Thursday, February 25, 2010

Post Tre Bicchieri Dinner at Kuleto's

After the 2010 Tre Bicchieri Tasting event yesterday, I joined a small group of Italian wine producers represented in the US by Vinifera Imports for dinner at Kuleto's. Everyone was in a satisfied mood as the San Francisco leg of the tour was well attended, with a crowd larger than the version held in New York City last Monday. This despite the number of producers featured dropping to 107 in San Francisco from over 150 in New York.

People in New York were probably wined out after a series of Italian wine and food events there recently. Yet I also feel that during this downturn one of the few bright spots in the Bay Area food and wine scene is Italian-centric gastronomy. I've observed that over the past year or so trendy enotecas, pizzerias, trattorias, and similar joints have opened with pizzaz in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

But much as I love the modern take, purveyor-driven food, and often bite-size plates at places like Bar Bambino, SPQR, A16, Beretta, Star Belly, and Perbacco I get weary of the cramped, dark, oftentimes canteen-like communal rooms. So what a change of pace at the expansive, well-lit, unhip, throwback atmosphere of Kuleto's, which has been in this off-Union Square spot for over 20 years! I felt like I was in a restaurant again.

Food-wise, the salumi plate is what you'd come here for. Kuleto's has been doing housecured salumi since it started, now of course salumi is very in. The plate has a wonderful selection of coppa (my favorite), soppressata, mortadella, ham, ciccioli, and finocchiona. But I must say the salumi was somewhat marred by the dressing of olives and olive oil. When I order salumi I really just want the salumi, I would rather order salad separately.

With four different wine producers around the table, we drank just two wines and none from one of them. The 2006 Pietracupa Fiano di Avellino from the Campania region was so perfectly matched with the salumi, with its fruity, mineral qualities and intense peppery spice. I must remember to bring in some of this wine to the store.

One of the producers around the table was Graziano Prà. He and his brother, Sergio, make some of the best Soave Classicos. Their unoaked Monte Grande has been awarded Tre Bicchieri eight years in a row!

The tower of Roasted Beets and Arugula Salad topped with seared Skyhill Farms goat cheese from Napa toppled clumsily but was delicious. About half of us ordered it. The plate was big enough to be a vegetarian meal. I noticed that Francesco, sitting next to me couldn't finish his plate.

So who's Francesco? Francesco Ripaccioli is the third generation in his family to run the classic Brunello di Montalcino producer, Canalicchio di Sopra. This is one of the original 12 Brunello producers that existed prior to the creation of the DOC in 1967. Primo Pacenti, Francesco's grandfather, who established the estate, was one of the organizers of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. Francesco and his siblings are continuing the heritage well, their 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a 2010 Tre Bicchieri winner.

My plate of Sonoma Duck Breast still tasted okay even though the meat was well-done, therefore a bit tough. Its apricot and grappa sauce was delicious and the side of polenta was decadently creamy and buttery. A lovely touch was the roasted peach on the side.

The 3-liter of 1997 Drei Donà Tenuta la Palazza "Magnificat", a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a single-vineyard within the estate in Emilia-Romagna, was smooth, dark, well evolved, and nicely integrated, with distinctive cassis and olive notes. A dark beauty and quite elegant. Thankfully it was served decanted, so we didn't have to be passing back and forth the 3-liter bottle.

No strangers to producing excellent reds are Stefano Cesari of Brigaldara in Verona and Giorgio Pelissero of Pelissero in Piemonte. Stefano produces beautiful Valpolicella Classico and very fine Amarone, particularly Case Vecie. I have been selling his reasonably priced wines from the outset.

Giorgio makes outstanding Barbaresco, the single-vineyard Vanotu is a standout and the 2006 Barbaresco Vanotu is a Tre Bicchieri winner, though the normale is also impressive. I opened a bottle of the 1997 normale two years ago in a ten-year Barbaresco/Barolo tasting and it stood out in the lineup. But Giorgio bragged to me about how good his Nebbiolo/Barbera blend, Long Now, is. I have to try it soon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

James Beard Awards Semifinalists

The James Beard Foundation Awards is sort of like the Oscars for the restaurant trade. Every year the foundation honors excellence in restaurants across the country with their coveted Restaurant and Chefs Awards. In passing conversations with various restaurant staffs, I can tell you that the awards create a buzz in the restaurant community.

Back in 2006, how I wished Gerald Hirigoyen won the Best Chef California award--he's done so much for advancing the Bay Area food scene (Vineyard Gate has held wine dinners at both Pastis and Piperade)--but that was won by Suzanne Goin, who's a semi-finalist again, this time for Outstanding Chef (in the country).

A curious note on the awards, RN74 is a Best New Restaurant semi-finalist. The place is plush and the food is exceptional given that it's template is a wine bar. Yet, as its name suggest, its raison d'etre are its awesome wine list and great wine service.

Here are the semi-final picks for the Bay Area.

Michael Dellar, Lark Creek Restaurant Group, San Francisco
Pat Kuleto, Boulevard, Epic, Farallon, Jardinière, Martini House, Nick's Cove & Cottages, and Waterbar, San Francisco
Doug Washington, Anchor & Hope, Salt House, and Town Hall, San Francisco

Gary Danko, Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco
Michael Mina, San Francisco
Charles Phan, The Slanted Door, San Francisco

Bouchon, Yountville, CA
Boulevard, San Francisco
Delfina, San Francisco

Perry Hoffman, Etoile Restaurant at Domaine Chandon, Yountville, CA
Timothy Hollingsworth, The French Laundry, Yountville, CA

Flour + Water, San Francisco
Frances, San Francisco
RN74, San Francisco

Deanie Fox, Ubuntu, Napa, CA
Nicole Plue, Redd, Yountville, CA
Michelle Polzine, Range, San Francisco

A16, San Francisco
Acquerello, San Francisco
La Toque, Napa, CA
Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco

Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Wines, Sebastopol, CA
Jörg Rupf, St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA
John Shafer and Doug Shafer, Shafer Vineyards, Napa, CA

Acquerello, San Francisco

Jeremy Fox, Ubuntu, Napa, CA
Laurence Jossel, Nopa, San Francisco
Loretta Keller, Coco500, San Francisco
David Kinch, Manresa, Los Gatos, CA
Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, CA
Mourad Lahlou, Aziza, San Francisco
Daniel Patterson, Coi, San Francisco
Richard Reddington, Redd, Yountville, CA
Michael Tusk, Quince, San Francisco

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feasting at The Kitchen in the Year of the Tiger

A feast to celebrate Lunar New Year is an occasion I look forward to every year. I believe this biodynamic phenomenon not only brings good karma, or balances the yang with my yin, but is also the best time to gorge on Chinese food and the most opportune moment to drink almost exclusively awesome white wines. Why white wines? Because when it comes down to it, only white wines have the complexity to match up with great Chinese cuisine.

I organized a special banquet for 12 people--a fortuitous number after the 12 animal signs in the lunar calendar--consisting of good friends of Vineyard Gate, at The Kitchen in Millbrae, CA, one of the Bay Area's top Cantonese restaurants, and a bottle's throw from the store.

After a Champagne toast at the store, where I poured the luscious Henriot Blanc Souverain, a blanc de blancs with stunning intensity and refinement, we ambled to the restaurant, suitably imbibed and very hungry.

Our bespoke ten-course menu, which I arranged a week before with the restaurant's manager, Peter Yin, and number one chef, Michael Kam Wo Au, a Grand Master of Chinese Cooking and be-medaled chef in French cooking, was exemplary for its yin-yang, hot-cold balance. Number one chef gave it a thumbs up. Prosperity is ours after the meal.

Cold-Cuts: Jellyfish, Beef Shank, Pigs Trotters, Barbecued Pork, Crispy Pork Belly, Wakame Seaweed Salad

Roast Squab

Sashimi of Geoduck Clam (mirugai) and Spot Prawns

Salt & Pepper Fried Geoduck and Prawn Heads

Shark's Fin Soup with Crabmeat (individually plated)

Pan Fried Sea Bass (individually plated)

The Five-Pound Australian Lobster

Steamed and Wok-Fried Australian Lobster

Sauteed Foie Gras with Mixed Mushrooms

Ribeye Steak with Tofu Cubes in Sesame Sauce Dressing

Stir Fried Chinese Broccoli

A triumph! Friends of Vineyard Gate cheering Chef Michael Kam Wo Au, while Manager Peter Yin looks on

Except for a red Burgundy towards the end, all the wines we paired with the courses were whites. Starting with a rare magnum of 1983 Maudiere Brut Reserve "Millennium" California Sparkling Wine made by Edmond Maudiere and disgorged in 1996. The blend is a mystery. There was a touch of residual sugar to make it more Extra Dry than Brut. Creamy-textured with crisp ripe apples and minerals.

Another magnum of Champagne, the 2002 Franck Bonville Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Grand Cru was crisp, dry, mineral, and elegant. A beauty!

Next was a 1988 Schloss Schonborn Riesling Spatlese Johannisberg Klaus, which was drinking marvelously. Splendid aromatics, sweet on the entry then bright, bitter note that shifts the flavor to drier and more mineral on the finish. Side-by-side, another beautiful Riesling was the 1990 Karthauserhof Riesling Auslese from the historic estate in the Ruwer was still young and fresh, a long way to go for this Auslese but sooo good to drink!

A couple of Zind-Humbrechts followed. The 1998 Clos Windsbuhl Riesling Vendange Tardive was medium sweet, with poached apple and cider hints. Elegant, graceful, perfect acid balance. Interestingly contrasted by the 1991 Goldert Gewurztraminer which was dryish, really luscious tropical fruit and spice flavors. Focus, lengthy finish.

Back to bone dry stuff with the magnificent 2001 Marc Kreydenweiss Pinot Gris Moenchberg. Soft layers of fruit and spice with utmost purity and delicacy. This was followed by a vintage of Alsace's most legendary Riesling, the 2001 Trimbach Riesling Clos Sainte Hune. Fully fermented until completely dry this mineral-driven wine has a most efficient, laser-focused delivery. Spare, austere, I shuddered with delight.

Finally, the 1990 Domaine Hubert de Montille Volnay Les Taillepieds was deeply colored (a 1990 after all) with a nose exuding earth and game, but tight, tarty, and taut on the palate with that unforgiving edginess typical of Hubert de Montille's style, and very atypical of the opulence of the vintage, which I think is a good thing as many '90s are fading fast. I don't doubt this wine, another a decade or so of patience then everything will be revealed.

There were two sweeties at the the end that I'm not sure I even tasted in the haze of all the courses and wines. One was the 2007 Jackson-Triggs Niagara Peninsula Vidal Ice Wine, which I wish I could remember given the producer's excellent reputation. The other was the 2005 Seebrich Riesling Eiswein Niersteiner Oelberg from an overachieving Rheinhessen producer that I'm quite familiar with. The vineyard's red slate/clay soils grow fruity, lush Rieslings, and the Eiswein is a speciality of the estate.

Altogher, what a feast! It seems everyone overate which I think is auspicious. I look forward to doing this again with Vineyard Gate friends next year. Meanwhile, Happy Year of the Tiger!

The Kitchen
279 El Camino Real
Millbrae, CA
Open everyday for lunch and dinner

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Roosting at Coi

It was Coi's turn to roost the Bocuse d'Or USA fundraiser the other night. The dinner menu highlighted American heritage poultry, inspired by the legendary chef Paul Bocuse's love for volaille.

Coi's chef, Daniel Patterson, and Manresa chef, David Kinch, teamed up in the kitchen to cook up alternating courses. It was in a way a sort of mano-a-mano between the two Two-Star Michelin chefs. Though their menu was spa-like restrained, there was subtle razzle dazzle in each of their offerings.

Kinch threw seawater as seasoning in his otherwise straightforward shellfish sashimi. Patterson parried by deconstructing a cheese tart. Kinch elevated his next course by bathing a sauteed trout with a sensual marrow juice. Patterson's riposte was a frivolous take on a farm basket, vegetables on a bed of hay, with pecorino for good measure.

Finally, on the main courses of chicken raised by the Bay Area's Soul Food Farm, Kinch's play on layering of textures anchored by a crisped chicken was exemplary, though I think the brilliance of that dish was really the poured chicken juice or "dashi". Patterson regained form with a gorgeous-looking and truly comforting breast of chicken--a dish that would make Paul Bocuse himself proud.

Daniel Patterson before service.

Firethorn (soda)

Mandarin Sour--satsuma ice, kumquat, angostura bitters

An Elemental Oyster

Inside the oyster, creamy and rich

Shellfish with Radish and Apple, a Seawater of Unripe Tomato--geoduck clam and bay scallops

Bottle of seawater of Unripe Tomato

Beet and Goat Cheese Tart (Broken, Inverted) rye, dill

Steelhead Trout with Onion and Marrow "Tears", Chervil Cream

Winter Pastoral--Young Carrots Roasted in Hay, Radish Powder, Shaved Pecorino

Crispy Chicken and Egg Confit...

A Roasted Chicken "Dashi"

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast--Wild Mushroom Porrdige, Garlic Confit, Wood Sorrel

Parmesan Donuts--Blackpepper, Quince

It's Almost It--Chocolate, Oatmeal, Orange

Firethorn (Jellies)

1981 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia White Gran Reserva. Awesome elegance and versatility. Very deep gold color. Pear skin, paraffin, and cut apple aromas. Intense mineral and dried fruit flavors. Long and gentle finish. It paired beautifully with everything.

1997 Domaine Hubert de Montille Bourgogne Rouge. It's taken over ten years for this overachieving Bourgogne from Hubert's time to show magnificently. Sour cherry, earthy tea aromas, complicated by anise and clove. Rich dark cherry flavors, unbelievable for a humble Bourgogne at ten years. A lovely pairing with two main chicken courses--counterpointing Kinch's "Dashi" sauce and melding naturally with Patterson's wild mushroom porridge.

David Kinch after service.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Year's Dinner with Ben and Mayon

The New Year began with a semi-potluck dinner organized by friends, Ben and Mayon, at their home. In the spirit of sharing they handed me a somewhat idiot-proof recipe to follow, a cheese quiche, that I still managed to screw up. To my relief, it was edible and it didn't bother an immortal magnum of Clos de Tart it was paired with. More on this later.

The occasion was ostensibly a chivalrous tribute to the dames in the group. To toast the event, Ben found a few old magnums to uncork from his wine cellar. Given such overwhelming generosity I was relieved the menfolk present didn't break out into a ship's mates shanty of "There's Nothing Like a Dame". So happily the occasion turned out to be some enchanted evening.

I brought the warm-up bubbly--chilled bottles of the 1998 Gaston Chiquet Brut Special Club. This prestige cuvée from one of the best grower-producers in Champagne is drinking exceptionally well now. Happily everyone concurred. Endowed with a rich, full body and luscious flavors, rather on the elegant side, it had pleasing finesse and a heartwarming freshness. Not a bad intro, but what followed next was really the centerpiece wine of the night.

Ben and Mayon have kept magnums of the 1961 Bollinger R.D. since they were disgorged in 1983. Vinified during Madame Elizabeth (Lily) Bollinger's time and disgorged nearly a quarter of a century later during the helm of her nephew, Christian Bizot, these extremely rare magnums have been stored impeccably at a rather chilly constant 49 degrees F and never moved.

This Champagne was pristine and unbelievably fresh given its half-century existence. Bubbles rushed up as I poured the pale liquid into my glass. The magnum may as well have been disgorged on the spot that very night as it was so youthful. This is not a weighty, mouthfilling, blockbuster as the extended lees aging might suggest, but a young dancer. Trim, sinewy, graceful, and certainly multifaceted. Though it was just the first magnum of the night, the awesome R.D. rendered much of everything else at the dinner table anti-climactic.

Yet, onwards to the magnum of 1970 Château Lafite-Rothschild. After multiple decantings this first-growth still started out lazily. The nose was intense, with that Lafite perfume of graphite, violets, and tea leaf, and the flavors were luscious and bright. But the wine felt distinctly short. Meanwhile, I picked clean the ribs of the fattened lamb, which were pan-grilled to perfection. A joyous pairing with the reticent claret.

Three lamb ribs later, the '70 Lafite started to put on a magnificient show--the finish lengthened and sweetened. It was unspeakably elegant. Mayon declared it perfect, and I can't disagree.

For an intermezzo, the 1970 Château Cheval Blanc from Kevin's cellar was piney and full of tea leaf aromas. A big, rich, ripe right-bank first-growth evincing pure fruit flavors. It was backed up by good acidity and strengthened by rich tannins. There is no letup in intensity on the finish. What an impeccable wine! If I can bottle it up again, it would age forever.

My somewhat sweet, savory cheese quiche was easily devoured by the biggest, baddest red Burgundy that ever lived. I swear, I've never had red Burgundy as powerful as this magnum of 1961 Clos de Tart. It flaunts almost SLH-like opulence, unbelievable for a Burgundy, especially a 50 year-old one; yet its freshness of fruit would embarrass a five-year-old Pisoni. Wow! Overripe and almost jammy flavors, yet clean and harmonious and exhibiting a raffish charm. We debated whether this magnum has already reached peak drinking. I doubt it.

A most decadent, syrupy dessert wine was the 1973 Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Sweet Johannisberg Riesling "Edelwein". Freemark Abbey bottles this wine to this day from late-harvest, botrytised Riesling grown in the Carneros. I feel that the acidity has melted away on this wine and I got poached citrus and orange marmalade flavors with a sweetness that was just numbing for me. I was really glad for the tangy Poached Blood Orange dessert that freshened my palate.

With a glorious old Port--a 1963 Cockburn's--and a tasty robusto in hand, I stepped outside into the cold air. My gratitude to Ben and Mayon for such an auspicious start for the New Year. If there is one lesson I learned this evening, it's that magnums are too big to fail.