April 27, 2007

Recently uncorked at Gracie Mansion

At an event last week at Gracie Mansion, Mayor Bloomberg served Long Island wines. Sweet. Over the last few years Long Island wines were mostly dismissed, but change is, um, fermenting if what I saw in Gracie last week is part of a larger trend.

Here they are:

Pellegrini Vineyards 2005 Chardonnay Select ($9.99 at Vintage)
Wolffer Estate Vineyards 2002 La Ferme Matin Merlot ($13.99 at Vintage)
Corey Creek Reisling
Bedell Cellars 2005 Merlot ($20 at Bedell)

I wasn't able to try any at the event, but I have tasted the Wolffer Merlot before and it was quite good. For a young red it was drinkable, with a clear, crisp taste of bing cherries. The Gracie cellarkeepers seem to have a good cross section of LI wines, though they missed one of my favorites: The Channing Daughters.

Channing's entry level wines are forgettable, but the midrange and above are worth it. It seems as though NY Times writer Harold Goldberg has a crush on the Daughters too ... he writes about the winery quite often.

If you haven't tried Long Island wines (or Upstate NY, for that matter), you should stop by Vintage NY's tasting bar. They've got locations in Soho and the Upper West Side.

The beautiful picture of Pindar Vineyard's sparkling wine rack comes from Declan! over at Flickr. Thanks.

April 23, 2007

First Bite: FR.OG

So, media night at the new kirsh/virot FR.OG. Some food and drinks were served while guests were given a chance to wander around before tomorrow's real opening. There's been a quite a bit of buzz surrounding this opening, with some dating back to summer 2006.

The food and drink skewed toward Moroccan and Asian. Waiters passed spiced scallops with peanut sauce, pork egg rolls, herbed cucumber/tomato skewers, and tomato soup. Herbal flavors like basil, cardamom and anise dominated each (with the exception of the tomato soup, which, as you might expect, was dominated by tomato). The drinks were similarly themed, with a lychee ginger/rosewater (gin) martini, and a beautifully spiced FR.OG (vodka) martini with cardamom, star anise. Both were good, but the latter rocked: pleasant aroma, good mouthfeel (though it tasted more early-winter than mid-spring).

Adjacent to Spring Street Natural, the space is an often interesting mix of modern and traditional, but is ultimately disappointing. Don't get me wrong, well-placed design elements like the Moroccan-patterned frosted glass, shadow-throwing Asian lanterns, and a mirror-mosaic spiral staircase hold together the modern French colonial theme, but those effects are mostly lost in a great white sea of empty wall and ceiling. The smaller room downstairs has a chill, loungy feel but much of it is lost because of the feet of nearly-white wall - a lower ceiling would have served them well; they could help cut the lost space by draping a translucent patterned fabric from the ceiling (as they do on the walls).

According to a waiter, it seats 105 (close to 50 in the main room, some at the bar, and 30 to 40 downstairs).

April 14, 2007

Cheap/Tasty: Pasta Salad with Vinaigrette

Because of my weird hours, I often cook for myself in bulk. Around the middle of last summer I began to get tired of the sauteed chicken breast combinations I'd been coming up with (rosemary/olive oil, chipotle, plain, garlic), so I went to the Union Square Greenmarket in search of something inspiring.

Luscious vegetables lead me to throw together this incredibly healthy and inexpensive meatless pasta salad (did I mention the robust flavors?). It's evolved over the year to its most recent incarnation last week, when I threw about every vegetable I could find into it:

Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

1lb pasta
1 lb (about 2 bunches) kale, tough stems and center ribs cut off and discarded
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bunch radishes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 10-oz package frozen petit peas
4-oz goat cheese, crumbled
1 16-oz can chick peas, rinsed, drained, and picked over

Simple mustard vinaigrette (recipe below)
Boil pasta in salted water, according to package instruction. While pasta boils, cook peas according to package instructions and prepare kale based on this recipe, using these reduced quantities of olive oil and the garlic (and ignoring, as I did, the other greens.). While that cooks, chop the radishes, bell pepper and onion.

Drain cooked pasta and place in a large bowl. Top with cooked kale, chopped vegetables, cooked peas, goat cheese, and chick peas. Top with mustard vinaigrette (recipe still below).

And finally, the simple mustard vinaigrette recipe:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinaiger
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons dijon mustard

All in all, it's a great weekday recipe: healthy, fast, and filling. Oh, and if you're a unabashed carnivore, throw up to 1 lb cooked sausage in there. Or maybe some chicken, or steak. You can get your meat in there, don't worry.

April 12, 2007

Cold morning, City Bakery Hot chocolate.

Kimberly, sitting in the City Bakery, holding her cup of hot chocolate with homemade marshmallow:
[sips] Oooh.
[pause, sips] Oooh.
[pause, sips] Oh, my God.
[pause, sips] Wow.


I sit in front of my pretzel croissant, fruit-nut muffin, and cup of the same and am relieved. Completely relieved, since I'd promised a memorable breakfast and it's a drizzly, cold, early morning.

The rest of the meal goes mostly along those lines. We sit, catch up and take in the awesomeness. The hot chocolate, drinking chocolate, really, is an intense warm, thick, cocoa-y consistency. Instead of rose water Swiss Miss, this chocolate feels as if the bakery had melted a bar of milk chocolate right into our cups. The marshmallow is a bit overly sweet and vexingly dense (it never melts, just sits, iceberg-like, on the molten surface).

Pretzel croissants, to me at least, are the star of the pastry show at City Bakery. Kimberly's chocolate croissant and my fruit-nut muffin (which may have contained apples, cranberries, raisins, and possibly, pecans) were all right, but the pretzel croissants are what keep me coming back. They really do blend the best of both of their namesakes - the flakiness of a croissant and the salty pretzel chew.

I love the City Bakery for early morning breakfasts, but need to get there before it gets crowded (by 9 a.m.). Between 7 and 8:20 it's peaceful.

April 10, 2007

Chivalric Dining

When the parents come to town, my dining options improve greatly. The usual omelets and toast get replaced by Vermillion!

Mom loves Old Town Alexandria, so after much parking ado, we headed into Vermillion, a place which had been recommended to me. The downstairs is specifically a lounge, with dark crimson couches and a lovely bar. I mentally noted to come back when Alexandria institutes its smoking ban.

We were led to the upstairs restaurant and seated at a lovely table at the window. Decor note: perfectly romantic place. The ceiling was black with red drapes hanging from it, walls covered with wine, but the "art" was the coolest part. The walls were rustic brick with gold frames on it - and each of frames was lit with a spotlight so that the light itself was framed. Brilliant!

Anyway, food. Vermillion, as the swanky lounge downstairs suggested, has a stellar bar menu. Mom had a Pomolitan (cosmo with pomegranate juice) and I had an Old Town lemonade (citrus vodka, mint, lemons, soda & sugar). Both drinks were very refreshing without being too sweet. We then shared some latkes & cured salmon, which came with a spoonful of sweet homemade apple butter and some creamy horseradish sauce.

Next came a light spinach salad with some tangy goat cheese & a blood-orange vinaigrette. The goat cheese wasn't crumbled as is normally the case with salads, but instead smeared on the side of the plate. I really enjoyed this difference in presentation - but mainly because it was high quality Pipe Dreams goat cheese, and not some boring chevre that doesn't add much to a salad.

For my entree, I went with the rib rack of pork, which came with cider-braised kale and pear & currant strudel. I don't think I have ever knowingly consumed kale, but there was bacon involved in its cooking, so I had to go for it, and was not disappointed. The strudel came in thin little tubes - think Pirouette cookies - that accompanied the pork. They were very good, but I would have preferred my strudel bigger and softer that the flavors could mingle with the pork a bit more.

As we decided to split a poached pear for dessert, two glasses of port appeared on the table, courtesy of the gentlemen & his wife dining adjacent to us. They had been doing a tasting menu, it seemed, and the chef came out multiple times to talk to them, and even brought them a signed menu at the end. Apparently Mom & I seemed posh enough in our culinary enjoyment and witty repartee to deserve some port at the end of the meal. We talked to the couple for awhile about the DC dining scene and port in general (Mom used to have it frequently when she lived in Chile).

After the generous couple had left, my mom turned to me and said, "That's the first time that's ever happened to me!" and I agreed (excepting skeezy dudes at bars, which don't count). Anyone else ever had a fellow diner treat you to a drink or something else for pure culinary enjoyment?

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