“Kheema” and Chenin Blanc

Posted in Food, Pairings, Recipes, Wine on August 24th, 2011 by nita – Be the first to comment

I don’t know if it was the fresh picked jersey tomatoes, the incredibly aromatic home-grown herbs, or the cook’s loyalty to the recipe that made this meal a bit more multi-dimensional than usual…. but this was the best “Kheema” I’ve had in a long time, and the perfect pairing to go alongside. Kheema is something that my kids call “Indian Sloppy Joes” or “Indian style Chili.” It’s usually some sort of finely chopped or ground meat cooked with a bunch of aromatic spices and vegetables, served usually with naan. I had to blog about my meal, because last week, Manish made the most INCREDIBLE Kheema I’ve ever tasted.

Yes, that’s right… I said Manish. He actually taught me how to cook years ago, but claims that he “forgot” ever since I’ve honed my skills. Well, he was the one that was cooking this time. And, instead of what I call the “Indian mom technique” of estimating the ingredients and never jotting them down so as to remember how to make it the exact same way over and over again (the way my moms cook and the way that I often cook,) he followed a recipe to the TEE. The resulting dish had depth, such flavor, and such vibrancy. I can credit the seasonal produce to a certain degree, but let’s face it… Manish deserves a lot of the credit! His finesse and loyalty to adhere to the recipe was much appreciated :) My lesson learned: some things are better left un-touched (ie don’t mess with a good recipe!) Here it is!

Kheema Matar (Chopped Meat and Peas) from the late Ismail Merchant’s Passionate Meals

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 1/2 lbs meat (I have used ground chicken or ground turkey OR I have chopped the meat very fine – you can alternatively use beef or lamb but the cooking times will increase slightly so as to cook the meat through thoroughly)
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 cup green peas (preferably fresh but if frozen, thawed)
handful of fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a saute’ pan and cook the onion until golden brown. Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, salt, cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pods. Cook all the spices with the onions for about 5 minutes over a low flame. Add the meat, stirring occasionally until it starts to brown. Add the yogurt and cook for another 10 minutes.  Now add the tomatoes and peas. Cover the saute’ pan  and simmer for another 7-15 minutes. That is a large span, but the lower end is for chicken, higher end for lamb/beef. Serve garnished with coriander and with naan.

This is where the wine is made

I had the 2010 Les Grands Caves Saint Roch Vouvray with this meal. Such a perfect pairing! Vibrant stone fruits and amazing minerality keep this wine perfectly balanced. A touch of ripeness paired perfectly with the heat of the Kheema. As you may have noticed, I am a self proclaimed Chenin Blanc fanatic…. so this is a keeper for me – and such a steal at $16.50 a bottle when it’s available at 56 Degree Wine!

A Juicy Jolt for July

Posted in Food, Pairings, Recipes, Wine on July 31st, 2011 by nita – Be the first to comment

It’s July. It’s hot. There’s nothing I enjoy more this time of year than entertaining on our deck (or being a guest at an outdoor soiree,) sipping something clean and crisp, and grilling (and eating) some sort of funky creation that was inspired by a local and fresh ingredient.

This month’s perfect pairing was inspired by our latest food battle. I found myself re-creating this particular dish a few times after the cook off. I have tried several different wines with this, so I will list all three as “perfect pairings.” None of them are pink nor are they crisp…. but they are juicy and perfect with the dish. Enjoy!

Grilled Flatbreads with Raspberry Guajillo Sauce, Smoked Duck, and Ricotta Salata

For the Sauce
2 cups boiling water
3 oz dried guajillo chilies – stemmed and seeded
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups fresh raspberries

3 Naan flatbreads (click here for recipe or you can purchase ready made)
olive oil
1 smoked duck breast, sliced (click here for recipe or you can purchase ready made at gourmet specialty stores or D’Artagnan)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
3 to 4 oz shaved ricotta salata

For the sauce: Place dried chilies in boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes, until chilies are softened. Reserving the soaking water, remove the softened chilies and place them in a blender with the garlic, and blend with a few tablespoons of the soaking water so as to form a paste. Place two teaspoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan, and bring to a medium high heat. Add the chili paste, and saute until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the raspberries and stir to combine. Add all of the soaking liquid and bring to a boil. Simmer the mixture on low for about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the berry sauce mixture to a blender, and blend until combined. Strain the mixture into a clean saucepan, pressing on and then discarding the solids. Simmer the mixture until slightly thickened, and is just about 1 cup. Season with salt and set aside.

Prep your grill to moderately high heat (charcoal or gas.) Brush your Naans with olive oil, and then top with about 1/4 cup of sauce on each bread. Top with the thin slices of smoked duck breast, then the thinly sliced onion, then the cilantro leaves, and then the shavings of ricotta salata. Grill until the cheese is slightly browned, and the flatbreads are completely heated through, about 5 minutes. Cut into squares and serve, passing more of the sauce if desired.

The three wines that I have tried with this and in my opinion, were very successful due to the consistent berry theme throughout are:

2006 Coume del mas Coullieure Schiste – Berries, smoke, and undertones of spice and leather make this wine a perfect match to the flatbread

2009 Domaine Georges Vernay Cotes du Rhone Sainte Agathe – Again, the smoke and the berries played the main role of this pairing, with some lovey black pepper at the end

NV Domaine Parigot Bourgogne Mousseaux Rouge Brut – A sparkling but structured Pinot Noir that can stand up to all sorts of game and many meats

Perfect Pairings

Posted in Dinners, Pairings, Wine on March 14th, 2011 by nita – 2 Comments

I am often asked “so what’s your favorite wine?” Or if I’m at the shop “show me your favorite bottle.” I have many favorite bottles, and I find it challenging to pick just one. My response is always the same. “Well, it depends on the time of year and what I’m eating.”

Here, I share some of my favorite “pairings” that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing recently. (Feel free to click on the food photos for larger images. I reduced the sizes in all cases just to fit well in this post)

Herb Roasted Pheasant with NV Domaine Parigot Bourgogne Mousseaux Rouge Brut

I was lucky enough to acquire a couple of wild pheasants for this meal. This sparkling wine has rich and juicy fruit, a dry finish, and enough structure to hold up to the game. I was told by my colleague to “let it go still” but the wine is too delicious to hold untouched in my glass…. Oh well.

Cauliflower Soup with Seared Scallop, Lemon Oil, and Caviar with 2008 Dmne Gilbert Picq et Ses Fils Chablis Dessus La Carriere

Cauliflower is something that confused me when it came to pairings. Instead of focusing on the base, I focused my attention to all of the additions to the soup for my pairing. The fruit from this vineyard site result in a wine that has gorgeous minerality to it but also possesses some riper qualities making the mouthfeel a tad richer than you would expect out of a Chablis. The acidity of the lemon and the brininess of the caviar paired perfectly with the mineral and racy tones of the wine; while the richness of the seared scallop complimented the fruit and weight of it. It was truly an ideal pairing!

Caramelized Onion and Duck Confit Flatbread with 2009 Domaine Georges Vernay Cotes du Rhone Sainte Agathe

I wasn’t sure about this pairing. And even after loving the two together, I’m still unsure as to WHY it worked so well. But it did. The flatbread was topped with caramelized onion, duck confit, fresh herbs, and fontina and asiago cheeses. The wine is so unique being a red varietal from the Condrieu region. It is a really elegant Syrah with its almost floral aromatics but still possesses the dark fruit and the smoky and peppery tones that you may be expecting. All of the flavors married well, making me one happy gal.

Shahjahani Biryani with 2009 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett

We order the Shahjahani Biryani from Neelam (Berkeley Heights) regularly. SO regularly that the folks at the restaurant now “know” us and try to throw in some other things when we order just to show us that they DO know how to cook other types of Indian food. :)   The 09 Donnhoff Oberhauser Kabinett is the perfect pairing. Showing fabulous acidity, the wine stays fresh but still contains enough RS to provide some relief from the heat of the spices of the dish.

Seared Hake “almost” with 1985 Domaine Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moelleux

We went to elements recently (I know, so unlike us to dine there) and they served us this lovely dish. Seared Hake with an almond puree, olive oil powder, and if I remember correctly, some sort of either acacia, quince, or tropical fruit accompaniment. I forgot to take notes, so can’t be certain of that final ingredient. What I am certain of though is that the 85 Clos du Bourg would have been the perfect wine to drink with this dish. It’s as though Chef Scott Anderson created the dish for the wine. Tones of marzipan, and acacia round out the weight but the finish still showcases lovely acidity. Somewhat off-dry in style, this wine would have been perfect with the Hake…. had it not been corked. :( The dish was fabulous – so complex, and the flavors melded so well. Subtle flavors of almond matched the beautiful taste and texture of the fish. And the brightness to the dish was brought out with that honey or fruit component. (This will bother me for days now!)  The olive oil powder was a really neat touch too. Despite the fact that I never actually tasted the two together, I still had to publish it here because I thought the pairing was so spot on.

A Comforting Recipe

Posted in Food, Pairings, Recipes, Wine on January 26th, 2011 by nita – 2 Comments

Wow. No mistaking that it’s winter these days – huh? I wish that I could close my eyes and take myself to a warm and sunny place. Weather like this demands comfort food. One of my all time favorite techniques of comfort food cooking is braising. This recipe is super easy, and essentially adapted from Anne Burrell’s repertoire. I changed only a few things here and there, so I thought I should give her proper credit. Definitely something to make when you are home, stranded, because of YET another snow day… ;)

Braised Lamb Shanks

My Favorite Lamb Shank Recipe
This comforting, warm, and utterly satisfying dish needs a rich, robust, and hearty red wine.  The perfect food and wine pairing for a cold winter day, or when you are snowed in!  (The optional gremolata will add brightness to the dish)

1/3 cup olive oil
5 lb lamb shanks (4 shanks total)
1 ½ cup chopped onions
1 ½ cup chopped carrots
1 ½ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped garlic
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
½ bottle of a hearty red wine
Herb bundle: 4 rosemary branches, 12 thyme branches, and 4 bay leaves tied together
4 cups chicken broth or water


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat the 1/3 cup olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Season the shanks generously with salt and add them to the pan. Patiently, brown the shanks well on all sides. This should take about 12-15 minutes total.

Meanwhile, puree the next 4 ingredients in a food processor. Set aside.

Remove the shanks and set aside in a tray. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the Dutch oven, and add pureed vegetables. Season with salt to taste. Saute about 15 minutes until the veggies are brown. They should have almost formed a crust on the bottom of the Dutch oven, without burning.

Add tomato paste and brown for 5 minutes. Stir in the wine and the herb bundle, and reduce the wine to about half.

Add the shanks back to the pot, and pour in 4 cups of the broth or water. The shanks should be submerged in the liquid. If they are not, add more water. Cover the Dutch oven and place in the oven.

Check the shanks in about 1 ½ hours, and turn them all over. Place back in oven, covered, and cook for another hour to hour and half. Check the shanks every 30 minutes or so, checking to make sure that the liquid has not reduced too much. If it has, add more water. You may also de-fat the sauce as you go. You may also remove the lid at the last 15 minutes of cooking to maximize browning.

The meat will be incredibly tender, and falling off the bone. Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with gremolata if desired. Serve one shank per person, over mashed potatoes or soft polenta… Enjoy!

Optional Gremolata: Combine zest of 1 orange, zest of 1 lemon, ¼ cup finely chopped parsley, 1 minced garlic clove, and 2 tablespoons of freshly grated horseradish, Sprinkle on the lamb shanks just before serving. This adds a lovely brightness to the dish!

Serves 4

Clotte Fontane Matheriou

I would drink this with a southern Rhone blend with a lot of juicy ripe fruit character. I love the 2009 Chateau La Clotte Fontaine Mathierou. It’s a perfect blend of Grenache and Syrah showing dark berry tones and balanced spice. Gorgeous length. It’ll be available again soon at 56 Degree Wine.

Another great wine to try this with would be the 2008 PB Wines Syrah Yakima Valley. A new world option, this wine shows lush dark berries and fig, and the length is incredible as well. This is sort of a second label of Rasa Vineyards -  I love the story behind this union of brothers who make and sell some fantastic Rhone-style varietals.  Read here to get the scoop on PB wines! This is also available at 56.

A Magical Dinner

Posted in Dinners, Family, Food, Pairings, Wine on January 26th, 2011 by nita – Be the first to comment

Maya 2010-2011

A few months ago, Maya told me that for her twelfth birthday, she would love to visit Spain. When I asked her why, she simply stated that she thought it would be a cool country to see – the sights, the people, the language…… the FOOD. Ah! There it was! MY Maya was back. She took a few years off from being the foodie we bragged about back in San Francisco… but friends, this was it. I saw the spark in her eyes as she talked about tapas. She was BACK!

Some of you may remember the little girl who used to go everywhere with us in San Francisco – ordering the sushi rolls and sashimi, the shellfish risotto, and the (brace yourselves) oysters on the half shell from the raw bar. She wanted the lamb when the option for chicken fingers was present, and as I stated in one of my previous posts, only “fancy mac and cheese” would do for her – none of that “K” brand stuff! ;) Yes, she made me proud. But for whatever reason (Manish blames it on moving back to the burbs) she regressed after moving back to NJ. She had issues  with “green stuff” in her pasta sauce (ie herbs!) And the more exotic the dish, the less she wanted to try it. She still loved sushi, but it was the super adulterated rolls that were intriguing her now (ie the Berkeley Heights Roll, the Basking Ridge Roll, The Philadelphia Roll… you get the point.) Sigh. Burgers, dogs, and fingers were the items that she was now excited about. And the Cassoulet, Coq au vin, and Moules frites that I attempted to entice her with were too bizarre to even fathom. Double sigh.

The Heading on Mayas Birthday Menu

Fast forward to a few months ago. I told her that Spain was pretty much out of the question (HELLO!!!??,) but perhaps we could consider doing something else? She asked if we could go to dinner…. at elements. :) She heard Manish and I talk of our experiences at elements and said she was intrigued. “Will I like it?” she asked. “No, You will love it.” I answered. And she did. She LOVED trying everything that Chef Scott Anderson put on her plate. She felt like royalty, and was truly honored to be catered to the way the entire team at elements did. She called the experience “Magical.” And it was. My baby loves elements. Oh, we are in TROUBLE! ;) See below for the details of our meal.

The team welcomed us, and we were seated in the main dining room. Maya was the first to notice the heading on the menu. “happy birthday Maya! (maybe Spain next year.) She relaxed, and let her hair down. She knew it was going to be a fun night. Maya ordered a fabulous ginger “beer” concoction crafted by Mattias, while Manish and I started with two new cocktails on the list. I had the privateer, which was made with 3 really intense and flavorful artisanal rums, while Manish had a Rum Sazerac. For the amuse bouche, we had a trio. First was a horseradish slaw with brussel sprouts. Next, a leek soup. And last, a spicy beef tartare. The perfect small bites to whet our palates. Our appetizer was a dumpling type of pasta with taleggio cheese and shaved black truffles. Maya saw her parents literally scraping our portions clean with a fork, and licking up every last bite of cheese and truffle, So she followed. And she was happy she did so ;)

First and Second Courses

The tuna tartare was spectacular, dressed with scallion, ginger, and white soy. The Buri (adult yellowfin) was served sashimi style and was so buttery and savory. I actually caught Maya closing her eyes at one point, just soaking in the awesomeness of the fish. She was so intrigued by the purple cabbage soup. Inside were chunks of pastrami… every bite was so balanced with seasoning, so colorful. This was one of her favorite dishes.

Courses 3, 4, and 5

Next was the local tilefish. This was pan seared and accompanied by caramelized endive, macadamia and coconut. The dish encompassed such an “island” flair. Fabulous combination of flavors! A foie gras course was introduced next… Maya was excited to try it, but unfortunately did not enjoy it as much as Manish and I did. The sweet and tart flavors of the fruit “tart” accompaniment provided a perfect balance to the rich and buttery torchon. Next was the pheasant. It was accompanied by a tagliatelle with a sauce made with squab liver. Maya LOVED it, and told us that she couldn’t believe that squab liver could taste so good. The 48 hour short ribs was Maya’s favorite. She is a die hard comfort food fan, and the ginger, szechuan peppercorn, and petite mushrooms didn’t sway her one bit. She remarked that it was even better with all of the sophisticated flavors. Maya had the “kit Kat” dessert while Manish and I had the cheese course.

Manish and I sampled some of the wines/beers that Justin suggested to pair with the courses. We loved the way the Chouffe Tripel paired with the short ribs. This was a match that we would have never thought of but the Belgian IPA style went perfectly – especially due to the flavors in the short ribs. Another favorite pairing was a special pour of the 2007 Dehlinger RRV Chardonnay. This was perfect with the tilefish, and those magnificent tropical flavors.

On our way home, we re-capped what our favorite dishes of the night were, and Maya summarized her evening in one word. MAGICAL. The only thing that I regret is not having my camera with me to capture some of the amazing expressions on her face throughout the evening. Next time, I guess!

An Unlikely Winter Salad

Posted in Dinners, Food, Pairings, Recipes, Wine on January 8th, 2011 by nita – Be the first to comment

Last week, I found myself craving a colorful, textural, and bright salad. I wanted to serve this at a dinner party, so I decided that it had to be plated beautifully. I reviewed some of my recipes, but nothing popped out at me. When I run into a “menu planning block,” I often make my course selections according to the wine pairing. It was decided that either a Sancerre or Chablis would be served with this course, so I planned accordingly. I thought of cheese… what better pairing for Sancerre or Chablis, than a mildly tangy soft cheese? So, it was decided… a goat cheese would be highlighted. The rest, well, I was at the mercy of my local Whole Foods.

I visited the local market section, and was pleasantly surprised to see the most fabulous looking beets. Although not exactly “in season,” the beets were so fresh, their greens still perfectly shaped. The red variety were the only ones I could find, so I decided to get a bunch. I love the buttery texture and sweet flavor that the beets possess when they are roasted, so I was hoping to build the remaining ingredients around that idea. I then came across a tomato section. Though not from local sources, the adorable little yellow cherry tomatoes from Texas caught my eye. My course was coming together – a play on my red and yellow beet salad with goat cheese and herbs.

Here is my recipe for the salad that came together at the market – literally. An unlikely winter salad, for sure, but the flavors were delicious and I would highly recommend trying it – any time of the year that you can find these ingredients!

Roasted Beet Salad with Yellow Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Roasted Beet Salad with Yellow Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, and Baby Greens

3 large red beets
2 shallots, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 to 3 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes, sliced
4 to 5 oz mild goat cheese (chevre)
1/4 cup Marcona Almonds; chopped
2 cups baby greens

Wrap beets (without greens) individually in foil, and place on a baking pan. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 1 hour. Unwrap the beets, and set aside to cool. While beets cool, combine shallots, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl. Add the oil in a stream, whisking to emulsify.

When beets are cool enough to handle, peel them and dice them into a 1/4 inch size. Place in a bowl, and pour 1/8 cup of the vinaigrette and mix gently to combine.

Assemble: Toss baby greens with 1 some of the remaining vinaigrette and set aside (do not overdress.) For each serving, place a 3-inch ring mold in the middle of salad plate. Put an eighth of the beets in the ring mold and press down gently. Crumble a couple teaspoons of goat cheese on top of the beets, and then top with sliced yellow cherry tomatoes, forming a concentric design and covering the top. Remove ring mold. Place a small handful of baby greens on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle almonds around the plate, and drizzle with a teaspoon of the remaining vinaigrette.

Serves 8 as a first course. And paired with the 2008 Gilbert Picq Chablis “Dessus de Carriere” was a perfect match!

Autumn in a Bowl

Posted in Family, Pairings, Recipes, Wine on November 12th, 2010 by nita – Be the first to comment

Autumn is my favorite season.

My older daughter spent her first five and a half years admiring the green scenery of northern California. She didn’t understand me when I told her that I missed the seasons that we had back east. When we moved back to NJ, she realized what it meant to see the “leaves change.” It was always just an expression until then. She was amazed by our Japanese Maple, and how it could go from being green one day, to brown the next, to a purple and then finally to a scarlet red. And then, the colors fell. FALL – the inevitable but saddest part of the season. That year was a tease, because the autumns ahead were going to be wet and dreary, producing only a few bright colors on our natural canvas, and therefore, more aptly named, FALL.

Autumn 2010. This is probably the most “true to season” autumn we’ve had here in NJ in almost 4 years. My girls are daily commentators on the earthy spectrum of colors that vary in shade day to day – both in front of and behind our house. Trees, flowers, and shrubbery have never been so interesting to them. Such simple pleasures… the fact is that this season in the last four years has been pummeled with rain, wind, sleet, hail, and even snow… washing away the foliage before the changes in hue can even occur.

Paying homage to my favorite season, I’d like to share with you a recipe for “Autumn in a bowl.” I think that the slightly sweet, nutty, and mildly citrus notes of the dish pair extremely well with a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. Specifically a Vouvray. And even more specific, if you can get your hands on one, a wine from Domaine Huet.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Crema

1 medium sugar pumpkin (approx 4 lb)
½ cup water
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½  teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water (or more if needed)
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
½ cup crème fraiche
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Halve the pumpkin lengthwise. Place cut sides down on a rimmed baking sheet, and add ½ cup water. Roast for 1 ½ hours, or until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel pumpkin and roughly chop into 1 inch pieces. In a large pot, sauté onion, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf in the olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add next 6 ingredients and stir until everything is well coated, about 30 seconds. Add the pieces of pumpkin. Stir until well coated, about a minute. Add broth and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, about 30 minutes. Add orange juice and simmer for 2 more minutes. Discard bay leaf. Transfer soup to a blender, and blend until very smooth. Use a strainer to refine the soup if you wish. Add water to the soup if you prefer a thinner consistency, and rewarm. Transfer soup to a tureen or serving bowl. Combine crème fraiche and cilantro. Mix well, and add salt & pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, and top with a dollop of cilantro crema.

Serves 6


Posted in Dinners, Food, Pairings, Recipes, Wine on October 7th, 2010 by nita – Be the first to comment

Chef David Bouley

October 6th, 2010 – Dinner at Bouley hosted by 56 Degree Wine. Words cannot describe how ethereal this experience was. I’ll try, but don’t blame me if you get hungry… or jealous.

Presented with the opportunity to attend a wine dinner hosted by Chris and Joe (from 56,) I was completely unprepared for the extravagant evening that lay ahead.  It was a rare occasion, where Chef David Bouley himself would be in the kitchen (and later at our table,) overseeing the execution of his thoughtfully created menu. The details of the courses would be revealed to Chris and Joe just a day before the event, and they would be faced with the challenge of pairing wines to the chef’s creations. No time to order, they chose what we had in stock at the shop. The challenge was met and conquered, and here is how the evening played out…

Our Private Dining Room

Entrance to Restaurant

The venue in and of itself is something out of a fairy tale. Magical is the word that comes to mind.  Bouley hired the best men for the job (some from overseas) to create the look that he was envisioning. Imported French doors (the one leading to the cellar is so heavy that Chef Bouley referred to it as “almost petrified,”) details dating centuries back, and stone that was from the same quarry used to restore the Versailles Palace in France are just a few of the authentic ingredients used to transform this space into a structural paradise. Upholstered frames, over-sized mirrors, and textured walls add to the appeal. It is romance to the nth degree. I had the opportunity to feast in the elaborate main dining room two years ago, but this time, the event was to take place entirely in the downstairs private room, adjacent to the wine cellar. The massive walnut doors and antique hardware was reminiscent of an old French Chateau. Just stunning.

Now, the meal.

Fresh Malibu Sea Urchin Terrine w/ Russian Golden Osetra Caviar and Fresh Kinome Leaf
NV Pascal Paillard Champagne Brut Bouzy Grand Cru
My notes… Such a unique dish! The creaminess of the sea urchin stood our for me, and my first encounter with kinome leaf – so savory, slightly peppery.. perfectly balanced dish. I was looking for ways to re-create this dish at home (challenge!) and then I found THIS! SCORE!!!!

Crab with Black Truffle Dashi and Corn Flan

Butter-Sugar Corn Flan with Live Dungeness Crab and Black Truffle Dashi
2001 Patrick Lesec Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru
My notes… Rich and earthy while preserving a wealth of freshness and brightness (perhaps the corn?) Someone at the table questioned this and decided that the dashi was too overwhelming. I couldn’t disagree more. Amazing balance in this dish! And, it paired magnificently well with the Lesec!

Organic Connecticut Farm Egg; 24 Month Prosciutto di Parma; Steamed Polenta, Artichoke, Coconut, and Early Garlic Broth
2001 Ronchi di Cialla Ciallabianco]
My notes… Always a favorite of mine on any menu… the FARM EGG. The coconut broth brought a whole new dimension to this dish, resulting in a mouthful of tropical richness. The Ciallabianco was a great pair – although I still had a tiny but of Puligny left over, and it was just as stellar of a pairing!

Chatham Day Boat Lobster; Brown and White Honshimeji Mushrooms, Passion Fruit, English Peas, Fresh Lychee, Hyssop
2008 Knoll Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd
My notes… Perhaps the marriage of the night! Rich lobster, earthy mushrooms, tropical passion fruit and lychee, fresh peas, and aromatic hyssop. Almost a chaotic slew of ingredients – but wow. The combination was magic (there’s that word again!) Every bite revealed another dimension, every sip of the Riesling reminded us of how incredible a meal like this can get with the “proper” wine pairings. Kudos and thanks to Chris and Joe and to the staff at Bouley for recognizing all of these flavors and for allowing every single guest in that room the chance at such a food and wine epiphany!

Venison Loin Wrapped with a Rye and Salt Crust; Roasted Chesnut Peels, Chestnut Gnocchi, Baby Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Comte Cloud
2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili
My notes… The venison loin was brought out just before slicing, and Chris caught a picture of it. Click here to view the masterpiece (keep in mind that there was very low light in the room when the picture was taken!) Again, such fragrant and savory flavors. And what better wine than the Giacosa Barbaresco to bring out the delightfulness in it all? PS – The coolest thing about this dish is that every item could have stood on its own… the venison; the chestnut gnocchi; the brussel sprouts; and the “comte” cloud – literally a cloud of cheese. YUM.

Chilled Strawberry Soup with Organic Yogurt Sorbet
My notes… For what seemed to be a “palette cleanser” or “pre dessert,” this course left us so satisfied and content. Fresh, bright, delicious!


Caramelized Anjou Pear with Valrhona Chocolate, Biscuit Breton, Hot Toffee Sauce, Reglisee Sorbet, Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream
2001 Isole E Olena Vin Santo
My notes… The dessert is a masterpiece. The thinnest slices of caramelized pear wrapped the little package up. Inside, was Valrhona chocolate and biscuit breton (a buttery biscuit that was first made in the northwest part of France.) Hot toffee sauce topped the pears and the sorbet and ice cream flanked on either side. The dessert wine was the perfect balance of nutty, toffee, rich goodness balanced with a good amount of acidity, so it didn’t seem cloying at all.

An unforgettable meal and experience. Still, the words I use don’t seem to do justice to the evening. So, I’ll just relish in my memory.


The Remainder of the Ride…

Posted in Dinners, Food, Pairings, Wine on September 29th, 2010 by nita – Be the first to comment

Greetings! Let me start by continuing my online journey of my gastronomic week, or shall I say, MONTH!?

Eggs Benedict

Next stop was WD-50. Stop THREE of my gastronomic week 2010. The first time I dined at the acclaimed Wylie restaurant, I was rather unimpressed. Perhaps I was fearful to detach myself from my traditional culinary roots? I don’t know… But I was determined to 1) have a completely different experience and 2) meet Wylie. :) Plus, a good friend was insisting I give this place just one more try.

Cuttlefish with cashews

Drum roll… a different experience it was! The courses were flavorful, and full of texture and complexity.  We, as a table, shared two orders of the eggs benedict, which consisted of deep fried hollandaise sauce, the thinnest pieces of Canadian bacon you’ll ever see,  and creatively prepared egg yolks. Nothing healthy about it, but it was delicious! I went with the cuttlefish appetizer with cashew and rootbeer. Heavenly – and the cashews added such amazing texture.

Aerated Foie Gras

Others at the table that day raved about the aerated foie gras. Divine. Light as cotton candy, with the decadence of the rich delicacy. For my main course, I decided on the scallop dish – accompanied by chicken fried lentils (crispy and yummy,) radish, and lychee. Innovative and creative flavors blended into one unique and delicious dish. We had the Margaine Brut Rose with our appetizers and then moved to a magnum of an incredible Riesling that I can’t for the life of me remember – can any of my dining companions refresh my memory? A perfect pairing for my scallops! And yes, Wylie was there. I was a tad star struck and got all googly as he whisked by me at one point to get what seemed to be a glass of water from the bar. Mission accomplished. :)

And then there was STOP NUMBER FOUR. Literally, at this point, I felt as though I needed to do a cleanse diet in between all of my extravagant dinners. This time, we celebrated a friend’s birthday and introduced them to our favorite restaurant in the state… yep. elements in Princeton… Again! The chefs paired some fabulous courses to the wines that we chose for the evening… 2006 Albert Grivault Meursault, 2002 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia, and 1999 Terrebrune Bandol Rouge. Manish and I both agreed that this was our all time favorite dining experience at elements (trumping my last post) which proves to me that the staff here are always aiming to grow and surprise you more with each visit! A peak into what we feasted upon… no pictures of the food but trust me when I say that each and every plate was an artistic masterpiece, showcasing the colors and flavors of the season and of course the amazing talentsof Chef Scott Anderson and Chef Joe Sparratta.

~The amuse bouche trio: Beet Salad; fresh Tomato soup with fennel salad; Broccoli soup
(The guys enjoyed the Maple Loch Cocktail with this and the gals enjoyed the 20th century cocktail – Mattias at the bar is a genius!)
~Super sweet cherry tomato salad with fresh feta cheese and basil
~Local peach salad; red quinoa; fleur vert; black garlic; poppy seed sponge cake – as uniquely amazing and satisfying as the last time!
~Tuna belly and hamachi sashimi with pear and jicama – So fresh and clean, with the perfect balance of fruit and acidity.
~Geoduck with herb risotto, clam juice, saffron, and fried artichokes – Last time I had geoduck was at dim sum. I liked elements’ version much better – perfectly cooked, so tender!
~Seared scallops with romesco sauce
~Turbot with mustarda greens – I’m a sucker for a good hearty green :)
~Hazelnut tortellini with shaved truffles, parmesan crisp, pecans, and garlic chips – Truly Decadent!
~Seared foie gras with pear and maple syrup – As though the word “decadent” should have an even richer meaning :)
~Veal sweetbreads and caramelized sunchokes
~Smoked duck with fingerling potatoes and haricot verts – Amazing pairing with the 99 Bandol!
~Pre-dessert was the Bacon and Eggs – something I think I would order EVERY time I go!

Pre Dessert

That marked the end to my gastronomic MONTH. Stay tuned to my October musings – I look forward to sharing! Cheers!!

2nd Stop – elements in Princeton

Posted in Dinners, Pairings, Wine on September 23rd, 2010 by nita – Be the first to comment

The Thursday that followed my birthday was a true treat. I was given the opportunity to attend a wine dinner that 56 Degree Wine, in conjunction with importer extraordinaire Olivier Daubresse, hosted.  It was the most educational, inspirational, and phenomenal wine dinner that I have ever experienced.

The geniuses at elements in Princeton, Chefs Scott Anderson and Joe Sparatta, created a unique and ridiculously mouth-watering menu to pair with each flight of wine. Yes, I said flights. Olivier had the foresight to set aside some older vintages of all of the wines that were showcased so that one day, we could all enjoy a lovely event like this, comparing young vintages to ones that had more bottle age! The wines that were paired were all white Burgundy, 4 different producers from 4 different regions.

This dinner ranks in my top 5 dining experiences of all time, and the credit goes to the incredible staff at elements, and the hosts for organizing. I also believe that I had the best seat in the house – sitting in between Joe (wine director at 56) and Olivier (importer) and across from Chris (owner of 56.) The conversations were educational and inspiring. A thorough review of this event was done by Chris Cree, Master of Wine, owner of 56 Degree Wine, my boss and mentor, oh the list goes on. His blog post says it all, so I will just link to his here

An incredible evening, the perfect birthday gift!