Archive for February, 2008

“That’s Good”

Monday, February 25th, 2008

A few weeks back, we wanted to go to Angelo’s 677 Prime for a special-event wine dinner, but by the time we heard about it here, it was too late, and there were no more seats available.  But hey, it helps to know people.*  The dinner featured wines from Chateau Montelena and some representatives were there to present the wines and tell us about the vineyard.  Cati and I arrived and were escorted upstairs to the large private dining room and seated for dinner.  There were eight eight-top tables in the dining room that evening.  The vibe that evening was formal and a touch, well, stuffy.  Most men wore jackets; the ladies wore black dresses and there were very few smiles.  The feel of the night was quite different from the relaxed, easy style of Ric Orlando and Co.’s Champagne dinner at New World Home Cooking.  But we like formal too sometimes.  We were greeted with a glass of dry champagne (I forget the name) and seated with a charming group of strangers as we waited for all the guests to arrive. 

Spy camera test: check. 

Chef Ortiz presented us with a sushi-inspired amuse-bouche.  The salmon, sesame, and ginger flavors paired well with the champagne.  It was a teaser preview of our imminent dinner. 

Our bouches were indeed amused.

The folks from Chateau Montelena were pleasant and knowledgeable enough.  They went around to each table to introduce themselves and welcome the diners.  To kick the evening off, the representative from Chateau Montelena shared an apocryphal story about how the locale of the vineyard, Calistoga, in Napa Valley, was named so due to an alcohol induced spoonerism uttered by the town founder.  Allegedly the town founder had meant to say that the place would be the “Saratoga of California,” but what came out was, “Calistoga of Sarifornia,” (ref) and the name stuck.  Well, they do have have hot springs in common, and it made for a nice local tie-in.  Additionally, 677’s eponymous restaurateur Angelo Mazzone was on hand to extend greetings. 

As Cati and I listened to stories about the winery we wondered if the focus of the evening would be on the wine, and if the food would be an afterthought.  After all, this winery’s Chardonnay is famous (infamous to the French) for winning the historic Judgement of Paris wine competition in 1976.  See the results from the competition here.  Would the wine-peddlers steal the show?  We wondered if our expectations of the food were too high.  Would Chef Ortiz let us down?  I had the spy camera on my person, and went to work. 

First course:

  • Wine:  Chateau Montelena sauvignon blanc 2007 “Potter Valley” riesling 2006.  (although the SB was listed in the announcement, I guess they decided to make a last minute substitution to the riesling). 
  • Dish:  Roasted beet chop salad with candied walnuts, baby arugula, red onion, fried shallots, chevre, white-balsamic vinaigrette. 

You can’t beet a salad this good.  Rich, sweet, and a bit tart. 

Comments: This was a nice dry reisling that was light on the palate.  The riesling was so light, you almost wondered if it was carbonated after each sip.  It was great and went very well with the tart chevre and rich beet flavors.  The addition of the candied walnuts was inspired.  The salad was presented on a thin slice of golden beet that made for a discussion-starting and elegant presentation.  We were off to a good start.

Second course:

  • Wine:  Chateau Montelena chardonnay 2005 
  • Dish:  Lobster and rock shrimp scampi, with lemon, parsley, garlic, crumbled feta, red chili flakes, basil, crostini. 

The shrimp scampi was briny and buttery. 

Comments: We were expecting big things from this chardonnay, and it was good, but a bit odd.  The aroma had an artificial character to it.  The bouquet wasn’t just fruity, it was tutti frutti.  In my notes I scratched “bubblegum and cotton candy.”  The flavor was far more appealing.  I remember vanilla, grapefruit, butter and notably little oak (it is possible to overdo the mouthfeel).  It had more tannic finish than the riesling (probably from higher alcohol).  The butter and tart (from the lemon) in the shrimp scampi made no attempts to counter the chardonnay, but ran along side.  I think that made the seafood flavors stand right out. 

Third course:

  • Wine:  Chateau Montelena cabernet sauvignon 2004
  • Dish:  Fennel-dusted tuna mignon with foie gras, roasted balsamic fig and onions, parsnip puree. 
  • Dish B: Sea bass and fava beans with leeks, capers, and topped with a lobster sauce.  (Cati made a special request for a substitution in lieu of the tuna due to her concerns over high mercury levels recently reported.  Me, I love mercury; I can’t get enough of the stuff [wink].)

That’s foie on top, then tuna, then the parsnip puree, and those are the figs on the right…yum.

Comments:  This wine was unappealing; harsh and acerbic.  One of the dinner guests at our table, not wanting to be too negative, said, “maybe it just needs time to open up.”  The strong flavors of the tuna and foie did their best to counter the wine.  I think foie gras and tuna may be the new chocolate and peanut butter; what a great combo, who knew?  The sweet and sour toasted figs (in balsamic vinegar) on the plate added a nice tart flavor to this decadent ensemble.  I really liked the fennel as well, but the figs stole the show. 

Cati’s dish was more reserved than the flashy and decadent tuna dish, but it still delivered the deep flavors of the sea that we like so much. 

My dish was lusty, and Cati’s was refined and elegant in comparison.  The light, fresh leeks, plump fava beans, and crumbly briny sea bass were fantastic.  The characteristic and unique flavors of the sea were well represented.  We were both really impressed. 

Fourth course:

  • Wine:  Chateau Montelena petite sirah 2005  
  • Dish:  Kurobuta pork with rosemary parmesan grits, roasted cherry tomatoes, oregano butter, pork jus.

Pork and grits, together at last!

Comments:  This wine was much more interesting (and enjoyable) than the cab.  It had subtle sweet and spicy flavors. 

Hey, forget tuna and foie, pork and grits are the new chocolate and peanut butter.  The thick-n-pasty parmesan grits and the decadent pork, butter, and jus, made this dish nothing short of visceral.  That may have been the first time I had grits north of the Mason Dixon line, and it was the very first time I had kurobuta pork.  Worlds weren’t colliding so much as they were melting together.  The dish was beautiful and exotic, but also familiar and endearing; kinda like, I dunno, Carla Bruni singing a country song, for example.  The whole dish and wine paring were spot on.  The hints of rosemary were an excellent touch. 

Fifth course:

  • Wine:  Chateau Montelena cabernet sauvignon Estate 2003
  • Dish:  Rack of lamb with caraway potato croquette, braised cabbage, red wine glaze, lamb jus.

These beautiful products of natural selection were naturally our selection for the “best of the night” nods.

Comments: The lamb was succulent and perfectly prepared and presented.  The potato croquette was smooth and silky, but this dish was all about the lamb chops.  Where the pork-and-grits dish was a work of art, this dish was a work of nature.  It was simple and the lamb was the star.  The red wine glaze added a little tart.  I would say that this dish gets The CAA&C Rocket-To-The-Moon Award; we were both sent reeling. 

I also enjoyed the slightly spicy cab with which it was paired.  Cherry, chocolate, and berry flavors abounded.   

Sixth course:

  • Dish:  Concord grape cheesecake with peanut butter crust and sugar dusted grapes

Just dessert

Comments: This dessert was also exotic and familiar.  The peanut butter crust and grape cheesecake reminded me a little of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (in a really good way).  The fresh sugar dusted grapes together with the crushed peanuts reminded me of caramel apples (not sure why; it just did).  Cati wasn’t too crazy about the dessert. 

Chef Ortiz pulled off another fantastic event, and was in no way upstaged by the visiting team and their wines [wink].  The wines were very good as well, but it was the food that got us out of the house on a Wednesday night.  If you still haven’t yet experienced one of Chef Ortiz’s tasting menus, make it a point to do so. 

The dinner winds down.  We had a great night.

*Or, since I don’t actually know anybody, it helps to leave your number with a manager and ask to be put on a waiting list in case there are any cancellations.  It also helps to call back everyday, like a radio-show nutjob, until you finally get lucky and someone else cancels; but, either way works [wink]. 

Here’s a so-bad-it’s-good-still-bad video from DEVO to help me make my point about how good our dinner was that night:

By the way, I am aware of the irony of using this sardonic DEVO song to sincerely express my satisfaction with the evening, but hey; I like the song and I didn’t want to wait until I had a blogpost on mob-mentality consumerism run amok, so here we are.  Enjoy. 

Also, I am still in (desperate) need of sponsorship for the marathon in June.  Training has slowed a bit as I am currently in the throes of a miserable cold.  I am a coughy, snotty, sniffly, sore-throated, fog-headed mess of a human.  Please take pity on me in my miserable state and support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on my behalf by clicking HERE.  <– Cheap ploy for sympathy (and donations), I know, but it’s true.  

If I still haven’t managed to appeal to your sense of charity (via pity), please have a look at this kitty’s face and imagine that helping others is the only thing that can make him smile.   

Pwease help.

Now go get that credit card, tiger, we need you!

Let Them Eat (Pan)Cake

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I have gone on about breakfast venues here before; excuse the redundancy, but what kind of local food-blog would this be if I didn’t mention one of our fine city’s most-noteworthy breakfast treats.  Don’t get me wrong, MAD still has my heart stomach, and The Whistling Kettle is byoo-TEA-ful [rimshot], but the Red Raspberry Oatmeal Pancakes at Cafe Madison (formerly Madison’s End Cafe) deserve a special mention.  They are described on the menu as, “lightly spiced oatmeal buttermilk pancakes filled with red raspberries.”  These are the champagne of breakfast food; champagne, I tell you.  When eggs won’t cut it, oatmeal is too lackluster, and normal pancakes are too spongy, go try these. They are hearty and delicious and every ingredient is included in the right proportion; no one overpowering the other.  Apparently I am not the first to take note of this dish because, on our last visit there, I commented to the waiter on how good the pancakes are, and he said, “Yep, they’re our bread and butter.”  So, go have some and enjoy (be prepared to wait for a table). 

Another great feature of Cafe Madison is the full bar.  Ladies, if it’s one of those rare Saturdays/Sundays where you don’t have anything to do all day, (except maybe shop) you can have a mimosa (or four) to start the day off right.  Cati recently noticed that they also serve bellinis (one of her favorite drinks), but she hasn’t tried one there, so she can’t endorse it (hey, she won’t just drink any bellini).  

Playing with the new camera’s settings.  Less EV compensation, eh?

Fine breakfast food.

Just for reference, Cati and I were in Amsterdam (NL; not NY) a few weeks back, and here’s what breakfast looks like there:

Wooden shoes sold separately

Salmon, herring, and mackerel (I think) along with spongy little baby pancakes and plump little sausages.  Yeah, uh, star and stripes forever, eh?

Everyone’s a critic these days.

Years back, there was an episode of Seinfeld where George wanted to combine his three passions; sex, eating, and watching TV.  Well, I ran a race this weekend that came close to doing that for me.  It was the beer and chili run in Newport, NY.  Running, food, and beer; together at last [wink].  I heard they even had bloody marys near the halfway mark of the 5k, for those who ran it.  I ran the 10K; it was grueling.  It was ~15F (with the windchill), wet, windy, slushy, and the hills; the hills were brutal.  I forgot my camera (pathetic, I know), but what a great time it was.  We registered at Newport’s Masonic Temple, and convened there after the race for chili and beer.  I would describe the temple but I took an oath of secrecy (I kid, it was nothing special.  It looked like a small town hall…or did it?).  After the race, in from the cold, and in dry clothes, I felt great.  The warm chili was right on time.  The endorphins that were leisurely swimming about my brain were soon accompanied by some alcohol, and the relaxation I felt was profound.  It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning.  I’m pretty achy today, though.  But hey, all this training is for a good cause, right?