Category Archives: Palate Titillations

The Intimacy of a Special Collection!

I’ve long been a fan of the restaurant Del Posto. It is stunningly elegant, formal and yet cozy, and the cuisine shines. It is haute Italian, of multi-Michelin star quality (and when they lose a Michelin star, I suspect a wayward night for the inspectors, not the kitchen), and yet with exotic imagination and whimsy.

My wife and I dined at the very bespoke “Chef’s table.” One such table a night, maximum — no more than four. The Chefs personally preside, and deliver each dish, drawn from the best of the season. The dishes are not plucked from the current menu, but are a window to the chef’s imagination and the kitchen’s capabilities.

This is grand cuisine served intimately. Porcelain from Richard Ginori of Florence, copper from Alessi, silver from Sambonet and crystal from Movia of Slovenia. Gorgeous, stunning, at times eye-brow arching and at other times, simply breathtaking.

Warm Tuscan bread arrives, drizzled with the best vintage olive oil. Luscious champagne accompanies it.

A Bagna Cauda is next, a succulent paste made with anchovy, garlic and olive oil, accompanied by a lovely Pigato “U Baccan” by Riccardo Bruna 2008, wonderful minerality to accompany the paste and the variety of vegetables, pastries and cheese to dip into it.

A masterpiece follows! The balance of the anchovy garlic paste serves as a foundation for soft scrambled eggs with caviar and shavings of pumpernickel. Extraordinary! Luscious, and a riot of flavors on the palate. This is matched by an “Alteni di Brassica” Sauvignon Gaja 2007…rendered more exotic because it also has a lovely touch of Chardonnay.

Wonderful wild Black Bass arrives with Moroccan spices, drizzled with clam juice and uplifted by fennel — both sashimi and fish at once. The accompanying Cerasuolo di Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2007 is Italy’s finest Rose — complex and yet palate-puckering.

The intervening salad is more than filler by far. Head cheese and tuna with a lovely rose Champagne. A medley of colors and flavors, on the palate and for the eye.


The Chef switches gear and out comes a procession of extraordinary pasta. It begins with the Anellini with Black Truffle and Reggiano, rich and almost decadently flavorful. It is matched by a lovely, refreshing Chardonnay.

Another masterpiece! A 100 layer Lasagna that simply redefines Lasagna, moist pasta, rich flavorful ragu, interlaced together in a perfect symphony of tastes and textures. The Aglianico del Vulture “Caselle” 2004 has great depth, if not complexity and so picks up the richness beautifully.


The final in this portion of this exquisite collection is Polenta with duck eggs and frozen shaved foie gras. The richness of this exquisite combination virtually jumps up from the sheer mention of these ingredients. The Montefalco “Collepiano” 1999 has dark fruit, good balance, and a wonderful finish.

For the final savory, Veal in ash arrives, abundant with juice , soft, rich, lovely. The Barolo “Sarmassa” Bergadano 2001 is spicy and elegant — a fitting companion!

Simple salt baked pineapple, though sliced and served with magisterial flourish from a handsome tray, comes to refresh and revive the palate.

An exquisite dessert caps an unforgettable experience. An Eggplant Crostata, lightly glazed with chocolate and paired lusciously with sheep’s milk ricotta…moist, flaky, evocative, layering the palate with texture and flavor. The Recioto della Valpolicella 2000 demonstrates the sheer velvety finesse of this delectable dessert wine.

We arose having feasted, having been awash in genuine hospitality of an increasingly rare kind, enjoying grand surroundings but exceptional intimacy — our own cocoon of elegance and enjoyment.

“Del Posto” means “of the place”. Well this meal was of another time,  and with great artistry and culinary wit, that time was brought triumphantly and unforgettably back to life at “this place” today!

GRAND TASTING COLLEZIONE

Pane

FILONE Hot Pot with Vittorio Cassini 2010 served with Champagne Duval Leroy 1996

Primo Assaggi

PINZIMONIO in Bagna Caoda served with Pigato “U Baccan” Riccardo Bruna 2008

Smooth Scrambled EGGS served with Sauvignon “Alteni di Brassica” Gaja 2007

INSALATA CAPRESE with Testina di Tonno served with Champagne Rose, Alfred Gratien NV

Pesce

Fonduta con ANELLINI with Black Truffle and Vacca Rossa served with Chardonnay Isole e Olena 2008

100 Layer LASAGNA served with Aglianico del Vulture “Caselle” D’Angelo 2004

BIGOLI con L’Anatra and Goose Liver served with Sagrantino di Montefalco “Collepiano” Arnaldo Caprai 1999

Carne

VEAL in ash with Grass and Corn served with Barolo “Sarmassa” Bergadano 2001

Intermezzo

Salt baked PINEAPPLE

Dolce

EGGPLANT Crostata with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Stracciatella served with Recioto della Valpolicella Lorenzo Begali 2000


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Valentine’s…Eve?

Well we enjoy Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, so this year, as Valentine’s Day was falling on Sunday, we opted to have our amorous outing on the “eve”.

Many pooh pooh this holiday calling it commercially contrived, historically dubious (as if our other holidays aren’t?) and more.

It’s irrelevant. It’s a day to focus on love, and you don’t have to succumb to an orgy of candy purchases, to focus on expressing one of our deepest sentiments. And you can be as extravagant, or as imaginative, or as corny as you like. You have license. We are “excused”.  After all, there’s an “official” day to blame!

Well we went back to our favorite spot for Valentine’s and much else, the Italian Wine Merchants, pioneers in Italian wine appreciation in the United States, and one of the primary conduits and channels for extraordinary wine of irreproachable provenance overall.

We had the lovely space to ourselves. We were surrounded by masterful chefs putting their show kitchen to the best possible use, and were “serenaded” (oenophilically) by Italian Wine Merchant Vice-President and a masterful commentator on the joys of the grape, Chris Deas.

Together he and Chef Kevin Sippel (a true culinary innovator), formerly of Alto , took us “Around the World in Eleven Courses”. Not quite around the world perhaps, but the circumnavigation was quite extensive. This could as easily have been called, “Around the World in Eleven Wines.” But why quibble? Both are implied, both were experienced.

Menu highlights included the palate puckering Paccheri Verdi, Braised Snails and Gorgonzola. One of the last orchestrations of Didier Dagueneau via his masterful Pouilly Fume Silex 2006 enhanced and enchanted this remarkable dish.

Another menu highlight was the crispy sweetbread, manchego and toasted allioli, married exquisitely and tantalizingly with Descendientes de Jose Palacios Corullon La Faraona 2006. From one of the best vineyard sites in Bierzo Spain, La Faraona is the gem of Alvaro Palacios’ (of Priorat fame) art in this region. Only 65 cases are produced annually, and other than the Italian Wine Merchants, this exceptional wine isn’t available anywhere else in the United States.

Hot on the heels of this…another winner! Fried Egg, hen egg, cooked slowly for two hours, lightly fried, with Serrano ham and baked sardine! Extraordinary!

The number of amazing wines, from Gaja Sperss 1998 to La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 1995 all could, in a lesser dinner, have been the centerpieces.

But for us the 1977 Bodega Malbec from Mendoza Argentina showed us a style of Malbec we almost can’t experience any more with the unsetttling “globalization” of wine tastes. The two “birth year” wines for my wife and I, the Leoville Las Cases (one of fifteen second growths in Bordeaux and one of our favorites) 1966 (a vintage that seems among the better Bordeaux to be drinking quite beautifully now) and the beyond rare 1966 Chateau Musar from Lebanon (slightly sweet herb-like aromas, elegant, a bit more Burgundian) were luscious, fitting and on their merits, truly memorable.

We went home with a lovely Pinot to accompany artisanal chocolates, a dozen red roses (a “classic” rather than a “cliche”, though many people can’t tell the two apart), and memories we will savor and which will reverberate happily for years to come.

James Thurber once opined, “Love is what you’ve been through with someone.” Most people take that to mean what you’ve survived together. Well, partially that’s so. But it’s as much what you’ve experienced together, exulted in together, and celebrated together! Salute!

AROUND THE WORLD IN ELEVEN COURSES

CHAMPAGNE — FRANCE

Selection of Raw Fish, Oysters and Caviar with Jacques Selosse Champagne Brut Initial NV

LOIRE VALLEY — FRANCE

Paccheri Verdi, Braised Snails and Gorgonzola with Didier Dagnueneau Pouilly Fume Silex 2006

BRDA — SLOVENIA

Grilled Sepia with Sea Urchin with Movia Lunar 2007

BIERZO — SPAIN

Crispy Sweetbread, Tomato, Manchego and Toasted Allioli with Descendientes de Jose Palacios Corrullon La Faraona 2006

PIEMONTE — ITALY

Frog Leg Risotto with Veal Reduction and Leeks with Gaja Sperss 1998

RIOJA — SPAIN

Fried Egg, Serrano Ham and Poached Sardine with La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Riserva ‘890’ 1995

TOSCANA — ITALY

Crudo of Veal with Hot Bone Marrow, Pancetta and Pecorino Fondue with Fontodi Flaccianello 1995

MENDOZA — ARGENTINA

Smoked Venison with White Polenta, Chorizo and Porcini Mushrooms with Bodega y Cavas de Weinert Malbec Estrella 1977

BORDEAUX — FRANCE

Foie Gras Tortellini in Black Truffle Consomme with Offal with Chateau Leoville-Las Cases Bordeaux 2nd Growth 1966

BEKAA VALLEY — LEBANON

Rack of Lamb with Controne Bean, Pickled Eggplant and Lamb’s Tongue with Chateau Musar Rouge 1966

ITALY

Chocolate Cake and Bombolini with Antonio Ferrari Solaria Jonica 1959

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A Tour of Latour!

Superlatives tend to be gushed too readily. “The best ever,” “amazing”, “world class”, etc. But what can you say about the annual event at Hotel Beau Rivage in Geneve, where each year, a highly bespoke wine event, manages to  outdo rational expectations?

Last year, we tasted all the Bordeaux First Growths in the extraordinary 1947 Vintage. Added to their roster were Cheval Blanc, Mission Haut Brion, Gruaud Larose, Chateau Gillette and d’Yquem.

This year we were treated to a Vertical tasting of Chateau Latour…in particular legendary vintages like 1982, 1961, 1947 and 1945. What makes this wine tasting experience so special is a variety of truly “superlative” factors.

Usually only 10-14 people attend per occasion.

The Hotel Beau Rivage is the last privately owned hotel in Geneva. These wines were laid down when released and have never moved since. Zero bottle shock! The provenance is virtually guaranteed.

The evening began with a Deutz Blanc de Blanc Champagne from 2004 in magnum, with Foie Gras and Iberico ham among other canapes.

Led by World Champion Sommelier Enrico Bernardo (having won best Sommelier in Italy, then winning the World Sommelier award, past Chef Sommelier at Le Cinq at Hotel George V in Paris, and now running a highly innovative restaurant “Il Vino” in Paris — a wine restaurant in that you select the wine, and they compose the dinner around the wine —  tipped to be moving from one to two Michelin stars), we then tasted 2002, 1996, 1990, 1982 and 1978. The 1996  is currently quite delightful, (evocative of the ’66), the ’90 is currently not at its best but promises future splendors, the ’82 was a revelation, and the ’78 a real surpise — probably at its peak now.

We then had a “pause”, but what a pause! We had Amour de Deutz champagne from 1999 in magnum, with a few more Foie Gras and Parma frivolities.

We resumed the “serious” matter of wallowing in the glories of Latour. We moved on to the ’75, ’61 (exceptional and will only improve), ’53, ’47 (at it’s very best now — feminine and elegant), ’45 (powerful and intense, and still likely to unfold further in appeal and impact).

But this was just the beginning! We then repaired to a stunning dinner at Chat Botte (“Puss in Boots” believe it or not), one of the best restaurants in Europe arguably, finally recognized this year by the occasionally wayward Michelin inspectors. The menu follows.

Then to a private room where we had Cigars especially rolled by Davidoff for the occasion with 100 year old Audry Cognac. Magnifique! And for once, there isn’t the slightest hyperbole in attaching that appellation to the evening.

There was debate about favorite wines, meditation on life and it’s often furtive pleasures, sobering reflections of the year past, aspirations and hopes for the year ahead, the sharing of laughter and friendship and oenophilic and gastronomic pleasures.

While our party was not nearly so  expansive in mood as in past years, we dove into these rare pleasures with special gratitude for those we love, appreciation for those we serve in our businesses, and a sense of just reflection at the multi-faceted textures, challenges and opportunities of life.

La vie est belle! (Life is beautiful!)

MENU

Cream of chestnuts and skewer of scallops with white truffles served with Mario Schiopetto Bianco 2006 Venezia Giulia


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Tartare of Cape langoustine with melanosporum truffles and Moulin de Calanquet olive oil served with Pouilly Fume Silex 2006 Didier Dagueneau

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Ile d’Yeu cooked white, with Sologne farmed caviar served with Batard Montrachet 1983 Bouchard Pere et Fils

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Small foie gras ravioli and wild pheasant with truffle consomme served with Corton Grand Cru  1971 “Clos De La Vigne au Saint” Louis Latour

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Bresse chicken cooked in two styles, with forgotten vegetables (“truffier de legumes oublies) served with Chateau Lafite Rotschild 1945, Premier Grand Cru Classe de Pauillac

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Chilled Delight

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Macaroon surprise served with Chateau Gillette 1937, Grand Vin de Sauternes


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Hospitality, thy name is John, and Anthony…and Helene

The Four Seasons Hotel in London (formerly The Inn on the Park) was my London home since the late 70’s (first courtesy of my Dad’s fondness for it, and then my own).

Last year it closed for renovation and we found ourselves facing “homelessness” (of sorts) in London for the next few years. John Stauss, the GM and Area VP, is a gentleman’s gentleman. He took it upon himself to help us find a new home. He virtually insisted it be the Connaught, and he was so right.

In the midst of an impossibly hectic schedule in the final days of the old hotel’s life, he personally escorted us to the Connaught to meet Anthony Lee (GM extraordinaire and himself one of hospitality’s true gems), and to have a walk through. The hotelier gossip mill was buzzing the next day. It was a disarming act of generosity. Anthony Lee said to me that given that gesture all he could possibly do is look after us until we were ready to go “home” once more.

I have to say the Connaught is a wonderful abode, and it gave us great pleasure to bring John Stauss (who is presiding over the work at the Four Seasons, but inevitably missing the joys and rigors of daily hotel management) over for a meal at what I think is currently London’s most exciting and impressive fine dining experience, Helene Darroze at the Connaught.

The Darroze family are vintage Armagnac maestros. Helene is a two star Michelin Chef from Paris, and her restaurant at the Connaught has already nabbed one Michelin star. While the spate of Ramsey eateries continue elsewhere, the Connaught now has it’s own signature restaurant, and happily for all of us nostalgics, the legendary Connaught Grill is due for a come-back as well.

At any rate, below is the menu from our recent evening. Mr. Stauss agreed it was a superb, memorable meal. For us it was nice to have a dear friend over, for once our guest, rather than we being his. He and Anthony joked like the old chums they are. Anthony jested when he heard John was coming that the dogs had been starved and were being kept at the ready. John Stauss now has a distinguished looking beard, but we wondered if that had been picked up as a bit of “camouflage” at the Mayfair Spy Shop en route.

At any rate, the evening was resplendent…good cheer, wonderful company, profound cuisine and impressive wines.

MENU

Gillardeau oyster tartare, caviar from Aquitaine jelly, creamy veloute with white beans from Bearn with 2006 Gruner Veltliner “Rosenberg”, Anton Bauer

Duck foie gras from Les Landes cooked “au torchon” with rhubarb chutney with Guariguette strawberries, beetroot jus with 2005 Jurancon “Marie Kattalin” Domaine de Souch

Roasted Scottish scallop with a fresh coriander crust, baby carrots flavored with citrus and tandoori, spring onions reduction with 2005 Viognier, JM Gerin

Pave of sea bass cooked “a la nacre”, white asparagus from Les Landes just poached, cockle jus with seaweed butter and cranberries with 2005 Puligny Montrachet, Nicolas Potel

Breast of pigeon from Racan spit roasted and “flambe au capucin”, green pea mousseline lightly flavored with peppermint, intense jus with Mexican molle with 2007 Syrah, Herve Souhaut and 2005 Cahors Le Prestige, Chateau du Cedre

Selection of cheeses with the Cahors Les Prestige

Wild rhubarb jelly, meringue and foam, Sarawak pepper ice cream, almond crumble

100% chocolat, Venezuelan Carupano dark chocolate cream, bitter chocolate sorbet, hot chocolate sauce with 2007 Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye Donnafugata

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Starry Eyed in Collias

Once a year we do a Gastro-ramble through the Languedoc Roussillon region of France. The ramble part consists of walking between and from some very picturesque cities and villages in what was once Roman France. We wind our way through gorges, forests, the garrigue the Romans adored so, and to the towering monument of that time, the incomparable aqueduct that carried water from Nimes to Uzes, The Pont du Gard. More on that in a subsequent post.

The “gastro” part involves the fact that some of the lovely hotels we stay in are Relais & Chateaux. But one in Collias, is a charming inn, run by the Aparis family, and which now leaves us truly “starry-eyed” as they’ve this March gained an exceptional second Michelin Star. They are the only restaurant in the Gard region of France to have this coveted honor.

The Hostellerie le Castellas has had intriguing beginnings. Mr. and Mrs. Aparis once ran a snack shop at the Pont du Gard. When it was taken over by all the trappings of modern tourism (the postcard shop, the compulsory cafeteria serving vile swill tightly wrapped like a lab culture, etc), they relocated to Collias. Mr. Aparis was fond of the picturesque village of Collias, on the banks of the river Gardon. The Gorge of Gardon makes for stunning walks and he was a devotee of the locale.

A labor of love began — to create a true abode of hospitality, a place awash with elegance, and dedicated to gastronomy. This is France, and food is a secular religion. Their daughter Aurelie then was 11.

Fast forward about 15 years, and a new Chef arrives, Jerome Nutile. And after years of irrigating their dream with attention and devoted care, the hotel and restaurant came into the full bloom of gastronomic recognition. One Michelin Star was awarded. I remember that year Madame doing a jig of true delight. Their daughter Aurelie, had returned to help run this little gem, and has added her own vitality and considerable charm to an already superb enterprise. The second Michelin star has now come in, and they are awash with culinary pilgrims. So it should be. This place more than deserves a visit, and during that visit, focused attention.

Papa is now the Mayor of Collias (just as well as I had to let him know of a tree blocking one of the main walks from Collias to La Baume along the Gorge du Gardon after a particularly tempestuous rainfall), Aurelie’s husband who runs a landscaping company, ensures the garden blooms. The Sommelier, who has been with them for 14 years, is a chirpy, beet-cheeked life enthusiast who calls to mind the words of Rabelais:

“For my book: all you’ll find is laughter:
That’s all the glory my heart is after,
Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
I’d rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.”

Certainly the cuisine, the wines, the garden, the imagination of the owners, the loveliness of the Languedoc, all conspire to make us feel more gratefully human there, glowing with the robust sharing of rare and piquant pleasures.

Below is a recent dinner that remains a true highlight.

And here’s a lesson to be learned too: If  they shut down your livelihood, make a choice. Wail and weep. Or dream anew. Plant yourself and your dreams and re-imagine what’s possible. The Aparis family did. And over that lovely hotel, the stars shine bright. They are polished with dedication.

MENU

Amuse

Contrast de Foie Gras en Trois Versions

Foie Gras contrast in three versions: in an ice dust of Sarawak peppercorns, confit “au naturel” in a Maury jelly, hot and crispy in a croustillant with Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne

Minute de Roget

Red Mullet “a la minute” in a paella-style risotto of courgette flowers seasoned with Iberico ham slivers with garlic and sparkling Saffron with white Chateauneuf du Pape Beau Castel 2007

Emulsion retour des Illes sorbet Champagne

Cote et Filet Agneau de lait

Rib and Fillet of Milk-fed Lamb and shoulder compote, mashed chick peas, split seeds with lemon confit, spiced jus with Bandol Domaine Du Gros Nore 2001

Chariot des Fromages

with the Bandol

Cubism Choco-Praline

Choco-Praline Cube in the style of Black Forest with Muscat “Frontignan” 2006

Frivolites

with Laubade Armagnac 1970


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A Tale of Two Cigars

The other night a group of friends assembled at The Grand Havana Club, a private membership club, that provides a bespoke atmosphere for the increasingly rarefied pleasure of enjoying good cigars. Happily, the GHC is also blessed with a superb Chef in Alberto Gomez and an urbane, astute and highly capable manager in Randall Denman. Randall joined us for the evening, and good cheer, bon mots, wonderful food and wine accompanied two memorable cigars.

It was a fairly august gathering we were fortunate enough to cobble together. Three were fellow Chaine des Rotisseurs Board Members. John Shalam, Audiovox innovator and business pioneer is a gentleman’s gentleman. In fact the affinity his name has with “Shalom” meaning “peace” (“Salaam” in the Arabic ) I’ve always thought isn’t accidental — he is a civilizing presence. Phillip Davis is the very picture of Southern gentility and grace: banker and real estate investor and much  more, he embodies a certain wry take on the human condition, though always administered with elegance. The third Chaine Board member present was Jim Wallick, CEO of Mercer Tool, a highly successful global gadfly, fellow quixotic rogue (in the best possible way), and a wonderful life enthusiast. Completing the group, other than my wife and I, were Jack and Lori Broesamle. Lori is the Annie Oakley of cigar smoking, a capable manager in her own right, and along with Jack, a great demonstration of both business acumen and success, as well as a captivating personal openness to a wide range of  both ideas and adventures. We have deeply enjoyed their company and warmth on many occasions.

We opened with Soft Shell Crab, Lump Crab Cocktail with a Yellow Tomato Coulis. The Crab flavor was expressively conveyed by the preparation, rather than being the soggy anonymous mush that so many versions of this dish so often. are. This was married very successfully with a Kistler “Les Noisetiers” Sonoma Coast 2007. Noisetiers refers to hazelnuts and the terroir is certainly very distinctive. This wine comes from grapes from several of the Kistler vineyards. It was a golden wine, with some hints of ripe lemon and nut oil…it delivered a vibrant zing. We smoked with this a Nestor Miranda “Special Selection” Lancero.  This is a Honduran cigar with a Nicaraguan wrapper. It is rolled so that most of the flavor is in the wrapper (which is where cigars need to shine anyway). At the beginning and end of the smoke it was quite woody, with hints of fruit in between. Lovely, gentle, elegant.

Our next dish was Rabbit Saddle, with Ginger Baby Carrots, Pan Jus and Micro Greens. The absence of the classic “mustard” with the rabbit gave us a more delicate, subtle but yet still succulent dish — more tender than gamy. This was caressed by a Viognier de Rosine, Michel Ogier, Vin de Pays, 2006.  These grapes come from just west of the famous Condrieu vineyards, the spiritual homestead of Viognier. The 2006 was lovely. Good acidity, a peachy richness, lovely aroma.

The main course was Venison Striploin, Yukon Gold Potato Gratin, Port & Cherry Glaze.  It was succulent, tender, gamy in just the right measure. It had none of the dehydration that inept versions of Venison are guilty of…and the glaze wasn’t overpoweringly sweet…just a lovely contrast. The accompanying wine was a knock-out. Gigondas, “Prestige D’Hautes Garrigues”, Domaine Santa Duc, Rhone 2003.  A gorgeous super-concentrated Gigondas with exotic berries, amazingly aromatic for its age, spicy, with a big finish. With this we smoked our second cigar of the dinner, Camacho “Triple Maduro” Torpedo. Wow! “Maduro” means “ripe” in Spanish, and this is considered the only “true” Maduro because the wrapper, binder and filler are all Maduro. It was a powerful, rich, sumptuous cigar, that took a while to get going and then let loose — really expressing its complexity and power.

Dessert was a lovely way to cap the meal — Caramel Apple Tart, Vanilla Bean Gelato, White Chocolate Ganache. The richness of the gelato worked wonderfully with the warm flaky pastry and the sweet yet slightly tart apple flavor of this rich dessert. We capped our wine experience no less memorably with Dolc de L’Obac, “Late Harvest Granacha”, Priorat 2000. This Spanish masterpiece blends Grenache, Cabernet and Syrah, is naturally sweet and non-fortified (!) and comes from a unique one hectare property with a distinctive micro-climate that helps the grapes to ripen faster to produce this exceptional wine — subtle sweetness and lushness at the same time.

We went home basking in the after glow of wonderful company and an evening of abundant palate titillation indeed — the progression from the Lancero to the Camacho was a wonderrful metaphor for an evening that similarly developed, evolved and unfolded — a patchwork of many pleasures.  Something to reprise!

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What a Return!

Eighteen years ago I stopped last at the Inn at Little Washington. It was already a famous, special place. Please see the podcast below, The “Inn” Place, as to the many aspects that make the town and Inn so distinctively captivating.

I’ve been married just over seventeen years, and this is one place my wife and I had never visited as a couple. My birthday was looming and we decided to experience it anew, together.

The culinary finesse of Patrick O’Connell, a true innovator, beggars description. Thirty two years of operating the Inn and the experience still takes your breath away.

The first picture you see is the extraordinary kitchen, custom designed in France, based on the dairy room of Windsor Castle, with Gregorian chants soothing and focusing the chefs who deliver such a virtuoso performance each night.

The second picture is us, with a glass of superb rose champagne and a bit of whimsy, truffled popcorn to accompany it in the stunning lounge (the popcorn has truffle oil AND shaved truffles on top — talk about “finger licking good”). Simplicity and artistry in one.

The third picture is the cheese cow. The cheese selection is European in sweep and balance, delivered on this cow which even makes a mooing sound as she approaches. What a blend of elegance and humor, of Old World art and New World impertinence!

Even the dishes are more than they seem. The caviar you see in the picture seems as if it’s just Ossetra in a tin. But underneath is a silky and exquisite crab and cucumber rilette that just amazingly flatters the caviar in undreamt of ways. The subtlety isn’t compromised, and the flavors are wonderfully enhanced.

Each dish leaves you puckering your palate as it experiences both sophistication and also at least a few unusually tantalizing overtones…like the warm limoncello souffle with zesty lemon ice cream. We were there two nights and other than the menu below, I can particularly recommend other dazzling highlights like hot and cold foie gras on a single plate (a revelation!), lamb carpaccio with caesar salad ice cream, and a shockingly, decadently alluring butter pecan ice cream sandwich with warm caramel.

Taken all in, it is everything a performance should be — delivered by service personalities who show up for each “act” presciently and yet unobtrusively, contributing appropriate charm and warmth. And I was even given a lovely Boutonniere (the elegant flower in the lapel) as I entered! A lovely tradition rarely preserved today…except at bastions of civility and taste like the Inn.

This is the stuff that memories are truly made on!

Passion comes first, then vision, then devoted execution…success follows, and is almost then incidental. Having chatted with Patrick O’Connel I found he had perused my website and Blog, knew who was inhouse, his team had recommendations in hand for us to enjoy the environs, and he was clearly determined we’d be back well before another eighteen years!

We will…much sooner.

Care that much and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll more than make it in whatever you choose to go for.

MENU

A Tin of Sin: Ossetra Caviar with a Crab and Cucumber Rillette with Gatinois, Grand Cru, Ay, Brut, Champagne, 2002

A Quartet of Island Creek Oyster Slurpies

Lightly Scrambled Local Farm Eggs with Creme Fraiche, Wild Morels and Asparagus in a Crystal Egg with Bodegas Escoda-Sanahuja, Conca de Barbera, Els Bassots, Catalunya, Spain 2006

Pecan-Crusted Soft Shell Crab Tempura with Italian Mustard Fruit and Marinated Cabbage Slaw with Jermann, Pinot Grigio, Venezia Giulia, Friuli, Italy 2006

Pan Seared Four Story Hill Farm’s Peking Duck Breast on Red Wine Risotto with Caramelized Endive and Foie Gras “Croutons” with Thierry Allemand, Cornas, Rhone,  France 2002 and La Grange Meritage, Virginia 2007

Strawberry Basil Bubble Tea

Limoncello Souffle with Lemon Ice Cream with Le Mandolare, Recioto di Soave Classico, Le Schiavette, Veneto, Italy 2005

BONUS: Iced Birthday Cake with Dark Chocoloate and Pistachio

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Noble Repast

We’ve been working with Raffles Hotels and Resorts at their flagship Singapore property and their eye-popping Dubai newcomer (relative to the 120 years plus the Old Gal in Singapore has clocked up), on ways to further exemplify their brand through the daily hospitality experience of their Residents.

Raffles Dubai brings welcome sophistication and service intimacy to a city gagging on architecturally voluptuous hotels who offer often indifferent service. The food scene in Dubai is again high on ambiance and design, often low on culinary finesse, much less true artistry. A welcome exception is The Noble House at Raffles Dubai.

There are many Chinese fusion concepts in the world — again, not many are memorable in terms of fine dining. Noble House is less fusion than haut-Chinese. The sommelier here at Raffles Dubai, has been justly awarded as the Best Sommelier in the Middle East.

When I suggested to the admirable Anthony Lee who helms the Connaught in London with great ability, sophistication and grace, that he visit The Noble House with his fiancee on their recent visit, he agreed. Both of them, with very practiced if not jaded palates between them, said this was arguably one of the best restaurants they had ever dined at, and certainly it matches the very best of Chinese cuisine to be experienced anywhere — comparable to the top venues in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and arguably even more imaginative.

Dinner as theater may have been a vogue. But slightly more value-cognizant and cost-aware times argue for memorable dining quality first. Then the aesthetics and buzz can provide the Hoisin Sauce on the Duck — so to speak.

Aperitif

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Demi-Sec NV

Dim Sum Platter

Beluga Caviar Dumpling (Fresh Scallops, Shrimps, Dried Scallops), Abalone Siew Mai (Abalone and Corn-fed Chicken Dumpling topped with Tobiko), and Potato Dumpling (Truffles and Assorted Mushrooms) with Gavi di Gavi Batasiolo 2007, Piedmont Northern Italy

Yuan Yang Duck

Pan-fried Foie Gras & Mango Duck Roll with Shredded Duck Salad, Hoisin Vinaigrette with St. Urbans Hof QbA Riesling 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany

Shark’s Fin Soup

Shark’s Fin Broth, Crab Meat

A Medley of Main Courses

Wok-Fried Lobster with XO Sauce, Black Pepper Wagyu Beef with pan-seared Australia Wagyu Beef Tenderloin and Assorted Mushrooms, Wok-Fried Noodles with Shredded Vegetables and Mushrooms wrapped in an Egg Pancake with Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay 2003 Simonsberg, Stellenbosch South Africa and Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 Martinborough New Zealand.

Home-made Coconut Ice

with Strawberry and Mango Cream with Castello di Amo, Vin Santo 2001, Tuscany

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Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Essentially a tale of a dinner, this is more about familiarity breeding not contempt, but warmth and great pleasure.

We began the day at the Four Seasons Hotel for a bite of breakfast and a meeting. Coats were whisked away, the juice of the day (orange and peach) poured with the right mixture of subtlety and ceremony. Warm greetings from members of the staff, always decorous and yet charming.

That afternoon after a grueling but productive morning we opted to take the day (gorgeous sunshine after days of dreary rain). We had a trot through the park, caught a superb movie at the artsy and eccentric Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, AMERICAN VIOLET. A harrowing and inspiring true story that Rex Reed (the critic) and I agree almost pelts you with both intelligence and significance. Yet it’s uplifting, realistically acted and as dramatic as only real life at times can be. We know the gentleman who punches the tickets, and it’s nice to see him act the curmudgeon as he directs traffic at the cinema.

On the way home, we said hello to our friends at Schumer’s our neighborhood wine store (they have a great eye for wonderful bottles of wine and a discerning palate for which wine would best match which culinary occasion). We stopped by one of the fruit vendors close by to our apartment. He greeted us with enthusiasm and insisted I try a particular Mango.

New York is a teeming city, but it’s also essentially a collection of neighborhoods. And if you’ll stop and engage people, you’ll discover virtually everyone knows your name…so to speak, at least within your stomping grounds here.

That evening some dear friends who are also major clients were in town. We dined in Del Posto, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. We met Jeff the Manager who adjusted to our change in numbers without breaking his stride, Emanuele who almost always looks after us with aplomb and panache, and numerous others we recognize visually if not by name. The menu and wine pairings are below. Highlights included the Raw big eye tuna, the Bollito Misto with the rich Capon broth (amazing!), the Tuscan Fish Stew with Glass Eels (originally alive before the broth was poured!) — but overall it was a true triumph of flavors and service.

We then went onto the Grand Havana Room, my Cigar Club in New York. A busy night there, again a call to Randal, the Manager and a friend, and a wonderful space was reserved for us almost immediately, and we capped the evening with camaraderie, cigars, XO Armagnac and good cheer.

All day we felt blessed that we were known and seen. It was good to be alive!

Try really noticing people wherever you go. Really see them. Listen to them for awhile. Talk to them. William James pointed out that the greatest human craving is the need to be appreciated. Offer that authentically, and you’ll be a star wherever you go…and you’ll deserve to be.

MENU

Insalata Primavera della Terra

Vegetables with Herbs, Sprouts & Flowers, a kaleidoscope of Spring with Brut Blanc de Blancs “Vertus” Guy Larmandier NV Champagne

Tuna Susci with Insalata Tricolore

Raw Big Eye Tuna with Horseradish, Radicchio, Chicory and Arugula with Fiano “Donnaluna” de Conciliis 2007 Campania

Tortellini in Brodo

Bollito Misto in a Miniature Ravioli in a Rich Capon Broth with “Uvaggio” Proprieta Sperino 2005 Piemonte

Linguini in Red Clam Sauce

A New York Classic with Pugliese Vongole Veraci Clams and Piennolo Tomatoes with Barbera d’Alba “Brichet” Ca’ Viola 2007  Piemonte

Cacciucco with Glass Eels

Tuscan Fish Stew with Brut Rose Laherte NV Champagne

Beef Rossini

Beef Short Ribs with Foie Gras, Truffles, Madeira and Garlic Spinach with “Cerviolo” San Fabiano Calcinaia 2000 Tuscany

Blood Orange Bellini

Tartufo al Caffe

Torta Carotina

Butterscotch Semifreddo

with Recioto di Soave, Agostino Vicentini 2006 Veneto

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A Festival of Taste

As part of our 17th wedding anniversary celebrations, my wife and I enjoyed a lovely couple of nights in Tarrytown (for some of the other educational aspects of the week-end check out the podcast “The Global Author” which will be posted soon).

A highlight of the week-end was our anniversary dinner at Blue Hill Farm just minutes from the Castle on the Hudson where we stayed. This is a working farm and one of the most original and dramatically enjoyable culinary experiences you can have, anywhere.

Essentially you are presented with a list of what’s freshest, you are asked for allergies, and preferences, and then a menu is composed for you. The service is seamless, the attention gracious, the cuisine inspired. The room was bulging with people experiencing each other and more or less joyously experiencing the procession of tastes and flavors that came out in rapid (but not too rapid) successsion.

Some experiences are one-dimensional. Others are multi-faceted. This is a feast for all the senses, and if you opt for a tour of the working farm, its philosophy, its commitment to local produce and the freshest ingredients making it onto plates festooned with a real variety of tastes and textures, you leave as if from a culinary symphony (meaning ‘to bring together’). And bringing together: tastes, experiences and people who are so willing, is something Blue Hill excels at!

FARMER’S FEAST

Chef’s Amuse

Monkfish

cheek, spring garlic and vegetable pistou with Domaine Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne, Grand Cru Burgundy, 2004

Blue Hill Farm Veal Marrow

american caviar with Elderflower Royale

This Morning’s Farm Fresh Egg

greenhouse greens & herbs with the Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne

Hake

celtuce and lettuce broth

Handmade Goose Egg Pasta

spinach and cured egg  shavings with Domaine Dujac Gevrey Chambertin ‘Aux Combottes’ 1er Cru Burgundy, 2004

Stone Barns Berkshire Pig

jowl, date & charcuterie sauce with Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvigon Napa Valley, 1999

Pastured Lamb

swiss chard, salsify and celery root with Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon

Cheese Course

old world versus new world with the luscious last of this superb Cabernet

Meyer Lemon

passion fruit and yogurt sorbet

Parsnip Cake and Chocolate Mocha

bergamot and ginger ice cream with the Parsnip Cake and banana vanilla toffee, campari and roasted soybeans with the Chocolate Mocha with Domaine La Coume du Roy, Maury 1965

Anniversary Special

Toasted Oat Ice Cream with lady apple and white cinnamon and ‘Gin and Tonic’ of  buddha’s hand and meyer lemon sorbet with the Maury


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