Author Archives: michiek

About michiek

Michelle Keller is a San Francisco area-based journalist who has been published in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Adventure, Orlando Sentinel and Business 2.0 Magazine.

Eating your heart out in New York City

I love food and I love New York, so this last trip was a happy coupling of some of my favorite things. I literally spent hours looking up restaurants I wanted to check out… it’s a bit overwhelming. When you only have a limited amount of time (and, let’s face it, you can’t afford to eat at Per Se or Babbo for every meal), you have to pick and choose. Oh, and let’s add in the delightful reservations craziness that comes with eating out in New York. I called to try to get a reservation at Babbo. They could only give me 11:30 p.m. I was luckier at Marea and managed to snag a 9:30 p.m. reservation (still late…) and I’ll get to the other reservation craziness later (Never ended up going to Marea, btw. – next time). Oh, and the worst is when places don’t take reservations, so you simply wait, and wait, and wait, and wait…

But enough about that, let’s get to the food.

Wednesday Night: The Breslin Bar at the Ace Hotel

I literally flew off the plane at JFK and raced to Midtown to meet up with my cousin and her husband at the Breslin. When her husband checked into the restaurant at 8.30 p.m., they told him it would be an hour and a half wait. I know, ridiculous. But the food is just. that. good. We sank down into oversized chairs in the Ace Hotel’s clubby lounge, packed with flannel- and tight-jean wearing hipsters. “I don’t think I’m cool enough for this place,” I whispered into my cousin’s husband’s ear. He nodded. Yeah, probably true. I wanted to emphasize that I was joking, but then realized that would only make me less cool. Sigh.

He had already started on his first beer and had ordered a pack of these addictive, crunchy, thick potato chips laced with salt-and-vinegar. Our uber-hipster waitress arrived, bangs cut straight across, lips bright red. I ordered a Brooklyn Pilsner from Brooklyn Brewery. Hey, when in hipster-land, order like the hipsters do. It was floral and deliciously hoppy.

After an hour (it was 9:30 p.m.), we got a little antsy. We walked over to the Breslin, and lo and behold, our table was ready. We headed up the stairs into a cozy, wood-paneled dining room. To drink? For me, it was the “Spotted Pig Cask beer,” which is served at room temperature. From the website, “Cask-conditioned ale is the traditional beer of Britain. It is pulled up to the bar by a hand pump, just as it is in England’s Pubs. Cask ales are best enjoyed at a gently chilled cellar temperature. The Spotted Pig Bitter is made exclusively for The Breslin and The Spotted Pig.”

Food consumed:

Scrumpets – braised, tender pork shaped into a chicken-tender shape, breaded and fried. Served with mint vinegar, which resembled chimichurri sauce.

Small terrine board – Several different pates served with hot buttered bread: Guinea hen with morels, rabbit & prune pate, headcheese, liverwurst, pork pate. My favorite? The liverwurst was creamy, salty, fatty and bursting with umami goodness. A true winner. The headcheese, with its cubes of cartilage and lord-knows-what meat, was also quite delish.

Herbed ceasar salad with anchovy croutons – The waitress told us that this would be “the best ceasar salad we had ever eaten.” We ordered it, a bit skeptical. You’re talking to some pretty serious foodies here. Yes, it truly was. Forget the creamy, bland dressings: this was light, anchovy-packed and just so beautifully presented. Crispy, deep-fried parsley gave this salad a deliciously seasonal crunch.

Seafood sausage with beurre blanc & chives – Juicy lobster and shrimp brimming with briny, sweet flavors.

Miticrema bruschetta with grilled greens & speck – Creamy miticrema (a relative of burrata) was spread over crunchy sliced bread and served with grilled salty chard.

Chargrilled lamb burger with feta, cumin mayo & thrice cooked chips – Although this burger sounds somewhat prosaic, it was the winner of the evening. Juice dripped from our fingers, even though the bun stayed perfectly crisp. Perfectly seasoned and cooked to a medium-rare perfection. Served with super crispy hot fries and cumin mayo.

Gianduja Pot de Crème – A bowl of pot de creme topped with luscious layers of whipped cream and a chocolate that resembled the grainy Abuelita Mexican chocolate beloved by many. Beyond creamy. This is the pot de creme of your sweet tooth’s dreams.

Thursday Lunch: Xi’an’s Fine Foods and Dumpling Man

After a morning workout to attempt to move the meat-fueled meal from the Breslin, I stopped by Xi’an’s Fine Foods in the East Village to have lunch with an old colleague. The “restaurant” is really a little shack with a counter that New York Magazines claims seats 12 people. Maybe if those 12 people are intimate friends who regularly rub shoulders with each other at some sort of strange hipster ritual — I think the place more comfortable holds eight. You order your food by the number and it is quickly cooked, assembled and then passed to you in a schoolhouse-like cafeteria tray:

Food consumed:

[A1] Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles – These cold, thick chewy rice noodles were served with a spicy red chili oil, crunchy cold bean sprouts, sliced green onions, and airy, spongy tofu. The tofu soaked up the savory-spicy soy condiments and complemented the slippery noodles perfectly.

[L1] Tiger Vegetables Salad (Cold & Spicy) – A melange of diced cilantro, tons of green onions and cucumber are drizzled with chili oil, chili flakes and rice wine vinegar. Not a salad for the faint of heart.

Dumpling Man – After my noodles, there was still a little bit of space in my stomach (it’s amazingly expandable), so I wandered down the street to Dumpling Man, a narrow little storefront on St. Mark’s Place that serves a variety of handmade dumplings. I gave my order to our hipster-clad clerk (seriously, is there an epidemic of hipsters?) and sat down at the counter. Two men and a women worked tirelessly to roll dozens upon dozens of dumplings and fill them with pork, chicken, veggies and who knows what else while I was there.

Food consumed:

Pork dumplings, steamed – Unlike mass-produced dumplings, which have a thin papery skin and an overly salty filling, these dumplings were composed of a thick, irregular, chewy dough filled with super juicy fresh-cooked pork.

The “sweetie” pie dumplings – These unbelievably good treats were filled with pumpkin pie filling and then bathed in condensed milk. What an ingenious idea. It was like a Southeast Pumpkin pie.

Thursday Pre-Dinner Drinks: Employees Only 

For dinner, I met up with two friends from college for a cocktail at a speakeasy-like bar in the West Village. The best part: one of the bartenders had one of those mustaches that curl on the sides. Awesome.

Drinks consumed:

The Amelía. I’ll take the description straight from the menu: Luksusowa Potato Vodka & St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur shaken with pureed blackberries & Fresh Lemon Juice.

Thursday Dinner: Aria Wine Bar

After watching one of my favorite comedians (Mike Birbiglia!!) we ended up at Aria Wine Bar, also in the West Village. This fabulous little wine bar serves all of its wine in these small water glasses, dropping down the level of pretension and amping up the faux rustic factor. Tables were mostly communal and made of white pine, all below wood-paneled ceilings and soft overhead lights. The best part about this meal? Our fabulous waiter, an Italian man (of course) kept pouring us glass after glass of (free) wine. And then gave us (free) dessert wine. LOVE!

Food consumed:

Mac and cheese with truffles – The truffles weren’t very noticeable in this dish, although it was creamy and cheesy, as mac and cheese should be. Lacked a bit of salt.

Pork Meatballs – Juicy, tender and perfectly formed. One of our favorites!

Braised calamari with capers and tomatoes – My least favorite dish. The capers overwhelmed the dish, making it taste more like braised capers with bits of calamari.

Mushroom bruschetta – Cremini and button mushrooms, sauteed with butter and parsley, were served atop crunchy bread and melted cheese.

Tiramisu – Fabulously creamy. Just a light touch of rum (or cognac?).

Thursday Night After-Dinner Drinks: A Quick Stop at the Russian Vodka Room followed by the Ace Hotel Lobby Bar

After heading back to the hotel and dropping off my friend’s luggage, we decided to have one more drink. Yeah… we probably shouldn’t have. Oh well. Stuck in the bar/lounge desert that is midtown, we attempted to get a drink at the Russian Vodka Room (“But it’s recommended by the New York Times!” I insisted to my friend.) We walked in. Hazy smoke wafted over an old-school bar populated by heavily inebriated Eastern European men and a few young ladies. We made a beeline out of there. Instead, we headed back to a good standby (and I was determined to be cool!) and ended up at… the Ace Hotel Lobby Bar! I once again ordered by Brooklyn Pislner, and just to mess with my food-and-alcohol-packed stomach, we ordered the thrice-cooked fries. Oh man.

Food/drinks consumed:

Brooklyn Pilsner

Thrice-cooked fries with cumin mayo – Just thinking about these fries makes my mouth water.

Friday Breakfast: Barney Greengrass

In a shocking move, my stomach/digestive system did not scream in agony when I woke up. I think that greasy food is like drugs: the more you eat it, the more your body craves it, even when it is really, really bad for you. Good times. We hopped on the subway to the Upper West Side (my old haunt back when I was an intern!) and ended up at Barney Greengrass, the home of delicious bagels. I skipped the house coffee — even a bad hangover can’t make me drink drip coffee — and perused the restaurant. The best part of the place is the giant deli filled with pickled and smoke fish, bagels and other delicacies. Yum!

Food consumed:

House Cured Gravlax with Cream Cheese on a Sesame Bagel – if you’ve never had gravlax before, it’s a must-try, especially if you are addicted to salty cured fish like I am. Gravlax is basically lox cured with dill and spicy black peppercorns. The bagel was chewy and fresh. Ah, New York.

Friday Lunch: Eataly’s “Le Verdure”

Eataly is what heaven would look like for me. I know, it’s such a cliche now, with every food-hounding tourist and his mother and mother-in-law heading to this Mario Batali food empire, but it really is incredible. There are several places where you can sit down and have a meal, a bunch of which are themed around ingredient groups (like fish, charcuterie, pizza & pasta, etc.). We ended up at the vegetable spot, given that we had been consuming our fair share of meat. Given our food binge yesterday, we actually ended up eating “lunch” around 5 p.m., perfect since our reservations for dinner weren’t until 9.30 p.m.

Food/drinks consumed:

Verdure alla Piastra – Roasted warm vegetables (asparagus, sugar snap peas, fiddlehead ferns, red bell peppers) were served with warm farro and tossed with a light, delicate vinaigrette.

Bruschetta with melted cheese and charred ramps – Ramps are the new pork belly in New York right now. Every place seems to be taking advantage of this fresh leek-like spring delicacy. These were charred into caramelized crispiness and then place atop melted cheese. Yummm…

Friuliano 2009 Adriatico Bastianich – After our wine-soaked dinner the night before, I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to push through and drink more. But, hey, it was Friday afternoon…. this wine was crisp, light, floral. Perfect.

Friday Night: Momofuku Ko

So let’s start with the reservation madness of Momofuku Ko. Seven days before you wish you eat there, you must sign on exactly at 10 a.m. ET (exactly) to their website and try to snag a reservation. So I dragged myself out of bed at 7 a.m. PT on one Saturday morning and called my partner-in-crime C to try to get a table. My heart raced as the seconds ticked toward 10 a.m. “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” we wailed. When the moment came, we clicked frantically. I got a table at 9:50. Then she got a table at 9:30. I refused to believe that we could have really gotten a reservation. It just felt too strange. But there we were.

The night of the dinner, around 9 p.m., we decided that we were running too late to take the subway and decided to take a cab. Apparently everyone in Manhattan had the same idea and we raced around crazily in our heels trying to flag one down. Sweat beaded up on our foreheads. Finally, at 9:25, we managed to get a cab. “Can you go as fast as you can?” asked C. The cab driver pressed on the accelerator. We finally got down to the Village, but the traffic had slowed to a crawl. C threw open the taxi door and said she would run and I would take the cab and whoever got there faster would hold our reservation. Amazingly, we made it.

Now, let’s talk food:

Food/drinks consumed:

Chicharrones with togarashi – this little snack has apparently been on the menu forever, according to the Momofuku cookbook. Togarashi, for the uninitiated, is Japanese ground chili powder.

Asparagus with bone marrow – The bone marrow had been coaxed out of the bone and turned into a bechamel-like sauce draped over the asparagus. Delicious, but not that memorable.

Softshell crab soup with lemongrass and coconut – This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The texture was ethereal and the flavors were fresh and vibrant. The essence of the softshell crab appeared to float over the lemongrass and coconut milk.

Raw scallops with spicy mayo – I’d never had raw scallops before, and these were heavenly in their juicy, soft texture.

Raw branzino with horseradish-yogurt sauce with white asparagus – Another crudo dish, also gorgeously presented and delicious.

Smoked egg with caviar, potato chips and onions – Another one of my favorite dishes. The smoked egg was just barely poached so that the creamy yolk ran into the caviar. The fingerling potato chips and caramelized onions added a sweet-salty-crunchy-earthy balance to the dish.

Cold dashi broth with uni, braised pork, chard shoots with wasabi – The dashi broth was phenomenal. How could dashi broth be that good? Believe me, this dashi broth was perfectly salty and had just a hint of fish. The uni — which I adore — tasted briny and had that lovely squishy texture. The braised pork added some heartiness, while the chard shoots added just a hint of bitterness.

Halibut with fiddlehead ferns – The halibut in this dish is slightly coated with a special type of flour (so we learned from the chefs!) that dries the fish and ensures that the outside of the fillet is crispy. The fiddlehead ferns were roasted and embodied the taste of spring.

Frozen shaved fois gras with reisling jelly, lychee, pine nut brittle – This was one of the standout dishes of the night. The fois gras falls like snow over the crunchy brittle and is complemented by the sweet, fragrant lychee and riesling jelly.

Deep-fried short ribs with grilled ramps, picked onions, green onion
hash, roasted new onions – This was the hearty, meaty dish of the night. The short ribs didn’t taste deep-fried, just juicy and perfectly cooked. The combination of different members of the onion family cooked in different ways was a treat. I loved the green onion hash — the caramelized, creamy onions had none of the sting/harshness of your typical fresh onion.

Green tomato sorbet with green tomato salad – A palate cleanser of sorts, this green tomato sorbet is made using a Pacojet ice cream maker which creates an instantly creamy ice cream without cream. It was strange — but incredible.

Goat cheese ice cream with rhubarb and pistachio cubes – I loved the pistachio cubes of this dish. Not my favorite dish of the night… it didn’t have the “Wow” factor of some of the other dishes, but a lighter end to a multiple-course meal.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Restaurant Buzz


Affordable wines that will tickle your palate

The SF Chronicle put out its list of 100 “Top Wines” a few days ago. I’m always a bit wary of these types of lists… after all, can you really pick 100 wines that are the absolute best of the year? And doesn’t it depend what you’ll be eating and on which occasion? I’d prefer to see wine lists that are more specific… such as ”
The best 10 wines to pair with lamb” or “The top 5 wines to drink without food.” After all, you could have a stunning Cab, but without the proper meal, it will just turn into a stunning tannic monster.

I did like their list of affordable wines… at least that allows us normal people to try some of these “amazing” wines without breaking the bank. Schramsberg, Copain, Qupe, Domaine Chandon and Tablas Creek are all good bets.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , , , ,

What does the Tablehopper eat in a typical week?

Any SF foodie worth her weight in fleur du sel salt looks forward to Marcia Gagliardi’s zippy tablehopper emails every week. I always scan for her latest reviews and she keeps me updated on wine & spirits events around town. Grub Street San Francisco recently asked Marcia to talk about what she eats on a regular week — keep in mind that this is one sexy lady who reviews restaurants on a regular basis! I quickly clicked ahead to check out her schedule. This particular week included Thanksgiving weekend, so although it was full of treats, it wasn’t full of the typical high-end tasting menus. Still, it was fun to read, as it gives you some delightful ideas on how to eat like the fabulous tablehopper. Oh, and you also get a sense of how she keeps that figure: lots of walking around SF hills and boot camp. My favorite entry?

Saturday, November 27

A morning with Green Menace, and then breakfast was Straus plain yogurt with pineapple, flax, and granola. And an espresso.

I was out running a couple errands, so I stopped off to get two tacos from Rico’s at Belmar La Gallinita Meat Market on 24th Street (they’re only open Friday night, and on the weekend): I got the house speciality, cecina (flank steak), and some suadero (brisket)–topped them with onion, cilantro, and their lip-numbingly-hot rojo salsa. I saw lots of folks ordering the quesadillas, which here are pre-fried tortillas with either brains or chorizo/potato that are warmed up on the plancha–I opted for the latter, which was stupidly good (just watch out for the toothpicks). It’s also smart to bring a little container of salsa to your table so you can dribble it over each bite of the quesadilla.

I went to Humphry Slocombe intending to have a single serving of ice cream (it’s almost kitty corner to Rico’s), but then Sean (one of the business partners) foisted the delicious pumpkin pie ice cream pie on me. Bastard. I brought it home and proceeded to eat a nice honking slice. It’s wicked stuff: pumpkin pie ice cream with five spice that is poured into a gingerbread crust, topped with housemade marshmallow fluff and then browned. Sick. Proceeded to gift the rest to the neighbor and my sister so I wouldn’t eat the damned thing.

Espresso break.

Dinner: headed over to Ragazza with a pal (I love being able to walk to dinner). We had a glass of Prosecco with the chicories with green goddess dressing and sunchokes; roasted Brussels sprouts with lardo; baked rigatoni with butternut squash, brown butter, sage, Fontina, and amaretti crumbs (have mercy, mamma mia); split a Moto pizza, with mushrooms, red onion, sausage, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and Calabrian chilies (vroom); too full to eat dessert, but they sent us home with a slice of the ricotta cheesecake. Do I look like I need cheesecake? Why is everyone giving me pie?

My pal and I swung by Chez Marcia for one of my Manhattans (Old Sazerac rye, Carpano Antica, Angostura bitters, brandied cherries) and then got a cab to go see Bonobo at Mezzanine, where I had a couple more drinks, and then a nightcap back at my place. A Tequila bottle came out. And… scene.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 8, 2010 in Food Reads


Tags: , ,

The healthiest protein shake you can easily make at home

Your faithful correspondent is getting ready for the holiday bulge and sigh, yes, on a “diet.” There are no gimmicks here. Just eating more lean proteins and more vegetables and cutting back on that delicious elixir we know as wine. It is depressing. But I refuse to eat “diet” foods — there will be no SlimFast, no LeanCuisine, nothing of that sort. If I’m going to eat something, it has to taste good and be real food.

So when I looked for a good snack and browsed my nearest Whole Foods for a protein shake, I was floored. Read the ingredient list of your typical supermarket protein shake and you’re likely to end up befuddled, confused, maybe even scared. I was. What is in this stuff, I thought! This is the entire ingredient list of the Slim-Fast Protein shake:


Granted, a lot of those are vitamins, but still… gum arabic? Xanthax gum? Cellulose gel? (check out this great book, Twinkie, Deconstructed, on where these types of ingredients hail from — cellulose gel comes from cotton). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, when you are downing a Slim-Fast to help trim that behind, you are consuming cotton.
So how can you get something that is somewhat natural and will tame your hunger cravings? It could not be easier. For protein, I rely on sugarless soy milk from Edensoy and pure whey from Bob’s Red Mill. For flavor, Penzey’s dark cocoa is unbeatable, and for a sweetener, you have your pick. You could do agave, which is supposed to be digested by your body more slowly and thus doesn’t lead to a sugar rush and crash. You could do honey. If you really want to make this sugar-free, you could use Splenda. That is up to you.

The Fork It Over Four Ingredient Chocolate Protein Shake

1 Tbsp Penzey’s Cocoa (you can use the Dutch process for a less bitter flavor)
Agave, honey or Splenda to taste
Place all of the ingredients in a jar, close the jar tightly, and shake thoroughly. You can also blend them together in a blender or using an immersion blender.
Total protein: 28 grams.
1 Comment

Posted by on December 6, 2010 in Breakfast, Chocolate


James Suckling to Launch Wine Website

Via The Passionate Foodie


Respected journalist and critic James Suckling teams with Hollywood veteran James Orr to create a groundbreaking website that gives the public a new look at wine, vintners, and vineyards around the world

(November 30, 2010; Los Angeles, CA)—James Suckling, the respected journalist and wine critic who spent close to 30 years as Wine Spectator’s European bureau chief, partners with Hollywood producer, director, and writer James Orr to launch, an all-access pass to the wine world. The newly launched site focuses on delivering wine information in a cutting-edge style—relying on high-quality video, with Suckling giving subscribers a visual guide to wine tasting that goes beyond simple ratings to include tasting notes, vintner interviews, and rare access to wineries around the world.

With Orr behind the camera, Host James Suckling’s extraordinary zeal and wine knowledge is brought to life in exclusive video content, bringing viewers a firsthand account on all aspects of the wine industry. The focus of the website is to report on many of the best wines of the world through tastings in vineyards and in cellars with winemakers, vintners, and owners, which allows viewers to see through their own eyes the place, the people, and the rating process. The site will deliver viewers a new video every day of the year.

“The launch of fills a niche that has been missing in the wine media landscape—merging new media with Suckling’s extensive wine knowledge and industry contacts into an approachable format so subscribers can gain access to wine information like never before,” Orr says. “The site focuses entirely on outstanding quality wines, regardless of price or origin.”

The site is a combination of free and paid content, with both subscribers and non-subscribers having access to written and video posts. Subscribers will have the ability to view premium videos, including exclusive wine ratings, tastings, interviews, and retail and winery visits. Subscriptions to the site are $14.99 per month or $143.90 per year. The site will air at least one new video everyday, 365 days a year. Non-subscribers will be able to read blogs, join discussions on the forum, and watch a selection of videos.

About is the brainchild of journalist and wine critic James Suckling and Hollywood producer, director, and writer James Orr. The focus of the website is to report on many of the best wines of the world through tastings in vineyards and in cellars with winemakers, vintners, and owners, which allows viewers to see through their own eyes the place, the people, and the rating process. The site brings a fresh, new approach to the way consumers receive their wine news and information. Please visit to learn more or to subscribe.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 30, 2010 in Food Reads, Wine


Tags: , , , , ,

The Rundown: SF Vintner's Market

It was tough to tell whether there was more sloshing around inside or outside. Under clouds of sopping, pouring rain, winemakers poured glasses of wine at the SF Vintner’s Market this last weekend. The event, which allows people to buy wine at the actual event, was held at the cavernous Fort Mason exhibition hall and was chock full of Napa and Sonoma wineries. Cabs and Zinfandels dominated the event — rich, dark, ripe wines dripping with sunshine and caramel-chocolate notes. The crowd was snappy and very young — it was hard to find a soul over 40 in the large hall, which made for a loud and boozy crowd.

But let’s talk about what really matters, the wine:

Fogline Vineyards, which is sourcing from Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and the Sonoma Coast (near the Petaluma Gap) was pouring their 2009 Fogline Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which at $35/bottle, is a great deal. The wine effuses delicate florals, particularly violet notes, has a bright, zingy acidity and a long balanced finish. Really great deal, particularly since the fruit seems to be of high-quality. The winery is still in its infancy — the total production for the Pinot is only 145 cases — but there’s lots of promise. Their 2009 Fogline Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel also showed the kind of restraint I like — there was more delicate fruit and less chocolate/cocoa. Again, at $24, it’s a steal.

Boisset Family Wines had a lavish display and was pouring from their various wineries (from France and Napa). The winner of the table was a 2003 Savigny-les-Beaune Pinot Noir ($47). The wine had aged very well — it didn’t have the shiny, new fruit flavors of a younger wine, but there was still some nice gentle fruit, along with nice juicy tannins and some leathery notes on the finish. It was the kind of wine you really want to pour on a rainy winter night — it doesn’t shock your system with ripeness and fruit, but rather soothes you into the evening. Also from the Boisset family was a nice 2009 Raymond Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley($28). They blended in10% semillon grapes, giving it a more lush, rich texture and honeyed character, and aged it in oak. The result is a wine with creamy strawberry and tropical fruits on the nose, but sweet, rich, caramel and honeysuckle notes on the palate. Deliciously long finish.

A nice little gem I found from the Sierra foothills of Yuba County was a 2005 “Heart of Stone” Syrah-Viognier blend from Clos Saron ($35). Slightly richer than its Northern Rhone cousins, this blend still exhibited those lovely dark brooding blackberry, tobacco, blueberry and leather notes, but had some light floral notes for balance.

Heidi Barrett and her daughter Remi were pouring the La Sirena wines over in the “Reserve Corner.” For those not-in-the-know, Heidi Barrett is the acclaimed winemaker of Screaming Eagle wines and now has her own label. The 2006 Barrett Vineyard Syrah ($80) was my favorite of the table. Dark and earthy, with ripe, juicy blackberry notes and a long sensual finish, this is a wine I’d like at my Thanksgiving table. Also pretty damn amazing was the 2007 La Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon ($150) — velvety, balanced, brimming with dried cherries and cranberries — this is the wine that Heidi Barrett is famous for.

In their inaugural year of production, Beltrane Ranch, which supplies fruit to Cakebread, poured their 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. With a honey-lemon nose, the wine displayed a rich but crisp texture and was dominated by citrus on the palate — it is definitely what I would call a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

The stars of the Cabernet Sauvignon show, however, were a couple of winemakers tucked in a corner of Demuth Kemos. Up in the “True Sonoma Coast,” their vineyards sit above the fogline (1700 ft. of elevation), making for windy, windy days and warmer nights. These guys are still young: their first vintage was in 2004, but they are making some stellar wines. Their 2008 Demuth Kemos Bei Ranch Syrah was definitely less inky and intense than those I’d tried earlier, but exhibited a true sense of terroir. This wine was no tannic monster; instead red berries balanced out the typical Syrah notes of blackberry and blueberry in a lighter-style wine. My favorite Cab of the night was their 2007 Demuth Kemos Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ($60). Unlike many overripe Napa-style Cabs popular today, this wine had nice bright notes sparkling with acidity; bright, clean fruit; and light but noticeable tannins. This is the kind of wine that can really withstand some aging without getting flabby. Also stellar was their 2007 Demuth Kemos Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($75), a blend of two blocks. It’s a little bit on the riper style, but the acidity was still high, there were some lovely plum and raspberry notes on the palate and some noticeable florals. These guys aren’t messing around with their terroir: their fermentation is 100% native.

On a final note, I also found a nice 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley coming out of Delgadillo Cellars up in the Calistoga area. The wine had crisp, bright notes and lots of juicy fruit — impressive for a wine that had aged nearly 10 years. Lots of cherry, dark plum and tobacco on the palate.

So that’s what you missed! For those attending next year — get there early. The crowds were a bit thick and the pours were generous, making for some raucousness at this event, which is a bit of a turnoff if you’re there to actually taste the wine and not just drink. As we were leaving, several guys threw their wine glasses on the floor to make a scene. Sigh… seems like not everyone comes to savor the wines — some come to gulp ’em down. But the wines represented were definitely of very high quality, so certainly a worthwhile weekend event.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 21, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Go ahead, pour yourself that second glass, girl

Great news from the field of medicine! From the WSJ:

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard University used data from the landmark Nurses’ Health Study which started in 1976 and involves more than 200,000 women to look at how alcohol consumption influenced women’s health.

“The new research, presented Monday at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Chicago, suggests women might not have to limit themselves to the one-drink-a-day guideline. A drink is defined as a 12-ounce beer, one ounce of hard alcohol, or five ounces of wine, which is often less than the typical serving in a wine goblet.

“Qi Sun, a Harvard medical instructor, looked at nearly 14,000 women who had survived to age 70. Dr. Sun said he found that 1,499 of the women were free of major diseases like cancer and heart disease and had no physical impairments or memory problems. He looked at the amount of drinking these women had done at midlife, or about age 58 on average. Women who reported having one to two drinks most days of the week had a 28% increase in the chance of “successfully surviving” to at least age 70 compared with non-drinkers. Like other studies, Dr. Sun found women drinking most days of the week were more likely to be healthier than women who drank one or two days a week.”

1 Comment

Posted by on November 17, 2010 in Food Reads, Wine


Funny post – Seven Habits of Highly Annoying Servers

I love this new post from the Citypages blogs about highly annoying servers. My biggest pet peeve is probably when the waiter takes away your dish before you’ve finished eating. And you’ve left some little morsels to scoop up with your bread:

6. The Premature Evacuation
Thank you for snatching away my nearly finished plate of food. I had been looking forward to eating those last, delicious morsels, but you’re right–I really don’t need the extra calories. I’m already full, which is why I set my fork down for a split second, which no doubt gave you the idea that I was done. And I appreciate you not asking me if I was through with my entree, or the bread rolls, or that last couple swallows of wine. That would only have tempted me to answer no. Thanks for saving me from myself. Yeah, thanks very much.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 29, 2010 in Food Reads


iPads in Restaurants: Hot and Trendy, and Apparently Very Effective

iPad wine lists are the hot new thing in the wine/restaurant world right now. A recent New York Times article focuses on several restaurants that allow diners to select their wines from an iPad. I recently took a couple of friends to Barbacco in San Francisco, and lo and behold, we got to select our wine from the iPads. Since none of us are iPad owners, we were particularly delighted to play with the fabulous, sleek tablets. And yes, we ordered wine.

My friends wondered if it was really cost effective for restaurants to offer wine lists on iPads. After all, tipsy people, liquid and electronics usually don’t mix. But according to this little article in Gizmodo, people are wowed by the gadgets and are more likely to order. But it’s not the fancy technology, they assert: they’re more likely to splurge because they have a chance to read reviews:

In just two weeks, Bone’s – Atlanta’s most famous steakhouse – sold 11 per cent more wine than in the three weeks previous to the iPad introduction. Like Bone’s, many restaurants around the world are having the same experience. Everyone using iPad wine lists are having big sales jumps. It’s not the novelty factor, owners and clients say. The reason is simple and logical: reviews.

I don’t always agree with wine reviewers, but when you don’t have much information about a wine, the truth is that you’re probably going to rely on something that can help you choose a wine. So you find a great Robert Parker or James Laube review, and bam, you’re sold.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 22, 2010 in Restaurant Buzz, Wine


Don't pay extra for luxury liquor

Pull up to the bar on a busy Saturday night at your latest hot bar or club and you’re likely to get asked which brand of alcohol you want in your drink. Brands have gotten so good at selling us the idea that luxury brands like Ketel One, Level, etc. are more delicious that we’re happy to fork over a few more dollars for a branded experience.

But are you just wasting your money?

Yes, says Brett Arends at the Wall Street Journal, and I agree.

“I recently held a blind taste test comparing super-luxury Grey Goose (I paid $22.99 for a bottle), a brand favored by conspicuous consumers, to another French vodka I happened to see in the liquor store—little-known Pinnacle.

Pinnacle’s cost? Just $8.99 a bottle. (That day there was a money-off voucher, too.)

My handful of tasters couldn’t tell much of a difference.
If anything, they slightly preferred … the cheaper stuff.”

Vodka is a grain or potato liquor that has very little flavor. Add some fruity juices or tonic water, and the chances that you can tell the difference between one brand and the other are nil.

But there is someone who cares about what you drink: the liquor companies. According to Arends, for the behemoth company Diageo, which owns brands such as Ketel One and Smirnoff vodkas:

“Gross profit margins are a thumping 58 cents on each dollar of after-tax sales.”

So keep drinking your fancy vodka, and you’ll keep fattening Diageo’s pocket. Bottom’s up!

1 Comment

Posted by on September 17, 2010 in Food Reads