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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

2010 Chateau Bonnet Bordeaux Rose

French rose at Costco for nine bucks - I'm game.

Watermelon rind, pink grapefruit, and cinnamon on the nose.

Watermelon rind, pink grapefruit, and cinnamon the palate.

Watermelon rind, pink grapefruit, and cinnamon on the finish.

Do you like watermelon rind, pink grapefruit, and cinnamon? If so, you may like this wine. It's tough to get too serious about a standard cheap rose, but that said, it's more than tasty enough to snag a bunch and get a party going, get a party going, because it's time to party, and you will party hard.

Wow, the song I just referenced is 10 years old. Getting old sucks.

Score: 86

Saturday, June 25, 2011

N/V Korbel Organic Sparkling Wine

I can't say I've read much about this wine, but I found it on sale. Regular retail on this is about $17 which is considerably pricier than standard Korbel. How does it fare to the regular, rather mediocre stuff?

I get some marzipan on the nose - something I don't see often, almond, orange, sugar - I dig it.

Right off the bat, this is easiest the best Korbel product I've had - orange marmalade, toast, rye. Dry overall and a not over the top, though somewhat thick mouthfeel.

Red apple and orange oranges on the finish.

Seventeen bones is asking a bit much, there are better wines at this pricepoint to be sure, but this really isn't bad at all. Depending on how important the organic this is to you, this may be a worthy product to look into.

Score: 87

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Next Restaurant - Chicago, IL - 6/22/11

Hype is a tricky thing....

Before Next even opened there was tons of hype. I signed up to their e-mail list almost a year before they opened. A year.

The five star reviews that followed (written by professional reviewers whose anonymity were compromised so they were served courses regular folks will never get to try - our cab driver had an elaborate conspiracy theory about this, I won't repeat it in case he's right) kept the hype snowballing.

The fact that the only way to secure a reservation in advance is log into their website in a magical ten second window where tickets have not been all bought up also adds to the allure. The restaurant would release something like fifty tables at once and they'd be gone in under thirty seconds. Insanity.

Is the Paris 1906 version of Next worth the hype? How could it?


We start with Hors d'Ouevres. This was paired with Vincent Carre Brut Champagne.


From here out, you get a picture of the wine first, then the food it's paired with....

An interesting French white that smelled like sherry and tasted like a super light white sherry...or maybe a glass of some miscellaneous white wine with a spike of sherry? It was interesting in an academic way.


This went with the Potage a la Tortue Claire....Before:



I'd like to make a brief digression from talking about Next to make a formal request to people who dine in restaurants, go to wine tastings, attend performing arts events, ride public transportation, or work in a small office. Go easy on the perfume.

The woman next to us had a lovely perfume, I actually really liked it - I just wish she didn't feel compelled to squirt herself 19 times before walking in the building. To put a positive spin on it, since my jacket is still infused with her scent I can bring it to Nordstrom and ask a shopgirl what it is - get the Christmas gift for the wife done early.

I digress.


Next course -

Paired with Filet de Sole Daumont


Paired with Supremes de Poussin.


Paired with Gratin de Pommes de Terre à la Dauphinoise

and Caneton Rouennais a la Presse


The palate cleanser was the Salade Irma (no wine with this) -


Served with the Bombe Ceylan:


Ending the meal with the Mignardises...a caramel, a pistachio marshmallow thing, and the most interesting one on top - beet flavored jellies.


I have little to say because a quick google search and you'll find countless reviews written by people more knowledgeable and eloquent than I'd ever crank out. The chicken was a bit of a miss (purely a "to my taste" situation rather than a poor execution).

Dinner *seemed* incredibly rushed and quick, but we were still there for close to three hours, so it was anything but. Service was outstanding in every regard - friendly with great introductions to the food and wine, a few jokes here and there, all relaxed yet professional.


We took in a few drinks at The Aviary next door as well....

An amuse bouche of watermelon infused with something or another.


The Blueberry -

You can see the spout there, you pour it in your small glass....tasty, dangerously smooth.


This is the after of the Ginger drink...

This guy got a "before" of the Ginger, so you can check that.--

The Dark and Stormy...classy! You drink this from a bottle in a paper bag, if memory serves it's dark rum and homemade ginger ale.


I also had an Old Fashioned encased in a ball of ice that was then smashed at the table...didn't get a photo, but this guy did. It was encased in a ball of ice that the serve smashes - the drink explodes, the liquid fills the glass, and the shards of "glass" are your ice. Pretty sweet.


The drinks are tasty, creative, and beautifully presented. They are also quite expensive - though really, it's not that unusual to see a $12 martini in any given Chicago restaurant - so it may be worth popping in and trying something genuinely unique if you're looking for a fancy night out.

Update 10/13/11 - Upon visiting The Aviary again last night, I've redacted my comments about poor service. Great, friendly staff all around.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

2009 Lynfred Winery Pinot Noir

To those not in the know, Lynfred Winery is located in Roselle, Illinois - a suburb of Chicago - they do not have vineyards, but get grapes from various places....Michigan, Washington, California are all represented, I think Illinois and Oregon are as well. My understanding of the process is they have contracts with vineyards, get the grapes shipped in immediately after they are picked, and then the wine is made at the winery itself.

This is an "American" Pinot Noir, I believe the grapes are from Washington, and the retail is about eighteen bones. This is a newish label, it seems some of the newer wines have it, and if I may say so - I find it to be an improvement over the (already nice) older style. Kudos to the graphic department!

Earth, mocha, chocolate, and carob on the nose with an undercurrent of raspberry.

Raspberry tea, dark (like ultra mega 94% dark) chocolate, mocha, super ripe plum and blackberry.

Almost a green tea like finish with more of that mocha.

Simply put, most under $20 Pinot Noirs aren't worth your time, but I'd say this one is. Nicely played.

Score: 88

Saturday, June 11, 2011

2009 White Cottage Ranch Elene Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon

About fourteen bucks at Costco, this one was. It was the only rose they seemed to carry, hopefully that will change soon.

Watermelon of the natural and artificial sort on the nose.

More or less standard in the whole strawberry and watermelon thing, but it has a full bodied mouth feel almost oily in consistency....there is a type of candy that comes in a tube and has the consistency, more or less, as gel toothpaste - imagine sour watermelon gel candy in wine form - here you are. There's a bit more sweetness than I prefer in a rose, but the acid and that full bodied feel bring it all together into a sort of harmony.

A candy quality lingers.

I want to clarify - I keep using "candy" terms but this is not a blush wine by any means, it's a solid rose, firmly acidic, mildly tannic, full bodied, complex, but with a candy - a sour candy - dominating component. I can see some not caring for this....for me, it works.

Score: 89

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Le Deauville - Lexington, KY - 5/28/11

Lexington has a few classy places in the hip area near Transylvania University. We opted for Le Deauville because the online menu looked intriguing...the online menu is quite different than the actual one, but that's not terribly unusual. We went with a five course chef's tasting and the waiter was able to whip up a wine pairing as well.

As you can see, the restaurant got progressively darker, so image quality gets a bit iffy.

As I said, the online menu is different, so my descriptions will be lacking...

Mixed salad with poached egg. While I officially still hate eggs, things like this are helping me come around - not bad at all.


Tuna tartare with avocado. To me, this was great - Fran found the lime a bit too forward which threw it off...I liked the hint of ceviche quality it added to the dish.


Rack of lamb. I hate to oversell things, I hate to say "this is the best X I've ever had" (especially since the best fish I've ever had was consumed just a few days earlier) but I'm just going to come right out and say, this is the best lamb I've ever had. Ever. Anywhere. Lexington, Kentucky. Best lamb ever. We will likely be visiting this area again later this summer, I'm coming back to this restaurant exclusively for this dish.


Sea bass with a roasted tomato, potato, and something or another. Not a big fish fan, but this was solid...I'd also say it was oddly coursed after the lamb, but the flavors were quite bold, so it held up fine.


Creme brulee for me.


Chocolate mousse for Fran.


Flat out outstanding and with five courses, five wine pours, tax, and tip at just over $200, a genuine bargain. I look forward to returning.

Ravenous Pig - Orlando, FL - 5/27/11

One of the chef's at Victoria and Albert's strongly recommended we visit The Ravenous Pig at some point, so on the way out of town we hit it up for lunch.

Ravenous Pig Old Fashioned
Bacon infused Buffalo Trace, vanilla maple syrup, bitters


Lobster Taco
cilantro, avocado, pickled jalapeno, cabbage slaw


Steak Torta
charred corn & avocado relish, wilted spinach, white cheddar omlette, garlic aioli, cuban kaiser


Smoked Pork
barbeque gastrique, crispy pickled vegetables, garlic buttered brioche bun


The biggest regret of the trip was coming here for lunch on our last day - we should have showed up the night we arrived in town and had dinner. Outstanding service, food, drinks, fair prices, quality everything - if you're going to Orlando and you like food, this is #1.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Le Cellier - Epcot Center, Orlando, FL - 5/26/11

If you believe the interweb, you likely think a reservation at Le Cellier is next to impossible to get - this is untrue. The Disney site allows you to make reservations 180 days in advance - if you try to make a reservation 180 days in advance at Le Cellier, then yes, you probably will find that it's booked. All you need to do is check every couple of days and invariably someone will cancel their reservation. When I first started looking at this place, it was completely booked - three weeks later I had four times available on the night I wanted.

The pretzel bread gets much love, and rightfully so....


The beer cheese soup is excellent, but absurd for one person...potentially absurd for two people...hell, it's absurd for three people. It's thick, it's heavy, it's delicious, but don't expect to have much room, which is a shame since...


Le Cellier Mushroom Filet Mignon with wild mushroom risotto, white truffle butter sauce and micro chervil. This is apparently the restaurant's signature dish and rightfully so.


Bison strip steak...tasty, but paled in comparison to the filet.


There you go. On the one hand, a good steak can be had almost anywhere, on the other, sometimes that's what you want. If that's the case, this place is solid. A nice wine list, with plenty of Canadian selections, is gravy on the poutine - I generally don't recommend steak places, but when they're done right, how can one not?

Chefs de France - Epcot Center, Orlando, FL - 5/26/11

The day after dinner at Bistro, we stopped for lunch at Chefs de France. We had the pleasure of meeting the head chef of the restaurant, the world famous Remy stopped by our table twice. He is a gentleman and a scholar.

But, I digress.


The whole pate plate thing - very good, with duck liver as the highlight.


Filet de Saumon - Broiled salmon - but the menu online is not up to date so I can't give you much more beyond that...


Plat de Cote de boeuf au cabernet avec pates - beef short ribs briased in cabernet with pasta, pearl onions and mushrooms


A nicely done lunch. While there is a burger on the menu, I was surprised by how French this place was - unapologetic, bistro food that is probably the most adventurous food some of the people in the place have probably ever encountered.

Kudos to the France pavilion for keeping it real.

Bistro de Paris - Epcot Center, Orlando, FL - 5/25/11

In the Paris portion of Epcot, there are two restaurants - Bistro de Paris is the upper level, white table cloth restaurant, a bit more formal, a bit more high end, a bit more "French restaurant" - I would go as far as to say "shockingly French."


The amuse bouche featured fish....sadly, that's all I can remember.


Escargot - crazy sized portion, I'd say about 12 snails in a thicky, creamy sauce. Delicious, but huge.


Venison medallions roasted, caramelized apple with cranberries, celery purée and patty pan squash, Grand Veneur sauce


Pork tenderlon stuffed with mushrooms, truffles pasta gratin, morel sauce


There you go. A solid meal by any standards - this is straight up, old school French though the portions suggest a German influence. The food and wine list make no apologies - this is a solid, French restaurant on par with what you should expect in any major metropolitan area. Not a cheap dinner, but a well crafted one, and certainly a value for the quality. Service was top notch, friendly, and not at all stuffy.

If Victoria and Albert's is out of your price range and you need a special occasion meal - hit this place up.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Victoria and Albert's Chef's Table - Grand Floridian Resort, Orlando, FL - 5/24/11

There are more difficult reservations to get than the chef's table at Victoria and Albert's, but one does have to plan far in advance if there is interest. I called in January 3 and asked "what is the earliest reservation I can make for the chef's table?" I was told May 24. Here you are. The reason why the chef's table is tough to get is because there is only one table and one seating - 5 pm - and that's it for the night.

The restaurant itself is not a terribly difficult reservation, they have a standard dining room with one menu and the Queen Victoria's Room which features the chef's table menu. It's all tasting menu based and they will certainly work with you based on allergies and dietary restrictions.

This is the only restaurant on Disney property that does not allow small children and a jacket is required for men. I had some reservations at first, but rest assured this is true fine dining, not Disney fine dining. (Though, one could argue that fine dining is inherently Disney dining, but that is an argument for another day.)

Amuse bouche - featuring:
Soft-poached Quail Egg with Galilee Caviar
Roasted Butternut Squash Cream Soup
Lobster Panna Cotta
Burrata Alla Panna with Jamon Ibrerico


Maine Lobster and Mango with White Sturgeon Caviar and Passion Fruit Pearls. All exceptional, the passion fruit pearls were basically caviar sized balls of passion fruit that exploded with flavor - unfrickinbelievably good.


A bit of dry ice on the next one....when the smoke cleared....

Cold "Smoked" Niman Ranch Lamb with Fuji Apple and Curry Dressing.


Sake Soy-marinated Alaskan King Salmon with Bok Choy and Soy Beans. I hate to make bold declarations on here, but this is the single best fish I have ever eaten. Seriously. It may be the best dish of food I've ever eaten. Insanely delicious and intense - worth the price of admission alone.


Roasted Quail with Asian Pears and Serrano Ham Jus


I mentioned earlier there are two dining rooms, but we had the Chef's Table - tucked away in the corner of the kitchen. You're right in the middle of it, the chef's seem friendly enough, but we are admittedly not the most talkative people on the planet so we let them be until the end of the meal when we chatted with a chef from Chicago....I digress....


Veal Sweatbread and Shank with Mushroom Ragout.


Australian Kobe Beef with Garlic Potato Puree. I am not a big believer in the Wagyu/Kobe beef thing...yeah, it's tender, but by it's nature, it's not terribly "meaty" in flavor - when you have a good sauce, as we have here, one can become a convert.


Cheese plate...unfortunately, our souvenir menu is inaccurate on this one, so I can give you no details beyond the cheeses were excellent, served at the right temperature and with excellent accompaniments.


This funky contraption was our coffee pot...don't ask me how it seems the burner at the bottom heated the water, and after it was blown out something happened that made the coffee steep. Damn good coffee - and hot!


Orange Panna Cotta with Chartreuse-Pineapple Sorbet.


Mocha Scented Tanzanie Chocolate Mousse Timbale and Chocolate Cocktail.


There you go.

Victoria and Albert's is not a cheap meal - it is fine dining, tasting menu, wine pairing, fancy pants, pricey. It is also the real deal - old school fine dining in the truest sense, no molecular weirdness, just straight up top quality ingredients, top quality chefs, top quality platings, top quality service, top quality everything basically.