December 26, 2011

Year End Musings, 2011 Edition

As 2011 winds down, I figured I'd look back at some of the things I've learned about food and wine in 2011. More specifically, perhaps, this is a list of food that spoke to me,  and wines and drinks that were memorable. So here's my list, in no particular order. Once again, my list goes to eleven.
1. The soft-boiled soy egg at Miso Izakaya. Visited Miso for the first time this year and I loved just about every bite. The soft-boiled egg over crispy fried rice is a $3.00 masterpiece. I dare you to eat just one.
2. Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa, FL. The first rule of Bern's is you don't talk about Bern's. That's right, there's no link to one of my old posts, and no pics. Bern's is no ordinary old-school steakhouse. Over the past 50 years, Bern's has acquired the largest wine cellar of any restaurant on the east coast. It's a mecca for wine lovers everywhere as you will literally find wines here that you won't find anywhere else. I spent a few nights at Bern's in July with the likes of Rowdyfood, EatItAtlanta, and a couple other local Legends. We drank Burgundy and Bordeaux wines older than us, our parents, and probably our grandparents. That's all I can say. Anybody else drink 1937 Bordeaux this year?
3. Cakes & Ale--What else to say? My favorite restaurant in Decatur, and it just keeps getting better. The move to the new space and the addition of David Sweeney lunches has elevated Cakes & Ale to rather rare air. Sweeney's quinoa salad above is the stuff of foodie dreams.
4. No. 246--No. 246 is a welcome addition to the Decatur dining scene. I've enjoyed multiple visits in the last few months since they opened. Not many misses, mostly hits, and a thoughtful, seasonal and evolving menu that hits a lot of good notes for me. My kids loving their spaghetti and meatballs coupled with $10 corkage = WIN.

5. Burgundy--I adore the wines of Burgundy. See here. And here. And here. And here... Some bottles from this year in the pic below (with a nod to EatItAtlanta).
6. Duck--Duck has become one of my favorite proteins to work with. This year, I made some duck prosciutto, and duck pastrami, and I also continued to fool around with various treatments of confit and cassoulet.
7. Bourbon--I started the year with a post on Pappy Van Winkle 15 year bourbon. Fittingly, as Pappy is the reigning poster child for great and rare Bourbon these days. But, there are others this year that were also excellent including Elijah Craig 18, Prichard's Double Barrelled, and my old stand by, Basil Hayden's. Should also point out that if yo want to try a variety of Bourbon's, head on over to Mac McGhee's in Decatur where you will find an extensive list of diverse and rare Bourbons, Scotch, and Whiskey available for sampling.
8. Loire Valley Wines--One of my discoveries this year is the wines of the Loire Valley. There are many producers of red and white wines from the Loire valley that are usually all of the following: affordable, able to age, biodynamic, and made with non-interventionist practices.

9.  Champagne--Another thing I realized this year is that I love good Champagne. That's Champagne; made in France, not generic sparkling wine. Champagne is a versatile wine that pairs well with just about anything and shouldn't be just a special occasion beverage. An...it's a great match with fried chicken!
10. Growlers--Thanks to the 2011 arrivals of Ale Yeah and The Beer Growler, Decatur is hopping with Growlers. If you are still drinking beer out of a 12oz. bottle (or can, god forbid!), you need to get on with a Growler.
11.Reading List--A few of the books I turned and returned to this year for research and inspiration.

December 23, 2011

Cakes & Ale Recognized Again

I've done my share of heaping praise on Cakes & Ale over the last three years. However, I'm just a dude who likes to cook, eat, and drink who happens to have a blog to pontificate on things I probably don't know enough about. So, it's only fair that I point out when a place I dig gets recognized by the folks who get paid to write about restaurants.

John Kessler of the AJC recently bestowed 4 stars (out of 5) on the "new" Cakes & Ale. The praise is well deserved. Timely, for me, as I was impressed once again with dinner at Cakes & Ale last Friday night. I didn't take a lot of pics, but this carrot-two-ways salad with roasted carrot and carrot puree was right in the groove.
Funny to get excited about a carrot salad, perhaps, but not when it's a Cakes & Ale salad. We also had several other tasty dishes including the farro and veggie bowl with wood-fired farm egg, a decadent broccoli and kohlrabi soup, quail over black lentils, and the culotte steak with beets, horseradish cream, frisée, sunchoke chips, aged balsamic vinaigrette. Wow. That steak dish kicked ass.

As Kessler notes, Cakes & Ale has, since opening 4 years ago, been a Decatur hot spot for dining. It is now deservedly one of metro-Atlanta true dining destinations. I won't rave on in this brief shout-out about the brilliance of lunch at the Bakery, though Kessler did in his review. My take is here. If you are a food lover and have yet to spend time at Cakes & Ale then shame on you! 

December 20, 2011

Home Cooking

Fine wines and a wide selection of spirits, buy today!

Sea bass, spinach, creamy parsnips, vanilla-saffron reduction

Did some cooking this with my brother and his wife in town this weekend. Saturday night we made a few courses and drank some really nice wines. The sea bass above and the beet salad below were riffs on recipes from The French Laundry cookbook. We made some other tasty stuff, too.
We started with truffle butter and Parmesan popcorn with a the terrific N.V. Agrapart Les 7 Crus Blanc des Blancs Champagne.
I also made a Le Bernadin-style Tuna Carpaccio with Foie Gras. As you can see, I got the Foie from D'Artagnan. 
Foie medallion spread thin and topped with tuna pounded paper thin.
This dish is really decadent. It was incredible again. Though, to my brother's point, I should have gone with Foie without truffles as the truffles totally overpowered the delicate flavor of the tuna.
This red and golden beet salad with goat cheese and balsamic reduction is always tasty.

We drank some wine, too...it was a good Saturday...
1996 Maison Louis Jadot Vosne Romanee Les Petits-Monts; 1996 Domaine Lambrays Clos des Lambrays; 2005 Michel Neillon Chassagne Montrachet 1er Les Champgains

December 16, 2011

Thursday

So, my brother and his wife are in town for a bit of a surprise visit this weekend. Some reflections on how we spent our Thursday.
Lunch at No. 246, where I had this tasty meatball sub and garlic fries.
Then over for a visit to the Bakery at Cakes and Ale to pick up baguette, olive stecca, crazy good lemon-infused pound cake, and espresso.
Then, home to eat some of my Keller-meets-Bourdain-style Cassoulet.
Oh yeah, drank some wine, too.
Not a bad Thursday.

December 8, 2011

The Plight of Premox in White Burgundy


Premox.
Without even knowing to what it refers, you can almost tell, just from the sound of it, that it's not a good thing. Premox, in wine nomenclature, is short for premature oxidation, a problem that has been manifesting itself in the Chardonnay wines from Burgundy. Premox was first noticed in 2004 as bottles from the mid-to-late 90s began showing signs. It appears that wines bottled prior to 1995 are not effected by the problem.

Chardonnay, from the best vineyards and producers in Burgundy, should age effortlessly for 10, 15,or even 20+ years. When they do age well, they can transform into truly sublime wines, like the 2000 D'Auvenay Bize-Leroy Puligny Montrachet en la Richarde, one of the greatest white wines I've ever tasted (thanks, Rowdy).
However, when a wine is effected premox, what you get is an insipid, tired white wine that often looks and tastes something like Sherry. My personal recent examples of this plague were the 2001 Louis Jadot Meursault Les Perrieres pictured above, and the 2000 Maison Leroy Montagny 1er Blanc pictured below. Both wines showed a deep gold, turning to tan color, and a lifeless, flat taste on the palate.
What is perhaps most frustrating about the plight of premox is that many producers in Burgundy have turned a deaf ear to the problem. What is frustrating for consumers is that many of these great wines are not $25 wines. Imagine spending $100 on a special bottle of Burgundy only to have to dump it down the drain with no recourse. You can't return, you can't exchange it, you simply have to feed it to the garbage disposal. Over time, that is a costly and frustrating problem.

Burgundy scholars such as Allen Meadows and Clive Coates, have all weighed in on the possible reasons. Theories as to the cause of premox propose everything from faulty corks and low levels of Sulphur Dioxide to overripe fruit as a result of global warming. There is even an Oxidised-Burgs wiki devoted to tracking the problem by vintage and producer. 

You would think with the risk involved in opening a cherished (and expensive) bottle of white Burgundy only to find it oxidized, many fans of white Burgs would simply give up. Some have, some persevere, despite the gamble. Don Corwell's oxidised Burgundy wiki referenced above has a frequently updated list of producers that have been most and least affected with oxidized bottles. If you are going to take the risk of buying white Burgundy, it is worth the effort to do some research to try to lower the odds that you will lose the high-stakes premox gamble.

December 5, 2011

Le Caveau Fine Wines in Chamblee

I don't regularly recommend shops for wine buying around ATL, but it occurred to me recently that maybe I should. So here it goes...Le Caveau Fine Wines opened its' doors in July of 2011 in an area of downtown Chamblee that has experienced a commercial and residential rebirth of sorts. Le Caveau is a welcome addition to the neighborhood and a place I would frequent more often if I lived in the area.
One of the best things about Le Caveau is that they focus on interesting wines from around the globe, with a nice focus on smaller production, and biodynamic wines from the old world. In other words, the shelves here are not full of mass-produced "supermarket" wines. There also numerous wine accessories and wine-themed gifts available, so head on over and do some holiday shopping for wine lovers you know.
As for the wines, Le Caveau offers a great selection of biodynamic wines from farmers in Burgundy, and the Loire and Rhone valleys. Below are a few of the wines I've picked up at Le Caveau over the past couple of months.
The 2009 Clos du Tous Boeuf La Butte is a Loire Valley wine of the people. This Gamay is made by the somewhat legendary personality in the world of biodynamic wine, Thierry Puzelat in Cheverny. This wine is loaded with acidity, earth, and lean red Gamay flavors. For $20, It's an intellectual wine that takes time to grow on you, but if you open it for wine geeks, they will love you for it.
Similarly, the 2009 Jean Francois Merieau Le Bois Jacou is another old vine Gamay from the Touraine area of the Loire Valley. It's an old school, working class wine that any Marxist farmer would love. It's earthy, dirty in a good way, and loaded with Gamay personality. It was (sorry, all gone now) a steal at $13.
Also, sitting on the shelves is this beauty of a Cru Beaujolais that is drinking perfectly right now. I'm a fan of Cru Boo from Morgon was turned on to this particular bottle when Rowdyfood brought a bottle over a few months ago. Le Caveau still has a few bottles on the wall at $25. Highly recommended bottle here.

Le Caveau also has a deep and diverse selection of higher end wines from Champagne, Burgundy, Italy, and the U.S. It's well-worth a visit to this part of town to do some wine shopping. Also, as Brad Kaplan pointed out recently in Creative Loafing, Le Caveau is right next door to Maison Robert, so you can get your eat on after you pick up some wine.

November 30, 2011

The Hospices de Beaune

I recently participated in an online tasting hosted by Tastelive, and featuring the wines of Bacchus Selections. One of the wines tasted was a wine grown and bottles for the Hospices de Beaune auction. The Hospices auction is an annual charity auction began in 1851 where lovers of Burgundy gather every November in Beaune to celebrate Burgundy wine will raising money for the hospices. Domaine des Hospices de Beaune is a non-profit organization which owns 150 acres of donated vineyard land. Each year, the wine grown from these vines is sold as Hopsice bottlings to raise money as part of the auction.


The bottle I tasted was the 2006 Hospice de Beaune Cuvee Brunet with elevage and bouteille by Maison Champy. What can I say about this bottle that I haven't already said about Burgundy? To be honest, this wine was too young for ideal drinking. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable bottle of  pinot noir grown and bottled for a good cause.

November 24, 2011

Inspirations

So, it's Thanksgiving time; a time for reflecting upon those things for which we are thankful. I am fortunate to have many things to be thankful: healthy and talented kids, an equally healthy and talented wife, and supportive family. As I wake this morning to a turkey soaking in this brine in the fridge and a pumpkin tart that I hope sets, here are few other things that inspire me and for which I am thankful:

Friends, such as ThirstySouth, EatItAtlanta, and Rowdyfood that inspire me to be a better cook, eater, and drinker.

The wines of Burgundy. Especially wines like the 1995 Bourgogne from Robert Groffier pictured above. A simple, regional Bourgogne that I drank last weekend. At 16 years of age, it showed better than many Premier Cru wines I have this year and probably cost $15 on release.

And finally, The Grateful Dead. Especially, this version of China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, which I've been digging lately:

Here's to an enjoyable and inspiring holiday season. Be sure to reflect upon those things that get you out of bed each morning and for which you are thankful. Cheers.

November 20, 2011

I Just Bought Beer on Sunday!

In case you hadn't heard, with the vote on Nov. 8, fifty-one Metro-Atlanta jurisdictions voted YES to Sunday alcohol sales. As someone who has a decent-size wine cellar in my basement, I've never really found myself wanting for alcohol on a Sunday (and is it really that hard to plan ahead?) Nonetheless, Sunday Sales is a victory for those of us actually living in the 21st century and not pretending it's still 1952.
The Beer Growler in Avondale Estates got permission from their mayor to be one the first shops in the state to start filling growlers today at 12:30. Figured I'd play the heathen and pay them a visit, even though I had plenty of booze 'round the house. Seems I wasn't the only the one excited about Sunday Sales as there were more people crammed into The Beer Growler than I'd ever seen before. I waited about 20 minutes to get my growler full, but, it was worth it. And...now I'm off to get my Sunday drink on.

November 18, 2011

Rock Out with My Stock Out

Rock Out with My Stock Out may sound like a familiar title for my blog post. Seems I was beaten to this post by my buddy EatIt,Atlanta who coined the title (I actually liked his third choice for a title better, but it was rather politically incorrect). What is Rock Out With My Stock Out? Well, it involved spending a Saturday doing the following: drinking a good bit of beer, bubbles, and wine; watching college football (including watching Oklahoma State & Texas Tech miss the over by 3 points...doh!); eating oysters and Momofuku-style pork butt Ssam; all the while making one hell of a good demi glace.

A demi-glace, you say? Demi glace is deep, rich brown glaze made from a reduction of veal stock and Espagnole, one of the five French mother sauces. Since we couldn't get veal bones at YDFM (always fun to confuse the hell out of the staff at YDFM by asking for "special" items!), we settled on 20lbs of marrow bones. You can see what 20lbs of marrow bones look like in the pic at the top of the post. We roasted the bones until golden and dark (see above), then painted them with tomato paste, added the chopped veggies, and roasted for another hour, before deglazing the pans with red wine, potting up and covering with water to begin the reduction. Below are a few pics from the day:


I froze my gallon of demi-glace in ice cube trays and then popped them into ziploc bags for future use. Now, whenever I needed to add a little richness to a sauce or dish (beef bourguignon, anyone?), I just grab a couple blocks of demi from the freezer. The demi will keep like this in the freezer for months.

It was a fun way to spend a Saturday that wrapped up around midnight after our final reductions. Oh yeah, there are even more and better pics over at EatIt,Atlanta.

November 14, 2011

Napa Valley Film Fest Highlights Part I: Robert Mondavi Wines


You may recall from my last post about the numerous tastings I was invited to join in conjunction with the Napa Valley Film Festival last weekend. The invitations came via the good folks at Tastelive and CellarPass, the two entities that organized the blogger tasting along with Alan Kropf of Mutineer Magazine.
The Opening Night Gala was held at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. Mondavi was kind enough to provide two of their flagship wines to the bloggers that participated in the tasting. The 2009 Fume Blanc Reserve and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve were provided as samples for the tasting. The Fume Blanc was a very tasty Sauvignon Blanc that echoed Loire Valley with its crisp acidity. The Cabernet Reserve, long seen as the epitome of California Cabernet, was equally impressive, yet so young (2008).
The live tasting including a video stream in which Mutineer's Alan Kropf and Carl Jaeger, the Estate Director at Robert Mondavi Winery, took questions from bloggers while discussing the wines. It was an informative event as the Mondavi empire has for many years been the face of California wine; Robert Mondavi almost single-handedly creating and defining the California wine industry in the 20th century.



November 10, 2011

The Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival

I was fortunate to be invited by the good folks at CellarPass and Tastelive to participate in interactive tastings coinciding with the inaugural 2011 Napa Valley Film Festival. Rather than follow the festival model of starting small and building on success, the inaugural Napa event will encompass four towns, 12 screening venues and 112 films. The event brings together great filmmakers, films, wines, top chefs, and food during the weekend of November 9-13.

Several wine bloggers were invited to participate in online tastings throughout the weekend hosted by Editor-in-Chief Alan Kropf of Mutineer magazine.  Kropf offerd the following about the events: “We’ll be producing five shows in three days. Along with our scheduled line up, we’ll be inviting talent off the red carpet for spontaneous interviews, and responding to questions posted by our blogger panelists. It’s going to be a bit of a thrill ride that should deliver some sweet surprises.”

I will be participating in four tastings during the weekend beginning with the Opening Night Gala at   Robert Mondavi  winery in Oakville. Anyone interested in following along with some the festivities can join the conversation at Tastelive.  I'll be posting recaps on all the events over the next week or so. For now, on to the wines.

 








November 8, 2011

Tasting Kunde Wines

Last week I participated in an online interactive tasting with other bloggers around the country and the folks at Kunde wines. The tasting was lead by Kunde winemaker, Zach Long, and owners Jeff Kunde and Marcia Kunde Mickelson who joined the conversation via video on Ustream. Other bloggers in attendance include 1WineDude and Gonzo Gastronomy.
Kunde, located in the heart of Sonoma valley, produces 100% estate grown wines with a commitment to sustainability and ethical farming. Kunde has been making hand-crafted, terroir-driven wines for five generations. We tasted three wines during the tasting, including the 2009 Estate Chardonnay, 2008 Zinfandel Reserve, and 2008 Red Dirt Red. The wines all showed a terrific upfront acidity. I'm a fan of natural acid in wine; a good acid presence tends to give wine an inherent energy, and it that also bodes well for aging.
My favorite wine of the tasting was the 2008 Red Dirt Red, a blend of Barbera, Syrah, Zinfandel, and a touch of Sangiovese. The wine tasted almost Gamay-like (Cru-Boo heads, take note), and was certainly leaning old-world overall. There was a good dose of acidity to go with the ripe berry fruit and iron. A wine that would go well with pizza, roast chicken, or grilled meat. A nice buy at $25.

This tasting event was especially interesting as we got to converse in real-time with the people making the wines. It was an informative experience learning about the history of Sonoma valley, organic farming, sustainability, and wine.