Wednesday, September 30, 2009

San Francisco Day 3 or "A Slice of Heaven and Some Liquid Gold"

With a belly full of bread, Bry and I headed out to Napa Valley for day 1 of our wine adventure! The ride out to Napa took about an hour and we arrived to our first winery a few minutes before 10am. We decided to try out Plump Jack winery first.

Plump Jack was recommended to me awhile back by a friend; it's owned by the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom and is famous for it's Cabernet (as are many of the wineries in Napa). The tasting was held right in the store/bar area and cost $10 for 3 glasses. The wines were good, but none really jumped out at us. Apparently, their higher end tasting that costs more has some wines that are really noteworthy. We were in and out pretty quickly and honestly, we soon forgot about Plumpjack after we tried some other wineries that were a bit more memorable for us.

Our next stop was Nickel & Nickel which is located next to Opus One and across from Robert Mondavi. From the minute we pulled into Nickel and Nickel we felt like it was going to be a special experience. We first had to call and be buzzed into the grounds which was fun to do. As the white farm gates opened we slowly drove past a pasture with horses and a windmill. To the right was a gorgeous old Californian style home from the 1880's and a beautiful red barn. We parked and headed inside where we were greeted by our friendly tour guide in a cozy sun room. We checked in for our tour and headed into a beautifully appointed living room where we were given a crisp cool glass of chardonnay. The atmosphere was just perfect and so was the chardonnay (it ended up being one of our favorite wines of our trip). Our tour guide Brendan soon rejoined us to tell us a bit about the history of the winery before we toured the property. N&N is a relatively new winery, founded in 1997 and is devoted to producing 100% varietal, single-vineyard wines. Brendan took us through the grounds (N&N runs very "green". It receives all it's power from an acre of solar panels and if that isn't green enough, 11 sheep live underneath these panels to keep the grass mowed), the fermentation barn and another barn that was recovered and restored. The inside of this barn was actually from another barn that dated back to Revolutionary times, needless to say, it was gorgeous and it housed the lab in which the wine was created. From the barn we moved back outside, past a few workers that were processing grapes for the "crush", and into the basement of the house for our tasting. We tasted four different Cabernet Sauvignons, each from a distinct region of Napa: Stags Leap, Rutherford, Yountville, and Oakville. Our favorite was the wine from the Stags Leap district called Regusci Vineyard-Block 4 (2006). There was a burst of fruity flavor which is characteristic of the area and it was perfumed with mixed red fruits. Our second favorite was the John C. Sullenger Vineyard from Oakville (2006). This wine is produced from the vines directly behind the Nickel & Nickel homestead. It's 30 acres of clay loam soil are planted exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine had considerable volume and graceful tannins. It focused on ripe fruit flavors of plum and cherry with hints of blackberry. In third place, State Lane Ranch from Yountville (2006). Lastly, we enjoyed the Witz End Vineyard from Rutherford. Rutherford is known for it's distinct aftertaste of soil....something people call "Rutherford Dust". We were lucky enough to finish our tasting with "Napa's Liquid Gold" a.k.a. Dolce. Selling at about 80 bucks for 375ml Dolce is perhaps the best dessert wine Napa has to offer. It's sweet and rich but not syrupy and it's taste is worth it's weight in gold. We left Nickel & Nickel totally satisfied and ecstatic that were were able to experience such an amazing part of Napa.

After a quick lunch at Dean & Deluca we headed over to Caymus Winery. After N&N, the Caymus property didn't really blow us away but it was still pretty. We were excited to taste the wines since we've had some before and always were happy with them. We were able to taste four different types of wine: a Sauvignon Blanc, a Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 2006 special collection Cabernet Sauvignon (which retails at $130). Our favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc and the Cabernet Sauvignon. One man kept commenting on how simple the wines were and the wine educator, as they are called, kept saying thank you. I guess having a simple delicious tasting wine is compliment!

The last winery we went to for the day was farther up north. Chateau Montelena is known for the 1976 Judgement of Paris. It was in this tasting that their chardonnay won over every single French wine. This wine, along with Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon put Napa on the map and gave it the world-wide notarity it has today. Bry and I shared a wine tasting and at $20 for five glasses of wine, it's a good deal. We got to try the Chateau's Reisling, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and their Estate Cab. The wine was all very good. Bry and I had their Sauv. Blanc in NY and we thought that was the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, they only made 300 cases and the only times you can taste it are at their library tastings or buy it from the one specific store in NYC that we just so happen to find it at. The grounds of the Chateau were nice with a large Japanese Pond as its center-piece.

Our first day in Napa was wonderful and we ended it with a bite to eat at the Rutherford Grill where we sat out in the warm sun and cool breeze on their patio and enjoyed a burger and enchillada and two very big glasses of water. It was the perfect end to the perfect day and we were both excited to do it all again tomorrow.

Monday, September 28, 2009

San Francisco Day 2 or "A 150 Year-Old Mother and a Stinking Rose"

San Francisco plays host to quite possibly the most famous bread in America: Sour Dough. According to Wikipedia:

Sourdough was the main bread made in Northern California during the California Gold Rush, and it remains a part of the culture of San Francisco today. The bread became so common that "sourdough" became a general nickname for the gold prospectors. The nickname remains in "Sourdough Sam", the mascot of the San Francisco 49ers.

One bakery,Boudin Bakery, in San Fran has been using the same "starter" mother dough for it's loaves for over 150 years....since the California Gold Rush. Boudin explains the process as follows:

...Our secret is in our mother dough, a unique combination of indigenous natural yeast and lactobacillus "caught" from the air and cultivated with a mixture of water and flour. Surviving only in our fog-cooled climate, our mother dough imparts a flavor and texture unlike any other bread in the world. Today, we bake a slice of history into every loaf of our Sourdough, starting each day's bread with s portion of the original Gold Rush mother dough, which has been divided and replenished with flour and water each day for over 150 years.

It was because of this history that Bry and I decided to check out Boudin for some morning bread. Luckily, there was a Boudin right over by our hotel in Fisherman's Wharf. The bakery by 9am was already bustling with activity. It was a big open inviting space. To the right was a long counter and behind it were shelves lined with a plethora of different types of sour dough breads. Some were traditional, some had raisins and chocolate, others were in the shape of turtles, teddy bears, alligators, crabs, and lobsters. Bry and I ordered a traditional small loaf as well as a chocolate and raisin one. It could have been the fact that it was just baked or it could have been the fact that the starter dough they use is over 150 years old but this was the BEST (American) sour dough I ever have tasted to date. If you are in the area, it's 100% worth your time and money to stop by to pick up a loaf. The dark-golden crunchy crust, soft chewy center, and distinctive flavor are a slice of Heaven.

Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

For supper, we decided to dine at The Stinking Rose, a restaurant specializing in garlic that is located in San Fran's North Beach neighborhood. We have had it on our radar for a while, and were very excited to finally make it there. Upon notifying the hostess that we had arrived, she took us back to a booth for two in the chianti room. The room was dark--but in a good way; the walls were covered with old photos, and the ceiling was bedecked with chianti bottles hanging en masse. Candles were burning from wine bottles on each table; it was a very fun atmosphere.

Our waiter came, and we ordered the 'bagna calda' and a piticher of Anchor Steam beer. The 'bagna calda was basically a pan-full of roasted garlic bathed in olive oil to spread over bread. It was fantastic--especially with a sprinkle of salt.

For mains, P got the 'Italian Garlic Meatloaf' (pictured right), and I got the lasagna. P thought his was good but says he didn't think it was especially garlicky--although perhaps that was due to our having just inhaled a pot of garlic. My lasagna was fine; it was a vegetable lasagna, and while I thought it was good, I would not get it again but would rather opt for one of the main meat dishes that looked so good on the menu. (I was just still so full from our previous meals!)

Probably my favorite part of the meal was our dessert--it was just so different! We were not even going to get dessert until we saw that there was garlic ice cream on the menu. We knew we couldn't leave without trying it, so we ordered one to share. It came topped with a nice caramel mole sauce. We ate every bit. At first, the ice cream didn't really seem too garlicky, but as we ate, we felt it. The waiter described it as 'sneaking up on you,' and I thought that was clever and a nice way to describe it. Peter described the taste as 'garlic bread dipped in chocolate.' Now, maybe that doesn't sound too appetizing, but do believe us that it is definitely worth giving a try--you ARE at a garlic restaurant, for goodness' sake!

The Stinking Rose on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Craft - A Tom Colicchio restaurant in NYC

On the suggestion of Adam, and my love of Top Chef, I decided to try out Craft, Tom Colicchio's restaurant in Manhattan. I was already going to NYC for the weekend to visit Dennis, so I decided that it would be the perfect time. We both enjoy a good dinner and splurging on a fun place every once in a while. We had 9:30 reservations (late for even me), but I was excited so I didn't really care.

We arrived at Craft exactly at 9:30. The decor was very clean, and above the bar was a small catwalk with all there wines prominently selected. The walls were decorated with what looked like large overlapping pieces of leather panelling. A very good looking and well dressed host told us our table was almost ready and we should go ahead and have a drink at the bar. We did, trying out a couple of Rieslings. Close to 10pm our table was ready, and we sat in the back along a banquet with a few other tables.

Our server was very nice, professional and friendly. Gave a laid back feeling to the experience, which I didn't initially expect given the price point of the menu. We stared with a bottle of 2005 Austrian dry Riesling. Very good. Sweet, but not too sweet, which was a good compromise between Dennis' like of dry wine, and my liking for basically apple juice.

I'm always a fan of good tasting menu, but after reviewing that it has two desserts, we decided to go a la carte. For our first course we shared an heirloom tomato salad and the cured octopus. The octopus was clean and well prepared. I'm used to calamari, so it was a treat to just have octopus, not deep fried in batter. It was, however, a very small piece. Basically two bites eats. The salad was phenomenal. Adam suggested the salad and it didn't disappoint. I was surprised because they were basically just tomatoes, but they were well seasoned. I enjoyed the white tomatoes the best although Dennis said they all tasted the same.

Our main course was where we went with our old standby. Steak. Instantly being drawn the the phrase "28 day dry aged" we decided to try the "Cote de beouf." I probably spelled that incorrectly, but it's not on the online menu, so I couldn't verify. We also wanted to have a side of mushrooms, but couldn't decide on which to try. We almost choose "Hen of the Woods" based on the fun name alone. We asked our server and she simply said, "How about I give you a sampling of the first four?" Perfect. We had an assortment of oyster, baby shitake (not from Beverly, for our Catherine Tate fans) , Hen of the Woods, and Trompette Royale. Since the steak was prepared to share, it was served sliced into six long strips, and I can probably honest say it was THE BEST STEAK I'VE EVER HAD. Seasoned to perfection with what seemed like a simple salt-pepper mix, it was so good, and so refreshing, which is an odd word to use for red meat, but that's what I thought when I ate it. Refreshing. I wanted a second steak all to myself. I really hope I haven't ruined my future steak experiences! The mushrooms were slightly crispy and their earthy palate really complimented the steak perfectly.

After the steak, Dennis' cousin Christina showed up and we decided to get a second bottle of Riesling. We went with with the 2003 vintage this time vs the previous 2005, and thought it a lot crisper and dryer, while still retaining it's sweetness. Christina and I got a sampling of gellato and sorbets. Our flavors were green apple, blackberry chocolate chip, caramel, concord grape, coconut, and olive oil. Can you guess which we chose first? Olive Oil! Delicious.

Sitting down at 10pm, we paid the bill and left at 12:45. We were one of three tables left. Our server was fun and amazing, thanking us and as we left we were given a homemande fresh zucchini muffin. I've never gone to dinner so long that they gave you a breakfast treat as you left, but I guess that's New York. I will I could tell you how the muffin was, but after our debaucherous evening that followed, I think I left it at a place called Cibar, a fun little bar Christina took us too.

I'm not sure it was touristy or not, but I very much enjoyed my meal, and would recommend Craft to anyone going to the city for an evening and wishing to have a truly good meal. Good job, Tom. You do not have to pack up your knives and go.

Craft on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 26, 2009

San Francisco: Day 1 or "It's My Birthday I Can Consume as Many Calories as I Want to"

This morning we hopped aboard Virgin America and made our way to one of our favorite cities, San Francisco. We have had this trip planned for awhile now. Our goal is mainly to explore the wineries of Napa Valley. We head out to Napa on Monday but until then we're happy to take in some of San Fran's signature treats. As today was/is my birthday, we decided we could splurge and eat all the stuff we love and not worry about how many evil calories we were putting into our bodies. Our first stop? In-N-Out Burger over by Fisherman's Wharf. We've written about In-N-Out before so I won't repeat too many details but for those of you who are not familiar with the joint, it's a fast food burger restaurant that specializes in fresh ingredients. The burgers taste great, the cheese actually melts on the burger and it's a much higher quality than McDonald's or Burger King. After our burgers I decided we needed to treat ourselves to some ice cream. As luck would have it (and as I planned it), Ghiradelli Square was just around the corner. After feigning interest in the store just to get a piece of free chocolate, we headed upstairs to the ice cream parlor for some sundaes. We both ordered the Gold Rush sundae which came with vanilla ice cream slathered in peanut butter sauce and rich hot fudge. Nuts and a cherry were sprinkled on top of fresh whipped cream to give the sundae it's delicious crown. Well, after all that we decided a long walk was in order and we meandered our way over to the Mission district. The Mission district is known for it's Mexican food, more specifically, the Mission Burrito. The Mission Burrito was invented in the Mission and is basically a huge burrito so filled with toppings and delicious goodness that it has to be wrapped and contained in a tinfoil sheet. The Mission Burrito supposedly was first invented at El Faro, a small restaurant on the corner of 20th and Folsom St. There, they simply call it the Super Burrito and as luck would have it, we discovered it was invented on this very day, Sept. 26th, way back in 1961. Well, the gods themselves couldn't have planned it better: me, eating a super burrito, on my birthday which just so happened to fall on the same day as the day the super burrito was invented. Perfect! Bry and I both ordered the super burrito, mine with chicken, his al pastor, both with everything on it. True to it's name, the super burrito was super....and by super, I mean big. Not only was it filling, it was satisfying and delicious.The perfect end to the perfect day. Stay tuned, we still need to try San Fran sour dough and a few other things before we head out to Napa!

El Faro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wylie's Bread Pudding

For Pudding
6 eggs
1 pint of heavy cream
1/2 cup of sugar
1 loaf of Italian bread
cinnamon & nutmeg

For Sauce
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of bourbon
1/3 cup of karo or maple syrup

Mix together eggs, cream, sugar, cinnamon & nutmeg. Cube loaf of Italian bread and let it soak through in the egg/cream mixture. Pour into a baking dish. Cut slices of butter and place on top of the soaked bread. Bake at 350 for 35-45 min. until it is brown & crispy on top. For sauce, mix sugar, bourbon, and syrup in a sauce pan. Heat until the mixture comes to a slight boil.
Serve and enjoy!

I am excited to share Wylie's highly coveted bread pudding recipe which graced the table of many a Circle Drive party. As Wylie is not one easily forgotten, Bryan & I felt this would be an apt tribute.

The Hen House

This past weekend a group of us went to check out The Hen House a "wings'n waffles" house located on Mass Ave . I had never heard of this combination of food before (apparently, it's popular in parts of L.A., Harlem, and now Chicago) but I must admit, it sounded intriguing and delicious! The Hen House is not in the best location. It's on Mass Ave, right next to the UHaul place and on the way to South Bay Plaza. It's easiest to get to by car (or by bus). The establishment looks and is (I think) relatively new. Walking in we were pleasantly surprised to see a bright, cheery open space with good lighting, great smells, and very friendly staff. There are large tables set up that you can share with friends or strangers. It seems that most people order take-out from the restaurant..there was a steady stream of customers but few sat down. We settled into our table and took a look at the chalk board menu. There were a number of options to choose from including ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, and other southern dishes but let's be honest, we were all there for the chicken and waffles so that's what we stuck with. When you go up to order you have a few options (all for under 8 bucks):

Step 1: Choose your waffle: There's buttermilk, multi grain and cornbread
Step 2: Choose the butter: There's homemade whipped, 5 herb and Cajun
Step 3: Choose the syrup: There's straight maple, clove honey, or maple BBQ
Step 4: Choose the chicken: There's fresh tenders, wings, whole pieces (breast, thigh, drum)
Step 5: Choose the sauce: Everything from Buffalo to apricot chipotle to BBQ to General Tso

There are also many side dishes to choose from. We ordered the mac & cheese, sweet potato fries, collard greens and fried cabbage. We all ordered an assortment of different waffle types, syrups and chicken types. The best waffle (in my opinion) by far was the cornbread waffle. It didn't have the texture of cornbread but it still had the taste of it and just the right amount of sweetness. It was excellent. Whether you choose the tenders or whole pieces, I think the amount of meat is about the same but with the whole pieces it looks like you are getting more since there are bones. I must admit, the whole pieces looked better so I would go with them next time even though the tenders were good. As for the sauces, they all were good. They actually have them out in pump containers so you can try a bunch of different ones if you don't like the first. Overall, we were all extremely happy with the chicken and waffles. The sides however, were just okay. Nothing horrible (well, except maybe the fried had a spice in it no one liked) but nothing stood out and with the big waffle and chicken we really didn't need the extra food. The Hen House has beer on tap as well as specialty sodas which are a bit more than a regular coke but it was fun to try a new "craft" brand of pop. For some reason, the chef sent a complimentary plate of ribs over to us and even though we were stuffed, we managed to finish most of them off. They were quite delicious and had a lot of meat on each bone and were slathered with a delicious sauce. I think next time we go, we'll do waffles/chicken and a side of ribs. Overall, we really had a fun time at the Hen House. The staff were very friendly and even remembered some of our names! The atmosphere is clean and has a warmness to it and you can tell the management cares a good deal that this business succeeds.

Hen House Wings 'n Waffles on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 7, 2009

L.A. Burdick: Handmade Chocolates

Waiting for some friends in Harvard Square today, we came across a small chocolatier called L.A. Burdick. I had never heard of them before, but a few people in our group had--apparently, they are pretty well known, and so we decided to go in and try a few select pieces.

L.A. Burdick is probably most well known for it's two "signature" items: chocolate penguins and chocolate mice. Both signature items are whimsical and very cute. The penguin is dark whipped lemon ganache with almond arms, dressed in dark and white chocolate. The mice come in three varieties: dark, milk, and white chocolate. Burdick also offers a variety of other hand-made chocolates, everything from almond chamomile to honey caramel truffles. At over $50 a pound, each piece ends up being about a buck. The mice and penguins are more expensive at $2.5 and $3.5 a piece respectively.

We decided to get a dark chocolate mouse (chocolate ganache with freshly squeezed orange juice, covered in dark chocolate), a Richelieu (a milk and dark chocolate interior with cherry liquor, cherries and cumin seeds), a fig (milk and dark chocolate interior with a balanced flavor of fig and port wine), an Orinoco (dark-milk interior, Caribbean spices, run and coca nibs, covered in chocolate and sprinkled with nibs), a lemon spice (whipped rum and lemon ganache, enrobed in milk chocolate and topped with grated Trinidadian spices), and an almond chamomile (roasted almond and chamomile tea, dark chocolate enrobed).

All of the chocolates were very good. However, we were disappointed in the intensity of the flavors. For example, in the Orinoco we expected a burst of Caribbean spices and yet, we tasted none. Upon further reading of our little chocolate pamphlet, I discovered that for L.A. Burdick their main goal is to give center stage to the world-class chocolates that they use in their recipes:

"We are careful not to mask their (the chocolates) complex flavor with the complimenting ingredients. If the spices, herbs, fruits, coffee and teas are too strong, you can't taste the variety of chocolates we cook with."

Ah-ha! That makes perfect sense then. The other ingredients are there as subtle hints to bring out the flavor of the chocolate, quite like when certain foods are paired with wines...the wine, not the food, is the star attraction. I must admit though, even after this explanation, I would have preferred that the other ingredients still be a bit stronger...I mean, why else label something chamomile is you can't even taste a hint of it? You might as well add the ingredients but not list what they are and people would think it was just wonderful dark chocolate. That's just my two cents.

Overall, we thought L.A. Burdick's chocolate was good, but it didn't blow us away. It was delicious chocolate but nothing truly unique. For the price, I would prefer Choco-Lee's in the South End. As for the signature mice? Besides the cute factor, they're not worth the hefty price tag...I've had better chocolate in Paris for cheaper.

L.A. Burdick on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Final Biscotti Recipe (Attempt #5)

It's my fifth and last attempt at trying to replicate the Mike's Pastry biscotti and you know what? I think I got as close as I'm ever going to get. These biscotti I made tasted great. Bryan's suggestion of adding ginger was a wonderful one. Below is the tweaked exciting!

Peter's Biscotti


Lightly toast the almonds. While they are toasting, mix the rest of the ingredients in mixing bowl. When ingredients are mixed well, add the almonds. Shape the dough into 2 rolls. Flatten the rolls slightly (into about 3/4" high). Put them on a floured baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg yolk. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes then cut them into biscotti, lay them on their side and lightly toast them by placing them back in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Let cool and serve. As they cool they will become harder.

Huge Whole Foods set for Dedham

If only this were just a little closer...!!!

Huge Whole Foods set for Dedham

Shared via AddThis