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Duboeuf Moulin-a-Vent Domaine des Rosiers 2008

I’m really enjoying this wine.  We had it it at a tasting at Valley Cheese and Wine during their anti-Nouveau party in November and we picked up a case.  This is definitely something we’re planning on holding on to and drinking through slowly.  There’s a lot of room for growth in this one.

In the glass, it’s a rich ruby red with a clear defined rim.  On the nose it’s showing its youth with lots of clear, crisp currant and cherry notes.  On the palate, you can see a lot of the earth and tobacco that it will continue to develop over time.

This is a nice, versatile wine… a lot of the suggested pairings are for game and meats, but we drank it tonight with a squid-ink pasta in a vinho verde, scallop and crab alfredo, which worked really well.

Drink this now or hold for a few years and see how it grows up.

Scallop, crab and vinho verde alfredo:

Sautee 3 large cloves of garlic in half a stick of butter until the garlic starts to carmelize.  About halfway through, toss in a teaspoon of Herbs de Provence and put in 1/4 lb. bay scallops to sautee to about half done (probably 3-4 minutes).  As the garlic starts to brown, remove the scallops and set aside and add 3/4 c. vinho verde or other crisp, citrusy white wine and 2 tablespoons of flour.  Give the flour about a minute to cook and slowly add in 1 c. whipping cream or half and half, whisking constantly.  Let the sauce simmer until thickened and simmering, about 10 minutes on a medium flame.  Remove from heat and let stand to thicken.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.  While the pasta is cooking, throw the scallops and 1/4 lb. lump crab meat in to warm in the sauce.  Drain pasta, do not rinse!!, and toss with the sauce.

Filed under: food, red, Uncategorized, wine

Dinner at Herbs and Rye

Met a friend for dinner last night at Herbs and Rye on Sahara.  D. and I stopped here once after their soft opening in December and liked it so much we promised ourselves we’d come back, which we did last night.  I have to say that they did a phenomenal job with this space.  Long-time Vegas residents will remember this spot as the old Venetian.  Once the Venetian closed, the space went through an unfortunate string of kitschy theme places that lasted about as long as kitschy theme places usually do.  It’s nice to see an amazing, classic place back in that space.

The weather in Vegas was awful, so we were the first people in their when we showed up at about 6:30.  We grabbed seats at one of the hightops in the bar and were quickly served some fantastic champagne cocktails and the order of calamari we wanted to nibble on while waiting for our friend to arrive.

Herbs & Rye has a philosophy of fresh ingredients and classic cocktails.  Their menu plays with that ethic, spanning the classic and not-so-classic years of American drinking – grog, anyone?  All juices and syrups are made fresh and it shows in the drinks.  The champagne cocktails were, first of all, made with ACTUAL Champagne.  The sugar cubes were well-soaked in a flavorful bitters and the large lemon rinds were fresh cut (as in get a knife while I make the drink fresh-cut) and beautifully perched on the rim of the glass.

The calamari was, alas, good but not great.  The flavor was perfect, and it was served sans the usual cup of boring sauce in a jar.  Unfortunately, having the sauce spread all over the calamari made the rings soggy very quickly and there were some disturbing pools of oil at the bottom of the plate, a sign that the oil probably wasn’t hot enough to fully crisp the breading.  On the positive, the calamari wasn’t overcooked and rubbery the way so much deep fried food often is.

Everyone was hungry enough that we skipped the flatbreads and went straight for pasta entrees.  I had the lasagna, D. ordered the carbonara and dining companion T. ordered the ravioli.  They were missing the basil sauce that was promised, but the waiter disclosed that and T went for it anyway.  Props, though, for letting us know up front that something was going to be missing.

The carbonara was very good, with heaps of crisp and fresh bacon bits drifted over the top.  The lasagna was workmanlike, which is actually a plus for me with a dish like lasagna.  The red sauce was good, fresh and had a strong wine taste from the Chianti promised in the description.  The cheese was well-cooked and not stringy at all and the meat was seasoned, fresh and present in good quantity to lend a nice bite.  The only disappointment was the ravioli, which was a bit bland.

Service was fantastic.  The waiter struck the best balance between being attentive but not annoying and we didn’t have to wait to order, get refills or for the check.  The bartender also checked in with us a few times to make sure we weren’t waiting.  This was impressive because there appeared to be one server and one bartender on in a nod to the expected slowness of a very, very rainy Tuesday night.  Even with the small staff, the waiter did a great job at managing both the dining room and checking in with the bar tables, too.

The ambiance is definitely romantic and classic.  They use brick, wood and wallpaper that can only be described as Classy Bordello to fantastic effect.  The chandeliers are kept dim and the tvs over the bar are  tuned to the classic movie channel to give a sense of times gone by.  The bartender got a request from another table to turn one of the TVs over to Nancy Grace on headline news.  No accounting for taste, I guess.

In fact, the only real downside to dinner last night was that you can put a great restaurant in Vegas, but that means that people from Vegas are going to show up.  Not long before dinner was served a group of 4 um… highly classy… folks showed up.  Note to my fellow Las Vegans – restaurants here are no smoking and have been for several years.  The I was here before and it was okay last time bit might work on the Strip, but really, seriously, don’t be a douche.  Also, don’t go to nice places and have very loud conversations about your friends getting arrested and 86ed from some place for brawling and the price of cocaine.  It doesn’t make you look cool, hip, trendy or edgy… it just makes you sound like the loser you actually are. Kthanksbi.

Fortunately the skels didn’t stick around long because the bartender put the smack down on the smoking, didn’t buy the but last time nonsense and anyway they probably had to go find some more coke or something, so we were able to enjoy our dinner in peace and giggle at a few quiet jokes at their expense.  Aah, local color.

Since we were early, we got the happy-hour special, and all food was half off.  The total bill for 3 entrees, one appetizer and five drinks came to 94 dollars before tip.

Overall, good food, fantastic and classic cocktails, good ambiance and excellent service.

Filed under: food

Red Rock Wines Dinner

Yes, I know… I owe updates. The rest of the Portugal trip was phenomenal… except for the whole getting sick bit. Rule number 10 of travel – if it’s a long enough trip, someone in the group will get sick. It happened to both of us last year, and this year was my lucky year… again. I managed to stave off the worst of it until we got home, but I felt like I’d been hit by a truck by the time we got back, and of course, there was a pile of work waiting for me on top of that.

I’ve been putting my (half-delirious) notes together and will be doing the rest of the trip this week. Before then, though, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a winemaker dinner at Marche Bacchus tonight which featured wines distributed in the Vegas area by Red Rock Wines

Initially, I was a little hesitant to attend this dinner, since the wine list was pretty heavy on California cabs, and I’m sort of afraid of them, but I know Allen from Red Rock and I like and trust his taste, and the menu did look fantastic, so we signed up and I’m so glad I did.

Rule #1 of wine – get to know the people selling, distributing and importing in your area. You will find people who have a passion for wine and who will introduce you to knew and fantastic things that you wouldn’t find otherwise. Rule #2 – drink whatever comes your way. Even if you don’t love it, you’ll learn to appreciate why other people do and it will at least be educational.

For last night’s dinner, Allen showcased the wines and winemakers from three Napa-area wineries which were mostly excellently paired with Chef Jean Paul Labadie’s food.

The first course was a seared scallop with wasabi gnocchi, crab meat, baby bok choy and soy buerre blanc which was pared with Donum Estate Chardonnay. I was unsure what to expect with this wine. Chard can be a phenomenal wine or it can be an over-oaked mess. This was clearly and firmly in the first group. Anne Moller-Racke is the President and wine grower of the firm and she brings a very European style to her wine making. The wine was very delicate, well balanced and full of a wonderfully mineral acidity that is untypical of a California chardonnay. The nose was crisp, clean and fruity with hints of green and custard apple, lychee and a very soft vanilla from judicious use of oak. It has a full, silky very round mouth feel and a nice, bracing acidity on the finale which balances the wine very well. It was a fantastic food wine, and the buerre blanc sauce with the sweet seared scallop was a nice match.

The second course was also from Donum: a 2006 Pinot Noir which was served with pepper crusted tuna, duck pastrami, chestnuts and Brussels sprouts in a roasted butternut squash puree. The Pinot was simply phenomenal, my favorite wine of the evening. I knew it was going to be good as soon as it was poured since it had the lovely, light, bright color of a good Burgundian Pinot. The nose was very characteristic of the grape with strong pepper, forest fruit and earth notes. The pepper carried through in the mouth, along with soft, ripe red raspberries, pomegranate, candied violet, spice and cigar box. As in the chard, the tannins and fruit were in good balance and the wine was handled well in the barrel so that the wood and age added to the structure and fruit instead of overwhelming it.

The most fun thing about going to a winemaker dinner is getting to hear the back story of the wine. While we were waiting for the tuna to be served, Anne told us a bit about the wine and her style as a grower. She described Pinot as a “feminine” grape, “behind the veil” and like a “watercolor”. Her winegrower style is one that I respect – very focused on the grape, on the farming and on the year. As this wine developed it became clear to her, she said, that this wine wanted to be a very “site-specific” wine. It admirably demonstrates those qualities along with very deft and subtle handling in the barrel which really lets the grape and the growth shine.

The third course was definitely the food standout of the evening – braised veal short ribs over a winter vegetable ragout which was served with Relic Artefact Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, as I said above, I’m somewhat afraid of California Cab. It’s usually over-extracted, too fruity, too oaky, too tiring, just… too much of everything so that it gets old very quickly. I’ve been known to use words like “jello shot” to describe Napa cabs.

Mike Hirby is the winemaker for both the Relic wines and the Winter Estate wines which followed, and he clearly knows what he’s about. The tagline for Relic is “modern wine the old way” and that shows clearly in the glass. Cab is a big grape with a lot of punch in it, and the Artefact showcases the best of that. In the glass, the Artefact is deep, inky purple with a strong, well-defined rim. The nose is big, muscular and potent with notes of ripe black cherry, blackberry and smoke. If Anne’s Pinot was a feminine watercolor, Mike’s Cab was a Jackson Pollock, strong, bold and very, very masculine. The nose is rich and somewhat mentholated strongly backed by cedar and chocolate overtones. This follows through on the palate along with the fruit and spice. This is California Cab the way it should be. It’s definitely a new-world wine and one structured for a modern and American palate, but you can tell that the methods are old-world and that this fruit is an expression of the terroir of California, with lots of sun, long days and cool nights leaving a big, bold, characteristically American brightness in the mouth. This wine is definitely a keeper and it was very, very well enhanced by the veal. The shortribs were braised fork-tender and, like the wine, mostly left alone, complimented with a light au jus and simply roasted baby carrots and parsnip. This was, by far, the best food/wine pair of the night because the fat in the shortribs rounded out some of the aggressive tannin in the still young wine and the richness of the wine cut through the fat so that the whole thing was just perfectly harmonized.

The fourth course was a mini-vertical of Winter 2006 and 2007 Cabernet. Tasting both side-by-side shows the remarkable consistency and quality that the winemaker was able to achieve. This is very much a Napa Cab, but in a really good way. This wine shows a strong sense of place, with lots of big fruit and a rich ripe lush quality that comes from Napa. The best word to describe this wine is sensual – lush, rich fruit; a big, round silky mouth and very soft and supple and almost fleshy tannins. The 2006 obviously had a year of bottle age over the 2007, so it’s currently drinking a bit better, but I could see where the 2007 is going, and in a few years, I think it will surpass the 06 in quality. If big California Cabs are your thing, snap these up now – the 07 is still unrated, but the 06 was scored 90-93 by Parker and I thought the 07 was a stronger wine overall, so I’d anticipate a score increase on this wine. It’s drinking well now, but keeping this for 10 years will reward the patient person richly.

Overall, this was one of the better structured winemaker dinners I’ve been to. Jeff from Marche Bacchus and Allen from Red Rock brought together a fantastic group of winemakers which show that California really is capable of producing quality wines and handling them very, very well. We added a few bottles of wine to our cellar tonight, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow up.

I’ll be tasting more of Allen’s wines tonight because he was kind enough to let me barge in to his portfolio tasting. I’m looking forward to tasting through some more of his offerings.

Filed under: food, red, white, wine

Paris to Lisbon

After finishing up at the Pompidou, D. and I walked back towards the 10th Arrondissment and our hotel figuring we’d stop by for dinner on the way. We walked up the Rue La Fayette towards Gare du Nord. This is where I really differ from a lot of other people who’ve written about the 10th. There are a few people who have mentioned that they felt uncomfortable at night or that the neighborhood didn’t seem safe. In reality, the neighborhood is home to a lot of immigrants from France’s former African colonies, and that really seems to be shorthand for “there weren’t a lot of other white people around so it must be a really bad area”. I didn’t feel at all unsafe, the streets were busy with people getting ready for Friday night… lots and lots of hair shops and manicurists (apparently this is one of the best places to get braids done, and the hair salons were packed with women getting styled.) The few times that anyone even noticed we were walking by, they were friendly and smiling – not at all hostile, threatening or even that concerned with our presence at all.

Whether this area continues to be home to large numbers of immigrants is up for debate. The 10th is starting to gentrify and there are a number of well-reviewed and highly recommended restaurants moving in to the area along with some galleries, and usually that means that hotel renovations and condos aren’t far behind. It’s kinda sad – areas like that are a big part of what give a city it’s own unique character (what would New York be without Little Italy or San Fransisco without Chinatown?) but those areas are often the first to be plowed over in to a bobo paradise. It was a nice, albut brisk walk, and we soon started to get in to an area that had sit-down restaurants (as opposed to the take-out or quick-stop places up and down La Fayette).

Despite the fact that a lot of Parisians were comfortable sitting outside, D and I wanted someplace that had inside seating because we were cold and tired. We initially walked by P’tite Bougnate because the patio was full, and thinking like Americans we assumed that if the patio was full when it was that cold, the inside would be packed. However, we didn’t see anything else that looked as good in the area so we walked back to see how long the wait would be. There was no wait. Despite the big crowd on the patio, the inside was practically empty… except for another table of Americans who didn’t want to brave the cold, either.

We got the menu and decided on a mid-priced (about 20 euro) bottle of wine, an appetizer of goose rilettes, a rural-style sausage plate and duck. The sausage and duck were very good… the rilettes were out of this world. The meat was perfectly shredded in to pieces just large enough to have some bite but still small enough to get very tender and soft , just garlicky enough and creamy enough to have to be served in a little tureen. We finished the meal with a plate of cheeses (a blue d’Auvergne, a soft goat cheese and a very tasty camembert).

After dinner, it was back to the hotel to finally sleep. We had a 7:20 flight from Paris to Lisbon and that meant getting up at around 5 to catch the first train to the airport…. Except the first train (the 4:45) didn’t come. It was on the web schedule and it was on the printed schedule and several other people were there with us waiting for it. Not catching that train meant waiting for the 5:15, which we were afraid was cutting it really, really close for a 7:20 flight, but by that point there wasn’t much we could do. Taxing to the airport takes about 45 minutes (it’s actually longer than the train ride, which takes ~25 minutes) and is spendy. We figured that if we were going to miss the flight, we were going to miss the flight for the train tickets we already paid for, rather than spend a bunch more money and miss the flight anyway. Fortunately, the 5:15 was on time and got us to the airport in more than enough time. French airport security was pretty efficient, and the airport was quite empty at that time of the morning, so we easily made it to the gate.

The Air France flight in Europe was like old-school American flying. We got breakfast and drinks for free, which made the flight much more pleasant, especially since we didn’t get a chance to eat anything other than stale airport kiosk food because of the rush and train drama. And even more of a bonus, even though we passed through 3 airports and had 23 hours between the second and third flights, Delta/Air France did not lose our bags. They were, in fact, among the first to come off the carousel in Lisbon.

Once we got our bags, getting through customs and out to the buses was pretty simple and there is an airport bus that dropped us off in what would have been a very convenient location to the hotel (as in practically right outside the hotel’s door) if I didn’t get us lost requiring a 10 minute walk with luggage down and up a hill.

Once we got back to the America Diamond’s hotel, our room wasn’t ready (we were very early) so we put the luggage in their left luggage room and wandered up the street to Torio Pasteleria, which we’d been too last year and have been thinking about ever since… unfortunately Torio is on a holiday break and is closed from Christmas through January so it was back down to Marques de Pombal square towards Restauradores looking for lunch. We stumbled upon the Baiana Pasteleria on Avenida Liberdade between the Avenida and Restauradores metro stops. Lunch was simple, but very tasty and they were very, very friendly. The interior is very typically Portugese with some really pretty azuljo insets in the walls and a very overwhelmingly Portugese clientel. Despite the fact that this is purely a local’s joint, the server spoke decent English and brought samples of the cheeses out of the kitchen when his English and our worse Portugese wasn’t working to get the information across. Lunch at these places is probably one of the best deals on Earth: about 12 euro including wine and an order of cheese.

After lunch, we really wanted to have a chance to shower and recoup after being up so early that morning and getting back on a plane, so it was back to the hotel to get in to the room, make reservations for dinner at the fado place and then rest and relax.

Filed under: food, travel

Paris recap

The day in Paris was pretty awesome.  We were absolutely exhausted.  The flight from ATL to CDG was a bit rough and the Air France crew kept making announcements about wearing seatbelts and doing seatbelt checks so it was utterly and completely impossible to get any sleep.  In fact, I’d fallen asleep but got woken up and rather startled by one of the cabin crew lifting up my blanket to check if I was seat-belted.  Honestly, the turbulence wasn’t that bad at all, even though we got one announcement about holding children so they didn’t bounce around.

We got out of the airport in pretty decent time.  It really helped that they checked the bags through to LIS from Vegas, so we didn’t have to claim anything.  We sailed through customs and had a very short wait at passport control.  The airport itself was pretty well-signed so finding the train station at the airport was simple.  Definitely advise skipping the cab and just taking the RER train right in to the city.

We picked the hotel for convenience, since we had a really early flight the next morning and wanted to be close to the train station.  We stayed at the Hotel Paris Liege [link to booking.com – if it says anything about the hotel itself, the hotel’s website is currently listing the /. directory) at 36 rue de saint Quentin, about 600 meters away from Gare du Nord station.  It’s NOT by any means a luxury accommodation, but it was clean and inexpensive (about 89 dollars through Expedia) and in the location we wanted to be.

The short story of the Hotel Paris Liege – great for overnight if you’ve got a train to catch.  If you’re in Paris for more than a few days or you’re on a really tight budget.  If you’ve got more time and money, you’ll be happier elsewhere.

The long story:  service was friendly.  We were able to get in to the room right away, which is fantastic if you’ve come in on an early flight and want to rest, clean up and drop off your luggage before heading out in to the city.  The rooms are small, but clean.  The hotel doesn’t have any pretensions at all – it’s a 2 star hotel that caters to people who were exactly in our situation – limited time, not planning on spending much time in the room at all and would rather spend their money in the city than on the hotel.

One warning – if you’re at all limited in mobility, this is not a place to book.  Getting to the elevator required going up a flight of stairs and the elevator itself is VERY small.  One person and one bag.  Don’t even try any more.  The elevator is also really old and I have to admit that I passed the first time around and lugged my bag up the 6 flights of steps because in my exhausted state, the elevator’s size and age made me a bit nervous.  I did use it when we came back from dinner and when we checked out in the morning and it wasn’t at all a problem, but if you’re elevator squeamish or claustrophobic, it could be a problem.

We napped for a bit before we left the room.  Even though the area is busy and loud, the room itself was quiet.  The heat worked well and the room’s small size was a definite plus, here – it was chilly when we got there but after about 15 minutes, it warmed up to a very comfortable temperature.

Our first stop when we refreshed ourselves was to find lunch. Since we were planning on heading over to the Centre Pompidou; we started walking that way figuring we’d run in to some place that looked good for lunch.  We found L’Esplanade St Eustache on Rue de Turbigo.  They have a great patio, which would be wonderful the 3 other seasons of the year and had quite a few people seated despite the cold.  We chose inside.  The menu is quite diverse – soups, sandwiches, salads, etc – typical cafe fare.  I ordered a sanwiche mixte (a typical sandwich combo in most of Europe: ham and cheese…) but due to the language barrier, I got an omelette mixte.  I didn’t complain.  The omelette was pretty much exactly what an omelette should be, puffy, brown and filled with a great balance of good quality ham and rich French cheese.  D. ordered a rillettes sandwich, which was amazing.  The rillettes was nicely done; this was a pork rillettes, and the pork was very well seasoned, served simply on its own on a good baguette.  The mustard served as an accompaniment was quite sharp but good and flavorful.  To drink we ordered a 50cl carafe of Cotes du Rhone.  The huge benefit of being in Europe as a wine drinker is that the wine everywhere is good.  It was not the finest example of Rhone wine but it was great with lunch and was 9 euro.  Total bill for lunch, with wine and two coffees was €23,10.

After lunch we walked over to the museum.  The main reason we were there was to see the surrealist photo exhibit which runs through mid-January, but before we went in to the exhibit proper, we went up to the sixth floor to check out the view from the top deck.  It was billed as one of the most spectacular and panoramic views of the city and it completely lived up to the hype.  From up there, you can see the whole city spread out around from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower to Sacre Coeur out on the bluffs overlooking Montmarte.

As to the exhibit itself, I love photography and was really looking forward to the surrealist photos.  All in all the exhibit was pretty good.  The one glaring issue was the way that the curator focused the exhibit heavily on the sexual and particularly transgressive sexual aspects of the movement.  While there has been a lot of feminist criticism of the Surrealists as being very male-centered and having some serious issues in their depiction of women, that’s not what the movement was about nor is it in any way the sum total of the motivation behind the work.  It was an interesting take on the theme, though I wish that it was more clear if they were celebrating the sexist and gratuitously transgressive or in some way trying to critique it.  The Man Ray porn film was interesting, but seemed somehow contextless and over-the-top, and there was a distinct lack of the (admittedly few) female artists working in the movement.  This would later become a much more glaring omission…

After leaving the exhibit we were starting to hit the we’ve-had-three-hours-of-sleep-in-the-last-24 wall and debated briefly going back to the hotel, but decided not to waste any more of the day, so it was off to find the bridge over the Seine and walk to the Ile de la Cite to see some of the island.  On our way, we passed the Hotel de Ville, which had a large ice skating rink out front for the winter season, and was filled with people and food vendors.  It was a shame that I wasn’t hungry because the chestnuts and crepes and hot wine smelled sooooo good.

Seeing Notre Dame was one of those “Paris moments” where you really get the “OMG, I’m <b>really</b> here” feeling.  We passed on going inside because of the lack of time – which was a good decision, because the line stretched back all the way around the building and looked to be moving very, very slowly.

After Notre Dame, we crossed back over the Seine and went in search of a place to sit and something to drink.  We had passed a cafe right outside the Pompidou that looked interesting, so we headed back in that direction and grabbed a seat at Le Parvis on the enclosed and heated patio and another couple of glasses of Rhone and watched Paris walk by.  The museum plaza attracts a lot of working artists and street performers, so the street culture is great entertainment.  Despite the tourist-heavy location, the cafe itself was filled with a good mix of Parisians and visitors and the prices were reasonable – about 9 euro for two glasses of decent wine.

After a rest we had some time before we wanted to eat dinner and head back to the room, so we decided to head back over to the Pompidou to check out some of the permanent collection.  I enjoyed the way they handled the permanant works much, much better than the exhibition.  Their expressionist galleries were fantastic and the art was very, very well displayed.

As we were getting ready to leave, we wandered in to a side gallery of photo and found that it was dedicated to FEMALE Surrealist photographers. (This was when I tweeted about how irritated I was)… obviously, it’s fantastic that they’re included in the permanent collection – however, since the museum obviously has some photo by women, why exclude it from the main well advertised, hyped and supported exhibit upstairs? Or at least, if it’s not going to be moved, note somewhere that there is more Surrealist photography in the main collection.

We also checked out a bit of their exhibition on women in the arts, which was also quite well-done.  Unfortunately, by this point, we were exhausted and starting to get hungry.  It was time to start heading back to the 10th for dinner and some sleep before the 4-am wake-up for the flight to Portugal.

Filed under: culture, food, travel