I love dessert. I trust I'm not alone in the adoration of a sweet finish to a superb meal.
I also love fine wine and spirits. I equally trust that I'm not alone on this score either.
For some reason, however, the two have never intermingled well in my book. Most dessert wines are cloying and reminiscent of honey - thick and gooey to the last drop. Not exactly the way I want to celebrate the conclusion of a lovely dinner. How about you?
Now, in sharp contrast to most dessert wines, I'm usually more than delighted to opt for Champagne or its less expensive Northern Italian cousin Prosecco alongside a cookie plate or slice of cake. But, more and more, I am happy to report that the light, fizzy Piedmontese dessert wine Moscato d'Asti, brimming with floral notes, melon and lychee, is turning up on after-dinner menus and in sophisticated liquor stores across the country. It is a gorgeous, refreshing drink that compliments subtle desserts brilliantly.
This is all well and good, but what if I'm not looking for subtlety in my dessert? What if I desire something intense at the meal's close? Chocolate? Strawberries? Cherries?
This is where the "other" dessert wine of Piedmont comes in - Brachetto d'Acqui. Still relatively off-the-radar in the U.S., Brachetto d'Acqui is beginning to gain some notice among Italian wine fans, usually under the Rosa Regale label, imported by Banfi Vintners (pictured below).
Its ruby red color, containing bubbles galore and topped with pink foam upon pouring, almost inspires giggles. A red sparkling wine? Low alcohol (7%)? Are you sure this stuff isn't from a box - or a can? It seems so lowbrow. Are you sure that this isn't something cooked up by Bartles & Jaymes?
But, take in its bouquet and your nose will be filled with hints of rose petals, cotton candy, rasperries and cherries. One sip and you can't help yourself - You're smiling. One bite of a chocolate souffle or a chocolate-covered strawberry followed by a sip of Brachetto d'Acqui and you can't help yourself - You're moaning with delight.
Bartles & Jaymes never did that for me. How about you?
And, so, I think this award is well-earned. My hope for Brachetto d'Acqui is that you think so too - and start insisting that your local restaurants and liquor stores start carrying this bright, sweet, deep cherry, fragrant, sparkling delight.
P.S. To learn about the 1st Annual Independent Food Festival and Awards and check out the other category winners visit Taste Everything.
I remember when the only reason to visit Smith Street was to get to the "F" line or buy crack cocaine. All of that changed when the restaurant/boutique renaissance hit the once dismal Brooklyn strip. The pioneer that started it all was Patois, a well-priced, well-heeled French bistro helmed by Chef Alan Harding.
A table at Patois quickly became a coveted commodity - especially considering they didn't take reservations for parties smaller than six. And, I was one of the hungry Brooklynites happy to wait for up to 90 minutes for a seat at the restaurant. Why? Charming atmosphere, capable and friendly service, kind prices and, most of all, delicious bistro fare.
But, in what seemed like a blink of an eye, Smith Street became a magnet for hip and trendy trattorias and taverns. Pretty soon Patois was overshadowed by its neighbors - and soon after Harding and his partners sold the restaurant. I would still return from time to time, and although the bloom was off the rose, it was still a lovely dining experience. Admittedly, however, with so much culinary competition in the area, I haven't passed through its doors in at least a year.
That all changed on Friday night. The service was still serviceable, the room was still cozy, the price was still nice - but food was middling at best, verging on feh. I knew that something was off when a friend and I dug into an appetizer of flavor-challenged House-Smoked Trout with an odd, slightly sweet, warm toss of sweet potatoes and several, even odder, dollops of seriously strong wasabi mayo. Huh? If your going to be daring you better be Wylie Dufresne. This mixture just didn't cut it. Wylie has nothing to worry about.
My entree of Coq au Vin wasn't as disconcerting, but was very dry and stringy - and oddly sweet as well. A dessert of bland Apple Strudel atop a cream inflicted with so much alcohol, it should've been on the rocks, capped the evening off with little fanfair.
Not only was the bloom of the rose - the rose was officially wilted.
But, on a positive note, when New York City closes a gourmet door, another one always opens. In this case, for me, it was the revelation that Nolita's Porcupine might be an out-n-out winner, when I followed up a birthday dinner a couple months back with a brunch on Saturday with a gal pal. The room was warm and comfortable, the service the same, the price was right - and the food was sublime. (Splitting their hearty Leg of Lamb Sandwich and vanilla-scented, custardy French Toast with Almonds and Apricots is a perfect combo, if you want to experience the savory and sweet sides of the spectrum.)
And so, as I mourn a loss, I celebrate a new fave find. Ain't New York grand?
Not only has "Sideways" pushed Pinot Noir into the limelight, revived the careers of Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen, but now, according to today's Wall Street Journal, it looks like it's sparked a new tourism boom in the Santa Ynez Valley - and not necessarily for the wine:
Now "Sideways" is drawing a new crowd to the Santa Barbara wine county, which has long played third fiddle to Napa and Sonoma. And for the moment, the movie is rivaling the attention nearby resident Michael Jackson is getting.
By far the most frequently mimicked moment is one in which Mr. Giamatti's character, an incorrigible wine snob named Miles, declares: "If anyone orders merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any f- merlot." All day long, tourists traipse through local wineries and restaurants featured in the movie, repeating Mr. Giamatti's colorful outburst and casting aspersions on one of the country's most popular varietals.
People repeat the line "every time we pour the merlot," says Kole Knutson, a tasting-room manager at the Kalyra Winery in Santa Ynez, where some scenes in the movie were filmed.
Few places have borne the brunt of this more than the Hitching Post, a restaurant prominently featured in the movie. Cocktail hour at the Hitching Post these days is a mob scene, especially since the movie's Academy Award nominations were announced in late January. Ms. Marcus, a 39-year-old Los Angeles public-radio fund-raiser, recalls how she easily got an 8 o'clock reservation at the restaurant two months ago, only to find a long wait there when she arrived with two girlfriends on a recent Saturday night.
Later the same evening, Julie Iko Caruso jostled into the bar with a group of five friends. "We've been taking turns saying the lines," said Ms. Iko Caruso, as she and her friends in unison repeated the merlot rant. Ms. Iko Caruso had come up for the weekend from Manhattan Beach, in the Los Angeles area, and was sipping a Cosmopolitan rather than the pinot noir that is touted as nearly life-changing in "Sideways." Later in the evening, her husband, Tony, mimicked the feline sexual growl of the movie's womanizing character, Jack, played by Oscar-nominee Thomas Haden Church.
"Our bar used to be a quiet place, and now it's a hangout," says Hitching Post co-owner Frank Ostini, who held court on a recent Saturday night in a Hawaiian shirt dotted with wine bottles. "People call their friends on the East Coast from the bar and say, 'Guess where I am?' "
And, an Associated Press story echoes the turning tides of tourism in the area, additionally pointing out the uber-commercial "Sideways" marketing mania that's rolling out in the area:
The Santa Barbara tourism office published 10,000 Sideways maps for tourists wanting to retrace the adventures of Miles and Jack. Within a month of the film's release, the maps were gone and 30,000 more were printed. The map also has been downloaded 5,000 times from the bureau's website since December...
...Now, some businesses are offering Sideways-themed packages.
Guests at the Wine Valley Inn & Cottages in Solvang, for example, also receive a gift certificate for a meal at a Danish restaurant and a bottle of wine from the Firestone Vineyard, among other items. The restaurant and vineyard are two places Miles and Jack visit.
Hmm...I actually might be visiting San Francisco in the next few months on business. I wonder if all of this means that there will be no tourists in Napa and Sonoma.
More wine for me! And, frankly, I'm inclined to slurp on Zinfandel, rather than Merlot or Pinot Noir anyway.
For those of you from the Windy City, there has always been a bizarre, mystical connection between your town, baseball and food. The most notorious intersection between the three centers on a hex featuring Wrigley Field, the Cubs, a goat, and the legendary Billy Goat Tavern, made nationally famous by Saturday Night Live with it's "Cheese-boiger, Cheese-boiger, Cheese-boiger, No Fries, Chips, No Coke, Pepsi" skits. Ah, yes, the old Curse of the Billy Goat, which is still credited with keeping the Cubs down. Each time the Chicago Cubs fail to reach the World Series, the ol' Billy Goat hex is blamed.
But now, Cubs fans are determined to defeat the dreaded curse with a new intersection between Chicago, sports and food:
The Cubs came close to returning to the World Series for the first time since 1945 until the foul ball that deflected off Bartman during Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series changed the course of local history too.
Some contend the Bartman ball has been overdone in local publicity campaigns and news coverage, but that will not stop it from simmering in a sauce pan next week at Harry Caray's. Grant DePorter, managing partner of Harry Caray's restaurant group, will stir it up again with plans to use the infamous ball to raise money for charity.
A year after blowing up the ball in an event that raised money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the restaurant will soak the ball's remains in a vat of Budweiser and add other ingredients to make a "curse-ending sauce."
"At the urging of faithful Cubs fans, Harry Caray's will try once again to use the power of the ball to generate positive energy for the Cubs," DePorter said.
Yes, that's right. Cubs fans are going to eat a nasty baseball ragu in order to fend off a nasty curse put on their favorite team.
Frankly, I'd be more apt to just eat a Billy Goat.
I'm back to that old chestnut - hospitality. To me, it's an evergreen concern and always worthy of another think piece - okay a rant.
Bad service slipped back into my life last week, when my friend Pam and I decided to try out the new haute fish shack in Chelsea, BLT Fish. It all seemed to start out fine with two seats at the bar and free salt-n-vinegar potato chips. It didn't take long for a table to open up and we thought we'd be on our way to a fine fish dinner with all the trimmings. But, looking to our neighboring table, we realized that we might be in trouble. The ladies to our left were clearly disconcerted, as they tried to explain to their waiter that they had ordered a Caesar salad as an appetizer and that it hadn't made an appearance within the last hour and a half. The waiter just shrugged. We soon learned that that was only one of many service mishaps that occured that evening.
I will admit that the waiter was a little bit better with us, but waiting over a half-hour for a drink order to be filled just isn't acceptable. Also, asking us to round up our silverware on the table and hand it to him for clearing dinner just isn't acceptable either. And, when the ladies to the left decided to complain about their problems to the manager, they apparently were offered another one of BLT Fish's famous shrugs - thankfully on the house.
Clearly, BLT Fish isn't in the hospitality business. Besides, after eating their food, I don't really think they are in the fine fish dinners business either.
Once again - Oy!
But, my fish tale was nothing in comparison to my friend Mo's recent tale of hospitality woe. You think I had problems with fish? Mo's got it all over me when it comes to bovine.
Just a few days back, not long after our sojourn to the East Village to see "Hamburger America," Mo had an urge for a top flight burger. After hearing about the Old Homestead Steakhouse's (pictured above) $41 Kobe beef hamburger, she was hooked. What burger could be worth that much moo-lah? She couldn't wait to find out.
She decided to make an event of it and invited a friend to join in, and they promptly ordered two medium-rare burgers and a fine bottle of red to go alongside their bovine gluttony. The waiter insisted that Mo actually order the burger rare if she wanted to see some ruby in the middle of her oversized patty and she acquiesed, thinking that she was being steered in the right direction.
Oh, what folly.
She should have known that things would go awry (if not apumpernickel), as soon as the wine glasses arrived for their vino. There, on her glass was dried blood. Bovine blood? Perhaps. But, really - Who cares? It's a health violation either way!
She brought it to the attention of their waiter. No apology. Instead, he matter-of-factly insisted that it was simply dried, old red wine. Would she like another glass, instead?
Huh?!? Why, yes, that would be nice. Jeez!
He brought another glass. And, then the burgers arrived - Well-done. They called the waiter over again to complain. He shrugged. (Is it possible that he was originally trained at BLT Fish?)
That was it. Mo had enough. She went straight over the manager. Happily, the manager hadn't been trained at BLT Fish, and immediately comped them their meal - which Mo and guest didn't even begin let alone finish.
But, it was too late at that point. They won't be returning to the Old Homestead any time soon.
So, have I made my point? Hospitality matters. Good service is vital in this dog eat dog, human do not want to be served dog food world.
And to continue our cocktailing adventure...Last we left our fair damsels, they were attracting a collection of gents at the swank Town Bar off of Fifth Avenue. But, once the ceremonial passing of digits had gone off without a hitch, it seemed time to move on. Why press our luck?
However, after a few of Town's tasty libations, we thought better of heading straight to the next watering hole. We made a beeline for the Parker Meridien for a quick pitstop at Burger Joint, but the line was well into the lobby. Determined to dine inexpensively before hitting our next pricey booze hall, we settled on a quick fix of Chicken and Cashew in Bird's Nest at Topaz Thai.
Sated, we ventured on. Unfortunately the bar at 8 1/2 was desolate. We'd have to turn elsewhere. But where? And then I knew...
We needed to see Norman.
Norman Bukofzer is a legendary, old world (when the "old world" was Brooklyn) bartender who hangs his hat and cocktail shaker at the Ritz-Carlton's Star Bar (pictured above). His fans range from Bono to Baronesses (I actually sat next to one - a Baroness, not Bono).
Erica and I sashayed into the elegant bar room and, as luck would have it, two bar stools suddenly became available. With no Vaz on the menu, we decided to let Norman concoct to his heart's delight. And, as we placed our devil-may-care order, we seemed to capture the delight of a dapper gent sitting to Erica's left. He smiled like the Cheshire cat and immediately engaged us in conversation.
It took me a little while to pinpoint what it was about this man that was so darn attractive. His grin? His laugh? His elegant, good looks? His Spanish accent? His all too perfectly tailored suit? His glamorous, jet-setting, fashion industry life?
It became clearer and clearer as we spoke. He loved women. Adored women. Gloried in all woman kind. Short. Tall. Skinny. Rubenesque. Dark. Fair. Shy. Exhuberant. Demure. Vivacious.
He would find something to love and admire in each and every one.
Oh, to witness such a man. Perhaps a cad (in this case, definitely so, since he asked me to meet him the next night at the Essex House Hotel bar, even though he wore a wedding ring), but still a remarkable soul in his celebration of all that is female.
I wouldn't want to be married to such a man. But, damn, I'm so glad that they do exist.
I didn't meet him at the Essex House the next night. But, Erica and I were glad to accept his company, his compliments, his wit, his vivid spin on life, fashion and music - and his offer to pick-up our drinks.
All in all, it was a magnificent evening, which was capped off with an ever-glamorous trip on the "F" train, back to Brooklyn, featuring the musical talents of a busker and a few girlish giggles shared with a dear friend.
Next time, it'll be Erica's turn to choose a new hood. The shake and stir probably won't direct us to Midtown. But where ever we go, I hope there are good cocktails, good men and a few girlish giggles at the night's end.
Sometimes it's important to shake and stir things up when you go out cocktailing. And, last night, my pal Erica and I decided to do just that - in the name of a fun girl's night, featuring fine libations and a chance to mingle with the opposite sex. The same-old watering holes were seeming less and less like quality prowling ground and so, with a shake and stir top of mind, we ventured to a far off, exotic, upscale land called "Midtown Manhattan."
Our first stop, was named Town, appropriately enough. Housed in the sleek Chambers Hotel off of Fifth Avenue, the restaurant's bar was small, sophisticated, and hoppin'. We scouted the location to see if it was up to the evening's standards:
The posh crowd was jovial.
The cocktails were crafted by legendary bar chef Albert Trummer.
The lighting was exceptionally kind.
Males were in attendance.
A cocktail menu was ordered as we squeezed in between a collection of gents sipping, chatting and staring at their blackberries.
The bar menu was a stunner. A few examples:
*Blood Orange Cosmopolitan -Grey Goose Orange, lime and blood orange juices
*Convent in Chile - Blood orange Charbay Vodka, grapefruit and fresh kumquots
*Cardenal Sidecar - Cardenal Mendoza, cointreau, fresh lime juice and Grand Marnier
Oh, heck with the men! I ordered up a Convent and Erica couldn't resist a drink called a Vaz Vanilla.
It was the Vaz that really set the evening in motion. Men couldn't take their eyes off of it. A frothy concoction of vanilla-flavored cognac, Amaretto, cream and a Coca-Cola float, it was reminiscent of a vanilla egg-cream - all in a grown-up Martini glass. Suddenly, all the males wanted to talk about the drink with us. What does it taste like? What's in it? Were we planning on staying and ordering another?
That Vaz certainly broke the ice - and even encouraged one fine gent to request my digits. Who woulda thunk that a girly drink could do more for you than a low-cut dress?
And, that was just the beginning of the evening's adventures...Stay Tuned: VittlesVamp will be back on Monday with Part 2.
We all have one or two - or several dozen in my case.
This weekend finally gave me the chance to put an old tattered, untried recipe for Moorish Lamb Stew to the test. Adapted from My Kitchen in Spain, by Janet Mendel, I clipped it out of the Dining In, Dining Out section of the New York Times a few years ago, and was waiting for an occasion sans vegetarians, red meat haters or the prune intolerant to finally bring it to my table:
Moorish Lamb Stew with Prunes
2 lbs. boneless lamb, such as leg, cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1-inch piece of lemon zest, chopped
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
1/8 tsp. saffron threads, crushed
1/4 cup sweet wine, such as muscatel
1 cup pitted prunes
In a bowl, season lamb with salt and pepper, and pour in lemon juice. Marinate in refrigerator a few hours or overnight, turning occasionally.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saut