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.