Friday, December 30, 2011

Tales of Two Wine Dinners

Hubby and I were fortunate enough to attend two wine dinners in December.

Scallop, lamb chop, and rockfish stated the wine dinner menu. What had I gotten myself into? Tastebuds American Bistro was hosting their only wine dinner of the year and a sparkling one at that. We reserved spots before we saw the menu knowing it would sell out quickly. And then I received the list of courses. I am not a lamb fan and I tolerate fish. Hubby asked if I wanted to cancel. I said no. I had eaten fish at Tastebuds before (at a wine dinner) and raved about it. I just had to worry about the lamb.

We arrived, albeit a bit late. I was sure dinner started at 7 PM. It began at 6 PM. Thank goodness they called us at 6:05 PM. We live so close we were seated and having an amuse bouche cocktail (vodka, sparkling, lemon accompanied by an olive!) by 6:15PM.

Course 1
Charred Sea Scallop, Chimichurri of Watercress and Grapefruit, Cucumber Foam with Secco Brut from Italy

Sea Scallop

The non-traditional chimichurri was delightful and enhanced the flavor of the scallop.

Course 2
Salad of Artisanal Greens, Southern Fried Golden Beets, Cambozola Cheese, White Balsamic Pear Dressing with Castillo Perelada Rosado Cava Brut from Spain

Fried Golden Beet

So we did call the restaurant ahead of time to request no blue cheese of any type. It gives my hubby violent reactions. The dressing was wonderful and the lovely rosy Cava paired very well. The fried golden beets were unusual and I liked the inventive take on the dish.

Course 3
Pecan Crusted Lamb Chop, Butternut Squash-Cherry-Blue-Cheese Cobbler, Swiss Chard Gastrique with Grasparossa d'Castelvetro Lambrusco from Italy

Lamb Chop

The moment of truth: lamb chop. And my god, it was fantastic. No musky lamby taste at all. I enjoyed every tender morsel. The cobbler (sans blue cheese) I also raved on about. A wonderful savory cobbler that was perfect for the fall going into winter time of year. The gastrique was interesting. If the room had been a bit lighter, one could have really picked up the dark green color and I'm not sure that would have been a good thing. But the sauce looked more brown in the restaurant lighting. And you may be asking about the Lambrusco wine pairing. This was not your Ruinite from an '80's college dorm. It was deep red and dry. A hearty sparkling and the perfect accompaniment to the awesome lamb.

Course 4
Butter Roasted Rockfish, Little Neck Clams, Sweet Corn and Yukon Gold Puree, Warm Lemon-Pancetta Vinaigrette with Argyle Brut from Willamette Valley Oregon


Fish after lamb, you say? A bit unorthodox, but the dish was richer than the lamb given the butter roasting. An excellent assembly of flavors. I loved the rockfish and it was great to have a few little neck clams. The corn and potato puree added to the richness of the dish. The lemon and pancetta gave a counter-balance. With all of these essences the Argyle Brut was an excellent choice of sparkling. Argyle Brut is well made and one of the best, most accessible, nearest-to-real-champagne in the market today. It ably met fish, butter, lemon, and pancetta and enhanced the course. Well done!

Course 5
Goat Cheese Filled Beignet, Rhubarb-Apple Compote and Chocolate Lavender Ganache with Fitz-Ritter Riesling Sekt from Germany

Goat Cheese Beignet

Yummy! I particularly liked the use of sweetened goat cheese for the beignet.

This was the only wine dinner Tastebuds American Bistro had in 2011 and since they are open on Sundays now, it is hard for them to host a dinner of this type. I'm so glad we took the blind menu plunge.

For the other dinner, we knew the menu ahead of time and attended a Holiday Feast in Alsace at Amour Wine Bistro. We had never eaten at Amour. The menu featured sauerkraut and Alsatian wine (all white). Since this was a dinner with optional wine pairings, it was a bit different than what we were used to. Only three courses had wine pairings.

Mise en Bouche - Tarte Flambee - Onion, Bacon, and Cheese on Flatbread

Tarte Flambee

A traditional Alsatian dish. Very tasty. I took the leaves off of the sprig of thyme and sprinkled it on the tarte and it was even better. No wine with this dish.

First Course
Saucisse de Strasbourg sur Choucroute - Strasbourg Sausage on a Bed of Sauerkraut paired with 2010 Fritsch Pinot Blanc

Strasbourg Sausage with Sauerkraut

While I'm a bit timid about sauerkraut, this was lovely and mild. The sausage and other pork preparations were delicious. And the Pinot Blanc simply heavenly. The pairing with both the kraut and pork was sheer brilliance! I wished we could have had another glass of this heavenly nectar since the dish was fairly large portion-wise. A great example of traditional Alsatian fare.

Amuse Bouche - Grumbeerekiechle - Potato Pancake with Apple Compote

Potato Pancake

The apple compote was lovely. The potato pancake was a bit bland after the wonderful flavors of the first course. No wine with the amuse bouche.

Second Course
Coq au Riesling with Spaetzle - Chicken slowly cooked in dry white wine paired with 2009 Heimberger Riesling

Coq au Riesling with Spaetzle

This dish was bland which surprised me. We had been looking forward to this dish and had been the deciding factor in attending. The wine was a decent pairing, but overall we were not wowed.

Third Course
Munster en Croute - Munster Cheese in Puff Pastry

Munster en Croute

The pastry was flaky and the cheese strong. A great little course packed with flavor. Unfortunately, no wine was served with this course and the cheese was crying out (at the end, screaming) for some wine. I would loved to have seen which Alsatian wine could stand up to the cheese. An opportunity lost.

Fourth Course
Kougelhopf Glace au Kirsch, Beignets aux Pommes - Raspberry Ice Cream Confection with Apple Beignet paired with Cremant d'Alsace

Raspberry Kougelhopf and Apple Beignet

Hubby ate the raspberry, since I am not a fan and he was happy to have a double helping. I liked the apple beignet and also enjoyed the sparkling wine for dessert.

This dinner had some highs and lows. Being a fan of wine and food pairings, I had expected a wine pairing with all of the dishes. They were large enough to warrant it. I was mightily impressed with the first course - the best part of the evening. Hubby and I will need to go to Amour for a regular dinner sometime soon to compare experiences.

A shout out to both establishments for being nominated for the 1st Annual Elby Awards! Amour Wine Bistro was nominated for Best Wine Program and Tastebuds American Bistro Chef Ryan Baldwin was nominated for Rising Culinary Star.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Close to Perfection

Dinner at Enoteca Sogno:
  • Aperol Spritz
  • Occhipinti SP68 - Red Wine from Sicily
  • White Beans with Arugula and Onion
  • Duck Ragu with Tagliatelle
  • Marscapone Cheesecake with Maple
All wrapped up in personable service! Cheers!

Aperol Spritz
Aperol Spritz

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Here's Hoping You Got What You Wanted For Christmas!

Santa Ornament by pjpink

Santa Ornament a photo by pjpink on Flickr.
Happy Holidays All! I'll be enjoying an herbed rib roast with duck fat roasted potatoes and cranberry orange green beans,

Later on, I'll have a bit of egg nog with vanilla-infused Wild Turkey!

A Merry Christmas, indeed!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Bah Humbug

We experienced a lovely tasting dinner at Amuse. The amuse bouche was a tasty little bite of chopped peppers and olives with feta on crostini. Festive and delicious. A sparkling pear cocktail for me; a cider, ginger beer, and blackstrap rum for hubby. Decadent. A small, yet satisfying charcuterie plate with coppa, prosciutto, and speck with the cutest cornichons, A 2009 Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany the entree (the waiter butchered the cork with no apology). Luscious. We ordered the special: Pot Roast with kale, parsnips, and potatoes. A wonderful presentation of winter comfort food with a slab of herbed grilled bread.

Great food. We were feeling merry. And while our waiter did not pay enough attention to us to refill our wine glasses, we did not pay him any mind. It's Christmas after all.

And then, while I was still enjoying my meal (still had food on my plate), our bah humbug of a waiter had the audacity to interrupt my meal to ask if we wanted dessert. I still had food on my plate and was actively eating! I still had Textbook wine to enjoy! I said no and he remained at the table to ask if we wanted any coffee. Hello!!? I had not finished my wine (which he never asked if he could pour more) nor my food. I was not ready to think about coffee. And then this waiter asked if I had finished my plate. NO! I still had food on my plate! The only reason I had not finished was because he had interrupted me.

I was pissed and the evening tarnished. This person at Amuse had waited on us in times past and had always been a bit nonchalant. Tonight he was downright annoying.

A restaurant of this caliber and and price point should have better staff (and most of the other staff members who have waited on us in the past have been delightful).

The next time we make plans to eat at Amuse, which might be a while given our experience tonight, we will request to not be served by this bah humbug of a waiter.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

SOJ 12/3/2011

The last South of the James Market for this year. The winter market begins next Saturday at Patrick Henry School. Lots of greens and yummy white turnips. Mrs. Yoder still had donuts and I needed one last fix before Spring.

I was extremely sad to hear that Fertile Crescent Farm is pulling up stakes and moving to Floyd to start a new adventure. I will miss your produce, particularly, the washed and bagged arugula. The best. Good luck with your new endeavor.

Here are a few photos:

White Turnips

Carmen is ready to be adopted. Contact Richmond Animal Care
Getting Ones Greens On


Sunny Lettuce

If you have pics of any of the local markets, post them here.