Friday, October 8, 2010

Cinghiale vs The Bad Girls Of Cello

There seems to be a significant overlap in the foodie/wino (call 'em like I see 'em) and cello worlds. So when GottaGoPractice emailed to tell me she was going to be in town this week, I knew what I had to do.


I offered GGP and Cate (the other member of the BGoC) a choice between Cinghiale and Tapas Teatro, and in the end chose the former because of its harborside location.

The reviews on Urban Spoon and the usual rags were mixed, with a common thread of confusion.  I thought to myself, "How can a restaurant be confusing? You show up, you find something that looks good, you eat it and like it; or not."

Now I can see why, although I think the crummy reviewers were just bad sports. The first potential confounder is the dual nature of the place. When you walk in, you have a choice of the Enoteca to the left or the Osteria to the right. So, wine bar or formal dining room. The pulse quickens. Am I wearing fancy enough clothes? Am I going to need financing for this? Why are there so many people looking at me?

We had already decided on the Enoteca, whose menu was divided up into normale (a word I came to love in Italy. Whenever things would go weird and plans would have to be abandoned or changed, they would exclaim, "Normale!") a la carte options, and also a more rustic, family style menu in addition to a few prix fixe permutations. In the end, three very decisive women were left kind of freaking out at the seemingly limitless algorithms that could result in the appearance of food and drink before us.

Cocktails were in order.

Rosemary Bellini for me, Hendricks cucumber 75 for GGP. They were both tremendous. The Bellini smelled more herbal than it tasted and had a mouthfeel from Mars. But in a good way. It was described as "Pillowy...marshmallowy....wait! Bubbly!"

We started with a charcuterie plate: prosciutto, speck and an allegedly spicy salami. The Speck was the star, smeared with a balsamic mustardy concoction. Onto small plates we went. Beet salad for GGP, who noted they were as tasty as those in her garden, and I ventured into the fried cauliflower.


I have been known to say things like, "Fry up a dirt clod and I'll eat it." Yes. I like fried food. And I like cauliflower. And this was a winner. The micro greens on top were a great touch that tightened what could have been a one-dimensional dish: so even if you're not particularly fond of tempura or veggies, this was lovely. It just tasted warm and crispy. Like a happy little crouton of love.

Next, it was onto the main course. Cate got down with the swordfish, GGP savored the duck with amazing caramelized apples, and I was every child's nightmare, ordering the rabbit at the behest of the waiter. As an adventurous eater, I don't normally flinch at much of anything. But when the presentation came looking like this:


I felt a little remorse. Look at those tiny little ribs. The girls looked at me disapprovingly and told bunny stories. And then I ate it right up. And it was absolutely divine, on a bed of sweet potato puree with wilted greens mixed in for punch. Not at all gamey, not daring in its rareness. But the tiny ribs were a little macabre.

We went for a simple Chianti that did not let us down. Holy smokes! It was slightly tannic and cheerful and managed to reflect the earthy stuff/spicy fruit without going into that overplayed cloying Chianti place. Cetamura Chianti generally retails for around $10. Cheap and cheerful! Just what I like. Had someone told me that this was a $40 bottle, I would have believed it.



I like Cinghiale, and will come back before too long. I'd like to try the fancy Osteria or even do a chef's tasting at some point. I know the food and wine will be fantastic, as will the small touches, like the complimentary valet and attentive service. I will go to a few other places first though, just to get my bearings. Choosing from among the endless riches here was difficult, and perhaps, actually...a little...confusing.

Oh, and in case you're not up to speed on the wonder that is Hendrick's gin...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A good excuse



I haven't written here recently, but it's because I have been eating and drinking so well! My recent discoveries:

1. Bin 604, Baltimore (pictured above)
I like these people, and the shop is a mix of earthy every day drinking wines to industry standards and even "big gesture" wines. It's a light hearted spot, right next to the Whole Paycheck Foods on Fleet Street. Free validated parking, loyalty club where you earn free wine, events aplenty including one called "Porch Pounders": whites meant for drinking outside. It's just a good feeling place.

2. The Wine Bin, Ellicott City
Gotta love a place where the owners are generally there. Nice selection, with some chocolates and snacky savories thrown in, too. On the weekends, they throw a sheet up on the back wall of the parking lot and screen movies. I am bummed that it was too hot the weekend they screened Jaws, one of my all time faves. Although they look like a fancy shop (and they have a humidor with some serious big money wines in it) you can happily stroll in and say, "I want 3 wines and I have $35; what can you do for me?" Bonus: they were totally game to watch my YouTube recommendations, including the classic "Grape Lady Falls". Extra points for The Wine Bin.

3. Pure Wine Cafe, Ellicott City
Holy moly. This is big-city wine pairing in a quaint package. I've linked to the menu, which delivered in so many mouthwatering ways. We had 3 generous tapas-style plates and an accompanying flight that went something like this:

Truffle fries/Viognier
Charcuterie of Serrano ham, Applewood duck breast and a farmhouse cheese/Malbec
Fig, proscuitto and bleu cheese flatbread (which was like a sexy pop-tart)/Bordeaux

It was one of those meals where you wish you could expand your stomach just to try more. I can't go back soon enough. Really, a fine, fine experience.

4. Sweet Cascades, Ellicott City
Home made peanut butter cups. Malts. Chocolate-covered jalapeños.

What? I need to go back and taste the chocolate crabs with Old Bay seasoning. And the giant smores. And everything else. Watch out for the jalapeños though. Tasty but suddenly inedible when you get the seeds, and the chocolate is too thick and falls off. If you're the owner and are reading this, cut them in half, remove almost all of the seeds and them dip them in a thinner layer. It's a great flavor combo, but they are NOT practical as they stand now, and this is from someone who enjoys really spicy food! Still, I like the people and they have a huge selection of fine handmade candy and chocolate.

5. Cacao Lane, Ellicott City
I am a regular barfly here. The owner is a sweet guy, and Una and Ed (the primary downstairs bartenders) are great conversation who totally play ball when I ask them to surprise me. Una made me a cucumber martini that was crisp and refreshing on a searing night, and Ed, seeing that I lamented their lack of ice cream for dessert, made a creamsicle-flavored concoction that was amazing. The scene here is eclectic, and you can find old couples on their 5pm dinner date and the youth of Ellicott City upstairs on open mic night. Their new chef just redesigned the menu. I'm bummed that they took the raw oysters off the menu, but there is good stuff being added all the time.

6. Petit Louis, Baltimore
The service is strained, but the food is authentic and mostly wonderful. Epic, lush, and varied wine list. The Cab Franc was perfect! My friend's duck confit was overcooked, but my smoked duck breast was sublime. When we mentioned the problem with the confit, they were totally unreceptive and borderline intolerant. Hmmm. Not cheap, but in any other city, it would have been twice as much! Best vichyssoise I have ever had. Still, I have to say that they seemed glad to see the back of us. I'll return, but next time I'll wear a disguise to see if they're pissy with everyone, or just Californians and New Yorkers.

7. Union Jack Pub, Bethesda
Great service, perfect pub food, LOTS of room, cold, cold beer. Sometimes that's all a girl needs.

8. The Rumor Mill, Ellicott City
Chef Matthew is coming from a good place, but it seems like the kinks still need working out. My first time here, there were undercooked shrimp in an otherwise average dining experience. The second time, everything was fantastic. The flavor profiles were so careful and creative. Then I took foodie pal Joe here my third time, thinking it would be great, but the pear tart was really amateurish and if it hadn't been frozen, there were certainly textural issues and not enough salt to balance the only mildly sweet pears. It felt rushed and like a component was missing: maybe a coulis? Fleur de Sel sauce? Butter? I don't know. Also, one of my peeves is that people throw tuna tartare and avocados together like they're just going to be fabulous no matter what. I know I'm spoiled by Californian sushi culture, but what passes for tuna tartare and guacamole here is flavorless. It's what I imagine Top Chef rejects make on their first quickfire challenge. I'm still going to eat here, because I sense that I'm on the leading edge of something. I can't wait to see what it is, and as a betting woman, I'm wagering it's going to be great.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What goes well with an egg sandwich?



Any suggestions? I'm thinking a Rosé. Of course, the ol' standby Mimosa goes well with nearly everything. Really, this is just an excuse to post a picture of an egg sandwich. 


Here's a cheery substitute for Mimosas, if you're so inclined: just mix equal parts Trader Joe's Italian Blood Orange soda and Prosecco in a glass vessel. I sometimes float a few supremed blood orange segments in the mixture, or rim the glasses with sugar and then brûlée the rim so you get a little hit of caramel goodness in there, too. 


Cheers, my friends. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Meet Joe, the Guest Blogger!

One of the many benefits of Twitter (aside from limiting otherwise verbose people to 140 characters) is meeting people who have some very similar tastes and a whole host of disparate ones. My Twitter associations are grouped into three large categories: football people, food and wine people, and music people. Joe cuts across all three, and has a mean blog to boot! Those of you who have happened upon The Thirsty Cellist know that it is not nearly as active as this blog and also in need of an infusion of knowledge and zest. So I called upon Joe to do his thing. It was so good that I've decided to post it at both blogs.



A Grand Unified Theory to Classical Music and Wine Appreciation (or How I Was Not Daunted By Either) by Joseph Buck

Emily, thanks for the spare electrons. Ed: My pleasure!

A few weeks ago, Ms. Wright asked me to write something for her wine blog.

Yet it is the fact that it is attached to her *cello* blog that got me thinking how my love for classical music also had some similarities in how I grew to love the world of wine.

So I had a bit of a thought and traced the path I had for loving both. Bear with me and let’s follow that together. To start…

1. I used entry drugs.

In music, if there was an orchestral or classical aspect in rock or jazz I tried to find out the source. Brian Eno was my entry drug to Steve Reich. David Sylvian was my entry drug to Toru Takemitsu. The Beatles were my entry drug to John Tavener.

In the same way, my love for a cheap Rosenblum Zin Cuvee got me deep into California’s grape, and got me trying the Seghesios, the Tofanellis, the Orin Swifts.

That’s because I guess I…

2. Started with what was closest, and most recent

For wine, that led me out to Rancho Cucamonga of all places, tasting wine from the middle of a now developed Inland Empire. It made me realize that good people, make good wine, and are willing to share it with you and yarn about the whole thing.

For classical it made me look at John Adams, who was as West Coast and as world wide as I hoped to be at the time.

But from there I…

3. Traced Backwards

I looked back at the influences of New and American composers. This led me to the realization that all those old dead Euro white guys were maybe not so bad. My continued apologies to Ludwig, Frédéric, Hector, Claude, and Béla, um, amongst, many many others.

To be honest, the same thing applied in the wine world, I was busy giving “big ups” to the new world, but once I peeled back history, I found out that things were iconic back in Europe for a reason. I embraced weird French stuff, and old houses alike, and my aforementioned love for Zinfandel got me researching to learn that my beloved iconic grape was (gulp) from Italy as Primitivo and even before that came from Croatia as Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Yet by tracing back it allowed me to…

4. Find out what goes into what I liked.

By trying and tracing back in wine I realized how much I liked fruit forward stuff from California, Australia, and New Zealand, and I liked the flavor profiles and bang for the buck from stuff from Spain and Portugal. I liked the vegetal funk of Cab Franc.

I found out particularly in blended wines which varietals made for what qualities in the finished products. What rounded out, and complemented another grape.

Also I guess in the same way I learned what components of composition, and instrumentation went into the kinds of music I liked.

As I tried things, and did some research I found…

5. I didn’t have to know everything.

I have noticed that in both the wine and music worlds that by and large people not only don’t mind, but love talking about their work.

In my experience, winemakers, growers, musicians, composers, each to a man, to a woman, have been unbelievably informative and willing to share their knowledge and expertise.

I think many people are daunted to talk to such folks, and feel that they know little to hold a conversation.

In my experience, what they respond negatively to is not the lack of knowledge, but acting like you do. I have gotten the best responses from folk by a good, informed, yet humble question.

By learning from such folk, and by trying out as much as you can you will be able to find things to treasure.

The flip side to that was realizing…

6. I don’t have to like it

I may like new music, but I can leave the Cage and Lutosławski alone. I love a lot from California, but I think many Napa Cabs are overrated.

The more I learned and tried, the more I trusted my ears and my palate for what I liked.

I hope this stuff has been food for thought and that you will be empowered and fall in love with things in both of these amazing worlds.

Joseph Buck represents Southern California. He writes for things like throughhisstomach.com, fights gangs for local charities and stuff, and hates referring to himself in the third person.







Image via kiwicollection.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Short and sweet

Brutocao Port! 2006. Estate bottled. Mendocino. It's the last remnant of a trip I took up north last year, and everything you desire in a Port.

Stay tuned for a special guest blogger! Super excited, and although this blog is less hustle and bustle than SRCB, I'd like to think that I'll have more to say here after the book is finally published and I can take the time to really taste wine again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Homefire Zinfandel


It's been a long time. Sure, I could bandy about excuses such as:

"I was finishing my cello book"

or

"I was dealing with a very sick cat"

or

"I was freaking out over the Trojans loss to *insert Pac 10 team here*"


...but the real reason is that I was drunk off my ass for weeks on the 2007 Zinfandel from Homefire, out of Sonoma. Ok, not really, but I should be so lucky. I first met this wine a few years ago, and fell wildly in love with their 2005 effort. I bought a case that went all too quickly. It tastes like Christmas at your folks house after you got everything you wanted and your favorite movie is on the tv and you're in a balanced relationship and you're happy with your weight.

So when I sampled their 2006 offering, I was so sad. It was like Arbor Day at your cheating boyfriend's house with him texting the other woman in the bathroom doing God knows what and his family likes her better anyway.

This latest selection is a triumphant return to the heady days of old. Spicy, brilliant, purple-tasting and glorious. I've sobered up enough to write this little blog, but then I'm going right back in for another month of blind-drunk winey goodness.

Not really, but it is a lovely drink, and worth the $20 or so, if you're into round, deep reds.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Poggio Molina

A few nights ago, the IMA Tuscany participants went to Poggio Molina vineyard to have a sumptuous wine tasting and the rare privilege of an enormous meal cooked for us. Un-reproduceable, the meal included pesto pasta with pea-sized bits of potato, paper thin slices of wild boar, the most magnificent tomatoes (so rich and thick that the most fervent carnivores were passing up meat for a third helping) and other things that went by in a blur of sweet, sour, piquant, verdant, and decadent. The most amazing thing? Poggio Molina produces 90% of everything we ate, from the vegetables, to the meat, to the semolina used in the pasta. What is now so "green chic" in Los Angeles and other culinary centers is the old way in the rolling hills of Tuscany.

Vineyard.



Can you believe these grapes?



Roz, the great and powerful.



More vineyard.



The tasting begins.




No more pictures after that, because we were all so busy eating and talking that pictures seemed silly.


Recommended wines, all from Poggio Molina:

I Vecciali Toscana: a nearly efferscent Chianti.

2005 Le Caldie: a rich, jammy Merlot (if you'd believe it!) with all of the Robert Parker fruit-forward that you can handle.

2005/2006 Vinobono: spicy and flirtatious Sangiovese. A table wine that food needs more than it needs food.

2005 Lo Scopaio: more elegant and dignified than you'd expect for a table wine. Non varietal, has lots of cherry and maybe some vanilla too.

In Rome now, just for one more day. I will miss this place, but California has the siren call of convenience and a global wine marketplace. Still, I have not slept so well in years, and I have to think that it is that same cacophonous siren call that may be responsible for the listlessness of my slumber.