Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A night with Eddie at the Wine Vault

Anyone with a love of the grape who has spent any time around San Diego knows Eddie Osterland. The United States' first Master Sommelier, Eddie has taught numerous seminars, classes, whatever, educating winos around the country for 20 years or more. It's probably been 10 years since I've taken one of Eddie's classes, so when I found out he was teaming up with our friends Chris and Mary Gluck at the wonderful Wine Vault & Bistro for a food and wine brainer!

I give a full rundown and review of the dinner and wines below, but first,
a bit of background on Eddie…
If you like wine at all, whether you’re a neophyte or experienced, attend at least one of his seminars. His approach is casual, light, funny, not at all condescending or intimidating. He is the consummate entertainer, both in that you will be entertained, and you will learn tips for entertaining that will serve you and your guests well. I won’t share them here; you can find some on his website as well as more than most of us will ever need to know about wine.

And while I’m at it, here’s a bit of info on Wine Vault & Bistro – Owners Chris and Mary Gluck have been involved in food sales, preparation, and education for many years in the San Diego area. This experience has culminated in the opening of Wine Vault & Bistro an excellent little food and wine spot on India Street, above Gelato Vera and Saffron. WV is usually open only Thursday-Saturday nights, but special events and wine dinners sometimes appear other nights of the week. Chef Bobby Matos creates wonderful bistro style food, and I’m especially fond of his Saturday night Tasting Menu, 5 courses for $25, a steal. And you can pair 5 wines with the food for an additional $18. Bobby has an understanding of balance and a light touch that belies his tender years. I’m not a fan of overblown flavors that smack you upside the head, so I love the elegant and creative fare that comes from the Wine Vault and Bistro’s kitchen. If you love good food and good wine, and you haven’t tried WV&B, get your sh*t together and get down there!

And as promised, here’s a brief rundown of the night’s menu and wine pairings. (Note that Eddie chose to feature 2 wines with each course, to underscore one of his main ‘lessons’ of the course – always serve 2 wines side-by-side, one good/one excellent, and you’ll understand and enjoy them more)

-Amuse Bouche-
Spicy Shrimp Shumai w/Scallion Vinaigrette, and Watermelon w/ Ricotta Salata Brochette
This was an exercise to get the taste buds a’poppin. Sweet vs. Sour vs. Salty vs. Spicy. The Shumai and vinaigrette were amazing, plump and juicy with just the right amount of spicy. The watermelon with ricotta was an interesting taste experiment, but the melon was a bit overshadowed by the strong ricotta flavors.
-1st Course-
Crab Cake with Avocado, Spanish Chorizo and Champagne Sabayon
Wines: ‘05 Michel Olivier Brut Blanc de Blancs ($12) and NV Jean Milan “Carte Blanche” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($46)

Very nice wine/food match here. I’m not a fan of breaded crab cakes, though this was well done. The sweet and savory notes of the food played well with the sparklers. If Eddie was trying to make a point…point made. The Olivier (Mauzac Blanc and Chenin Blanc from Limoux) was a nice, refreshing little bubbly, but the Champagne was the real deal.
-2nd Course-
“BLT” Salad -Heirloom Tomatoes, Bacon, Baby Greens w/Garlic Aioli
Wines: ‘06 Stephen Pannell Granache Rose (Oz $11) and 06 Ramian Estate Grenache Rose (Cal $16)
Chef Bobby Matos likes to get playful in the kitchen, and his take on a BLT salad was fun. Good quality ingredients used simply and effectively, very tasty. The two Grenache Rose could not have been more different. If you were tasting blind, you would never guess they were the same grape. The Pannell was light, fruity and quaffable, with strawberry/raspberry notes. The Ramian was the darkest rose I’ve tasted, with deep cherry/berry flavors, long finish, and more structure than I’ve ever tasted in a Rose (with the exception of a Tavel here and there). A very good wine, but it didn’t “rose me.”
-3rd Course-
Seared Duck Breast w/Squash Cake (ricotta stuffed zucchini blossom)
Wines: ‘07 Omrah Pinot Noir (Oz $16) and ‘04 Addamo Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara $28)
You had me at Quack. Is there anything better than a well prepared seared duck breast? Excellent, great food/wine match with the two pinot. The Omrah Pinot was nice, better than one should expect for $16, but let’s face it, Pinot doesn’t really cut the mustard sub $30…except for the Addamo (though I know Chris has this very well priced). Very Burgundian, dare I say 1er Cru? Earthy, red and black cherry and red berry fruit with just a touch of smoke on the finish from the light oak treatment (has anything ruined more pinot than oak?). Well worth the tariff!
-4th Course-
Roast Suckling Pig w/Corn Pulp, Smoked Paprika and Chimichurri Sauce
Wines: ‘06 La Posta “Cocino Blend” Red (Blend of 60% Malbec, 20% Bonarda and 20% Syrah) (Arg. $13) and 05 Bodega Monteviejo “Lindaflor” Malbec (Arg. $42)

The suckling pig was juicy, tender, and full of flavor. I’d have loved more crisp skin with mine, but that’s the luck of the draw when dining with 100. Corn Pulp will be a new staple in my kitchen. Somewhere between niblets (sorry Bobby) and creamed corn, seasoned to perfection, this is sweet, unctuous, delightful. Perhaps we’ll pry the recipe from Bobby? The La Posta Blend was not my cup of tea. A bit too oaky and sweet for me, but my companions had no complaints. The Monteviejo, OTOH, wowed me. Not surprising, given the owner is Catherine Pere-Verge, proprietor of Pomerol’s Le Gay, and the winemaking is headed by Michel Rolland. Says it has seen 18 months in new oak, but you could have fooled me (and did). Structured, Bordeaux-like, with dark fruit, graphite, toast, coffee…the complex flavors go on and on with a super long finish. Seek this wine, it’s a keeper.

-5th Course-
Seared Foie Gras and Grilled Peach Napoleon
Wines: ‘07 La Playa Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (Chile $12 375ml) and 03 Clos Jean Loupiac (France $13 375ml)

Yes Virginia, there is something better than a well-prepared seared duck breast, and its name is Seared Foie Gras. Just lightly seared, sandwiched between two slices of peach that was grilled to bring out the sweetness, this was heaven. I tried to buy everyone else’s serving, but found no takers. The wine pairing was interesting. I usually dislike late harvest Sauv Blanc, but the La Playa was light, refreshing, not too sweet with a good acid balance. The Clos Jean was a bit cloying for me, like a poor man’s Sauternes, lacking the complexity of real Sauternes. But who could blame it at the price? I was surprised to find I actually preferred the LHSB with the food.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Avery Experience at Hamilton's Tavern

A few weeks ago we were part of the inaugural beer dinner at one of our favorite local haunts Hamilton's Tavern. In the bar's previous life it was known as Sparky's Broadway Pub, and while it had it's own divey charm, the best beer they offered was one marketed by clydesdales.

Well times change and when the bar changed hands a couple years ago, a lot more than the name changed. In just a few short years, the new ownership have taken a fairly run-down local watering hole, and morphed it into one of San Diego's premiere destinations for beer afficionados.

When Hamilton's owner Blair showed us his ambitious menu for The Avery Experience beer dinner, we have to say, we questioned whether the bar could pull it off. After all, a 5-course menu is tough for restaurants to execute well, but Hamilton's is a bar. And one that had yet to even try a basic sit-down. And when you add the fact that they planned to serve 3 different beers for every course - that's right...15 beers in all! - we frankly wondered how he'd ever make it work.

But make it work he and his excellent staff did! They somehow managed to serve all 5 courses and 15 beers to more than 40 guests seated snugly - using just half of the bar. The main bar remained open and was packed, further adding to the circus-like atmosphere of the event. Somehow, amid all the organized chaos, we managed to be fed a pretty fine meal and drank a wide range of crazy beers, while learning about each of them from their creator Adam Avery. The Avery Experience...was a great one!

Here is a quick recap of the menu. Note that the beers were grouped, not by style, but by ABV (alcohol content) and I neglected to capture that info. I do know that the first course beers were around 6-7% and the final ones were all over 15%. Whew! You can visit for more info on the beers - or stop into Hamilton's and try them yourself.

The Avery Experience Dinner at Hamilton's Tavern

First Course: Heirloom Tomato Salad w/Herbed Goat Crostini
Beers: Karma Ale, White Rascal, India Pale Ale

Second Course: Spinach Salad w/Chicken, Walnuts & Raspberry Vinaigrette
Beers: Ale to the Chief, Collaboration Not Litigation Ale, 15 Anniversary Ale

Third Course: Pork Ribs w/Avery Mephistopheles' Stout BBQ Sauce, Cole Slaw, & Taleggio/Comte Cheeses from Taste
Beers: Salvation, The Reverend, Hog Heaven

Fourth Course: Grilled Steak, Potato Salad & Fourme d'Ambert/Fiscalini 18-mo Cheddar Cheeses from Taste
Beers: The Dictator Series - The Maharaja, The Kaiser, The Czar

Fifth Course: Eclipse Chocolat Truffles, 5-year Farmer's Gouda
Beers: The Demon Flight: The Beast, Samael's Ale, Mephistopheles' Stout

Welcome to Shredded Blend!

Welcome to Shredded Blend, an occasional blog from the mongers of Taste Artisan Cheese & Gourmet Shop. At Taste, we make ‘shredded blend’ from a mix of all the small pieces of cheese from miscuts and the end of wheels. Each batch we make is unique and filled with shards of incredible artisan cheeses that together, make for a wonderfully eclectic mix of flavors and textures.

Like the blend, we hope our blog will be an ever-changing mix of tasty tidbits and information that will add to your enjoyment and appreciation of fine artisan cheeses, wines, beers and other delights. We hope you’ll let us know if you like (or dislike) something you read here and welcome suggestions on cheeses or other products you’d like us to explore in these pages. Thanks for reading!