initially, the chowders will be shipped only within the New England, but hopefully, they will expand nationwide. Make sure to read the FAQ section on the Chowder Club’s website as it provides additional information to what is listed on the Join Club page. I already signed up, so now I will have an opportunity to write about chowders 12 times a year instead of only once :).

Whatever happens, is for the better, right? Not always, yes – but sometimes it works. I wanted to get this post out last week, but that didn’t happen. On the flip side, however, I got a notification about the first Chowda Club offering, which will consist of two soups that won the Chowdafest in their respective categories for 5 years in the row – Pike’s Place from Seattle with its Classic New England Chowder and Our House Bistro from Winooski in Vermont with their Drunken Pumpkin Seafood Chowder. At the moment these chowders can be shipped only within New England – if you want to get yours, all the details can be found here – but hurry up, you can only order your chowder until September 18th.

One last news, more of a local kind – about this blog. Yesterday, I got a totally unexpected email from Corked Wines in the UK, informing me that I made it to their Top 101 wine writers list of 2020, and thus I can proudly display this logo:

I’m very humbled by this honor, but I wouldn’t lie to you, it was definitely a pleasant surprise. In case you would like to see the full list of awardees, you can find it here.

That’s all I have for you today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

 

Why You Don’t Want To Miss Chowdafest 2019

September 25, 2019 Leave a comment

Really, why would you want to miss the Chowdafest 2019? If you like chowder or any form of nice, hearty soup – and note, it can be vegetarian soup as well – you can’t have an excuse good enough to miss the 12th annual Chowdafest festivities on October 6, 2019, taking place at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, from 11 AM until 3 PM.

I attended Chowdafest for the past 5 years, and when I’m suggesting that attending the event is well worth the effort of rearranging your Sunday around it, I’m simply speaking from experience (take a look my reports from past Chowdafests here). Chowdafest is a lot of fun – it is not only soups and chowders but lots of samples of cheese, bread, sauces, juices, tea, coffee, ice cream, and more. It is literally fun for all ages (yes, you want to teach your kids what tasty food is from an early age).

Chowdafest 2017

One of my very favorite creative chowders – and a winning one!

At the Chowdafest 2019, 30 restaurants will be competing for the titles in the 4 categories – New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. Half of the 30 competing restaurants will be participating for the first time, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying new soups such as Mexican style Shrimp Posole Soup, or Buffalo Chicken Noodle Soup. But probably the main question is – will Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington, win the classic New England Clam Chowder category for the 5th year in the row? Well, you will need to be there to see it and be a part of it.

I hope I solved for you the problem “What to do on Sunday, October 6th”. See you at the Chowdafest!

 

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