I got a lot of swanky-fun birthday presents this year, but none more original than my very own cocktail. Many of us are currently obsessed with St.-Germain's elderflower liqueur; it is floral, exotic, honeyed, just a touch sweet, and its nose reminds me a lot of Ethiopian tej, or honey wine. The elderflowers grow wild in the foothills of the Alps, and their scent fades so fast, the folks at St.-Germain organize "bohemian gatherers" who deliver the blossoms via specially rigged bicycles. The bottle itself is made of very heavy carved glass, and it resembles an oversized flacon of precious eau de cologne.
(sigh) Isn't it romantic?
After watching two good friends fight over BevMo's last bottle, imagine my surprise when I was the lucky recipient of such a bottle. To think that I have friends selfless enough not to hog all the St.-Germain for themselves is almost too much to comprehend.
Without further ado, here is the utterly divine, dangerously drinkable cocktail created by the blogosphere's favorite mixologist in honor of my 21st* birthday. (Word is her husband was the affable taster.)
Catherine's (n)th Birthday Cocktail
1 ounce St.-Germain
1 1/2 ounces gin
4-6 ounces ginger ale
In a shaker filled with ice, add the St.-Germian and the gin and stir. Add the ginger ale and strain into a cocktail glass. Enjoy the Triple G effect.
*Well the girl at the liquor store thinks so.
As far as I'm concerned, this city cannot have too many wine bars. I like to get my drink on in places where I know I can hear myself talk, and where the wine list isn't going to read something like: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, or Cabernet. So last night a friend and I hoofed it over to Amelie in Polk Gulch. Frenchie owner/bartender/cuteness personified Germain, who hails from Provence, told us he meant to open in October, but with construction delays just managed to last month. He poured me a lovely, almost melony Viognier (or two) followed by a ruby red Gigondas (or four...) that made my big fruit loving palate happy but would have pleased Mr. Food Musings' much more restrained tastes equally well. I was impressed with the quality of both wines and prices were fair, hovering in the $10 range.
The spot is not as cutesy-tootsy as the name implies, thankfully. It rides the same groovy vibe as Nectar, but with a bit less polish and a touch more edge. Walls are painted crimson in front, where modern chairs are clustered like sofas; the bar is long; and linen-draped tables huddle in the back, ready for couples in search of privacy or French mafia dons doing business over the smoke of their Gauloises. Lighting is important in a place like this because it sets the tone of the room, and at Amelie all the lighting is unique. Along one wall are red glowing wine bottles, while above the bar hangs a chandelier-cum-art project from Germany: What look like European versions of Tibetan prayer flags are hung in concentric circles around the light.
There is food, too, and though what we ate was good (more on that in a sec...) it isn't a terribly well-conceived menu. At a wine bar you want nibbles, finger food, things that are good to linger over and share. This menu was heavy on cheese and charcuterie, which meet those criteria, but there were also several salads (hard to share) and a dish that Germain made us order, ravioles du Royans (more often called ravioles du Dauphiné). Apparently it's a traditional Provencal pasta that is essentially baked like a gratin, with oodles of cream and cheese. Was it good? Absolutely. Was it a million calories a bite? That too. Was it a strange thing to see on a wine bar menu? I'd have to go with yes on that one, Alex. (The menu explanation of the ravioles du Royans is so terribly translated from the French that it's endearing. Pasta is misspelled twice as "paste," butter becomes "fat content" and the filling is somehow mysteriously translated as "joke.")
How sweet is this: when we stumbled out of the bar at who knows what hour, Germain handed us each a to-go box filled with a slice of chocolate pear tart. One of us (and I'm not saying who, folks) ate hers in the cab on the way home, and the other one snarfed her slice the second she got in the front door.
A bientot, Amelie!
Yesterday Mr. Food Musings and I drove up to Napa for lunch. Afterwards, we drove around for old time's sake (we used to spend lots of time there tasting and buying before he fell and lost his taste for wine). Before we left, we dashed into Peju, one of my favorite little spots. Mr. FM was fading, and I was driving, so we didn't want to taste, but since it's hard to find their wines outside the winery I wanted to buy a few bottles. We picked up 3 bottles of the Provence, a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cab, Cab Franc, Chardonnay & French Colombard meant to be drunk chilled; two bottles of the Sauvingon Blanc, which is supposed to have lots of grapefruit and citrus; and a bottle of the 2003 Reserve cab. That last one was $85, which is a lot, but it's a Cab I've had several times before and really liked. Since I'm crap at describing wine, I've stolen their description from the tasting notes the winery publishes:
Intense red raspberry hue. Displays aromas of dried cherry, blackberry and raspberry preserves, cola berry, roasted coffee, vanilla bean, dried herbs, tea, clove and cinnamon. Rich and powerful first impression followed by layers of well concentrated flavors and also a nice richness on the mid palate. This wine showcases what Rutherford Cabernets are all about: great fruit expression, good concentration, with very supple tannins and slight earthy mineral quality.
Yeah: blah blah blah is what that sounds like to me. What I can tell you is it's good. And -- insider's tip -- it's going up from $85 to $125 next week. Criminy! What's more, they're killing all the discounts (e.g. buy a case, save 10%) when it comes to the reserve cab. So if you happen to be in Napa this weekend, if you are a huge fan of Peju, or if you adore this particular wine, head on over and stock up. I might recommend a strawberry milkshake at Taylor's Refresher when you're finished.
Whee! I'm it!
Clare at eatstuff has tagged me with a new meme, created by Basic Juice. The idea behind it? Name the best wine you've had in the last 30 days. For food bloggers, the answer should also include what divine bites you paired it with.
If you read my Sauternes posting, you know that I am clueless when it comes to pairing wine and food, so anything that turns out well is either the doing of a sommelier (yes, Mr. Food Musings counts) or sheer luck. In the last thirty days, despite having lots of wonderful dinners in and out, one wine immediately comes to mind.
On Saturday, Mr. Food Musings and I went on a road trip to the 'burbs. I'd packed granola bars, trail mix and beef jerky in case we got hungry, but in the end, despite the ungodly traffic, we didn't really need any of it. (Hey, to two city dwellers, Danville seems like a long way away.) The occasion? Dinner chez P. and L. along with our friends C. and C. to celebrate P.'s recent promotion at work (he made partner, so let the lawyer jokes fly...) as well as C. and C.'s recent engagement.
Now anyone who knows me knows that I always liked C.'s girlfriend, C. (Shoot, this inital thing is confusing. How about He and She?) So He and She had been dating about five years when they broke up. I was bummed, but I was prepared to move on with my life. So was Mr. Food Musings. The only problem was that He was, too.
Soon after, we met Her replacement. Ugh, ugh, and double ugh. It would be an understatement to say we didn't click. I even wrote a short story about it to help me come to grips with my sorrow and anguish. (And if, in that story, I threw a few barbs in the direction of the new girlfriend, well, so what? She deserved them. Imagine having dinner at an Indian restaurant with someone who refers to raita as "that white stuff." I think you see what I mean.)
Anyway, a few months into the new (and much disapproved of) relationship, we were scheduled to have dinner at Manresa with Him and the New Her. And though I was excited about the dinner -- my first! -- I admit I was dismayed about the company. All day long I griped to Mr. Food Musings. "Gripe, gripe, gripe," I said (they were things far too snarky to print here). And so it was absolutely, positively delicious when He walked in with Her -- the original Her! -- and announced they were back together! I shrieked and jumped up and down and hugged Her and embarrassed myself and told Him finally that I'd Really Not Liked the Other One Very Much. (Turns out she didn't like me either. See? What a bitch!)
And so when They sent me an email two weeks ago with a photo of the two of Them and an awfully sparkly diamond ring perched on the fourth finger of Her left hand, I shrieked again and jumped up and down and all the rest. And couldn't wait to get together and toast Them.
All to say, when we finally gathered to celebrate, it was with a bottle of Bruno Paillard Chardonnay Reserve Privée bubbly. That glass of golden champagne, paired with a full, happy heart and a gaggle of good friends, is my choice for best glass of the month.
(Okay, I know. I'm a sap. Are you throwing up? I'm sorry, it is a bit sentimental, but it's genuine and heartfelt.)
I may be only a few months away from making the biggest culinary mistake of my life. And I need your help.
The idea? Splurge! We'll each bring a bottle of wine we've always wanted to try, and since we are not people of humble tastes, we're all thinking big. M. named her bottle months ago, and when Mr. Food Musings and I saw it in a wine shop in Palo Alto, we frantically dialed her at the office to see if she wanted us to buy it. (She did -- a hard to find Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir.) Mr. FM nabbed his fancy bottle of Vega Sicilia Unico 1994 about a month ago.
Eyes wide and hands clasped, I announced at one meeting that come December, I'd be packing a bottle of Screaming Eagle, that rare and mysterious cult favorite. When I found out it costs upwards of $1000 a bottle, my cabernet-colored bubble burst with a loud, sticky pop.
So I set my sights on Chateau d'Yquem thanks to an article I read about them in Wine Spectator. Or Saveur. Well, somewhere. Anyway, after reading that article I realized that their Sauternes, a late harvest wine grown in Bordeaux and often paired with foie gras, is considered by many to be the best. d'Yquem, as the locals call it (those crazy Frenchies!) was established in 1593, making it the oldest sweet wine made in Bordeaux. They are so picky that, like vintage Champagne and sparkling wines, they only release wine when the grapes are up to snuff. The last time they skipped a year was 1992.
And so, having found a rare and estemeed jewel of a wine, I asked Mr. FM to research the cost. $200ish for a half bottle -- not cheap. He frowned. (Loves me not?)
Ka-ching! went his credit card as he entered it online. (Loves me!)
So far so good. But here's the problem: I must prepare a dish to serve with this bottle of valuable wine. My wine group is trying to convince me to serve foie gras, but (a) I am intimidated by the thought of searing a precious liver and ruining it, and (b) it seems like the Sauternes will be the only wine in the group suitable for a dessert pairing. Dessert it is.
So, people, what the hell am I gonna make? I read that the honeyed tones of a Sauternes pair well with apples, pears and/or custard. I hate custard, so that's out. I was thinking of a pear tarte tatin, or a honey cake topped with poached pears, but are they d'Yquem worthy? I don't know!!!
I'm getting frantic here. I can't blow it -- I'm a food junkie and a dessert fiend, and the pressure is on to end our holiday party -- where we may just drink the best wines of our lives -- with a bang.
Suggestions are welcome. In fact, begged for. Remember, I'm representin' food bloggers everywhere. So post a comment and tell me what the hell to make!
I was an absinthe virgin until the food bloggers picnic. All I knew about the famed elixir was that it reputedly made Van Gogh cut off his ear, drove others nearly as mad, and had been banned for quite some time. And I think I knew that it was green.
But then I met up with Ms. Blast Milk at the picnic, and everything changed. She’s a long time devotee of the stuff, going so far as to establish a web site dedicated to all things absinthe. She brought a bottle of Jade’s Nouvelle Orleans with her to the picnic (hint: you can order it here) and graciously shared it with the group, all the while dispensing its lore and debunking a few myths. To whit:
1. Absinthe is not poisonous. Probably not, anyway. Tests have never been undertaken on humans, only rats (poor rats!) so the only evidence to the contrary is anecdotal. It’s widely accepted that the presence of adulterants, much like the toxic substances used to cut illicit drugs, are to blame for any ill effects. That, and just plain drinking too much.
2. Absinthe cannot be bought in the
3. Absinthe should be diluted. At about 1 part absinthe to 5 parts water. Don’t try drinking it straight – it’s really strong, and isn’t meant to be enjoyed that way. Instead, splurge on some funky antique absinthe spoons and poor the absinthe-and-water mixture over a sugar cube. One that has not been lit by a match, mind you…
A rosé by any other name would smell as sweet…
Our wine club met recently for a tasting of rosé wines. The group, which has added two new members (R. and B.) found that, though we all love rosé champagne and sparkling wines, we don’t care quite so much for still rosé wines.
Here’s a quick rundown of those we tasted:
Domaine Amido, Les Amandines, 2004 Tavel (France) – Ruby-hued and plenty of vinegar on the nose -- at first sniff. With eyes closed, we’d have pegged it as a white. Delicate-to-medium fruit and somewhat tart. Decent.
Julien Fouet, 2003 Cabernet de Saumur (France) – A mix of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes. The hue was beautiful – a pale pink with glints of amber – and the nose was sweet and a tad musky. Nice finish.
Joseph Roty 2002 Marsannay Rosé (France) – Dry and lovely. I was so entranced by it I took very few notes. But it was the group favorite by a mile.
Muri-Gries Sudtiroler Lagrein Kretzer 2004 (Italy) – The unfamiliar lagrein grape has lots of raspberry on the nose and is slightly effervescent. Not bad.
Artazuri Navarra (Spain) – ICK! Too sweet. The worst of the bunch.
Sola Rosa 2004 (California) – A blend of sangiovese and merlot, with a perfumey nose (lavender?) No one really liked this one either.
If you pick up any of these (or, on my advice, a champagne) they pair well with Middle Eastern food (thanks to Vinography for the suggestion!) We served up ours with to-go platters from YaYa Cuisine: succulent lamb kebabs, hummus and smoky baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, warm pita bread, grilled chicken and baklava. To me, that was the real hit of the night.
Last night our wine group met again for a blind tasting of wines from Piedmont in northwest Italy (to read about our Spanish wine tasting click here). M. played host and between sips we enjoyed breathtaking views from her pad in Sausalito. I decided I'd happily abandon The City for a view like hers - until, that is, I heard that the ratio of great restaurants to people is fairly low. Hmmm...
While I pondered the trade-off, M. was busy setting out our wines. I'm not accusing anyone of being anal retentive - I have always preferred the term "extremely organized" myself - but M. came pretty close. She set out enough glasses for us each to try the 8 wines in separate glasses. She also provided colored sticky flags so we could track our pours by choosing a color and then writing the bottle number on the tag. The wines were disguised, first wrapped in aluminum foil and then in paper bags. No cheating allowed! (Not that any of us are competitive. Especially not me. I mean, I would never scream something like, "I want to WIN!" while sipping on a glass of M.'s favorite prosecco, a Carpene Malvolti. Not me.)
A bit about the grapes of Piedmont, all drawn from M.'s helpful tasting guide. The three grapes we focused on were Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo, which goes into Barolo (which we tasted) and Barbaresco (which we did not). Typically Barbera wines are rich purple in color with lots of fruit. Dolcetto wines (which are not sweet, despite the name) are also purple-hued, dry and fruity with hints of almond, chocolate and spices. Barolos are known to be tannic and austere, yet also full-flavored. The Barolos we chose were the most expensive wines of the tasting, varying from $29-48 per bottle and 2-3x the price of the less expensive Barberas and Dolcettos.
While we drank, we munched on an assortment of Italian edibles: artichoke spread with a hint of hot pepper, a paté with chicken liver and black truffle, roasted red pepper spread, prosciutto, salami, olives, walnut bread, seeded crackers, and cheese (a stinky oozing Taleggio and dry Parmagiano were my favorites).
Here's the list of wines we tasted along with some observations. As you can see, we're all Barolo fans.
Paitin di Pasquero-Elia Sori' Paitin, 2001 (Dolcetto d'Alba) $14 - a structured Dolcetto with slightly rustic grapey character. I gave it a B.
Bera, 2002 (Dolcetto d'Alba) $10 - this one was corked. M. and J. found notes of home perm chemicals swirling in the bouquet. Blech! If it had been a good bottle, research suggests it would be a typical Dolcetto, nothing fancy, the kind you'd get at a casual Italian restaurant.
Paitin di Pasquero Sera Boella, 2003 (Barbera d'Alba) $14 - this was a stunning bright pink berry color with hints of bing cherry. It got a B.
Cascina Val del Prete Serra de' Gatti, 2003 (Barbera d'Alba) $16 - One of my favorites and the one I reached for when the tasting was over. Also pinky-purple, this is considered more structured and oaky than the typical Barbera.
Famiglia Anselma, 1993 (Barolo) $48 - when we poured this it was thin and brownish red in color, a big hint that it's an older wine. Everyone but me guessed the 1993 Barolo correctly. Duh. Not my favorite but a decent wine after 30 minutes or so in the glass.
Guido Porro Vigna S. Caterina, 1998 (Barolo) $29 - we all liked this, in part because we kept referring to it as "the GWEE-doh." (Sophisticated bunch, eh?) Ripe plum, a bit hot, full-bodied. An A from everyone and all-around favorite.
Vietti Castiglione, 1999 (Barolo) $43 - Another favorite (though as the night wore on J. noticed a steady improvement in approval ratings. An interesting trend. It would be easy to surmise that the more we drank the more agreeable we became, but I reject that oversimplified analysis.) More plum and mushroom.
Stefano Farina, 1999 (Barolo) $30 - another good one. Lots of berry in the bouquet and more mushroom.
If you want to read a great book on Italian wines, pick up Vino Italiano by Babbo co-owner Joe Bastianich and wine director David Lynch. Unlike most wine writing, this is fun and anecdotal, a joy to read. There are recipes from Monsignor Batali himself, as well as Lidia Bastianich, Joe's mom (who helped pave the way from the red-and-white checked tablecloth restaurants of yore and platters of spaghetti and meatballs, to the beef cheek ravioli that grace contemporary Italian menus today).
Mr. Food Musings, our resident mixologist, whipped this up last night. It was the perfect antidote to an overcast day where the sun and a jolly mood seem forever elusive. It must be the color, a bright tangerine-red that shows off the organic local Satsuma mandarin oranges juiced with a splash of grenadine.
The Orange Tipple
Yield: 2 drinks
The cocktail this is based on is called the Red Lion, and calls for gin. Since Mr. FM is allergic to gin, he substituted vodka. Feel free to use whatever is in your liquor cabinet.
3 oz. freshly squeezed juice from Satsuma mandarin oranges (or other variety)
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
2 oz. vodka
In a shaker or tall glass, shake well over ice cubes, then strain into a cocktail glass.