Monday, April 30, 2007

Cinque Terre, pt. 5....I didn't know I had this many buttons!

In yesterday's post I mentioned how I had that feeling that, food wise, something had been missing, and how our wonderful lunch at Osteria Bacicio had hit all those yet-to-be-punched buttons. Well, thank the gods who watch over hungry travelers, because last night we had another huge "wow" moment during our last dinner in the Cinque Terre, a meal that was everything the food holocaust at Marina Piccola wasn't, at a place just 100 feet up the main street of Manarola from that mess. We had been by for a snack at Trattoria la Scogliera earlier in our visit. We were charmed by the place, and had planned to go back but it hadn't fit in. Thankfully, last night we made it, and it fit like a hand-tailored suit from Milano. The food was awesome! Here's the short and sweet version: a starter of the best sautéed clams I have ever had, a supremely rich, simple broth of wine, clam stock, a sprinkling of parsley, and butter...lots and lots of butter, a few halved cherry tomatoes. The tiny clams, so fresh tasting as if they dumped them right off the boat into the kitchen, we're meaty, briny little bits that I could have eaten dozens of. All too soon the bowl was empty, I'm sopping up broth like mad before they take the dish away, and we're both just wide eyed with pleasure.

I reluctantly let the remaining broth go, only because our waiter had shown up with our entrees. Mine was simply grilled branzino that had little more than a bit of oil and salt and pepper on it before it hit the grill. The meat was tender, fresh, tasting only of really fresh fish. Perfect. w had ordered their zuppa al mare, a dish that came to the table loaded with super fresh crawfish, huge shrimp, polpo (octopus), and a bit of spiny lobster, all swimming in a brick-colored broth that was astonishingly, intensely good. This was not only the best version of bouillabaise either of us had ever had, for me it was one of the best dishes of food I have ever had...period. It was crazy, the sauce (it was too rich to be merely labeled zuppa), had been reduced down until the layers of flavor had been forced into this wildly good, concentrated, soul satisfying concoction. I think about it now and I’m still blown away.

When you have a dish like that, and the branzino that I tore through, you know the people who are in the kitchen know how to handle fish with all the respect and care it deserves. No fancy flavors, no getting overly creative, doing again what the best places in the Piedmont, all of Italy, hell, any restaurant in the world do when they do it well, which is letting the best, freshest local ingredients, whether out of the ground or pulled out of the sea, speak for themselves. That’s what was great about last night’s dinner, that idea of localness, taken to its zenith. I just have to say, one more!

Oh, and then we had to finish with what turned out to be the best tiramisu we had ever had, which of course was made in house by the magicians in the kitchen. Another sweet success!

I write this seated on the train from Manarola to Milan, where we are catching a 1pm flight to Paris. And as much as I raved on about the great seafood we had yesterday, after tree days of this enforced fish diet, I am so ready for that first piece of foie gras! I’ll let you know how it goes..........

Cinque Terre, pt. 4

You know when you're looking for something, and you get close but are just missing it? Like you're trying to remember a song, or a movie, and it's on the tip of your tongue but you just can't quite get there. That's been happening to me here, but of course it's food related. Disregarding the horror show that was Marina Piccolo last night, we've generally had some really good food in the CT. Well prepared fish, fresh, vibrantly bright pesto, a fritta mista that was exceptional. But it just seemed I hadn't had that experience. That one food moment that gives you a total sense of place, one of those “wow” moments that seemingly happened daily in the Piedmont. Whether it was the places, or the food, probably a little of both, it seemed I had just been missing.
The castello above the harbor of Porto Venere

Until today. We had on the agenda all along a boat trip a few kilometers down the coast to the unofficial “6th Terre”, the charming, bustling seaside town of Porto Venere. Leaving Manarola, we walked the path to Riomaggiore to buy our train tickets for tomorrow’s 6am train to Milan. We also caught the boat to Porto Venere there for the quick 30 minute trip. I love being out on the water to get a different perspective on the lay of the land. If anything it is even more impressive that some brave, half insane souls way back when decided to build their villages on this steeply hilly landscape. Must have been the water views. Coming around the point to Venere you pass by their impressive medieval castello and pull into the Portofino-like harbor. Getting off the boat, we wandered down the harbor front, passing the kind of touristy places that are always on the avoid list, where the menu is in Italian, German, and English...never a good sign. We headed up toward the castello, then down through the warren of streets, heading more or less in the direction of the waterfront. We were stepping down this steeply inclined walkway, and rounded a corner with a tiny sign pointing up another small set of stairs that said “Bar”. Putting that sign in front of me in the middle of a warm midday walk is like throwing raw meat to a grizzly, so we beelined to the very cute Bar Genio . At the top of the short staircase was this absolutely picture perfect terrace, set above and back from the harbor. A grape vine arbor was starting to fill in, their were inviting chairs and tables set out, and if ever bubbles were called for, this was the moment. Surprisingly, and thankfully, the only other people out there were two women at a far table. We found the proprietor, asked for a couple of glasses of prosecco, and had one of “those” vacation moments. Ah, the life.
Doing "research" at Bar Ginio in Porto Venere

The downside to this moment, though, was that we both found ourselves ravenously hungry, and since we hadn’t passed any likely candidates to fill our needs, we reluctantly headed down to the waterfront. We walked up to one place that looked fairly acceptable, only to be told they had just closed for lunch. I thought that was a bit odd, seeing as how it was about 1:15, but what the hell. We walked aimlessly around, me of course getting that “oh, no, this doesn’t look good” feeling. Then w, god bless her eagle eye, pointed out a sign that said Osteria Something-or-Other (not where we ended up) up this side passage. We followed this street, and walked by a place that just looked right, called Osteria Bacicio, which had a simple chalkboard menu out front.. We went in, looked at the four tables filled with what looked suspiciously like locals, and spied in the back a tall bar table with a couple of empty chairs. Eureka! Our seats were in front of a deli case filled with fried anchovies and filetti bacalao (salt cod fritters) that I immediately targeted as part of our meal. I adore salt cod fritters! We sat down, asked for menus, which they didn’t have, but luckily our cute, very nice server had everything written down on the back of her order pad. Through her Italian and great patience and my tiny bit of understanding, we managed get our order in. Coming up were two pastas, w’s a local specialty, I can’t remember the name, but a broken up flat sheet pasta about 1/8” thick. Lots of texture, and a great vehicle for transporting Bacicio’s zippily fresh pesto sauce into one’s mouth. My pasta was a terrific as well, a simple, absolutely fantastically flavored plate of tagliatelle with tuna, olive oil, capers, chopped cherry tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and onion. I can’t wait to make this at home. The tuna they use is oil packed Spanish tuna with great flavor.
w's pasta with the freshest of pestos!

Next up, a basket of the anchovies and bacalao fritters, which I proceeded to gorge myself on. w had the self-control to stop when she was full, and while this is a skill I admire in others, I have to admit I am weak and prone to succumbing to temptation, especially when it takes the form of these little bits and balls of salty goodness that were so fucking good!
fried anchovies and fritelli bacalao

We had a bit of house vino bianco out of a tap, finished with an espresso, and wandered out into the mid-afternoon sunshine blissfully satisfied.

Cinque Terre, pt. 3...Crashing down

It had to come to an end. An so it did, this string of delicious, fresh satisfying meals came resoundingly, thuddingly, hectically, and rudely to a halt last night at what is supposedly the best restaurant in Manarola, the harborside Marina Piccola. This gets mentioned in most of the guidebooks and online articles as the place for the freshest, most well prepared food in town.

We wasted a precious dinner, and the most money we had spent on any dinner on this trip. Here’s what we got: A harried floor guy who brusquely shows you to your table. Menus and wine list thrown onto the table. A female server, looking like she had either just had or was in need of her next fix, running, literally, back and forth past your table with food, water, stopping by the kitchen door for a quick drag on her cigarette every chance she got. Very mediocre apps come quickly, but after tasting them you wish they hadn’t come at all. More people show up, filling even more tightly the cramped outdoor dining room. Chaos edges ever closer, threatening to engulf the entire place. Unfortunately our entrees arrive, w’s a barely acceptable plate of roasted sardines in a too thick tomato sauce. Mine is even more ludicrous. I ordered an oven roasted branzino, expecting a finely prepared, fresh piece of local flavor. What I got was a whole fish swimming in a pool of olive oil. Had he still been alive, I swear he could have done laps. All around us, things appear to be spiraling. Waiters rush by with hot plates of food in their hands and confused looks on their faces. Going from table to table, trying to find out who ordered what. Newcomers are seated at tables that haven’t even been cleaned after the exit of the last unfortunate souls who sat there. There’s an air of hostility swirling about. I grab a server, pay the ransom, and we beat a hasty retreat.

What I’m saying is, if any of you should find yourself in the natural wonderland that is the Cinque Terre, don’t ever, no matter what you read or hear, let yourself get hooked into Marina Piccolo. Consider yourselves warned!

Cinque Terre, pt.2... Walk. Eat. Drink. Repeat

Another morning, another cloudless sky. We can see the weekend sailors plying the waters off the coast from our terrace. We’re planning a lazy day, especially after our 5k “walk” from Manarola to Vernazza (numero quattro in the cinque) yesterday. This was more like a serious up-and-down hike, taking you from sea level to around 1000 feet of elevation in about 2k. The destination was a wireless internet point in Vernazza (again, why isn’t there one in every 2007?!). So up and down we went, well over 2000 steps, lots of sweat, lugging the laptop in my messenger bag through vineyards, olive and lemon groves, scraggly vineyards, looking out over stunning views of the coast far below. Vernazza was a cute...of course...little village. Apparently Rick Steve’s favorite CT village, so you can imagine the hordes. After I took care of blogging biz, we walked to a Trattoria high above the harbor for lunch with what actually was an incredible view and quite good food, and busted out of there on the next train back to Manarola, where it’s busy, but not that busy.

We whiled away a little time in Manarola, strolled back down the path to the bar in Riomaggiore to watch the sun go down, then came back to Manarola for dinner at Bar Aristide. A lovely little outdoor café on the lower town square, where we had earlier checked out the menu. I particularly was hankering after some accuighe di limone, which is one of the classic dishes of the area. It consists of fresh anchovies drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. We started out with this piece of piscine pleasure, and were not disappointed. The sardines were so fresh, more than likely hauled in that day by the boats that go out of the local harbor about 200 feet away. Served atop a chiffonade of lettuce with a few chopped cherry tomatoes, washed down with a chilled bottle of vermentino....really lovely. For main plates, w had a so-so piece of swordfish, and I had an outstanding pate of frittura mista, fried local seafood...tender calamari, shrimp, sardine, the flavors simple and so fresh with a splash of fresh lemon juice. Really a great dinner at again a very reasonable price.
Accuighe di limone

Frittura mista

Here's a picture of some bottles on the wall of a wine shop in Corniglia. You may have seen the other half of this on the wall at VINO. Apparently they added to the collection. Those other guys on the labels I get, but who's that shifty character in the upper left???

later that day.....
So ya know what I said about being lazy. Apparently not in our vocabulary as we are both somewhat ADD travelers. We just got back to the room from a thigh busting hike into the hills above Manarola, to the tiny villages of Groppo and Volastra. Our target was the local wine cooperative between the two towns, which we made it to to taste some just okay whites. So much for the reward. But at least now I have totally justified anything I eat or drink for the rest of the day. That’s Volastra way up on top of the hill, and take into account that we already hiked straight up for the last 40 minutes. Egad....................

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Instruction repeat

In case you missed it, just scroll down to the last post you read, and work your way up from there!

Cinque terre, pt.1: it's all true!

Day two here in the Cinque Terre, specifically the almost too charming village of Manarola (numero due in the cinque), and I have to say the whole CT is just about everything I had expected it to be. I’ve been wanting to come here for close to 20 years, and this was finally the time. Sure, there’s hordes of Rick Steves-toting tourists, stopping right in front of you at every moment to take yet another picture. There are loud German tourists who seem convinced the rest of the world is deaf; Americans fearfully looking at restaurant menus, hoping to find something, anything, that they’ve heard of. Still, it somehow clings to this special aura, this way of life that when you get off the main drag in each town, seems almost unchanged from the way it must have been 50 or more years ago. Better still, you could spend a couple of days just wandering the maze of stairs and hidden walkways in Manarola alone.
The view from our room in Manarola....I like it here!

We got in late yesterday afternoon, checked into our viewalicious room at the La Torretas, had some local vini bianchi, the ubiquitous Cinque Terre Blanc with a small bite to eat at a local trattoria. Unlike the Festa di Carne that was the Piedmont, here it’s all about the sea. All the menus are dominated by two things...pesto and seafood. Our insalata di mare we had for lunch was wonderfully fresh, the octopus, shrimp, and fish a welcome change from all the farm animals we ate up north. The local white grape grown in the vertical vineyards surrounding each village is the perfect foil to this kind of food, going equally well with fish or pesto. After a quick siesta, we did the vineyard walk here (through the vineyards on the left of the picture above), which is one of those mandatory, must-do tourist things. It winds from the top of the town, just below the church that was built around the year 1300, down through the terraced vineyards that have been individually gouged out of the side of the hill, each farmer having a few grape vines, two or three lemon trees, and a small garden plot. The effort to get things to grow must be incredible, and I am absolutely fascinated by the whole process. We started in the early evening, after most of the tourist hordes had departed, and had the trail to ourselves. Coming back into town, we continued walking south for about a kilometer to check out Riomaggiore (numero uno in the cinque). Another postcard perfect village, somewhat larger than Manarola, with a more lived in look (in a good way). We hiked up into the town, stopped for a cold birra, then went back down to the harbor front to see if we could find a place to eat. We didn’t eat right there, but did stop for a drink at a tiny bar with a dramatic view over the harbor where we saw a stunning sunset that looked a lot like this......
Coming back into town, we ended up for dinner at Ristorante La Lampara, where the dining room was surprisingly modern and stylish. White tablecloths, big Spiegelau glasses, nice, casual ambience, and very reasonable prices for what turned out to be deliciously prepared food. We had a pizza al pesto to start, and both of us ordered whole branzini, the Mediterranean version of sea bass. w’s was simply grilled, mine was oven roasted. So fresh and perfectly done.
My roasted branzini....superb!

For dessert w had to have her panna cotta craving satisfied, and this was one of the best panna cottas either of us has had....

Panna cotta perfection!

We strolled home along the Riomaggiore-Manarola path, which in the last few years has been paved and has lighting installed that dramatically illuminated the cliffs down to the sea at select points. In the dark (there are small, unobtrusive lights along the path), it was simply stunning, the sky above crystal clear and filled with stars, the sea rhythmically splashing against he rocks. Can you say insanely romantic? One of those moments impossible to improve upon. La vita dolce, indeed!

Piedmont, pt. 4: You call this lunch???

Will the madness ever end? We just got back from lunch with Gianluca Grasso and his beautiful wife Francesca, which turned out to be another four hour marathon of food, wine, and espresso. Lunch as in four bottles of wine, four courses, full to bursting stomachs, and w looking at me pleadingly with her "you have got to stop this food insanity" face. No pictures, but trust me, it’s all true!!

Gianluca and Francesca showed up at our hotel a little after noon and announced he was taking us to one of his favorite restaurants in the Piedmont. We piled into the biz is just fine at the Grasso's I assume....and drove into the hills to the alta Langhe area, about twenty kilometers from Monforte. We turned one last corner and pulled into the driveway of the prettily situated Locanda dell’Arco. We entered the place, where Gianluca and Francesca were greeted like old friends by the owner, which I have to selfishly say always excites me, because you just know the owner will give extra attention to our food. I know, very self serving, but we are talking food here. So we’re seated in this who-knows-how-old dining room, the vaulted, brick lined ceilings apparently unchanged for the last couple of hundred years, and Gianluca orders some wine while the owner gets down to some serious food business. The first course, washed down with a really lovely ‘05 Grasso Chardonnay, consisted of three antipasti per person. And not small little bites. These were portions that at a regular American joint would be shared by two or three. Again, how do they do it?
First out was a beautifully presented rabbit terrine on a bed of frisee with a balsamic-olive oil dressing. This was terrific, a beautifully balanced plate of food. Following this up was yet another version of carne cruda, which I think I am becoming obsessed about. Other than most of America’s irrational fear of food, why isn’t this staple of the Italian diet on more U.S. restaurant menus? Then came an essential sign of spring, a plate of perfectly cooked asparagus topped with a light cheese sauce. The asparagus, not the cheese sauce, being the sign of spring in the previous sentence.

As we ordered our primis, of course tajarin with wild mushrooms for w and I and gnocchi for Gianluca and Francesca, a bottle of ‘03 Cogno Dolcetto appeared, bursting with fruit and vibrantly fresh. Our tajarins were nothing less than lovely, the woodsy, earthy mushrooms that had been sauteed in olive oil and a bit of butter complimenting the melt in your mouth tajarin, which was the best version yet on this trip. I had a bite of Gianluca’s gnocchi, and they were pillowy perfection, lightly sauced, and something I could have shamelessly eaten several dozen of given the chance. Each couple ordered one secondi to share, and as Francesca was looking over the wine list for another bottle of red, she suddenly got a mischievous glint in her eye that could only mean something special was about to happen. She casually asked if we might perhaps like to try a 1989 Grasso “Chiniera” Barolo. Now I don’t now how to say “hell yes” in Italian, but I think my jumping up and down in my seat got the message across. I’m not sure why, but there’s just something about 17 year old single-vineyard Barolo that always sounds right. I’ve gotta tell you, this wine didn’t disappoint. It had been in the restaurants cellar since its release in 1993, and was still so young, like it could have gone on for another 20 years. We had it open for over an hour in a decanter, and it just kept getting better and better. Huge wow moment! The secondis were okay, perhaps the only somewhat weak moment, and w and I were of the opinion that my braised beef in Barolo is much tastier than their version. The beef was a bit overcooked, the sauce pedestrian. But what the hell, when you’re busy slurping down ‘89 Barolo, it’s silly to complain about anything.

Finally, we got our just desserts, with w and I having a sharing moment with a lusciously creamy vanilla gelato with fresh strawberries, while G and F went the distance, she with the gelato, and he with a sampling of tiramisu (okay) and panna cotta (yummy!). The owner insisted, without any argument from us, on comping a bottle of bouncy, fizzy Moscato d’Asti, which if it isn’t the perfect way to end any meal then I don’t know what is. Unless you’re Gianluca and Francesca of course, which meant a round of espressos for all, and after four hours at a midday lunch probably is a better way to end. We drove back to Monforte most happily, and were dropped at the hotel with fond goodbyes to Gianluca and Francesca. Grazie mille G & F!

Another day, another several hour meal filled with great food, fucking unbelievable wine, and conversation. If this is madness, call me crazy!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Piedmont, pt.3; The hills are alive!

The hill towns of Piedmont continue to impress, and the people just seem to understand the finer points of living. Apparently the people of Monforte d'Alba, which just might be my new favorite town in the world, understand this perfectly. If there is anything better than rolling out of bed, wandering down to the local café and slamming a quick espresso while standing at the bar, listening to the locals chatter away in Italian, especially after a night of yet more indulgence, I can't imagine what it could be. Then strolling down to the mercato, having the cute-as-a-bug girl behind the meat and cheese counter sample you on some mind-bendingly good local formaggio di Piemonte and house made salumé, which of course you have to buy in quantities you know you'll never get through. All of this remarkably taking place before 8:30! And did I mention the view out of the window while I type this......
So life is rolling along nicely on day four of our excursion. Yesterday was quite pleasant, the perfect vacation day. We left the Paitin's in Alba, and drove through various too quaint hill towns on our way to Monforte d'Alba. The sun is shining down, maybe 85 degrees, and we are on our way to a meeting with the Elio Grasso family, who not only produce some of Piedmont's finest Barolos, Barberas and Dolcettos, but who have also kindly offered to put us up for a couple of nights at a hotel in Monforte. Who are we to say no? Our hotel is spectacular, a brand new in a centuries old abbey kind of place, our "room" having a separate bedroom, kitchen, balcony, and brick terrace high on the hill, with an exquisite view of the vineyards and faraway hill towns (see above). Quite possibly the nicest hotel either w or I have stayed in. I would almost expect the next time I see this hotel to be in Travel and Leisure.

After settling into our room, we drive out to the Grasso's where son Gianluca and his mother Marina, two truly gracious and kind people, are taking us on a tour and tasting at their estate. If ever you want to see the quintessential Italian wine estate, this would be it.
Gianluca explaining nature to w.

The Grasso's cave, the only one of its kind in the Piedmont.

Gianluca took us into the winery, through their newly dug, and absolutely stunning cave, which winds under the hill above the house. The cave was a high tech wonder that looks like something out of a James Bond movie. We rounded one corner where there were stacks of unlabeled bottles. Looking at the plaque underneath, I see it says they are all 2003 Casa Maté Barolo. I have to say there is something very impressive about seeing ten thousand bottles of one single-vineyard Barolo piled up in one place!
"10,000 bottles of barolo on the wall, 10,000 bottles of Barolo, take one down, pass it around......"

Then it was a sit down with mama, who led us through a sampling of their reds. A freshly fruity Dolcetto, a much more serious Barbera, and their three single vineyard Barolos from the yet to be released 2003 vintage. Incredible juice!

We bid farewell to the Grasso's after making plans to meet Gianluca and his wife for lunch the next day (today), and took a much needed nap before the search for food continued. We had asked Gianluca where we should go for dinner, and he and Marina both recommended the restaurant run by the hotel we are staying in as probably the best restaurant in town. We dressed, wandered down to the place, checked out the menu which looked wonderful, but it was kind of expensive, a bit more formal than we wanted, so we took a pass and hoped we'd find something more suited to our mood. We passed by a tiny osteria whose menu looked enticing, but they appeared closed. At 7:45 not a light was on in the place and it was supposed to open at 8:00. Very disappointed, we decided to jump in the car and drive down the road to Dogliani, but as we were heading out of town, we took one last pass by the was open! Hooray!

The Osteria del Catari proves once again that in a country, and province, totally dedicated to the production and enjoyment of good food and wine, you don't need to spend a ton of money to eat really well. We wander in to Catari, which is housed in a five hundred year old building with atmospheric dark wood ceiling beams and stucco and brick walls, and are led upstairs to our table. Once again, even at 8:15, we are the first ones there, but the place quickly fills up. The menu looks fantastic, the wine list is once again stupidly affordable, so off we go. First up, a bottle of cold, fresh Arneis, quickly becoming my white of choice on this Piedmontese adventure. Our antipasti arrives, an artichoke gratin in a creamy, not-too-heavy sauce that is just the thing to rev up the appetite. Then comes two primis, one a maltagliati (broken) pasta with artichoke, wonderfully flavored. The star of this course though was a fabulous risotto di Barbera, a beautifully colored reddish-purple, rich, and savory plate of grainy goodness.
Risotto di Barbera d'Alba

Made with the local Barbera d'Alba and stirred with what I'm guessing was veal stock, this was incredible. Anticipating the arrival of the risotto, I also had ordered a bottle of Vietti 2001 "La Crena" Barbera d'Asti, a sensational single-vineyard Barbera that I had had back home, one of my favorite red wines in the world, a wine that wholesales for for $35 in Portland, and of course is on their list at about $28. Wow! And also just about perfect with the risotto.

w was questioning my wisdom at insisting on two secondis, reasonably postulating that maybe we should eat a bit less for one night. But things were rolling along promisingly, and what if we missed something really good....the horror! Besides, the thing in Italy seems to be that everyone eats a LOT. Tables around us, filled with people who weren't morbidly obese, were ordering an antipasti, primi, secondi, and dessert...per person! And yet nobody was grossly overweight, even though they seemingly eat like this regularly. If you don't order in this manner, your server looks at you like you're from Mars...or America. How can this be? How can they eat like this night after night? Why aren't there bodies stacked up outside the restaurants, people who had one last course, stepped outside, suddenly found their arteries in full revolt and collapsed on the spot? Oh, wait, that's right....the one thing you don't see in this picture is a pair of golden arches every few miles. No KFC, no BK, no Taco Hell. Just meat and produce picked from the land, people...young, old, in-between.... actually walking around their villages, up and down the hills from home to market and back, kids who still go outside to play rather than sitting zombie-like in front of their TVs. Gee, it all seems so simple, doesn't it?

Our secondis that were delivered were wonderful, particularly w's tender, meat-falling-off-the-bone duck leg. My pork was also good, but had an oddly mixed reduced sauce of small, somewhat bitterly seeded berries and a hint if vinegar in the reduction that fought with the richness that I'm sure they were looking for. For dessert we shared a somewhat ice-crystally vanilla gelato with fragoli (strawberries) that had obviously sat in the freezer a bit long. I suppose it can't all be perfect. But it was all pretty damn good!

Instructions for vicarious travel

I never thought, in 2007, it would be so freaking hard to find internet access. As one of our hosts said, the Piedmont/Italy is abut 10 years behind the U.S. technologically.
So now that I'm up and rolling, here's the last few days of our vacation. More to come later.

Scroll down to the bottom of this post, find the one dated titled "Wild Mushroom Pasta", and start there and work your way back up. I should be on a bit more regularly from now on....I hope......

Piedmont, pt.2: Alpine ordeal!

Another successful day of vacationeering, who's main point seemed to be to put my body through a some minor(?) discomfort for the reward of a great dinner. We started out the morning after the previous evenings excess a bit, um...slowly. w had this in mind all along to drive an hour and a half west to the Alps for some hiking, Italian Alps style. The drive up was truly breathtaking, and these mountains make our Cascades look like round little ice cream cones. Jagged, soaring, snow covered, looming over tiny villages filled with slate-tile roofed houses. Now as I tell this story keep in mind that while I love the outdoors and am reasonably active, my idea of a strenuous hike is driving east to the Columbia Gorge and bombing up to the top of Angel's Rest, followed immediately by a pint of cold malted beverage at Edgefield. At what amounts to sea level. w's idea of being active, as I now know, is starting at 5500 feet, hiking up through patches of snow and rock for about two miles to 6600 feet. Hm, that's what I get for not asking more questions! And in a sky filled with air, why didn't there seem to be enough for me. So here I am gasping, being all pathetic, stopping every few hundred feet to convince my legs they can take a few more steps. The scenery was awesome though, and I figured if I was going to have a heart attack and die anywhere, this would be the place for it. We made it up and back, me with that sense of accomplishment that city dwellers get from even the most minor physical achievements.
The next words out of my mouth: "High on a hill is a lonely goat herd....."

We drove the back roads to Alba, making a stop in La Morra, a famous Barolo producing town, wandered the streets, took in the amazing views of the surrounding vineyards, stopped in the Enoteca Regionale to try some local producers grape juice. Man, I love these wines. Earthy, rich, crying out for some grilled anything. I bought a couple of bottles for ridiculously low prices ('99 single-vineyard Barolo for $30, a killer Barbera from the cult producer Altare that you can't get in PDX for $17). Oh, and here's a piece of wine buying advice. As we walked up to the enoteca, we stopped in a wine store along the way, figuring their prices would be the best. Wrong thought, and always check what's for sale at the enoteca regionale first, because the pricing is almost always going to be lower.

Finally making it back to our room, for a quick clean up and glass of wine on the hillside at Paitin, watching an amazing sunset, having cheese, and feeling so fucking lucky.

Dinner last night was at a place that had been recommended to me by a couple different food credible people in Portland, a tiny place in the center of Alba's old town called La Libera. A very cool, clean, modern dining room, reminded both w and I of Castagna. We tucked into a bottle of Barbera which seems to be becoming the national drink of our trip, and ordered off their small, but extremely well chosen menu. Even not knowing what some of the dishes were, it felt like we couldn't go wrong. Our starters were a briny, bitingly fresh plate of lightly fried sardines, and a stupendous carne cruda, even better than the one the night before, a vivid red patty of perfectly tender chopped beef. Yum! We moved from that to a shard primi of tajarin pasta with a rabbit sugo in a light basil cream. So light that the basil was just barely, yet perfectly, present. And of course, getting full but never knowing when to stop, our secondis consisted of a plate of what we think was cod for w, a delicious, light dish, the fish on sliced potatoes and topped brilliantly with a dollop of hummus. My plate was a roasted squab, and unlike the tiny avian they serve at Le Pigeon in PDX, this was almost duck-like in the size of it's breast slices, which were achingly tender and so flavorful, resting comfortably atop some mashed potatoes. Then of course was the share dessert sampler the call Ape Libera, five different dessert bites that sent us out onto the street once again too satisfied. More pics of edible delights.....
Sardines...waiting freshly!

Carne cruda...unbelievable!

Tajarin...Piedmont's pasta perfection!


I was so sleepy, though, and just had to take a quick nap...............

Piedmont, pt. 1: Food coma ahead!

All you have to know about the Piedmont, and this is after just one day mind you, is that if you haven't been here, you MUST get here! Everything you thought Italy could be seems to be here Frothy cappuccinos, people gathering on a Sunday afternoon at the local café, incredibly picturesque scenery, the architecture, etc., etc. And after last nights "what the hell just happened there?" meal, most definitely the food!

We arrive in Milan in the normal bedraggled state, and immediately are hit with an ominous note. Turns out the airline has lost a package I was bringing over with four bottles of Oregon pinot for gifts for two of our hosts. Spent an hour on that, rather aggravating, especially at the end of a long trip where you just want to get as far away as possible, as fast as possible, from anything airline/airport related. Grabbed our rental car, which turned out to be a very cute Smart "For Four", a four door version of the regular Smart car. We sped out of Milan's Malpensa Airport, heading west through the endless rice paddies that cover the landscape before you climb into the hills of Piedmont. This area of northeast Piedmont is Italy's largest rice producing area, turning out all those lovely kernels that make our risottos so satisfying.
w getting her vacation groove going in Casale Monforte

We stopped at a the cute village of Casale Monforte (lots of Monfortes here) for a couple of glasses of fizzy, refreshing prosecco and a nosh, basking in the warmth (by the way...75-80...sunny...warm...beautiful!), taking in the people watching which is always better in Europe than practically anywhere else. Back in car, making our way finally to the town of Alba, were we are staying at the estate of Giovanni Paitin, who's family owns Elia Pasquero Paitin, one of this areas great Barbaresco producers. Giovanni and his wife Sandra couldn't be nicer, putting us up in a downstairs apartment at their Agritourismo, which is basically a few rooms on the estate they rent to travelers.
Paitin's Agritourismo...our room is on the lower left

They don't actually make the wine here anymore, that being done a few miles away, but the location and the view from the place is perfect, with Nebbiolo vineyards stretching in every direction.

So we relax, shower, gather our energy, pop into town for a bit, then drive up the hill to the small village of Diano d'Alba, which is truly one of the most picturesque Euro villages I've been in. You enter through a stone archway, which way back when was used to keep out whatever hordes of marauders happened to be passing by at the time. We wandered, took in the scene of the vineyards stretching before us through the hazy light, almost every view eliciting a "wow" and that "can you believe we're here" comment.

But you can only take so much scenery, and then the appetite starts making its presence felt. We checked out a place in the center of Diano d'Alba, which turned out to be closed, drove into Alba, looked around, scouted out a place we'd heard about. It too was closed on Sunday so we'll go tomorrow. Beginning to get a bit concerned that we might have to settle, but when every meal counts, you take advantage of every resource. We zipped back out to the Paitin estate and asked Giovanni for his advice. After telling us most places are closed on Sunday...gee, no kidding...he asked Sandra what she thought. A concerned look, a few ideas flashing across her face, a quick phone call, and we were on our way back to Diano d'Alba (thankfully just 8km away) to a little gem called Trattoria Nelle Vigne, which is set among the vineyards and of course has the requisite stunning view. Even at 7:00 on Sunday we were the first ones there, and feeling so very American, even after a warm welcome, we were led to a table in their glassed in veranda. The wine list was presented, we ordered a bottle of crisply fresh Ceretto Arneis off their ridiculously well priced list....the Arneis was $15, the Dolcettos, Barberas, Barbarescos, and Barolos were equally absurdly affordable, and other than the bottle of Paitin Barbera we ordered later in honor of Giovanni, that was abut the only decision we had to make.

They serve two menus at Nelle vigne, one costing 19.50 euros, the other costing 23. The difference being the 23 euro menu includes a meat entree. We didn't have to decide which, that was settled later. We just sat while the food started appearing. Oh my freaking god, the food! How much detail do you want? The first course consisted of five generously portioned anitipasti, which came one after the other. The first thing she set on the table was an astonishingly good plate of anchovies covered in a hazelnut pesto. One of the most surprisingly remarkable things I've ever eaten.
Anchovies w/ hazelnut pesto

The anchovies weren't too salty, the hazelnut pesto had a nice zip of lemon zest. One of the best, most unexpectedly good things I’ve ever put in my mouth. It was fabulous. Next up was an equally amazing plate of lardo laid on top of fried bread. Just silly good, the lardo melting slowing on top of the hot bread, the fat glistening in all its cured pork goodness. I am looking at w and already my eyes are wide in wonderment and a silly grin is starting to spread across my face. These first two were followed by a fresh salad of cabbage, chicken, and mozzarella, which all coleslaws should aspire to be. Then came two carne cruda, which is chopped raw beef with a bit of lemon and was awesome. Last up...and this is still just the antipasti mind you...was a plate of asparagus swimming in a decadent gorgonzola dolce sauce. I am pretty much freaking out by now, knowing there's three more courses to come. w is already getting that I'm really full look, plus we've been up for almost 24 hours straight. Holy shit!

So then two primi came, which were full sized portions of ravioletti in a light ollve oil sauce and a version of bolognese on a tajarin, the regional pasta specialty of the Piedmont. These were fantastic, the ravioletti stuffed with ground pork and herbs, the tajarin savory and so satisfying, especially washed down with the Paitin Barbera. Our server then made us make the last decision of the night, which was to stop then and move straight to dessert or have the carne course first. We were both tired, feeling the wine, and stuffed, but dammit, I can't back down from a fight, especially a food fight, so bring it on. Thank god! The two meat plates consisted of a braised rabbit, which was fall off the bone tender, and a crazy plate of sliced roast beef smothered in a sauce of wild mushrooms and ground hazelnuts. This was unbelievable, and we would have appreciated it even more if we hadn't already been bludgeoned by the earlier, equally crazy courses. At a certain point, your ability to appreciate becomes clouded. This was great, that was great, everything is fucking great. I'm tired, I'm getting drunk, what the hell keep it coming! We had our last course, which of course was equally over the top, with two plates of four different desserts, the ice cream square and chocolate-hazelnut biscotti stealing the show. At this point, we are almost falling out of our chairs, eyes rolling back in our heads, and we stagger out to the car for the drive down the hill and into a blissful sleep.

This whole dinner cost just $85, including wine. If you are ever in the Alba area, you HAVE to check this place out. Probably one of the greatest food nights I've ever experienced, and every single dish was exceptional. How often can you say that? Unbelievable! Here's some more photos of the carnage......
Lardo on fried incredible is this?!

Ravioletti...pillows of goodness!

The just keeps coming!

Are we done yet? Our just desserts!

Oh, the humanity!

Oh, the humanity.
The curse of those who can't sleep on a fucking endless airplane trip isn't that we have more time to ponder the culinary atrocities such as this...

Or this...

Or this...
That smushed up piece of breadlike substance? Continental's idea of a fresh baked croissant...yummy, no?

Even those wretchedly pitiful excuses for human nourishment, which we all shamefully, even eagerly wolf down out of a desperate hunger because we were too shortsighted to bring food on board that we would actually want to put in our mouths, we eat this drek disregarding the potential for gastric disaster, and still it doesn't measure up to the pain of having to watch those around you blissfully nap while you stare mindlessly at the map of the jet crossing the ocean eight inches in front of your face on a six inch screen attached to the seat back in front of you, which the jerk in front of you immediately slammed back into full recline as soon as he got the okay. Even worse, this fine piece of flying aerospace technology that can miraculously cross the ocean at 35,000 feet, with all it's high tech navigation working in perfect harmony, can't seem to run any of the video channels except for that or the one that shows endless, mind-numbing, suicidal-thought inducing loops of Bewitched, the Brady Bunch, and Mr. Bean. While I have a somewhat minor appreciation of Rowan Atkinson's comedy, and thought Marcia Brady was a total babe when I was a kid, enough is enough. And they don't even have the human decency to offer free drinks anymore to those of us riding in what I have come to think of as "Cattle Class". Oh, the humanity. Three more hours....if I really focus I swear I can get that cartoon jet to move faster.....

Wild Mushroom Pasta

Even while I'm away I care about your happiness. And of course there's the two hours to kill while we wait for our plane to depart here in "beautiful" Newark. Could there be more oil tanks and ugly industry around any airport? Not exactly like landing at PDX and flying down the Columbia. While pondering this horrific industrial excess, I remembered that I wanted to mention a great pasta I whipped up last night (Friday) when w and I were on a mission to empty the fridge before we left.

I had forgotten I had some morels and other fresh mushrooms from last Saturdays Farmer's Market. I got home late from the wine shack, and still had some getting ready to do, and needed something fast and good. So out came the mushrooms, a stalk of leeks, and some DeCecco perciatelli pasta. It turned deliciously, earthily mushroomy, just what we wanted, and for a last minute throw together it will find a place in the regular rotation. Very easy and super quick, this makes me look forward to my next visit to the market and the mushroom guys....


Wild Mushroom Pasta
Serves 4

3/4 pound mixed wild mushrooms sliced and chopped into not too small pieces...I used morels, shiitake, and hedgehogs
1 cup chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup 1/2 and 1/2
1 pound pasta

How: Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in large sauté pan. When hot, add leeks, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes more. Add mushrooms and sauté. After about five minutes add one more tablespoon of butter, then sauté for another five minutes. While mushrooms are sautéing start pasta water. Turn heat under mushrooms down to low and add 1/2 and 1/2. Grind in a bit of fresh pepper and stir together and let cook for two minutes, then turn off heat. I think letting this sit in the pan while the pasta cooks helps the flavors of the leeks, mushrooms, and cream come together. When pasta is about a minute from being done, reheat mushrooms mix, drain pasta, add to mushroom mix. Adjust salt and pepper, plate, sprinkle some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if you want, and enjoy!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

PDX is no place to try and wake up

The new overseas travelers credo: "The journey of several thousand miles begins with a fitful sleep, a 4:15am wakeup, a last minutes scramble to stuff the bags, rocking out with our taxi driver who's apparently a big Queen fan , and a rewardng hour long wait at the gate to board." Did I cover everything? But with visions of grilled wild boar, earthy Barolos and Barbarescos, and delicate tajarin pasta as our reward at the end of leg one in Italy's Piedmont, the journey is well worth it. Bon voyage.......

Friday, April 20, 2007

Online inspiration!

Sorry for the paucity of postings lately. Nothing too exciting food wise has passed my lips lately. Well, except for these amazing roasted fresh sardines and we had at Castagna Café last night. It's on their appetizer menu, and they were spectacularly savory in a sizzling pool of olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts. Also had a beautifully spring-like watercress soup that by itself would have been enough, but of course The Handsome One ups the ante by floating a few deep fried morels that taste like little earthy croutons. Yum! Plus I've been way busy getting ready for next weeks escape to the land of Euro-food.

So while I have no big food news, it doesn't mean you can't have your appetites whetted elsewhere. Here's a couple more blog sites that I've been hitting regularly:
Beyond Salmon is a very entertaining site by Boston food writer/cooking instructor Helen Rennie. She usually features a great recipe to go along with mouthwatering pictures of her creations. I haven't tried any of her recipes yet, but they all read like they'll be excellent. If any of you try them, I'd love to hear back.

I also have been feeding the food jones at Culinate, which is a locally produced online food magazine with a national focus. A great variety of food related articles, insight, recipes, cookbook reviews, etc. Nice graphics, pics, and more ways to kill time at, search for inspiration to enhance your homelife.

Check 'em out, and starting Sunday the great vacation blog of '07 starts with visits to the Piedmont and Cinque Terre in Italy, then five days eating our way through Paris. Once again giving it up for you!!

Monday, April 16, 2007

A dinner party...yawn...with meatloaf??

Maybe that's what might cross your mind, especially when you're having five of your food loving friends over for dinner. Meatloaf. Isn't that something your mom cooked the hell out of when you were a kid? Not exactly haut cuisine, n'est pas? That why if I'm talkin' meatloaf, then you can bet your ass I'm upping the ante. Luckily I have in the food files a really awesome, fancy-schmancy stuffed meatloaf, a Mario Batali recipe that was in Food and Wine Magazine some time ago. This absolutely rocks, not only tasting great, but presents beautifully, the slices of meat showing off the spinach-prosciutto-provolone-carrot stuffing. Who wouldn't crave ground beef and pork with a little prosciutto? I mean really?! Add some sides of garlic mashed potatoes (where w's only instruction was "with lots of garlic!") and some bright Swiss chard from the Farmer's Market and you'll be set. Oh yeah, and maybe a bottle or five of good vino! This is a really easy recipe, that like I said, looks (and tastes) fantastic!
Assembling the meaty goodness before the rollup!
A done deal, ready for the table.

Meat Loaf Stuffed with Prosciutto and Spinach

from F and W: This luxurious yet easy take on classic meat loaf gets stuffed with spinach, carrots, prosciutto and cheese. The vegetables can be leftovers, says Batali: "Just make sure they're cooked long enough to be very soft—if they're al dente, the meat loaf will tear when you slice it and wreck your day" Mild and tangy caciocavallo cheese, made in Italy from cow's milk, is excellent in the filling, but provolone is a fine substitute.

* 2 large carrots, each cut lengthwise into 6 slices
* 4 cups spinach (3 ounces), thick stems discarded
* 2 pounds lean ground beef
* 2 pounds ground pork
* 2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
* 2 cups freshly grated pecorino cheese (6 ounces)

* 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
* Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
* 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 10-12 thin slices of prosciutto (4 ounces)
* 10 1/8-inch-thick slices caciocavallo or provolone cheese
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 4 sprigs of rosemary
* 2 cups dry red wine
* 1-1/2 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the carrots until tender, 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate. Add the spinach to the boiling water and cook just until wilted; drain well and add to the carrots.

2. In a large bowl, combine the beef with the pork, 2 cups of the bread crumbs, the pecorino, eggs, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper; mix well with your hands.

3. Line a work surface with a 15-inch-long sheet of plastic wrap. In a bowl, mix the flour with the remaining 1/2 cup of bread crumbs. Sprinkle half of the crumb mixture all over the plastic wrap. Transfer half of the meat loaf mixture to the plastic and press it into a 12-by-10-inch rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Lay half of the spinach leaves over the meat, leaving a 1-inch border on the short sides. Arrange half of the carrots over the spinach, and top with half the prosciutto and sliced cheese. Starting from the long end of the plastic wrap closest to you, tightly roll up the meat loaf, tucking in the filling and using the plastic wrap to guide you; discard the plastic. Repeat with another 15-inch sheet of plastic and the remaining bread crumbs, meat mixture, spinach, carrots, prosciutto and cheese. Drizzle each meat loaf with 2 tablespoons of oil.

4. Put the rosemary sprigs in the bottom of a broiler pan and pour in the red wine. Cover with the broiler pan grate. Set the meat loaves about 2 inches apart on the grate. Bake in the center of the oven for 40 minutes. Turn the broiler pan around and pour the water through the grate. Continue baking for about 35 minutes longer, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of each meat loaf registers 155°.
5. Transfer the meat loaves to a carving board and cover loosely with foil. Discard any cheese from the bottom of the pan and strain the pan juices into a small saucepan. Boil the pan juices over high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Pour into a serving bowl and season with salt and pepper.

6. Using a serrated knife, slice the meat loaves 1 inch thick and serve, passing the pan juices at the table.
MAKE AHEAD: The unbaked meat loaves can be refrigerated overnight. Let return to room temperature before baking.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Killer B's!!!

It's not like I'm digging ditches for a living or anything. But my job here at the wine shack does entail a certain amount of effort. You think setting that table in the picture below is easy? How about filling 160 glasses 1/3 full, knowing that everyone is going to be checking out the person next to them to see if they got more. Talk about pressure!
So what did I go through all this for? Why did I put myself through this work day meatgrinder? So 18 of my new best friends who showed up at the wine shack could taste a great batch of 2001 Brunello di Montalcinos, that's why. To my mind the reason that sangiovese was invented by the gods of wine was so the resulting grape juice could make it way into these bottles of vino fabulousness from that tiny patch of enchanted land surrounding the hilltop village of Montalcino. I love these freakishly great bottles of Tuscan goodness, which are absolutely one of my favorite ways to get my grape groove on, and the 2001 vintage was simply incredible in that part of the winemaking world. Across the board these wines killed. They didn't even start to open up and show their stuff for about 90 minutes after I poured them. Everyone was pretty knocked out. The wines we had were:
* 2001 Mocali
* 2001 Caprili
* 2001 Canalicchio
* 2001 Altesino
* 2001 La Gerla
* 2001 La Gerla "Angeli"
* 2001 Campogiovanni
* 2001 Solaria
So what were the hits? How about all of them. For me I loved the Solaria, Mocali, Caprili, and La Gerla "Angeli", but none of them were lagging. The only thing is you need to wait about 5-10 years before these start to show their best. Talk about anticipation. When you're making some rocking Italian dinner in about eight years and wander down to the basement and grab one of the bottles you were smart enough to hold on to, you'll be pretty freaking smug once it hits the glass. Feel free to look me up and thank me for the heads up I gave you a few years earlier.

So that was my day at was yours??

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Paella postmortem

So how did it all turn out? Pretty damn well, and with very little effort it went from this:
to this:
Along with a green salad with a piquant balsamic dressing, and finishing with a carrot cake that was super moist and dense and maybe a little sweet on the frosting which is something to adjust next time. Although not something you'll ever see on the cover of Gourmet, it was pretty tasty. Or maybe it was the several bottles of wine washing everything down. Whatever it was, it worked. We did some cleanup last night so the morning carnage wouldn't be too bad. Even with impaired motor skills, this mornings scrub down was relatively pain free. Here's a link to the paella recipe from one of my favorite food sites, Leite's Culinaria:
And for a great salad dressing that is very easy and very good, here's all you do....
Mustard-Balsamic Salad Dressing

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Whisk balsamic and Dijon together. Add oil in a slow stream while continuing to whisk. Salt and pepper to taste.

If you want to tackle the cake, here's the link to the recipe:

Monday, April 09, 2007

Take that Martha!

4:23- Do ya think this is what Martha Stewart's desserts would be like without a kitchen full of assistants? That's what happens when I frost a cake with a garden shovel. I never said it had to look good, just taste good...yikes!!

Being a good boy scout

2:38- Be prepared.....nothing to it, especially with Lou Reed blasting Heroin to keep the mood upbeat. Well, if you know that song maybe upbeat is the wrong word, but you get where I'm going. As I said previously, when cooking music is almost as important as the food.
Tartlets down, looking rather delicious if I do say so, cake done & waiting to be frosted, start paella prep next, then set table, then make salad dressing, and start the paella....I think this might just happen in time. If there is one thing I've learned in my dinner party giving life, it is have a plan that has been thought through is key to not freaking out. Followed by prep before yu start each dish. You don't want to be making a carrot cake and start looking around for the fucking grated carrots only to discover you still need to grate the little bastards. Have 'em ready, along with everything else. It's that old French chef's term mise en place, which roughly translates to having your shit together and ready before you start. We all want to be a good scout in the kitchen, right?

If I knew you were coming.....

At Sur La Table, I'm all about options!
Exploring the frontiers of science in the kitchens at 1309! Oh, did I mention I never did very well at science in college...hmmm. We can only hope for the best as the cakes are ovenning as we speak. I'll know in about 15 minutes. That's why cooking is so much easier than baking, especially for us amateur kitchen adventurers. I don't mind a little margin of error
At 8:30 it seemed I had all the time in the world...dinner was HOURS away. As always, my little shopping trip took about twice the time and involved visits to about four more stores than I planned. Sur La Table came through with the cake pans...and I couldn't resist the cool, green Mario Batali spat to add to the arsenal.
Got some beautiful mussels, shrimp, and scallops at Newman's. Scallops added to the menu for our non-red meat eating friend.
Okay, so back at up the leek tartlets, then paella prep. If you've ever been in a restaurant kitchen during preservice prep time, you always hear the guys rocking out to some LOUD music. It works just as well at home! Much to Chopper's consternation, the iTunes shuffle play is rocking the house. We don't seem to share the same appreciation for Van Halen's You Really Got Me. Sorry Chops....

Day off dinner

8:30am- What else am i going to do on my day in the rain? I think not! This is much more to my liking...spending a day playing with food. It's like a day long recess for the food obsessed. 10 1/2 hours from now....four guests showing up....dessert (carrot cake which I've never made before), appetizers, main course on deck. Cleaning up, setting the table. Luckily, since I'm not totally masochistic, most of the shopping was done yesterday. Here's the menu:
Apps- 14 month manchego, olives, and leek and goat cheese tartlets.
Entrée- Paella & green salad with balsamic/mustard vinaigrette.
Dessert- Carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting.
Alright...time to rock some to the wine shack for beverage, then quick pick ups of a few last minute items. Check back for more updates as the day goes on......

Friday, April 06, 2007

Cellar Report

I know the focus is on food here, but what do we have with food more often other than a bottle of wine? Let me answer that for you who need to have the obvious overstated...NOTHING! Just reading about food without knowing what to drink with it is like test driving that new Benzo without checking out the stereo or A/C. Remember knowledge is power gang.

Here at the wine shack I get asked all the time, "How long will this wine last?", and the answer I give is "At least as long as it takes for your credit card to clear." Okay, maybe that isn't my answer, but knowing how long you can cellar a wine is kind of an esoteric subject, so every now and then when I pull something out of the archives, I'll give a little report on how it's showing.

Last night was a beautiful, warm spring evening here in Portland, so w and I fired up the grill for some grass-fed beef cheeseburgers off the Weber. We had just been talking about different kinds of wines we liked, and w had mentioned her preference for good Oregon pinot noir. I had just rearranged the collection, and had a few things that were ready to go, and because I only want for the happiness of others I grabbed a bottle of 1998 Evesham Wood "Seven Springs Vineyard" Pinot Noir for the table. The last time I had this particular wine was about two+ years ago at a restaurant in NYC, and then it was okay, but still very acidic and a bit lean, so I didn't know what to expect. All I can say is what a difference 795 days can make. This has developed into a classic bottle of Oregon noir. EW's pinots are always delicate, more feminine wines, and owner Russ Raney never loads on, thankfully, a lot of new wood. He lets the fruit do the talking, which too many wine makers, in search of high scores, forget to do. When first in the glass, it was a bit smoky and cherryish, and that tart acidity I didn't like last time had integrated into the fruit perfectly. As it sat open it just opened up more and more, and after an hour or so, it was showing loads of sweet, strawberry and slightly peppery, minerally fruit, hints of earthiness just peeking out, with a velvety, long finish. If Russ had been one of those guys who loads on the new wood on top of overripe fruit, which like I said is all the rage, this wouldn't have been near so good going on ten years old. Really great wine, and I'm glad I have one more bottle, which I'll probably let rest comfortably for another couple of years. I love it when it works out like that!

By the way, if you have some bottles in your basements that you're wondering how they might be drinking, feel free to send them to me and I'll let you know! No? Well, then feel free to leave a comment with your question(s) and I'll answer back here and give you my semi-educated opinion. I'm all about love and information at Eat.Drink.Think., so take advantage!