Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wining and Dining in South Florida

It's good to be home after a week of sun, heat and humidity in South Florida. That said, the weather wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been, I got some major tan lines, did some serious laps around the pool, and still managed to find some good wines. Food, as usual, was another matter, to some extent. There were some good, and some bad experiences.

There was Fifth Avenue Grill, where they tried to upsell us on their more expensive main course, after not only taking our orders for the $15.99 rib special, but also serving the salad and the drinks. How does the server not know that they "ran out" of the rib before taking the orders or serving part of our meal, especially at 7:15pm? The only other options were the lobster special or the shrimp special, both for $15.99, or ordering off the regular menu which had NYC prices for decidedly un-NYC sounding dishes. Steak with cheese sauce anyone? When I asked if I could get the NY Strip at the same price as the rib special (since it wasn't my fault that they "ran out" of it), I was told no. Nothing was comped, no apologies were offered. Bullshit they ran out, they were just trying to upsell us (and, I might add, succeeded, as I was in a meat-eating mood). But when dining out with elderly family, I've learned not to make a fuss...

We visited Bova, a popular Italian place that looks like it was plopped right out of South Beach. People here are so fabulous it hurts to look at them. That said, the food was good (my octopus app was fantastic) and service was very good. Best of all, BYO was $25, even for my bottle of NV Champagne Henriot Souverain. The wine was delicious too, BTW.

Another delicious find was FAH Asian Bistro, where the welcome was warm, the fish fresh, and the prices decidedly friendly. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Other times we cooked at home, which is always nice. There is a BBQ in the complex, where I sweated and steamed one night over some huge boneless rib steaks from Costco that were delicious. My wife offered us a bottle of MV Champagne Krug (and you wonder why I love her?) to go with them and what can I say? This was fabulous, but not as usual. I’ve had this wine before LVMH bought it, and since then something’s changed, though they deny it vehemently. But to my palate, this has become more lean and angular and less round and voluptuous, which it used to be. Maybe it needs more bottle time? Still, it was wonderful, with deep, toasty, yeasty, lemony and nutty notes, backed by hints of ginger and cinnamon aspects. The mid-palate was a bit shallow, but the front and back end were big and brawny. Tons of acidity seemed to strip the enamel off my teeth and leave with a lip-smacking finish.

My discovery was the 2005 A&P De Villaine Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise La Digoine, a gorgeous red Burgundy. Wow, crisp, bright, clear and fresh red berries mingled with a lovely earthy note, with a gorgeously elegant mouthfeel that made you feel like you were tasting something more expensive than you were. This was just fantastic. As it breathed, it took on some dark fruit notes, all the while maintaining a balancing streak of minerality and acidity. The finish was medium-length, but it had that haunting quality that good Pinot Noir gets. A great food wine, this went well with some hanger steaks, arugula and boiled potatoes. Did I mention this was fantastic? And what a steal at $24.99! And yes, I bought up everything I could find. If you see this, buy it. ALL of it.

Over a light lunch of pasta salad, I grabbed a bottle of 2004 Carillon Puligny Montrachet, one of my favorite producers in Burgundy. We have another winner! I swooned right away as I sniffed this wine’s aromas, a lovely lemon and almond mix that was soft and wrapped in velvet, yet on the palate the lightly-oily mouthfeel was balanced with some spicy acidity. This was another wine that lingered on the end, reminding you of its presence in an almost teasing way. I could have hung out with this for a while if it hadn’t disappeared so fast down my throat.

For my last night in Florida, I accepted the gracious and generous invitation of some fellow local winelovers. We cracked some seriously impressive wines, again showing that this passion of ours usually brings out the best in folks. My host and his friends were friendly, generous to a fault, and a pleasure to spend an evening with.

I brought another 2004 Carillon Puligny Montrachet and a 2004 Santo Stefano Castello di Neive Barbaresco. Ooooh, welcome to traditional Piedmont. Roses, bright cherries, tar and earth mixed in a lovely bouquet above the surface of the wine. On the palate, it offered more of the same, with an elegant frame that carried the flavors through to the tart finish. Way too young, this was decanted for the better part of 2 hours before it was drinkable. Letting it breathe really allowed it to shine.

But best of all was the 1970 Mouton Rothschild. I love this wine’s label, drawn by Chagall, a favorite artist of mine, and shown here. Right away, this was unmistakably old Bordeaux: cigar box, leather, some dusty vegetal aromas and some cedar. But as it breathed, it really began fleshing out, a lovely red fruit emerged, and the mouthfeel really smoothed out and became balanced. Beautiful, if on the down-slope.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed an Australian wine (I know, I know, I'll never hear the end of it now): the 2001 Clarendon Hills Old Vines Grenache. Big and dark yet light on its feet, this was well-balanced and not over-the-top or too alcoholic. Why can't they make more wines like this?

So, while I will say we ate somewhat well, we certainly drank well (a recurrent theme in my life...). But prices in Florida are through the roof for basic foodstuffs of even mediocre quality. At least in NYC when we pay through the nose we usually get good stuff. Most importantly, we spent a lovely week with the family and enjoyed our time with them.

Now, back to work.

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