Thursday, October 30, 2014

Planes, Boats and Trains

In the past year I've had the opportunity to experience and analyze the selection, service and tasting of wines aboard different conveyances. For wines that fly, see my story on how wine professionals work with airlines, including Cathay Pacific Airways, to provide appropriate bottles for the shake, rattle and roll of air travel posted on Wine-Searcher.

On a quieter note, a Viking River Cruise along Germany's Rhine River last December visiting Christmas Markets was another opportunity to journey from one place to another while relaxing and enjoying quality wine, food and service. Viking smartly highlights the wines of the regions it travels in -- easy to do when you are in one of the world's great wine regions with arguably the world's most noble white wine (Riesling). On that 8-day journey, I enjoyed a 2012 Horst Sauer Silvaner, a 2012 Dr. L Riesling from Winery Dr. Loosen and a 2012 Riesling from Winery Johannes Ohlig. But with a mostly American and Canadian customer base, Viking also serves wines that might be less exotic and more comfortable -- Chardonnay, Soave, Chianti and Cabernet Sauvignon. For a bigger picture of the cruise aboard the Viking Jarl, see my travel companion's story on the travel web site What a Trip.

Now, what about trains? I've always wanted to travel on Canada's Rocky Mountaineer, where its "GoldLeaf Service" transports you through the beauty of British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies, with local fare and delicate Okanagan Valley wines. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Review: French Bistro

"If there's one thing I love more than anything, it's food that is tied to a beautiful feeling." That's the opening line in the new cookbook, French Bistro, by Maria Zihammou, and it's an apt starting point because the photographs, hand-written notes, recipes and entertaining tips do create a "beautiful feeling" in the reader. French bistro food is, obviously, the subject of many, many books, but if you are looking for a new book that conveys the full sensory experience of enjoying what this culinary culture has to offer, it's a good choice. With recipes from A to D (appetizers to desserts), and easy-to-follow recipes for such classics as pâté, steamed mussels, onion tarts, and one-pot chicken dishes, French Bistro could well transport you to, well, a sublime French-bistro-sort-of-feeling.

A copy was provided me by Skyhorse Publishing. Would I buy it at $17.95? If I'd never been to France and was curious about the overall experience of dining there, or if I wanted to reproduce dishes I'd eaten there, yes. It's a lovely introduction.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Review: Shroom by Becky Selengut

In general, I don't care for the common practice of shortening words in the English language. I respect language too much and many shortened words just sound infantile. "Veggies" instead of vegetables? No, thank you. "Fridge" instead of refrigerator? Sorry, don't like it, won't say it. "Apps" rather than appetizers? What people won't stoop to, to save a syllable or two!
So when a publisher sent me the new mushroom cookbook "Shroom" the other day, you can imagine my initial reaction. In addition, I was a child of the '70s so I associate the word "shroom" with psychedelic drugs, specifically, hallucinogenic Psilocybin mushrooms. Doesn't everybody? As if to prove that association, the front cover of the book announces it as containing "Mind-bendingly" good recipes. Wink-Wink. Can't wait until my Cannabis cookbook arrives.
Despite all these distractions, Shroom is a beautiful cookbook, conventional in most ways. Though I like mushrooms cooked or raw, I personally would not have been moved to buy a cookbook solely based on this one edible, even though the recipes indicate a wide-ranging use for them -- all savory, thank goodness (I was half-expecting a mushroom ice cream). Incorporating mushrooms into everything from bread pudding to grits to burgers can't be a bad idea, especially given their nutrient value, and I look forward to trying some of the dishes in this book. Who knows, maybe I'll become a "Shroomhead," or a fungi-fanatic.
With wit and skill, author Selengut shares her deep enthusiasm for the toadstool and gives us 75 recipes, including Beech Mushrooms in Phyllo with Georgian Walnut Sauce and Pomegranate, Pasta with Morels, Leeks and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, and Roasted Chanterelles and Bacon with Sweet Corn Sauce. Beautiful photography by Clare Barboza  and wine pairings for each dish by Sommelier April Pogue complete the package. Here's her recipe for porcini salad:

Porcini Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon Salt

SERVES: 4 as an appetizer; PAIRING: Austrian Grüner Veltliner

This is a deceptively simple composed salad that really highlights the versatility of porcini. When thinly sliced and roasted—but not overly so—porcini can be subtle, delicate, and sublime. The heat is applied lightly here, so that you can appreciate the subtlety of the dish, while the pine nuts echo the nuttiness and depth of the porcini and the lemon zings it up an octave.

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced
¼ inch thick (cap-through-stem slices)
1¼ teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (save lemon halves for squeezing on salad)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (below)
1 stalk celery (see Note), shaved paper-thin into half-moons on a mandoline (leaves cut into chiffonade and reserved for garnish)
About ¼ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (use a vegetable peeler)
Fresh chervil leaves, for garnish (substitute small flat-leaf parsley leaves)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper and brush with olive oil.

Lay the porcini slices on the parchment. Brush with more olive oil. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt over the top. Roast until lightly browned in spots, 15 to 25 minutes, flipping once after 10 minutes.

In a spice grinder, pulse the red pepper flakes, lemon zest, pine nuts, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt to a chunky consistency.

Arrange the cooked porcini slices on plates. Sprinkle the celery over the mushrooms. Drizzle olive oil over the salads (1 to 2 teaspoons, but you don’t need to measure), followed by a squeeze of lemon juice. Sprinkle the pine nut mixture over the top. Garnish with cheese shavings and celery and chervil leaves.

NOTE: Try to take off as many celery strings as you can prior to shaving the stalk on the mandoline (otherwise, they get caught in the blade). Use a paring knife—starting at the top, grab the strings between your thumb and the side of the knife and pull downward, stripping them off. If you don’t have a mandoline, use a very sharp knife and cut the celery as thinly as you can manage.

TOASTING NUTS: There are a few ways to toast nuts. If you watch carefully, you can do it in a skillet on the stovetop, but I find the easiest and safest way to go is to preheat your oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven. Pine nuts really enjoy burning (they’re evil), so keep a close eye on those and check after 4 to 5 minutes. Ditto for sliced almonds. For the bigger nuts (whole almonds, walnuts, and others), take a peek at them after 8 to 10 minutes.

From Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms by Becky Selengut, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2014. $35.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: We The Eaters

 Anybody who eats, which is everybody, and anybody who cares about what they eat, which should be everybody, needs to read this book.

 An intelligent analysis of our current food system, written by a food activist, We The Eaters takes the position that we can all be better-fed, healthier and happier if a few fundamental things change on our dinner plates.

 Founder of Food Tank, a food think tank, author Ellen Gustafson claims that Americans' consumer habits "have spread fast, cheap, fat and sweet around the world." And she asserts, "we can spread Community Supported Agriculture, more rational meat eating and heirloom grains around the world too."

 Food Tank's vision is "building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters." Among recommendations Gustafson makes in the book for a better dinner plate and a better food system worldwide: buy local and regional, think fair trade and low impact when you buy global, remove hidden corn from our diets, avoid "diet" foods, cut added sugar, avoid commercially produced soda and processed foods, quit fast food, reduce waste, and grow something edible.
We The Eaters: If We Change Dinner, We Can Change the World by Ellen Gustafson; Rodale Books, $24.99

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hard Cider: Not a Hard Sell

Hard cider is a fast-growing segment of the beverage market these days. After little exposure to this delicious, satisfying and low-alcohol beverage, I was suddenly given the opportunity to taste it everywhere I went in the last year or so. I tasted it in Southwest Colorado at a weekend festival, in France with Bretton-style galettes (savory crepes), and in Germany at Christmas market stalls. My latest taste of hard apple cider was three bottlings of Devoto Orchards cider from Sebastopol, California, once mostly an apple and plum growing region that has undergone a big change -- nearly all the land once used for orchards is now covered in vineyards.

Handcrafted, small production ciders like those from Devoto Orchards -- where Stan Devoto grows more than 100 certified organic apple varieties on 27 acres -- really highlight the fresh taste of the quality apples used in them. Devoto's are dry and elegant with no cloying sweetness.  I enjoyed them all but my favorite was Cidre Noir, a blend of Devoto's heirloom apple varieties -- Arkansas Black and Black Twig apples -- that hang on the trees for nearly seven months, developing acid and flavors in a dry-farmed environment. 

"1976" -- Named for the year in which the founders of Devoto Orchards planted their first apple orchard in west Sonoma County is made from 17 varieties of apples, including Ashmead's Kernel, Hawaiian and Winesap.  

Some 90% of "Save the Gravenstein" is made from the centuries-old Gravenstein variety which botanist Luther Burbank once declared thrived best in Sonoma County. The remaining 10% is juiced from Pink Pearl, Burgundy and Akane varieties. 

Alcohol levels for each is 6.9 %, and prices range from $11.99 - $13.99/bottle at high-end grocery stores and bottle shops. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Comté All the Way

Young Comté wheels starting to age
Just spent four days in France devoted to cheese --- one cheese, in fact, Comté.

What a trip: In the Jura mountains of eastern France in alpine ski country, I met Norbert, a shepherd who takes care of heifers before they are ready to give birth; in the tiny village of Villette-les-Dole, I saw how dairy farmer Jean-Francois cares for the local Montbéliarde cows, providing them a natural, quality diet that produces the raw milk that, in turn, gives Comté so much of its flavor -- which runs from milky and relatively fresh to almost crunchy in texture and nutty in taste. Also visited fruitieres (cheesemakers) and affineurs (cheese-agers) to see firsthand how it's made from beginning to end.
The cheese is a natural partner to the idiosyncratic wines of the Jura region, but complement most any wines. Comté  (pronounced "con-tay") is a cheese made in the artisanal, authentic manner that so many consumers are seeking these days. Ask your cheesemonger for a taste!

Adorable Montbéliarde cows

Only high-quality Comté wheels carry this marker  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Variety in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland, is home to the second largest United Nations office in the world with 193 member nations. Maybe that's why I saw such a striking variety of restaurants within only a couple of blocks of my hotel (and Lake Geneva) there last week.
No, Switzerland is not all fondue and raclette. And Chasselas.
There was a Korean pub, an Indian restaurant, a cafeteria offering an "Orientale ambiance" and a cafe featuring organic and local foods.
K Pub, 8 Rue de la Navigation
Bollywood, Place de la Navigation 6, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland Add caption

Chez Leyla, 35 Rue des Pâquis, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vinexpo Asia-Pacific 2014

The listing of 1,300 exhibitors at Vinexpo Asia-Pacific  
I attended the three-day Vinexpo Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong May 27-29, the largest wine fair for the trade in Asia. It was a robust program of tastings, in-depth seminars and meetings between wine producers and Asian buyers designed to acquaint the Asian -- and especially the fast-growing Chinese -- market with wines from all over the world.   

The most extensive tasting of a mainland Chinese winery was a 10-year vertical of Grace Vineyard's "Chairman's Reserve." This is one of the best wineries in China and it was a privilege to taste the wines and to hear the articulate Judy Chan talk about her family's winery -- one of the first quality grape-wine producers in the country.  For more information on the meeting and what took place there, see my stories California Vintners Optimistic About Asian Market and Saint-Emilion Chateau Goes for the Gold.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Summer Sipping

The warmer months are my favorite time of the year to enjoy wine. That's because my tastes run to clean, refreshing, palate-cleansing wines, usually with zippy acidity, and citrus or berry flavors, especially Sauvignon Blanc and dry rosés. Wines that complement the lighter, zestier fare we usually eat in summer appeal me to me more than weighty, intense wines that compete with the flavors of what's on my plate. Recently, I've tasted a bumper crop of just such wines that come with moderate alcohol levels and reasonable price tags -- more reasons to drink them. I highly recommend the following:

2013 Santa Julia Innovacion, Chenin Blanc-Chardonnay blend, $9.99 (1 liter bottle), Argentina, Vegan-friendly. Available at Whole Foods.

Deccolio Prosecco, $12.99, Italy, Kosher for Passover. Available at Whole Foods.

2012 El Perro Verde, $14.99, Angel Lorenzo Cachazo, Verdejo, Spain. Available at Whole Foods.

2013 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc, $28, New Zealand. Available in every U.S. state.

2013 Las Rocas Rosé, $14, Calatayud, Spain. 

2013 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc, $12, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma.

2013 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, $18, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. 

2013 Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc, $14, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma.

2012 LoveBlock Pinot Gris, $24, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

New Vino!

Juice pouches for adults. 

That's basically what Nuvino is: premium wine from around the world in a lightweight, single-serve pouch with a spout. Its developers tout the advantages over wine as it is traditionally sold: Nuvino pouches are easy, convenient, portable, unbreakable, resealable and come in eco-friendly packaging.

No heavy glass bottles, corks, corkscrews or fragile glassware.
I like the idea that you can taste the fruit of vastly different vineyards on various continents for a $3.99 investment: Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Maule Valley, Chardonnay from South Africa’s Cape Winelands,  Malbec from Mendoza’s Maipú wine region in Argentina; and a Red Blend from Australia’s Swan Hill wine region.

PreservPak technology preserves the nuances of the wines for up to 18 months while adding no flavors of its own. It is available in 16 states, starting this month, and will be nationwide by the end of the year.

And the wine? I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc and the Chardonnay and they were not displeasing or, put another way, perfectly drinkable. You won't find nuances of tropical fruit, forest floor, weighty mouthfeel or powerful intensity, but I don't think the intended customers for Nuvino (Millennials) are looking for any of that stuff anyway. They're looking for novelty, a drinkable wine, easy portability, maybe even a conversation starter. And it's all here.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

San Francisco's Schroeder's

At times during its 120-year history, Shroeder's German restaurant in the heart of San Francisco's Financial District -- the oldest of its kind on the West Coast -- was a beer hall that admitted men only. This week it is re-opening after a remodel in a handsomely-renovated space that respects its heritage while updating both the environment and the menu for modern sensibilities. As recompense for the past, I am hoping the new owners will institute some version of a ladies night. "Fräulein Fridays" anyone?

Physically, the place is striking. Old murals, wood paneling and the rosewood bar were smartly preserved while harsh lighting is gone and the old linoleum is off the floors, replaced by beautiful wooden floors with tables to match. And the restaurant's new owners, Andy Chun and Jan Wiginton, are bringing the food  back into the beer hall with a staunchly German menu of Bratwurst, Wiener Schnitzel and beef tongue, and the bar focuses on German beer, wine and liquors. Several speciality cocktails developed just for Schroeder's contain at least one German component, such as the refreshing Derby Radler, a German beer cocktail with bourbon, sage liqueur, fennel seed syrup and lemon. The Rieslings range from sweet to dry (as they should), and there are 21 draft beers.


German food is not exactly the height of chic, so kudos to the new owners for making an effort to preserve an historic piece of San Francisco -- and to Chef Manfred Wrembel for adding a contemporary twist to old favorites: the thinly sliced beef tongue is topped with a horseradish creme fraiche, asparagus and capers; the potato pancakes are made with cheddar, apples and beer; and the Spätzle (noodles) are served with corn, tomato, ricotta, and onion blossoms. 

This is definitely not your grandmother's German restaurant.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review -- Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture

This lovely and unique book about almonds contains cultural history, recipes. nutritional information and gorgeous photographs. It is cookbook, coffee table book, culinary history, and around-the-world tour of the cultures that incorporate almonds in a meaningful way. And I'm not just saying this because I worked on it!

The lengthy introduction to the recipes covers a lot of ground -- the anatomy of the nut, the cultivation of almond orchards in California, the nutrition it provides, even its place in art and literature.

Did you know da Vinci once sculpted from almond paste? Or that 100 almonds for every person on earth are grown each year -- most of them in California? Or that its abundant nutrition qualifies the almond as a "superfood?” Or that the sweet almond we like to eat has a "bad-boy cousin" -- the bitter almond --  that is poisonous?

Once you've digested all this information, move on to the recipes, which traverse the full scope of the meal from starters to desserts and drinks. There is the simplicity of Burnt Sugar Almonds and a Banana Almond Smoothie and more complex dishes like Almond-and-Mint-Crusted Lamb Chops and Spanish Meatballs in Onion and Almond Sauce.

Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture is by Barbara Bryant, Betsy Fentress and Lynda Balslev; $21.99.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wine Review -- Back Holm on the Ranch

The Carmel Valley Appellation is not unknown, but hardly gets the kind of attention (and thus crowds) that Napa and Sonoma to the north do. That's the good news. More good news: Holman Ranch wines.

The family-owned Holman Ranch Vineyard and Winery is about a dozen miles from the Pacific Ocean and the ride inland from the dramatic coastline envelopes you in green, rolling hills, vineyards and quiet.

The climate is ideal for the wines Holman specializes in. Warm days from the inland valley location and cool nights from the marine layer are wonderful for quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.

There is a tasting room, an entirely underground winery, and a grove of 100 olive trees in the vineyards producing several different varieties of Tuscan olives.  With gardens, horse stables, mountain views and the solitude of the countryside, it is also a wedding site and provides overnight guest rooms in its restored stone hacienda.

But onto the wines. This is a small production winery; only 3,000 to 5,000 cases are produced, and the prices are extremely reasonable. Some notable wines for the upcoming summer season:

2012 Pinot Gris: Wonderfully dry and refreshing with subtle flavors of lemon and other bright citrus. This is the kind of wine that cleanses your palate and leaves your mouth feeling clean, not weighed down by butter or oaky tones, so is a good match with food. $16

2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir "Blushing Bride:" The deep color suggests cranberry juice, but the crisp high acidity indicates it's no juice drink. Subtle flavors of red berries. Dry, light and crisp. Rare (only 100 cases produced); $20

2012 Sauvignon Blanc:  Sauvignon Blanc is a favorite wine of mine and I am often disappointed -- but not by this one. Wonderful varietal character (many SBs simply do not taste like SBs) with an assertive but not overwhelming taste of grapefruit (or gooseberry, if you prefer) and again the clean, crisp finish of the two wines above. Most California Sauvignon Blanc does not use the musque grape clone, but that is what brings out the aromatic character of this particular one. A gem. $18.

 The Holman Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil, pressed and bottled on the estate, is rich and sturdy with a nice bite to it ($20 for a 375ml bottle). You can taste it in the wine tasting room and it can be packed together with wine in gift baskets.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Restaurant Review -- Worth a Gamble: 630 Park Steakhouse

The new 630 Park Steakhouse
It's a glitzy, high-end Las Vegas-type environment, spacious with tall ceilings. Its interior design features include a "Wall of Wine," a "Wall of Fire" (pictured) and beautiful Swarovski crystal chandeliers reflecting the movement of the flames. White tablecloths and luxuriously-upholstered leather booths with damask-covered bolsters for your back complete the feeling of sumptuousness.

And that's before you even open the menu, which trumpets a dozen cuts of steak, including some off-the-menu items like Japanese wagyu and rare items like large bone-in filets. Real wagyu, somewhat of a rarity in the U.S., is dense with spidery veins of fat streaking the red meat. If you order it here, you can even view the Certificate of Authenticity Traceability, which certifies it as genuine wagyu beef and even states the carcass number.

Only one warning: Prices are not for the faint of heart. If you think paying $23 for a glass of local Cabernet Sauvignon, $52 for a Kansas City strip, or $80 for a rich wagyu steak of only 8 oz., might induce cold sweats, dimming vision, trembling and a temporary loss of consciousness, then 630 Park Steakhouse is not for you.

But if you are out for an extravagant, celebratory evening -- one that includes gambling or not -- this could be just the ticket.

You may have guessed already that this haven of red meat luxury is located in a casino, the newish Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, California. Some 70% of the four-month-old steakhouse's customers drift in from the gambling tables, estimates Chef Jerrett Davis, but he wants to attract a bigger share of dining-only, "foodie" customers from Sonoma County and the San Francisco Bay Area beyond. Graton's cavernous casino also contains almost a dozen other dining choices, all more casual than 630 Park.

Chef Davis' menu lifts the ordinary wedge salad ($10) to deluxe heights: The generous crisp wedge of iceberg was sprinkled with copious amounts of flavorful bacon, and rich chunks, rather than petite crumbles, of Blue cheese (and could have been a meal in itself). The lobster chowder ($12) was a creamy melange of lobster, potatoes and bacon. Opulent without being overly heavy, the sides of creamed spinach ($10) and potatoes au gratin ($9) were both delicious.

That $23 glass of Cabernet, by the way, was an excellent 2011 A. Rafanelli Cabernet Sauvignon from the nearby Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma. A 2013 Unti Rosé ($11), also from Dry Creek Valley, was lighter, but also a good companion to many of the dishes on the table.

Diners who don't eat meat won't be disappointed either. The menu offers Ahi tuna steak, rotisserie chicken and lobster tail, among other main dishes, and many more vegetable and starchy side dishes.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Foods To Fancy

Is your chocolate ethical? Your peanut butter fair-trade? Are your frozen sandwiches gluten-free, soy-free and guilt-free?
    Such are the pressing questions facing consumers these days. We all have to eat, but when, oh when, did that simple act of survival become so complicated?
    As full of potential mines as the hunt for acceptable food has become, it's good to know that there are so many pleasing choices today in the marketplace.
   Visiting the Winter Fancy Food Show, North America's largest specialty food and drink trade show, at the end of January in San Francisco reinforced that notion for me: everywhere I looked there was something tantalizing: Moravian cookies from the American South and pure butter shortbread from Scotland, coffees and teas with a multitude of flavors added, and smart chips made of seaweed, chickpeas, or quinoa. Due to my schedule, I only saw a fraction of it (there were 80,000 products on display). Can't wait until next year.

   Here are a few of my favorite discoveries from the show. The Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City will be held June 29 - July 1, 2014.

Walkers Shortbread Chocolate Scottie Dogs: Yum.  Just the right amount of chocolate allows the purity of traditional shortbread ingredients (butter and sugar) to shine through.

Numi Indulgent Tea and Savory Teas The indulgent line refers to chocolate teas, such as Chocolate Earl Grey and Chocolate Mint (a good substitute for dessert at only 5 calories a cup). The Savory Tea line is an ingenious mixture of vegetables, herbs, decaf tea and spices -- a light broth without the heavy salt of most bullions, and decidedly different flavors like tomato mint and carrot curry.

Vintage Italia Pasta Chips: traditional baked pasta transformed into a creacker-like snack in a variety of simple, Italian flavors -- Alfredo was my favorite. The payoff? Cholesterol-free, no trans fat, no saturated fat or sugars.

Giovanni Rana pasta: fresh pastas and sauces (Alfredo, Pesto, Bolognese) that will make you wonder why you've been buying that dried and canned stuff for so long. Giovanni Rana pasta and sauces include Cheese "Delicato" Tortelloni, Chicken Rosemary and Mushroom ravioli, a light and delicate Alfredo sauce and a Pesto sauce that made me forget I had grown tired of pesto.
The family-owned company began in Verona, Italy, and is now selling 13 filled and flat fresh pastas and 4 sauces. Thin pasta dough and sauces made from top-quality ingredients like DOP Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and DOP Genovese basil imported from Italy. Some products available at Costco. Giovanni Rana products will be at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York.

José Andrés Olive Oil Potato Chips and Mussels in Escabeche. These chips are light, salty and satisfying. The Esbabeche Mussel appetizer is a classic tapas dish from the Spanish-Ameican chef said to have introduced tapas to the U.S. The mussels come from Galicia, and are shelled and cooked by hand in a traditional "escabeche" sauce of olive oil, vinegar, paprika, salt, bay leaves, pepper and cloves.

Enzo Olive Oil: California estate-grown, extra virgin, organic olive oils in robust flavors like garlic, basil and Meyer lemon. Their unflavored line of oils comes in Delicate, Medium and Bold, a great idea for more (or less) sensitive palates.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Burger, Wine (or Beer) on Tap, and Thou

The gourmet burger market seems as robust as ever since it began about a decade ago. But recently I visited some new upscale hamburger restaurants that seem to be paying as much attention to their drink offerings as they are to their burgers.

Two of them -- Eureka! and ROAM -- opened recently in the San Francisco Bay Area, the former in Berkeley and the latter in Lafayette, an East Bay suburb of San Francisco. Eureka belongs to a relatively new chain in California with 10 restaurants scattered throughout the state; ROAM in Lafayette comes after two shops have been doing well in San Francisco.

It's a dirty job ... tasting beers at Eureka! in Berkeley, Ca
Besides good food and an upscale atmosphere, Eureka! specializes in craft, small production whiskies and 30 different craft beers on tap. It offers artisanal whiskey cocktails and unusual pairings such as four different small batch whiskeys or two whiskeys and two beers. The possibilities are many, and the staff will help you with your selections as well as matching whiskeys and/or beers with your food.

For dessert at Eureka! the staff suggested I eat my butterscotch pudding (delicious!) with an Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, a heavy dark beer. Normally, I would not lean towards drinking a dark beer at all, nor would I order an alcoholic drink with dessert, as sweets and alcohol together usually don't appeal to me by the end of a meal. But I accepted the suggestion and the pairing was wonderful, with a great complementary melding of flavors.

For a longer review of the food at Eureka! see my restaurant review on Nancy D. Brown's What A Trip website.

A little more casual than Eureka! but still cool and contemporary, ROAM offers sustainably-produced wine on tap in a range of varietals. I tasted a Riesling (fruity, but not too sweet)  a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir -- all good. The craft beer at ROAM comes on tap and bottled.

Eureka! focuses on its burgers and other main dishes and has only one or two dessert options. At ROAM, there are a variety of Straus Family Creamery milkshakes in some very with-it flavors like Salted Caramel and Blue Bottle Coffee as well as Tahitian Vanilla Bean, Chocolate and Strawberry.

Not only do these two establishments show that burger cuisine has come a long way, but they show that wine, beer and cocktails can be great burger partners.