Friday, May 28, 2010

Sweet Meats in the Summertime

When I think of summer, three things come to mind-baseball, beer and hot dogs. That being said, I will always be a wine lover first, so I decided to mix it up a bit recently with a rogue pairing of sorts.
On a whim, I decided to try a German white with my dog. I stopped off at Trader Joe's and picked up a Dr. Beckerman's 2008 Auslese Rheinhessen. Auslese means 'late harvest' in German and true to form, the wine was definitely on the sweeter side. The Rheinhessen regiob is known for its quality, and this bottle certainly complimented the crisp saltiness of the hot dog and cut through the acidity of the ketchup I had doused it in.
Next up was a juicy cheeseburger, that Unorthodox Foodie and I paired with a 2008 Chook Shed Shiraz. Barossa Valley reds are known to compliment red meat, especially the slightly charred variety, so we thought this would be a slam dunk..not so fast. The dark fruit and substantial tannins seemed to overpower the burger, and the two were almost "fighting for control," as Unorthodox put it. She preferred the white over the red with both dishes, and while I enjoyed the white with the burger too, in the end I leaned more toward the red with my iron-rich meal.
So in the end we agreed to disagree as we enjoyed one of our favorite pasttimes-eating great food and searching for that perfect pairings for sweet meats in the summertime.

Special thanks to:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Pizza Pie in the Sky Pairing

Growing up on the East Coast certainly had its culinary benefits, one of them being my exposure to some of the most amazing pizza I have ever tasted. Of course, the only thing better than pizza is a pie paired with some seriously good Italian wine. I enjoyed both at Johnny Costa’s when I sampled two of their thin crust offerings, matched with a superb 2005 Villa Antinori Toscana.
This Tuscan gem is mostly Sangiovese, with some Merlot and Cabernet thrown in for good measure…make that great measure. The soft and supple tannins created a formidable match for Costa’s prosciutto, mushroom, artichoke and olive-topped pizza, aptly-titled The Four Seasons.
2005 was a terrific year for winemaking in Tuscany, as evidenced by this bottle’s succulent acidity, which paired well with the creaminess of the mozzarella that topped our Margherita pie. If this wine were a baseball player, it would not be sitting on the bench for long. Its moderately intense cherry, anise and herb flavors make it versatile enough to get along with fresh basil and garlic, while deliciously approachable fruit helps it make friends with zesty tomato sauce too.

The key here is balance, and I nearly lost mine in all the excitement.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do You Believe in Wine Rescues?

The title of this blog entry is actually a question recently posed to me by one of my favorite oenophiles. Jeff heads up the wine department at Cost Plus-World Market in Palm Springs and is a valued resource for all things vino. He always finds a way to cut me a break on wines that are already fabulously priced, and I rarely walk out of the store without having nabbed a screaming deal on an exciting label.
This most recent visit was no different. After selecting both a Chianti and a Syrah that Jeff suggested, I started to make my way to the register. "Not so fast," he said as he pointed to a nearby display of an Australian Bordeaux-style red called Thistle Dew. Apparently Jeff had sliced the label of one particular bottle when opening the box that this wine had been shipped in. "Its dead to me now so I have to get rid of it," he smirked. "Do you believe in wine rescues?"
Now, I really like Jeff but I thought he knew me better than to ask such a question. Needless to say, I walked out of the store with three bottles for the price of two. Naturally, I had to try the poor, defenseless injured one first!! Despite its in-store struggles, this 2009 blend of Cabernet and Petit Verdot is hearty while smooth and chocolatey, with strong aromas of raspberry and black cherry that just sang out to me from within the glass. I also detected grape taffy, the kind I used to get at the bank as a kid if I behaved well...which wasn't too often, so I was surprised I remembered the taste.
I matched it up with some barbecued pulled pork courtesy of Trader Joe's, which was full of cinnamon and molasses. The earthiness of the wine went well with the spices in the meat, and I felt good having saved this  bottle of deliciousness from certain demise. Cheers to Jeff and his overzealous box slicing...let's hope it happens again soon, this time with a shipment of Barolo...

Special thanks to:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Away We Go: Enterprising Chef a Tour Guide for Experimental Pairings at Vintage Palm Springs Hideaway

I love to travel, and I tackle food and wine with that same indomitable spirit of adventure. Well sated, I came back from a recent visit to Citron, a vibrant, eclectic hideaway inside the Viceroy Palm Springs, with the feeling that I had completed a journey into culinary nirvana.  
The restaurant is draped in Hollywood Regency charm, which after meeting Executive Chef James Bailey, I realized is not just contained to the dining area. Bailey is a serious talent and not afraid to take chances. The inventive creations he dished out that evening included a trio of sweet corn demitasse (corn stock and puree with sea salt), cedar-wrapped salmon belly and a Kumamoto osyter topped with Yuzu Shiso granita- and that was just the amuse bouche.
That and a deliciously creamy poached egg yolk with brioche toast topped with Ossetra caviar were paired with a Non Vintage Brut Rose from Nicolas Feuillatte. This champagne has a beautiful effervescence with heady aromas of raspberry and strawberry, which went well with the briny oyster and delicate fish eggs.
A decadent treat came in the form of Sonoma foie gras with pistachio butter, 12-year aged balsamic, strawberries and brioche. Bailey stepped out of the box a bit by pairing this one with a Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat. Typically a wine served with dessert, its honeyed flavors married well with the richness of the foie gras and the acidity of the balsamic.
One of most colorful and fresh dishes I have ever enjoyed was Bailey's cucumber gazpacho with fresh heirloom tomatoes, pickled Serrano peppers and Dungeness crabmeat. A roadside farmer's market in a bowl, the soup's spicy and earthy flavors joined well with the stone fruit and steely smoothness of our 2007 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc.
Also paired with the Sauvignon Blanc was a beet salad with brown sugar walnuts, chervil and endive. Grilled shrimp with appled herb salad and summer truffles was served with a 2006 Cakebread Chardonnay, full of fruit with a buttery finish that matched well with the rich truffles.
Bailey paired a 2007 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir with his black trumpet mushroom-encrusted lamb, cooked sous vide with English Pea veloute and roasted mushroom jus. He and I agreed that the Pinot was a bit too light in body for the intensity of the lamb, but its exotic spices and notes of black cherry and chocolate did compliment the dish's bright flavors.
Moments later, I came to the realization that this same Pinot and our dessert, a strawberry soup with Greek yogurt panna cotta, Tahitian Vanilla and strawberry carpaccio, were pretty well matched. Not a pairing I would have conceived on my own, but then again, the night had been full of pleasantly unexpected unions-and to think I had almost left my passport at home...

Guest columnist Natalie Brand's take on the evening:
What makes a memorable meal? Good company, good conversation, a pleasant atmosphere and, of course, impeccable food. Nicky and I had all the right ingredients in abundance at the Viceroy Palm Springs Citron, where executive Chef James Bailey went above and beyond during a special tasting. Each course shined on its own, but, they also complimented each other beautifully and deliciously, leaving you hungry for more.

To start, we had a 3 part amuse meant to wake up the palate: sweet corn demitasse, salmon with meyer lemon and dill wrapped in cedar paper, and a Kumamoto oyster. Close your eyes and imagine eating the essence of corn on a perfect summer day. The Chef used corn stock and puree with sea salt, but it tasted so creamy and rich, yet still refreshing and simple. Next to the corn, a perfectly cooked, bite-size piece of salmon, moist and just slightly flavored by the smokiness of the cedar. The third element, a Kumamoto oyster, considered the perfect variety for beginners, which worked well for me, since I haven’t quite acquired the taste of a true oyster lover. It was mild and sweet and went swimmingly well with our glass of Rose. In fact, Nicky described them as “dancing.”

Next up, a poached egg yolk perched on two toasted squares of brioche, topped with a generous heap of caviar. Rich, but just the right size, so it was fulfilling, instead of overwhelming. This would work great as a breakfast appetizer as well, alongside a mimosa.

Chef Bailey served up more decadence for our third course: Artisan Sonoma foie gras and brioche on top of a pistachio butter sauce that I can only describe as out of this world. It would have went well with anything! Warm strawberries and aged balsamic (my favorite) cut the richness of the foie gras and added just the right sweetness to the dish. The intensity of the flavors really surprised and delighted.

Then to lighten and clean our palates, the Chef brought out a bright and beautiful gazpacho with heirloom tomatoes, a few, thinly sliced pickled serrano peppers with sherry vinegar, a wonderfully light but extremely flavorful soup, topped with Dungeness crabmeat, as if it couldn’t get any better. The tomato water, poured in at the end, was worth drinking alone (which the Chef let us try in wine glass before pouring into the bowl). All elements combined made an ideal warm weather dish; healthy, filled with nutrients, yet completely satisfying. Oh, and yes, it paired perfectly with a bottle of 2007 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc.

For course four, the Chef delivered lobster for me, grilled shrimp for Nicky, who’s allergic to lobster (poor thing). I believe you can never go wrong with lobster, and, on this night, the Chef served it butter poached with a salad of granny smith/Fuji apples, fine herbs and summer truffle vinaigrette. A pleasing, seasonal dish, which left you craving an ocean view and more fresh seafood!

But, I count the fifth course as my absolute favorite. You’ve never tasted lamb cooked so perfectly, tender and mushroom encrusted. A beautiful cut, sitting atop creamy pea veloute, along with roasted mushrooms and mushroom jus. Each bite of lamb melted in your mouth; the rich vegetable accompaniments enhanced and enriched the meat’s natural flavor even more. I believe we all cleaned our plates!

At this point, we’re beyond satiated, but it’s time for dessert and my sweet tooth is always game! Strawberries count as one of my top food staples, so imagine my delight at strawberry soup, poured over yogurt panna cotta, with Tahitian vanilla. And, we’re not talking about just any strawberries, but “Harry’s Berries,” from Oxnard. A family farm that’s been around for decades, dedicated to growing “ordinary foods with extraordinary flavor,” according to their mission statement. I can attest firsthand that they more than deliver. To take these amazingly sweet and juicy strawberries, and make a puree? Unreal. The tart greek yogurt provided just the right contrast.

Wait, dessert’s not over. In my opinion, the best way to end any meal is with chocolate. And, this wasn’t just any chocolate creation, but a very grown-up kit-kat bar, that featured a crispy layer of dark chocolate topped with more chocolate in the form of a rich frozen chocolate mousse. A gratifying taste of nostalgia that left me licking my fingers and leaving only crumbs on my plate!