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Art and Science of a Perfect Cup of Coffee

November 3, 2017 4 comments

Shearwater Coffee BarPlease close your eyes. Oops, no, not for real – please keep your eyes open to read, but do it at least in your mind. Imagine the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee – the unique smell in the air which nothing else can compare to. Sometimes that is the smell of a new day. Sometimes, it is a quiet moment in the afternoon. Sometimes, it is winding down the evening. Was this hard to imagine, even if you didn’t close your eyes? If you love coffee, I would bet that was a very easy exercise. And I hope you do love it, as coffee is what I want to talk about today.

I love comparing coffee with wine. Similar to the wine, coffee has a dependency on its area of origin. Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Costa Rica, Ethiopia – each region imparts its own unique tasting profile. Similar to the wine, sustainability, and coffee growing process matter. Similar to the wine grapes, the best coffee is harvested by hand. Similar to the wine grapes, the coffee beans are sorted to achieve the best quality and consistency. Most importantly – similar to the perfect glass of wine, a perfect cup of coffee delivers lots and lots of pleasure.

Notice how I went from coffee bean growing to the coffee cup, skipping a few steps in between? Those few steps are what differentiates coffee from wine, making coffee ultimately a more complicated subject. Before you jump off a chair and click away, as the writer here clearly a lunatic, please allow me to explain.

Once the good quality grapes are obtained, they are pressed, fermented, aged, and finally, bottled. The bottle is the final form in which wine will reach you, the consumer. Now, to enjoy the glass of wine, all you need to do is to pop that cork (twist the screw top, if you insist), pour the liquid into the glass and voilà! Yes, there are few extra steps and hurdles which oenophiles happily enact for themselves to enjoy the wine “more better”, but really – unless someone does something really stupid, like leaving a wine bottle for a day in a hot car, the good wine in the bottle will easily translate to the good wine in the glass.

The things are different when it comes to the coffee. The final product of the coffee grower is dried green beans. Before coffee can be enjoyed, it has to be roasted and brewed. Roasting typically takes about 20 minutes, and those 20 minutes can either create a thing of beauty or an awful, terrible concoction which one can drink, but never able to enjoy. Brewing also offers multiple opportunities to convert those beautifully roasted, full of promise and anticipation beans into a dull or simply bad tasting brown liquid.

The process of coffee brewing is where the aromatics and flavors are transferred from the roasted beans to the water, which results in your final object of desire, a perfect cup. Before brewing, coffee beans have to be ground. The way coffee will be ground depends on what type of coffee would you like to drink – espresso requires the very fine grind, so higher flavor concentration can be achieved. For so-called “drip coffee”, the coffee particles are typically very coarse, as water is not pushed through the coffee with the high pressure, as it is done for the espresso. Now, let’s leave espresso aside and talk about the “drip coffee”, the one which we consume most often.

It turns out that there are many factors which are matter here, on the way to arriving at that perfect cup – temperature of the water (to the single degree of Fahrenheit!), the ratio of water to the coffee and the speed of extraction (how long the water will stay in contact with the coffee grinds). Just for you to understand: the ideal coffee brewing temperature is 201°F – and 203°F will result in the burnt taste! You need to maintain the ratio of water to coffee at 15.5 to 1 (15.5 grams of water per 1 gram of coffee). And you need to spend about 4 minutes making that perfect cup. How about it? Will you ever look at your morning coffee cup the same way again, after I shared with you all this information? Well, didn’t mean to scare you, honestly – all you need to do is just to taste the difference.

A couple of years ago I talked about a visit to the Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters, the organic coffee artisans in Trumbull, Connecticut, where we learned about intricacies of the proper treatment of the fresh coffee beans from Ed Freedman, the owner of the company (here you can read about that experience). This year, Ed decided to deliver a full [proper] coffee experience to the people by opening Shearwater Coffee Bar in Fairfield in Connecticut. I had an opportunity to visit it few month ago and get exposed to the science and art of a perfect coffee cup.

Shearwater Coffee Bar

Shearwater Coffee Bar

Shearwater Coffee Bar

Shearwater Coffee Bar

Jason The Barista is ready for action

Shearwater Coffee Bar

The choice is yours

If the words “coffee bar” elicit an image of Starbucks in your head, shun that away please, as the Shearwater Coffee Bar is nothing like. Similar to the regular bar we are all used to, you can sit in front of the barista, have a conversation and watch as your beverage of choice is unhurriedly prepared in front of you. Unlike a typical bar, you sit comfortably on the normal height chairs, not on the “bar stools” which are not so much fun to get on and off. But if you ever observed a cocktail master who produced a drink which made you say “wow”, this coffee bar delivers exactly the same experience.

Shearwater Coffee Bar

Shearwater Coffee Bar

Shearwater Coffee Bar

Shearwater Coffee Bar

At Shearwater Coffee Bar, you have a choice of coffee to begin with – different origins, different roasts. Then you can choose your method – Pour Over, Chemex, Siphon – of course,  espresso and cappuccino are available too if that is something you want.

Once you decide on what you want, the magic begins with the grinding of the coffee beans and then putting the glass vessel on the scale. The coffee goes in, the water is dispensed at the exact temperature (201°F, remember?), and then poured over (if you asked for Chemex or Pour Over), while the barista is carefully watching the scale. A few (4!) minutes later, the magic is complete and coffee goes into your cup – can you smell the aroma?

We tried Pour Over and Chemex coffees – the were some slight variations but I wouldn’t dare to try to give you any differentiating descriptors. Jason, our barista, also attempted to make a siphon coffee (this technology actually comes from Japan, where the fine art of coffee is well recognized). In the siphon method, the water is heated from the bottom, and once it reaches a proper boiling point (which is not truly “boiling” temperature), it should slowly percolate up and travel slowly through the coffee to gently extract the flavor. Something went wrong, the water went through too fast, and Jason refused to pour us that “bad” coffee. Well, this is why we are talking about art here – and if the artist is not happy with creation, it goes down the drain.

The creativity at Shearwater Coffee Bar doesn’t stop here. First, you have the cold brew. The cold brew is when coffee is made without heating up the water. It takes about 18 hours to make coffee using cold brew method – but the resulting coffee is much less acidic compared to the standard coffee cup, thus people who can’t drink regular coffee because it is too acidic for them can perfectly enjoy the cup of the cold brew.

Now, let’s add a little bit of nitrogen (yep, you heard me right) to the mix, and you got … the Nitro! Do you like Guinness beer? If you do, then Nitro is your drink, as it is a coffee which looks like beer with a perfect thick foam on top, tastes like beer (yes, it makes you say “ahh” after a sip) – but has no alcohol in it, so you are really not limited in how many Nitro you can consume before driving back home.

So what is your take on a perfect coffee cup? If you are looking beyond just a punch of caffeine and a bite of a pronouncedly bitter taste, then you should really seek the art and indulgence of a delicious drink, taking as much of the pleasure as it can offer. Don’t take my word for it – visit Shearwater Coffee Bar and see taste for yourself. Cheers!

Shearwater Coffee Bar
1215 Post Road
Fairfield, CT 06824
https://www.facebook.com/ShearwaterCoffeeBar

Ph: (203) 955-1098

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

October 6, 2017 2 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!

Guest Post: 5 Wonderful Reasons Why Should Go a Culinary and Wine Vacation for Your Next Travel Getaway

September 7, 2017 2 comments

Today I want to offer to your attention a guest post by Lystia Putranto,  a personal & professional development blogger for BookCulinaryVacations.com. Lystia is a lover of travel, a self-professed foodie, and an amateur cook who admittedly spends way too much time surfing the web.

As the last quarter of the year is around the corner, many of us are taking advantage of this time to plan our next great adventure. If you happen to be a food and wine lover and you’re on the hunt for travel ideas, there’s no better way to indulge in your passions than by going on a culinary and wine focused vacation!

For starters, did you know that by 2015, 77% of leisure travelers can already be classified as culinary travelers? This trend has continued to rise and is predicted to rise even higher in the coming year. So, if you have yet to join in this exciting (and not to mention delectable) bandwagon, it’s about time that you do so.

As a lover of travel, food, and wine, I can personally attest that there’s much to gain and experience through this unique type of holidays. But if you’re not yet convinced, on this post, I’m sharing with you five of the many wonderful reasons why you should sign up for a culinary vacation too:

1.      You’ll Discover New & Exciting Flavors

In order to truly make the most of our travels, keep in mind that we can only grow and enrich our lives by doing something we have yet to try. So instead of setting yourself up for yet another touristy sight-seeing trip, why not try (and taste) something different for a change?

With a new destination comes plenty of delicious local eats & drinks. Through culinary holidays, you’ll get an amazing opportunity to explore a variety of new and exciting flavors through its delicacies and locally produced beverages – and yes, in many sought after destinations such as France, South Africa, Chile, and California, this certainly includes a whole lot of wine!

As you already know, food is almost always much more delicious and authentic when we enjoy it in the country or place of origin. You’d also be interested to know that some local dishes and ingredients are extremely rare and would not be easily found anywhere else in the world so this the time to take full advantage of it.

2.      You’ll Expand Your Knowledge

Looking to deepen your culinary and/or wine knowledge? During a wine vacation, for example, you won’t only be tasting the various wine that the winery produces, you’ll get to learn all about wine far beyond what you would learn in a wine tasting event such as how to harvest grapes as well as the steps of the entire wine production right up to its bottling process.

3.      You’ll Learn How to Prepare Authentic Delicacies

Image credit: Alila Manggis Bali

What makes culinary vacations stand out from the usual “run-of-the-mill” vacations or food tours is that you also get the opportunity to prepare them from scratch yourself! This way, you can learn to recreate them back home. That is the simple yet powerful beauty of a hands-on cooking experience.

As a self-professed foodie, I adore all type of cuisines – but I must admit that Thai food is amongst my top 3 favorites. So, on my last trip to Thailand, I decided to sign up for a cooking class in Bangkok to learn how to prepare authentic Thai dishes such as Tom Yum Goong and Pad Thai.

In the end, not only did I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, thanks to the warm guidance of the school’s professional instructors, I was also genuinely impressed how fun and easy it all was!

As an added bonus, some cooking vacations may include visits to the local markets where you get to purchase the ingredients for your meal or even pick your own fresh produce straight from their own farm. In this case, it’s not uncommon that everything you make is farm-to-table ready, making your holiday that much more special.

4.      You’ll Make New Friends

Image credit: Porto Club Travel Services

Whether you prefer traveling solo, with a partner or in a group, through a cooking vacation, you are bound to meet plenty of new people. This includes both locals as well as other travelers from all corners of the globe. This is your chance to cultivate a better understanding of the diverse culture and languages of the world. Who knows? Perhaps some of the people you meet on your trip may just end up becoming (new) lifelong friends!

5.      You’ll Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture

Image credit: Cris Puscas

They say that travel is the only thing that one can buy that makes us richer. I personally believe this to be true. It allows us to learn more about what our beautiful world has to offer. And there’s no better group of people that will be able to teach us a destination’s local culture than the locals themselves.

Culinary travel allows you to center your trip on cultural immersion – meeting the locals, sampling local cuisines and beverages, and indulging yourself in the local ways of life. It’s an experience that will not only tantalize your taste buds but also one that will open your eyes and mind to a whole new perspective of seeing the world.

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!

Restaurant Files: Unbound Creativity at Killer B in Norwalk, Connecticut

June 5, 2017 9 comments

Killer B SoNoIf you don’t love bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon, this post is not for you. If you love bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon, but you are hungry – I can’t say this post is not for you, but I highly suggest you will go eat before continuing reading. For the rest of you, folks, let’s have some bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon fun!

More often than not, it is easy to categorize a restaurant. “Fine dining” would easily invoke an image of the white tablecloth with perfectly arranged plates and silverware, and the waitstaff enamored with the bowties. “Burger joint” would bring you an image of maybe the ketchup bottles and simple wooden tables and chairs, and, of course, lots of burgers on the menu. “Bistro” would probably not have a strong mental image associated with the category, but it means “easy and fun place”, for sure to me.

When it comes to Killer B in Norwalk, Connecticut, it is not easy to place it into a specific category. Okay, for sure this is not fine dining establishment, it is not snuffed up like that, and you will definitely feel that when the check will arrive. But it is not a burger joint either  – I feel we need a new category – maybe a “burger bistro”, just to signify that Killer B is simply a place where creativity is unbound. And by the way, the “B” actually stands for “bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon”.

Talking about creative, let’s start with the drinks. Killer B offers a number of interesting cocktails. But maybe “interesting” is just not the right word. Two of the cocktails on the list get smoked right in front of your eyes – right at the table. A small glass box arrives together with your cocktail, the pipe with aromatic chips is lit, and the smoke fills up the box. And you are witnessing all the magic.

I tried a few cocktails – Bourbon Mule (knob creek rye, lime juice, ginger beer) was tasty, not too sweet and with the good balance. Bite The Bulleit (Bulleit bourbon, house made ghost pepper honey, lime juice, orange juice, muddled jalapeños, topped with red bull, maple smoked right at your table) was very good, but not as spicy as I would expect,  seeing the “ghost pepper” to be a part of the ingredients. But the smoke was there, so the cocktail was definitely a treat. Smokin’ B (Jim Beam black bourbon, bittermilk smoked honey sour aromatic bitters, strained over an ice sphere, garnished with a toasted orange slice, smoked right at your table) was, well, smokey, and yes, tasty too, nicely balanced and very cool to look at.

Then the Bacon Flight (flavors: bourbon, butterscotch, fire, honey, orange) arrived, and this is when I realize how the real adult candy should taste like. Thick cut, perfectly crispy, and with tons of flavor – this bacon disappeared in the blink of an eye. Seriously, that bacon was simply something else – if you would have an opportunity, bacon at Killer B is a must experience.

What arrived next was simply amazing – Lazy Man Lobster Mac (3 lbs of lobster, Monterey jack,  cheddar,  served in a lobster shell) – can’t be described using any words other than “super-creative” – and whole lobster shell, filled with mac and cheese and lobster – just wow.

Time for a salad, right? First, we had the Wedge Salad (boston lettuce, diced tomatoes, red onions, bleu cheese crumbles, creamy bleu cheese dressing and signature bacon), fresh and crunchy. The Cheeseburger Salad (mixed greens, burger, tomato, onion, pickles, American cheese, creamy bacon bourbon dressing) – was one of one of the “wow” moments for me – how many times you really wanted the burger but not the bun? Here it is – a salad which tastes like fully composed burger (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles), but without the bun! Another simple, but the wildly creative dish, if you ask me.

We continued with Volcano Potatoes (bacon-wrapped baked potato, onion, sriracha, honey, oozing melted cheese) – very tasty and again, creative – just look at the color of that dish. Beer Cheese & Bacon Nachos (house made potato chips, beer cheese, bacon, salsa fresca, black olives, sour cream) were simply dangerous  – nobody could stop eating this dish until the last tiny morsel disappeared! Bacon-wrapped Fried Mozz (fried bacon wrapped mozzarella, bourbon bacon sauce) was another delicious concoction – who can say no to bacon and melted cheese?

Then we had Bacon Cast Iron Mac and Cheese (candied bourbon bacon, bacon, more bacon) which I’m not sure I can properly represent (I mean how good it was), so let me explain it to you this way. I brought the leftovers of this dish home. My daughter loves mac and cheese (who doesn’t?), but she doesn’t like bacon. As the leftovers didn’t have any visual bacon presence, I decided not to tell her and see her reaction. She starts eating, she is clearly happy, then she turns her head to me and says “it has bacon, right?”. “Yep” was my short answer. She continues “it’s soooo good!”. So yep, that’s how good this mac and cheese was.

Mac'n'Cheese at Killer B

Now, we finally arrived at the burgers! We had an opportunity to try 3 different burgers, each with its own unique presentation and its own taste profile.

Killer B (double-decker pork patty & beef patty seasoned with bourbon & Guinness bourbon candied bacon, LTOP, bourbon bacon mayo, between two bacon grilled cheese sandwiches) was a bit scary to look at – so it definitely accomplished its purpose of bringing a “wow” to the table. But beyond the looks, each component was tasty, by itself and together. The Stinger (jalapeño patty, pepper jack, lettuce, chipotle mayo, jalapeños, sriracha, spicy bacon, chili flake bun) was not too spicy, but what I really enjoyed is the fact that you could taste jalapeño everywhere – so if you like jalapeño, this would be unbeatable. Country Style (open faced, Lettuce Tomato, BBQ sauce, black bean corn salsa, onion rings, corn bread) was also unique, sporting some of the very best onion rings I ever had – crispy and crunchy, overall – an excellent burger.

Killer B Burger

The Stinger Burger at Killer B

Country Style Burger at Killer B Now, I have two questions for you (hoping you are still reading). First, do you think we left without trying the dessert? Second, do you think our dessert didn’t contain any bacon?

No and No!

Our first dessert was Coconut Peanut Butter & Double Trouble Milkshake, which was outstanding, fun to look at, tasty and perfect for sharing. And then (drumroll, please) we had Fried Oreo Cookies with … bacon! Yep, inside of each little roll of goodness, yes, there it was, a bacon. Clear, wild standout – a great finish to the great experience.

There you have it, my friends. I hope you successfully survived this bacon and burger juggernaut, and maybe I even made you crave some. If you are ever in a proximity of Killer B (I use “proximity” loosely here – when you crave something, distance shortens greatly), don’t miss your chance for an unforgettable bacon, burger, beer and bourbon experience. Cheers!

Killer B
80 Washington Street
Norwalk, CT 06854
Ph: 203.853.2326
http://www.killerbsono.com

 

Killer B Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Travel Diaries: Beautiful Prague

May 15, 2017 8 comments

For the first time I visited Prague in 1990 (if memory serves me right, of course). I have some scarce memories of that trip – Charles Bridge, Clock Tower, Gothic architecture and a street the food in form of the waffle with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I always wanted to come back and experience Prague once again – and finally opportunity presented as one of my business meetings took me there.

You know how it can be dangerous to rely on the past experiences while setting the expectations? Everything changes – we change, everything around us changes as well – “you can’t enter the same river twice”. And the best moment in any experience is when you say – ahh, it is even better than I expected.

That is my feeling about the Prague. Beautiful city, all covered with the red roofs (somehow, red roofs have a magical effect on me), beautifully colorful buildings, castles and cathedrals everywhere – you derive the pleasure from anywhere you look (well, sadly, once you step a little away from the old town, you see lots of graffiti and simply start dreaming about all the pain which should be inflicted on the people who do that, but this is way outside of the subject of this post).

I’m not going to try to describe my impressions in words – instead, let me inundate you with pictures – lots and lots of pictures of the beautiful town of Prague. And when I say lots and lots, I actually mean it…

Prague Views

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Don’t think you will find vine grapes growing in New York’s Central Park, but you do in Prague!

Spring in Prague

Prague Vltava River

Prague Vltava River

Prague Views

 

Prague Views

Prague Views

Prague Views

Red Roofs of Prague

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Streets of Prague - Trdelnik

These two peeing man (the parts of their bodies which attract the most attention are not only releasing the water, but also moving – heard quite a range of comments from the spectators:

Peeing man sculpture at Kafka Museum

Peeing man sculpture kafka Museum

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castle Cathedral Fragment

Prague Castles and Cathedrals (1)

The legend has it that St. John of Nepomuk was executed for refusing to give the details of queen’s confession to the king. The St. John is honored with his own statue on the Charles Bridge. The legend also has it that if you will touch two of the fragments on the bottom of the statue, you wish will b granted. However, it seems that the legend might not get it exactly right – take a look at this blog post to learn what exactly do you need to touch:

Let me leave you with the love locks at the Charles Bridge – Prague is a beautiful city which is easy to fall in love with. Cheers!

Love Locks near Charles Bridge in Prague

Evening With Friends

April 22, 2017 8 comments

I confessed it many times, and I’m glad to do it again – one of my most favorite parts of blogging, and essentially the most important one, is people. Interacting with people is the most prized element of any published blog post; meeting fellow bloggers and finding new friends is a huge cherry on top. I don’t know if the wine has any special qualities, but I have a great personal experience with meeting fellow bloggers face to face for the first time and feeling like I knew them for my whole life.

When I got an email from Jim, an author of JvbUncorked blog, offering to get together a few weeks ago, I knew I had to make it work. When I arrived 20 minutes late to Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in midtown in New York, Jim, Lori (a blogger and the winemaker behind Dracaena Wines) and Lori’s friend, Donna, were already there.

Anatoli, Lori and Jim More often than not, when I know what restaurant I’m going to, I like to check the wine list in advance. Aldo Sohm Wine Bar was opened by Aldo Sohm, the Chef Sommelier at Le Bernardine, a world-famous dining destination in New York City. Aldo Sohm is also known for winning numerous Sommelier competitions and was crowned multiple times as “Best Sommelier in Austria”, as well as “Best Sommelier in America” and “Best Sommelier in the World 2008” – you can imagine that the wine list put together by such a wine Pro requires some homework. I don’t know about you but I love and always do my homework, especially if it is connected to wine at least in some way.

In addition a to the substantial wine list, we had another interesting challenge – Donna liked mostly white wines with the nice buttery component to them – but, she was willing to try new wines, which was very helpful, but – the challenge was on.

Being late by 20 minutes had one lucky consequence – the first wine was already chosen and about to be poured by the time I situated myself at the table. We started with 2013 Kuentz-Bas Riesling Cuvée Tradition Alsace ($40) – and it was outstanding. Perfectly bright and intense on the nose, with a whiff of honey and apricot; on the palate, it was live and vibrant, crisp and playful, continuing honey and apricot flavors, supported by clean acidity. An outstanding wine and a great value at a restaurant wine list at $40. Bonus – we got “thumbs up” from Donna – you know how we, wine geeks, feel when someone says about your recommendation “ahh, I like this wine” – the top of the world feeling. Well, kind of, anyway.

As we were pondering at the next wine, it was really hard to decide, especially trying to make everybody happy again. While we were looking at Italian options, feeling “yeah, might be, but really, yeah?”, I took the advantage of my list studying and suggested to try a California Chardonnay. Not just something random, but a very particular Chardonnay – 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay Santa Barbara ($80). Earlier in the year, I had my first experience of Sandhi wines with Sandhi Pinot Noir. Sandhi winery was founded by Rajat Parr, a world-renowned sommelier, a partner at Sandhi winery and one of the founders of IPOB (In Pursuit Of Balance) movement for dialed-down, balanced California wines. The Sandhi Pinot Noir was incredible, which made me really curious about the Chardonnay – and it didn’t disappoint. This 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay had generous, intense, open nose with apples and vanilla, and on the palate, this wine was simply a riot – I experienced similar Chardonnay wines only a few times, mostly from Burgundy, when they get incredible intensity and brightness of golden delicious apples, vanilla and honey, supported by just a hint of butter and clear, vibrant acidity. This was truly a treat. And – yay – we got “thumbs up” from Donna again. Two out of two!

It was the time to move to the reds. While previously looking at the list, I noticed a 2001 Santenay for $77 at the end of the Burgundy section, right after 2001 DRC Romanée St. Vivant for $2650 (need an expense account, anyone got one we can share?). At first I thought there might be a mistake either with the price or a vintage in the online copy (had such experience numerous times), but no – the same Santenay was there on the wine list at the restaurant, for the same $77, so it was not very difficult to convince my partners in crime to go for this wine.

2001 Paul Chapelle 1er Cru Gravière Santenay ($77) was earthy, dry and pretty closed on the nose despite quick decanting. It took the wine a while to start showing some dark fruit, with earthy, minerally notes prevailing at the beginning. I think it took the wine about 45 minutes to give us some dark fruit notes and become a bit brighter. This 16 years old wine still has a lot of life left in it, and it is definitely a food friendly wine. By the way, do you care to guess of Donna liked this wine? Yes, you got that right – no, she didn’t. 2–1.

As our evening was progressing, we got a pleasure of meeting Aldo Sohm in person – he came to our table and introduced himself, so we were able to chat with him for about 10 minutes about all the fun geeky stuff oenophiles enjoy so much – how uneasy it is to find good wines at the good prices, especially when it comes to the Burgundy, with the combination of terrible weather and Burgundy’s love on the upswing around the world. Talking to Aldo was definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

It was getting somewhat late, but the challenge was still in front of us – we managed to score with the white wines for Donna to enjoy, but we had to find the proper red. After going back and force we settled on 2007 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva ($75). La Rioja Alta doesn’t need much introduction to the wine lovers – one of the very best producers in Rioja, making delicious wine year after year. Of course, this wine was still a baby, but within the reasonable price range, we thought that it would have the best fruit representation, which, again, we were hoping would win Donna’s vote. The wine was every bit as expected – nose of cigar box and vanilla, dense cherries, vanilla and eucalyptus on the palate, touch of sweet oak, full body, noticeable, but well integrated tannins. This was an excellent wine, but … Nope, we didn’t win this one. 2–2. But one super-fun evening.

It was late, and it was the time to go home. But I really hope we are going to do it again. And again. And again. To all the friends – cheers!

Geekiest Way to Celebrate #MalbecWorldDay – #WineStudio Blind Tasting with Achaval-Ferrer

April 21, 2017 3 comments

Achaval Ferrer WSET 3 tasting Starting in 2011, April 17th is the day when we celebrate Malbec – one of the noble French grapes, which almost disappeared in France, but found its new life in Argentina, where it became a star. I don’t want to bore you with the Malbec history – you can read it on your own in many places, including few posts in this very blog (here is a bit about the history of the Malbec grape, and here you can take a Malbec quiz).

Typical “grape holiday” celebration usually includes an opening of an upscale (high end, memorable, etc) varietally correct bottle. Our today’s celebration was a bit different, as it was based on the concept of pure, unadulterated, geeky wine lovers’ fun  – a blind tasting, and, of course, guessing.

This blind tasting was a part of the educational program run by the WineStudio during the month of April. In case you are not aware of the Wine Studio, it is a brainchild of Tina Morey, and it is wine education and marketing program which helps to expand people’s wine horizon and help them discover new regions, new grapes and new wines. April program, quite appropriately (April is designated as a Malbec wine month), was focused on the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, one of the very best wine producers from Argentina.

To facilitate the blind tasting, all the participants received a set of two bottles, some wrapped in colorful foil, and some in the black plastic – mine were the second type:

About an hour before the session I opened the bottles to let the wines breathe a little, as it was suggested by the organizers. And then the session started.

Of course, this was not the usual blind tasting. There are many ways to run the blind tasting, some of them quite extreme – for instance, tasting the wine without any known information from the black glass – an extreme sensual challenge. Going less extreme, in a typical blind tasting you will have at least some kind of limits installed – Pinot Noir grape, for instance, or wines of Pauillac. Our #winestudio blind tasting was on one side a lot less challenging, as we knew that the wines were made by Achaval-Ferrer, so we didn’t expect to find Petite Sirah in any of those bottles, and we even knew the vintage years, 2013 and 2012. At the same time, for sure for me, it was almost more challenging, as I was trying to guess the wines based on what I knew about Achaval-Ferrer and thinking about what they might want to showcase in the tasting,  instead of focusing on the actual wines.

We were asked to evaluate wines using WSET Level 3 tasting grid (you can find it here if you are curious). Here is a summary of my tasting notes – I’m distinguishing the wines by their vintage:

Wine 2013
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium
Aroma characteristics: touch of funk, mint, underbrush, blackberries
Development: youthful
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: cassis, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries
Finish: medium-
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

Wine 2012
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium+
Aroma characteristics: tar, tobacco
Development: developing
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: red and black fruit, salinity, raspberries, anis
Finish: medium
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

As it is usually the case with the blind tastings, I didn’t do well. I really wanted the wines to be pure Malbec and Cab Franc, and this is what I included into my final guess:

then, of course, I second guessed myself and changed the answer:

When the bottles were finally unwrapped, we found this beautiful Bordeaux blend called Quimera  been our Quimera for the night – it is no wonder every back label of Quimera explains the name: “Quimera. The Perfection we dream of and strive for. The search for an ideal wine”.

The wines were 2013 and 2012 Quimera, both classic Bordeaux blends, but with a high amount of Argentinian star variety – Malbec. Both vintages had the same composition: 50% Malbec, 24% Cab Franc, 16% Merlot, 8% Cab Sauv and 2% Petit Verdot. Just as a point of reference, I still have a few bottles of 2008 Quimera, and that wine has 40% of Malbec. Both wines were beautiful, but very different in its own right – and they will for sure age quite nicely. This was definitely a treat and yet another testament to the great wines Argentina is capable of producing.

Here you go, my friends. Another great night at #winestudio, celebrating the grape well worth a celebration. Next Tuesday, April 25, we will be tasting Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc, their new single-varietal bottling – been Cab Franc aficionado, I can’t tell you how excited I am. Join the fun – see you at 9 pm! Cheers!

Restaurant Files: The Art of Southern Cuisine at Peaches in Norwalk, CT

March 19, 2017 4 comments

Eat Drink Boogie RepeatLet me make a bold claim – Southern Cuisine might be the only authentic cuisine in the United States. Yes, New England got lobster and clam chowder, Maryland got blue crab and crab cakes, but it hardly constitutes a “cuisine”. Even barbeque is more of a cult or a culture if you will, but more often than not, the word “barbeque” would simply associate with the specific method of cooking rather than a cuisine in general.

Say “Southern cuisine”, and immediately the words and images for “shrimp and grits”, “chicken and waffles”, or ‘fried green tomatoes” pop in one’s head. Same as Thai, Japanese, or Mexican, Southern cuisine is something we can easily identify with.

While the Southern cuisine is, of course, better experienced in the South, over the last few years we were lucky here on the East Coast of the USA with a number of restaurants representing the cuisine very well. Today I want to offer you a perfect example – Peaches Restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, officially known as Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint. Peaches is the newest endeavor of the serial entrepreneur Greer Frederick, who is deeply involved in Connecticut restaurant scene for many years.

I love the rustic decor at Peaches, very homey and calming, but very modern at the same time:

Of course the restaurant visit started at the bar. Spicy Okratini (Oola Aloo Vodka, dirty okra juice, pickled okra) had a nice bite and literally no sweetness, which I really appreciate. Bee’s Knees (Bar Hill gin, fresh lemon, Mad Hatter honey) was made with an artisan Mad Hatter honey, which we also had an opportunity to taste. Again, despite the honey base, the cocktal was perfectly balanced with right amount of acidity and sweetness. Peaches’ Old Fashion (Rittenhouse Rye, Damerara sugar, Angostura bitters, Fee Brothers Peach bitters), was very tasty, but also a bit too generous with alcohol.

Once we got to our tables, the little bowl with various pickles was the very first plate arriving in front of us – not overly sour, quite tasty. Then our first appetizer showed up – Devilled Eggs (beet brined eggs, braised bacon, pickled okra). Definitely a very creative dish, an unexpected color of the eggs, nice touch with the bacon crumble on top, creamy. Devilled eggs are very popular in Russian cuisine, so I’m more accustomed to a different style, but this was still a tasty dish.

The Chopped Kale (charred corn, pickled beets, green goddess dressing, cotija cheese) was one of the best kale salads I ever had. Additional of charred corn worked very well, and creamy dressing was outstanding, very flavorful. The Fried Green Tomatoes (tomato jam, country ham, buttermilk ranch), a timeless Southern classic was excellent as well – great interplay of textures, and I would eat that tomato jam by the bowlful. Our last appetizer, the Country Fair Bacon (funnel cake batter, braised bacon, black pepper maple) was good, but maybe a bit too simple to my taste.

We started our entree round with another Southern classic – Shrimp and Grits (andouille, smoked shrimp broth, pickled okra, heirloom grits) – the grits were creamy and super-flavorful, one of the best ever, and the shrimp had a perfect amount of spice and cooked very well – that was one delicious experience. The Pork Shank (black eyed peas cassoulet, pickled veg, onion jam) was a standout. It was a huge hulk of meat on the bone, marinated for 36 hours and cooked at 275F for 3.5 hours – I can’t even describe how comforting this dish was. The meat was falling apart, and all you needed to do was just to savor ever little bite. Outstanding.

Shrimp and Grits at Peaches

Pork Shank at Peaches

And then there was Bucket O’ Chicken (pickle-brined fried chicken + Nashville style cornbread, coleslaw, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese). Do you like properly made Southern style fried chicken? Then get away from the screen and head over to the Peaches right now – that dish was a quintessential Art of Southern Cuisine right on the table. We had both regular and Nashville Hot style – in both cases chicken is brined before cooking, but the Nashville Hot style has the addition of a hot sauce (smoked paprika, brown sugar, cayenne, oil) brushed on after the chicken is fried. It was also served with lots of different side dishes – cole slaw, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese and delicious corn bread – every bite of chicken was tender and bristling with flavor. It was also served with apple cider vinegar on a side, which, as Greer explained, is considered a Ketchup of the South. Great experience all in all.

Bucket o'chicken at Peaches

Peaches is not called the “Pub and Juke Joint” for nothing. The restaurant has a second floor with another bar, perfectly suitable for dancing or as an event space, as well as an outdoor patio – definitely the space with a lot of potential.

We finished this outstanding meal in style with Old Fashioned Southern Peach Cobbler (brown sugar peaches, vanilla ice cream) – delicious dessert, candied pecans packed a lot of flavor.

Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler at PeachesI hope that the pictures and my notes explain my point about the Art of Southern Cuisine – this was truly a soulful cooking, and we experienced the tasty food with unmistakable personality – like the familiar face we are always happy to see in the crowd, the Southern Cuisine is something we can now spot anywhere we go.

Hope I didn’t make you too hungry. And if I did – oh well, I’m not going to apologise. Cheers!

Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint
7 Wall St
Norwalk, CT 06850
Phone number (203) 831-0399
http://www.peachesnorwalk.com

Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Obscure: Oenophile’s Pleasure

January 24, 2017 7 comments

Today, class, we will be talking about things obscure. Yes, things obscure, but not in the whole entire world, of course, but in the world of wine.

In your opinion, if we use the word “obscure” in conjunction with the word “wine”, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? For starters, let’s think about the meaning of the word itself. Here is how New Oxford American Dictionary defines “obscure”:

obscure
Well, yes, we could’ve done without the dictionary, as the word is simple enough – but dictionaries exist for something, so why not use one.

Now that we are clear on the meaning, let’s go back to our original question: “obscure + wine” – is it good or bad?

Reading wine’s description, have you ever come across the words “obscure grapes”? I’m not talking about the stuff you read on the back label, as there you will rather find the words “indigenous grapes”, “traditional grapes”, or maybe, “local grapes”. But if are reading blogs, or any of the “peer reviews”, I’m sure you’ve encountered the “obscure grapes”. I get it – “obscure” often implies that we got something to hide in a bad way – but not in this case. Referring to the definition we just saw, “obscure” here simply means “not discovered or known about”. Need examples? How about Trepat, Bobal, Gros Manseng, Khikhvi – heard of those grapes?

black_bottleMy favorite part is that obscure often translates into pleasure – lots of pleasure for the oenophile. Unlike most of the other food and drinks humans consume, wine taste is largely perceived. We have expectations for how Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay should taste, and when we don’t find that taste while drinking one of the “well known” wines, we often get disappointed. But when presented with the “obscure bottle”, all those preconceived notions are largely thrown out of the window, and we take wine for what it actually is – which gives us a great chance to enjoy something we wouldn’t otherwise.

It is not only wine drinkers who get more pleasure from the obscure grapes – when using those little-known grapes, winemakers are also not bound by any “customer expectations”, which gives them more freedom to express themselves. From the personal experience, I found that more often than not, I truly enjoy those obscure wines, and quite honestly, I like hunting down those unknown wines and grapes because of the pure mystery in the glass.

By the same token, lesser known wine regions (read: obscure) have the same advantage for both oenophiles and winemakers. What do you expect when you see Czech Republic, Georgian Republic, Mallorca or Valle d’Aosta written on the bottle? Most likely, you wouldn’t know what to expect, and thus you would take the wine for what it is. However, when you drink Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Spanish Rioja, you have a set of expectations in your head, and you always are ready to say “ahh, this doesn’t taste anything like Napa Cab”. Presented with the Czech Pinot Noir or Chinese Cabernet Sauvignon, you have no choice but to try it and decide whether you like it or not. Same as in the case of the obscure grapes, winemakers get an opportunity to freely create without the need to comply with a given set of expectations.

What we need to keep in mind though that the concept of “obscure” is very personal. For someone who lives in the Republic of Georgia, Georgian wines are very far from obscure. For someone who grew up in Conca de Barberà region in Catalonia in Spain, Trepat might be a perfectly familiar grape. But looking at the big picture, all of us, wine lovers, have our own, personal obscure territories – and this is where we might discover great pleasure. What makes it even more interesting is that the more we learn about the wine world, the more we understand how still little we know. And so we can keep on that road, shedding the light on obscure and making it (if we are lucky) dear and familiar, one discovery at a time.

I wish you all, oenophiles, lots of pleasant encounters with obscure sides of the wine world – as this is where the pleasure is hiding. Cheers!

This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC30), with the theme of “Obscure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory