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"
“The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”
—Zen Buddhist text
Credit: Gerald Martineau
Craggy Range at Legal Sea Foods
Sunday, October 28, 2007 — We're posting Wednesday's column from The Washington Post belatedly, having just arrived home from spending the last few days in Los Angeles, where we attended the historic swearing-in festivities for LAPD Chief William J. Bratton. (More on that later.) We were pleased to see that our most recent column on wineries' growing emphasis on post-production customer service struck a chord with a number of readers, and appreciate their taking the time to email us about their own experiences:
Even if a bottle of wine leaves its winery in immaculate condition, the road it travels to your glass is fraught with peril every step of the way. Because wine is a living, breathing substance, it can be mortally wounded by improper handling. A wine that starts out perfect can be ruined by many factors: how it is shipped and stored, when and with what it is poured.
Although a number of those elements are out of the winemaker's hands, if a bottle disappoints, customers probably will blame the winery whose name is on the label. That is why some wineries increasingly are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure customer satisfaction.
An estimated 3 to 5 percent of cork-sealed wines are imperfect, so a lot of wine lovers are uncorking bottles of sub-par wine — and often faulting not flawed retail storage or handling, but . . . you guessed it. That's partly why Australia's Penfolds winery has since 1991 offered more than 50 "re-corking clinics" around the world, inviting collectors to bring their Penfolds reds aged 15 years or longer for evaluation and re-corking, which prevents further wine deterioration caused by damaged corks. "This not only creates enormous goodwill among Penfolds customers, but it takes bad wines out of the system," says Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago.
A New Orleans wine collector who owns more than 400 bottles of Penfolds Grange, Australia's most prestigious red wine, took a 1978 Grange with a markedly low fill level to Penfolds's recent New York clinic. Possible factors, including cork absorption and evaporation, were explored.
Gago, a former teacher who is one of the most gifted wine educators we've ever seen in action, poured about a half-ounce for examination to determine whether the wine was "as it should be for that vintage." (The bottle was then topped off with the wine's most recent vintage.) His verdict? "Its palate is better than its nose," he noted before giving the wine his stamp of approval for re-corking, while cautioning collector Bob DeBellevue, "You'll want to drink this bottle soon."
As most collectors know, there's an inherent risk-reward trade-off in the aging of wines. Perfect timing can smooth a wine's rough edges into silky, nuanced elegance, so Penfolds publishes editions of "The Rewards of Patience," a paperback featuring an independent panel's assessments of when each Penfolds vintage should be at its peak. However, too much time can provide too many opportunities for something to go wrong. Over dinner, we tasted a 1982 Penfolds Grange — a vintage for which collectors have paid hundreds of dollars — that was sadly off. (A stellar 1982 was immediately brought out to replace it.)
At the same dinner and at a fraction of the price, the 2002 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz ($35), with luscious black-cherry flavors that echoed the duck breast with poached cherries that it accompanied, proved a peak experience. It underscored the fact that the food paired with a wine can have a tremendous impact on the way that wine is perceived. That is leading more winemakers to include food-pairing tips on their labels and Web sites and to educate the public on the flavor dynamics of wine with food.
We participated in a fascinating experiment when renowned winemaker and master of wine Steve Smith of New Zealand's Craggy Range Winery invited us and a roomful of other East Coast wine journalists to blind-taste a half-dozen acclaimed 2006 New Zealand sauvignon blancs: Astrolabe and Craggy Range Old Renwick Vineyard (both unavailable in the United States), Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard ($22), Kim Crawford Marlborough ($17), Saint Clair Marlborough ($17) and Wild Rock " The Infamous Goose" ($15). We sampled the wines, all in excellent condition, and ranked them in order of preference. After tasting them without food, the group rated them this way:
1. Saint Clair
2. Astrolabe and Kim Crawford (a tie)
4. Wild Rock
5. Craggy Range Old Renwick Vineyard
6. Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard
The outcome when the same wines were tasted with food (a salad, smoked sturgeon, lobster with fennel) was decidedly different, with the former last-place wine coming out on top. The No. 1 pick, the refreshingly crisp and minerally Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard, which was Andrew's overall favorite, was also the lone entry from New Zealand's warmer, more northern Martinborough district. Sandy Block, Legal Sea Foods' vice president of beverage operations, later called this single-vineyard wine "unique" and one of his favorites, adding that he frequently pairs it with Dover sole with capers, oven-roasted rainbow trout and classic baked scrod.
The food-paired runners-up — which shared a more tropical-fruit flavor profile characteristic of Marlborough sauvignon blancs — were:
2. Kim Crawford (both of our second-favorites)
3 . Craggy Range Old Renwick Vineyard (Karen's overall favorite)
4 . Saint Clair
6. Wild Rock
The results underscored how food distinctly alters one's perception of wine, a point that drives our own methodology of tasting wines both without and with food.
Excellence in wine, as in food, is rooted in nature. However, as consumers better understand that the way in which wine is nurtured from vineyard to glass determines its ultimate enjoyment, we predict that wineries will continue to expand their own post-production nurturing to new levels.
Tip: It's a Gift
One of the most unforgettable wines we experienced this year was the syrah-based 2005 Craggy Range "Le Sol" ($60), whose powerful black- and white-pepper flavors led us to suspect it had spent time aging inside a pepper mill. It was a gorgeous foil to a rare rib-eye of prime beef.
We've already added a bottle to our holiday wish list — although if we think Santa is feeling extra generous, we might ask for the entire Craggy Range Holiday Gift Set, which includes a bottle of "Le Sol" plus one each of the 2005 "Sophia" Gimblett Gravels, the 2006 Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2006 Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir, all encased in a handsome, fully insulated, safari-style canvas-and-leather tote. The Sandstorm brand tote alone retails for $195, so at $275 plus shipping, the set is a relative steal. Call 212-685-2442.
LAPD Chief Bratton
"Flanked by a procession of bagpipe-playing officers, an audience of celebrity friends and his own father standing ready to pin on his badge, William J. Bratton took the oath of office Thursday for a second term as Los Angeles police chief."
—Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times (October 26, 2007)
"In Chief Bratton, you have the foremost leader in American policing."
—California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, as quoted in the LA Times (October 26, 2007)
LAPD Chief William J. Bratton and his wife Rikki Klieman
CHEF'S NIGHT OUT still serves us well
Given all the books on our sagging bookshelves, we're pleased that our own CHEF'S NIGHT OUT is one that continues to serve us well. We couldn't have been happier to make it to a number of the spots mentioned in its pages while we were in Los Angeles this week.
First up was Philippe's, home of the French dip sandwich:
"They created the French dip sandwich here."
—Chef Carrie Nahabedian, as quoted in CHEF'S NIGHT OUT
Philippe's reminded us of Katz's Deli in NYC — just substitute
French dips for pastrami and corned beef sandwiches!
Welcome to California: Philippe's wines by the glass menu
included Merry Edwards Pinot Noir and Duckhorn Merlot
Roast lamb is sliced to order (behind the great cole slaw!)
Philippe's sliced-to-order roast lamb sandwich
Philippe's flagship sandwich: the French dip
We also shared dinner with LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and his wife Rikki Klieman, and some of their nearest and dearest at Musso & Frank's:
The back entrance to Musso & Frank's
"I love this salad [with anchovy vinaigrette]."
—Chef Suzanne Goin, as quoted in CHEF'S NIGHT OUT
Our "rare" steak was served medium to medium-well done
Andrew chats with LAPD Chief Bill Bratton at dinner
Four great guys from NYC — Mitch, Lindsay, Greg and Jimmy
— enjoy this quintessential LA steakhouse
Andrew and Karen with Rikki at M&F's
"Musso & Frank's is the original Hollywood steakhouse. They serve great meats, and everything is on the side — so whether you want creamed spinach or hash browns, you have to order it. And their drinks are huge — after just two, the average guy will have to take a taxi home!"
—Chef Carrie Nahabedian, as quoted in CHEF'S NIGHT OUT
After the swearing-in ceremony, there was a lunch for mostly out-of-town guests (with the exception of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a passionate wine enthusiast whom Karen had the pleasure of being seated next to) at El Cholo — complete with the best mariachi band we've ever heard:
The buffet included chiles rellenos and sweet corn tamales
"Go for the atmosphere and the food, which is authentic
Mexican." —Chef Carrie Nahabedian, in CHEF'S NIGHT OUT
We squeezed in two others: One, as Wolfgang Puck (whose Spago is mentioned) catered the party we attended on Thursday night; and the other when we picked up a sausage sandwich to go at LAX for the plane ride back to JFK at Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom.
Philippe The Original is at 1001 N. Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles. (213) 628-3781. Web: www.philippes.com
Musso & Frank Grill is at 6667 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.
El Cholo has multiple locations, including 1121 S Western Avenue in Los Angeles. Web: www.elcholo.com
Jody Maroni Sausage Kingdom has multiple locations. Web: www.jodymaroni.com
We'd interviewed chef Nancy Silverton, then of Campanile and La Brea Bakery, for CHEF'S NIGHT OUT, but her latest efforts (in conjunction with fellow uber-chef Mario Batali and uber-restaurateur Joe Bastianich) were too new to be included. That didn't stop us from checking them both out on Friday. First up: Lunch at Pizzeria Mozza with Rikki Klieman and Cheryl Del Greco:
Unbelievable pizzas: fennel sausage; funghi misti
One of the best desserts of our lives: Nancy Silverton's
Greek yoghurt gelato, served with a waffle cookie
Rikki dwarfed by the huge arrangement from a TV producer
On Friday night, after stopping by to share a glass of Champagne with Rikki and Cheryl and noting Rikki's recommendations for dinner, we visited Osteria Mozza with fellow author Loraine Despres and her writer-husband Carl Eastlake:
These hot spots are both at the corner of Highland & Melrose
Karen's favorite pasta: Fresh Ricotta & Egg Raviolo with
Andrew's (and Loraine's) favorite pasta: Maccheroni alla
Chitarra with Early Girl tomatoes and garlic breadcrumbs
One of the best desserts of our lives: Osteria Mozza's Torta
della Nonna with three different honeys and pinenuts
Our hats off to Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich (whose wine we drank all night after he graciously helped us make our dinner reservation) and their talented team of chefs and cooks — including executive chef Matt Molina and pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez — for every delicious bite we enjoyed under their roof on Friday!
Pizzeria Mozza is at 641 N. Highland Ave. in Los Angeles. (323) 297-0101.
Osteria Mozza is at 6602 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles. (323) 297-0100.
LAPD's Bobby Sherman...now and then
It's a bit counter-intuitive that a 1970s heartthrob who has made so many women feel faint (and yes, Karen was one of the millions of teenage girls who had his poster on her bedroom wall) should be volunteering as an emergency medical technician with the LAPD. Or maybe it's just karma that Bobby Sherman is now pursuing the noble task of reviving fainters instead.
It was a pleasure to meet Bobby five years ago at Chief Bratton's original swearing-in, and just as much fun to get to say hello to him again this week after last seeing him at our book party for THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF that Chief Bratton and Rikki Klieman threw for us in Beverly Hills in March 2004.
Our Virgin America flights earned big "thumbs up" from us
We loved flying Virgin America to Los Angeles and back. Love the mood lighting, the JetBlue-esque TV screens at every seat, plus the computer system that allows you to order anything you want (a complimentary glass of Diet Coke, a $2 bag of chips) any time you want it. Keep up the good work!
"The Acting Company endures as the major touring classical theatre in the United States.”
—The New York Times
Sunday, October 21, 2007 — Ever fantasize about having a walk-on role on a hit TV show like "30 Rock"? What about taking a private acting lesson with Lynn Redgrave? Or nabbing tickets to the Tony Awards? Well, you can.
Thanks to the upcoming Silent Auction at the November 12th gala of The Acting Company, winner of the Tony Award for Excellence in Theater, you have a chance to win one of these fabulous prizes. It's going to be a great party at Cipriani Wall Street, featuring entertainment by Bernadette Peters, but you don't even have to be present to win, because you can place a bid in advance of the event with The Acting Company. The highest bidder wins — present or not.
Or, if you'd like the great exposure of putting your product or service — your newly-published book, your private consulting services, or your restaurant or hotel anywhere in the world — up for bidding in front of this audience of hundreds well-heeled lovers of the arts (last year's crowd included Rosanne Cash, Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Alan Rickman and former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean), there's still time.
Simply contact Mr. Gerry Cornez, executive director of The Acting Company, at (212) 258-3111. All proceeds benefit The Acting Company's noble efforts to promote literacy through theater.
P.S. on 10/28: Since we posted the Blog entry above, we're thrilled that our friends and colleagues have been coming through with such generous contributions to The Acting Company's upcoming Silent Auction, including lunches or dinners at restaurants such as Devi and Toqueville, as well as once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as sitting down to table with celebrated New Yorkers!
Note: And as the closing date is 10/31, there's still time to contribute!
Photo: Julia Ewan
Affordable Weeknight Wonders in the Post
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 — While there are definite pluses to being married to your writing partner, occasional drawbacks surface: Because we do (and eat!) the same things, we tend to get hit with the same bugs (and even food poisoning!) at the same time — so when we're both sick, we're not in the best position to dote on the other. Too bad — each of us could use a little doting this week given whatever bug just hit us out of the blue.
While we don't plan to drink wine tonight, there's no reason you shouldn't — especially in light of some of the delicious bargains we recently unearthed, which we share in today's column "Affordable Weeknight Wonders" in The Washington Post:
Although we agree with Robert Louis Stevenson that when it's great, "wine is bottled poetry," on a typical weeknight most of us are not expecting a revelation. We're just hoping for a pleasant end to the day with something that enhances dinner at a price point that's easy on the wallet.
That's the mind-set we maintained when researching for this column on under-$15 wines. Besides price, the criteria we used to hone our picks were deliciousness, food friendliness with a range of common weeknight dishes (from simple home-cooked fare to takeout) and availability (no fabulous-but-obscure bottles with very limited production).
Given its status as the single most food-friendly white wine around, Riesling is something you'll always want to have on hand. It can tame spicy ethnic foods and is a go-to choice for other tough matches. Case in point: the 2006 Columbia Winery Cellarmaster's Riesling ($9). Thanks to a sun-filled summer and a cool, dry autumn, the 2006 vintage features a beautiful balance of intense, ripe peach and pear fruitiness and refreshing acidity that would go as nicely with Alsatian choucroute as with spicy Ethiopian stews.
Pinot noir is the single most food-friendly red wine, but conventional wisdom says that to find one worth drinking, you've got to pay top dollar. When we've been asked for tips for "a nice, really inexpensive California pinot noir," we've sometimes tried to steer the questioner toward another fruity red in their price range. So we were happy to discover the pleasant, gently spiced, plum- and cherry-noted 2006 Cartlidge & Browne Pinot Noir ($13) and will recommend it the next time we're asked. Match it with mushroom lasagna, salmon, tuna or lamb.
The same winery offers other terrific values. The 2005 Cartlidge & Browne Merlot ($12) is a blend of grapes from three vineyards in Lake County and single vineyards in Mendocino County, Carneros, Paso Robles and Sonoma County, which contributes to its complexity. This is a wine ripe with black cherries and blackberries, with a surprisingly long and interesting mochalike finish. It's full-bodied enough to stand up to grilled meats or poultry, or even the spiced lamb in a gyro. The 2006 Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay ($12) is a fruit-forward, lightly oaked California chardonnay whose ripe-pear flavors and hint of smokiness make it an ideal pairing with grilled fish, chicken, pork or shrimp.
We were surprised by the zingy grapefruit and pineapple fruitiness of the 2006 Meridian Santa Barbara County Chardonnay ($10) from California. With just a touch of oak, this wine has a creamy character that provoked a "Wow!" upon our realization that it tasted just like key lime pie. Our reaction was no less enthusiastic when we tasted it with sauteed scallops. "This is not a shy chardonnay," winemaker Lee Miyamura has noted. Indeed.
We're happy we didn't write off the 2005 Rosenblum Cellars Chateau La Paws Cote du Bone Roan ($14) simply because of its cutesy name, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Cote du Beaune and Rhone. It's a nod to winemaker Kent Rosenblum's four-decade career as a veterinarian and his commitment to supporting various animal-related charities. This fruit-forward syrah blend (70 percent syrah, plus zinfandel, mourvedre and carignane) started out soft but increased in complexity as it breathed for a half-hour, bringing out notes of bacon. We paired it with a bacon cheeseburger, but this straightforward red also would match well with other simple fare, such as grilled chicken.
Two delicious malbecs illustrate the diversity of Argentina's prized grape. Karen loved the debut release of the 2006 DiSeño Malbec ($13), with sweet cherry and plum fruitiness well balanced by acidity and tannic structure. Andrew preferred the even fuller-bodied 2006 Don Miguel Gascon Malbec ($12), from the oldest winery in continuous operation in Mendoza, for its black cherry flavors accented by smoky, chocolaty notes. Both go beautifully with meaty dishes such as chili, roast lamb, grilled steak or sausage pizza.
"When in doubt, serve bubbly" is the maxim that always has us keep a bottle of champagne or other sparkling wine on hand to pair with virtually everything but red meat. Mionetto "IL" Prosecco ($10) is a lively, easy-drinking sparkler with fresh-pear fruitiness balanced by lemony acidity. From Italy's largest producer of prosecco, it shows that quality can go hand in hand with quantity.
So does the crisp Freixenet Brut de Noirs Cava ($10), made in the champagne method by one of the largest and most renowned houses in Spain. It employs a blend of Spanish garnacha and monastrell grapes, resulting in robust strawberry, raspberry and cherry flavors with a long, dry finish. We enjoyed it with Chinese food: fried spring rolls, pork "lion's head" meatballs and stir-fried beef.
It wasn't poetry, but it was exactly what we wanted: a cheap weeknight thrill.
To read more, visit The Washington Post here.
Tawny port at Zola in DC
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven."
— Ecclesiastes 3:1
Wednesday, October 10, 2007 — Autumn is the season for apples, caramel, moldy cheese, nuts, and pecan and pumpkin pies. And, of course, as we share in our wine column in today's Washington Post, port:
Tawny port is autumn in a glass. Its caramel, nut and baking-spice flavors, not to mention its reddish-brown color, reminiscent of turning leaves, make it the quintessential wine of the season.
Port in general has few equals in its ability to raise autumnal foods -- blue cheeses, dark-chocolate desserts, pecan and pumpkin pies -- to thrilling new levels of deliciousness. And year-round, serving a sweet, rich, smooth glass of port concludes a meal with grace and civility.
It's also a deal: Another wine aged as long could cost several times the price. And because the average port pour is about half the size of a glass of regular wine, one bottle can easily serve twice as many people.
Americans finally are getting hip to port. As of the 1990s, the United States has been importing more vintage port than has Britain. So forget the traditional images of leather armchairs, cigars and stuffy gentlemen's clubs that might have kept you away.
A tradition worth upholding, however, is port's pairing with blue cheeses such as Stilton. It is arguably the greatest wine and cheese combination of all time, with port's sweetness taming the cheeses' salty pungency. And a new tradition you'll want to start is pairing port with autumn pies, which can create just as much magic.
After spying the first bright- orange pumpkins of fall, we craved pumpkin pie so intensely that we mail-ordered the only version we've ever loved: the pie from Royers Round Top Cafe in Round Top, Tex. (population 89). We also ordered the cafe's legendary pecan pie and owner Bud Royer's namesake Bud's Chocolate Chip Pie (http://www.royersroundtopcafe.com). Port's diversity is such that we were able to find the perfect partner for each pie.
Port is made by fortifying wine to an alcohol level near 20 percent by adding a neutral brandy called aguardente, which halts fermentation. The unfermented grape sugar creates a sweet wine.
Ruby ports are aged only briefly in wood and then in the bottle, which allows them to retain their red color and sweet berrylike flavors. They pair beautifully as a point of comparison with berry- flavored desserts and as a contrast to chocolate- and nut-flavored desserts and blue cheeses.
Tawny ports are aged longer in wood before bottling, which gives them their reddish-brown color and characteristic caramel, dried-fig, nut and baking-spice flavors. While that flavor profile can overwhelm berry desserts, tawny ports work well with blue cheeses and chocolate sweets, and they pair most exquisitely as a point of comparison with pumpkin and pecan pies.
Aged tawny ports trumpet their maturity on their labels as badges of honor. Tasting them is more enjoyable when someone else is paying: As a guest at the James Beard House, Andrew once tasted a priceless 100-year-old tawny port that was highly refined with very light citrus and nut notes. However, those of us looking for the biggest bang for our bucks would do well to choose 10- and 20-year-old aged tawny ports, such as the fruitier Churchill's Tawny Porto 10 Years Old ($29) and the mellowed Sandeman Tawny Porto 20 Years Old ($49), which perfectly echoed the flavors of our pumpkin pie, elevating the duo to new heights.
The top 2 percent of ports are vintage ports, which are barrel-aged for two years, with vintages generally declared a few times per decade. They can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars a bottle.
The similar-sounding "late bottled vintage" style refers to ports that have been aged in the barrel for four to six years before bottling and are ready to drink upon release. They often are filtered and do not require decanting -- or such deep pockets. Fonseca Porto Late Bottled Vintage 2000 ($23), for example, is notably less tannic (and less expensive) than vintage port. When Bud's Chocolate Chip Pie hit our table, the richness of this LBV's flavor -- reminiscent of chocolate-covered cherries and raisins -- made for a luscious pairing.
Outside the European Union, port can be called port even if it's not made in its native region of Douro, in northern Portugal, which in 1756 became one of the world's first demarcated wine regions. If sold in America, the real thing must be labeled "Oporto" or "Vinho do Porto." However, countries other than Portugal have been making similar fortified wines that are rather impressive.
From Australia, we savored the Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Old Cave Fine Old Tawny Port ($19), with a somewhat lighter body and classic tawny flavor profile including a dry, nutty finish. At Zola restaurant in Penn Quarter, Director of Operations Ralph Rosenberg is a fan of Yalumba Museum Reserve Antique Tawny ($7 a glass at Zola). He especially likes it with what he terms "challenging-flavored pies," such as cherry, blackberry or rhubarb, because aging creates "a wonderful sherrylike consistency that accentuates the fruit with hints of vanilla and oak." On Zola's current menu, he's finding it an ideal match for chocolate desserts and a banana mousse cake with caramel notes.
From California, we've enjoyed tawny- and vintage-port-style wines from Ficklin Vineyards in Madera, which produced the first port-style wine made in the United States solely from Portuguese grape varieties. (When he lived in San Francisco, Andrew used to buy it by the case and give bottles as holiday gifts.) Seek out the Ficklin Vineyards Old Vine Tinta Port ($14) for a ruby-port-style wine with dark plum and chocolate flavors to pair with Stilton cheese.
As much as we love to sip port with cheese or dessert, it packs enough complex flavor to make for an elegant ending to a meal all on its own. A dessert this satisfying, even if it's in a glass, is a seasonal tradition we could get behind.
Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, award-winning authors of WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT, can be reached through their Web site or at Dornenburg@aol.com.
You can read more on The Washington Post's Web site here.
TIP: A Bottle of October
October is Apple Month, Caramel Month and Dessert Month, with specific dates designated as National Moldy Cheese Day (Oct. 9), National Nut Day (Oct. 22) and National Chocolate Day (Oct. 28). As those are all great matches with port, there's clearly no better month to enjoy a bottle. Here's how:
-Store port someplace cool, even the refrigerator. Serve at about 65 degrees.
-Serve 2 or 3 ounces, or about half a usual wine pour. Use a regular wineglass to allow for swirling and sniffing.
-How fast should you drink that bottle? Because port is a fortified wine, it should last longer than table wines do. If you like the taste of a freshly opened bottle, the sooner you finish it, the better. However, some people like the way port develops flavor over time as it is exposed to air. We've had bottles of aged tawny port that have been delicious as long as several months after being opened.
-Some port makers to keep an eye out for: Churchill, Cockburn, Croft, Delaforce, Dow, Fonseca, Graham's, Quinta do Noval, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre.
Our all-time favorite pies, from Royers Round Top Cafe
Royers Round Top Cafe is at www.royersroundtopcafe.com. The famed pies here have been praised on the Food Network, by the pens of Jane and Michael Stern, and in the pages of 1000 Places to Visit Before You Die in the U.S. and Canada, Austin Chronicle, Bon Appetit, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Texas Monthly, The Washington Post, and USA Today, which cited the chocolate chip pie as one of the year's best dishes. While it's admittedly delicious, we love the pecan and pumpkin pies even more. Over the years, we just might have tried them all, and we haven't tasted one yet that we wouldn't want to taste again right this minute!
We deserve no credit for this cool link — it's courtesy of the inestimable Charlie Suisman at Manhattan User's Guide, his free daily must-read:
"You'll need to stare at the video for about a minute.
But then you get a really good optical illusion for your time."
Sunday, October 7, 2007 — Part I: Life is short, and we only live once, so we might as well enjoy it while we can. Right? After running the Grete's Great Gallop Half-Marathon in Central Park yesterday morning, we headed home just after noon and — ravenous after running 13.1 miles — tried to place a delivery order for a burrito from Baby Bo's Burritos on Second Avenue near 34th Street. "Um, we're in lock-down right now," we were told, with the further explanation that some guy had just gone crazy stabbing people on Second Avenue right outside their door. (The cover of this morning's New York Post bore the headline "East Side Ripper" and the Daily News "Madman Down," along with the sad, gory details.)
The magical enchantment at Gilt starts on the way in
A peek at Gilt's happening bar area on our way in
Gilt has some of the best fresh-baked breads in the city
Venison Carpaccio with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Spice
Chocolate, Minus 8 Gastrique
NV Peter Schandl Gelber Muscateller (Austria)
Maine Diver Sea Scallop Ceviche with Pacific Sea Urchin,
Shiitake Mushrooms, Wasabi, Fresh Yuzu Carrot Caviar
2003 Baron Knyphausen Riesling Spatlese "Kiedricher Sandgrub"
(P.S. This was one of Andrew's favorite food & wine pairings ever.)
Foie Gras Mille Feuille with Concord Grapes, Cheese Pumpkin,
Breakfast Radish, Frisee Herb Salad
1999 Oremus Tokaji Aszu "5 Puttonyos" (Hungary)
Sommelier Jason Ferris pours us two Italian whites
Tagliatelle Pasta with Iberico Ham, Broccoli Florets, Poached
Egg, Manchego Broth
2006 Masut da Rive Pinot Grigio (Italy)
North Atlantic Skate w/ Roasted Cauliflower, Baby Turnips,
Pickled Ramps, Toasted Almonds, Curry Apple Sauce
2006 Bourillon D'Orleans Vouvray "Coulee d'Argent"
"Pastrami" Pork Belly with Rye Gnocchi, Pickled Cabbage,
Raclette Cheese, Russian Dressing
2005 Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf-du-Pape
21-Day-Aged Strip Loin w/ Barley Grains, Hen of the Woods
Mushrooms, Baby Beets, Cashel Blue Cheese
1999 Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron Pauillac
Gilt's layout allows the chef to keep an eye on both rooms
Mango Sorbet with Passion Sabayon, Blackberry Paper
Tahitian Panna Cotta being topped with Concord Grape Soup
Sicilian Pistachio Mille Feuille with Orange-Scented Cream
2000 Ey Banyuls "Vigne d'en Traginer"
Gilt's box of petits fours, including "gilty almonds"
Stopping by the kitchen after dinner to thank the staff
Andrew chats with Christopher Lee and Tobie Cancino
Gilt's entire staff is as fun-loving as it is professional!
Part II: We were grateful to be reminded that "Life is wonderful" via an exceptional dinner at Gilt in the New York Palace Hotel. While we've dined at Gilt previously and enjoyed it every time, this was our best Gilt experience yet.
Gilt is a restaurant that has come into its own, thanks to chef Christopher Lee's cuisine, sommelier Jason Ferris's inspired wine pairings, and the gracious service of the entire front-of-the-house staff including manager Tobie Cancino. If you're a fan of fine dining and have never been to Gilt, go! And if you've visited and enjoyed Gilt in the past, go back! We expect you'll enjoy it even more this time around.
Gilt is at the New York Palace Hotel at 455 Madison Avenue at 51st Street, Manhattan. Phone: (212) 891-8100. Web: www.giltnewyork.com
Hung Huynh, "Top Chef"
Thursday, October 4, 2007 — Our congratulations to last night's "Top Chef" winner Hung Huynh, who cited our book CULINARY ARTISTRY as one of his two favorite cookbooks (along with Ferran Adria's El Bulli) in his Q&A at BravoTV.com.
In fact, the three (of the original 15) contestants who counted CULINARY ARTISTRY among their favorite cookbooks had a definite leg up this season, with two of them (Hung and Dale Levitski) ending up in the top three — and one of them (Hung) taking the top prize.
The original 15 contestants were polled on their three favorite cookbooks (with many choosing to name only one or two), and those mentioned most frequently were: 1) The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller (with four mentions), 2) CULINARY ARTISTRY by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (with three mentions), and 3) El Bulli by Ferran Adria, and On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee (with two mentions each).
The favorites of the top three contestants were:
1) CULINARY ARTISTRY (with two mentions — Hung's and Dale's, it being the only book Dale cited), and
2) El Bulli, The French Laundry Cookbook, and On Food and Cooking (with one mention each)
Congratulations to Hung and Dale on their excellent taste in culinary literature, which apparently served them well — and congratulations to Hung on last night's victory as "Top Chef"!
Hung Huynh isn't the only "top chef" who's a fan
of CULINARY ARTISTRY.
A month after Chicago's Alinea was named the #1 restaurant
in America in Gourmet magazine, its chef Grant Achatz
cited CULINARY ARTISTRY as his "most-used cookbook"
in Chicago magazine.
CULINARY ARTISTRY's fan club also includes:
—Alfonso Fonseca, executive chef, Signature Room Grille
in Woodridge, Illinois, cited CULINARY ARTISTRY in the
Daily Herald as his favorite cookbook: "It gives you different ingredients for each season and recipes to go with them.
It also reprints some really old menus to show the evolution of food from 1960
—Scott Giambastiani, executive chef at Cafe-7 and Cafe Moma, serving organic meals to thousands of employees at Google in Mountain View, California, who described CULINARY ARTISTRY as "the best reference book I've used" in Prevention magazine.
—Jason Herbert, Chicago chef, calls CULINARY ARTISTRY "The Holy Grail of Cookbooks...For the record...if I had to give up all but one cookbook, I'd keep CULINARY ARTISTRY — very few recipes, but inspiration on every page!"
—Martin Laprise, chef and author, who wrote, "What is the most essential book? I have been cooking for 21 years, and I have found that most cookbooks are aimed at moms and paps. A professional does not need to be beaten on the head with recipes, but more inspired! CULINARY ARTISTRY is my favorite book by far."
—John D. Lee, chef in Thailand who has opened and run three successful restaurants in the northern city of Chiang Mai, who described CULINARY ARTISTRY as "the best cookbook I've ever read....It helped me become a better cook! Now I've been a cookbook junky for years, and I've read thousands, literally thousands, of cookbooks...."
—Chris Maher of Momentitas de la Vida in New Mexico cited CULINARY ARTISTRY as his favorite cookbook.
—Joe Marcus, chef of the West Bank Cafe in New York City, calls CULINARY ARTISTRY "My bible. I use almost every day. As the chef of a small kitchen with no one to bounce ideas off of, it comes in very handy."
—Jenny McCoy, pastry chef of Emeril's Delmonico in New Orleans, who described CULINARY ARTISTRY as her "Best Brainstorming Book....An essential guide for any professional chef, and a wealth of knowledge for any aspiring chef or home gourmet. Of all the cookbooks I own, this is the one that I reference most."
—Joey Nerenberg, president, Infusion Culinary Inc., described CULINARY ARTISTRY in the San Diego Business Journal as his "most influential book...A book that is as much about executing the creative process as it is about
—Sean O'Brien, 2007 Food & Wine magazine "Best New Chef," who named CULINARY ARTISTRY as his favorite cookbook, commenting, "I use it as a guide to find classic combinations — when I’m designing a new menu and I want to figure out what pairs well with plums, it’s a good reference."
—Cliff Ostrowski, executive chef, Windows, Oak Brook Hills Resort and Conference Center (Illnois) cited CULINARY ARTISTRY in the Daily Herald as his favorite cookbook: "The authors chose specific foods, like veal, and then asked world-famous chefs to name their favorite ingredients to pair with that food. If you're a chef, the plate is your palate and ingredients are your colors. This book helps you coordinate the colors."
—Will Packwood of Emilia’s in Austin, Texas, who was named one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs of 2001, cited CULINARY ARTISTRY as his favorite cookbook.
—David Peterson, head chef at three of the businesses operated by Bellingham restaurateur Brian
Tines: Main Street Bar and Grill, Fairhaven Pub and Martini Bar, and Big Fat
Fish Co., cited CULINARY ARTISTRY in the Bellingham Herald as his favorite cookbook: "It describes foods that pair well together."
—Josh Silverman and James Winberg, both chefs and partners in Nimbus restaurant in Bellingham, Washington, each cited CULINARY ARTISTRY as their favorite cookbook in the Bellingham Herald
—Stu Stein, Oregon chef and author, who wrote, "If you’re thinking about the culinary field or are a cook or a chef, then you must read...Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page’s CULINARY ARTISTRY."
Want to share your own CULINARY ARTISTRY testimonial with us? Email it to Dornenburg@aol.com.
CONGRATULATIONS, MARCIA BOTEX!
Murray Hill's own Marcia Botex of D'Agostino places 2nd in
be named New York City's "Best Bagger"
What Marcia had to bag — fast! — to take 2nd place
We can't make it to a greenmarket every day, so we're glad to have such a nice D'Agostino grocery store in our Murray Hill neighborhood — one with increasingly impressive offerings (e.g. cheeses, produce, D'Artagnan chicken, La Brea Bakery bread, etc.) and friendly service. Marcia Botex in particular has made shopping at the D'Agostino on Third Avenue near 38th Street a pleasure over the years, as she makes it a point to greet many customers by name. So we couldn't be happier to congratulate Marcia on taking 2nd place in this afternoon's competition to name New York City's Best Bagger! Here are the press release details re: the event:
In 2007, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of D'Agostino Supermarkets, NYC's first continuously family owned supermarket chain, we'll be hosting NYC's first Best Bagger Competition… The NYC Best Bagger Championship is the first ever and only NYC event in the year-long, nationwide program in which the best-of-the-best grocery baggers in the country compete for great prizes and the title of America's Best Bagger.
Contestants are judged on speed, bag-building technique, weight distribution between bags, style, attitude and appearance.
"Excellence in bagging represents an important element in providing outstanding customer service in an area in which independent community focused retailers excel," said Nicholas D'Agostino 3rd, President and COO of D'Agostino Supermarkets.
On Thursday, October 4, the finalists from each of the 18 store D'Agostino chain with 15 stores in Manhattan, and 3 in Westchester County will compete for the title of NYC's Best Bagger. The winner from each store will receive $100 D'AG Gift Certificates and 5,000 S&H Green Points, redeemable at any D'Agostino store, or at the Green Points website, respectively.
Below is the list of winners from each store as well as those who will be competing in our chain finals on Thursday, Oct. 4th at 2PM in the D'Agostino supermarket on 38th & 3rd Ave.
Here's what to expect at the store finals:
There will be two lanes that will be set up for the competition.
Yes, there will be head to head competition, but just like the Olympics
the final scores matter the most. There will be two heats for each store winner - one paper & one plastic. We will do paper first and then plastic.
The list of items being bagged remains the same as was done with the individual store competition.
The winners below will be receiving $100 in D'AG gift certificates. The winner of the finals will go to the New York state competition, to be held in November at the D'Agsotino in Rye Brook. State winner goes to the national finals in Las Vegas in January, 2008:
Gemma Alexander (off this week),
Bevery Montes - Runner up will compete,
Elizer Maldonado, Marcia Botex,
and Starisha Harris Bage.
Overall NYC winner will receive a $250 gift certificate, additional Green Points and a trip to compete in the state finals.
As in the September 27th heats, in each store, the contestants will bag off in two rounds with the first with paper bags and the second with plastic or re-usable poly bags. They will be judged on speed, bag-building technique, and weight distribution between bags, style, attitude and appearance.
Items included in the competition will be bagged salads, chips, soap and soap powder, salad dressing, cookies, glass bottled spaghetti sauce, canned soup, a wrapped deli sandwich, frozen dinner, bread, oranges, light bulbs, tissue box and several of the items from the line of D'Agostino's famed and amazingly well-priced Smart Price items, which includes a whole rotisserie chicken for $3.99 plus Green Points, a quart of milk in Manhattan for $.49 plus Green Points, eggs for $.29 a dozen plus Green Points and many more!
A champion supermarket bagger from each state is eligible to enter the finals at the National Grocers Association Annual Convention, to be held in 2008 at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel. The 2008 competition marks the 23rd annual NGA Best Bagger Competition, which began in Dallas, Texas.
P.S. Our apologies: In all the excitement about Marcia placing 2nd (with 54.6/60 points), no one seemed to know the name of the person who placed first with 56/60 points. As soon as we can confirm it, we'll add it to our Blog!
POSTSCRIPT: We'd like to extend our belated congratulations to winner America Evins, who is featured (along with Marcia Botex) in the New York Daily News article on the competition here.
Photo: Kevin Clark
"Rustico" is not only the
Prosecco's name, but that
of Tucker's Umbrian home
Wednesday, October 3, 2007 — We skim so many books on food and wine that it's a rare occasion when one forces us to put it down so that we can rush off to sample the food and wine pairing we just read about. But this happened time and time again as we made our way through actor Michael Tucker's delightful new book Living in a Foreign Language. We suspect you'll be compelled to do the same after reading our column "Paging Through an Italian Idyll" in today's Washington Post, so we'll provide a link where you can order it here.
"If it grows together, it goes together." That adage echoes our No. 1 rule of food and wine pairing, "Think regionally," and it applies nowhere more strongly than in Italy, whose food and wine are so regionally driven.
Italy's 20 regions are subdivided into more than 100 provinces, 8,000 municipalities and 35,000 localities, many with their own unique traditions, which makes mastering them all unlikely. However, their flavor synergies are so pleasurable that it's worth persevering for a taste of the likes of Emilia-Romagna's salumi (cured meats) with Lambrusco, or Liguria's pesto with Vermentino, or Tuscany's biscotti with Vin Santo.
A landlocked region, Umbria is a source of fabulous lentils, olives and olive oil, pork (in all its guises, from roast suckling pig to prosciutto to sausages), and both black and white truffles. Paired with those ingredients, its local wines create a magic all their own. Umbria often is overshadowed as a culinary destination by neighboring Tuscany. But that only helps to make it a better source of delicious bargains -- in wine and in real estate.
Married actors Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry of "L.A. Law" fame were after the latter when they bypassed Tuscany in favor of Umbria. The two, who met at Washington's Arena Stage in 1969, bought a 350-year-old vine-covered house in the Umbrian countryside a few years ago. Tucker's enchanting new book about their adventures is the most compelling account of food and wine we've read this year.
"Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy" (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007) compelled us to sample many of the food and wine combinations mentioned in its pages. Several have proven extraordinary.
Case in point: Tucker's enthusiasm for Orvieto Classico with grilled trout led us to pour a 2006 Ruffino Orvieto Classico ($8) with our own. The dry yet fruity wine with the flavor of green apples and an almondy finish proved not only an exceptional match but also an exceptional bargain. The 2005 La Carraia Orvieto Classico ($9) is another refreshingly crisp white that goes beautifully with grilled fish and chicken; the winery also makes a food-friendly 2005 La Carraia Sangiovese ($12), whose fabulous tart-cherry and bitter-chocolate flavors pair seamlessly with pastas that have meaty tomato sauces.
Umbrian wines do not yet have a widespread presence on American wine store shelves, although their availability is increasing. Worth seeking out are those made from native Sagrantino grapes, which produce some of the more tannic Old World reds you're likely to encounter. While the texture of the 2001 Terre de Trinci Sagrantino di Montefalco ($45) we tasted was smooth and silky, its flavor volume was powerfully loud -- though it was readily calmed when accompanied by pasta dishes with red meat sauce or truffles. Keep an eye out, too, for easier-drinking Sagrantino blends, which can be comparative bargains, including the same winery's similarly appealing 2001 Terre de Trinci Montefalco Rosso Riserva ($24). In his memoir, Tucker recounts how he and his friends don't stay put long, traveling from Umbria to other parts of Italy and enjoying local food and wine specialities along the way -- and inspiring us to do likewise.
From Tuscany to the west, we savored the high-acid yet earthy 2004 Gabbiano Chianti Classico ($14) with a tomato-sauced pasta, a time-tested pairing that deliciously reminded us that classics are classic for a reason.
From the Veneto region, we sampled two impressive proseccos. The NV Canella Prosecco d i Conegliano ($17) is a step up in price and flavor from others. Served ice-cold, it has a fruit-forward character with the slightest whisper of sweetness, making it the perfect match for a crusty slice of country bread slathered with fresh, creamy ricotta cheese and drizzled with eucalyptus honey. One of the most delightful symphonies of flavor we've tasted in recent memory, it wasn't even on our radar until Tucker and his prosecco-loving friend George introduced us to the pairing on Page 119. The other is the dry, crisp NV Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico ($15), which chef Alexander Powell of 701 restaurant in Penn Quarter recommends with his ribbons of tuna with crushed avocado, rice crisps and a creamy garlic sauce.
Reading books on wine provides an invaluable, yet often insufficient, wine education. Without knowledge of the wines' accompanying food, you're nothing but a wine geek. Books like "Living in a Foreign Language" provide such an ideal context for how to truly enjoy wine with food that they should be required reading for all oenophiles.
Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, award-winning authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat," can be reached through their Web site, www.becomingachef.com, or at Dornenburg@aol.com.
Living in a Foreign Language author Michael Tucker exhibited the patience of a saint when we peppered him with questions about some of his favorite wine and food pairings in Umbria and elsewhere in Italy. They include:
Amarone: lasagna, meats.
Barbaresco: pecorino cheese, grilled poultry.
Grechetto: bruschetta with mushrooms, cheese, fish, salami, grilled trout.
Montefalco Rosso (Tucker's favorite wine, partly due to its versatility with food): beef, braised meat dishes and sauces, polenta, pasta with wild boar sauce, mixed grill, spaghetti alla carbonara.
Orvieto Classico: bruschetta, fish, seafood, grilled trout.
Prosecco: bread topped with ricotta cheese and eucalyptus honey.
Sagrantino di Montefalco: aged cheeses, salumi (Italian cured meats), beef, steak, lamb, wild boar; pasta or pizza; black truffles.
To read more, visit The Washington Post's Web site here.
The window of Three Lives bookstore at 154 West 10th Street
"Starred Review. Gina DePalma, pastry chef at upscale Italian restaurant Babbo in New York City (owner Mario Batali contributes a foreword), approaches Italian-American desserts from three directions: traditional Italian (Polenta Cookies from the Veneto); Italian-American, learned at the elbow of her Calabrese grandmother (in a charming introduction, DePalma recalls how her grandmother used to visit her family in Virginia, stepping off the plane from New York bearing hunks of cheese, cans of olive oil and DePalma's favorite taralli); and what are best described as American-Italian."
"Gina is a genius with pastry...."
—Giada DeLaurentis, host of "Everyday Italian"
"A work to be treasured...."
—Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of "The Splendid Table"
It's a moment when a first-time author first spies his or her book in an actual bookstore — THE moment, we think, when one is tranformed from having written a book to actually being an author. The first time we saw a copy of BECOMING A CHEF in a bookstore was at Coliseum Books on West 57th Street, and we'll never forget how hard our hearts were pounding when we spied it on a bookshelf there.
We're delighted that Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma shared her own special moment with us of first spying her gorgeous new book Dolce Italiano in the window at Three Lives bookstore in Greenwich Village.
As the book's official publication date isn't until the middle of this month, we were going to wait to tell you about it, but if it's already out there, there's no reason to hold back: Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma is a definite buy. We'd be very, very surprised to find a better book on desserts published in 2007.
If you don't happen to live near Three Lives, look for it in better bookstores everywhere this month, or order it by clicking here.
We found that we were missing so many mentions of our books and wine columns that we signed ourselves up to receive Google News Alerts every time another article appeared that included the name "Dornenburg" (which is less common than "Page" and thus our preferred search term).
However, of late we've been receiving several items that are not about us but about our family's star athlete Kristen Dornenburg. Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer trumpeted her latest Field Hockey achievement:
"Rhian Jones scored an unassisted goal four minutes into the first half to give host Haverford High a 1-0 win over Radnor, keeping the Fords unbeaten in the Central League.
Kristen Dornenburg had six saves for the Fords (12-1 league, 5-0 overall)."
Our congratulations to Kristen — and to Haverford High's Fords!
Michael Gelb surrounded by three great women: his mom,
soprano Deborah Domanski, and Karen at Lincoln Center
The view at the bar at Picholine on West 64th Street
The tasting plate of 3 different appetizers at Picholine:
Left: Shrimp "Popcorn" with smoked paprika;
Right: Scotch egg with duck prosciutto
Karen's favorite dish in NYC: Picholine's White Gazpacho
Pastry chef Zachary Miller should be very proud of his Warm
Caramel Apple Brioche w/ Apple Salad & Caramel Ice Cream,
enhanced only by a taste of 2002 Alois Kracher #7 TBA
Monday, October 1, 2007 — Congratulations to our friend mezzo soprano Deborah Domanski for her history-making part in the U.S. premiere of Dame Ethel Smyth's "The Wreckers" (1903) yesterday afternoon at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. Deb was fabulous (although Karen described its plot in an email to Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page of The Washington Post, and author of a forthcoming book based on his fascinating and moving August 20th New Yorker article on living with Asperger's Syndrome, as only the second bleakest we'd followed this year, having read Cormac McCarthy's The Road in August).
After the performance, we enjoyed a taste of Karen's long-time favorite dish in New York City: Picholine chef-owner Terrance Brennan's White Gazpacho Soup, enhanced by the accompaniment of a" taste" (half-glass) of white Rioja, poured by the lovely and charming Richelle, a former Berkley-ite who knows her wines.
We heard word that former Picholinian T.J. Siegel (ex-Artisanal and Alto) would very soon be taking over the former Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar space to open a wine and cheese tasting room called Mercury Dime.
It was announced today that Terrance has sold his Artisanal Cheese business, and will also be opening a new restaurant soon. We wish him the best of luck and continued success!
Picholine is at 35 West 64th Street, bet. Broadway and Central Park West, Manhattan. (212) 724-8585.
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