Blog of Award-winning authors
ANDREW DORNENBURG & KAREN PAGE
Named one of GourmetFood.About.com's "Top 10 Food Blogs"
Named one of The Fifty Best Links for Epicureans
Named to MUG 400 for "distinctive contribution to life in New York"
"Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page monitor the pulse of the food world like nobody's business. There's a fantastic database of restaurant reviews, too."
— Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma
"If you asked me what I came into this world to do,
I will tell you: I came to live out loud."
— Critic and novelist Emile Zola (1840-1902)
"There is nothing under the sun better for man than to eat, drink, and be merry. Go, therefore, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with cheer.”
— Ecclesiastes 8:15
James M. Thresher
Wednesday, July 30, 2008 — The last time we visited Seattle, our friends told us it actually continued to rain there for weeks on end after our rain-drenched visit — so it's easy to imagine the weather in the rest of the state to be similar. Not so, as we explain in this week's column in The Washington Post on the other "Washington's Coming of Age":
Don't let their relative lack of marquee status fool you: Wines from Washington state, which have been rising in quality, offer some of the best values around.
Washington has ascended swiftly in the past 20 years and is now second only to California as a wine-producing state. In 1990, the state had fewer than 70 wineries, including pioneers such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, whose still and sparkling wines are good buys we've praised in this space before. The number of wineries doubled in the next decade, and this year the Washington Wine Commission counted 540 statewide.
Early on, Washington winemakers focused on Riesling (they still plant more Riesling grapes than any other state), chardonnay and other cool-weather white grapes. In the '80s, the state gained recognition for its rich and ripe merlot, and in the '90s, it was for concentrated, powerful cabernet sauvignon and syrah, all warm-weather red grapes.
Is the weather in Washington that accommodating? Pretty much. Many tend to think of it as we experienced it on our last trip to Seattle in the fall, when it was cool and rainy for days on end. But Washington's wine country on the eastern side of the state is shielded by the Cascade Mountains, so it is dry and warm, with hot summers and cold winters.
The state's varying microclimates allow its winemakers to pair the right grape with the right terroir, contributing to high quality levels. The enormous Columbia Valley winemaking region, which covers one-third of the state, is at the same longitude as Bordeaux, which produces world-class wines from cabernet and merlot grapes.
As the Napa Valley did 30 years ago, Washington wine country is attracting young, experimental winemakers, such as 37-year-old master sommelier Greg Harrington, who left his Manhattan restaurant post a few years back to open Gramercy Cellars in Walla Walla.
"In California, they can make good syrah. But in Washington, they can make great syrah," Harrington had told us in his sommelier days. Indeed, the impressive debut of his 2005 Gramercy Cellars Walla Walla Valley Syrah ($40) and 2005 Gramercy Cellars Lagniappe Columbia Valley Syrah ($32) won Gramercy notice in Seattle Magazine this year as the state's best new winery. Harrington was cited as best new winemaker.
However, the state's winemaking tradition is established enough to be sprouting some of its own next-generation wineries. Witness the 2006 debut of Mercer Estates, a family-owned winery that represents a partnership of the Mercer and Hogue families headed by renowned grape grower Bud Mercer and winemaker Mike Hogue. Hogue Cellars, founded in 1982, has grown into the second-largest winery in Washington. (We've written about its reasonably priced wines in earlier columns, too.)
Mercer Estates released its first wines this year. Given their pedigree, they are worth seeking out. The limited-production reds sold out quickly, but Mercer's food-friendly whites are still available and nearly as remarkable. Keep an eye out for the peach-noted 2007 Mercer Yakima Valley Riesling ($15), which pairs with teriyaki salmon; the light-bodied, apple-and-pear-fruited 2007 Mercer Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($15), which we enjoyed with chicken kebabs; and especially Andrew's pick this week, the beautifully balanced 2007 Mercer Columbia Valley Pinot Gris ($15), which we loved with seared scallops.
Our enjoyment of the Mercer Estates wines led us to reflect on the winemaking expertise apparent even in Hogue's most modestly priced wines. We paired the light-bodied, crisp and apple-noted 2007 Hogue Columbia Valley Pinot Grigio ($9) with pork chops and found it a welcome change from its dry and minerally Italian cousin. Karen's pick this week is the 2006 Hogue Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($9; $6.99 at Calvert Woodley in the District), which, with its robust black-cherry flavors and screw top, is a bargain and one of the best burger wines we know. The honeyed 2007 Hogue Columbia Valley Late Harvest White Riesling ($9) inspired us to poach sliced peaches in it for an impromptu summer dessert that was complemented by a chilled glass of the same.
Given what Hogue is able to deliver for less than $10, we were curious to taste the latest releases of its reserve wines. Our interest was well rewarded by the 2005 Hogue Columbia Valley Reserve Chardonnay ($22), which opens with big apple and pear flavors followed by a strong finish of tropical fruit and coconut. Its flavors melded beautifully with pork and a pineapple-mango salsa.
The 2006 Hogue Columbia Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) needs a good 30 minutes in the glass to reveal its excellence. Right now, it's a big berry bomb with serious tannin and coconut notes, showing best with red meat and grilled or roasted mushrooms. It should continue to age well for several years, as should the 2004 Hogue Columbia Valley Reserve Merlot ($30), which stunned us with its concentration and power, and shined with skirt steak and mushrooms.
Those last two, plus many other Washington state wines we've tasted, are almost indistinguishable from Napa versions costing more than twice the price. So you'll want to get a jump on exploring them before these stars rise even higher.
To read more, visit The Washington Post Food section here.
Marc Forgione's rocking roast chicken over panzanella at
Forge, scented with
rosemary and accented with red onions
Marc's excellent arancini at Forge
Stop the presses: Pastry chef Jenny McCoy's latest plate
earns a spot
NYC's very best doughnut desserts:
Plum Jelly Doughnuts (c.), Lemon Verbena Creme Anglaise
Plum-Ginger "Screwball" (l.)
Behind it, her Peach Upside-Down Cake, Sweet Corn
Ice Cream and Caramel Corn
Jenny McCoy's Cocoa Crepes, Nutella, Caramelized Banana,
and Coffee Ice Cream at Forge
Tuesday, July 29, 2008 — We feel for Marc Forgione, the chef behind the new Tribeca restaurant Forge. After all, when your dad is a legendary talent of the likes of Larry Forgione, one of the founding fathers of New American cuisine (whom we had the privilege of interviewing for our first book BECOMING A CHEF), you've got some pretty big clogs to fill.
But Marc seems to be doing more than a pretty good job of it so far in his just-opened restaurant. We stopped by, as we'd suggested we would in our first Blog on Forge, to eat our way through some of the rest of its desserts, which won us over on our first visit.
First , we started with a little something savory, splitting a perfectly roasted chicken over a compelling Italian bread salad. Does asking for some salt mean we didn't enjoy the dish as it was? In our case, we enjoyed it more, being able to salt it exactly to our taste. We were also surprised to discover that Marc makes some mean arancini — and pleased, given how big a fans we both are (well, and especially Andrew is) of fried rice balls.
But when it came time for dessert, we were sorry to find the restaurant so quiet: On this visit, we did want to stand up and hoot and holler a while for talented pastry chef Jenny McCoy (ex-Emeril's Delmonico), who retired her knife-and-fork doughnut dessert in favor of a new one, whose sugared and jelly-filled doughnut holes are very good all on their own, excellent with the accompanying lemon verbena creme anglaise, and extraordinary in concert with both the creme anglaise and the accompanying glass of plum-ginger soda. (When she called it a "screwball," few would order it, so the name was changed.) Bravo to Jenny for having the guts to pass on surefire crowd-pleasing flavors like chocolate and caramel in favor of her Plum-Ginger-Lemon Verbena trio, which hereby takes its rightful place among the city's very best doughnut desserts.
Jenny's other desserts won big thumbs-up from us, too: a peach upside-down cake with sweet corn ice cream and caramel corn, plus cocoa crepes with Nutella, caramelized banana and coffee ice cream. We love her way with combining flavors, and expect we'll continue to hear more about this pastry-chef-star-on-the-rise.
Well, yes, we'll doubtless continue to hear more accolades for Marc's cooking, too. But given his DNA, what else would you expect?
Forge is at 134 Reade Street, near Hudson, in Tribeca. (212) 941-9401. Web: www.forgenyc.com
Winemaker Roman Roth at Wolffer Estate Vineyard offers
us one of the first tastes of the 2003 Wolffer Estate 20th
Noblesse Oblige Rose Extra Brut
The late July grapes on the vine at Wolffer Estate
During our cellar tour, we spied a familiar signature on a
barrel: that of Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl!
From the vineyard gazebo, the Chefs & Champagne tent
DB Bistro Moderne had the most whimsical display at C&C
(thanks to the whimsically creative Georgette Farkas)
Left: Karen Page with Georgette Farkas (of Daniel)
Right: Karen with chef Cesare Casella (of Salumeri Rosi)
Cesare Casella's whimsical pool ball-dotted footwear!
The ace team at Devi, our favorite Indian restaurant in NYC,
including chef Hemant Mathur (l.) and manager Sonny (c.)
Friends flank chefs Michael Romano (in the black kimono)
and Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth's (in the chefs' whites)
Left: The wife of the chef (and author of the book of the
same name) Courtney Febbroriello couldn't make it as she was overseeing a party for her father. However, her husband chef Christopher Prosperi of CT's Metro Bis (right) made sure
Courtney and her book were there in spirit!
Honored guest Wolfgang Puck
and Karen Page — catching up
after bumping into each other in Paris earlier this month
Sunday, July 27, 2008 — Some experts recommend brushing your teeth after every meal. Other experts keep reminding us of the importance of blogging daily. We'll admit we don't regularly manage either. But we'll try harder to do both.
Today's effort is posting a few photos from yesterday's private wine tasting at Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Bridgehampton, which was followed by a visit to the annual Chefs & Champagne event held at the vineyard.
Chefs and Champagne is hosted every summer in the Hamptons by the James Beard Foundation.
Wolffer Estate Vineyards is in Bridgehampton, NY, and on the Web at wolffer.com.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008 — Too hot to think? We know the feeling. These are the days when the perfect meal
means something that requires little or no planning. That includes the wine
selection. So we'll make it easy for you: Depending on your mood -- laid back,
adventurous or indulgent -- you can pop the cork on one or more of these bottles
of summer white wines to drink with your favorite warm-weather foods.
· Mood: laid back. Creating a peak experience can be as simple as buying a baguette and chevre (fresh goat cheese) or throwing fish or other seafood on the grill to pair with a refreshing sauvignon blanc-based wine.
We loved both the 2006 and the just-released 2007 Souverain Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($15), whose richness and complexity are enhanced by a touch of Viognier grapes. This crisp, medium-bodied white with grapefruit and tropical-fruit flavors has creamy vanilla notes on the finish, evidence of its five months spent in French oak barrels.
Murphy-Goode has been making fume blanc (a California alias for sauvignon blanc) in that state's Alexander Valley since 1985, but its 2007 vintage reflects a change in strategy and name. It has been rechristened "The Fume" to signal the vineyard's intention to make the ultimate expression of this wine. Andrew was enamored of the light body, the hint of orange peel and the soft, grassy notes of the 2007 Murphy-Goode The Fume ($11.50), whose mere three months on French oak gave it the slightest toastiness.
If you're looking for a fuller-bodied white to pair with slightly heavier foods such as grilled chicken or pork, try Andrew's pick this week. Acacia, a pioneering producer of chardonnay in California's Carneros region for more than 25 years, brings considerable expertise to a relatively new line. Its 2006 A by Acacia California Chardonnay ($10) is a steal. After spending 4 1/2 months aging on the lees (yeast deposits) in Hungarian, European and American oak barrels, it is full in body and in flavor, with delightful tropical-fruit notes accented by hints of ginger.
· Mood: adventurous. Gather your friends to taste a pair of dry, light-bodied wines made from the rare Arneis (pronounced ar-NACE) grape. See how the same grape grown in Italy and Oregon results in two vastly different expressions, a powerful illustration of the influence of terroir.
Arneis might have died out as a grape varietal if it hadn't been for celebrated Italian winemaker Alfredo Currado, who revived it 40 years ago and inspired dozens of other winemakers in Italy, and a few abroad, to follow suit. On the back label of the 2007 Vietti Roero Arneis ($21), which is Karen's pick this week, Currado is quoted as saying: "In 1967 I experimented with the Arneis grape from the few vines that were left in the Roero area. This is the result; and now some people in Piemonte consider me the father of Arneis Wine. . . ." The 2007 vintage sings, providing a spectacular pairing with prosciutto and melon, Caesar salad with chicken, and pasta with pesto.
The made-in-Oregon 2007 Ponzi Willamette Valley Arneis ($20) is a testimony to Currado's influence. Members of the Ponzi family paid many visits to Vietti, where they were delighted by the grape's unique flavors. In 1991, Ponzi planted its first cuttings of the grape, becoming one of a small number of U.S. winemakers and the only one in Oregon to produce Arneis. Although Vietti's version is unfiltered, Ponzi describes its own as "lightly filtered" before bottling. Still crisp, with bright acidity and with grapefruit and tropical-fruit flavors accenting its own minerality, it is a lovely match with prosciutto and melon, but we enjoyed it most with fresh chevre.
· Mood: indulgent. We misread our notes on the famed 2006 Livio Felluga Terre Alte ($70), initially mistaking its price as a mere $20. Too late: We had already fallen in love with this wonderfully elegant and complex proprietary blend of Tocai Friulano, pinot bianco and sauvignon and had started to imagine special occasions over the summer that might give us an excuse to sample it again. This light-bodied wonder from the Friuli region's star winemaker will surprise you with its powerfully alluring flavors and long, lingering finish, not to mention its affinity for vegetable risotto and seafood, both of which are on the menu for our August anniversary dinner.
For a more accessibly priced taste of the same renowned winery's skill, open a bottle of the 2007 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio ($29). Pinot grigio too often gets a bad rap as a "lightweight" wine, but this version reveals the grape's potential. Its lemon-lime citrus and ripe pear flavors pair beautifully with lighter white fish and shellfish dishes, with or without pasta or risotto. Keep an eye out for Livio Felluga's pinot grigio marketed under its Esperto label, which costs less than $15.
At that price, it's a no-brainer.
To read more, visit The Washington Post's Web site here.
Monday, July 21, 2008 — Congratulations to restaurateur Jimmy Carbone (Jimmy's No. 43) on the opening of his new cafe and wine bar in collaboration with HERE Arts Center in SoHo: One Dominick.
One Dominick is at 145 Avenue of the Americas (one block south of Spring) in Manhattan. www.onedominick.com.
Note from Jimmy Carbone (added 7/29): "thanks for the listing about 1 dominick!
by the way, the cafe will be byob for quite a while, as we do not expect the wine license until at least sept or oct.....
last night, there were several tables of byob'ers. i didn't check the labels, but did note which food items they had ordered to accompany the wine:
il melti, our signature ligurian street food, melted crescenza cheese in flaky pastry dough;
fave e cicoria. puglian fava bean puree with sauteed dandelion greens, shaved parmigiano;
fried baloney tramezzini. simple pressed panino of fra mani mortadella and fontina cheese;
formaggi. cheese plate, last night's selections were; french tomme de crayeuse, ny state brebis sheeps milk cheese (3 corner field farm), italian bra duro (cows milk alpine), and small italian goat's milk buttons.
alici cold plate. simple salad of marinated white anchovies (italian sashimi), celery, black olives.
burrata, imported mozzarella salad with radishes and arugula.
From our emailbox:
"I have used CULINARY ARTISTRY for years....I
have always found it to get the creative juices flowing immediately. A great
book, well done.
—Owen Lightly (restaurant cook and long-time musician) in Vancouver, ButterOnTheEndive.ca
("Butter on the Endive" is reportedly kitchen slang for
“a fine looking person just entered the restaurant.")
Arriving at Casaville when the musicians were on a break
Guillaume Laurent on saxophone, and Motoki Mihara on bass
Crispy briwatts stuffed with chicken and almonds ($6.50)
Eggs are scrambled with care, and served with nicely
seasoned potatoes and a salad at Casaville ($7.50)
Motoki Mihara gets into his groove at Casaville
Guillaume Laurent on sax this afternoon at Casaville
"...Tiny, authentic North African bistro...Chef Lahcen Ksiyer offers some fine Gallic and Spanish fare on his multinational
menu (the latter includes plump garlic-drenched shrimp in an earthenware crock),
but the iconic dishes of his native Morocco are the real reason to visit...To find better, or more reasonably priced, homespun North African cooking, you’d have to travel to Paris or Casablanca — or at least the far reaches of Brooklyn or Queens."
— Time Out: New York (April 16-22, 2008)
Sunday, July 20, 2008 — We typically have our heads down writing our wine column on Sundays. However, on two recent Sundays (including today), we took an hour off mid-day to visit Casaville, which offers the most soulful Sunday afternoon brunch in all of Murray Hill — perhaps even in all of Manhattan.
While chef-owner Lahcen Ksiyer's gently-priced Moroccan-inspired cooking is worth the trip alone — for ham and eggs actually scrambled with care, a light and summery beet salad with goat cheese ($5), or Mediterranean specialties — on Sunday afternoons starting around 1 pm you can also enjoy the live jazz of the immensely talented French saxophonist Guillaume Laurent and his colleagues. On our last visit, Laurent was accompanied by a nimble-fingered guitarist, and this afternoon by passionate stand-up bass player Motoki Mihara.
We honestly have mixed feelings about sharing this tip, as we're worried about word getting out so widely that we'll never be able to get a table at brunch again, but there's no question: Casaville is definitely a well-kept secret worth sharing.
Casaville is at 633 Second Avenue (bet. 34th and 35th Streets), Murray Hill / Manhattan. (212)
685-8558. Stop by on Sunday for brunch and live jazz from around 1 - 3:30 pm.
Guillaume Laurent and Motoki Mihara are both on MySpace.com.
"I am happy to announce that Jacqueline Novogratz and Chris Anderson were joined in holy(ish) matrimony last night, under a Tuscan full moon, in as brilliant a wedding as Trey and I have ever seen...."
— Otho Kerr (who started the service by singing "Amazing Grace"!)
Our heartfelt congratulations to Jacqueline and Chris!!
Salt-crusted shrimp (made by Juli!) at Pearl Oyster Bar
Cod sandwich o' the day with shoestring fries at Pearl
Callebaut chocolate mousse with whipped cream at Pearl
Alberto, Juli, Tessa, Tony, and Silvano at Pearl Oyster Bar
(Tony Bonner is on the cover of The New American Chef)
Delicious trio of toppings on toast at Hundred Acres
Seasonal feta with fresh mushrooms, peas and dill
Chicken-fried rabbit was as delicious as it looks
Cynthia shows off her fresh berry shortcake with flair!
Saturday, July 19, 2008 — After criss-crossing the country on more than a half-dozen book tours, we can attest with some authority that WNYC Radio's Leonard Lopate is one of the very best radio interviewers in America. So, Karen's appearance on "The Leonard Lopate Show" yesterday afternoon to discuss our book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT along with her favorite wines to pair with grilled chicken and barbecued ribs (such as the exquisite examples she brought along from Danny Meyer's East 27th Street restaurant Blue Smoke) was reason for celebration.
We had lunch together a short stroll from WNYC's snazzy new studios on Varick Street at Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia Street, where we were happy to find Tony Bonner (who appears on the cover of our book THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF) behind the stove. When we complimented Tony on the salt-crusted shrimp we enjoyed to start, he credited its making to Juli, a former extern who had just made her exciting leap to the hot line. We were happy to meet Juli, along with the rest of Pearl's talented crew, and to tell her that she's off to a promising start!
Last night, we were invited by friends to meet them for dinner at Hundred Acres, which we learned is owned by Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman, the husband-and-wife team behind Cookshop and Five Points. Passing a wooden table set with chocolate layer cake and blueberry pie on our way to the skylit back room, we eagerly planned our dinner backwards. Before dessert, however, we enjoyed an array of appetizers and entrees, the highlights of which are pictured above. Special thanks to our waiter Nick for his warm, professional service and for going out of his way to make us first-time diners feel as cozy as the restaurant's back room looked.
"The Leonard Lopate Show" is hosted by Leonard Lopate on WNYC Radio (NPR). Web: www.wnyc.org
Hundred Acres is at 38 Macdougal (near Prince) in SohHo. (212) 475-7500. Web: www.hundredacresnyc.com
Pearl Oyster Bar is at 18 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. (212) 691-8211. Web: www.pearloysterbar.com
Pan-seared diver sea scallops with black truffles at Patroon
Two of the reds we shared with author Michael Gelb
Patroon's perfect crispy roast duck with wild rice
Riding the dessert train at Patroon....
Photos of women applying make-up near the ladies' room
Friday, July 18, 2008 — We love Bill Peet's cooking at Patroon, which is so delicious it makes us wistful that we live so relatively close by and aren't able to eat there all the time. But we make up for that by enjoying it tremendously when we do.
Patroon doesn't mind if you bring your own wine, which allowed us to open up a few we'd been saving for a special occasion, such as the company of a dear friend like fellow author Michael Gelb (How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Innovate Like Edison, et al), who was visiting the other day from Santa Fe (where his lady love and our dear friend Deborah Domanski makes her starring debut in the Santa Fe Opera's production of "Radamisto" tomorrow night, as reported in Journal Santa Fe's story "Major Solo Role Goes to Opera Apprentice" — congratulations, Deb!).
We're looking forward to returning to Patroon before summer's out to check out the rooftop dining menu, which features an irresistible line-up of deviled eggs, pigs in a blanket, and Grilled Angus Prime Beef Sliders.
Patroon is at 160 East 46th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues, Manhattan. (212) 883-7373. Web: www.patroonrestaurant.com
Karen joins renowned radio host Leonard Lopate at 1 pm this afternoon on WNYC Radio to talk about how to pair wine with grilled and barbecued dishes, along with some of her favorite wines for doing so this summer.
Karen Page with wines and Blue Smoke BBQ
in the studio for "The Leonard Lopate Show"
(P.S. If you missed it, you can listen to the podcast here. There's also a fun gallery here of informal snapshots of recent guests, who have included Madeleine Albright, President Jimmy Carter, actor John Cusack, filmmaker Errol Morris, PBS' Bill Moyers, Yoko Ono, and Nancy Pelosi, in addition to Karen.)
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 — Though summer sipping often calls for lighter-bodied white wines, your most frequently asked questions make it clear that red wines are still on your minds.
My wife has a real hard time finding red wine that meets her taste. Is there a red brand or two that is not bitter or tart but has a semisweet flavor, yet is not a dessert wine? For comparison, she does like white zinfandel. Is this a fair request?
— Dick Kirsch, Hernando, Fla.
We love it that your wife knows her palate well enough to state what she likes and that you know it well enough to help her out.
Unfortunately for consumers, wine labeling still has a long way to go to become truly user-friendly. We look forward to the day when more labels feature information that provides clues to flavor. Alcohol levels are required by law to be listed on wine labels, providing a useful hint about the wine's relative body. Listing information about acid, oak, sweetness, tannin and other levels could help consumers more easily identify bottles with the characteristics they're seeking.
As a rule of thumb, look for wines made from grapes that tend to produce your desired level of sweetness, from very dry (not at all sweet) to off-dry (noticeably sweet for a non-dessert wine). Your wife might find ones she enjoys most in the middle categories and might wish to avoid the "very dry" category. Some examples:
Very dry: Bourgueil, Chinon.
Dry: Barolo, Brunello, Chianti.
Less dry: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, American pinot noir, Australian shiraz.
Off-dry: Anjou rosé, South African pinotage.
By the way, what some refer to as "sweetness" often is really fruitiness: The fruit-forwardness of a wine gives the impression of sweetness, even though it might contain little to no residual sugar. We really liked the NV Fess Parker Frontier Red Lot No. 81 California Red Wine ($10) that we mentioned July 2; though it is not sweet, its fruitiness is perceived that way by some. And we expect your wife might also enjoy either of our fruit-forward red wine picks this week: the 2005 Irony Monterey Pinot Noir ($16) or the 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot ($22). Both are fruity enough to provide a mirage of sweetness on the palate.
By much enjoyable trial and error over a number of years, I have learned a list of "key words" that I look for when making red wine choices, whether describing aroma or taste. If a few of the following words appear in a description, I am usually assured of a very enjoyable bottle of wine: pepper/peppery, hot peppers dipped in chocolate, dark chocolate/mocha/bitter chocolate, earthy, woodsy, asphalt/melted asphalt, dirt, tobacco/tobacco leaves, smoke, leather, licorice, tar/road tar, coffee, espresso, cocoa. Color-wise, wines with those descriptors tend to be almost brownish, at least inky dark. And "lush, chewy finish" or similar phrasing is also typical.
What does that group of adjectives mean about the kinds of wines (e.g., country of origin? varietals?) I should look for without having to read every label/review in the store?
— Susan Smith-Knoblauch, Great Falls
The bad news is that the only way to know for certain what a wine tastes like is to taste it. The good news is that an increasing number of wine books classify wines by flavor profile or style, which, for those who know the profile of what they like to drink (as you clearly do), is much more useful than traditional books that list wines by geographic origin.
One of the best is "Wine Style: Using Your Senses to Explore and Enjoy Wine," by Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy (Wiley, 2005). The authors divide wine into a dozen styles, four of which categorize red wines. On the lightest end are "mild-mannered reds," such as inexpensive Bordeaux, followed by "soft, fruity reds," such as Beaujolais. More intense are "fresh, spicy reds," such as Italian Dolcetto, and most intense of all are "powerful reds," such as California cabernet sauvignon.
You'll no doubt find your preferred flavor profile in wines on the more intense end of the spectrum. The Best Cellars retail store chain was a pioneer in organizing wines by style (you'd probably like their "smooth" or "big" red offerings) instead of country of origin, and in the dozen years since its founding, other wine stores have followed suit.
Cabernet sauvignon often has notes of green bell peppers, and you can find black pepper notes in petite sirah, shiraz/syrah and zinfandel. Those tobacco notes you enjoy can often be found in Italian Barbaresco and Barolo. In fact, as a rule of thumb you might find the earthy flavor profile you're seeking more often in Old World wines (those made in France, Italy and other regions with long winemaking traditions) because New World wines (those made in the United States, Australia and other newer players on the scene) tend to have a fruitier profile.
I'm a red-wine drinker. Please suggest reds to drink with spicy foods such as Tex-Mex, Chinese, Cajun, etc.
— Larry Theriot, Reston
It can be just as helpful to know which red wines to avoid with spicy foods: You'll want to stay away from those that are high in tannin (such as big cabernet sauvignons and tannats) and alcohol, both of which will "fan the flames."
Opt instead for fruitier reds, such as Beaujolais, pinot noir, shiraz/syrah and zinfandel, which will help take the edge off lots of spice. And don't be afraid to chill reds before serving; that will help tame the heat, too.
To read more, visit The Washington Post's Web site here.
Green tomato martinis with fresh basil
at Sheridan Square
Part I: Crab-stuffed zucchini blossom at Sheridan Square
Part II: We also loved the avocado with roasted corn salad
that remained after the blossom was gone!
Sheridan Square's shrimp with artichokes and white beans
Finish with the strawberry shortcake and panna cotta
We couldn't help but stop in for two
pretzels at Varsano's on our way to grab a cab home
Saturday, July 12, 2008 — When Gary Robins was chef of Aja in the 1990s, we had one of the best desserts of our lives while sitting at the restaurant's bar. The flavors of those apple fritters flood our memories whenever we hear that Robins is "at the piano" at another restaurant, and indeed came rushing back after we recently learned of his new post at Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village.
While we enjoyed the strawberry shortcake / panna cotta dessert that capped off our dinner there, the dish that we'd return for is the crispy squash blossom. While the lightness of squash blossoms is often celebrated in a delicate manner, Robins' version is hearty and robust, more akin to Southern fried chicken made in a cast-iron skillet. We loved them. But even after the blossoms were gone, we found ourselves able to focus on a perfectly-ripe avocado half-covered with roasted corn kernels — a salad so delightful we'd return for it even if those irresistible squash blossoms weren't sharing the plate.
The shrimp served over a white bean salad stuffed into an artichoke heart, not to mention the tomato martinis made with green tomato water, fresh basil and salt, won our afection, too. But we're really crossing our fingers that apple fritters might make an appearance on the menu this fall....
Sheridan Square is at 138 Seventh Avenue South (near 10th Street) in Greenwich Village. (212) 352-2237. Web: sheridansquarenyc.com Update: It was announced shortly after this blog was posted that chef Gary Robins had left Sheridan Square, and that Franklin Becker would be taking his place.
Varsano's Chocolates is at 172 West 4th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues), Greenwich Village. (212) 352-1171. Web: www.varsanos.com
Two spoonfuls of tuna crudo with Greek olive oil at Ammos
Housemade spreads (kalamata-chickpea; garlic-almond;
yogurt; roasted pepper-feta; and eggplant) w/ warm pita
Ammos has a lovely way with raw fish, including hamachi
Grilled octopus, fennel, onion, red wine vinegar and olive oil
Cast iron-seared foie gras, Indian spices, popcorn, pistachio,
and sweet cherries at Ammos
Our favorite dish of all: Light yet flavor-filled "Greek risotto"
with spring peas, feta, mint, and tomato at Ammos
Friday, July 11, 2008 — During a previous trip to Paris, we'd ached for the global flavors we're used to on a daily basis, given our melting-pot Manhattan lifestyle. So, right before we left for Paris, we flavor-loaded: One night, we ended up at the wonderful Greek-inspired restaurant Ammos, which is on Vanderbilt across from Grand Central Terminal.
Executive Chef David Ogren has been at the stoves at Ammos for just the past few months. A fellow Michigan native (as is Karen), David's way with seafood might have been honed in his days at Turner Fisheries, which was right around the corner from where we used to live in Boston. We were pleased to learn after dinner that Ogren, a CIA alum, also happens to be a fan of our book CULINARY ARTISTRY.
Director of Operations John Thomas McKee is an old pro in the business (who's spent time with The Glazier Group as well as Dovetail and i Trulli), and it shows: The dining room hummed the night we were there under his watchful eye.
Ammos has a very nice list of more than two dozen wines by the glass. We particularly enjoyed a semi-sparkling "Ode Panos" Moschfilero Brut from Greece ($10/glass) and the 2005 "Akakies" Estate Kir Yianni Rose from Greece ($10/glass).
We don't think we've ever tasted a dish quite like Ammos' luscious "Greek risotto," which is light and almost souffle-like in texture, yet deeply rich in flavor from the feta and fresh herbs. We made plans to return for it before we'd even finished the last bite.
Happily, Ammos is practically just around the corner — which comes in handy when you need a flavor fix.
Ammos is at 52 Vanderbilt Avenue (just west of Grand Central Terminal, between 45th and 46th Streets), Manhattan. Phone: (212) 922-9999. Web: www.ammosnewyork.com
Barbecued pigs' tails with scallions and sliced Asian pear
Roasted rice cakes with shrimp, vegetables and cashews
Cousin Leroy & Arlo’s soft-serve strawberry / yogurt twist
Truth be told, our first visit to Momofuku shortly after the original restaurant first opened didn't wow us. So when the raves started springing forth for Momofuku and its spin-offs, we weren't in any rush to return. But when we recently found ourselves in the restaurant's East Village neighborhood at lunchtime, hungry, we gave in, and took two seats at the counter. And were we ever happy we did: We loved the day's special of pigs' tails served with a bowl of sliced Asian pear, and also enjoyed the roasted rice cakes. Karen turned up her nose when the frozen yogurt we'd ordered came sprinkled with crumbs (she likes being able to appreciate its smoothness unadorned), but it turned out we both enjoyed the bits of homemade pretzel that topped it.
Momofuku is at 163 First Avenue (10th Street), East Village. (212) 475-7899. Web: www.momofuku.com.
As always, we had a great time chatting with host Michael Colameco on WOR Radio's "Food Talk" yesterday. Mike has spent a lot of years in the restaurant business, and it shows — he manages to cram an amazing amount of insider information into every show. In case you missed our conversation live, you can catch it via the online podcast at:
You'll also have the pleasure of hearing Mike interview the guest before us — David Leite (of the excellent James Beard Award-winning Web site LeitesCulinaria.com) — about his New York Times Dining section cover story from Wednesday on the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. (We've been craving one ever since!)
We'll be joining Mike again on "Food Talk" on Thursday,
August 21st at 11:30 am — hope you'll listen (and call!) in then!
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 — Being able to predict the future is a rather useful life skill. It doesn't take a whole lot of intuition to be able to predict that the upcoming movie "Bottle Shock" is going to attract a substantial audience of wine-loving movie-goers, and may even spur a run on Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. You can beat the expected rush by reading our column in today's Washington Post "Cue Napa for Its Close-Up":
The phrase "bottle shock" refers to a temporary condition that afflicts wine, often immediately after bottling or during transport, and damages its flavor. In the movie "Bottle Shock," which opens Aug. 6, it's the wine industry that is shaken up, and the condition is anything but temporary.
The bottle at the center of the drama, loosely based on the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" blind-tasting competition, is the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that bested five other white wines from California and four from France. The event put California wines on the map and accelerated the industry's globalization.
The movie has a star-studded cast headed by the great Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier, a struggling British wine retailer in Paris who organized the tasting as a PR stunt, and Bill Pullman as winemaker Jim Barrett, who also was struggling after buying Chateau Montelena in 1972.
Filmed at several wineries including Chateau Montelena, Buena Vista and Kunde, "Bottle Shock" celebrates the beauty of the business from a behind-the-scenes perspective in the same way 2004's "Sideways" captured amateurs' enthusiasm for wine. And just as "Sideways" put Santa Barbara County on the map as a winemaking region, the panoramic helicopter shots of rolling vineyards in "Bottle Shock" no doubt will provide a further boon to Napa tourism and could well make Chateau Montelena a household name.
The Washington Post's June 13, 1976, article on the results of the Paris tasting warned that Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was "no longer available in Washington." But in advance of the release of "Bottle Shock," you can find more recent vintages, still made in the same signature style, giving you a chance to beat the rush this time.
In honor of "Bottle Shock," we tasted several white wines made by three men who played a role in the creation of the award-winning 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay: the chateau's current winemaker, Bo Barrett, son of founder Jim Barrett; then-winemaker Mike Grgich, who now heads Grgich Hills Estate (pronounced "gir-gitch"); and Grgich's then-assistant Gustavo Brambila, now a partner in the Gustavo Thrace winery. Our side-by-side-by-side tasting of their chardonnays found hints of a common lineage.
Our first whiff of Karen's pick was without a trace of wood (even though the wine spends six to eight months on oak), so we easily could have mistaken its lean aromas as coming from an Old World chablis instead of a California chardonnay. Still made without malolactic fermentation (a secondary process that softens a wine's flavors), the Barretts' 2005 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay ($40) is such an ethereally understated and well-integrated wine that it almost seems as if it sprang into being fully formed, like water.
Grgich and Brambila left Chateau Montelena in 1977 to start Grgich Hills Estate. Surprisingly light-bodied for a wine so full-flavored, the 2005 Grgich Hills Napa Valley Chardonnay ($40) exhibits a distinct and appealing toasty flavor and is Andrew's pick this week. It reminds him of the first great California chardonnays he enjoyed in the 1970s and early 1980s, before many of them became big and clumsy with oak.
Brambila grew up doing yardwork for Grgich, who praised his hardworking nature. In 1976, after Brambila became one of the first Mexican Americans to graduate from the oenology program at the University of California at Davis, Grgich hired him.
University of Maryland alum Thrace Bromberger met Brambila in 1996, and the two teamed up to create Gustavo Thrace. Bromberger characterized her partner to us in a May 18 letter as "almost painfully shy . . . and astounded that anyone would put his persona into a movie." Portrayed on screen by Freddy Rodríguez ("Ugly Betty," "Six Feet Under") as a romantic rival to Chris Pine's Bo Barrett, Brambila might want to get used to the attention. We loved his 2004 Gustavo Thrace Carneros Chardonnay ($30), which was uniquely alluring. Its faint nose of goat's milk followed by pear fruit, notes of fresh fennel and wet-stone minerality united to make us crave it with cedar-planked salmon.
The Barretts, Grgich, Brambila and their colleagues didn't achieve a victory only for California in 1976. After centuries of French supremacy, their efforts inspired other winemakers globally with the hope that their wines, too, might one day come to be seen as world-class. The quality level of wine all around the globe has risen dramatically in the decades since, and that may be the longest-lasting shock of them all.
Our first view of the waterfall installation under the Brooklyn
Bridge, from our cab on the way to WOR Radio (with several
bottles of wine;
we took the subway home!)
Our home for most of the past week in Paris: the lovely
Hotel Powers, at 52 rue Francois 1er in the 8e,
whose warm and caring staff we dearly miss
It didn't take Andrew long to settle in to enjoy our view
the 4th floor (including the Eiffel Tower at left)
Our first night, we joined Gael Greene, Steven Richter and
at Cameleon, a not-to-be-missed bistro
The foie gras appetizer at Cameleon
Owner Jean-Claude Arabian poured our wine personally
Hotel Powers delivered breakfast to our room
Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and his wife Margaret on our Friday
night cruise along the Seine
Andrew and Karen with Michael and Diane Lomonaco
Chef Michael Lomonaco, Albert Nahmias, CCN's Michel
Cloes and chef Geoffrey Zakarian, with signed chef jackets
CCN's Michel Cloes (r.) congratulates the winner of the
Checking out the flavors of Berthillon sorbet and ice cream
on Ile Saint-Louis
At Caffe Armani, we sampled the "ne plus ultra" of Italian
cured meats: only 200 pieces are made every year in Italy
We loved our risotto with rouget at Emporio Armani Caffe
Pastry chef Alison Johnson left the kitchen of Eleven
Madison Park in NYC for a Michelin one-star in Paris
"Puckish humor: THE hottest restaurant in Paris right now is Cameleon. The night
before the Gastronomy by the Seine conference, Wolfgang Puck ran into Gael Greene, Betsy Bernardaud and cookbook authors Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, at Jean-Paul Arabian's eatery. Puck declared its foie de veau the best he'd tasted in 30 years. The California superchef also shared the secret behind one of the most coveted items at the upcoming West Coast Citymeals-on-Wheels benefit, a Puck-prepared dinner with LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and wife Rikki Klieman — 'no traffic tickets for a year,' he joked."
—Richard Johnson, "Page Six," New York Post (July 9, 2008)
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 — If there were a single profession that could unite the world, we'd place our bets on culinarians. How can you not feel some fondness in your heart for the people of any country after you taste what delicious dishes their history and culture have created? Gastronomy by the Seine, the vision of organizer Michel Cloes, brought culinarians together from around the world to share ideas and tastes. We were truly honored to be among those invited to participate on Friday's panel discussing "Flavors of Tomorrow," which was followed by an unforgettable evening cruise along the Seine.
We'll be posting more photos and memories from our eye-opening time in Paris (July 2-8) in the days to come.
Hotel Powers is at 52 rue Francois 1er in the 8e, Paris. Web: www.hotel-powers.com
Cameleon is at 6 rue de Chevreuse, 6e. Tel: 01 43 27 43 27.
Gastronomy by the Seine is at www.gastronomyfestivals.com.
Emporio Armani Caffe is at 149 boulevard Saint-Germain in the 6e. Tel: 01 45 48 62 15.
For more on our dining experiences in Paris (and then some!), don't miss the Insatiable Critic Gael Greene's take on her must-visit Web site Insatiable-Critic.com.
From our emailbox:
"CHER KAREN ET ANDREW, merci beaucoup...I hope to have many Americains. Cameleon is open every evening in August. Big kiss to you,"
—Jean-Paul Arabian, Cameleon in Paris
Wednesday, July 2, 2008 — It's summer, so we've got movies on the brain. For the next two weeks, our column will be about the intersection of wine and film; this week it's "At the Corner of Hollywood and Vine":
Due to open in theaters across America in August, "Bottle Shock" is bound to be the next "Sideways": a dramedy that not only fuels the wine craze in America but also creates new demand for featured wineries and their bottles.
We'll use our next column to report on our screening of "Bottle Shock," a film loosely based on the historic 1976 "Judgment of Paris" tasting that saw California wines vanquish the French in a blind competition. But first we want to explore the impact that even a fictional story depicted on film can have on wine fortunes.
Case in point: Vermont Restaurant is a neighborhood place in Los Angeles featuring a limited but impressive list of selections from small, high-quality wineries. In 2002, several of those selections were from nearby Santa Barbara, including the Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir. Back then, "we were told by Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini that Vermont Restaurant was the largest purveyor of Hitching Post wines, second only to the winery itself," co-owners Michael Gelzhiser and Manuel Mesta recalled in a recent e-mail.
Then the popularity of 2004's "Sideways" brought scores of tourists to this once-overlooked wine region and to Hitching Post's namesake restaurant, where they ordered the Highliner (one of protagonist Miles's favorites in the film) by name.
Gelzhiser and Mesta started having a hard time getting the Highliner and saw prices rise before learning that it was "Sideways," a film they still haven't seen, that led to the winery's inability to keep up with demand, which quadrupled within a year.
The film's continued popularity has also spiked demand for other featured wines, most famously all of the pinot noirs that fare so well in the region's cool and mild oceanside climate.
Is the rise of Santa Barbara wines merited, or just lucky? We tasted several from wineries featured in the film to find out.
Sanford Winery & Vineyards: Before "Sideways," this pioneer of the Santa Rita Hills region took a full 12 months to sell its annual production, according to the winery. This year, Sanford expects to sell the same amount in seven months.
Made in accordance with its "seven standards of sustainability," the barrel-fermented 2006 Sanford Santa Barbara County Chardonnay ($25) has delightful tropical-fruit flavors with perceptible minerality and a long, toasty, lemony finish. The wine is a blend of grapes from four esteemed vineyards, and its resulting complexity shone most brilliantly with roasted chicken while also working with shellfish and fish.
Sanford's pinot noir is Karen's pick this week. The 2006 Sanford Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($34; $30 at Total Wine), which is aged for 10 months on French oak, still manages to stay on the light-and-fruity side of the varietal's spectrum. It's ideal for serving this summer with cold poached salmon, tuna tartare or baby lamb chops.
Foxen Winery: Foxen makes some stunning wines. With its notes of apple, the 2006 Foxen Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Chenin Blanc ($20) is an ideal match for chicken or fish. The 2006 Foxen Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir ($54) is an earthier pinot with a tart cherry finish. The 2005 Foxen Range 30 West ($35) is a merlot-dominant Bordeaux-style blend (also containing cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot) that is delicious with baby lamb chops, yet full bodied enough to stand up to grilled steak.
Firestone Vineyard: One of the original wineries in Santa Barbara County, Firestone makes offbeat versions of several varietals. The 2007 Firestone Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($14) is a California-meets-New Zealand-style SB with light grassy notes accenting its bright, tart grapefruit flavors. The 2007 Firestone Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Gewuerztraminer ($13) is uncharacteristically low on floral qualities and high in acid and citrus flavors, but still compelling. Pair with either salads or seafood.
Fess Parker Winery (called "Frass Canyon" in the film): Andrew, who had a prized coonskin cap as a kid, was especially happy to taste the quality coming out of the former "Davy Crockett" actor's winery. Andrew's pick this week is the velvety, full-bodied 2006 Fess Parker Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ($25; $22 at Total Wine). But even the NV Frontier Red Lot No. 81 California Red Wine ($10) delivers impressive quality for the price, so this red blend is one to consider buying by the case to accompany grilled red meats at summer parties. With its toasty notes and nice acidic balance, the light-bodied 2006 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Chardonnay ($18) is a refreshing accompaniment to summer seafood and chicken dishes. The 2006 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Viognier ($22) is such a deliciously lush, full-bodied wine, with flavors of peach cobbler (peaches, vanilla, hints of caramel), that we'd prefer saving it to enjoy this fall or winter.
Explaining the need to walk, not drive, to dinner at the Hitching Post on their first night in Santa Barbara wine country, Miles told Jack in "Sideways" that "with the wine list these people have, we don't want to hold back." Like the owners of the Vermont, we were won over by many of the region's impressive wines. So don't hold back.