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Thanksgiving Day Experiences

December 3, 2017 5 comments

Thanksgiving is one of my most favorite holidays. It revolves around food. Before you beat me up, of course, it is about family, friends and lots and lots of good reason to be thankful – but still, the food is at the core of this family gathering. This makes me double-happy – I get to spend time with the family and cook my heart out – and let’s not forget the extra bonus – I have a reason to chose special wines.

Since this blog started, there was only one year when I didn’t post about Thanksgiving. Otherwise, I did my best to talk about food and wine experience of this special day, sometimes even with few posts on the subject (you can find those posts here). This year, I had two resolutions for my Thanksgiving dinner. First, it will be simple – which means no Turducken, for instance. Second, I will serve only an American wines – to be more precise, only the wines from California. As Napa and Sonoma greatly suffered from the recent fires, this was only logical to embrace Californian wines to support the people there.

Thanksgiving Wines 2017

First, let me say a few words about the food. Turkey is a cornerstone of Thanksgiving – at the same time, it is hard to cook a whole turkey in really an exciting way. Over the years, we tried lots and lots of different recipes – with stuffing and without, turducken, smoked, deep fried, deboned… Some were definitely better than the others (turducken is typically a standout), and some of those preparations can be very laborious. Thus this year, I decided the smoked turkey is the way to go.

This was not a random decision – earlier this year I discovered so-called PBC (Pit Barrel Cooker), which I absolutely fell in love with. In the past, I had to spend literally a whole day, dancing around my simple smoker, trying to maintain the temperature and still ending up cooking all the food in the oven. PBC changed that dramatically – no need to precook ribs anymore, just start the fire, hang your piece of meat and come back in a few hours to enjoy. Based on all the prior success, smoking the turkey was simply a done deal.

This might be the simplest turkey I ever have done. Buy already brined turkey (many stores sell pre-brined turkey, which greatly simplifies your life), rub it generously with PBC All-purpose rub, start the fire and just hang it inside the PBC – you can estimate the cooking time based on the size, and of course, use the meat thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked through.

Thanksgiving smoked turkey

Another dish I want to mention is the dessert. I got a recipe from a friend, many years ago – however, it was also a while since I made this dessert. I wanted to find a similar recipe online, just to use it as a reference – but failed. So here is the recipe without the usual ingredients and measurements, as here you can make everything approximately. Let’s call this dessert

Crepes Napoleon with Wine-poached Pears and Cranberry sauce

You will need the following:

  • 4 firm pears, I recommend Anjou, carefully peeled, halved and cored
  • 10-12 crepes (can be more, can be less, depending on how many layers do you want)
  • 1 lb cranberry sauce (canned is fine, fresh is better)
  • 1 bottle of port – you can use red wine too, but then you would need to add sugar.
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Put peeled, halved and cored pears into the large pot, cover it with wine, add cinnamon stick and nutmeg, and put it on the stove. Once liquid started boiling, reduce heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let peras to cool off completely in the wine, preferably overnight (when cool enough, put the whole pot into the refrigerator). Next day, thinly slice pears and put aside. You can also reduce the wine for a later use – it is quite delicious.

You can buy crepes or you can make crepes. If you will decide to make them, Alton Brown has an excellent recipe – this is what I used.

Crepes Napoleon

Once crepes are made and cooled off, you are ready to start making the Napoleon! Take a plate you will serve the dessert on. Put the first crepe on the bottom. Thinly spread cranberry sauce. Cover with another crepe. Now take slices of pear and put them around the crepe in a single layer. Cover with another crepe, spread cranberry sauce, cover, put pears and continue the process until you will be satisfied with the overall height of the Napoleon. I recommend a round of pear slices on top with cranberry sauce in the center, but of course, you can make your own decoration. Cover (plastic wrap will do) and put it in the cool place for the flavors to be absorbed into the crepes. Later on, slice and enjoy!

Time to talk wines!

Holiday celebration should start with the sparkling, isn’t it? Finding tasty California sparkling wine is really not a problem. One of my favorite California producers, Field Recordings, offers an interesting selection of the sparkling wines, with most of them packaged in the cans (yes, cans). I had a can of NV Field Recordings Methodé Aluminum Edna Valley (11.9% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir), and it provided a perfect start for the evening – fresh, supple, with good body weight and a nice touch of a fresh bread – definitely was a crowd pleaser.

I wanted to have a full California wine experience, so next, we moved on to Rosé – 2016 Conundrum Rosé California (13.1% ABV). Truth be told, I’m not a fun of Wagner family wines – Conundrum, Meiomi, Caymus – doesn’t matter, they generally don’t work for my palate. So I threw in the bottle of this Conundrum Rosé simply because it was available – I thought we will open it, taste it and move on. Boy, was I wrong. This wine had beautiful strawberries all the way on the nose and the palate, supported by tons of herbs – lavender, mint, basil. Perfect mouthfeel with very good presence, but not overwhelming and with good acidity – this wine was enjoyed to the fullest.

We drink with our eyes first – thus the label on the 2014 Durant and Booth Blanc California (14.6% ABV, $36, blend of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Roussanne, Greco di Tufo) was extremely drinkable and very promising (the label represents the art technique called water marbling – you can read more here if you are as intrigued as I was). I brought this wine from California after attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, where this wine was presented to us at the Napa Valley Vintners lunch – I plan to write a separate post about this event).

As you can tell, this wine is made from quite a few grapes, and I’m typically a bit concerned if the chorus will sing harmoniously. Oh yes, it was  – starting from the beautiful touch of butter and vanilla on the nose and the palate, then immediately offering silky plumpness of Roussanne with a gentle touch of butter and tropical fruit on the palate – this delicious wine was gone in no time.

Next, it was the time to move on to the red wines. We started with 2014 Acorn Alegria Vineyards Cabernet Franc Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $38, 93% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat). All Acorn wines are made from a co-fermented blend of grape varieties which are growing at Acorn’s Alegria Vineyard. This Cabernet Franc had a beautiful open nose with a touch of mint and cassis – the same continued on the palate with more cassis in a smooth, round package, supported by some herbal notes and perfect acidity. It was unmistakably Cabernet Franc, but also unmistakably California Cab Franc, without much of the green bell pepper presence and fruit dominant, but perfectly balanced.

Our last red was coming from the California region I was not really familiar with until now – El Dorado County (it is not only gold you find there, yep). 2015 Boeger Barbera El Dorado (15% ABV) was another wine I brought back from California after the same wine bloggers conference. I tried few of the El Dorado wines at the conference and was not very impressed, so I looked at it as an interesting experiment. Another score! This wine was dense and brooding, with tar and tobacco on the nose, and surprisingly polished dark fruit on the palate with sweet tobacco undertones. To make things even more interesting, I can tell you that we didn’t finish the wine during dinner, so I pumped the air out using the usual Vacuvin, and put the bottle aside almost for 10 days. After 10 days, the wine was still perfectly fresh and enjoyable, which makes me wonder how long this wine can actually age.

Time to finish our Thanksgiving dinner with the dessert. As our planned dessert had cranberry sauce in it, I decided to go with Cranberry wine for dessert. Tomasello Cranberry Wine New Jersey (9% ABV) was a perfect pick for it – good acidity, tart cranberry profile, it played perfectly with our dessert – while the wine was not from California, it still provided a perfect finish for our celebration.

Here we are, my friends. How was your Thanksgiving? Did you enjoy more the turkey, the wines or the company? Cheers!

 

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!

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!

Travel Diaries: Few Days in Malmö, Sweden

August 29, 2017 2 comments

About a month ago, I shared with you, mostly in pictures, my experience of a few hours in the Copenhagen. Copenhagen visit was a lucky detour, but the actual destination of that trip was the city in the Southern Sweden called Malmö.

Okay, I’m not going all of a sudden talk about the history of Malmö, the capital and largest city of the Swedish county of Scania – everything you want to know you can find in the Wikipedia or other sources. I was there for long and grueling week-long meetings and really didn’t have time to freely roam around – most of my sightseeing was done during the lunch breaks. Nevertheless, I have tons of pictures, thanks to a very capable camera which is now in the pockets of most of the people all the time (yes, that would be an iPhone for you, Apple-loving people) – and I have my impressions from walking the streets and interacting with people.

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

I can summarize my impressions of 5 days in Malmö in 3 simple words: “I loved it”. That’s all I need to say, really. The streets, the city views, the people, the hotel, the food – that is truly a full summary.

I know that everyone’s perception is different, and more often than not, we get lucky in our endeavors (unfortunately, we often take it for granted, but this is not the subject of this post). Yes, my impressions are based on spending time in the area adjacent to the Malmö Central train station, in the radius of 20–25 minutes walking from that train station. Is life very different in the areas which are located an hour away from the train station and city center of Malmö or elsewhere in Sweden? Quite possible, but I will let you find out.

 

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

 

Streets of Malmo

Anyone wants to play while waiting for the train?

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo Streets of Malmo

I loved the way the town is architected. The old and authentic looking houses and buildings are perfectly intermixed with the new houses and buildings. The style of the new construction is modern and clean (it is Scandinavia, after all), but the old and the new work very well together.

Bicycles are everywhere. Lots and lots of bicycles are parked along the streets, there are lots of people riding them, and an absolute majority of the sidewalks have designated “lane” for bicycles where pedestrians are not allowed.

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

HSB Turning Torso – a marvel of engineering

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

And then people. Anyone I talked to had perfect English. Young and old, at the restaurants or on the streets, at the train station or a supermarket – people had no issues switching to a perfect English in a heart bit. I wouldn’t claim any special traveling prowess but having been to a few countries outside of the USA, I have some basis for the comparison – this experience was definitely unique and ultimately comforting (you can truly relax knowing that you will be understood if need to ask a question).

I stayed at Marriott Renaissance, and this was one of my absolutely favorite hotel experiences – very comfortable room, nicely appointed, with the temperature which can be easily adjusted – those who stay at the hotels, will understand my excitement, I’m sure; good size bathroom and everything in the working order. Nicely appointed interior throughout the hotel, and – all the service staff were a pleasure to talk to. Again, if you travel, you will understand my excitement. Excellent breakfast buffet, which appears small but has an outstanding variety of everything you need for a good breakfast (I suggest you will get it included in your room rate).

If I have a gripe with my trip, it would be food and, especially, the wine. Not the quality or quantity, no, not at all – but the price. You can’t find a bottle of wine at a restaurant which will be cheaper than $50 (most of the prices start from $60). Most of the beers will be $8+ per glass, and cheapest glass of wine (hard to find) will be around $12. When you look at the prices of the hard liquors, they look perfectly reasonable, until you understand that the prices are given for the 10 centiliters – there are about 3 centiliters in an ounce, and standard pour in the USA is 2 ounces, so what looked super-cheap at $4 or even $6, doesn’t look that attractive at $18 for the half of your typical pour. Food is also not cheap, so keeping your dinner at least around $60 with one glass of wine is not simple at all. But – pretty much everything we ate was very tasty, so I really don’t have a good reason to complain. And I have to say that if you chose to skip the full-service restaurants, there are plenty of inexpensive dining options – for instance, lots of small restaurants inside the train station, serving tasty food (this is where we had most of our lunches).

Here are the restaurants I’m happy to recommend if your travel will take you to Malmö:

Espresso House
Espresso House is a chain, similar to the US Starbucks – there are no Starbucks in Sweden. It is similar to Starbucks in the selection of the drinks, but beyond just that, also has very similar issues. Let me explain. I visited the Espresso House located on the plaza next to the Renaissance hotel. First, the barista made me wait for at least 5 minutes, just keep doing and doing something without paying any attention to my presence in front of the counter (the place is small, so yes, she saw me). Then, there was a list of various coffees available to order – from 4 or 5 different countries of origin – when I asked to explain me the differences, was quickly told to ignore the list as Brazilian coffee was the only one available anyway.
But – the ambiance of the sitting area on the second floor was very nice, and the whole place had a charm, so the service part was quickly forgotten as I was enjoying my cup of coffee and a pastry.

Hamnmästaren
Bagers plats 1
211 18 Malmö, Sweden
Ph: +46 72-865 96 68
Who would’ve thought that Malmö is a place for an American barbecue? And so it actually is! We stumbled across this little place, located close to the train station, in the old house on the Port Supervisor. The restaurant offers a good selection of beer and all the bbq “usual suspects” – pork, brisket, chicken. I ordered chili to start with and pulled chicken sandwich. Big mistake. The chili was huge in size and was mostly pulled pork with beans, generous and delicious. And when it came to the pulled chicken sandwich, I never saw more overstuffed sandwich in my life (keep trying to understand my logic of not taking any pictures; sigh) – and this was probably the very best smoked chicken I ever had too. Beware of the portion sizes – and this place is definitely worth a visit.

La Brasserie
Skomakaregatan 10
211 34 Malmö, Sweden
+46 40 12 21 00
A French style restaurant, as you can tell by the name. The reasonable selection at around $50 per bottle – my gripe is that those wines are mostly around $7 – $8 in retail (outside of Sweden, of course), but nevertheless. We had a bottle of Cotes du Rhome and a Corbieres, both from 2014 vintage and both nicely drinkable.
I asked for waitress’ recommendation for my main dish, deciding between steak tartar and a seafood soup, technically a bouillabaisse. She confidently replied: “seafood soup” (I wonder what was her criteria to suggest it).
The soup had a total of 3 mussels in it, and random pieces of fish, in somewhat heavy broth. Again, I’m not sure what was the basis for the recommendation for this dish, but I definitely found it underwhelming. Nevertheless, you might give it a try, may be seafood is not their specialty.

Bastard
Mäster Johansgatan 11
211 21 Malmö, Sweden
Ph: +46 40-12 13 18
French flair restaurant. Reservations are definitely recommended – it was almost a miracle that we got in on Wednesday, there were lots of people sent away.
Good list of beer and wine. I had nice French cider first, then a glass of house Rosé, very tasty.
The restaurant offers a tasting menu, which has to be shared by the table, which was what we took. The tasting menu is not predefined, it is basically “whatever chef feels like today”.
The charcuterie was very tasty and steak tartar was outstanding. The followed by the two salads, both were simply a standout – Panzanella salad with boquerones, and then tomato and feta salad – the tomatoes were so succulent – I don’t know when was the last time I tasted tomatoes like that. Squash pizza was unusual and tasty and our last dish, individual servings of ham with mashed potatoes and fresh peas – was delicious to the last morsel.  A very tasty experience.

Drumbar Scottish Pub & Tavern
Lilla Torg 9,
Hedmanska gården
211 34 Malmö, Sweden
+46 40 799 90
An English pub with outstanding selection of beer and scotch. I wish I realized that the word “drum” in the Drumbar relates to the actual “drum”, the whisky. The selection of drums was just spectacular – which I saw only as we were leaving. Yeah…
Had Innis & Gunn an IPA style beer on draft, but with more citrusy notes and not as biting as traditional IPA, and fish and chips for dinner (we are in the pub, right?) – may be the best I ever had – huge piece of cod, lightly fried, delicious sauce – outstanding. My colleague had pork shank which was absolutely perfect – rich, flavorful, fall-off-the-bone with crispy skin – another standout. An excellent place well worthy of anyone’s attention.

That’s all I wanted to share, with you, my friends. If your travel will take you to Malmö, I hope you will find these notes useful. If you’ve been to Malmö recently, I would be glad to compare the notes. Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Few Restaurant Recommendations for Prague

June 12, 2017 1 comment

@ Pivovarský klubI recently shared my excitement after spending two weeks in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities on this planet – mostly in pictures. Today I want to share with you some of the dining experiences, just in case if you plan traveling to Prague in the near future.

First, let me give you a “thousand feet view” of Prague’s dining scene and Czech cuisine. Prague is a modern city, so as in any modern city, you will find a mix of different cuisines, and the range of dining style options, from the street food to the beer gardens to the bistro and then the world-class fine dining. Prague is a popular tourist destination so you have to expect to find lots of tourist traps, especially around any historical sites.

Talking about Czech cuisine, the best thing to have in Prague is pork. Pork dishes are done in a number of the ways – smoked pork cold cuts, roasted pork shank and anything in between – I spent quite a bit of time dining together with an international group, and pork dishes always were the most popular and generated the most of the “wow” references. Don’t get me wrong – of course, there is lots more to eat than just pork. The game is big in Prague – venison, ostrich, wild boar – you can easily find all of those on the menu, and all at the reasonable prices. Of course, there is chicken, and the fish dishes would also be worth your attention. If you like pickled vegetables, you might find yourself in heaven – everything I tasted was delicious, not overly vinegary and with an excellent crunch. In a number of restaurants I also saw special vegetarian sections on the menu, however, I don’t think vegetarian cooking is as widespread as it is in the USA.

One more quick note before we talk about the restaurants themselves. English menus are generally available, but not everywhere. In a few cases, we had to wait for someone to come and translate the menu for us. One way to avoid it is by using Google Translate app on your phone, where you can just point it to the text on the menu and get your immediate translation. Download extended dictionary as the basic one might not be enough.

Ahh, sorry, another quick general note. In Prague, you should drink local. The beer is excellent, not matter where and no matter which. Local wines, often made from Austrian and German varieties (Gruner Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, St. Lauren, Portugieser and more), are generally excellent and you should do yourself a favor and try them while in Prague, as many of those wines are simply not available outside of Czech Republic.

Now, let’s eat! Well, I meant let’s talk about the restaurants. Below are the restaurants which I’m happy to recommend – there were definitely a few I was not thrilled about, but I don’t see a point of bringing them up in this post.

Kampa Park
Na Kampe 8b, 118 00 Praha
Ph: +420 296826102
http://www.kampagroup.com/en/

Let me start with one of the best dining experiences of the trip. Kampa Park was the first fine dining establishment in Prague, opened in 1992. The location is superb, right under the Charles Bridge, so you get the great view of the bridge and the river – definitely hard to beat. Make no mistake – the restaurant can be expensive, pretty much on par with fine dining prices, let’s say in New York ($50+ pp lunch) – but of course, it will depend on what you will order.

Good wine list with a good number of local wines. Food is creative European, lots of good options. We had cream of asparagus soup which was sublime, and then the pork cheek which was super tender and flavorful. The service is top class – attentive and helpful. Overall, for a great restaurant experience and the views, I can’t recommend the restaurant high enough – I think it worth the price.

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Pork Cheeks @ Kampa Park

Terasa U Prince
Staromestské námestí 29, 110 00 Praha-1
Ph: +420 602 462 260
https://www.terasauprince.com/terrace

The restaurant is located on the roof of U Prince hotel. It is notoriously difficult to get in and suggested reservations are two weeks in advance. However, many people manage to talk their way in without any reservations, so you definitely should try your luck.

Most important part of the experience is the view. There is only 1 (one) beer available at the restaurant, and two different wines by the glass (and none of them were Czech), otherwise the drinks menu is extremely expensive. Food is decent, but not amazing. Creme Brulee is supposed to be very good. But again, the views are amazing, so it is worth suffering for one night.

Prague View from Terasa U Prince

Pivovarský Klub
Križíkova 17, Karlín, Praha 8
Ph: +420 222315777
http://www.pivovarskyklub.com

If you like beer, this place is a heaven. As you walk in, you can see the walls all covered in various types of beer. Everything on draft is excellent – I had most of what they offer and all the beers were one better than another. If you don’t want to drink Czech beer, no problems – there is a great offering of Belgium, German, UK, and others. I had 5 AM Saint by the Brewdog, something which is hard to find in the USA, and it was outstanding.

The food is mostly traditional Czech. Good soups, good pickles, cured meats, port, duck. Very reasonable prices. Good location close to the subway station. Definitely recommended.

Arrosto Ristorante
Mikuláše z Husi 1709/9, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 241 405 964
arrostoristorante.cz

Located in the close proximity to Vyšehrad which I highly recommend visiting as a tourist attraction – great place, located close to the subway station with the same name (Vyšehrad).

The restaurant is charming, especially the room in the back where the tables stand around the big tree. From the name of the restaurant, you would expect that the food will be an Italian, and it is to some degree, but definitely with the local flair. Good wine list with a number of local wines to select from. We had buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and then file of sole with pasta – all delicious.

The Bašta Brewery
Sousedský Pivovar Bašta
Táborská 389/49, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 602 295 403
ubansethu.cz/en

This is a true neighborhood restaurant for the locals, despite having the menu in English available (also in a close proximity to Vyšehrad). You sit down at the communal table, and beer starts flowing – fresh, tasty, simple, without any cherry or mango flavors. Then the bread arrives, and then whatever you will decide on. The menu is not large but offers many local specialties. Cold frankfurter sausage with pickled onions was excellent. Duck fat with crackles was just spectacular, home pate outstanding, luscious and tasty. Fresh crispy fries are a must when you drink beer, right? And then the smoked pork (pork belly and pork loin) was just an incredible dish in flavor, you could smell smoke before the dish was even landed on the table.

The whole price of feast was $25 for two – I’d say you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Of course it is impossible to fit Prague’s food scene into the one simple blog post – but I still hope my personal recommendations might be useful.

One more note before we part – I also ate at a number of “fast food” places – Chinese, Oriental, Pizza, Creperie – and pretty much everywhere the food was reasonably priced and tasty. However, yes – be aware of the tourist traps.

I hope your travels will take you to Prague and you will get to enjoy this beautiful city! 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

Restaurant Files: MIRO Kitchen in Fairfield, CT – Obey Your Crave

December 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Sign at MIRO KitchenThere are lots and lots of restaurants in Fairfield County in Connecticut (in 2014, Fairfield county had the second highest number of restaurants per capita in the country, don’t think it is any different in 2016). That means that every dining out night has a great number of choices – in case you are craving Italian, Japanese or creative American, may be  French, Thai or Indian. But what if you still want something else, something different? I might have just a place for you – MIRO Kitchen in Fairfield, Connecticut.

The restaurant describes itself as serving “Pacific Rim” cuisine. On the plate, it means a unique blend of flavors, with elements of Southeast Asian cuisines, Hawaiian, Filipino, Cambodian and other influences, bringing the seesaw popular term “Fusion” to the new height – at least in my personal dining experience. MIRO Kitchen serves truly unique and different food, and to deliver that “unique and different” experience, no effort is spared. To give you one example: our dessert course included Filipino ice cream, called Ube, made primarily out of yam (Ube is a Filipino word for yam), which was absolutely spectacular in flavor and texture. There is only one source of this ice cream on the East Coast, in Jersey City (about 70 miles from Fairfield), which means that every week someone have to take a trip there to get that “unique and different” treat – if you have ever driven around New York city, you would agree that it means “going an extra mile” (pun intended).

Just wanted to give you an example – but it’s way too early to talk about dessert, let talk about our whole dining experience from the beginning. Once again, I visited the restaurant with the group of bloggers, so we really had an opportunity to try lots of different dishes MIRO Kitchen offers and experience the full range of Pacific Rim cuisine.

We started with the cocktails, and you know what – I continued with the cocktails throughout the dinner – don’t think I ever had that many delicious, unique cocktails. The cocktail list at MIRO Kitchen is not that large, so I tried almost all of them: Saketini (Vodka, nigori, cucumber) was excellent, not too sweet; Thaigarita (tequila, Thai chili, calamansi) – love the presentation; Old Fashioned Green Tea (Bourbon, citrus, green tea) – outstanding with noticeable bourbon notes, delicious; Cambodian Mule (coconut vodka, sake, kaffir lime, fresh Ginger) – soft and tasty, Weng Weng (white and dark rum, tequila, gin, vodka, st. germaine, tropical fruit juices) – a nod to the famous Long Island Ice tea, not too sweet with tasty pineapple profile; Hala Kahiki (pineapple vodka, amaretto, sake bubbles) – beautiful presentation, tasty and refreshing.

Now, let’s talk food! We started with the selection of Hors D’Oeuvres. Our first dish was Ahi Bruschetta (Tomato, balsamic glaze, avocado) – great flavors, very nice crunch, following up by
Hanger Sushi (Miso glaze, wasabi crema) – this was a standout, both in the presentation (sushi style) and the flavors, with the sauce served on a side.

Our first official course was a soup sampler. What was almost mind boggling is that in Saimin Noodle Soup (pork belly, mushroom, scallion, soft egg), which is a Hawaiian version of Ramen, the pork belly was still crisp. The Curry Noodle Soup (curry, coconut milk, vegetables) was literally heartwarming – I would gladly eat it any day, but it is an ultimate cold winter night treat.

The soup followed by the selection of Tacos – Tako Taco (braised octopus, roasted corn relish) and Duck Taco (Hoisin, cabbage, peanut sauce), both very tasty.

Our Pacific Rim cuisine exploration continued with Togarashi Lobster Mac and Cheese (Japanese seven spice, panko crust, bacon) with a unique, delicious, spicy flavor and then General Tso’s Cauliflower (sweet chili sauce, crispy potatoes), which could be easily my most favorite dish of the day. I love Cauliflower in any form, and in this dish, it was perfectly cooked and the flavor was simply outstanding – couldn’t stop eating it.

Next up were Lo Mein (Chinese wonton noodles, vegetables), very tasty, then Crispy Shrimp & Grits (coconut shrimp, white cheese grits, hot oil) – another wow dish with unique “fusion” blend of spices on the shrimp. We finished our dinner with Macadamia Kalamansi Cod (wasabi sticky rice) which was simply outstanding.

And finally, the dessert! We had a pleasure of sampling three desserts – Malasadas (miso caramel), Banana Bread Pudding and Mansana Turon (apple spring roll), served with the Ube ice cream – all “wow” flavors, a stunning finish to an absolutely delicious meal.

Dessert Sampler at MIRO KitchenWe had an opportunity to thank Eugene Kabilnitsky and Chef Howard McCall for the exquisite meal and ask them a few questions:

Howard McCall and Eugene Kabilnitsky MIRO KitchenThere you have it, my friends – unique and different experience. In the sea of restaurants, MIRO Kitchen is clearly a standout – from crafted cocktails to unique dessert, offering vegan, dairy free and gluten free dishes – something you owe it to yourself to check out. You can thank me later. Cheers!

MIRO Kitchen
1876 Black Rock Turnpike
Fairfield, CT 06825
Ph: (203) 332-0001
http://www.mirokitchen.com/

MIRO Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lodi Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016 14 comments

Thanksgiving is definitely one of my most favorite holidays – maybe because it is so centered on the food. Of course it is about families and friends getting together, and giving thanks for many many things which comprise our lives – we all have a lot to be thankful for. Nevertheless, the food on Thanksgiving is essential, it is a canvas of gathering, and even more importantly so if you are hosting the gathering.

lodi wines

For many years we visited our close friends to celebrate Thanksgiving together with them. This year we are hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, which gave me a pleasure of doing a boatload of cooking, and – I’m sure you expected that – to select the wines for the dinner.

Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday, so choosing to serve the American wines comes easy and logical. But then America is all about freedom, so of course, you can drink whatever you feel like, I’m just talking about my personal choices. About a month ago I visited Lodi region in California (my second trip there, after Wine Bloggers Conference back in August), and while I was tasting through the line of delicious wines at Bokisch Vineyards, it dawned on me – this year, we should celebrate Thanksgiving with wines from Lodi. Now, as it is almost time to get to the table, this is exactly what we are doing.

Lodi is somewhat under the radar (and believe me – I would love to keep it like that, for it to stay the best kept secret for a few oenophiles only), but totally unique and totally unexpected region, which produces unique and delicious wines. Lodi is a California appellation, yet it produces the world class wines absolute majority would never associate with California. Look at the wines I’m planning to open. Sangiovese Rosé from LangeTwins – yes, an Italian star, Sangiovese, right out of the Central California. Graciano from Bokisch Vineyards – yes, Graciano, the unique grape from Rioja in Spain – this was the wine which prompted this whole “Lodi Thanksgiving” idea. Or how about Borra Vineyards Heritage, a field blend (!) of Barbera, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet – here is another core Italian varietal, Barbera. I don’t have a Lodi white wine, this is where Turley White Coat should do, as it contains Grenache Blanc and Verdelho from Lodi. Unique grapes, unique and, most importantly, delicious wines – this is what makes Lodi wines such an easy choice for me.

The Thanksgiving dinner will include the infamous “3 in 1″ bird, the Turducken, and lots of the side dishes – you can see some of the key components in the picture below.

thanksgiving prep

I have an ambitious plan to report on the dinner right after its completion – that might never happen, but I will try. By the way, do you care to guess what wine is hiding behind the wrap? Maybe name the grape, and maybe even the producer? How are you going to celebrate? With what wines? Is there a dish you are looking forward to making or, at least, eating? Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Tavern 489 in Stamford, CT – Come for Food, Stay for Music and Wine

November 19, 2016 2 comments

If I will describe a restaurant as “classy rustic”, would that make sense to you? Can you walk into the restaurant and feel that time and place all of a sudden changed on you? The modern, fast, noisy city disappeared, and instead, you find yourself in the cozy shack up in the woods?

That’s what Tavern 489 does to you. You walk in and instantly taken by the ambiance – no detail of decor is left to a chance – every element is used to create that tavern feel, the rustic ambiance – and it puts you in the right mood.

We visited restaurant back in May, when it was only opened. Eric Monte, a well-known restaurateur in Stamford, CT and an avid wine collector, put together a special dinner menu for us, with all the dishes paired with the different wines.

And not only the wines. Tavern 489 is the only restaurant in Connecticut which serves Moosehead Lager, the beer made at the oldest Canadian brewery (founded in 1867) – and Moosehead Lager was our first pairing of the night.

Before we get to food – yes, of course, there was a cocktail to start the evening. Tavern 489 is located on the street called Glenbrook Road, one of the oldest streets in Stamford – how you can pass on an opportunity to taste the Glenbrook Mule cocktail (which was very tasty)?

Our first dish was Venison Balls (red wine green peppercorn sauce), served with the Moosehead Lager. The balls were nicely spicy, and the beer was working perfectly with the dish. And what I loved the most was the presentation – perfectly fitting for the tavern food.

Next up was Cold Spring tomato Soup, and we also switched to wine to continue our dinner. Our first wine was 2013 Les Costiéres de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet AOP – touch of honeysuckle on the nose, clean, simple palate, tart. The wine didn’t work with the soup (how many wines do?), despite the fact that the soup was very tasty. But it perfectly complemented Taunton Bay fried oysters (lemon, tamarind, curry, tomato sauce), which were delicious and again, beautifully presented dish – we eat with our eyes first, and the oysters were a pure delight on the plate.

Remember I mentioned music? So the music has a special place at the Tavern 489 – right in front of the house, and it is live. Tavern 489 brings in many musicians, so all you really need is a glass of wine (or a Moosehead Lager), sit down (or stand for that matter), and get carried away:

Music at Tavern 489The food continued with the selection of the burgers – Bison Burger, Blackened Angus Burger w/Blue Cheese and Tavern Burger w/Pesto Truffle – my favorite was the Blackened Burger – great flavor, and of course it is hard to resist a blue cheese topping. With the meat, the new wine showed up – this time red, 2010 Grand Palais Bordeaux Supérieur – typical Bordeaux nose, green bell peppers, supple palate, good balance. This wine perfectly paired with my favorite dish of the evening – Charred octopus (Kidney bean, tomato, shallots, garlic, parsley, pomegranate chimichurri dressing) – this dish had both perfect finess of flavor, and just a rustic, homey, comfort food feel – simply a wow.

Our main course was a true carnivore dream and a masterpiece in the presentation – Dirty Tomahawk steak – bone-in thick ribeye steak (served with Chef Suggestions – potatoes, broccoli rabe, bacon-wrapped asparagus). Definitely a treat, and if you are into the meat, that is your dish. Another wine was served with this dish –  2012 Shooting Star Blue Franc Blaufrankisch Washington State – generous, rich, brooding – delicious wine overall. The wine was unique and different – how often you get to drink wine made in the USA from the Austrian/German grape such as Blaufränkisch? Definitely a treat – and an interesting story on the back label.

And finally – the dessert – very tasty Chocolate Mousse, light and delicious.

chocolate mousse desert at Tavern 489We had an opportunity to thank Eric Monte and his wife Donna and Chef Regis Saget, and of course to ask them questions, which we did:

Eric and Donna Monte Tavern 489

Eric and Donna Monte Tavern 489

Chef Regis Saget Tavern 489This was the end of our evening of delicious food, music, and wine – and I highly recommend that you will head over to the Tavern 489 and check it out for yourselves. You can thank me later. Cheers!

Tavern 489
489 Glenbrook Road
Stamford, CT  06906
Ph: 203-355-0360
http://www.tavern489.com/

 

Tavern 489 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Files: Tablao in Norwalk, CT – Wine or Cocktail, You Decide

November 12, 2016 2 comments

Translated from Spanish, the word “Tabla” has a few different meanings, but the one of interest for us here is a “board” or a “plank”. If you stop by the recently opened Tablao restaurant in SoNo district or Norwalk, Connecticut, the wooden planks on the walls will definitely attract your attention – and if you are a oenophile, you can’t help but to keep looking for all the familiar and coveted names (uncontrollable drooling will be excused, but please behave):

For sure I was very happy to observe all those wooden boards when I visited the restaurant for the bloggers dinner a few month ago. This time around, I arrived even a bit early, so I had an opportunity to snap a few pictures of decor and ambiance:

Tablao SoNo

Tablao SoNo

Tablao SoNoWhile I love wine, I would never skip the bar – after all, nice cocktail is a nice cocktail, a great way to start the evening. The bar at Tablao didn’t disappoint. To be entirely honest, it even exceeded my expectations, as soon as I saw a bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal. Del Maguey makes absolutely spectacular Mezcal, which is rare and almost impossible to find. If the restaurant carries it, it gives me a good pointer for what to expect.

Tablao offers a nice selection of cocktails and wines by the glass:

Cocktails and Wines by the glass menu Tablao SoNoWe had a few of the cocktails, and the wines were prepared for our dinner in advance. I really liked the cocktail called Charred! (charred Serrano pepper, Chinaco Blanco – another sign of high-class – rare and beautiful tequila, Vida Mezcal, lime, agave, optional egg white) – nice balance, good spicy bite. From the wines, my favorites were 2011 Guimaro Mencia Ribera Sacra which was earthy and showing nice ripe fruit, and 2014 Desierto25 Cabernet Franc Patagonia, Argentina, which was unexpected (Cab Franc from Argentina? wow) and stunning – smooth, balanced, with an excellent fruit profile:

 

While we were mingling, the food started to appear:


Cheese Croquettes were very tasty, with nice amount of spice. Potato Croquettes were my favorite, again, well cooked and very tasty, with good amount of seasoning, and then Grilled Chorizo – who can argue with Chorizo?

The first dish to arrive at the table Charcuteria, which is offered with a very nice selection of meats and cheeses at Tablao:

Our first course consisted of three different Tapas: Brussels Sprouts Salad (Fontina risotto cake, black truffle shavings, truffle olive oil, lemon, parmesan cheese) – memorable presentation, the salad itself was tasty, but the risotto cake was a touch too dense to my taste. Next up was Salmon Tartare (Jalapeños, red onion, ginger, lemon juice served with house-made potato crisps) – nicely made, good flavor and then Calamari a la Plancha (Vinaigrette of vegetables and salad) with a good char on the octopus.

Brussels Sprouts Salad Tablao SoNo

Salmon Tartar Tablao SoNo

Calamari a la Pancha Tablao SoNo

The second course brought in Hanger Steak (Green chimichurri), Asparagus (Parmesan, red pepper vinaigrette, balsamic reduction) and Chorizo Español (figs, beans), all nicely prepared:

And then, of course, showing all the Spanish cooking heritage, the Classic Paella (Chorizo, Chicken, Port, Clams, Mussels, Shrimp). Let me explain how good this paella is: you know how every once in a while you are setting next to the dish, you are full – I mean, completely full – and you still are going “let me just get another bite, just one more, please, I promise” – yes, that was the Paella experience at Tablao.

To finish our night in style, we got the trio of the deserts – Tres-Leches (Dense 3 milk cake), Strawberry Panna Cotta (Served with coconut ice cream) and Housemade Chocolate Tart (Chocolate & Goat Cheese) – all very tasty.

Desert trio Tablao SoNoThat’s all I have for you, my friends. If you are looking for a tasty (and different!) drink, a glass of good wine and a tasty bite of food, Tablao in SoNo can provide them all – with a bonus of a perfect ambiance. Cheers!

Tablao Wine Bar and Restaurant
86 Washington St
Norwalk, CT 06854
Ph: (203) 939-9602
tablaosono.com

Tablao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato