Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I am a big fan of blind tasting. It's humbling, but also very educational. Your mind races as the different flavors flow over your palate, trying to catch ephemeral hints of this and that, trying to figure out exactly what it is you're tasting. It's certainly not as easy as it looks, as the brain has a tendency to project expectations when the eye catches a label, and without this visual confirmation you are left with nothing but your nose and your tongue to figure things out.
That said, blind tasting is fun when it's with friends, but nerve-wracking when you're judging or in a competition. Luckily, this past Friday the blind tasting was with friends, and just as luckily, it was a Champagne tasting.
The theme was Blind Bubblies Under $80, the rationale being that even with a recession most folks would be splurging slightly to celebrate the holidays and the New Year (and for some, the new President). I decided to organize this as a cocktail party, since this is the format in which most people would be drinking these wines at this time of year. All the bottles were wrapped in aluminum foil, and each one was numbered as it arrived.
I won't bore you with detailed descriptors of every single wine, as there were fifteen bottles of bubbly (count 'em, 15!). Even I, a lover of the bubbly, was out-bubbled by the end, and savored the splashes of still red and white wine that were offered by generous friends who had brought extra bottles along for the ride. Apparently, there really can be too much of a good thing. Who knew?
In any case, my favorite of the evening was a 1999 Champagne Vilmart Cuvée Rubis (90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay), a lovely salmon-colored Champagne that was full of sweet berries and balancing acidity. I think the only flaw, and I am being really anal here, was that it was a tad sweet. I still loved it, as did everyone else. Another favorite was the NV Pierre Moncuit Cuvée Delos, a lovely yeasty wine with nice balance, which to me offered one of the best quality-to-price ratios of the night (approximately $30 in NYC).
Other delicious wines included the 1992 Champagne Dom Perignon, which I am happy to say I nailed blind (well, not the year, but I did say it was a DP). It was quite yummy, still fresh with only some hints of ageing. The 1985 Veuve Clicquot Rosé tasted younger than it actually was, with fresh fruit and baked notes and just hints of the oxydation age gives Champagne.
The NV Champagne Henriot Souverain showed well too, but sadly the 1990 Philiponnat had seen better days. Also good were the NV Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Saint Anne, another great QPR wine I used to have as my house Champagne. My least favorites were the 2002 Huet Pétillant, a bubbly from the Loire that was too young and really angry at being poured, and the 2003 Giacosa Spumante Extra Brut, which I didn't care for at all.
All in all, it was an interesting tasting, many of the bubblies were well-made, some were more interesting than others, but almost all offered something for someone. Best of all, we had a great time and laughed until late in the evening. Then again, isn't that what wine is for?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
There are always small, hidden, out of the way places that can make a trip to the boroughs really worth it. For Manhattanites, it's sometimes inconceivable that there's anything worthwhile outside the borders of our little island, but there you have it. It's a mind-blowing myopia for a city that calls itself the center of the world. Heck, most of us know more about the rest of the planet than we do our own backyard.
One of these little (not-so-hidden) treasures is the Thai restaurant Sripraphai. Located in the wildly mixed neighborhood of Woodside, Queens, this place offers some of the most authentic and inexpensive Thai food in the city. Its modern decor and inviting garden are perfect settings to concentrate on the intense flavors and colors of the dishes. Best of all, it's a short ride on the 7 line from Manhattan.
So, for your viewing pleasure, here are some pictures of the dishes we enjoyed recently. Careful, don't drool on your keyboards!
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
The mallification of New York continues apace, with Duane Reades, CVS (CVI?) and banks sprouting up on corners all about the city. What was once a vibrant metropolis filled with mom and pop stores which reflected their neighborhoods is rapidly becoming the Mall of America, a Las Vegas version of itself, cleaned and respectable, just as the tourists like it.
Yet, as I have posted before, there are still small pockets of originality and independance. The spirit of New York lives on, though it is now somewhat hidden and not blazing defiantly as it once did. It is to celebrate this spirit that I offer a few affordable Manhattan wine bar suggestions for the next time you get thirsty.
These aren't the cookie-cutter places that serve Sutter Home Chardonnay by the glass for $12 or pour more martinis in a night than bottles of wine. These places are proudly independent, resisting the lure of a quick turnover and offering warmth, richness and depth, something that is becoming rarer and rarer these days. These places are the real New York, where you will find real people trying to enjoy real experiences.
Though there are now several of these about town, the East Village location was one of the first real wine bars in the city, with a unique and interesting selection of Italian wines from all over the Boot. The food is very good too (try the paninis and anything with Nutella in it, really), but it's more bar food than a restaurant experience. Just be ready to snuggle with your date and your neighbor as the original is tiny. Really, really tiny.
This French wine bar was opened by the folks who brought you Bar Veloce. Another sleek, minimalist wine bar, this one carries mainly high-quality, low-cost French wines. Again, the selection comes from all over the Hexagon (what the French call France due to its relatively hexagonal shape), and has some unique bottles that you won't find elsewhere in the city. These wines showcase the various terroirs that the country can offer. The food is mainly bar food, with some good French pizzas (yes, you read that correctly, they do personal pizzas in the South of France that rival anything in Italy).
Now we move on to Spain, which is nicely represented by this tiny, warm and inviting tapas bar in the East Village. With brick-lined walls and only a few tables, Mateo the friendly owner makes you really feel at home. That would be true, of course, if your home had a Spanish Pata Negra ham in the kitchen (and if it does, please feel free to invite me over) as this place does. If you love the pig (and I certainly do!), then this is the place for you. And it's more than likely that you'll catch me here, gorging on some Jamon Iberico and a glass of Rioja.
-Turks and Frogs
The people who run this eccentrically-named wine bar are Turkish, but focus mainly on French wines. Thus, the name. Tiny and inviting, these wine bars (there are 2 locations currently) are refuges, soothing enclaves in which to enjoy a nice glass from an interesting bottle.
Previously known as Bandol Wine Bar, Demare Bistrot is a warm and welcoming spot in the affordable-gastronomic wasteland known as the Upper East Side. While its neighbors charge astronomical prices for pathetic plonk and over-worked food, Demare has continued to serve well-chosen wines and well-made, solid meals at reasonable prices. Pamela, the owner, greets everyone personally, and ensures that you have a lovely experience.
All these places represent the old spirit of New York in the context of wine bars. There are countless other "wine bars" in the city, but these really offer unique experiences that the others couldn't even imagine. So the next time you're in their areas, stop in and say hello. You might just see me at the bar.
And feel free to post your own finds, I know I missed a few.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Well, another holiday has passed us by. I hope everyone had a lovely time with friends, family, and the Big Bird.
But I have to admit something: I hate turkey. I really do. Luckily, since I am the one who cooks on Thanksgiving, I get to choose what we're eating. One year it was leg of lamb, but the family complained that it wasn't "Thanksgiving-y" enough, whatever that means. So I relented the following year and made Cornish Game Hens. However, it's nearly impossible to get good quality ingredients where my family is in Florida, so we ended up with Tyson birds. While they were moist and juicy, their flavor was, to put it mildly, vile. Every single bird had a nasty metallic taste to it. This alone should be proof that you must avoid industrially-produced foods at all costs.
So this year, in keeping with the holiday's avian theme, I wandered to the Whole Foods near my mother's place. I was looking for a bird, any bird, beside chicken, turkey, or Cornish Game Hens. To my delight, I found some whole organic ducks, which would satisfy my blood-lust for fatty meat and my family's desire for a bird of some kind.
Following a recipe I'd had for a while, I rubbed it with salt, pepper and some herbs, then into the oven it went.
My mother made a lovely ratatouille with the few fresh vegetables she could find in the area. Which meant not too many but just enough for it to taste delicious and look great.
After 45 minutes, I turned Daffy over onto his back to let his sinfully delicious fat drain through the whole body, bathing the meat in it.
Lunch rolled around while we cooked, so I grabbed a bottle of the 2005 A&P De Villaine Côte Chalonnaise La Digoine. I had stashed a few bottles here on my last visit, and good thing too: the store I bought it from had gone out of business! This wine was lovely, with crisp dark cherries balanced by earthy notes on a really silken frame. Just delicious. Happily I have one left for my next trip.
The next day, I grabbed the left-over duck meat, tossed it with some salad and olive oil, and popped a special bottle I'd been saving for our last day: a NV Feuillate Rose Champagne. Gorgeous, creamy cherries and toasty notes filled your mouth, dancing around the little bubbles, with some beautiful acidity to firm things up.
This went quite nicely while sitting on the terrace, overlooking swaying palms, with a soft breeze playing over us. You know, Florida's not that bad after all.