Archive for the ‘Restaurant Tastings’ Category

Zuzu in Napa with Kathryn Kennedy Wines

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Zuzu_menuI’ve been working on the report for Kathryn Kennedy wines for some time. As they are not open to the public, it was not possible to taste the wines at that time so a small selection was taken for tasting with food. I will blog the winery specifics later and link it back to this report but wanted to at least get the food report up. Marty Mathis, Kennedy’s son and winemaker agreed that the wines are best sampled with food and I could think of no better way to taste the wines with a variety of foods. And there is no better place in Napa than Zuzu for tapas.

Kennedy_wineTo a get a broad variety of the styles of wine that Kennedy offers, we chose a 2004 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2001 Tempranillo (sadly, now discontinued), and a 1999 Maridon Vineyard Syrah. I have to admit, I specifically asked for the Tempranillo when I saw it in a case box. Marty admitted that the last of it was being sent to their wine club members only at this point and the vines are being budded over.

Olives_almondsOne of the many things I like about Zuzu is that their menu changes with the seasons. I have dined their often enough to not be bored and this time was especially thrilling as the spring/summer menu is brand new to me. Giving us time to peruse the recent offerings, a selection of olives and spiced almonds were ordered to stave off the desperate hunger that was setting in. Fortunately, there were four of us to work our way through the menu which promised to be compelling with the wine choices. I started sipping the Sauvignon Blanc which was very pale straw in color. Immediately, I found it tart with lemon and grapefruit notes. There was a heightened green apple in the mid-palate with a luscious, melon and litchee finish. There was a sweet hint to the wine when tasted with the olives, and spicy notes when paired with the almonds.

SaladI frequently forget to order salad in restaurants as they are usually blasé and uninteresting. This one was not, studded with salami, hard-boiled eggs, sliced pepperoncini, miniature tomatoes, and a creamy, enticing dressing. Another sip of the Sauvignon Blanc produced stunning melony flavors that were downright creamy next to the tang in the dressing.

But the reason for this evening as to taste with wines, so the Tempranillo was also opened. I am
truly sorry this wine is no longer being made as the initial aromas of
plum hides hints of earthiness. A swirl or two later, and orgasmic
coffee and chocolate aromas develop.

ScallopsNext came a variety of fish courses. The first was bay scallops, broiled with Jambon Serrano and bread crumbs. These did not last very long as the contrast of the salty bits with the crunchy bread crumbs enlivened the sweet scallops. With the Tempranillo, hints of a floral bouquet with highlights of minerality and perfectly balanced tannins.

BaccalaoBacalao is the Spanish word for dried salt cod. Here, it is taken to a new level. There is much debate about the over-use of truffle oil, but with the saltiness of the puréed cod, I think truffle oil is a perfectly fine application. The tang of the salt showed considerably more grapefruit with in the Sauvignon Blanc, while in the Tempranillo, a depth of butter was evident in the bacalao preparation.

07_octopusNot wanting to wait any longer, the Syrah was opened. Dark and inky purple in color, candy shop aromas were immediate but subsided to show an intense, elegant smokiness. Plum and dark black berries played against tantalizing meaty barbecue flavors and hints of roasted Brazilian nuts and pepper. I immediately tasted this again a roasted octopus salad with harissa dressing and shredded greens. The harissa was spicy and brought out the fruit-bomb nature of the freshly-opened Syrah.

08_chorizo_with_lentilsWith our two red wines, heartier dishes were a necessity and house-made chorizo with French lentils was the perfect choice. The chorizo was slightly smoked and very tender and the dark, baby lentils produced depth and contrast, especially with the Tempranillo which heightened with more dark chocolate flavors.

09_paellaA showcase of Zuzu’s menu, and one that does not change, regardless of the season, is their paella. Here it is served with four mussels, four clams, chorizo, and a hefty dollop of aïoli. In the past (or perhaps when they are fresh), there have been shrimp in the paella as well. This was an amazing accompaniment to the Syrah, which was opening and blossoming with that hefty, chewy tang found in dark molasses and elegant port-like on the finish.

10_roasted_fennelFeeling a bit overwhelmed with the heavier courses, I ordered some roasted fennel with caramelized shallots. Incredibly tender and sweet, the licorice hints in the fennel brought out the mineral tones in the Tempranillo but emphasized the smokiness of the Syrah. Getting full and winding down, there was a bit of wine left and room for one last course.

11_tortillaThe Zuzu tortilla is legendary in my eyes. Well, they call it a tortilla but I look at it more as a miniature potato soufflé as it is prepared and served in a miniature cast-iron skillet, all puffed up and hot with a side of aïoli. The perfectly carb-nature of this last dish perfectly accentuated the last remaining glasses of red wine, a few rapturous tastes of both the Syrah and Tempranillo that were left…

Zuzu ~ 829 Main Street ~ Napa ~ CA ~ 707-224-8555

Manresa and Pinot Noir

Monday, April 11th, 2005

WinesThis posting is working a bit backwards in time — my Pinot weekend was spent exploring the wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains, meeting some amazing winemakers and winery owners, and a Pinot-tasting festival. All this culminated at an amazing dinner at Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos.

Table_from_endIn attendance were Max, Anders, Maria, Xiaopei, Andrew, Lester, Ya Yoi, Jeff, Marcia, Ron, and your’s truly. We ate some amazing food and drank some amazing wine, as follows:

1_beet_pate_de_fruitRed Beet and Olive Madeleine

1996 Chateau Woltner Chardonnay, Titus – Classic Burgundian that has aged nicely to show rich golden colors. Crisp, mineral entry with perfectly balanced oak, hints of coconut, and a whisper of citrus.

B_citrus_saladCitrus Salad in a Jasmine Tea Gelée. Tasted with the Nuits, stunning secondary notes of caraway appeared.

1997 Nuits de George, Les Saint Georges, Premier Cru, Domaine Henri Go – Earthy mushroomy with some hints of cherry and a tease of minerality. Heavier sulpher aromas provided some roughness which made the wine generally hot.

Salt Cod Fritter with Truffled Honey (sorry, forgot the picture!)

1999 Beaune Clos de la Mousse, Premier Cru, Domaine Henri Gouges – Great, opulent perfume with dark spice that is layered and even. Very heady and once upon, produces tremendous strawberry.

C_strawberry_yogurtStrawberry Gazpacho with Almond Yogurt, Marcona Almonds, and Olive Oil

1996 Kent Rasmussen, Carneros – Dark cherry in bouquet and mouth entry. Some medicinal (sulpher) back notes and cocoa in the mid-palate. Secondary characteristics include tobacco, gelatin, and mint.

E_oysterOyster and Uni scented with Yuzu

2000 Brogan Cellars, Russian River, Lone Redwood Ranch – Intensely fruit forward with cherry and cola notes. Sharp entry with bright acids and bright spice. No finish to speak of with diminishing fruit.

F_sashimiSashimi of Fluke with Olive Oil, Chives, and Dried Smoked Fish Flakes

2000 Ken Wright, Shea Vineyards, Willamette – Hot cola and cherry with spice providing back-up tones. Early maturity with an even, spicy entry. Worked very well with the Sashimi due to the smokiness in the fish’s preparation.

G_foie_grasTorchon of Foie Gras with Asparagus spears, Asparagus puree, and Asian Pear

2001 Brick House, Willamette – Hot barnyard bouquet which gives way to cherry. Extremely tangy entry that showed all the elements of greatness but not enough follow-up. Feels well-balanced in the mouth, but no anticipated explosion. Almost Burgundian in feel.

G_codPlanked-cooked Black Cod with Crab and cured Salmon Roe

2001 Ryan, Pisoni Vineyards – Jammy with dark berry and black cherry. Extremely bright, engaging entry with levels of varied spices. Overall, a very elegant, amazing offering, despite the faintest hint of medicine on the end.

H_ravioliShredded Veal Cheeks with Sunchoke Ravioli, Veal Sweetbread, and Parsnip Milk Foam

2002 Tantara, Gary’s Vineyard – Spice immediately presents itself and gives way to sweet aromas of cherry. Dark, musky entry that is fruit-forward blossoming into floral, perfume, and exotic incense.

N_chicken_presentationO_chickenP_chicken_platedRoast Farm Chicken with Roast Vegetables - One of the two dishes where it is shown in full presentation before being plated.

2002 Capiaux, Gary’s Vineyard – Intensely layered spices that is surprisingly clean. Dark boysenberry, black raspberry, and blackberry tones that is perfectly balanced with a long, silky finish.

1990 Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru, Estournelles St. Jacques, Frederick Esmonin – Lester pulled this out near the end and I’m afraid it did it a disservice as we were ramping up the fruit and lessening the age of the offerings. After the opulent, jammy wines we had been tasting, I found this barnyard-stinky with reduced tar and concentrated gaminess. Dry mid-palate that was thin and full of mineral notes.

Q_lamb_presentationR_lamb_platedRoast Leg of Lamb with Chickpea Frittes and house-made Marguez Sausage

2002 Dehlinger, Russian River – Hot, dark Bing cherry that is sweet and round. Another with Burgundian tones of complexity with a dried orange peel finish.

2002 Longfellow, Sonoma Coast – While a tad green on initial sniff, this wine opened up to an offering that might be hard-pressed to pinpoint as Pinot. Spicy with BBQ meat and high toast oak. Lots of wood with exotic, incense aromas layered with chocolate. The tart entry blossomed with a sweet finish of spice that kept going.

NV Broadbent Port, Lot #1 – Dark, thick, sweet. Ron ordered to go with the desserts:
S_conesHoney Tuile with selection of Banana, Mango, and Litchi Gelato

T_strawberry_rhubarbStrawberry/Rhubarb Crisp with Bergamot Créme

U_souffleBittersweet Chocolate Souflée with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Zzz_folks_3_goodThe dinner was finished with another round of Pate de Fruits and Madeleines, however this time they were Blood Orange and Chocolate, respectively. Again, no pictures.

All-in-all, a love time was had by all!

Sub Rosa

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

SubrosaToday starts yet another new category for your consideration. Along with Mass Tastings, I intended to include Restaurant Tastings this very weekend, when a very special Pinot-themed meal will be held and subsequently blogged. But another Restaurant Tasting presented itself out of the blue this evening  and it was too special and extraordinary to not share, for tonight I dined at Sub Rosa, the ultimate in virtual dining and tasting.

ImagesThat’s right, I said virtual. Invited by Mike Sherwood and Linda Lausmann, I entered through the portals of the Sub Rosa’s front page to be transformed… Wait, let me explain something that makes this all-the-more-enticing for one such as me; Sub-rosa is actually defined as Designed to be secret or confidential; secretive; private. It is a phrase oft-found within various alchemical texts and is well known amongst secret societies. I could explain more, but that would be breaking oaths taken long ago … whilst wearing hooded robes in rooms laden with the thick smoke of exotic incense and flickering candles…

Images_1So what is the restaurant all about, you ask? It is an experience to be had in private or with friends, late at night or early in the morning, whether hungry or recently sated. You start on the web, but finish in your own imagination. In truth, the restaurant has a pleasing décor with a subtle, soothing dusty sage wallpaper. The artwork entices and teases. And there is a charming selection of music to accompany the dining experience. I started my meal with a lovely Walla Walla Sweet Onion Tart with Balsamic Vinegar which had a perfectly flaky crust. The sweetness of the onions contrasted with well with the delightful tang of the Balsamic. I accompanied this starter with a 2002 Nigl Gruner Veltliner – Senftenburg/Kremstal from Austria. Which provided the perfect hint of sweetness in its green apple entry and balanced finish.

Images_2I then decided to move on to their Braised Beef Short Ribs with Oven Roasted Root Vegetables. This seemed the perfect choice as Sub Rosa’s extensive wine list is riddled heavily with Pinot Noir. I can only suspect that these short ribs were braised the day before as the incredible tenderness accomplished can only be obtained with slow, deliberate braising and a day’s rest. With this hearty dish, I tried the 1999 Argyle Spirit House from the Willamette Valley which was just substantial enough to complement the ribs. The wine was opulent with notes of cherry and dark berry with lovely, silky spicy finish.

Being too full for a plated dessert, I opted for a "stickie" wine to finish my luxurious meal. The ’92 Fonseca Port was the perfect finish however I might recommend the addition of a cheese plate to the menu as an accompaniment to the great wines. I can only imagine what local artisinal cheeses are available in the vicinity. I will go back often to sample the changing menu. I am charmed and enchanted and, as Rumi said, "In the driest whitest stretch of pain’s infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose."