Category Archives: Food

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Here are the main highlights of my trip to Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Hadsten Inn and Spa. Location wise, Solvang is the best jumping off point to all the wineries. Food wise, definitely hit Brothers’ Restaurant at Mattei’s Inn and Los Olivos Grocery Store for some snacks to go with all that wine.

Gainey

One of many tasting rooms, this is definitely part of the hook and look of Gainey.  Romantic and intimate this place looks like the site for weddings and events. Along with that however goes mediocre wine that isn’t too memorable. Most of it is drinkable, but none worth the price point or the heavy luggage to buy back. I would say this would be a pass for my next trip. Sorry Sideways!

Beckmen Vineyards

One of my favorite wineries in this region by far, Beckmen puts thought and time into every bottle. It was very hard to choose, but we ended up with a case of the marsanne. My sister bought a case of one of the whites. The tasting room is a lackluster basic room with the usual  tshirts and trinkets. What it lacks in presentation, the wine more than makes up for in taste. I recently bought the Grenache which is more widely available to a party and it was deliciously jammy yet complex. I am a fan!

Blair Fox

This little gem is a part of the stretch of tasting rooms found in Los Olivos.  The main event is really the syrah from this little vineyard. It definitely leaves an impression and hits all the right notes. With the blessing of demi-god Robert Parker, their wines are becoming more and more widely available outside the local area. Complex with good spice and character, I would reach for their Syrah above all else.

Epiphany

I’ve had some pretty tasty wines from this particular winery while perusing various stores in Chicago and NYC. So when I had the opportunity to go to the tasting room, I jumped. Unfortunately, my expectations fell a little short. Maybe it was the fact that my expectations had been high, but the pours seemed uninteresting but drinkable.  All the glasses were consistently good, but not great and definitely not worth some of the price points.  I would say stick with the edited selection of your local wine store, there is a reason why certain bottles gain their popularity.

Cold Heaven

The wines from this relatively new winery are definitely a labor of love and it shows. Focusing mainly on viognier, Cold Heaven brings out the complexity and elegance this particular varietal deserves.  What struck me the most about these wines is their ability to develop over time and open up like a red.  Many viogniers and whites are ready for the drinking the minute the cork is popped, but with these you miss out on an astounding development of character. The sommelier was kind enough to show us the difference between a bottle opened from the day before and one opened a few minutes ago. Both were delightful, but the former had a mellower character and developed a whole new flavor profile.  I would buy a couple bottles from here just to open and see what happens over time. The Saints and Sinners was one of my favorites.

Taste of the Valleys

Located in the heart of Solvang, this little tasting room has a well edited list of the brightest and best of the local wineries. If you are afraid of missing that one great find this is the place to seek it out at the end or beginning of your trip.  If I had to do it all over again, I think I would have come here first instead of towards the end of the trip to get a sense of where I wanted to visit. The best part of this place is their offerings of Au Bon Climat, lovingly nicknamed ABC. ABC doesn’t have their own tasting room so this is the place to go to get some tastes in.

Au Bon Climat

Don’t let the guy in the mullet on the homepage fool you, Jim Clendenen definitely knows what he’s doing. ABC has some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of this region.  Silky smooth with a leaning towards the Burgundian style of wine making, this winery plays to my heart strings, but not so much to my wallet. Like a true Burgundian the price point is a little steep for some of my favorites, however I suspect the cheaper bottles would age into beauties given a little time. Buy for now and drink for later.

Roman Style Wining and Dining in Chicago

There is nothing more awesome than a true Italian style dinner….multiple courses, good wine, and eating that spans several hours. It is pretty rare to find a restaurant that feeds you continuously for that long without requiring you to nibble and look ackwardly at your impatient waitress/waiter. But at Enoteca Roma the owners have created the ultimate Roman feast with 6 courses, serving more food that you can handle and the grand experience of eating what I like to call a “sprawling” European style dinner. All of it is for a swoon worthy $25. Count ’em…
Courses
1. Antipasta and Bruscetta
2. Appetizers- usually steamed mussells and stewed sausage
3. Salad
4. Polenta served hot on a cool slab of marble
5. Pasta
6. Pizza
(7. Dessert)

Dessert is a little extra, and we actually refused the pizza and went for the dessert instead. The various cheesecakes and gelato were a perfect way to end the meal. I greedily finished off the rest of the pana cotta that was silk smooth and topped with berries. It was nothing short of glorious. All of us couldn’t help but comment how great the meal was along the way. Each course was well made and definitely drool worthy. I am already plotting my next visit.

Wines
Bisson Prosecco IGT Valdobbabiene, Italy 2006- $13- Not bad- Damn Good

We started out with this bottle. It had a nice acidity and a good deal of carbonation that made it a good way to clean our palates and start the evening out right. With hints of citrus and pear and a light nose, I thought this was a pretty good prosecco.

Corregio Roero Nebbiolo Piemonte, Italy 2003-$18- Not Bad

This was a very fruit forward light bodied red. It had a little bit of an acidic, tanniny, dry finish but maintained its body. With the bitter savoriness of our arugula parmesan salad, it paired wonderfully showing a great complexity than at first taste. It also left a clean palate.

J Hofstatter Pinot Nero Valle D’Aosta, Italy 2005-$20- Damn Good

To me the best wine of the night, this bottle had a great fruity jammy nose with hints of cherry and a great taste to match. What made it interesting was its complex spicy finish. It went beautifully with our heavier more substantial pasta dishes. Less tannin than the previous wine, it had a medium body and was very drinkable.

Haro Tapas and Wine

Tucked away amidst an industrial area in the southwest side, Haro is a gem of a restaurant. It features a wide array of tapas with a layering of flavor you rarely see with restaurants at this price point. With dishes like garlic shrimp with a balsalmic vinegar and honey sauce, your tastebuds are definitely given a wide showcase of flavors with each bite. One of my favorites was a dish with champignons glazed with sherry, garlic, and truffle oil. It was so rich and mushroomy with a burst of flavor when you bit into the mushrooms…drool. My only wish is that they had provided us with bread to sop up the saucy remains of each dish. We did not get to try the great desserts they had to offer and instead opted to have some fondue with dessert wines. (Post about that to follow 😉 )

Of note, Haro Tapa is no longer BYOB, but we brought wines anyway thinking it still was…oops. It made for a lovely meal with great pairings.

In order of opening:

Firehose Gewurztraminer 2006 California- $10

Sweet and light with hints of lychee and apricot I thought this bottle was incredibly drinkable. It had a little complexity, and resembled the more German sweet style of Gewurztraminer. I plan on keeping this as another staple for casual dinners and whatever excuse I can come up with. It paired wonderfully with the honey balsamic shrimp, manchego cheese dish, and salty bacon wrapped dates. Other suggestions would be a saltier crumbling cheeses like stilton to go with honeyed walnuts. Excuse me while I salivate!

Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc- $9

This bottle was savory compared to the firehose with a good lemony nose and a taste to match. Less complex than the previous with a little bit of fruitiness and citrus, it went amazingly well with the champignons. With the right food it becomes buttery and mouthy. I would pair this in the future with seafood, chicken, a rich creamy pasta, or something along the lines of a butternut squash ravioli. Mmmmm…I am already thinking of my next meal!

Concha Y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2005- $12

This was a young with a bit of tannin to this finish. Very drinkable and smooth, the nose was amazing with the scent of warm spicy berry if that makes any sense. With its come hither smell, I was mildly disappointed by the chalkiness of the drink, but it did have a great savoriness to it that reminded me more meat. It would probably have went better with a steak than the spicy sausage and other fixin’s we had. I definitely plan on opening it again with a juicy steak.

Cafe Too and and Old Vine Zinfandel

Rarely do you find such a win win situation. Cafe Too is part of the Inspiration Corporation and is used as a venue for people to gain basic culinary skills that will make them marketable. So in the end you get high quality food for much less and get to feel good about it. 🙂 What is so great is that they offer a wonderful $20 prix fixe menu that changes each month. That’s right $20 for a nicely made 5 course meal. An additional bonus is that this is also BYOB with NO CORKAGE. Love! The portions are on the small side but with 5 courses you walk away comfortably full.
Bogle Vineyards 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel-$11
I have whole heartedly jumped on the old vine train. A trend growing in popularity, more and more vineyards are featuring wines from older vines, +50 years old usually. The idea is that with older vines less fruit is produced and more subtle flavors come out. I’ve tried a few wines with this labeling and I have found at the very least I have enjoyed the majority of them. This is definitely true for this particular bottle. Sweet, complex and richer than most zins I have tasted, at this price point, Bogle’s Old Vine Zinfandel is a great deal and has become a new house staple. Cherry, jammy, sweet, and fruity to the nose and same on the tongue, it went well with all the dishes served showing great versatility and most importantly drinkability. 😉 I would drink this with anything from a thick steak to a dark bittersweet chocolate cake.

The Dregs: Sirloin Steak with Red Wine Sauce

img_1931.jpg

MMMM…Love those grill marks!

I couldn’t wait to use my new cast iron grill. So I found this simple recipe for steak with red wine sauce. The grill came preseasoned, heated evenly, and made great grill marks. The steaks came out just the right amount of pink and the red wine sauce didn’t hurt either. 😉 I used an old $6 Cabernet Sauvignon that was opened a while back and really didn’t have much to it. However, it definitely had more flavor in sauce form.

Steak with Red Wine Sauce

2- 1 1/2 lb steaks
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup of red wine
1 cup of beef broth (or one beef boullion cube in 1 cup of hot water)
1 medium onion minced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon of butter

1. Place steaks with olive oil, salt, and pepper in 1 gallon bag. Let marinate for a few minutes to hours
FOR SAUCE:
2. Heat medium sauce pan. Add onions and garlic, saute on medium heat until caramelized.
3. Add red wine to onions and garlic, reduce until wine just covers onions.
4. Add beef broth, reduce and let simmer while cooking steaks.
FOR STEAKS:
5. Heat up grill on medium high heat. Grill each side for approximately 7-10 minutes for medium doneness.
6. Let steaks rest for a few minutes with a tent of foil
TO SERVE:
7. Add butter to hot red wine sauce, let melt.
8. Pour sauce over steak and serve up…mmmmm.

The Dregs: Rosé Wine Apricot Clafoutis

clafoutis.jpg

Inspired by my favorite celebrity chef Mark Bittman’s recent New York Time’s video on clafoutis. I decided to create my own version of this easy French dessert. I had a lot of left over dried apricots thanks to a Costco impulse buy and decided to reconstitute these super sweet fruits with a little rosé wine to bring back the tartness that seems to go so well with a clafloutis. Most claflouti recipes are made with either plums, berries, apples, pears, or cherries, nice fresh tart summer fruits. But I REALLY had a hankering for some after watching this video and being short of clementines at the moment, decided fruit soaked in wine is never a bad option. I chose a rosé since I have had the combination of rose and apricots before and its delicious. Plus I like the added color it gives to the dried apricots. I bet this would taste equally good if made with a fruity floral white, like chenin blanc or viognier, or even a rich dessert wine like sauternes or icewein. Sometimes I am reluctant to cook with the latter though since those bottles tend to get more pricey.

Biltmore Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir 2006- $11
I bought this bottle on the estate a little over a year ago. They have a surprisingly good array of wines. This particular buy is a really nice fruity refreshing rosé, and went well with the sweet tart apricots. Very floral on the nose, I would not hesitate to drink this with any dessert.

Other suggestions for this recipe that are more widely available are: Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel and Barefoot Winery’s White Zinfandel. Both are very fruity, the latter having a nice burnt sugar caramel finish. The best part is that they are both cheap so “sacrificing” a cup or two for baking is not such a loss.

Rosé Wine Apricot Clafoutis
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Clementine Clafoutis recipe

Butter for greasing
1/2 cup flour, more for dusting pan
3 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
1 cup dried apricots
1 1/2 cup of rosé wine
Powdered sugar (optional)

1. Soak apricots in wine, just covering most of them, for 24 hours in a container with plastic wrap or a lid. They will plump up a little and become soft. A lot of liquid should be absorbed and most of the apricots will not be submerged.

img_1912.jpg

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a gratin dish, about 9 by 5 by 2 inches, or a 10-inch round deep pie plate or porcelain dish, by smearing it with butter, just a teaspoon or so. Dust it with flour, rotating pan so flour sticks to all the butter; invert dish to get rid of excess.

3. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Add granulated sugar and salt and whisk until combined. Add cream and milk and whisk until smooth. Add 1/2 cup flour and stir just to combine.

4. Place apricots (without remaining liquids) in dish. Pour batter over fruit. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until clafoutis is nicely browned on top and center is not too jiggly when you shake the dish. Mark Bittman suggests to test to see if a knife comes clean, but I found this works just as well and doesn’t ruin the nice perfect finish. 😉 Sift some powdered sugar over it and serve warm or at room temperature. Best eaten right away, but can be microwaved next day.

img_1928.jpg

The Dregs: Cherry Wine Syrup over Ice Cream

img_1908.jpg

At one point I made the mistake of opening a fruit wine with only two people around to help drink it. The sweetness got overwhelming and both of us gave up after two glasses. 😦 To be honest it really drank more like a liquor. Since then a good portion of the remnants has been haunting my fridge door. Over time I have been using it to enhance fondues and whipped cream here and there. Finally I decided to kill the aging bottle by making a syrup for ice cream, drinks, what have you. I’ve done this with other wines before and it can be done with virtually anything your heart desires, reisling, roses, merlot, syrah…you get the idea. It is super easy and almost not worth putting a recipe down for, but I seem to always forget that this is an option for leftovers. I promise this recipe DOES NOT involve a candy thermometer; actually I don’t even own one. This time I used a cherry wine from Cream Ridge Winery in New Jersey (YES…New Jersey!). It tastes like liquid cherry pie and why I thought two people could drink most of a bottle of it is anyone’s guess. 🙂

Anyways, for the syrup it all starts with sugar, A LOT of sugar….

Wine Syrup
2 1/2 cups of wine
1 cup of sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of wine)

1. Dump wine and sugar in a sauce pan.
2. Stir together and turn heat to medium-high.
3. Stir, sugar with gradually dissolve
4. Keep stirring, do not let boil just mildly simmer at most
5. Stir
6. Stir some more (about 20 minutes total of stirring usually) until mixture thickens and leaves an open wake when you run the spoon on the bottom of the pan or coats the spoon
7. When the syrup coats the spoon you can stop there or keep going a little longer, depending on how thick you want it. REMEMBER when it cools the syrup will thicken so stay on the thin side of what you want especially if you plan on using it later and storing in the fridge.

img_1903.jpg