Posts Tagged ‘restaurant’

Restaurant Files: 360 Experience – Çka ka Qëllu in Stamford, Connecticut

June 5, 2023 Leave a comment

Wow, it’s been over 4 years since I posted about the restaurant visit on these pages. “Restaurant files” used to be a regular feature on this blog, and yesterday’s restaurant experience offered a perfect opportunity to bring it back, so here we are.

Think about your restaurant visits. Sometimes, we love the food, but the wine list is not up to snuff, and the cocktails are just bland and tasteless. Sometimes, the food and wine are amazing, but you can’t stand the ambiance (this was my case recently while visiting Firefly in Las Vegas – one of my favorite restaurants, just moved to the new location, and the food became even better while I actively despised the decor). Sometimes, all is great, but not the service. Some other times, all is good, but the experience simply can’t cost that much.

And then there are those where everything works, delivering that wonderful feeling of a great, memorable experience. I took the liberty to call such a situation a 360 experience – an all-around happy experience.

I was interested in visiting this new restaurant in Stamford, Çka ka Qëllu, for a while. The restaurant offers Albanian cuisine which I’m not familiar with. And it is not only food – the wine list also contains a couple of Albanian wines. I never had Albanian wines, so I’m obviously curious – and it is also an opportunity to add a checkmark to my collection of wines around the world. Last but not least is the fact that the restaurant participates in Marriott’s Eat Around Town program – who can say no to the bonus points?

The moment we walked into the restaurant, we were instantly transported to different place and different time. I remember walking in the center of Tokyo, along a wide, modern street, wondering what restaurant my host is taking me to. We took a turn under the bridge, and we instantly traveled probably 400 years back, to the old place where food was cooked by the open fire in the tiny stores, and dining tables were rustic, eternal wooden benches. At the Çka ka Qëllu, I had exactly the same feeling – we traveled to medieval Europe, just 3 miles away from our house. All the decor, the tunnel leading to the kitchen, the old clock on the wall… The whole time we were at the restaurant, I kept looking for more of the unique tiny details.

First, the drinks. Out of the long list of craft cocktails, my wife went for the Strawberry Margarita, which was absolutely delightful – very reasonable sweetness and a pop of fresh strawberries. I knew that I wanted to try an Albanian wine – I didn’t see it offered by the glass, but when I asked our waiter if I can get a glass of Albanian white wine, the answer was “of course”. I was honestly not expecting much, but the very first whiff of the glass of the 2019 Stone Castle Chardonnay Reserve Rahoveci Valley Kosovo brought me to the happy land. This was beautiful, classic Chardonnay, with vanilla, apples, a hint of perfectly integrated butter notes with honey – as classic as Chardonnay gets.

We ordered a few appetizers – Pepper Dip, Mantia (veal-stuffed small fried dumplings), and Burek (a pastry with cheese or meat, we ordered cheese). The appetizers showed up with two loaves of fresh bread which I’m sure is made at a restaurant. That bread was absolutely delicious and was perfect with the pepper dip. As a bonus, the flavor of the cheese the pepper dip was made with was reminiscent of the famous Georgian Khachapuri. The dumplings were delicious too. Burek was served with two sauces – a sweet pepper relish and another one reminiscent of the fresh buttermilk – not sure what it was, but very tasty.

For the main course, my wife decided on Qofte (traditional Albanian grilled veal meatballs marined with onions, crushed red pepper & herbs) – delicious is not even a sufficient word that can describe the flavor profile. I’ve chosen Fasul (soup style traditional dish with simmering white beans, and onions, slowly cooked in meat). I love white beans in any form, and by description, the dish was reminiscent of my beloved French Cassoulet, so I decided on this entree as soon as I saw it on the menu. I made the right choice – the dish was served in a small clay vessel and this dish was a pure comfort on the plate – delicious to the smallest, tiniest little morsel.

Traveling through space and time with Çka ka Qëllu made for a great Friday evening – a true 360, all-around experience (I didn’t mention the service that was timely, attentive, and friendly), just a few minutes away from our house. If you are living in Stamford or nearby, Çka ka Qëllu is definitely a place to visit. And you can thank me later – but don’t feel obliged.

We will definitely be back. 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: MIRO Kitchen in Fairfield, CT – Obey Your Crave

December 4, 2016 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIRO Kitchen
1876 Black Rock Turnpike
Fairfield, CT 06825
Ph: (203) 332-0001

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

Wine Dinner at Brasserie Louis

August 30, 2015 18 comments

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania I love traditions. I’m not talking about anything which is covered in dust and lasted for hundreds of years. I’m talking about simple life pleasures which you call traditions as long as it is something you do repeatedly, hopefully with joy and pleasure.

For about 5 years, we get together with group of friends for a weekend in August, which we call an “Adults Getaway”. The program for the “adults getaway” usually includes driving to an interesting small town within 200 miles radius, a wine tasting if there is a winery near by (doesn’t have to be a winery – one year we visited Hudson Distillery, for instance), a tasty dinner, a stay over at a nice B&B – but primarily lots great and fun time together.

When it comes to the tasty dinner, we usually try to control that experience as much as possible – that translates into finding local restaurant which will be willing to host us and work with us to create tasting menu, and ideally, allow us to bring our own wine which we will of course pair with the dishes on the menu.

Brasserie LouisFew weeks ago we got together for our “adults getaway” at Lewisburg in Pennsylvania. Our “anchor” for the trip was visit to the local winery, Fero Vineyards, which will be a subject of a separate post. For the dinner we contacted a few local restaurants, and finally decided to have our dinner at Brasserie Louis.

We didn’t have any specific dining theme in mind, and the suggested menu we received from Scott, owner of Brasserie Louis, exceeded our expectations – 11 different dishes – the dinner looked very promising. Now we had to decide on the wine pairings and go have fun. 11 dishes doesn’t mean we have to have 11 wines – we settled on 7 wines, as two of the desserts really were calling for the two different wine pairings.

The day arrived and we all got together (overcoming some interesting difficulties, such as flat run-flat tire, which appears to be a serious ordeal, especially during long distance travel) and here is the account of the wine dinner with all the details.


We started with Shrimp Ceviche (diced raw shrimp pieces in lime juice with cilantro, bell pepper, salt and pepper) – very nicely executed dish, great flavor, touch of heat. Our wine pairing was  2014 Fattoria Laila Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, Italy (13% ABV, $11) – wine had a good open profile with some flower and white fruit notes, but most importantly, it paired perfectly with the flavor of ceviche, complementing and enhancing the dish.

Our second dish was Wild Mushroom Tart (puff pastry with wild mushrooms, Gruyere cheese and shallots topped with greens and a balsamic glaze) – another excellent dish, with peppery arugula melding well together with the earthy mushrooms and adding lightness to the cheese. The wine pairing here was NV Anna Codorniu Brut Rosé, Spain (12% ABV, $13, 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) – one of my favorite Sparklers, Anna Codorniu always over-delivers, with good structure and good body. Here the pairing was also successful, with the wine complementing the dish very well.


Our “in-between” dish was Harvest Salad (baby arugula with goat cheese, beets and candied walnuts tossed with a Champagne vinaigrette) – nice crunch, fresh, simple – and we used the same Anna Codorniu with this dish, and again, this was an excellent pairing.

And now, for the Main Course:

We started with Hand formed Crab Cake (lemon Beurre Blanc sauce, green pea risotto) – this was easily the best dish of the evening. You know how often crab cakes contain a lot of other “stuff”, various fillers (corn, peppers, etc)? This crab cake had just honest goodness of a pure, delicious crab meat – I only had anything similar in Maryland, which can be called a crab cake capital with its blue crab. This was just a “wow”dish. Our wine pairing was also excellent – 2013 Jean-Luc Colombo La Redonne Cotes du Rhone, France (13.5% ABV, $20, 70% Viognier, 30% Roussanne)  – Jean-Luc Colombo is a very good producer out of Rhone, and this was one of his higher end wines – plump, full bodied, silky – complemented mild crab cake flavors spot on.

Next up – Black Sesame Crusted Yellowfin Tuna Steak (Yuzu teriyaki glaze) – the dish was nice and simple (tuna was a touch overcooked to my taste, I like it rare), and it paired very well with one of my all-time favorite red wines – 2013 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley, California (13.9% ABV, $20). Laetitia makes an excellent range of Pinot Noir wines, where Estate is an introductory level wine – which makes it perfectly ready to drink young. Delicious California Pinot Noir profile – smoke, plums, touch of earthiness – outstanding. The pairing worked quite well by complementing and enhancing the flavors of the dish.

We continued with Duck a l’Orange (pan seared duck breast, Grand Marnier reduction) – this was an okay dish (my piece of duck was slightly overcooked), but the sauce was excellent and fresh. We used the same Pinot Noir for the pairing, and wine and food worked together well.

Taking a break from the proteins, our next dish was Ratatouille (Provencal vegetable stew of zucchini, squash, wild mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, eggplant and sweet potatoes, touch of Parmesan cheese). This was the dish where the mastery of the Chef combined with amazing Pennsylvania vegetables (I’ve traveled all over East Coast – nothing beats PA vegetables, I’m dead serious) to bring out simply a perfection on the plate – vegetables still had a crunch, and the whole dish was just another “wow” experience.

Our choice of wine for the this and next 2 dishes was 2008 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem Cotes de Roussillon Villages, France (14% ABV, $55/magnum). M. Chapoutier needs no introductions as one of the very best producers in Rhone, and this wine was outstanding – complex, with a touch of roasted flavors, great minerality, lavender. However, there was one problem – this wine didn’t pair well with Ratatouille, and it didn’t pair well with two other dishes. In some cases, it was indifferent (didn’t complement or contrast), and with Ratatouille it was even working against the dish. Well – it is what it is – we still enjoyed the wine and the food – just separately.

Our next dish was Lamb Chops (herb mustard crusted rack of lamb, minted demi-glace) – meat was nicely cooked, and of course lamb and mint jelly is a classic combination.

We finished our main course with Filet Mignon (grilled filet, scalloped potatoes and wilted spinach, truffled veal demi-glace) – the presentation was very interesting, with the steak knife put directly into each piece of the meat. The meat was cooked very well, and overall dish was tasty. And this was probably the only dish where Cotes de Roussillon wine paired marginally acceptable.

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Finally, we are at Dessert!

We had two desserts to finish our evening. Strawberry Zabaione (egg yolks, sugar, Marsala wine, fresh strawberries) was very tasty and not too sweet. We paired it with NV Tütidì Brachetto Piemonte DOC, Italy (7% ABV, $12/1L). Brachetto is a lightly fizzed wine with a nice fruit notes, and it perfectly complements wide range of lighter desserts – and this was a case of a perfect pairing – they were delicious together.

We finished our dinner with Flourless Chocolate Cake, which was paired with Mount Palomar Limited Reserve Port, Temecula Valley, California (18% ABV, $38). Port and Chocolate – do I need to say more?

There you have it my friends – our wine dinner at Brasserie Louis in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. What is left for me to do here is to say Thank You to the owner Scott, Chef Chris Rubino and all the staff at the restaurant who made sure we will have a great time. Cheers!

Brasserie Louis
101 Market Street
Lewisburg, PA 17837
Phone: (570) 524-5559
Facebook: Brasserie Louis

Click to add a blog post for Brasserie Louis on Zomato

Grand Simplicity – Gene & Georgetti Steakhouse in Chicago

November 12, 2013 8 comments

Located in the River North District of downtown Chicago, Gene & Georgetti Steakhouse opened its doors in 1941. The restaurant had been open for 72 years – in such a dynamic culinary environment as Chicago, I think it really means something – very few restaurants survive for 6 month after they open, never mind the 72 years.

It is now became customary for me to check the reviews and opinions of the people prior to visiting the restaurant. All three sources I’m generally using (Yelp, TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon) had a consensus of 3.5 to 4 stars out of 5, based on 250+ reviews – this is solid enough in my book. Interestingly enough, recent reviews on Yelp were ranging from “Best steakhouse in the World” to “dated” and “How dare these people are to bring A-1 Steak sauce to my table”. Of course I had no choice but to find out by myself (ahh, it is such a hard work – eating in the restaurant, right? 🙂 )

As you walk through the door, you can see right away – this restaurant has a character. It is not trendy metal/leather/glass/wood type of place. Dark wooden paneling, classic red chairs, soft lighting.

P1010143 Table and chairWe were escorted to our table, and presented with the simple menu (two pages) and, of course, the wine list. As you know, wine is important to me, thus the content of the wine list is definitely of the high interest – both selection and prices. Gene & Georgetti’s wine list is mostly focused on California with some minor international presence – the selection is decent, and the prices are mostly okay. Yes, the selection can be a bit more diverse, and some of the prices can be also improved, but nevertheless, we were able to find a good bottle to drink with the dinner – 2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. At $64, this is about 2.5 times retail, which is definitely a reasonable price for that wine in rather an upscale restaurant.

Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon

Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon

This 2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) had dark garnet color, inviting nose of red fruit. The wine needed a little bit of time to breathe in the glass, then it showed the typical cassis, a bit of chocolate and some plums on the palate, medium to full body, soft tannins, nice acidity and overall good balance – definitely worked well with our dinner.

The bread basket appeared first – a nice piece of baguette and the variety of bread sticks – all fresh, with very tasty crust, just “hard enough”.


Bread! (sorry, we ate a lot before I took a picture)

We started with the Fried Ravioli appetizer, which was served with the meat sauce:

Fried Ravioli with Meat Sauce

Fried Ravioli with Meat Sauce

Simple, perfectly fried, very tasty and comfortable – making you literally feel like you are having a home-made meal, just at your family dinner table.

Next was the salad – fresh, crunchy iceberg lettuce with the Beefsteak tomato. I don’t know where the restaurant gets their tomatoes from – but this was probably single best piece of tomato I had in many years – absolutely perfect, fleshy, juicy and outright delicious.

For the dinner, which is served somewhat of a “family style” – with the sides to share – I ordered bone-in filet mignon (you don’t see those on every menu), and my dining companion went for the T-bone. We had sides of fries and grilled asparagus. I asked my steak to be made medium-rare plus – and so it was, with reddish center, perfect crust on outside, good till the last bite. I like also the way this beautiful hulk of meat was served – by itself on the plate, no sauce, no sides, no nothing – just a perfection, a grand simplicity of the great piece of meat. The potatoes looked and tasted as the real home fries – this is how I remember my dad would make home fried potatoes, many many years ago. This was definitely one great meal.

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Try to guess – did we have dessert or not? Yes, good guess – you saw the size of that piece of meat – dessert was completely out of consideration.

The important thing to mention – service. The service was one of the best – very attentive but not overly intrusive. The dirty plates were picked up as soon as they were available, clean utensils showed up just in time – it was the work of many people, perfectly orchestrated.

There you have it – our experience at Gene & Georgetti. This is definitely a restaurant which is unique and different – the ambiance, the food, the service. If Chicago is in your plans, and you like good piece of meat – the address is below, measure it up for yourself. Cheers!

Gene & Georgetti Restaurant
500 N Franklin St
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: (312) 527-3718

Gene & Georgetti on Urbanspoon

Can Angry Chef Make Good Food?

October 6, 2010 Leave a comment

This is the sign I came across yesterday while in Los Angeles, in the Westin hotel. Seeing that chef is angry beg the question – how should the food taste like when the chef is angry? Does it help to make it better or will it be worse? The place was closed, so I was trying to find an answer on internet. I found web site for Angry Chef Grill, but it only offers an option of downloading the menu (which looks Italian and decent enough). Further search on Internet yielded some reviews on Yelp (again, quite decent), but didn’t help to solve the mystery of the name. If you know where the name came from or had being to that restaurant – please share your story…

Cafe Pinot in Los Angeles – a Delightful Experience!

October 5, 2010 1 comment

IMG00007-20101004-1940 Don’t know about you, but when I visit restaurants at home or being on the family trip, I usually like to do my homework and know where I’m going and why (which is still no guarantee of a great experience, though). When traveling on business, I usually leave it up to luck. And sometimes that works quite well, as in the case of the Cafe Pinot in Los Angeles.

Let’s start with wine. I really liked wine list – very well organized, and while it had good number of wines, it was easy to navigate – and it had a lot of good wines in the sub $50 category, which is always great.  I also was happy to learn later on that I’m not the only one who liked Cafe Pinot’s wine list – restaurant holds Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Award!

We chose Turley Old Vines Zinfandel 2008 ( $68), simply because Turley Zinfandels are typically 1. good wines and 2. rare and hard to find, on wine lists or in the stores. We were very happy with the choice – this was a beautifully structured wine with all the Zinfandel fruitiness and acidity being in full balance ( I would put my Drinkability rating at 8). Also 15.6% ABV was completely unnoticed, at least until later.

As we were explained by our friendly waitress, the menu is updated all the time with focus on fresh local ingredients. I believe today a lot of places advertise the same approach, but I’m not sure if all those places can execute on it as masterfully as Cafe Pinot. For starter I had a very interesting dish, called “Study of farmers’ market beets”:

The dish included red, white and yellow beets complemented by ruby grapefruit, pistachio, Humboldt Fog goat cheese and watercress – for someone who likes to experiment with food taste combinations – almost a heaven!

Then comes an entree – striped bass“en papillotte” with cioppino broth, accompanied by Dungeness crab, fennel, tomatoes, basil infused risotto:

This dish starts with the beautiful presentation, when the paper (“en papillotte”) is cut in front of you after plate is delivered to the table, so this way none of the enticing flavors can escape before the time. Again, great dish with great combination of flavors (risotto’s texture – ahh!).

To end this story (and, probably, you drooling over it), if you are a foodie – or even not, and you are heading to Los Angeles – make sure you will not miss great experience at Cafe Pinot.

Cafe Pinot on Urbanspoon

Food, Wine and Finger Lakes

October 2, 2010 Leave a comment

It seems that I’m looking at good prospects of visiting Finger Lakes region of New York quite often over the next four years ( my daughter just started a college there), so I’m gladly taking the opportunity to talk about food and wine in that beautiful part of the country. Finger Lakes region is well known for its multiple wine trails. For a long time, the region was mostly known for it’s Riesling wines, and then white wines, such as Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, now it is slowly changing with the grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Baco Noir producing interesting wines.

I have to admit that visiting wineries was not the main purpose of this trip, so with this post, I would like to mostly share the experience around the food. Outside of Panera Bread which is consistently good no matter where you go ( I would personally go as far as declaring it the best implementation of “slow food” in the fast food setting), we visited two other places. First, we had dinner at the restaurant at the Inn called Rogue’s Harbor Inn (it is Bed and Breakfast place). Overall all the food was consistently good, with the focus on local ingredients. The only surprise ( in a bad way) was the smallest fried calamari appetizer I ever saw. All the entrees were done very well, so here are some pictures:

Wild Mushroom Ravioli (great mushroom flavors):

Chevon sausage with greens ( local sausage):

Three cheese Chicken Parmesan:

Scallops Solera:

Few notes about the wine: it was great to see a wine list fully composed of local wines – I think it is great when local longpoint_cierarosefood is complemented by the local wine. We chose Long Point Ciera Rose 2009, simple and pleasant wine, as it was working well with the variety of dishes we ordered.

Another place we stopped at was Castel Grisch winery. Located in a very picturesque place, the winery offers magnificent views of the lake and surroundings. As we made it to the winery, of course, I had to try the wines. I did try most of the wines, except the ice wines, and unfortunately, I didn’t find anything I like, except Gewurztraminer 2007, which was actually done in Alsace style – dry wine with very nice floral and spice expressions. In addition to the winery, Castel Grisch also operates a very nice restaurant, with a good selection of sandwiches and hearty soups, such as Hungarian goulash soup. I would definitely come back there for the food, but most likely not for the wine.

This would effectively conclude the post. As we had good success with the food, I will make an effort to find good wines – I’m sure I will, as I have plenty of time… And until later – Cheers!


Rogues’ Harbor Inn
2079 East Shore Drive
PO Box 97
Lansing NY 14882
Rogue's Harbor on Urbanspoon

The Capital Grille Experience – Great Wine and Dine

September 1, 2010 12 comments

It is interesting how we experience things in life. Some things just happen, and some are long-planned and anticipated, maybe for no reason at all (as long as we get the experience we want before we cross the finishing line, we are doing good, right?). Same as Norton grape on my “to try” list for a long time ( see my last post on the subject), The Capital Grille was on the “to visit” list also for a while, at least from the moment the restaurant opened in Stamford. So finally this experience came through due to a combination of good circumstances – we had a good reason to visit (our anniversary), The Capital Grille was participating in Stamford Restaurant Week (as the restaurant is expensive, that makes it a lot more affordable), and The Capital Grille was running Master Wine tasting event, with 11 wines assembled by The Capital Grille’s Master Sommelier George Miliotes (you know by now that wines come first in this blog). So we decided that we have a great opportunity to see where the “we wine. we dine” motto of The Capital Grille will take us, and there we went.

What a great experience! (should I declare this post complete?). From food to wine to service we had a great time all the way. Talking about food, the Wagyu Beef Carpaccio appetizer had an incredible flavor profile combining razor-thin slices of Wagyu beef, Parmesan cheese, and fresh arugula. Next, I have to say that nice thing about ordering steak done to your liking is that in addition to the standard scale of rare-medium-well done you can specify something like medium-rare plus, which is more than rare but less than medium – and then it is even better when you get the steak precisely the way you wanted ( yeah, I know, this is what we typically expect – but how often our expectations had not been met?). All four steaks had being done perfectly as requested, and the sides were outstanding (for the personal taste, Roasted Mushrooms had been my favorite).

Now, let’s talk about wine. The Master Event selection included 11 wines from California, Spain, and Australia, which in turn consisted of 6 reds, 3 whites, sparkling, and dessert wines. I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of wines from 2003 and even 2002. All the wines were very good and considering that the price of the Master Wine Tasting event was $25, I believe it presented a great value. As this is mostly a wine blog, let’s take a more detailed look at the wines included in this tasting (I’m going in the actual order of tasting). For what it is worth, each wine has a “drinkability” rating attached.

The Chook Sparkling Shiraz, Australia – was not tremendously impressive, medium body dry wine with bubbles 🙂 – Drinkability: 7


Penfolds Bin 311, Thumbarumba 2008, Australia – I was recently surprised ( in a good way) by the quality of Penfolds Chardonnays. This particular wine was very nice, with a hint of oak and vanilla and a pleasant finish. Drinkability: 8-

Cambria  Bench Break Chardonnay 2006, Santa Maria, California – This was one of the two “best of tasting” wines – it had a very noticeable amount of vanilla, butter, and toasted oak, but all of it was extremely balanced. This wine had great finesse. Drinkability: 8

Botani Muscat 2008, Malaga, Spain – beat all expectations. Incredible aromatics, fresh floral and various citrus fruit notes, great acidity – very nice wine overall. Another “best of tasting” wine. Drinkability: 8


Triton Tinta del Toro Tempranillo 2008, Castilla y Leon, Spain – This wine was very dense and very earthy. In general, Toro wines are concentrated – and this one didn’t exhibit even a hint of fruit. I would guess it is either a food-only wine, or it needs time (probably both). Drinkability: 7

Avante Mencia 2009, Bierzo, Spain – Mencia makes some of the hottest wines right now. This wine was very interesting, light and fruity, with a hint of spicy cedar, with substantial tannins and a very, very long finish ( did I mention the long finish?). Probably will evolve with age.  Drinkability: 7+

Greg Norman Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Coonawarra, Australia – I have to honestly admit that I’m not a big fan of Greg Norman wines. This wine had a lot of eucalyptus notes and some dark berries, but it did lack an “umph” factor. Drinkability: 7

Greg Norman Reserve Shiraz 2003, Limestone Coast, Australia – same story as the wine before – lots of fruit, but not enough substance. Drinkability: 7

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Vineyards 2003, Napa Valley, California – interesting wine, a bit all over the place. Has fresh fruit and fresh acidity, soft tannins. Drinkability: 7

Beringer Bancroft Ranch Merlot 2003, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California – Best of the red wines. Very good fruit, tannins and acidity which leads to overall good balance. This wine was perfect with the steak. Drinkability: 8-


Jorge Ordonez Muscat of Alexandria Victoria #2 2007, Malaga, Spain – nice dessert wine, has lots of honey, white peach and pear notes, has medium acidity and not enough minerality. This wine perfectly complemented the Classic Creme Brulee dessert. Drinkability: 7

As usual, here are some pictures:

Wagyu Beef Carpaccio:

Dry-Aged Steak au Poivre with a Courvoisier Cream Sauce:

Roasted Mushrooms (Portabella, Oyster, Shiitake and Crimini):

And last but not least, Steak Oscar:

As I mentioned before, the service was excellent, thanks to Mike Sabini – all the wine and food were showing on time and in proper order.

All in all – there are still few days left in both Master Wine Tasting and Stamford Restaurant Week programs – get up and go, use a good opportunity to experience great wine and food – in the words of Capital Grille, wine and dine.

Dixie Grill – Another Place You Have to Know About

August 4, 2010 4 comments

To begin with, I would like to state that by no means I plan to become a restaurant critic and compete with Zagat. But as this blog is about wine, food and life, visiting a restaurant provides perfect mixture of all three elements.

On the way to the the airport, thanks to my another dear friend, Pablo, I was again lucky to experience great food and wine, this time at the place called Dixie Grill Bar. It might be a tourist notion, but same as in the case of Le Champa Del Mar, I believe you have to actually know about that place in order to get there. Coming from outside, it is hard to tell there is a restaurant behind the wall. Inside, the place looks simplistically stylish and has very nice ambiance. The only thing which is out of place, in my opinion, is paper napkins instead of actual cloth napkins – I would not even think that I will pay attention to something like this, but it appears that I do.

Anyway, let’s talk about wine. Based on Pablo’s recommendation, we went with wine called Yiron 2006, from Galil Mountains. The wine is a  Cabernet-based blend (Cabernet Sauvignon with addition of Merlot and Syrah). It has a nose of dark berries with some cedar notes, and on the palate has a good balance of fruit, tannins and acidity. All in all, it was a very good wine which was evolving with the time during dinner, so it was actually a very good choice. For those who knows my rating system by now, I will rate it at…

Drinkability: 7+

Few more notes about this wine. First, it is available in US, so it would be possible (and worthwhile) to find it. I also want to mention that Daniel Rogov, famous Israeli wine critic gave this wine a 91 rating ( which is good). And on the subject of Israeli wines, Gary Vaynerchuck, a wine internet celebrity from Wine Library, recorded an episode on Israeli Kosher wines with Daniel Rogov, and you can see it here.

And for the food – as usual, a picture worth a thousand words, so here we go:

Beef Carpaccio

Fried truffle Gnocchi with mushrooms

Read more…

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