Discovering Indianapolis

Despite its proximity to Ohio, I had never ventured west to Indiana, bizarre as that may seem. But when a close friend moved to Indianapolis, it was the perfect opportunity to discover what the city had to offer. It was a quick trip, and I was really just looking forward to two days of nonstop gossip, and yes, drinking. We didn’t waste much time, as we immediately headed to brunch after I arrived. Broad Ripple, an adorable hipster neighborhood, was our destination, and my friend took me to the amazing eatery Petite Chou by Patachou. The wait was long, but we knew what would make it more bearable – Mimosas! From the long list, we selected Lavender, and we gripped our pitcher tightly as we crouched in the corner by the door. Once we got a table, the amazing menu was even more daunting, but I was very pleased with my Ratatouille Crepe Provencal selection. Fantastic!
After some casual window shopping in Broad Ripple (and a purchase of two colorful champagne flutes!), we headed back to my friend’s house (which is adorable, by the way) and uncorked a bottle of 2003 Alovini Armand Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata, Italy, imported by Specialty Wine Company, $24). It tasted better after it opened up a bit and was a lovely, rich, complex wine with some great herbal and earthy flavors. It may have been a bit much after the Mimosas, but heck, I was on vacation!
For dinner, we had hoped to go to Ball and Biscuit, but the website basically lied and said it was open on Sundays when it actually wasn’t. Nevertheless, we ended up having a great time at St. Elmo in downtown Indy. Being a steakhouse, it wasn’t ideal for me culinarily (is that a word?), so I focused on the wine and the company. πŸ™‚ We shared a 2008 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, $81 at the restaurant). While certainly not a bad Pinot, I don’t think its $40 retail price is justified – it just didn’t have the complexity or elegance that I was looking for. I guess I’ll have to spring for the higher-level “Laurene” bottling to find out what Drouhin’s real chops are like. πŸ™‚
The following day, as I dragged around my rather massive hangover (my fault, I know!!), weΒ entered what is basically my paradise – an amazing wine store, Vine and Table. Similar to West Point in Akron, they had both an extensive wine section as well as gourmet food. The most impressive part was the Burgundy and Bordeaux collection that they keep under lock and key in the climate-controlled room which also includes other high-end bottlings. A case of La Tache, anyone? By then I was feeling better and definitely ready for lunch, so we headed to a fantastic little place, Blu Moon Cafe, which had several kinds of gourmet sandwich and a dessert display to die for. My sandwich was yummy – Brie, roasted pears, and spinach – but dessert was what we were both looking forward to. It was a tough decision – especially with the homemade ding dongs staring us down – but we opted for the Orange and Kumquat Cheesecake with a gingersnap crust. It was delicious, to say the least, and perfect since it wasn’t too sweet. The kind server thought she was doing us a favor by cutting us a gigantic slice, but even with two of us hacking away at it, we barely made a dent. Somehow, however, I managed to consume most of it on the drive home…
It went by two quickly, but I had a wonderful time in Indy… the food and wine certainly helped, but it’s friends that make it worthwhile in the end! πŸ™‚

Just Wow – 1997 Chateau Margaux

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I’m not sure if I can adequately express what this experience was like, so I think “wow” will have to suffice. All in all, I’m a pretty simple girl. My MO is to find excellent wines at a fair price, and occasionally I allow myself to splurge, by which I mean spend $50 on a bottle. Grand Cru Burgundies, cult Napa Cabs, fine Piedmont wines… these are not part of my typical wine repertoire. Of course, when given the opportunity to drink like a queen, I jumped at it.
Initially, when my friend told me that The Melting Pot has some amazing high-end wines, I was skeptical. After all, who goes to a fondue place looking for Opus One? Clearly, I shouldn’t have judged the place so harshly. With some prompting from my friend, the bartender/wine guy let us into the temperature-controlled wine room, where it was pretty amusing to see big-name Napa Cabs next to $10 bottles of mass-produced wines. Ultimately, we settled on the 1997 Chateau Margaux, one of only five Premier Crus from Bordeaux. The wine drank beautifully – elegant, silky, unabashed cassis and berries, and no rough tannic edge. The bartender was clearly surprised that we weren’t celebrating anything, just popping in for a Premier Cru. He even rewarded us with some delicious chocolate-covered strawberries.
Although of course, I wouldn’t mind if I could experience such amazing bottles more often, but I’m afraid it would go to my head.:-)

An Ideal Welcome to 2011

New Year’s Eve – that frustrating holiday which never fails to raise our expectations and often promises to dash them. Many people seem to think that if they’re not invited to the biggest party in town, then the night is a bust. I actually learned a few years ago that for me, there’s no better way to usher in the new year than with a few of my favorite people and good food and wine. Fortunately, the food and wine have improved over theΒ  years, while the friends have been consistently great. πŸ™‚ This year, I was very pleased to have a laidback dinner with five amazing people, and of course, some very high-quality wines.
I felt it was my obligation to obtain some good value bubbly, so I asked one of our reps for the two best Champagnes in his portfolio under $50. What he recommended were the Chartogne-Taillet “St. Anne” Cuvee and the Gaston-Chiquet “Carte-Verte,” both of which are NV and Brut. Both of them were wonderful (although admittedly the latter was consumed quite late in the evening, so my memory of it is less vivid), with good fruit-forward qualities balanced with a light toastiness. For the price, these were amazing. The first Champagne was paired with a delightful cheese plate, including homemade Parmegiano-Reggiano crisps, Walsertolz (Austrian raw cow milk), Le Fleuret Le Chevrefeuille Moulage Manuel, and 5-year aged Gouda.
We then moved on to the appetizer, which was my and Heath’s contribution. (All I really did was find the recipe – he thankfully made it since I had to work earlier in the day!) It turned out wonderfully – a Mushroom, Butternut Squash, and Gruyere Tart, on puff pastry. Our hosts paired it with a 2008 Zepaltas Chardonnay “Babushka” from Keefer Ranch in Russian River Valley. It accompanied the dish well, although I am clearly very sensitive to oak, because even though the winery website says this was aged in only 40% new French oak, it was still a bit oaky for my taste.
Although we probably could have stopped eating at this point, we would have been sorely disappointed if we had. The hosts served a Couscous dish with Braised Tofu, Dates, Figs, Moroccan Spices, Raisins, and Toasted Almonds. It was divine, particularly since I love all those dried fruits. I should have also mentioned that our hosts were kind enough to agree to an all-vegetarian meal (as was Heath), even though they are all meat eaters. With the couscous, we enjoyed two French reds – a 2007 Domaine Jean-Louis Tribouley Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes “Orchis,” (a Grenache blend from Languedoc) and a 2007 Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac Cuvee de la Reine des Bois, a Rhone blend. I know that I am not living up to my status as “Woo Wine Girl,” but I was too full/tipsy/relaxed by that point to take good tasting notes. Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed them. πŸ™‚
Somehow, on New Year’s Day, we managed to gird ourselves for another round of feasting. At another friend’s house, we gorged on Thomas Keller’s French Toast, Heath’s Black-Eyed Pea Curry, and a wave of Mimosas. It was a peaceful, relaxing afternoon, complete with Rock Band. Afterward, we joined my parents for ANOTHER meal, but this time I got by with just a bowl of lentil soup – after all, I may need some money in the new year. πŸ™‚
I can’t think of a better way to usher in 2011.

A Very Chill Christmas

Ahhh… getting out early on Christmas Eve and then having two days off in a row is rather unprecedented in my world, so I was prepared to thoroughly enjoy a lovely, relaxing weekend. Christmas Eve started off with a breakfast meeting with my college roomie and her mom, as well as their holiday sweater-clad dogs. After work, I raced over to City Square Steakhouse to meet some friends. Knowing that I could grab a quick drink with some friends before heading to my folks’ for dinner truly made my day. My parents had a delicious dinner waiting for me – fried catfish (which looked delicious, but I did not partake), deep-fried mushrooms, mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash and apples, and . To accompany it, we enjoyed a 2008 Oregon A to Z Pinot Noir and a Shooting Star Blaufrankisch from Washington State. The former was a bit light with basic cherry flavors, but food-friendly, and I really loved the latter, which was a shout-out to Central Europe. In Hungary, the grape is known as Kekfrankos. We topped it off with an out-of-this-world White Chocolate-Raspberry Cheesecake – wow! We all opened a gift that night, per tradition, and I received a very useful straightening iron, which I am hoping I will continue to have to patience to use on a daily basis.
We started Christmas Day fairly early – 9:00 – as I brought over freshly-baked Cherry Banana Muffins with White Chocolate Chips (mmm!). I inadvertently left out the canola oil, but you couldn’t even tell! We then proceeded to toast with our Christmas Cocktail – a Champagne Cosmo. No better way to start the holiday! The nephews – well, Olley at least – were thrilled to tear open their gifts, although we discouraged them from ripping open ALL the gifts. Sadly, Lilly and her fam had to leave for Christmas dinner at her in-laws’, but I stayed all day at my parents’, barely moving from the couch. I would highly recommend the 1938 The Christmas Carol and The Godfather as an ideal holiday movie combo. πŸ™‚ We eventually dug into a late lunch/early dinner. My parents prepared the traditional duck, and we also had a Fennel and Parmesan Gratin I had made, soup that had been cooked with the duck’s leftover parts, braised red cabbage and apples, and some leftovers from the previous day. With the meal, we opened a 2009 Cline Viognier, which is a steal at $9.99! It has the unctuous and peachy qualities of a Viognier twice the price.
I’m always a bit down when Christmas is over, but I have a feeling that 2011 has a lot more fun in store!

Lola Never Ceases to Amaze

When it came time to choose a Cleveland restaurant for a celebratory Christmas dinner, Lola was the obvious choice for the uninitiated. Certainly, there are plenty of fabulous area eateries that I have yet to try, but since Heath had never been, it was essential that we go. The day started out a bit on the rough side, as I had overindulged a bit the night before and wasn’t quite up for drinking wine with dinner. This seemed practically like the end of the world, but I figured we could remedy the situation by ordering bubbly instead. Thus, we chose the Schramsberg Brut Rose NV from Calistoga – it was lovely, although because of its fruitiness, perhaps not the wine to pair with rich, hearty food. Of course, we thoroughly enjoyed it anyway. I prodded Heath to start his meal with the Beef Cheek Pierogis, which are mind-blowing. I had tried them during my first Lola experience, and because the memory was so positive, I decided it deserved to be an exception to my vegetarianism, and I sneaked a bite. I wanted to focus entirely on my entree, which was Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Treviso, Hazelnuts, Mushrooms, and Ricotta Salata. It blew me away – so full of flavor, yet it wasn’t too heavy. I’m salivating just thinking of it… After Heath’s relatively large fish entree, neither of us was prepared to consume an entire dessert, so we wisely split a Coconut-Pecan Chocolate Cake with Spiced Coconut Sorbet. It tasted like a grown-up version of a Samoa Girl Scout cookie – although a million times better! I wish I could go back to Lola more often… but there are so many other places out there to try!!

Welcoming Fall with a Flavor-packed Risotto and Hearty Wines

Fall has most certainly arrived in NE Ohio, although I fear we may already be contending with winter in early November, as flurries have been spotted. But no matter – that’s what heart-warming food and wine are for! Probably my favorite part of this time of year is squash and its many incarnations. As much as I dislike peeling and chopping butternut squash, the end product is typically worth the effort. I discovered a recipe for Butternut Squash, Swiss Chard, and Apple Risotto, and the combination is to die for. Earthy, sweet, and creamy flavors all swirled together meant I never wanted to stop eating. The ideal wine I found for the risotto was the 2009 Domaine de la Ferrandiere Viognier, a Vin de Pays d’Oc, which I received in a two-pack from Cinderella Wine. Even though it’s a white, the fuller body of the Viognier proved a good match for the creamy risotto, but at 13% alcohol, it didn’t overwhelm. This wasn’t the most complex Viognier I’ve ever had, but considering the wide variety of flavors in the risotto, that may have been a good thing. On the nose, the wine offers pear, apricot, and a some minerality, although it is rather subtle. The palate is full-bodied, with a bit of petrol, some citrus and apple, and good acidity. A perfect wine with which to transition into the cool weather!
I also recently tried a rather unusual red blend, the 2007 Lioco Indica from Mendocino. I actually read about it in a feature on the Grape and Bean wine shop in Alexandria, VA – the owner recommended this wine, and I realized we had it at SoMar. It is 78% Carignan, plus Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, and a splash of Grenache. Both the aromas and flavors were very unique – I smelled floral scents, with cooked blueberries and stoniness, and in the mouth, there was more blueberry, as well as cranberry and perhaps some herbs. The acidity was great, and the tannins do not overwhelm. A very different, but great wine!

Italian Delights

Falling behind on my drinks...

My favorite local, recurring wine event – the South Market Bistro‘s wine dinners – took on an Italian incarnation last Thursday. The “Tour of Italy” five-course meal sampled wines from all over the boot and included both wines familiar to most casual wine drinkers, as well as more obscure varietals, which is not difficult when you’re dealing with Italy. In this familiar, frequently-visited setting, I know that I will not be disappointed.
The Bistro almost, but not quite, followed its traditional formula of starting with the lightest wine (DeFaveri Prosecco Brut from Veneto) and building up to the most powerful, and typically most expensive and sought-after wine (Tenuta Carretta Barbaresco Bordino). The third wine, however, was certainly fuller-bodied than the fourth, as well as being rough and rustic – the Alovini Aglianico del Vulture from Basilicata

. Although I think this method works with just wine, I think it is more problematic when food pairing is involved, as it is difficult to eat a large, hearty fifth course and drink a heavy wine after already having consumed so much beforehand. I think it would be better to build up to the Barbaresco and then pedal back, perhaps ending with the

Aglianico paired with Butternut Squash and Ricotta Gnocchi

Prosecco, which would refresh rather than fatigue. But before I forget – the second wine was a light, citrusy Pedres Vermentino di Gallura from Sardinia, and the fourth a medium-bodied, red fruit-filled Tiberini Rosso di Montepulciano (Sangiovese) from Tuscany.
All of the food was delicious, but I thought the one pairing that was less effective was the Aglianico with Roasted Squash and RicottaGnocchi. (This was actually what everyone ate, not just yours truly the vegetarian! I can’t thank the Bistro enough for always accommodating my dietary wishes.) While delicious, the squash and gnocchi paled next to the wine, and this was underlined by the fact that the squash were chopped into teeny bits, rather than served in hearty chunks, which could have absorbed more flavor.
Ultimately, while I may nit-pick, I will always return to these dinners, as I can’t imagine a better quality meal for the price, in a cozy atmosphere with excellent company. Salute!