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June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures

July 10, 2019 1 comment

The Vessel Hudson YardsJune might be my favorite month of the year. There are many reasons for me to say that. For one, it is the very beginning of summer. It is like a Friday night when the whole weekend is still ahead – the same thing with June, the summer is just starting. Then it is the month of my birthday and Father’s Day, which means I get to celebrate a few holidays which are related to me. Throw in the end of school celebration and occasional graduation, and you can clearly tell June brings a lot of reasons to be happy.

This June of 2019 went particularly overboard with all the goodness. At the beginning of the month, I got invited to so many wine tastings and dinners that I had to simply decline the number of invitations. Those which I managed to attend were an absolute standout. Tasting of South African wines was small, but superb, with lots of simply delicious wines. Right after the South African wine tasting, I met with Stefano Ruini, the winemaker for Bodegas Luce, tasted through yet another excellent set of wines and finally realized that Luce, the wine I tasted and admired before, is a Merlot Sangiovese blend produced in the heart of the land of Brunello.

The last event of the same day was a dinner with Michael Benedict and John Terlato of Sanford and Benedict Winery, a pioneer of California Pinot Noir, which took place at the spanking new Hudson Yards, at the Wild Ink restaurant, overlooking freshly minted The Vessel.

My next day was even more memorable, with two hours of the pure joy of talking to Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery in Napa Valley, and tasting (a better way to put it: been blown away by) Stu’s wines, which were simply a standout.

That eventful week ended with the L’Ecole 41, iconic Walla Walla producer’s lunch and vertical tasting, where I finally discovered for myself what is all the fuss about Ferguson.

Then there was Father’s Day, with all the cooking fun and an opportunity to open a special bottle of wine – it is always easier to pull a better bottle when you have a good reason to do so.

My cooking fun was more of the usual – BBQ. However, I experimented with the way the meat was prepared. The chicken breast was marinated overnight in the onion juice if this is a thing – simply a big Vidalia onion pulverized in the blender and then used as a marinade – with the addition of the bbq spices. The lamb was marinated overnight in the buttermilk also with the addition of rosemary, sage, and the spices. The result was outstanding – both chicken and lamb came out juicy, tender, and delicious.

The wine story started with the 2018 Field Recordings Morro View Edna Valley (13.9% ABV, 100% Grüner Veltliner) – fresh undertones of grass, Meyer lemon, bright, crisp acidity – a perfect sip for the summer day.

Two of the Martinelli wines joined the party. Martinelli is most famous as the grape growers, however, they also produced a number of wines under their own name, albeit those are rare. First, we had 2009 Martinelli Syrah Zio Tony Ranch “Gianna Marie” Russian River Valley (15.4% ABV), which took a bit of time to open up into the a delicious, blackberries and pepper concoction, firm and supple.

I only had two bottles of Martinelli so I had no plans to open both on the same occasion. However, when my oldest daughter came and said “Dad, I can have a glass of wine over the next two hours and I want California Pinot Noir” (she has medical condition which generally prevents her from enjoying any type of alcohol), the only wine my brain could think of was 2010 Martinelli Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (15.5% ABV), as I saw this bottle in the fridge the day before. This was a classic California Pinot Noir, which I generally describe as “plums and smoke” – soft, layered, good amount of fruit without going overboard, delicious long finish – an excellent example of the California Pinot Noir – and by the way, perfectly balanced – 15.5% ABV was absolutely unnoticeable.

The last wine I had high hopes for … well, didn’t work out. Back in 2012, I had 2004 Retro Petite Sirah, which was one of my top dozen wines of 2012. This time I opened 2007 Retro Petite Sirah Howell Mountain (14% ABV), hoping that 12 years is enough for this wine to at least start opening up. Nope, no such luck. The fruit was nowhere to be found, the wine mostly had sapidity, coffee and roasted meat notes on the first day, despite being decanted. It slowly improved day by day and showed some glimpses of the fruit on the third day, but still, it didn’t deliver the pleasure I was hoping for.

Well, let’s stop here. I will tell you about the rest of June in the next post – with lots (lots!) more pictures.

To be continued…

Daily Glass: Enjoy Your Wine and Play With Your Food – Beyond Meat Food, It Is

June 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I appreciate winding down Sunday with a good glass of wine and a family dinner. When it is warm outside, such a Sunday dinner typically means grill – and this past Sunday was not an exception (or maybe it even was a bit of an exception as it was dry and pleasantly warm, and not hot at all, compared to mostly hot and humid weather of the last year).

Kids love steak in this house. While shopping for a steak at our local Fairway Market, something caught my eye. Beyond Meat? Really? Both Beyond Meat The Beyond Burger and Beyond Meat Beyond Sausage Original Brat? Wow and double wow!

Let me explain the excitement.

Beyond Meat Burgers and BratwurstsI have plenty of friends and relatives who are vegans and vegetarians, so with the summertime, the question of a good meat alternative is always becoming hot – when someone visits our house, I really want people to feel included and taken care of, no matter what their dietary restrictions are, so the search for a good vegan burger, etc. was always on. A few years ago, I came across the product called Beyond Burger, made by the company with a catchy name Beyond Meat. The description of Beyond Burger, which offered full resemblance of the regular burger, including the blood, sounded a bit suspicious, so I carefully researched all the ingredients and to my dismay, found that all of the ingredients are natural and there was no red paint added to this product. When I decided to try it, further research proved it to be mission impossible – Beyond Burger was available only at the Whole Foods (which I don’t frequent), and the Internet was full of complaints of the people who desperately tried, but failed to find it in their local stores, as the product was always out of stock. I also learned that in addition to Beyond Burger, the same company is offering a new product called Beyond Sausage, which sounded to me too good to be true. Again, this all was taking place 3-4 years ago.

This year, Beyond Meat went public (and mind you, very successfully – while the initial offering was at $25/share in early May, today it is trading at around $168/share, and it is just about a month later). And it appears that they managed to increase their production and distribution – now I saw the actual product instead of just reading about it. Thus, as you can imagine, I simply had to try it, even though it is quite expensive for what it is – $5.73 for two burger patties and $9.99 for four “bratwurst” sausages – you can buy the pack of 14 real bratwurst sausages at Costo for $8.99. Nevermind all the price talk – the question is simple – is it tasty? Would I be happy to serve it to the guests?

What is the best way to compare wines? The blind tasting, of course. What is the best way to compare foods? Well, the concept of “blind tasting” in wine can’t really apply to the food, unless you would actually blindfold someone, or taste your food in one of those dark rooms were waitstaff wears special goggles. So I didn’t attempt to do any sort of the fair comparison, especially as the dinner plan included steak and not the burgers. However, I had some of the Costco bratwursts in the fridge, so battle sausage was definitely on.

Before we talk about the battle food, let me share with you two delicious wines we got to enjoy on Sunday. First, a Chardonnay from … Italy. Yes, Italy makes excellent white wines, and excellent Italian Chardonnay can be found more often than not – but I still get surprised every time at how good it can be. 2015 Maculan Chardonnay Veneto IGT (12.5% ABV) was delicious from the getgo. Beautiful golden color in the glass, a touch of honey and vanilla on the nose. The palate was plump and generous, with white apples, white plums, a touch of honey and vanilla, good acidity and nice weight. The wine might be close to its prime and offers an ultimate indulgence at the moment as it is perfectly balanced. My wife, who generally don’t drink white wines, said “wow” and asked for another glass.

Sunday calls for some special wine, so I decided to go with 1999 Hendry Block 28 Zinfandel Napa Valley (15.8% ABV). In case you are curious what makes this wine special, it is its age. I don’t drink routinely 20 years old wines (I wish I could), so every time I open a bottle of such an age, it constitutes a “special bottle”. Besides, Zinfandel is one of the pet peeves. The wine just jumped from the glass with the ripe blackberries and blueberries, supported by mocha and sweet oak. The palate offered layers and layers of goodness – ripe berries, a touch of blackberry jam, velvety smooth but well present mouthfeel, lots and lots of pleasure. I can also tell you that I noticed alcohol level only on the label, but not in the glass. A very well made, delicious wine.

Now let’s get back to food, as we have the battle to discuss.

Here is how both products looked before the cooking – note the real bratwurst at the bottom of the picture with sausages. Burgers look scarily realistic, and while Beyond Meat sausages look slightly different than the real sausage, they still look perfectly real overall (there are plenty of different sausages of exactly the same color):

Both burgers and bratwurst should be cooked for 3 minutes per side according to the package instructions, which is exactly what I did. Here is the result, again including the real bratwurst for comparison:

As you can see, Beyond Meat products have somewhat of a yellow hue (okay, this are the iPhone pictures, so you might have to take my word for it). Otherwise, both burgers and saysages perfectly held up to the cooking process and were very easy to handle – maybe even easier than the real meat products, considering the there was no fat coming out to cause the flare ups.

Just so you know we didn’t really convert into the vegans, here are few more dishes from our dinner (yes, this are real meat and real scallops):

And now, to the taste.

I made a small mistake of not creating the full experience out of the burger, meaning having it with a bun, tomato, ketchup and so on. On its own, it was quite decent, with some tiny hints of not been made out of the real meat (but then remember that it was not a blind tasting, so I was clearly influenced by the appearance). The sausage, however, was mind-boggling. It literally was identical to the real bratwurst in the taste profile and texture – I would never be able to distinguish it if I would close my eyes. Simply a wow.

If you read my typical wine posts you would know that at any possible occasion, I like to taste the wines over the course of a few days to see how they will change. When it comes to the food, it is not that I like to taste the food on the second or a third day (by the way, some of the soups and stews actually benefit from an extra day in the fridge), but I can’t stand wasting the food, so I usually make an effort to work on the leftovers for as long as possible or needed. What it has to do with this story? Simple. We had leftovers of both Beyond Meat burgers and bratwursts. Over the next two days, both perfectly held up to the reheating in the microwave, and both were perfectly on point in taste and texture, resembling its real meat brethren even more than on the first day while freshly made.

There you have it, my friends. The verdict on Beyond Meat burgers and bratwursts? Beyond reproach. I will be happy, very happy to serve them to my guests at any gathering. And yes, I hope you enjoyed your Sunday night wines too. Cheers!

For The Love Of Pasta – Pasta Carbonara, It Is

April 8, 2019 3 comments

Do you have any secret food vices, the craves for something you shouldn’t eat? Here, I don’t have a problem sharing my secret – my secret crush is pasta.

Why is that a secret crush? Well, you really not supposed to like it. Pasta = Carbs, and Carbs = Bad For You. You don’t have to be Atkins or Keto aficionado – the message about the negative effect of carbs affecting one’s weight and overall health can be loudly heard everywhere. “Ahh, I stopped eating carbs and sugar, and I lost 30 lb and feel great!” And while I understand it, I’m always ready to embrace my secret indulgence – when making evening dinner plans, I’m quietly hoping someone in the family will say “how about pasta”? There is an ultimate level of comfort and pleasure in the simplicity of a properly boiled pasta (al dente) with or without a sauce (just give me some fresh Parmesan, don’t need even the sauce).

The reason is this “secret” is getting out now is simple. A few days ago I saw a post from Gambero Rosso that on April 6th we will be celebrating first ever #CarbonaraDay. Pasta Carbonara is one of my favorite ways to eat pasta, especially since discovering the Pasta Carbonara recipe by famous New York Chef, restaurateur, and Food Network’s Chopped judge, Marc Murphy.

There is never a single recipe for a dish – no matter if the recipe is attributed as “classic”, “best” or “authentic”, there will be lots of variations making the same claim. Pasta Carbonara is no exception – lots of variations exist with heavy cream, peas, other vegetables and so on. What I love about Marc Murphy’s recipe is its rustic simplicity. Four basic ingredients (pasta, bacon, eggs, cheese), about 20 minutes for both preparation and cooking – and delicious meal the family can enjoy. I will not repeat the recipe in this post, you can find it at the link I shared, together with Marc’s story.

Can we have food without wine? Of course, but this is not very likely in this blog, especially if we are talking about an Italian dish. My decision to pair Pasta Carbonara with 2010 Cosimo Taurino Notarpanaro Negroamaro Rosso Salento IGP was not something long planned – I simply had a bottle open from the day before, and thus it was an easy decision. Negroamaro Salento might be one of the most food-friendly wines – those wines are usually supple and generous with fruit without going overboard, tannins are well integrated, earthy notes are quite noticeable, and acidity brings everything together – in this particular case, the wine was complementing pasta very well, enhancing the pleasure of every bite and sip.

Here you are, my friends, my Pasta Carbonara experience for the first #CarbonaraDay. I told you about my secret food crush – what about you? Cheers!

Valentine’s Day Experiences

March 1, 2019 2 comments

Valentine's Day RosesCooking is the ultimate expression of love. This is always true, but even more though on Valentine’s Day, as the whole holiday is all about love – the holiday which exists since about the 5th century – it is really fun to celebrate something so deeply rooted in history.

Our personal love story was simple – yet, probably, equally uncommon – the love at first sight. It took three days since the moment we saw each other for the first time until everything was decided. So you can imagine that Valentine’s Day was always an important holiday for us. At first, we tried to follow to common path, working hard to score coveted restaurant reservation – until the dinner at one of the most expensive, and supposedly, best Italian restaurants in Connecticut, which we left asking each other “what was that???”. That was the end of our “eating out” Valentine’s Day celebrations, and the beginning of the “eat in” tradition.

One of the advantages of “eat in” celebrations is a much better wine program. You don’t need to desperately comb through the pages of the wine list, finding that you can’t afford any of the wines by the bottle you want to drink, and common sense preventing you from getting any of the wines by the glass which can be classified as a “seemingly affordable rip off”. Instead, you can spend hours combing through your own wine shelves, looking for the bottles which you will deem worthy of a special celebration –  and which will also work with the menu you have in mind.

Valentiens Day wines

Martinelli Syrah which you see in the picture was a backup wine in case anything will be wrong with the Pinot. Now it is back in the cellar, waiting for its turn.

Last year’s celebration was about steak and Cab – obviously, I couldn’t repeat myself, so the search was on to find an appropriate protein replacement. Somehow that resulted in the duck breast – and what wine does the duck breast call for? Of course, the Pinot Noir!

Before we talk Pinot we need to talk bubbles. Bubbles don’t have to exclusively narrow down to Champagne. Champagne is a wonderful sparkling wine, perfectly appropriate for any celebration – but the world of wine moved up tremendously over the past 15-20 years. I don’t have any stats to prove this objectively, but I have a feeling in the USA at least a third of all wineries if not half of them produce sparkling wine – if not for the wide distribution, then at least for the wine clubs and tasting room visitors.

I also have to say that ever since I visited the Franciacorta region in Lombardy, Italy, Franciacorta sparkling wines became my go-to choice of bubbles for any special celebrations. In my mind, Franciacorta wines are very consistent, and today, as they honed their production methods to perfection, this translates into the “you can’t go wrong with” Franciacorta wines in general. La Valle was one of my top highlights of that Franciacorta trip and the La Valle Rosé really hit the cord then – and it continues to do now. This 2011 La Valle Brut Rosé Franciacorta was superb – fine mousse, delicious strawberries on the nose with the hint of the toasted bread, and more strawberries on the palate – a perfect opener for our evening.

Now, the Pinot time. Similar to the bubbles, Pinot Noir also enjoys quite a universal appeal around the world nowadays. There some regions, however, which do a better job than the others – and California Russain River Valley is definitely one of them. I tried 2007 Charles Mara Pinot Noir for the first time back in 2010. It was silky smooth and powerful at the same time. I was so impressed with this wine that it became the top wine of the inaugural Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen Wines list. I still had a bottle of 2007, and I decided that it would be a perfect choice for our Valentine’s Day dinner – and the wine didn’t disappoint. Now, 9 years later, this 2007 Mara Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley became even more round and less “in your face”. Characteristic California Pinot plums and smoke on the nose, succulent dark fruit on the palate with a hint of violets, perfect acidity, perfect balance, lots and lots of pleasure. And it also worked perfectly with the duck.

Let’s talk about the duck. I had it a number of times before, either made by friends or at the restaurant – but duck is rarely my go-to dish. The form of duck I cooked before was either duck legs as part of the Cassoulet or the whole duck as part of the Turducken. I never attempted cooking the duck breast before, so obviously was concerned with the outcome. After studying a number of recipes, I was concerned even more, as a number of commentators complained about rendering duck inedible even after repeated attempts, so I was really not sure about my own success.

I don’t know if it was a quality of the ingredient, Moulard Duck Magret, which I got at our local Fairway Market, or the cast iron pan, a combination of the above, or the beginner’s luck, but the duck breast came out perfectly. I also made a Port (you saw it in the picture above) and berries reduction, which elevated the nicely gamey taste of the duck breast and was a bridge to connect it all to Mara Pinot Noir – all in all, a delicious dinner. Nevermind the paper plate in the picture – everything in life has a story, but this is not the story for this blog post.

There you go, my friends – not a timely share, but still an experience worth sharing. If you still remember, I’m curious to know how was your Valentine’s Day dinner. Cheers!

 

 

Restaurant Files: Comfort and Classy Italian – Bar Zepoli In Stamford, Connecticut

February 6, 2019 2 comments

Bar Zepoli table settingComfort Italian food? Oh, yes! Italian immigrants played a big role in creating the USA as we know it, so it is not surprising that Italian food is one of the most popular here – and yes, more often than not, it falls in the category of “comfort food”. For example, pasta and meatballs – isn’t that just a different way to spell “comfort”? Or how about pizza? Or anything with mozzarella, the word which non-Italians can’t even pronounce in a tasty way (it is “mozzarell” to you!), wouldn’t copious amounts of mozzarella make any dish a comforting one?

Can the food be comforting and classy at the same time? Why not? There are many ways to add a classy element to the comfort dish – presentation might be the simplest one. Or you can just add a tasty cocktail or a glass of wine to the same dish, and all of a sudden you have the next level of experience.

Bar Zepoli has one of the most central restaurant locations in Stamford, right in a middle of the “restaurant district” if Stamford would ever designate one. The restaurant is technically located inside the Marriott Courtyard hotel, but it is easily accessible right from the street without the need to navigate the maze of the hotel and its self-focused guests. Once you walk inside, dark paneling and dim lighting quickly get to you to quickly install “yep, this is comfortable” mood.

As usual, we started with the cocktails. The Pear Bears Margarita (Reposado Tequila, Pear Syrup, Honey Triple Sec, Cinnamon sugar rim) was good, maybe a bit too sweet for my taste. The KGB Will Wait For No One (Apple-infused Vodka, Muddled Cranberries, Ginger Simple Syrup, Ginger Beer and Cider) – I just had to try the wine with such a name. It was again a bit on a sweeter side, but quite tasty nevertheless. The wine list is small but offers a good variety, including some of the “local” selection, such as few wines from the Finger Lakes region.

We started our dinner with a set of appetizers.

Eggplant Rollatini (eggplant cutlets, ricotta, Grana Padano) had excellent seasoning, perfectly executed dish. Zepoli Chicken Wings (classic buffalo, roasted garlic, Parmesan) were delicious, done at the level when you want to lick your fingers after you eat one; let’s not forget an excellent, classy presentation. Marinated Beef Tips (24 hour marinated beef tips, smoked pepper aioli) were literally surprising, as cooking the beef to such a level of tenderness is not easy – excellent, tender beef, melt in your mouth dish.

Our next comfort group included Pizza and Pasta. Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella) was very good; Roasted Butternut Squash (Sage, red onion, kale, mozzarella) not only was tasty, but it was very unique – when was the last time you had a pizza with roasted eggplant on it? This was definitely a first for me. Zepoli Ravioli (whipped ricotta filling, wild mushroom cream, topped with arugula and crispy pancetta) were excellent, rich and generous; Cavatelli (broccoli rabe, sausage, roasted fennel, marinara) was also tasty, and one of my favorites – pasta with sausage is one of my favorite ways to eat pasta.

We closed the main part of our dinner with two of the entrées. Herb Roasted Chicken (free range chicken, red bliss potatoes, baby carrots, peas, pan jus) – spectacular. Everyone who thinks it is easy to prepare a delicious, juicy, not dry and boring chicken is dead wrong – delicious, tasty chicken requires great skill. Bar Zepoli perfectly delivered the deliciousness in one composed dish. If this is not the comfort food, I don’t know what is. When it comes to Braised Short Rib (parsnip puree, sautéed kale, roasted potatoes), short rib might be my favorite cut and preparation of beef – this dish was outstanding, fork tender and flavorful.

Sugar is definitely an element of the comfort. Dessert, anyone? Raspberry Tart (fresh strawberry, caramel sauce, raspberry coulis) was very good, not too sweet. Chocolate Polenta Tart (vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh raspberry) was definitely unique – never had polenta-based sweet dishes before. Cheese Cake Crème Brulee (creamy cheesecake, caramelized sugar, marinated strawberry, whipped cream) was again another unique cake, combining two of the classics – Cheesecake and Creme Brulee.  last but not least, Cinnamon Zeppole (Italian donuts tossed in cinnamon sugar, with side raspberry sauce) was a perfect finishing note to an excellent dinner.

What are your favorite comfort Italian dishes? Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Eat Well On The Go and Not – Station House in Port Chester, New York

January 20, 2019 Leave a comment

station house restaurant port chesterIf we think of the US history, this country was largely developed around and with the railroad infrastructure. The fortunes were built and the country flourished with the advancement of railroads, the ability to transport both people and cargo. The trains powered the first industrial revolution in the US, changing the idea for what is possible and making the country a lot smaller.

Today, the situation is quite different. The plane and the car are definitely the preferred means of conquering the distance in the USA. Of course, the tracks and trains didn’t disappear from the land, but unlike Europe and Asia, passenger trains in the USA are mostly the short haul, helping to offload transportation grid of the large metropolitan cities, without providing much of a meaningful alternative to the plane and the car for any long distance travel.

Okay, after this long intro, let’s go back to the core of this blog – food and wine. Only today, we are talking about food on the go. No matter how and how far you are traveling, you have to be able to eat. Train station, airport, rest area along the highway – ability to find a bite on the go, and preferably a tasty bite, is a key to the happy travel. Of course, safely and timely arriving from point A to point B is a whole substance of the journey, and it is the most essential part – but think about your own travel experience – are you happier when hungry or when well fed? Yeah, I thought so.

When it comes to the food on the go, airports in the USA definitely trumpet the train stations (the only exception might be Grand Central Terminal in New York, which offers a great range of fine dining options, even though United Terminal C at Newark airport might give Grand Central a fight for the supremacy). However, there is one important difference between the train stations and the airports – no matter how amazing the airport food is, it is strictly available “on the go” – you need to be flying somewhere to have a boarding pass in your hand to reach that coveted restaurant, like United Classified. However, you don’t need to be going anywhere (or you might be) to have a great meal at the train station’s restaurant. Case in point – Station House restaurant in Port Chester, New York.

As the name says it, the restaurant is situated in the old Station house at the Port Chester train station (if you are not a commuter, your only challenge might be parking – but this shouldn’t stop you from having a good meal). Once inside, you will find a modern restaurant well placed in somewhat of a nostalgic setting:

We had a dinner at the Station House a while ago, and had an opportunity to taste through a variety of dishes, which will suit you well whether you are truly on the go and want to grab a pizza to shorten your ride, or you are arriving after a long day at work and need to feed the family, or even if you are not going anywhere and simply looking for a quiet dinner in an unpretentious atmosphere.

Assuming you got some time, how about starting your evening with a cocktail? We had New Haven Bound (Tito’s Vodka, Blackberries, Strawberries, Lemon, Soda) which was tangy and refreshing; Hop on Board (Vodka, Honey, IPA, Lemon) was light and crisp. You can start with the cocktails and continue with beer and wine – the restaurant offers a good selection in both categories to perfectly supplement the casual fare.

We had a few appetizers to start. Blue Point Oysters were, well, delicious – what else can you expect from the fresh oysters. Summer Asparagus (Farro, Feta, Tomato, Dijon Vinaigrette) was excellent, with asparagus been snappy and crunchy (overcooked asparagus is a big no-no in my book). Charred Baby Bell Peppers (Basil Sea Salt) were good, Homemade Whipped Ricotta (Honey Herbs, EVOO, Toast Points) was tasty, a good flavor combination.

We continued with Coal-Fired Wings Thyme & Lemon (Sea Salt, Caramelized Onions) – love caramelized onions on anything, and it was a very nice addition to the well-cooked wings. Mama’s Meatballs (Marinara, Provolone, Parsley) were fork-tender and well seasoned; Baked Mac & Cheese (Four Cheese, Béchamel, Bread Crumbs) was homey and comforting.

Every restaurant should have their “specialty”. For Station House, it is the Coal-Fired pizza.

clam and bacon pizza station house port chester

classic pepperoni pizza station house port chester

four cheese pizza at station house port chester

sweet and spicy pizza station house port chester

For the regular (tomato-sauce based) pizza, we tried Classic Pepperoni (Tomato, Mozz, Pepperoni), which was excellent, and Clam & Bacon (Littleneck Clams, Parmesan, Garlic Oil, Chili Flakes, Parsley) which was perfectly garlicky (love garlic!). Two of the white pizza were also very tasty, Four Cheese (Fresh Mozz, Herb Ricotta, Fontina, Parmesan, Garlic, Herbs) and Sweet & Spicy (Fried Onion, Cherry Peppers, Fontina, Honey, Provolone), which was, as suggested, deliciously spicy (I find it personally very important that the “advertisement” would match the “content”).

cannoli at station house port chester

Do you think we left without the dessert? Of course not! Cannoli offered a perfect finish to the casual and comforting meal.

There you are my friends – on the go and not, you can always find a delicious bite by the tracks. Do you have your own train station food standouts? Cheers!

Wine and Bacon? Why Not?!

January 15, 2019 14 comments

There is a good chance that you love good food and wine pairing as much as the next connoisseur. We all know that successful pairings are very far from trivial, and we also know that not all the foods are good with the wine.

So have you ever thought of pairing bacon with wine? I’m sure that there is a very good chance that such a pairing never crossed your mind, despite the fact that you might love each one on its own – bacon and wine – almost religiously (there are lots of people in this world who will start drooling just at a sound of the word “bacon”).

Before we continue – or before you stop reading this as you don’t eat bacon for whatever reason (religious, veganism, anything) – I need to ask you (beg you?) – please do not fret. Bacon doesn’t have to be made out of pork! In today’s world, besides turkey bacon, which I agree is generally very pedestrian and not satisfying, there are also Beef Bacon, Duck Bacon, and even variety of Vegan Bacon – your life doesn’t have to be bacon-less, even if pork is off the menu for good.

What wine to serve with bacon is typically not the question you are facing, though. The main reason is that in the direct form – a slice of bacon and a glass of wine – they belong to the different, non-overlapping “time zones”. Bacon is a morning food, and wine, umm, really not. Yes, bacon easily takes on the role of a condiment at lunch and dinner, but then it is a whole another story in terms of the wine pairing.

But then there is brunch, where bacon is still a star, and who doesn’t like a glass of wine with their brunch? Or have you ever enjoyed bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with the blue cheese, so popular in many Spanish restaurants? So maybe bacon can be and should be paired with wine? Folks at Drinkable Gifts surely think so, and they even came up with infographics to illustrate their bacon and wine suggestions. As I’m an infographics junkie, I’m happy to share it with you. You can find all the detailed bacon recipes and pairing suggestions here.

I’m also curious in your opinion if you think suggested pairing combinations will work. Enjoy!

Source: DrinkableGifts.com

Japanese Cuisine Beyond Sushi – Experience Fresh Energy of Kashi in Stamford, Connecticut

December 11, 2018 1 comment

What is the first association you get when you hear “Japanese restaurant” or “Japanese cuisine”? If you say “Sushi”, this, of course, would be a good answer, but keep in mind that if you will visit Japan, sushi will not be the first food option you will find – ramen, chicken, pork, or veggies would be more readily available (and cheaper).

I don’t know if you are contemplating a visit to Japan (you really should!), but even if you are, this post will not help you to get ready. Instead, I would like to tell you where you can experience Japanese cuisine well beyond sushi – how about Kashi Japanese restaurant, located in downtown Stamford, Connecticut?

Kashi Stamford

Kashi means “fresh energy” in Japanese, and this is what you get at the restaurant. Beyond the eclectic decor, there is creative, off the beaten pass Japanese cuisine, offering literally the “tapas”-style dining with lots of unique dishes. As usual, we need to talk about drinks first before we will get to the food.

As expected in the Japanese restaurant, the wine list includes a good selection of sake. Truth be told, I’m not really a sake connoisseur, but one of my favorites is sparkling sake. The restaurant had a few to offer – Ozeki Hana Awaka Sparkling Sake, and Ozeki Hana Fuga Peach Sparkling Sake. Both were tasty, with my slight preference toward Ozeki Hana Awaka as it was more complex. I also had Cucumber Saketini, which was an ultra-dry cocktail, and then we shared Scorpion Bowl (Vodka, Gin, Rum, Fresh Fruit) – great presentation for sure, and most reminiscent of sangria taste-wise. The restaurant also offers a number of wines, but I decided to stay with the cocktails and sparkling sake for the rest of the evening.

I hope you are not ultra-hungry, as there is a lot of food coming. We had an opportunity to experience a wide range of dishes, many of them coming from the Seasonal Special Menu. We started with Grilled Fresh Octopus (seasonal vegetable, piquillo pepper in yuzu kosho pepper sauce), which was well cooked (always appreciated with the octopus) and very tasty. Kashi Tacos (Tacos with pork, cajun, shrimp, corn, onion, avocado, cilantro & wasabi sour cream) was a great play on a classic Mexican dish, offering a nice amount of heat. Bone Marrow (Teriyaki glazed roasted bone marrow, salt, garlic, shichimi powder, ikura teriyaki sauce) is not something you get to eat every day. The dish was definitely interesting and unusual. I like the way it was served with the toast. If you like roasted bone marrow, this one was expertly done.

We continued with the Double Wrap (Soy paper wrap with spicy lobster salad, shitake, salmon, mango chili; naruto cucumber wrap with spicy tuna, yuzu Squirt), a sushi-like dish without any rice – great texture, excellent dish, very nice kick of spices. This was followed by the Grilled Lobster (grilled seaweed, cheese lobster, chili sauce) – expertly cooked lobster, very creative dish, then Seared Yellowtail (seared yellowtail, cucumber, celery, tuiles, yuzu, kosho gel and yuzu dashi sauce), which was nicely done, and then a surprising Avocado Tempura (spicy tuna topping, yuzu dressing) – I know avocado is everywhere nowadays, and I love it, but this was my first experience with avocado tempura, definitely unusual.

Thai Basil Chicken (wok sauteed chicken, mushrooms, onion, carrot, fresh basil, chili paste, sweet basil sauce) was homey and tasty, a “comfort food” type. It was followed with two of the Kashi Signature Rolls – Volcano (tuna, salmon, yellowtail, cucumber, topped with tuna, salmon, served with sriracha & spicy kabayaki aioli) – nice and spicy, and Deep Blue Sea (Blue crab, avocado, shrimp, mango, topped with seared spicy tuna and spicy eel sauce) – delicious fresh fish undertones. To complete the sushi experience, we had Sushi and Sashimi for 1 (5 pcs sushi, 15 pcs sashimi 7 spicy tuna roll) – very good.

We finished our main course with Blue Crab Fried Rice, which was delicious (another comfort food), and Shrimp and Angus Steak Hibachi – who doesn’t like well-cooked hibachi offerings?

Not every Japanese restaurant offers a dessert menu, but Kashi does. We had an opportunity to taste Yuzu Cheesecake, which was an interesting rendition of the classic dish, as well as Green (Macha) Tiramisu, which was very well executed, with excellent texture and flavor combination.

Here you go, my friends – if you want to experience Japanese cuisine beyond sushi, Kashi might be just the place. And if you be visiting, drop me a line – I will be happy to join you. Cheers!

Thanksgiving with Smith-Madrone, And a Few More Delights

December 9, 2018 4 comments

Holidays are all about pleasure. The pleasure of the company. The pleasure of food. The pleasure of wine. As the very least, they should be.

Let me tell you about the pleasures of my recent Thanksgiving – in one picture:

Turkey with Smith-Madrone wines

If this would be an Instagram, I could end my post here, but in this blog, I can add a few words, right?

Let’s talk about the wine first. Everyone has their ideas as what is the best Thanksgiving wine. Some talk about how difficult it is to pair any wine with the Thanksgiving table, due to the large variety of dishes and often prevalent sweet flavors (this is not universal, of course). I have a very simplistic view of the wine and food pairing – give me tasty food and good wine, and if they don’t work together – no problems, I’m happy to consume them one by one. Difficult or not, pairing is not the focal point of my Thanksgiving wine selection. I really have only one strong preference for the Thanksgiving wines – they should be all American. Thanksgiving we celebrate here in the USA is all about this country, and so the wine should match that. And thinking about American wines, you understand how easy it is nowadays to have all-American wine experience.

How many of you heard of Napa Valley? Okay, I see that look, this was a stupid question, I know. But let me go on. How many of you heard of Spring Mountain District? Okay, I see your facial expression changing to say “hmmm, I’m not so sure”. And the last question – how many of you heard of Smith-Madrone? Okay, don’t feel too bad, at the end of the day it is one of the about 400 wineries located in the Napa Valley, so of course, one can’t know all of them. But – this is why I’m talking about it – this is the winery you might want to get better acquainted with.

Smith-Madrone is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley, started by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith in 1971. Smith-Madrone property is about 200 acres, with some parts of the vineyards planted more than 100 years ago, all located near the top of the Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. The name Smith-Madrone combines the family name with the name of the evergreen Madrone trees, prominently growing at the property. Well, instead of me trying to regurgitate the past and present of the Smith-Madrone winery, let me direct you to this article – it is a good story, well worth a few minutes of your time.

Smith-Madrone wines

When was the last time you had Napa Valley Riesling? If you answered “never”, it could’ve been my answer too – until I discovered this Smith-Madrone Riesling. Riesling is simply not a common grape for the Napa Valley, but Smith-Madrone produces the absolutely beautiful rendition of the famous grape. It might be due to the mountain fruit – all the Smith-Madrone vineyards located at the altitude of 1300 to 2000 feet, with slopes reaching 34%. Sustainable dry farming and winemaking practices also play a role, but one way or the other, the 2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (12.9% ABV, $32) was just delicious. varietally correct both on the nose (honeysuckle, a touch of tropical fruit, lemon, apples) and the palate, which was beautifully balanced with golden delicious apples, a touch of honey and acidity. To make me ultra-happy, the Riesling is sported a distant hint of petrol, which is my pet peeve.

2015 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, $40, 10 months in French oak) was equally beautiful. Again, the wines of that styling I call in my book “classic”. A touch of vanilla and apples on the nose, a distant hint of butter, continuing with the same vanilla and white apples on the palate. Clean acidity, noticeable minerally undertones, restrained, balanced – a very classic example of “how to do chardonnay right”.

With the risk of sounding very boring and repetitive, I have one more classic wine for you – 2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $52, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 70% new French oak, 30% one-year-old French oak for 18 months). How classic was this wine? Bordeaux-classic. The mountain fruit was shining, showing great restraint. This was not an exuberant typical Napa Cab – lean, tight, well-structured, with cassis both on the nose and the palate, the wine was very enjoyable now, and it will be equally or more enjoyable in 30 years.

So that was my main wine story on the Thanksgiving day. The rest was about the food – starting the smoker as 9 am in the 21°F weather (about -6°C), and then watching the turkey slowly getting to the right temperature. The silver lining of that cold weather was the fact that instead of 4-4.5 hours in the smoker, it took about 6 hours to get that big bird to the right doneness – and slower cooking results in more tender and more flavorful meat. A glass of Smith-Madrone Riesling was adding to the cooking enjoyment.

After celebrating Thanksgiving at our house, we went to see our close friends in Boston. What I love about that house is that there are always a few of the older wine bottles laying somewhere on the shelf. You never know what you will find in the older bottle, but that is what makes it fun, isn’t it?

The first bottle I opened was 2007 Tishbi Cabernet-Petite Sirah Shomron Israel (12% ABV, 70%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah). Judging by the pronounced brickish, almost orange, color, my first thought was “this probably fully turned”. And it was not! Complex nose of dried fruit and herbs was supported by plums and prunes forward, but balanced palate. Good amount of acidity, tertiary aromas – this was a very enjoyable glass of wine. Only one glass, I have to say – by the time I wanted the second, the wine was gone.

Without much thinking, I pulled another wine, realizing later that I opened another wine from the same vintage – 2007 Marani Kondoli Vineyards Saperavi-Merlot Kakheti Georgia (13.5% ABV). This wine couldn’t be more different from the previous 2007 – dark garnet color, not a sign of any aging, tight, fresh, blackberries and blueberries on the nose and the palate, firm, fresh and young. I’m really curious about how much longer this wine could’ve last.

One last wine to mention – 2010 Massandra White Muscat Crimea Ukraine (16% ABV). Massandra winery roots go back to the old Tsar’s Russia in late 1800, but their cellars hold wines from the 18th century (if you are not familiar with Massandra wines, here is an article by Jancis Robinson). Massandra is best known for sweet fortified Muscat wines, like the one we tasted. To me, this 2010 was most reminiscent of a Sherry, and not necessarily an ultra-balanced one. But then the same Jancis Robinson’s article says that Massandra wines require 45-60 for the full maturity, so I guess the wine tasted within the expectations…

Spring Mountain District in Napa Valley, Israel, Georgia, and Ukraine – not a bad wine play for the holiday, what do you say?

Here you go, my friends. I will leave you with some beautiful wines to look for. And how was your Thanksgiving, if you still remember it? Cheers!

For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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