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David McDuff

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  1. I had a really satisfying, promising first visit to Bibou recently. Some highlights: An early season amuse of chilled cantaloupe soup made for a great taste bud teaser, sparked with strips of savory duck prosciutto and a generous twist of black pepper. Escargots seems poised to be the signature appetizer; on our visit, though, it was the only somewhat disappointing dish of the evening, the richness of a mushroom demi-glace and slightly heavy-handed seasoning obscuring the flavor of the snails themselves. I found no such issues with our other starters. The decadence of seared foie gras was balanced by the sweet and sour tang of plum chutney and the tannic earthiness of toasted walnuts, while a terrine of quail mousse set aside a simply dressed salad and pickled red cabbage provided rustic satisfaction. The manageable scope of the menu helps Bibou escape the pitfall of far too many restaurants, where small plates all too often outshine the main courses. Here, the plats principaux are the stars, with Chef Calmels displaying a deft hand with proteins and bringing out the best in the innate flavors of market fresh vegetables. Hanger steak, the beef course on our visit, was spot-on medium rare, spiked by an assertive yet delicious green peppercorn sauce. Meltingly tender duck confit sat atop a warming, soulful tousle of linguine – slightly overcooked in the French fashion – sauced with duck jus and a fricassee of artichokes and sweet cherry tomatoes. As good as were the meat dishes, the flétan may just have been the star of the night, a perfectly seared fillet of halibut set atop a bed of lemon-poached cauliflower couscous played very well with the pungent sweetness of curried butternut squash and raisins. Aside from the sorbet and ice creams, which are sourced from nearby Anthony’s in the 9th Street Market, desserts are made in-house. Both chocolate cake, based on a recipe from Charlotte’s grandmother, and peach pie were well executed and made for a comforting, unostentatious finale to our meal. You'll find a bit more detail, along with some photos, at: Bibou.
  2. I'm a little late to the game, but here are my quick notes from night one of last week's StudioKitchen/Ideas in Food tag team match. Mango-Yogurt Sorbet wild char roe, arugula If the idea of fish eggs paired with ice cream seems strange, just pare it down to its base elements: salty and sweet. And really tasty. A real jump-start for the palate. The cured wild char roe is produced by BLiS, the same company that makes some of the most hedonistically delicious maple syrup on the market. Corn Pudding smoked sea urchin Santa Barbara uni, gently smoked over cherry wood. Corn shoot garnish. The corn “pudding” was seasoned with ginger, celery, onion and lemongrass, and thickened with carrageenan. Shola made corn soup at the first StudioKitchen dinner I attended, many moons ago; it’s been a constantly evolving staple in his arsenal ever since. Goose Egg Yolk chorizo-chanterelle hash, garden herbs The goose egg was slow-cooked in its shell for two hours at 65 degrees F. Served with chorizo from Despaña and topped with a nasturtium. Like I said, beautiful and delicious. And a fantastic pairing with Huet’s 2002 Vouvray Brut Pétillant. Foie Gras Marble blueberry, pistachio, cantaloupe PB&J for grownups. (I see Percy and I were in the same camp....) Softshell Crab Tempura old bay, honeydew raita A tiny crab so late in the season for softshells… a testament to working with a good fish monger. Delicate and perfectly cooked, accents courtesy of garlic scapes and borage flower. Ramp Top Cavatelli geoduck clam sauce Ramp season may be gone but blanched ramp greens apparently freeze very well…. I’m in complete agreement with Shola, who likes to eat this by the bowlful; unquestionably the comfort food dish of the evening. Sweetbreads lemon verbena, pickled watermelon rind The sweetbreads were brined overnight in a bath of buttermilk, salt, sugar and verbena. No crusty distraction here, all organ-y goodness, with balancing brightness and snap provided by the bed of pickled watermelon. Pig Cheek cornbread, collard greens, red cola sauce The only dish of the night that didn’t entirely excite me, perhaps better scaled toward a stand-alone main course than as a small plate. The collard greens in particular didn’t seem to sync with the rhythm and vibe of the rest of the meal. Sangria Squab berbere potsticker, kohlrabi Startlingly gamy at first bite but deeply satisfying at the last. Squab from Central New Jersey’s Griggstown Farm. Delice de Bourgogne Burrata fennel, green olive oil The decadent richness and creaminess of Delice de Bourgogne, adjusted to show the fresh, slippery, bubble tea-like texture of burrata. Dressed with the delicious Olio Verde of Gianfranco Becchina, produced at Antica Tenuta Principi Pignatelli in Castelvetrano, Sicily. Carrot-Bacon Cake blood orange marmalade ice cream, maple vinegar Just as savory – if not more so – as sweet. Many at the table agreed that this could work just as easily as a stuffing for game birds as it could dessert. Lovely with a little taste of PX – and a fine way to savor the end of the evening's adventures. You'll find my further commentary, along with scaled down versions of Shola's fantastic pictures at: StudioKitchen meets Ideas in Food.
  3. Love the Edmunds note, Jim. As for the Paitin, I'm curious as to why you were warned off... too young or something more pervasive?
  4. Rheinhessen Riesling trocken “Von der Fels,” Keller 2002 $20 on release. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. In a really good place right now, just starting to bridge into the development of some tertiary characteristics. Very fresh and prickly, still showing some residual carbon dioxide when first opened. It quickly rounded out and took on depth and richness with aeration. White peaches laced with lime zest, orange oil and honeysuckle hit the front palate, while a touch of oiliness and salinity follow. This is bone dry but completely physiologically ripe Riesling, loaded with palate staining fruit that shoots sparks across your tongue. With yet more air, rainier cherry fruit and intensely concentrated, almost sour minerality develop. Tremendous length. Lovely wine. Arbois Pupillin Chardonnay, Emmanuel Houillon (Pierre Overnoy) 2006 $28. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. This showed big time sulfur/struck match aromas when first opened. After a quick and vigorous decant, it became clear that the wine was in a pretty severely reduced state. It showed much better on the palate, though, where I was initially struck with flavors of apple cider and an element that reminded me of Junmai Daiginjo sake. Coming back to it fifteen minutes later, the nose was still totally reductive funk. But the wine had gotten even tastier, showing ripe red apple fruit and notes of cinnamon dusted pastry dough. I still had a hard time getting past its nose. Maybe it’s just too young yet, or needs a few hours (or days?) in the decanter. Nahe Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Kabinett trocken, Emrich-Schönleber 2001 $15 on release. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Our brief detour into the Arbois didn’t prevent us from taking pleasure in trying this alongside the Keller. The eye alone, given its deeper golden appearance, was enough to show that this has traveled further along its path of development. But it’s still got plenty of stuffing and potential. Can there be such a thing as hedonistic Kabinett trocken? This would seem to suggest so, as it offered up voluptuous scents and flavors of clove-poached pears, fresh baked apple pie a la mode and peach cobbler. Did I mention that this is completely dry? And that it paired seamlessly with saba (mackerel sushi)? Barolo “Cerretta,” Germano Ettore (Sergio Germano) 2000 $50. 14% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Though showing just the slightest hint of its alcohol on the nose, this is nonetheless in a fine place right now. It’s still quite youthful in the fruit department but is soft, round, exotically spicy and sweetly scented. Enjoyably pondering a glass, I was struck with the thought that I’m not sure there’s any vine that takes to oak quite so well as does Nebbiolo. I find the aromatic fireworks that result when it’s done right really hard to beat. Here, it results in classic oak-derived spiciness and warm red floral aromas and scents of rooibos tea intertwined with red licorice and sassafras. The 2000 may lack the acid/tannin profile of a more classic Piedmontese vintage but firm, well-balanced grip still presents itself on the finish. Gevrey-Chambertin, Sylvie Esmonin 2005 $60. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. A bit clumsy right out of the gate, the sweet red fruit immediacy of Sylvie Esmonin’s Gevrey was marred at first by slightly disjointed alcohol. It didn’t take long for its grace to emerge, though. Definitely lots of red fruit, both fresh and caramelized. A campfire set in a forest clearing on a nippy fall day comes to mind, not through any reductive characteristics, just through the wine’s overall expression of brambly fruit and energy. Esmonin gets her knocks from some quarters for the concentrated, forward nature of her wines but I dig them. This has a wonderfully barky, sinewy character that helps to back up its boisterous, spicy red fruit. It’s slightly lean yet sappy and generous all at once, topped off with a beguiling nose of sandalwood. Photos, additional detail and other fun stuff at: For No Particular Reason.
  5. I headed out to dinner (with Philadining) at Cooper's Brick Oven Wine Bar earlier this week. Even though the wine bar and pizzas both left something to be desired, there's still a decent vibe at the place and a sense of potential in the kitchen. The duck confit was pretty damn good and the brussels sprouts were nothing to sneeze at (though they could have used some bacon!). My full write-up is a bit too detailed to re-post here, but you can find it -- along with some more photos -- at Cooper's Brick Oven Wine Bar.
  6. Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Le L d’Or de Pierre Luneau, Cuvée Médaillée,” Domaine de la Grange (Pierre Luneau-Papin) 1995. $25. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. This was fantastically fresh. Drinking it gave me the sense of cool rain water leaching through the limestone and schist soils in Le Landreau. Marrowy and broad, intensely mineral, slightly saline and hinting at its age only via its dark aromatic profile, it was naturally stellar with oysters. Vouvray “Clos Baudoin,” SARL Vallée de Nouy (Poniatowski/Chidaine) 2004. Around $20 on release. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Produced during the period when Chidaine was farming and making the wines at Prince Philippe Poniatowski’s estate. (The “Clos Baudoin” now belongs to Chidaine). Fully sec in style and medium golden in color, its richer flavors were not as automatic a pairing with the oysters, but the match created some finishing flavor combinations that were really magnifying and haunting. And its pear nectar and sunshine-laced fruit worked handsomely with sweet, juicy mussels picked straight from the fire. Palette, Château Simone 2006. $70. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Neal Rosenthal, New York, NY. My first experience with wine of any color from this tiny AOC located just southeast of Aix-en-Provence. I’d never thought Provençal white wine could be this good – sweetly herbal, dry but generous in its texture and braced by clean, refreshing acidity and apple tinged fruit. Poured alongside a Vietnamese preparation of pan seared scallops and a slaw of napa cabbage and mirin-spiked shiitakes, the wine did far more than stand its own. Its price, though, forces the wine even further into the realm of curiosity than does its obscure AOC. Alsace Grand Cru Wiebelsberg Riesling “La Dame (Partager Avec Toi),” Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss 2004. $20. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wilson-Daniels, Saint Helena, CA. This was the only dim bulb in a lineup of otherwise luminescent whites. The wine was perfectly sound and palatable but more or less bereft of any liveliness or depth, not living up to its Grand Cru status or to my hopes based on a positive write-up of the Domaine in Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wines (Classic Wine Library). I suppose there’s a reason why it was on closeout at the PLCB for $20…. Meursault “Clos des Mouches,” Domaine Henri Germain 2002. $46. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Not to be confused with Beaune “Clos des Mouches,” the Clos des Mouches in Meursault is a monopole vineyard owned, farmed and planted to Pinot Noir by Domaine Henri Germain. This took the honors for red of the night (yes, there were others), at least in my book. Its nose of macerated cherries and white truffles was followed up by silky, lithe red fruit, with flavors of buttery lucques olives, vanilla-laced cherries and sweet English thyme all dancing across the palate. Firm of texture and fresh in acidity but delicate, delicate, delicate, through and through. Really lovely red Burg. Photos, introductory info and shorter notes on a few of the other wines tasted on TG can be found at: Food, Wine and Friends at the Thanksgiving Table.
  7. I've gotta say I'm a bit stunned by this one, Jim. I was looking for the satire, for the wink, but not finding it. I've tasted some pretty good CA Barbera but nothing with that kind of age... and nothing I'd put ahead of G. Conterno or a good vintage from Elio Grasso (among others). Please do illuminate.
  8. The early winter menu started up at Talula's this Tuesday but I had a chance to sneak in a short while ago for a late look at their autumn tasting menu. Standouts included a really subtle duck consomme, Alaskan halibut with a piquillo sauce and venison tenderloin with cocoa roasted beets. Full details and photos can be found at: Autumn 2008 at Talula's Table.
  9. Muscadet Sèvre et Maine “Amphibolite Nature,” Domaine de la Louvetrie (Joseph Landron) 2007. $14. 11.2% alcohol. Importer: Martin Scott, Lake Success, NY. Jo Landron’s “Amphibolite Nature” spends minimal time on the lees, thus delivering a purely fruit-driven expression of Muscadet that’s perfect, particularly given its low alcohol, as an aperitif. That’s exactly how we treated it. The bottle had actually been opened the prior day. What was left was showing quite nicely, with pretty lime pith and mineral scents followed by melon, crisp peach and a dash of white pepper on the palate. Very refreshing. Bourgogne Aligoté, François Mikulski 2006. $20. 12% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Elite Wines Imports, Lorton, VA. Right up front, this delivers a nose of sour rocks and pear skins, aromas that eventually become riper and rounder. Nice front palate flesh is contrasted by bracing acids and grippy texture on the finish. In the big picture, it’s a simple wine. But it’s a pretty serious Aligoté, one that delivers admirable concentration, balance and ripe lemon-lime fruit. Bourgogne Rouge, Domaine Chevillon-Chezeaux 2006. $22. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA. A touch tighter and tangier than the handful of other basic ’06 Bourgogne from the Côtes de Nuits I’ve tasted thus far but delicious nonetheless. Griotte and lightly brined green olive scents follow through in the mouth, carried along on a light-bodied, brightly acidic frame with silky texture and measurable persistence. This was my first encounter – and a promising one – with the wines of Philippe Chezeaux. Fleurie “Les Garants,” Domaine du Vissoux (Pierre-Marie Chermette) 2007. $25. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA. I sold Vissoux’s wines years ago and now terribly miss having convenient access to them. Pierre-Marie Chermette makes some of the most fruit-rich, concentrated Beaujolais out there. They tend to show tons of primary fruit on release, sometimes tight, sometimes forward, but take time to really blossom. This is on the forward side of the curve right now, explosively fruity – crushed raspberries, violets and blueberries – on the nose, round, vibrant and juicy in the mouth. But it’s painfully young, both grapey and chalky. The pieces are all there – excellent balance and fine bones. It just needs to be forgotten about for a few years. Fleurie “Clos de la Roilette Cuvée Tardive,” Coudert Père et Fils 2007. $26. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. The differences between the Fleuries of Coudert and Vissoux in ’07 (as in most years, I expect) are like night and day. It was a treat to taste them back-to-back. “Cuvée Tardive” is already showing much more serious, vinous character than Chermette’s wine. Earthy, pale ruby red in color, its nose, which is really lovely, hints of wild red berries, fresh thyme and black pepper. It’s even lovelier in its impact on the palate, tense and serious. Absolutely spot-on with flank steak sandwiches topped with caramelized onions and red peppers, served on onion rolls. This too is built to last, but it’s going to require serious willpower not to drink it now. Carema “Etichetta Bianco,” Luigi Ferrando 2004. $37. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchants, New York, NY. This was the rollercoaster of the night. Tight, closed, even a little musty when first opened, after about an hour it blossomed into a fantastic expression of high altitude Nebbiolo. Leather, herbal red fruit, vanilla and rose petals, none of which were apparent at first, came out of hiding. Aromas of drying cigarette tobacco followed, even a touch of sweet seaweed flavor. Another thirty minutes, though, and it clamped shut again, tight, tangy and wacky. Whether drunk now or later, coming to grips with this will take a patient temperament and an open mind. Photos and a short intro can be found at Notes from Fright Night.
  10. Finally managed to post some first impressions of Parc at my site a couple of days ago and am headed back for dinner tonight. As per buckethead's news above, does anyone have any insight into why Chef Filoni has already parted company?
  11. Quick notes on a few wines enjoyed over the course of a recent week at the beach. A touch more detail can be found at: Wines at the Beach. Traisental Grüner Veltliner “Hugo,” Weingut Huber 2007 $10. 12% alcohol. Stelvin. Importer: Boutique Wine Collection, Philadelphia, PA. Certainly the beachiest of the bunch. Relatively generous yields show through in Hugo’s relative lack of concentration but I challenge you to find another $10 Grüner Veltliner that shows as much quality as this. Crisp, fresh and light, it bursts with flavors on the citrus and grassy side of the GV spectrum. Not at all vinous or serious, just a good, refreshing quaff and a worthwhile alternative for anyone tired of drinking inexpensive Sauvignon. Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese, Carl Schmitt-Wagner 2005 $17. 9% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Terry Theise Selection, Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY. It was hard to pass up at the price but this is the second ’05 from Schmitt-Wagner that I’ve been a little under whelmed with in recent months. A soaked through cork hinted at the possibility of poor provenance, which may explain the dulled flavors of the wine. It wasn’t without appeal, showing pleasant, baked apple fruit. But its length was shorter, its acidity softer and its minerality less pronounced than I would have hoped. More than drinkable but less than memorable. Touraine “Cuvée Gamay,” Clos Roche Blanche 2007 $16.50. 12% alcohol. Neocork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. After reading rave reviews about this on a couple of my regular wine blog reads recently, I expected to be wowed. Instead, I was a little let down, a particularly coincidental experience as I’d just defended Clos Roche Blanche on one of those sites. High expectations are always hard to meet, so I should say that this was far from bad wine. It was just a touch flat, showing hints of the aspartame character I sometimes find in direct, simple Gamay as well as a touch of the plastic flavor I’ve found in some wines – is it just my imagination? – sealed with Neocork/Nomacorc. An off bottle? I’m not sure, but I’d love to see CRB (and other producers) switch to screw caps instead of synthetic stoppers. Champagne Verzenay Grand Cru Brut, Jean Lallement & Fils NV $40. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Terry Theise Selection, Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY. Without question, this was the wine of the week. Even though the price has crept up closer to $50 in some markets since I purchased this, it’s still a damn good value in grower Champagne. Creamy, succulent and showing lovely phenolic concentration up front, it finished with a grippy, pithy twist of the tongue, showing fantastic acid backbone, even a suggestion of a little tannin. Flavors of yellow peaches led into fresh raspberries and cream. The finish brought a return to peaches along with red apples – the skins rather than the flesh. Really compelling bubbly. Chinon “Les Picasses,” Olga Raffault 2002 $20. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. We took this and the Lallement to dinner at a Rehoboth restaurant called Nage. My wife summed it up something like this: “That Champagne was delicious. This is… hmmm… hmmm… this is good wine.” The young sommelier, who had never tried Chinon before, found it sour. You know what? They were both right. Leaner and quieter than I expected and, yes, even a little sour on the finish but an excellent food wine. Red currant, black tea, thyme and olive characteristics were carried on a narrow frame. Delicate tannins, high acidity and a little on the austere side, albeit quite supple in feel. This one requires some devotion but is worth the effort.
  12. Agreed, Craig. I'm glad to hear you like them, as Vajra really seems to be a sleeper when it comes to vinocentric attention. I mentioned elsewhere that I really miss the days, not all that long ago, when the Dolcetto retailed for around $15 and the Nebbiolo for about $20. Even in the high 20s as it is now, the Nebbiolo is still a really solid value.
  13. The following notes are pulled from the context of a recent tasting with Giuseppe Vajra, son of Aldo Vajra and heir apparent to the Barolo estate, G. D. Vajra. More detailed background information and photos can be found at: Catching Up with Giuseppe Vajra. Langhe Rosso, G. D. Vajra 2006 (13% alcohol) To some, the idea of a blended wine being produced in the Langhe district of Piedmont automatically equates to modernism. Vajra’s Langhe Rosso, though, is far from a “Super Piemontese” red. Instead, plain and simple, it’s the most basic, casual wine produced at the estate. A young vine cuvée destined for youthful drinking (although it does age surprisingly well), its blend varies from year-to-year based on the natural production cycle of any given vintage. The 2006 Langhe Rosso is a blend of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera, plus very small amounts – about 5% each – of Pinot Noir, Freisa and Albarossa. The latter vine, Albarossa, was originally created by Professor Giovanni Dalmasso when, in 1938, he crossed Barbera with a local mutation of Nebbiolo called Chatus. Albarossa turned out to give less elegant wines than hoped for on its own but serves as a useful blending agent, providing violet color and crispy texture. The wine? Full of bright red, punchy fruit. Lively mouthfeel and a slightly sweet/tart/tropical nose. Delicate tannins, refreshing acidity and easygoing light-to-medium body make it a versatile pour. Dolcetto d’Alba, G. D. Vajra 2007 (13.5% alcohol) Radiantly violet/purple in the glass. Lovely, crunchy tannins follow a mouthful of dark red cherries, plums and inky minerality. One of the most fruit-forward expressions of Dolcetto I’ve had from Vajra, although it almost always does start out fruity in its youth and then develops subtlety with age. In the winery, it is put through a very quick cold stabilization to fix its vibrant colors and to partially forestall Dolcetto’s tendency to throw high quantities of sediment. If you’re a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc fan, you owe it to yourself to try this. Barbera d’Alba Superiore, G. D. Vajra 2006 (14% alcohol) Bottled just a couple of weeks ago, this is a brooding, muscular style of Barbera, with tannic extract playing against Barbera’s natural acidity and showing off the vine’s balancing act between rusticity and refinement. Tautly wrapped blueberry and blackberry fruit, touched by a bit of wood spice. Aged in old tonneau and 2500-liter casks. Giuseppe Vajra described it as less juicy than the 2007 and less classic than the 2004 but perfectly balanced. At seven to ten years of age, he thinks this will become more mineral, floral and herbal in character. For now, it’s a mouthful of intensity that would pair well with braised meat dishes or perhaps a dish of beef cheek ravioli. Langhe Nebbiolo, G. D. Vajra 2006 (13.5% alcohol) A great food wine. Although in my experience this wine can age better than most “basic” Langhe Nebbiolo, Vajra recommends drinking it in its first three-to-four years for maximum enjoyment. This is Nebbiolo fermented and aged only in steel, produced primarily from fruit grown in a southwest-facing parcel called “Gesso” located at the foot of Bricco delle Viole and from the young vines in the Vajra’s recently acquired property in Sinio, just outside of the Barolo zone on the outskirts of Serralunga d’Alba. The wine is in a great spot right now, full of violet, rose petal and red licorice aromas. Finely detailed and long on the palate. No lack of nuance. Every bit a fine example of a “poor man’s Barolo.” Barolo “Albe,” G. D. Vajra 2004 (14% alcohol) “Albe” is Vajra’s young vine Barolo, produced from 20 year-old vines in the vineyards La Volta, Coste and Fossati, all on the hillsides in Vergne, perched above the town of Barolo itself. After a 20-day fermentation and maceration, the wine is aged in traditional botte of Slovanian oak along with a small amount of tonneau and 50-hectoliter barrels. Bottled only two months ago, it’s very tight, with a firm tannic structure and a nose full of tar and black earth. It needs about a year before it starts to show its real stuff. Barolo “Bricco delle Viole,” G. D. Vajra 2004 (14% alcohol) The Bricco delle Viole vineyard was planted by Aldo’s grandfather (Giuseppe’s great-grandfather) in 1949. 1978 was Aldo’s first vintage. His 2004 is already beautiful wine, showing more forward, elegant aromas than “Albe” but with much greater structural intensity, balance and finesse on the palate. Really beautiful wine. Drink it now for contemplative study if you will, but better to save it for a rainy day some year in the future. The ’04 Bricco delle Viole went through a 30-day fermentation and maceration, followed by aging primarily in 2500-liter casks. 8700 bottles produced. Moscato d’Asti, G. D. Vajra 2007 (5.5% alcohol) What better way to refresh after tasting a bunch of tannic, high-acid reds? Beer maybe? I’m not so sure. Vajra’s Moscato is a benchmark – joyously fruity and damn delicious year in and year out. In 2007, it was Giuseppe’s baby to tend to in the winery. It’s the quickest job start to finish but the most labor intensive in terms of the amount of attention required. Giuseppe spent at least one night in the winery after staying so late that he was inadvertently locked out of the house. I’m betting he drank some for breakfast the next morning, maybe with a little zabaglione.
  14. I hit Ansill for their Sunday night "Pif Prix Fixe" on Sunday. Here's a snapshot of what we ordered and (mostly) enjoyed: The signature dish from the days of Pif – escargots plump and redolent of butter and Pernod, served alongside a head of sweet, nutty roasted garlic – practically disappeared before it even hit the table, certainly long before I could train the camera and snap a picture. The salad of red beets, first roasted and then marinated, delivered a nice sweet and sour contrast that paired well with its topping of fresh goat cheese. The only slightly ill conceived dish of the starters was the mussel soup. It’s not that it lacked flavor, just that it lacked depth. A spike of red pepper was the predominant flavor in the broth and soggy croutons did little to help, though freshly sliced scallions livened up the dish a bit. For shits and giggles, and for added insurance against leaving without full bellies, we supplemented our orders with a couple of small plates from the regular Ansill menu. Roasted mussels turned out to be an interesting preparation take on a bistro classic. When the little mollusks were just right, they were tender, savory and intensely infused with the aromas of the fresh rosemary sprig included in the roasting pan. The technique, though, did seem to result in less even flavor distribution relative to steaming or sautéing, and a few of the mussels were a little on the fishy side. I had no compunctions, however, about the deliciousness of our roasted bone marrow crostini, full of rich, zesty flavor and topped off perfectly with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt and a tousle of fresh greens. Our main courses delivered the most uniformly successful round of dishes. The sweetbreads – ample, tender and meaty – may have been the showstopper, their perfectly cooked accompaniment of sliced shiitakes providing icing on the cake. Not lagging far behind were two petit filets of branzino, pan-seared to a perfect level of exterior crispiness and interior moistness and set atop sautéed greens, all surrounded by an intensely citrus yet light-footed beurre blanc. A duo of richly meaty lamb chops, seared just barely to the medium side of rare, matched nicely with crispy potato gaufrettes and roasted artichokes. Those artichokes, I’d swear, tasted like they’d been infused with lemon and pekoe tea. An otherwise perfectly nice if somewhat perfunctory cheese plate was marred by the inclusion of Époisses that had gone to ammonia. I know it’s supposed to be pungent. And I know it’s expensive. But come on, sniff it – better yet, taste it – before you serve it. Our desserts, on the other hand, showed that the folks at Ansill don’t treat the final course as an afterthought. Both the pot au crème and bread pudding were delicious enough that I could envision stopping by late-night and ordering either of them just to top off the evening. Photos and additional details can be found at: Pif Night at Ansill.
  15. You might also consider Teresa's Next Door in Wayne. The food is solid enough and the beer selection is top notch.
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