Monday, March 26, 2012

Dinner with Trey Busch at Napa Cafe

I was thrilled to learn that Trey Busch, winemaker of Sleight of Hand Cellars in Walla Walla, would be coming to town. The icing on the cake was finding out that Napa Cafe was hosting a dinner pairing his wines with some fabulous courses. Napa's wine dinners are always so well thought out & paired in very interesting ways. Chef Rick's food is truly some of the best in the city. Match that with Sleight if Hand's fantastic wines & this was sure to be an awesome Tuesday night.
As an aperitif we were poured both Renegade Wine Co. Chardonnay 2009 Columbia Valley & Renegade Wine Co. Red Wine 2008 Horse Heaven Hills. The chardonnay was steely & bright with lots of tingly acidity that got my mouth watering & ready to take a bite out of something. The merlot had dark lush plum & blackberry fruit with a nice hint of fennel & dusty tannin. They are both lovely & inexpensive introductions to the Trey Busch style.
First Course: Smoked Trout & Granny Smith Apple Salad
Paired with Sleight of Hand "The Magician" Evergreen Vineyard Gewurztraminer-Riesling, Columbia Valley 2010
This dish was lovely way to begin. The smoky briny flavors of the trout balanced against the crisp tart-sweetness of the apple were perfect together. The dish itself was almost like a pate or terrine that was creamy & spreadable. The wine's acidity cut through the richness like a laser. This blend is floral without being like perfume & has gorgeous notes of jasmine, ginger, honeysuckle, mandarin orange with a bright racy palate. Even though the pairing itself was done so well I could easily see having either the dish by itself of drinking this wine without any food. They were matched well but could stand alone.
Second Course: Littleneck clams with bacon, parsley, olive oil & white wine
Paired with Modern Wine Co. Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2008
I was very interested in tasting wine because I was hoping it would continue my belief that Washington wines have much more age-ability than California. Typically consumers might shy away from a four year old white wine. However, this chardonnay did live up to expectation & showcased that even Washington whites are have longevity without sacrificing anything like texture or flavor. The clams were beautifully tender with a clean savory, ocean sweetness that were amplified by my best friend bacon. The chardonnay took it to the limit of almost overwhelming the clams but then seamlessly intertwined with the flavors the dish. I love clams so I adored this pairing. I try not to make prejudiced statements such as "I hate chardonnay" because I hate people who say that. However, I typically am not going to reach for a chardonnay when I'm selecting white wine. This wine would definitely be one I would go for. It has power & depth but is balanced by vibrant acid without which would change it completely.
Third Course: Venison Loin, rosemary, cherries, sweet potato
Paired with Sleight of Hand "The Spellbinder" Red blend Columbia Valley 2010
It isn't often that one sees venison on a menu which is strange given that the Memphis area is filled with so many avid hunters. Regardless, I was happy to see it & even more excited to taste it paired with this wine. The venison had a very tender texture but still some toothsomeness to keep it from being almost too tender. The rosemary & cherries brought out the mild gamy quality of the meat which matched up so well against the round, gripping dark fruit & fine grained tannins of the Spellbinder. The wine itself doesn't need food to help it along but it was a seriously delicious match with the venison. I hope to see venison more often.
Fourth Course: Chile Rubbed flank steak, Bone Marrow, Parsnips, Red Wine Sauce
Paired with Modern Wine Co Malbec Columbia Valley 2005 & 2007
It's always a special treat to taste side by side vintage comparisons. Malbec is a rising star grape in Washington & it's easy to see why. It has the texture & bold fruit of Argentina but a hint of earth & age-ability of Cahors. Marrow. Marrow. Marrow. I love love LOVE marrow. Whats not to love? It's meat butter! This was easily one of the most beautifully plated dishes I've had in a while. The steak was lovingly draped over a sawed open marrow bone that cradled the perfectly seared meat. It tasted outstanding too. The flank was cooked perfectly medium rare with a nice hit of chile that was soothed by the rich creamy marrow. Both vintages dark fruit & earthy spice notes lifted up the chile & smokiness of the meat. The 2005 had begun to mellow but still had years & years of life in it. The 2007 was almost a baby with bold dark depth that spoke of years to come of unraveling flavors. Trey is a very cool down to earth guy & his wines are fantastic. It's always so wonderful to meet winemakers whose wines I adore. It's even better when they turn out to be as friendly of a person as Trey. Napa Cafe rocked this dinner. I can't wait to see the new bar! All of the above wines are available at Joe's Wines & Liquors, 1681 Poplar, 901.725.4252. Follow Joe's on Twitter @joeswines or find them on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

They Better Win

Kelly & I decided to go to a play with our very good friends Marlinee & Max this past Saturday. If you haven't seen God of Carnage at the Playhouse on the Square then you have to go immediately. It was FANTASTIC! Since the play started at 8 we had to make very early dinner reservations. Dining with the blue hairs so to speak. We went to one of my favorite restaurants, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. Chefs Michael Hudman & Andrew Ticer have been nominated for a James Beard award AND they were nominated for People's Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine. These two deserve to win for many reasons but mainly because their food is fantastic & they are such genuinely nice guys.
We sat outside to enjoy the wonderful Memphis spring. Before it gets oppressively hot & sticky which I'm sure will happen any day now. For my starter I ordered the Parmiggiano Sformato with neck bone gravy & a quail egg.
The texture of the sformato was so luxurious & rich. The neckbone gravy contrasted that with a savory earthy umami characteristic. Go order this immediately before they change the menu for Spring!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sidney Street Cafe in St Louis

Back in February I was a judge for Cochon 555 here in Memphis. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. If I ever get the chance to do it again I will absolutely do so. One of the competing chefs was Kevin Nashan from Sidney St Cafe in St Louis. I was very impressed with what he & his team put out especially their menu presentation. Since we were going to StL for a Radiohead concert last weekend I figured we should also go check out Kevin's restaurant. We got a reservation for 8 so we were able to spend the day bouncing around town & basking in the wonderful weather. When the time came to depart for dinner our friend's Crystal & Okan decided to come along with us. I figured that was fine since of our 4 top one dropped out so we were left with 3. When we arrived at the restaurant we were informed that they didn't have a table to accommodate the extra person. I said we didn't mind if they just pulled a chair up to our original table if that would work. The manager said that they couldn't do that because it runs the risk of backing up into another table. I said we didn't mind but he explained that they didn't want to compromise another table's comfort & space.
At first I didn't quite get why they couldn't add a chair. However, we went to the bar to wait for a table & ordered a bottle of Bethel Heights Pinot Noir 2009. After relaxing with my glass of wine for a bit I realized that the manager's response is exactly what it should have been. In fact, I wish that more restaurants would have that same policy. I realized that if I were at an adjacent table & another chair was added that backed up into me or my guests I wouldn't appreciate it. That policy is obviously in place to make sure that ALL the guests are comfortable. After a short wait at the bar we were seated in the back room where a small table top chalkboard was set listing the specials. It was cute & more importantly unobtrusive. Our server was blunt & direct but not unfriendly. We ordered a sampler of all the starters which arrived split up on a small plate for each of us. The lobster turnover was outstanding. Rich & creamy with a briny sweetness from the crustacean. The sweetbreads were luscious, creamy & unctuous. I adore a sweetbread.
For my main course I ordered rabbit. Rabbit is always a draw for me because it's a very mild protein therefore a chef's technique really shines through. It was rabbit multiplied! Confit, rilletes, sausage...oh wow. I left all manners aside & just picked up the confit leg with my hands & chowed down. The rilletes were rich & luscious & I wished I could've ordered a jar to go. My dish paired perfectly with a bottle of Van Duzer Pinot Noir 2008 Willamette Valley. The earthy texture dried cherry fruit of the pinot played so well off the savory, rich, umami of the rabbit dish.
I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blog to Book...Next up Beard?

We are so rich with culinary talent here in Memphis. I hope it's never taken for granted. My friends Justin & Amy of The Chubby Vegetarian are putting the finishing touches on their cookbook as we speak. Meanwhile my friends Paul & Angela Knipple are out on the road promoting their new cookbook The World in a Skillet.
Pick up a copy of their cookbook & join them at Restuarant Iris this Sunday at 6:00 p.m. Cost to attend is $60 plus tax & tip. Chef Kelly English will be putting his spin on some of the recipes from the book & both Paul & Angela created cocktails especially for this dinner. Come eat some delicious food, drink some tasty beverages & support some Memphis culinary cool kids. For reservations call 901.590.2828.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Swine & Wine 2012

It's no exaggeration that Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen's annual Swine & Wine event is my most favorite meal of the year. Pig & vino. Need I say more? Each year I always leave thinking "how are they going to top that next year?" & each year they do. Swine & Wine is not just a delicious meal but its also paying respects to the pig. To use only part of an animal & throw the rest out is disrespectful of the life it gave for us to be fed. It's truly obscene. Chefs Andrew Ticer & Michael Hudman not only pay respects to such a delicious animal, they elevate it.
Starting a meal with charcuterie sets a nice tone. Everyone reaching into the same platter of porky goodness sparks conversation, a convivial attitude & its just plain fun. Burning River Meats' Aaron Winters produced some deliciousness on this butcher board. Blood sausage, guanciale, lardo, mortadella, corn nuts, pork Every bite was fantastically porktastic.
I loved the whimsy of pairing the charcuterie platter with PBR. Sure a wine could have gone with it but honestly an ice cold beer & piggy treats are a perfect match.
I was so in love with the pig ear salad that I wolfed it down before I could snap a pic so I'm jumping ahead to the cannelloni. What you see here is spinach soubise wrapped in braised pig skin with trotters in a ham brodo. Yes I said pig skin. It was rich, succulent & almost creamy. Paired with the Cooper Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 Willamette Valley, wow. The wine exploded with fruit, earth & acidity after a bite of the rich cannelloni. The savory porkiness of the dish really paired well with the pinot noir. I'm so glad the guys were wide open to pairing non-italian wines with their dishes. I was really proud of this pairing.
I also unfortunately didn't snap a photo of the garganelli with offal ragu. Damn. That dish was so delicious. After that course we had crepinette of pig heart & snout over a sauerkraut puree with whole grain mustard "caviar". There was sweet, sour, spice, brininess that was bracing against the rich texture of the heart & snout. I am not a fan of sauerkraut at all. However the puree really worked here as a counterbalance against the pig. The leathery, dusty earthy darkness of Montecillo Rioja was brilliant with the mineral nature of the heart & snout.
Next was jowl of pork with a blood & beet risotto. It was a gorgeous plate. The bright red color was so vibrant against the rich jowl. Some may find this dish strange but honestly it was just like eating bacon or pork belly. The fat was creamy & succulent while the risotto brought an earthy sweetness. The last course of popcorn gelato with pork fat caramel, chocolate blood torte with peanuts was rich, sweet & just plain fun. Paired with the sweet unctuous Felsina Vin Santo was like a dream. I wish more people were into dessert wines. 2012 Swine & Wine. Wow! Thank you Chefs Andrew Ticer & Michael Hudman. Thank you Nick Talarico & the entire staff at AMIK. I'm already salivating for next year!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Meet the Winemaker at Napa Cafe

I just received this email from Glenda Hastings owner of Napa Cafe. Rodney Strong wines are consistently some of the best in Sonoma/Alexander Valley. What a great opportunity & a great deal!
Napa Café & Rodney Strong
Special Guest Winemaker, Rick Sayre
Wine Tasting with Four Wines
Rodney Strong, Alexander's Crown, Cabernet Sauvignon Brother's Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon Rockaway, Cabernet Sauvignon Symmetry Meritage
Appetizer Tasting
Mini BLT on Toasted Brioche Delta Grind Grit Cake, Fontina Cheese, Braised Beef Short Rib Sausage & Ricotta Canneloni, House Made Marinara
Monday, March 5, 2012 6:00-9:00 p.m. drop in, reservations recommended $15.00 per person includes Wine & Appetizer Tasting!
Reservations 683-0441 Napa Café 5101 Sanderlin Avenue Memphis, Tennessee 38117