Thursday, April 22, 2010

Call This Short Rib a Cab!

As a wine and food junkie, I look forward to the Taste of Palm Springs each year and to the pairing possibilities it undoubtedly affords. As in years past, the wine sponsor was Jacob's Creek, Australia's largest wine brand. That being said, this behemoth of the industry still offers easy drinking wines that are of great value and high quality.
After sipping the Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet and Shiraz, I determined the tobacco and blueberry-inflected 2006 Reserve Cab to be the most food friendly wine of the night. My decision was strongly influenced after tasting the incredibly tender braised short ribs with onion straws and mushroom risotto from Mr. Parker's. The meat was a great match for the Cab's smooth tannins, and I encountered more of the same with the Riviera's roasted lamb loin (cooked sous vide), which brought out the wine's subtle fruit. 
One of my favorite dishes of the night guessed it...a delectable morsel of short rib perched atop carrot puree courtesy of Matchbox Pizza. The beef flavors were intense and joined well with the hints of tobacco in the Cab. A return visit to this restaurant and its own wine list is in short order.
Dessert was a tiny morsel of a velvety chocolate cherry cupcake from Sisters Cupcakes by Design, followed by a sip of the subtly-oaked red. Not the most traditional of pairings, but why stick with the tried and true when you can step out of the box and still be delicious? If I have learned one thing about this smorgasbord of a night, it is just that.
Special thanks to:

 Taste of Palm Springs Highlighs Tried and True Gems and Newbies to the Scene

A week ago I attended my first Taste of Palm Springs at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The premise was simple—get any and all Palm Springs area restaurants together under one roof to offer their best culinary wares and raise money for AIDS Assistance Program in the process. I found it very fitting that the organization in our community that gives free food vouchers to those living with HIV should be a beneficiary of a food event. I had never been before so didn’t know what to expect for the $50 ticket fee and was pleasantly surprised to find that the price was an extreme deal that allowed one to try copious amounts of good food and four glasses of fine wines.
One of the best highlights of the evening was the sheer scope of the food from convenient and quick restaurants like Chipotle to the upper echelon of fine dining establishments. A sampling of cuisines for every occasion and pocketbook presented itself in a wide array of booths and I enjoyed not only finding new wonders at already-beloved restaurants but being introduced to good eating from places I might not ordinarily try. In the true spirit of representing the diversity of our valley’s food, I will discuss what I consider the surprises and true treasures of the evening, with props to the chefs and restaurant staff who decided to go a little beyond the norm to provide a creative taste to us guests of this great event and to all for helping raise money for those who need to eat!

The Greek-owned restaurant JOHN’S has been a local favorite forever with its cheap food, no nonsense diner style atmosphere and an eclectic menu of things that never go out of style like huevos rancheros for breakfast and fried zucchini for late night appetites. What makes John’s different than the traditional diner are the customized special items like the spaghetti with the clove-spiked sauce and an amazing saltibonca chicken entrée that begs to make the restaurant a top of mind awareness spot for quick and easy comfort food dinners when you want to dine in jeans with no pretension.

On Arenas Road across from the bars where the boys come out to play, the old pizzeria Just Pizza used to sit where you would go after dancing for hours to refill the carbs with some greasy slices. Now, it’s a new place called Café Palette and they still serve pizza, but it is much better than it used to be and comes in thin crust versions with savory toppings like spicy, crumbled sausage. Could become a new, favorite stop in place on the way home on Sunday afternoons.
For those who love short ribs, there were two standout versions at the event. One from MATCHBOX (which, along with Spaghetteria and Papa Dan’s has the best pizza in the valley) that was served falling apart tender on a mash of carrot puree (which I predict will be the next trend at all black tie galas). The other was served on top of faro with crispy onion curls from MR. PARKER’S.
Another normal pizza stop, CPK, handed out generous portions of tamale and corn ravioli which was so rich, sweet and filling I could only eat two pieces. Would be a great accompaniment to share with a BBQ chicken salad and a friend.

SISTERS CUPCAKES were doling out miniature versions of cupcakes in all flavors like cherry chocolate, red velvet and peanut butter but it was the crème brulee version that took the cake.

NEW LEAF CATERING served samples of their big fat pan seared scallop with coconut beurre blanc served atop a creamy polenta gory with cheese.
RIVIERA RESORT dished out slices of lamb with an ancho raspberry sauce that was so perfectly cooked it made me want to actually dine at the restaurant at least once to overspend on this fine meat dish.
But the highlight of the night was the molecular gastronomy experiment being orchestrated on hand at the PEAKS TOP OF THE TRAM RESTAURANT booth. Each visitor was handed a push up pop type ice cream contraption that contained brown sugar bacon and cinnamon ice cream. Sounds bizarre yes, and created an equally surreal experience in the mouth when the spicy cold cinnamon and vanilla melted on the tongue to produce remaining bits of crispy sweet bacon. I will definitely be trekking up to the tram to try this again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grapes, Meet Gravel: Santa Barbara's Urban Wine Trail Offers Delicious Vino Smack Dab in the Middle of Town

The serene and natural beauty that is Santa Barbara had been unknown to me until a recent business trip via Amtrak's Surfliner introduced me to her haunting and addictive charms.
A few thoughtful strolls on the beach and a generous sampling of wines later, I realized that not only does the Central Coast boast killer ocean views and friendly locals, the vino produced in this region is pretty amazing too.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that my visit included a stay at the gorgeous oceanside Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. I enjoyed a sunset rooftop tasting of the late actor's award-winning wines, and especially enjoyed Parker's Big Easy Syrah, aged in French and American oak and full of chocolate, blueberry, sandalwood and a hint of smoke.
I also discovered what is touted locally as the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. There are several tasting rooms situated on and near State Street, all within blocks of a vibrant downtown and the beach. Since the arrival of my train home was imminent, I was only able to make it to one of those places which in hindsight, was a terrific choice.
At Kalyra Wines, I felt as if I had just stepped into a funky, aboriginal meets tiki-style lounge. The winery's strategically-located tasting room is staffed by friendly, knowledgeable wine lovers like the charismatic Izzy, who guided me through a series of wines produced in both Santa Barbara County and Australia, the home of winemaker Mike Brown.
My passion for reds notwithstanding, I really took to the 2008 Kalyra Pino Bianco, refreshingly crisp and floral with bright citrus and hints of honey. This is the type of wine you want to tuck into a picnic basket as you make a beeline for the sand. My real favorite was a wine I want to tuck myself in with at night, the 2006 Kalyra MC2 blend. This delicious Bordeaux-style wine is full of huge fruit with soft tannins and a smooth mouthfeel. I could really get used to these wines and the spirit of sun, surf and carefree living they evoke.
As my train pulled away from the station and I bid a painful adieu, I was already making plans for a return trip to this coastal paradise, and to the wine region that has surely stolen my heart, one sip at a time.
Vino Chick would like to acknowledge the following:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Other Coachella Fest: An Olympic Gold Medal Winner & Emerging Winemakers Converge On Indian Wells

Here in the Southern California desert, the words 'Coachella' and 'Fest' are synonymous with the musical extravaganza that converges annually (and soon) on the Indio Polo grounds. Add in the word 'wine' and it came to mean something else entirely, which is what I discovered as I wound my way through the myriad of bold California wines, generously poured by industry pros at the Coachella Wine Festival, held at the Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells.
The first taste that struck my fancy was a 2008 Napa Pinot Grigio from Ahnfeldt Winery that was creamy and rich with tropical and stone fruits. Then it was on to one of the more exciting Festival finds. Bink Wines are a cult favorite in Medocino County, where winemaker Deborah Schatzlein and her partner Cindy Paulson craft some rather excellent, high-alcohol whites and bold reds.
Standouts were the 2008 Randle Hill Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, fragrant with honeysuckle and ripe sweet pear, and the 2006 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. The Pinot was juicy with thick red fruit and soft velvety tannins, with an explosion of vanilla on the finish. Hoping to find these wines in the desert at some point.
I had the pleasure of talking vino with Olympic Skater and Gold Medalist Peggy Fleming, who with her winemaker husband Greg Jenkins, turns out an addictingly delicious Rose and some standout Syrahs in Los Gatos. Peggy is a breast cancer survivor, which inspired the name of the Fleming Jenkins Rose: Victories. 

It was Greg who turned me on to the Festival's perfect pairing-his inky and fruity 2007 Madden Ranch Syrah (made with grapes sourced from football great John Madden's Livermore Valley Vineyards) matched with tender, succulent braised short ribs, courtesy of Bing Crosby's in Rancho Mirage.

Other standout selections included a spicy and cedary Petite Syrah from Vina Robles and a supple and rich Sonoma Cab produced by Trione Winery. This festival did not receive as much advance publicity as the Fashion Food & Wine Fest that took place on El Paseo recently, but it was a well-organized and extremely enjoyable event that turned me on to some exciting names to watch for in the future.
Vino Chick would like to thank the following:
Event Photographer: Timm Andrews

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Where the Catwalk Meets the Vineyard: Some Grapes Really Do Know How to Strut Their Stuff

The world famous El Paseo shopping district is known for its trendy sense of style, but Rodeo Drive East, as it is referred to in some circles, was known for something entirely different on a recent excursion-its exquisite taste in food and wine.
The Fashion Food & Wine Festival provided a myriad of culinary and vino-related delights, some of which I am still trying to process! Starting with a Chardonnay from vaunted Sonoma-Cutrer and wrapping up with a rose of Malbec that made a recent Oprah Winfrey "O" List, there was something for every oenophile in attendance.
As I made my way through the fluffy white tent, I indulged in a juicy '07 Cab from Napa Cellars, a ripe and jammy Petite Syrah courtesy of Girard Winery and one of the afternoon's biggest and best surprises-a Vino Rosso from Pininfarina. For those of you who know your Italian coachbuilders, this company was responsible for the body design of the Cadillac Allante, a memorable luxury roadster, in the 1980's (I trained for my learner's permit with the cherry red version!). Well, they produce a pretty damn good wine too, folks. The '05 has ripe and sweet tannins with huge, dark blueberry and black currant on the front end-enough to make me wanna call in the fruit bomb squad to diffuse it. Had me dreaming of duck with a leather bucket seat reduction...
I also had the pleasure of chatting up master sommelier and talented winemaker Emmanuel Kemiji. Raised in Europe and educated in California, this dashing vintner recently started his own label, Miura Vineyards. As we talked, he poured me an exquisite '07 Pinot called AQUA, a full bodied wine with notes of fig, black cherry and subtle herbs on the finish. Kemiji's wines are just as elegant and classy as he is, and I am already mapping out a visit to his vineyard to see the winemaking magic firsthand.
Some of the other exciting new wines I tasted came from Napa-based JAQK Cellars. This boutique winery offers a series of delicious wines with card game-themed names. Along those I tried were a smooth and creamy '08 Chardonnay referred to as Her Majesty, and the '07 Soldiers of Fortune, a bold and intensely fruity Syrah. David Dees is JAQK's superstar rep, and his love for these wines is supremely evident. I'm really taking a liking to them myself.
For this lover of all things Rhone, one of the true highlights was sampling the wines of Gerard Betrand. This master of the Languedoc produces some of the highest quality vino this up-and-coming region has ever seen. My favorites were the juicy and velvelty Corbieres, a one-two punch of Syrah and Mourvedre, and a sweet yet spicy beauty blend of Syrah and Carignan called Minervois. Both wines are what I would pour in my bathtub if it wasn't such wasteful spending.
I have to say, should this Festival become an annual event it will be one of the most highly anticipated outings of the year for this wine lover and my dear friends who are also so inclined. I'm already dreaming about what Emmanuel Kemiji will be pouring...

To read about the delectable food featured at the Fashion Food & Wine Festival, visit Kimberly Nichols' blog at