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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: Mountain View Brasserie in Greenville, NY

September 2, 2016 2 comments

BMountain View BrasserieWe already talked about our day in the Hudson Valley during traditional adults getaway trip (you can read about it here). Culmination point of the Saturday night was a special dinner. I call it “special” as this is something we always spend time preparing for as part of our getaway. Our ideal scenario is to find a restaurant which would do a special tasting menu for our group, and would allow us to bring our own wines which we would pair with the dishes. More often than not we are successful in this plan – this year was no exception.

The Mountain View Brasserie restaurant in Greenville, New York agreed to create for us a special tasting menu, and we came up with the wine pairings for all the dishes. Of course, the challenging part is doing the “blind” pairing if you will – all we have is the list of ingredients in the dish, and the pairing is solely based on our imagination. The good thing is that we usually do this “hard work” together with my friend Zak, who owns the wine store, so we have a good number of wine options. We always make an effort to keep the cost reasonable – talking about this dinner, only one of the wines was $25 retail, the rest were $20 or less.

For what it worth, here is our dinner menu, with the wine and pairing notes, and addition of the pictures. As the idea here was a relaxing dinner with friends and not a blogger’s dinner, all the pictures are taken with the iPhone and, well, it is what it is…

We started dinner with NV Rivarose Brut Rosé, Provence, France (Syrah/Grenache blend) which was nice, round and simple, well supporting the conversation.

Our first dish was Maryland Crab Cakes served with Lobster Sauce, which was delicious and very generous in size. We paired it with 2014 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Gris, Czech Republic (100% Pinot Gris) – I wrote about this wine before, and while the wine was excellent on its own, the pairing was simply outstanding, with the wine nicely complementing the dish.

Our next dish was House-smoked Salmon Napoleon with horseradish cream and gaufrettes garnished with capers and red onion – the dish was interesting, quite tasty, but rather unexpected under the category of “Napoleon”. Our wine pairing was 2015 Notorious Pink Grenache Rosé, Vin de France (100% Grenache), which was medium bodied Rosé, and the pairing was okay, but not mind-blowing (the flavors didn’t fight, but were not enhancing each other either).

Warm Hazelnut Crusted Goat Cheese with Market Greens was more successful as a dish, nice crunch on outside contrasting with the goat cheese acidic profile. We used the same wine for the pairing and it worked perfectly, complementing the dish very well.

You can’t have dinner without salad, right? We had Grilled Portobello Salad with Roasted Peppers, Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Tomatoes, Spicy Walnuts, Market Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette which was very tasty, but most importantly, it paired deliciously with 2014 Sangiovanni Kiara Pecorino Offida DOCG, Marche, Italy (100% Pecorino). Yet another wine I tasted before and loved, and it was perfectly complementing the salad flavors.

Vegetable Risotto with Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese served with Roasted Sea Scallop was one of the absolute favorite dishes – perfectly seared scallop, working nicely with sweet flavors of corn risotto. Interestingly enough, we missed the sweetness as dominant taste element in this dish (just one word in our defense – corn was not listed among ingredients), and the same wine, Pecorino, didn’t work that well – it was just an okay pairing.

Our next dish was Baked Salmon Fillet with Orange and Olive Butter – again, perfect execution, moist and flavorful fish. The wine, 2011 Portal del Priorat Trossos Tros Blanc, Montsant, Spain (100% Grenache Blanc) was full-bodied, plump and delicious, working very well with the dish.

We were definitely looking forward to the Sautéed Wiener Schnitzel with Spaetzle, and the dish didn’t disappoint – very tasty, perfectly seasoned, delicious sauce. The pairing choice was 2013 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Noir, Czech Republic (100% Pinot Noir), yet again the wine I was familiar with – and I’m glad to admit that the pairing was spot on, with the perfect melding of flavors.

We finished our main course with Roasted Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb Provencal – I’m sure that even from the quick glance at the picture, you would expect that this was a tasty dish, as you can tell that meat was properly cooked – and you would be right, as it tasted appropriately delicious. Equally appropriate was our choice of wine pairing – succulent 2012 Seigneurs d’Aiguilhe, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux (Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend) Bordeaux, classic cassis and mint taste profile and classic complement to the lamb – outstanding pairing.

This concluded main portion of our dinner – and before we talk about dessert, I would like to commend restaurant on the smart way to present the tea. Take a look below:

Tea settingIf you look in the middle of the picture on top, you will see a sand clock – what a great and simple way to help you steep that perfect cup of tea? Very thoughtful!

Our first dessert was Warm Apple Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Caramel Bourbon Sauce – I’m sure you don’t need my lame description here, it was simply indulgent. And for the pairing – you can’t beat one of the best and most universal dessert wine pairings – Moscato d’Asti. We had 2015 Cascinetta Vietti Moscato D’Asti DOCG, Italy (100% Moscato d’Asti) – light, effervescent and clean.

Our last dish was Grand Marnier Chocolate Mousse with Fresh Orange Sections – excellent by itself, and pairing very well with  2014 Quady Essencia, California (100% Orange Muscat).

I think this was one of the most successful tasting dinners we put together, so for the next year, we have a very difficult task at hand – but we are up for the challenge. Cheers!

Mountain View Brasserie
10697 State Route 32
Greenville, NY 12083
Ph: (518) 966-5522

Mountain View Brasserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Files: Off The Chart Experience at Portside Tavern in Hyannis

June 29, 2016 4 comments

Poolside TavernYes, I love food. This never been a secret in this blog. And yes, I get overly excited when I come across really tasty experiences.

Concept of “food” is multidimensional. At home, tasty food and family (and friends) around the table is usually all you need. Mix in a bit of ambiance and a glass of a good wine, and you got a great experience, right there.

When it comes to visiting the restaurant, you need a bit more than just food for the great and memorable experience – good service is important; another element which is near and dear to me is cost. This is not even the “cost” in the absolute terms – it is more the perceived value which matters, the infamous “price/performance” – an amazing burger for $20 might be a great experience, and tasteless, rubbery steak for $15 will not be the one.

As you can see in the title of this post, I want to talk about “off the chart” experience. The source of this exuberant designation was our recent visit at the Portside Tavern in Hyannis on Cape Cod (love weekend getaways, even with 5 hours in traffic). To go along the lines of a great experience in the restaurant, I was with the family, food was amazingly tasty, service was great, and the value was unbeatable – that’s all.

Ken Wright CellarsFirst, of course, was the wine. Don’t get me wrong – the restaurant also offers full bar with interesting cocktails, but my attention was on the wine list, which offers lots of great options, both by the glass (most of the wines priced in $7 – $12 range), and by the bottle (prices starting from $30 and some even for less). I couldn’t pass by the 2013 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Willamette Valley for $50 – talk about value – even if you can find this wine in retail, which is not easy, it will cost you at least $25, so I consider $50 at the restaurant to be a great value. After a bit of the breathing time, the wine was gorgeous, dense and powerful, with the signature Oregon aromatics of earth and cocoa.

Next, there was a pure indulgence from start to finish. Chowder (Local clams, new potatoes, applewood smoked bacon, cream) was not too heavy, not too thick, very well balanced in flavor.
Watermelon Gazpacho (Sweet basil drizzle, whipped feta) was different and refreshing – outstanding on any hot day, light, and again, very tasty.

Watermelon gaspacho
One of my favorite ways to cook chicken wings is to slow roast them at a low temperature (say 215ºF or so) – they develop great flavor and then easily fall off the bone this way. I was happy to find the same style chicken wings at the restaurant  – Confit Chicken Wings (Choice of harissa, rhubarb BBQ, or sweet basil sauce – we chose BBQ sauce) were super-tasty and the chicken wings were literally melting in the mouth. Continuing to deliver a great dining pleasure was Poutine (House cut fries, cheddar curds, foie gravy) – love this interpretation of French fries. This rendition was on par with best of the best I had in Quebec – flavor, texture, cheese, gravy – everything was just spot on. Finishing our divine appetizer experience was perfectly executed Mac & Cheese (Gemelli, local cheeses, buttered crumbs) – again, very tasty.

Our main course dishes were equally delicious. Chicken Risotto (Asparagus, prosciutto, baby tomatoes, balsamic reduction) was very well executed, great smokey flavor, nice contrast of balsamic, very tasty. Half-Pound Burger (Caramelized onions, bacon, garlic aioli, tomato jam, brioche) had an excellent fresh beef flavor, was cooked as requested and overall was very enjoyable.

Cuban (Braised pork, ham, Gruyere, dijon aioli, house-made pickle, grilled french bread) was done exactly as I like it – good amount of meat, flat pressed bread, great combination of flavors – one of the best Cuban sandwich experiences. It was also served with a side of Wedge salad (one of the available choices), which is one of my favorite salads any time I see one. Grilled BBQ Chicken Pizza (Bacon, red onion, cheddar) was delicious, good crust and again, great flavor combination.

As you can imagine, we were absolutely full at this point. But considering how good all the food was, we had to try at least one dessert. After back and forth, we settled on Double Chocolate Cookie (Vanilla Ice Cream), which was more resembling a chocolate lava cake, and was instantly devoured with the help of four spoons.

Double Chocolate Cookie at Portside TavernThere you have it, my friends. If travel will take you to Cape Cod, make sure not to miss Portside Tavern – and then leave me a thank you note here. Cheers!

Portside Tavern
72 North Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Ph: 508-534-9600
http://www.theportsidetavern.com

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

For The Love of Chowder

October 13, 2015 18 comments
Definition of “Chowder” according to Google:
chow·der
ˈCHoudər/
noun
noun: chowder; plural noun: chowders
  1. a rich soup typically containing fish, clams, or corn with potatoes and onions

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

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

Blue skies at the Chowder Fest

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

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

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

ChowderFest Ballot

[bad] picture of my ballot

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

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

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

Cozymeal – A Unique Dining Experience

May 22, 2014 6 comments

What I want to share with you today is a guest blog post written by Nanette Wong and Samad Nasserian, presenting unique and interesting dining concept Cozymeal. I like the concept, and I think it nicely expands your Friday (or any other) night dining options. Cozymeal is available today only in San Francisco and Northern California, but they plan to expand to East Coast very soon. Please read below and feel free to comment. Cheers!

Picture this: It’s Friday night, and you’ve made reservations at the hottest new restaurant in town. When you arrive, you still have to wait a little bit, despite making reservations. No big deal (sort of). Finally, you’re seated and everyone’s ordered. The food comes out, and it’s pretty good, but it’s a tiny space and you keep bumping elbows with everyone. It’s a little noisy too, so it’s hard to carry on a normal conversation. On the way out, splitting the bill gets complicated and everyone is a little frustrated with how it’s done. Does this scene sound familiar at all?

We’ve all experienced situations like this before, and that’s where Cozymeal comes in. Cozymeal is offering a new way of eating and enjoying the benefits of a restaurant, without the not so pleasant parts. Also, you can have the cooking classes with the chefs, so you can even eat the delicious foods you cook. Pretty cool right? It’s a complete foodie experience.

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Here is how it works. Cozymeal is a trusted community of food lovers and home chefs who share their passion for food. In order to enjoy a Cozymeal, all you need to do is to browse through the offered Cozymeals, find the dining style you like (or a cooking class) and the date which works for you (or you can request the new date), book it and then come to enjoy a great evening of great food and conversation in cozy and comfortable setting – it is as easy as that!

There’s a wide array of meals offered. From Peranakan Food on a Boat to Old Style Nordic Cuisine to a French Country dinner, there’s a meal to fit everyone and anyone’s taste buds. And that doesn’t even cover all the cooking classes offered as well!

1200x900_Cooking-Class-Italian-Comfort-Dinner_E66AE75

One of the most popular cooking classes currently offered is James’ Italian Comfort Meal cooking class, where you learn to make your own, fresh pasta! Located in the colorful Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, professional chef James will teach class participants how to make a scrumptious egg tagliatelle, topped with slow cooked pork sugo.

1200x900_Cooking-Class-Italian-Comfort-Dinner_D06248C

And that’s not even the main course. The main course is a slow-cooked beef brisket, simmered in white wine and milk. The whole meal is rounded off with a creamy La Quesada (think if cheesecake met flan) and fresh, local berries.

Boat Dinner-3

Another unique dining experience is Desiree’s Peranakan Dinner on a Boat. With Desiree, you can enjoy a sunset dinner on her boat docked at the Berkeley harbor.

She is half Hainanese and half Peranakan, and offers an authentic fusion meal for Cozymeal diners. The meal starts off with crispy sardine puffs, followed by chicken nut stew and jasmine rice. A simple yet flavorful and traditional tofu dish also appears on the menu. And of course, can’t forget dessert, which are a sweet, fluffy Kaya puff.

What’s most interesting about the whole experience is that professional chefs, or really talented home cooks, not only put the effort into creating this meal, but they also welcome you into their home. You get to interact directly with them, chat about how they cooked the meal, and pretty much ask them whatever you want! (Can’t guarantee they’ll spill all their secrets though). This is also being a great benefit for travelers. How often had you traveled abroad, hoping to taste the authentic food of the nation, but are limited to restaurants. And let’s face it, the restaurants are probably catered to tourists. Now that we think about it, it’s kind of being in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, where you’re Guy Fiery and the chef is sharing his food with you in his own home! Pretty awesome. Anthony Bourdain ain’t got nothin on you.

Cozymeal is growing rapidly and will be expanding to the East Coast very soon. If you are interested in becoming a Cozymeal host in the East Coast, West Coast or anywhere else, reach out to us by visiting our host page.

Check out Cozymeal here, or visit us on Facebook.

 

 

Russian Meat Soup – Solyanka

January 23, 2014 12 comments

The polar vortex is back with us again, and we need the tools to fight it, right? Well, yeah, you can’t fight mother nature – but at least you can make her blows a bit more palatable.

This is a wine and food blog, of course, so we are not going to talk about space heaters and Amish miracle fireplaces. Right food is a perfect solution for many of the life’s situations, extreme cold being one of them. When the temperature is in the teens, and every breath makes you look more like a fire-throwing dragon, there are few of the heart-, body- and soul-warming dishes which come to the rescue. The hearty stew is one of them. And rich, concentrated, hot soup is probably what comes to mind first while you are out there shoveling the snow.

So it is the soup we will be talking about today. This soup, called Solyanka (if you can read or just care to see the same in the Russian alphabet, it is Солянка Мясная Сборная) is one of the old and traditional Russian soups. Many people know or at least heard of the Russian soup called Borsch, made out of the red beets (Borsch is also a perfect soup for the cold weather, but it is not a subject of today’s post). Much lesser number of people know of Solyanka, which used to be one of the very few soups traditionally served in the restaurants back in Russia starting from the hundreds of years ago.

I believe many home cooks purposefully avoid making the soup, as it often translates into a quite a bit of hassle. Great thing about Solyanka is that this soup requires very few ingredients and very easy to make!

As you could deduce from the title of this post, the main ingredient in Solyanka is … meat! Actually, any kind of meat is going – pork, beef, veal, chicken – whatever you got. It is important to note that we are not talking about raw meat – we are talking about meat products, such as smoked or cured sausages, baked chicken/turkey breast, ham, all sorts of bacon, bologna, hot dogs, any meat leftovers – anything which goes in the category of “cold cuts”.

In addition to meat there is another important ingredient here. The word “Solyanka” is a derivative of the Russian word for salt. But the second key ingredient is not the salt per se – it is pickled cucumbers. The cucumbers can be brined in salt or vinegar, it really doesn’t matter – but they are essential taste component in this soup.

Ready to see the recipe? Let’s proceed.

Solyanka – Russian Meat Soup

Prep time: about 30 minutes. Cooking time: about 30 minutes.

2 lb meat products (cold cuts style)

3 quarts of broth (any one goes – beef, chicken, vegetable).

6 large Dill Cucumbers, peeled and sliced

3 medium onions, chopped

2 tbsp tomato paste

4 tbsp capers

3 dry bay leaves

1 tbsp olive oil

To serve:

Black pitted olives from the can, quartered

Sliced lemon

Sour Cream

First step is to cut your meat products, whatever you are using. I typically use smoked sausages and some types of ham, but really there are no limitations. You have to slice the meat into the small pieces, make sure you will remove any kind of skin or casing if it is present, as those will not be good in the soup. I generally like to roast all that chopped meat in the pan on medium heat, for about 10-15 minutes, to concentrate the flavor.

While your meat is roasting, chop the onions. Take the large pot or casserole dish where you will be making the soup, add olive oil, put it on the medium heat. Add chopped onions and sauté them for about 10 minutes, or until translucent. Next add tomato paste, 3 tablespoons of broth and continue sautéing for another 20 minutes.

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While onions and meat are on their way, prepare pickles – remove the skin, slice in half lengthwise, and then cut into the small pieces. Put aside.

Once the meat is ready, and the onions were sautéed for the total of about 30 minutes, add meat and pickles to the pot, add all of the remaining broth, put bay leaves, reduce the heat and let the soup to simmer for another 10-15 minutes. This is it! You are done.

This soup can be served as is, or with the optional sliced lemon, olives and sour cream – I personally like to add all three, but again, it is a matter of personal preference.

DSC_0397

And let me present to you the weapon against the polar vortex – a bowl of Solyanka:

Your ultimate vortex weapon - a bowl of Solyanka

Your ultimate vortex weapon – a bowl of Solyanka

To be entirely honest, you really don’t have to wait for the sub-zero temperatures to make this soup. Yes, it is filling and warming from the inside, but overall it has quite a bit of acidity which makes it very refreshing.

So, when are you making it? Looking forward to your thoughts and comments. Cheers!

Recreating Classic Recipes: Beef Bourguignon

December 26, 2013 23 comments

I know, I know – this is the wine blog, and I’m sure you are surprised with the number of food posts lately. I guess this is all because of the holidays? Well, but then this blog is all about “wine, food and life”, so I guess talking about the food is quite appropriate. Anyway, we will be talking about food today – but this food is made with wine, so we will technically cover both subjects.

When it comes to the French cooking, there are a few dishes which squarely belong to the so called “classic category”. Beef Bourguignon is definitely one of them, fighting for supremacy with Coq au Vin. Today we will be talking about Beef Bourguignon, a.k.a. Boeuf Bourguignon, a.k.a. Beef Burgundy, a stew-like dish, generally attributed to the Burgundy area in France. I personally like all of the stew style dishes, as they generally are easy to make and very rustic and comforting as food, which to me is a very important characteristic.

Main components of Beef Bourguignon are beef, wine, few of the vegetables and aromatic herbs. For a while, I had being making Beef Bourguignon using the recipe from the book called “France: A Culinary Journey”, which is quite simple. In a nutshell, you quickly fry beef, onion carrots and celery together on the high heat, then add the wine and aromatic herbs, close the cover, and let the magic happen over the next few hours. Then I came across some recipes on internet which were a lot more complex, with marinating the meat, boiling the wine before cooking, adding bacon and mushrooms, and so on. After reading through probably 5 or 6 different recipes, all claiming originality and “classicism”, I decided that I have to come up with my own, as none of the recipes  really spoke to me. Before I will talk about the recipe itself, let me give you couple of the points I find important.

Wine: The source of this recipe is Burgundy, so stick with the classics on this – Pinot Noir is your ideal case, but I also have done it a few times with Gamay wines (Beaujolais), and it worked quite well. In the wine, you are looking for acidity and light fruity profile. In general, avoid high alcohol, aggressively fruity wines – they will impart an unpleasant flavor. The wine doesn’t have to be expensive, but general rule is very simple – cook with the wine you want to drink.

Marinating the meat: based on my reading and conversations, marinating the meat in the wine is an essential step. It seems to be highly recommended for both Beef Bourguignon and Coq au Vin, so I’m going with this. I usually marinate the meat in the wine for the kabobs, which tenderizes the meat and makes it to absorb the flavor, so this definitely makes sense to use the same approach here.

Bacon: My general notion is that bacon makes everything better. However, in the case of Beef Bourguignon, the recipes usually call for making of the lardons (fried square pieces of bacon), which are then added to the meat during the last 15 minutes of cooking. As you are not cooking with an actual pork fat, I see such an addition only as textural, and I don’t believe it adds anything to the dish which is already quite rich, so here I’m saying no to bacon.

Okay, enough of the introductions, let’s proceed with the recipe.

Beef Bourguignon:

Prep time: about 1 hour. Cooking time: About 3 hours.

6 lb beef for stew – use  stew-cut meat from the good store, or take chuck or roast cuts and cut them into 1″ – 1.5″ cubes)

1 bottle of red wine – Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

5 large onions (one for marinade, 4 for cooking)

10 sticks of celery (2 for marinade, 8 for cooking)

4 large carrots (I really mean large, thick carrots – if they are thin, double the amount)

1.5 lb of whole mushrooms

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

4 cups beef broth

2 sprigs of thyme

6 fresh bay leaves

1 tsp allspice

1 tbsp peppercorn

Olive oil for frying

Salt and pepper

Serve with: boiled potatoes (classic!), egg noodles, pasta

As a first step, you need to marinate the meat, preferably overnight, so you should start cooking in the evening of the day before. Take two stalks of celery, cut in half. Peel one onion, cat in four pieces. If you are using the whole piece of meat, cut it up into 1″ – 1.5″ chunks. Put celery and onion into the large bowl, put all the chunks of meat on top, pour in a bottle of wine. The wine should fully cover the meat – if it is not – sorry, get another bottle. Take cheese cloth, put in 3 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme and allspice. Tie cheesecloth together and put it into the same bowl with meat. Cover, and put in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, get the bowl out of the fridge, strain and reserve all the liquid (you will use it for cooking). Discard celery, onion and herbs, let the meat to drain completely and warm up to the room temperature.

meat after marinating

Meat after marinating

Now, you can start with vegetables. Dice all of the the onions and start sauteing it in the skillet with the small amount of oil – use medium heat. Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the vegetables. Dice the celery, put aside. Cut up the carrots in the big chunks – round slices of about 3/4″ in size. If the carrot is too thick, you can first  cut it in half lengthwise. Put aside together with celery.

Carrots and Celery

Carrots and Celery

Wash and cut up mushrooms into the half or quarters, depending on the size of mushrooms.  Start sauteing the mushrooms in the separate pan with small amount of olive oil and medium to high heat.

Sauteing the mushrooms

Sauteing the mushrooms

Cover the pan initially, as you want mushrooms to release the water, stir a few times. After 3-4 minutes, remover the cover and let the liquid to evaporate. Continue cooking for another 5-6 minutes, or until the liquid will completely evaporated and the mushrooms are lightly fried. Add celery and carrots to the same pan, mix and continue sauteing for about another 10 minutes, stirring periodically.Turn off the heat, put aside.

Roasting all vegetables together

Roasting all vegetables together

After about 10 -15 minutes of sauteing the onions (they should gain color and become translucent at this point), turn off the heat and set aside.

Time to start working with the meat. First, we need to sear it. Put the cast iron casserole on the high heat (definition of the high heat depends on your stove – mine is electric, and if I use the highest dial setting of 10, everything burns before it sears, so my high heat setting for the cast iron vessel is 8). Add couple of tablespoons of the olive oil, and let it heat up. Put the flour on the plate, add salt and pepper, and drench the first batch of meat in the flour.

DSC_0197

Beef in flour, ready to be seared

Once casserole is heated up sufficiently, put the meat inside in the single layer, and don’t touch it for about 3 minutes. Turn around, and let it sear for another 3 minutes – you want to get a nice color on the meat.

Prepare the next batch of meat (drench in the flour). Remote the seared meat to another plate, and repeat the process until all the meat is seared. Once the last batch is seared enough, splash some of the reserved wine into the casserole and use your spatula to deglaze it. Reduce heat to medium-low, put back all the meat, add sauteed mushrooms and vegetables. Pour back the rest of the reserved wine, add four cups or beef broth. Prepare the bouquet garni: take cheese cloth, put in thyme sprig, 3 bay leaves and peppercorns. Tie together and put in the casserole (immerse in liquid). Give the content of the casserole a good steer. Cover with the lid, pour yourself a glass of wine and relax, your work is mostly done.

Check the casserole periodically and give the content a good stir every time. Make sure the liquid is slowly simmering and not rapidly boiling – reduce heat further if it is. Also, check the sauce for salt – adjust the amount to your liking. The cooking process should take about 3 hours from the moment you combined all the ingredients – check the meat periodically to see if it is done to your liking. Tougher cuts of meat might take a little longer.

When done, remove the bouquet garni. Prepare your favorite starch and … voilà! You are ready to serve Beef Bourguignon and accept complements from your guests. Of yes, and I hope you didn’t use all the wine – you might enjoy some with your dinner.

Beef Bourgoignon

Beef Bourguignon

So, what do you think? Do you have your own twist for Beef Bourguignon? What do you think of this recipe? Cheers!

 

Simple Recipes: Roasted Chicken Breast

October 3, 2013 10 comments

I’m sure that a concept of a “simple” recipe is largely individual. For me, it means that you have a few ingredients, and the actual prep time is rather short. Actual cooking can be short, long or very long, like the beef brisket I shared with you a while ago – but the actual cooking time doesn’t affect the difficulty level of making the dish.

The dish I’m talking about today perfectly fits the bill – very few ingredients, very simple to make. Why am I talking here about something as banal as roasted chicken breast? I love the ultimate flexibility of this dish. Without changing the complexity for a bit, you are limited only by your imagination in the way the dish will taste, and also in the ways you  can use it.

It just happened to be that I’m mostly responsible for making the school lunch for my daughter (sometimes she would make it herself, but I was unable to solidify that tendency). One of the easiest and most convenient items to make is a wrap. And we were making the wraps for the long time with Costco’s pre-sliced roasted turkey breast. The Costco product tastes fine, but I always wondered, how much preservatives do you need to make something like pre-sliced turkey breast to last for at least two weeks after it is opened (try that with regular deli meat – but please don’t share the experience). At some point, we decided that we have to try something different. Almost a revelation, but we recalled that a few times we roasted chicken breast, and it would perfectly fit the purpose of the “sandwich meat”. From that moment on, this simple roasted chicken breast proven its versatility many times. Now, let me give you recipe first and then we can talk about a few possible uses.

Roasted Chicken Breast:

  • Prep time – 5 minutes, cooking time – about 50 minutes
  • 3 lb chicken breast (about 3 large pieces)
  • Dry herbs or any rub spices
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt, pepper – according to the individual taste
  • cooking time – about 50 minutes ( assume 15 minutes per pound) at 375F

Cooking instructions: Take chicken breast, put it the bowl, add herbs, spices, salt, pepper and olive oil. Mix together, cover with plastic, refrigerate for few hours if desired. Pre-heat oven at 375F. Arrange chicken breast on the roasting pan, put in the oven and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes per pound. When done – take out, let it cool down. Voila – your roasted chicken breast is ready to be used for many possible applications. Here is the same recipe in the form of pictures:

Chicken breats, ready to be prepared

Chicken breast, ready to be prepared

Herb de Provence, salt, pepper, olive oil - simple

Herbes de Provence, salt, pepper, olive oil – simple

Ready to marinate - or you can cook it right away

Spices applied – you can marinate, or cook right away

Ready to roast

Ready to roast

 

And we are done!

And we are done!

Again, my real point here is to give you an idea of the dish, which can be taken in many possible directions:

  • you can substitute the spices with anything your heart desires – BBQ rub, chipotle, spicy paprika, cajun – anything you can think of
  • instead of using dry spices and oil, you can use marinades – mayo with mustard, wine, yogurt and garlic, anything you like.

Once the chicken breast is cooked, you are looking at multiple uses as well:

  • as cold cuts – we usually make a few flavors for the parties
  • in sandwiches and wraps
  • top the salad
  • chop it into the tiny pieces and make filling/topping for tartlets, pies, etc.

The last (and almost unbeatable) important factor for me – where I live, it is still possible to buy boneless chicken breast for $1.99/lb – compare that with the price of deli meats…

Anyway, I’m done here. I wonder what you think about this simple dish, and if you have your “staple of simplicity” in your home cooking – comment away. And be assured (or scared) – I have more simple recipes to share with you. Until that time – cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bar Q – Good Beer, But The Food Can Be Improved

September 13, 2013 12 comments
Beer list at Bar Q

Beer list at Bar Q

It seems that one of the unwritten rules of the blogosphere is that everybody tends to share positive experiences, and for everything else – well, that is what critics are for. Yes, we rant from time to time, but more to discuss a general problem, and not for any particular reason. Thinking about it, having a true picture is important. If someone provides mediocre product or service, we often just “vote with our feet” – instead, providing some criticism could be the best thing to do, as this is the only way for someone to find out that improvements are needed. As you already got my point, this post is about experience which could’ve being better.

We went to the Bar Q BBQ & Grill in Stamford during the restaurant week (a couple of weeks ago). This was our second visit – we were there last year at about the same time (also during the restaurant week), and we had a very tasty experience, so we were very much looking forward to visiting the restaurant again.

As you can guess from the name, Bar Q is focused on serving the American barbecue. Their wine list is very limited, but the draft beer selection is excellent (and the beer is more appropriate for the BBQ anyway). Also, the menu offers to create a beer tasting flight – 3 oz of beer, 4 beers in the flight, all for $9.

Beer flight at Bar Q

Beer flight at Bar Q

Our flight included Allagash White, Belgian style wheat ale – perfectly refreshing, Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat – had a bit more weight compare to Allagash, still quite refreshing, Woodchuck Amber Draft Cider – very dangerous to have in the presence of kids, as in appearance it is not any different than Ginger Ale – light, fizzy taste with some sweet notes – perfectly quaffable. The last beer was Blue Point Toasted Lager, which is in the category of so called Red Lager – it had some bitter notes, medium weight on the palate – quite enjoyable as well.

So the beer flight was great, the service was also very good – friendly and prompt, but the food – not so much, unfortunately.

We always like to try different things, so we ordered 4 different appetizers.

Appetizers round at Bar Q

Appetizers round at Bar Q

Out of Truck Stop Queso Dip, Pig in a Blanket, Chipotle Meat Sliders and Potato Pig Skins, only Queso Dip was tasty, and the sliders were okay. The potato skins were mushy and had no taste, and the pig in the blanket was a tasting disaster.

Our “main course”, a variety of BBQ items, was not great either.

We took pretty much everything from the BBQ “small plates” menu which was not a poultry – St. Louis Cut Sticky Ribs, Classic Pulled Pork, Sliced Beef Brisket, Beef Burnt Ends, House Smoked Kielbasa Sausage, Grilled BBQ Shrimp, Smoked Pork Belly and Memphis Dry Rubbed Baby Back Ribs. Most of the dishes were okay, but none of them was at the “wow” level. “Burnt ends” dish was a disappointment by comparison – last year we couldn’t get enough of it – it was so flavorful and delicious. This time, it was only “well, okay”. And the smoked pork belly was a disaster – a blob of dribbling fat,  smothered in the BBQ sauce. Yes, it was cooked, but the piece itself was such that in my opinion it should be never served in the restaurant as a dish (may be only used as a cooking fat). The sides dishes were [unfortunately] the best part of the meal.

To conclude, I wouldn’t put this as a “terrible experience” – it was an okay food experience, and drinks and service were excellent. But the problem is, this restaurant is no longer on my “I would love to do it again” list. No, I’m not asking for an absolute perfection – but, there should be at least one “wow” moment, an anchor which will pull us back – and this time around, Bar Q clearly didn’t have one. I hope it might be different in a future, and I will be glad to give Bar Q another try – but someone will have to convince me that it is well worth it.

Bar Q BBQ & Grill
261 Main St. (Behind Black Bear)
Stamford, CT 06901
PHONE: 203.316.0278
http://www.barqstamford.com

 
Bar Q BBQ on Urbanspoon

Study of Port: Food and Wine Tidbits

May 5, 2013 24 comments

Here I’m, continuing to report on my food and wine adventures in Portugal (here are the first and second posts from the series). Well, I guess “adventures” is really too much of a word for simply excellent food and wine experiences, but “adventures” put the things in the right prospective, isn’t it? Never mind, let’s just talk about food and wine.

On the first night we ended up at the small place called Restaurante Nova Europa. The place looked very authentic in the sense that they had a hard time to find an English menu, and our server spoke practically no English –  that didn’t prevent us from having a very good dinner. Most of the people at the table ordered some version of the local fish called Bacalhau, which is a cod. It was offered in different variations – mine had a lot of potatoes:

Bacalhau

Bacalhau

And as I often ignore food and wine pairing rules, the wine was red:

DSC_0724 Evel Tinto Douro

2010 Evel Tinto Douro

As most of the wines from Douro, this 2010 Evel Tinto Douro, this wine is made from the “classic set” of Portuguese grapes – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz a Tinta Barroca. The same grapes are also used as a foundation for most of the Port wines, which are made in exact same Douro region. Good body, good depth, not necessarily spectacular but easy to drink and pleasant.

Now I would like to mention two of the very local products. First one is beer. I’m not sure how many different beers are produced in Portugal (I’m positive though that US microbrewery revolution didn’t take any roots in Portugal so far). The beer is called Super Bock, it comes in lager, stout and few other versions, and it is produced in the area just outside of Porto – according to Wikipedia. I only tried the stout, which was dark, rich, smooth and creamy. I have to mention though that it is somewhat dangerous to rely on my opinion about beer – for the most of the time I prefer dark beer and on contrary to many of my friends, I don’t find Guinness bitter. And here is the picture for you – the picture was taken by my friend Kfir, not by me – but he was using my camera, so I guess I have some rights to it…

Super Bock stout

Super Bock stout, as captured by Kfir

Next item to bring to your attention is a local sandwich (supposedly it is Porto’s specialty) called Francesinha. This sandwich is made out of two slices of crust-less bread with various meats (or even veggies) in between – we saw it on the menu in most of the restaurants in Porto, and it can come with steak, white meat, various ham cuts and so on. The sandwich is completely covered by melted cheese (top and all sides), and it is served with the secret sauce which is supposed to be some combination of tomato sauce and beer. I had a steak version and it was very tasty. Believe it or not, but I’m not always carrying my camera to the restaurant, so Francesinha is probably the only dish I regret not taking my picture of – but someone thankfully did on Wikipedia, so below is the picture for you, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Francesinha sandwich, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Francesinha sandwich, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

And then there was Cufra. Pardon my little drama here, and let me explain. We saw the restaurant while walking by, checked it out on the web, and it looked appealing enough. Service staff spoke not too much of English, but the menu was possible to understand, so we all ended up with decent food – but the wine was more memorable. For the white we had 2011 Castello D’Alba from Douro, a blend of Codega do Larinho, Rabigato and Viosinho – very typical blend for Douro white wine, all indigenous grapes (Wine Centurions, take note!). The wine was very nice, with good acidity and somewhat similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, only with less of grapefruit.

Castello D'Alba Douro White

Castello D’Alba Douro White

Then we had a bootle of 2009 Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo Beiras DOC, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, produced by Quinta do Cardo. The wine was nothing short of being spectacular  – with the exception of vintage port, during the whole week I only had one other red wine which was on the same level or may be even a touch higher – but I will talk about it in another post. Dense and concentrated, with dark fruit, plums and blueberries on the palate, all very round with the hint of smokiness. The wine was so good for the money (€14, in a restaurant!) that I even got two bottles right in the restaurant to take them back home.

Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo

Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo

When we went to the same restaurant second time, about a week later, the menu was quite different, and the wine were too. But – one of the reasons for the second visit was the desire to try the crab dish we saw someone ordering during the first time. Considering that Porto is located right on the cross of ocean and the Douro river, it is rather expected that fish and seafood should be very good – and this dish didn’t disappoint (hope you will find the below picture being enough of the proof):

Crab and shrimp at Cufra

Crab and shrimp at Cufra

I can’t say the same about wines – there was different 2009 Quinta do Cardo wine on the list (about €4 cheaper), and while it was not bad, it was not anywhere as good as the first one. All in all, if you are in Porto and if you will be in the area, Cufra is well worth visiting.

Last place I want to mention (but not least by all means) is a restaurant called Rabelos. Just to give you some prospective, Rabelos are actually flat bottom boats which were used to transport barrels of Port from the wineries to the Port house cellars for aging. Nowadays the wine is transported by the tanker trucks, and Rabelos are only used to move tourists around.

Rabelos Restaurante

Rabelos Restaurante

Anyway, the restaurant is actually located in Vila Nova de Gaia, a town which houses all the port cellars across the river from Porto. It is located very close to the bridge which connects Porto and Gaia, right along the boardwalk in a place which in general should be considered a tourist trap. But it was no tourist trap at all. The service was outstanding, and we got great recommendations and had great experience overall.

One of the starters was local feta cheese, dusted with Parmesan and slightly roasted with olive oil (take a note – I think it should be as easy to make it at home as it is delicious, and as a very least I’m going to try it…).

Roasted feta cheese with parmesan

Roasted feta cheese with parmesan

Then we had beef carpaccio and shrimp salad – the pictures don’t do justice to those dishes, but both were delicious

beef carpaccio

beef carpaccio

shrimp salad

shrimp salad

Next we had two dishes made from Bacalhau in different styles – one was baked with cheese sauce and one was grilled – both were outstanding:

Bacalhau in cheese sauce

Bacalhau in cheese sauce

grilled bacalhau with shrimp

grilled bacalhau with shrimp

Again ignoring the pairing rules, we went with the red wine called 2010 Borges Quinta da Soalheira Douro Red, a blend of classic Douro red grapes, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cão, made by Vinhos Borges. The wine had medium body, good acidity, nice red fruit on the palate, well balanced – perfect for every day drinking, considering you can find it.

Borges Quinta da Soalheira

Borges Quinta da Soalheira

For the desert, we had lemon cake (paired with white Port) and chocolate cake paired with simple tawny. Below are a few pictures – the first one is taken by me ( boring, sigh), and then two others taken by Kfir – I will need to learn how to really use my own camera…

Lemon cake, no excitement in the picture

Lemon cake, no excitement in the picture

lemon cake, now with excitement, courtesy of Kfir

lemon cake, now with excitement, courtesy of Kfir

extreme chocolate cake, as captured by Kfir

extreme chocolate cake, as captured by Kfir

And of course nobody can leave the restaurant without coffee, right?

Espresso!

Espresso!

That’s all, we are done for today folks. Sorry for all the pictures, hope you found them at least moderately entertaining. Until the next time – cheers!

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