Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wine and Cheese Classes at Talula’s Table

It’s Monday, it’s happy hour and today’s special is… cheese. Talula’s Table is now offering a series of cheese “happy hours” on Monday evenings. Held in the shop from 6:30 to 8:00 PM, the classes typically place a regional or thematic focus on all things cheese. I’ve been working for the last couple of weeks with Aimee Olexy, resident cheesemonger at Talula’s, to pair wines with her panoply of farmstead fromages. Sessions thus far have covered introductions to the cheeses of Spain and France. Next week’s course, on June 4, will shift to a sociological topic: cheese and wine made by women. The wines I’ve selected for the evening are:

  • Pfalz Scheurebe trocken, Weingut Weegmüller 2005:
    Stefi Weegmüller is one of the premier growers in the Pfalz. She turns out some of the cleanest and most characterful wines of the southern Rhine.

  • Dolcetto di Dogliani “Sorí dij But,” Anna Maria Abbona 2005:
    Anna Maria Abbona has been farming 8 hectares of vineyard, planted mostly to the Dogliani specialty Dolcetto, since 1989. Her wines are focused, aromatic and beautifully food friendly – everything that the best Dolcetti should be.

  • Côtes du Rhône “Bout d’Zan,” Mas de Libian 2005:
    In 1995, Hélène Thibon took over the farm that had been in her family since the late 17th century. She farms organically on the western banks of the Rhône, producing bold, fruit-focused wines based primarily on the local specialty, Grenache.

Sessions begin with a brief mingling period, followed by an hour or so of interactive discussion which will cover the basics of cheese making, general information relative to the theme of the evening, the finer points of cheese and wine pairing, and detailed information about each selection. As hard as Aimee and I work on making the pairings harmonize, she also delights in taking advantage of the available options to create an intentional mismatch. It can be just as eye opening – and perhaps even more educational – than the perfect match.

Classes are priced at $25 per person and are open to twelve attendees. For more information or to make a reservation for a class, contact Talula’s Table directly at (610) 444-8255. And stay tuned here for more information about the upcoming schedule of events.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Buffalo Soldiers

Is there a more quintessential American food and wine pairing than buffalo and Zinfandel? Whatever your answer, it seemed like a good idea when this Memorial Day weekend presented the perfect opportunity for a long overdue get together with some good friends for a bit of cooking, eating and wine tasting. Besides, what better opportunity would come along to try out my grilling skills on the bison flank steak I’d scored at the inaugural day at the Oakmont Farmers Market? Or to open one of the bottles of Ridge Zin that has been collecting dust in my cellar for the last seven or eight years?

Rod Wieder of Backyard Bison has committed to setting up his trailer at the Oakmont market this season and I was eager to sample the fruit of his labors. Though a bit disappointed on first visit that nothing was available in a never-frozen state, I nonetheless eagerly selected a bison flank steak and a package of ground buffalo. After toying with several preparation options for the flank, including the marinade recipe provided by Rod and a recipe for stuffed bison in the D’Artagnan cookbook, I finally decided on the purist route – grilling with nothing other than salt, pepper and a modest rub of olive oil. The method: a hardwood charcoal fire, direct medium heat and all of about three minutes on each side. The results: perfectly medium-rare, an agreeable workout for the mandible and very flavorful. Bison is not at all gamey, the flavors being more like beef but a touch sweeter and a good deal less rich, probably due to its much lower fat content. All of this spelled good tidings for a well made wine match.

Every time I open the door to my cellar – which includes an entire row of bottles with short, silver capsules – I’m presented with a clear reminder that I cut my teeth on Ridge’s wines. Over the years, what once was unabashed fondness has morphed into more of a passing interest, as my tolerance has waned for high-alcohol, in-your-face wines. The upside of that evolution is that I now have a decent number of Ridge’s bottlings that are approaching or starting into their second decade. Just on the cusp was the bottle selected to accompany the bison: 1998 York Creek (Spring Mountain, Napa Valley) Zinfandel. Winemaker Paul Draper’s label notes suggest that the wine should have passed its prime if not headed downhill by now. My experience, however, has been that Ridge Zinfandels – aside from their simplest bottlings – possess a longevity that far surpasses the norm for a variety not overwhelmingly known for its age-worthiness. This bottle maintained that track record, still showing plenty of red cherry and spicy red berry fruit, softened yet untarnished by age and presenting a persistent backbone of dusty tannins. The 14.9% alcohol level hid well and the wine paired admirably with the lean, flavorful meat.

The concept of marrying things from a place can often work wonders in the wine world. Just think of Roquefort with the sweet whites of Southwest France, a raw bar assortment with a brisk, briny Muscadet, or – why not – buffalo steak with good Zinfandel. Sometimes, though, that practice can be taken too far. Case in point: the wines of Ridge Vineyards. I can’t help but think how much better this wine could have been if not for one major stylistic stroke. Ridge insists on pairing their quintessentially American wines with the use of American oak in the cellar. It’s a match that I feel works to the detriment of their wines, lending them an intense aroma of cedar and giving them edgy, green wood tannins. Even after ten years in bottle, when these tones have mellowed, they’re still unmistakable. I don’t think switching to French oak would render Ridge’s wines any less American; it could simply make them better. One can’t help but admire Paul Draper and the team at Ridge for sticking to their guns. That said, we should never be afraid to question dogma in whatever form it takes.

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Relevant reading:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wine with Bill

Less often than I’d like, I find the opportunity to get together with friends to cook some good food. Recently, I did just that with one of my stalwart food and wine pals, Bill. Inspiration for this occasion was entirely seasonal: a ramp romp. Bill’s friends who live out in the Chester County countryside have a tremendous perennial crop of wild ramps growing right on their property. Having harvested far more than they could consume on their own, a generous “donation” was made to Bill’s larder, giving us the perfect opportunity to explore one of the most fleeting flavors of spring. Of course, it also gave us a great excuse to open a few interesting bottles of wine.

Of late, Bill’s been a much more accomplished wine shopper than I. Frequenting one of his perennial favorites, State Line Liquors, and one of his new troves, Chambers Street Wines, he’s been coming up with some pretty interesting stuff. A couple of the more esoteric bottles from Chambers Street seemed like the perfect place to get started….

Vin Mousseux Aromatique de Qualité Medium Dry “FRV 100,” Jean-Paul Brun NV
Brun produces some of the most natural, idiosyncratic wines of Beaujolais. A recent bottle of his 2005 Morgon is among the best wines I’ve tried this year. He apparently has a lighter side, captured in this oddball of a sparkler. Varietal Gamay vinified in the Méthode Ancestrale results in a pink, semi-sweet, low-alcohol, strawberry scented spritzer. Even odder than the wine was its label, black with reflective lettering reminiscent of circa 1970’s “One Day at a Time” bumper stickers and covered with whimsical, multi-lingual words all beginning with F, R or V – code for effervescent. The label would normally have been enough to scare me away but the contents, simple as they were, were hard not to enjoy. At a mere 7.5% ABV, it would make a perfect cold fried chicken picnic wine.

Beaujolais Blanc “Terres Dorées,” Jean-Paul Brun 2005
Not odd in the vein of the previous bubbly, it’s still fairly rare to find a Beaujolais Blanc on the American market. Brun’s varietal Chardonnay bears much more in common with the wines of Saint-Pourçain, neighbor to the west in the upper Loire district of the Auvergne, than with the Bourgogne Blancs of the Macon just to the north. Lemony, lean, minerally and relatively low-alcohol (12%), this would pair well, in lieu of other more obvious options, with a mixed shellfish platter. It was a bit too high in acid and lacking in fruit to pair well with our first course of braised turkey meatballs over gorgonzola dolce with sautéed ramps, where something equally lively but a bit juicier may have better served.

Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie “Le L d’Or” Domaine Pierre de la Grange, Pierre Luneau-Papin 1995
Though also a mismatch with the ramps and meatballs, this was the most enlightening wine of the night. Common wisdom would have it that Muscadet is wine only for quaffing in its youth. It’s beautiful to see, then, “vin de garde” examples like this that are still fresh and vibrant after ten or more years of ageing. Showing a pale golden-green glow in the glass, developed mineral flavors but still primary fruit and lively acidity, this could last another five or ten years with little problem. My interest in this bottling was further piqued by the fact that I sell Muscadet from Luneau-Papin’s daughter's property, Chateau Les Fromenteaux, where Pierre looks after all of the vineyards and viticultural practices. I’ll have to sock away a few bottles of the 2005 Fromenteaux “Clos du Poyet” for a rainy day with expectations that a knack for quality and structure runs in the family.

As we cleared the plates and started on the final touches for our main course of roast chicken with olives and sautéed ramps, it seemed as good a time as any to narrow down our red options. Bill was chomping at the bit for some good Burgundy. And so it was….

Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru “Les Sentiers,” Domaine Truchot-Martin (Jacky Truchot) 2003
I first came across Jacky Truchot’s fantastically expressive red Burgundies in the late ‘90s. I remember being shocked at how pale his wines appeared in bottle, almost rosé-like to the uninitiated eye. I’ve managed to stay in touch with the estate through occasional tastings and chance encounters. His 2003s, like most Burgundies, are atypically dark and rich. Yet the finesse stemming from Jacky’s old-school approach in the winery and natural touch in the vineyards still resulted in wines of real class. The 2003 “Les Sentiers” is drinking beautifully, with silky red fruit, delicate, supple tannins, floral aromatics and Truchot’s trademark sprightly acidity. It’s a pity that the estate is no more. Jacky retired after the 2005 vintage with no heirs to carry on his legacy.

Up to this point, we had yet to touch any of the bottles I’d brought along for the evening. With a bit of effort, I finally convinced Bill to save his ’95 Baudry Chinon for another day. Instead, we pulled the cork on a bottle that I’d almost forgotten in my cellar.

Langhe Nebbiolo, Cascina Vano 2001
Modernist, traditionalist and centrist quibbles aside, Langhe Nebbiolo tend to fall into two camps: those that are produced from the younger vines and declassified fruit in Barolo or Barbaresco vineyards and those that are grown outside of the delimited zones for the big B’s. The former examples tend to be early drinking, gentle and aromatic expressions of Nebbiolo, giving glimpses of the lovely fruit and aroma of Piedmont’s great vine without the intensity of tannin it often delivers. Vano’s wine falls into the latter camp – wines built, because they stand alone, like “baby Barbarescos.” They can carry power and structure combined with fruit and aroma and can provide a wallet-friendly glimpse into the full realm of the Nebbiolo tasting spectrum. They just happen to come from the wrong side of the street.

I knew there must have been a reason that I socked away some of Bruno Rivetti's 2001 Langhe Nebbiolo. There was. Six years on, it was still rock solid. Expansive fruit, merging primary tones with the early beginnings of tertiary characteristics, combined with firm structure and lovely balance to make this wine almost as eye-opening a surprise as the Muscadet had been. Additionally, as much as I liked the Truchot Chambolle, the Nebbiolo matched more adeptly with the zesty flavors of Bill’s chicken and ramps.

By typical standards, we’d properly sated our appetites. However, there were molten chocolate cakes in the pipeline so, since Bill had returned from an earlier trip to the cellar with some “leftovers” from a few days back, we thought we’d finish off with one last taste.

Maury “Cuvée Spéciale 10 Ans d’Age,” Mas Amiel NV
A close relative to the sweet reds of Banyuls and Collioure, Maury paired with chocolate cake is kind of a no-brainer. This ten-year old from Mas Amiel is a great value wine, built in a lot of ways like a 10 year Tawny Port but with slightly lower alcohol and darker, more persistent fruit. In the classic method for sweet red Roussillon wines, the 10 Ans d’Age spends the first year of its life, following fermentation and fortification, in glass demi-johns which are left outside of the winery, exposed to the full forces of sunlight and temperature variation. A further nine years in huge old casks provide a slow, somehow preserving oxidative environment in which the wine develops its final characteristics. Rich yet mellow toffee, raisin, black cherry and raspberry tones ally with low acidity and firm tannic structure to give balance to a measurable level of residual sweetness.

Why shouldn’t all Tuesday nights be so rewarding?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Oakmont Farmers Market Update

It’s only a few days before the grand opening of the Oakmont Farmers Market. I’m psyched for day one and thought a little background information might help build anticipation for others as well.

This real, urban market is part of Farm to City, an organization supporting community and sustainable agriculture through a series of farmers markets in the Philadelphia area. The Oakmont Farmers Market will be only the second outpost of Farm to City – along with that in Swarthmore – to be based outside of the Philadelphia city limits.

Confirmed producers for the inaugural year at the market include:

  • North Star Orchard: Multiple varieties of apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries, fruit butters and ciders
  • Fruitwood Orchards Honey Farm: Local honeys and a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Willing Hands Organic Farm: Organic produce
  • Blueberry Hill Farm: Produce
  • Pumpkin Ridge Creations: Cut flowers
  • Hillacres Pride: Cows’ milk cheeses, beef, pork, lamb and poultry
  • Great Harvest Bread Company
  • Backyard Bison: Burgers, steaks, ribs, roasts and cured meats from locally pastured American Plains Buffalo

The mission of the market is simple: to provide an outlet for local farmers to present their naturally grown goods directly to members of their own greater communities. The market is producer-only; to be represented, all products must be grown and produced within 100 miles of Havertown. The idea is not only to provide healthy, natural products but also to promote a greater reliance on locally farmed food. Why buy an “organic” apple from Washington State, a blackberry from Mexico, ground beef from Texas or broccoli from China when you can get them and other great seasonal goods from a farm in your own community? When the food on your table doesn’t travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to get there, its environmental impact is gentler and its greater freshness is made that much more meaningful.

Opening ceremonies begin at 3:00 PM sharp this Wednesday, May 23, 2007. Bring your families, bring your shopping lists and help to strengthen your community by eating great, locally grown food.

Oakmont Farmers Market
Wednesdays from 3:00 to 7:00 PM
May 23 – November 21, 2007
In the Oakmont Parking Lot
One block NW of the intersection of Darby & Eagle Roads
2419 West Darby Road
Havertown, PA 19083

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Napa: A Day of Contrasts, Part Two

Afternoon session – Stony Hill Vineyard:
Following our morning visit at Oakville’s Harlan Estate and a reasonably tasty yet uncharacterful lunch at St. Helena fossil Tra Vigne, we headed up the valley for our afternoon appointment. Character abounds, we would find, at Stony Hill Vineyard. Heading north out of St. Helena, turning left up the access road for Bale Grist Mill State Park and then left again onto the private road which leads to the winery, we quickly found ourselves in an atmosphere that would have provided fodder for the tales of Poe or Tolkien. A forest of small, gnarled trees – dark red bark mottled by lichen, limbs intermittently draped with a local moss – lends an eerie aura to the narrow dirt road that winds its way up the mountainside.

Making the last sharp turn up the incline and crunching to a stop in the gravel parking area at Stony Hill, we were greeted first by an enthusiastic little wire-haired terrier and then, our presence announced, by office and site manager, Mary Burklow. After a round of introductions, Mary led us on a path along the ridge of the hill, straight through the vineyards and directly into the estate’s tiny winery building. As soon as she thrust the door open, a blast of cold, damp air rushed out to meet us. Welcome to Stony Hill’s barrel room…. With little ado, Mary pulled a barrel sample, poured us each a splash from the pipette and asked us to guess. Knowing that they produce one of Napa’s few Tocai Friulano (from old-vine fruit grown at neighboring Larkmead Vineyards), and sensing a faint floral, peachy hint lurking behind the yeasty aromas of fermentation, I guessed – and was wrong. It was their 2006 Gewurztraminer, light, bone dry and misleadingly crisp and un-spicy.

Five or six barrel samples later, we’d learned a bit about Stony Hill’s winemaking practices. The barrels themselves first jumped to attention. In stark contrast to the uniform ranks of gleaming new cooperage at Harlan, many of the casks here, bowing and graying though still obviously airtight, showed signs of serious age. Mary explained that the barrels, mostly barriques with some larger casks and tonneaux, are anywhere from 14-50 years old. That’s right, 50, almost as old as the winery itself. Kept sanitary from year-to-year, these relics go right on doing their work, providing a neutral environment for Stony Hill’s backward wines to come to life. New barrels are introduced only when a member of the older generation finally gives up the ghost.

Fruit is bladder pressed, the juice settled and then inoculated. Primary fermentations are carried out in wood in most cases, followed by a racking off the lees. Their Riesling is fermented and aged half in steel, half in barrel and then blended prior to bottling. The Gewurztraminer and Tocai are barrel aged until April following the harvest; Chardonnay and Semillon stay in wood until June. Malolactic fermentation is avoided for all wines, a practice necessitating a wee bit of sulfur but kept relatively natural by the incredibly cool cellar conditions. In their own words, “Malolactic fermentation both destroys the acid structure of the wine and introduces extraneous flavors not borne from the grape itself.” Given this admirably stoic approach, I was a bit surprised that primary fermentations are not left up to the wild yeasts; Mary explained that native yeasts do play a role but are often not strong enough to ensure a complete, steady fermentation.

Since 1973, Stony Hill’s wines have been made by Mike Chelini, who originally joined as vineyard foreman and was quickly promoted to winemaker. Mike’s approach is as old-school as I’ve come across just about anywhere, much less in the heartland of ultra-modern California wine country. The wines are grown naturally in the vineyard and brought to life in the cellar. They speak of both. The concept of terroir at Stony Hill clearly reflects not just the hillside environment but also the feel, taste and smell of their old, stone barrel room, a trait that reminds me very much of a past visit to the caves of Prince Philippe Poniatowski in Vouvray. Like there, the wines are meant to taste of the place and they’re built to last.

If it hasn’t already become obvious, Stony Hill is one of the few estates in the Napa Valley that rests its reputation solely on the production of white wine. They’ve been at it since 1947, when original owners Fred and Eleanor McCrea planted Chardonnay in homage to the great whites of Burgundy. At the time, only 200 acres of Chardonnay were planted in the entire state of California but the McCrea’s sensed that their little kingdom, perched on the hillside 400-800 feet above the valley floor, was a special place. Their commitment to the potential of Napa Chardonnay remains today, as it represents over 75% of their overall vineyard area of 39 acres. The balance of their land is planted to Riesling (10 acres) with Gewurztraminer and Semillon rounding things out at three and one acre, respectively.

The only wines of color produced come from a small plot of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – planted as a pest control device along a property line bordering on a stream – and from a ¼ acre plot of Syrah planted only five years ago as part of the family garden. At present, all 100 or so cases – two reds and one rosé – are destined for staff consumption and entertainment only; not a bottle of any is sold. Current owner Peter McCrea, son of Fred and Eleanor, described the rosé – a saignée of the Cab/Merlot blend – as “swimming pool wine.” Mary more colorfully called it a classic PD wine. If you’re scratching your head like I was, “PD” is code for panty dropper…. Peter confirms that the estate does not plan to market anything other than whites in the future.

Coincidentally, as at Harlan, annual production at Stony Hill runs around 3,000 cases. And nearly all of the wine is sold directly to mailing list customers, with just a small percentage going to local restaurants and to a few detail-minded distributors in key urban markets. With a 60-year history though, Stony Hill Vineyard is one of Napa Valley’s pioneering estates. And their wines top out at $35 per bottle.

Stony Hill Chardonnays and Rieslings have earned a reputation as being among the most age-worthy dry whites produced in the Napa Valley. Thinking back to those barrel samples pulled for us by Mary, even the 2006 Gewurztraminer and Tocai, wines meant for early enjoyment, showed uncommon structure. Still in steel, the Riesling was too impenetrable to assess. The 2006 Chardonnay, however, held serious promise. It smelled a little of cellar must on the nose but, loaded with stony minerality and vibrant acidity, hinted at a long future.

Back in the McCrea’s dining room toward the end of our visit, tasting the current releases of Stony Hill Chardonnay from bottle reinforced our earlier impressions and spoke volumes about good work in the vineyard. The 2003 Chardonnay, product of a drought year in this part of St. Helena, was atypically rich and fleshy for Stony Hill yet still tasted young, fresh and clean. The 2004, though, really spoke to the potential for these wines. Tight on the nose, very Chablis-like in its aromas, bright, racy and steely on the palate, it’s a wine I’d love to drink in another ten or even twenty years.

That was just about it for our visit. We followed Mary down the grade to the bottle storage barn to pick up the handful of ’03 and ’04 Chardonnay we’d purchased. As I packaged the bottles for a safe ride back East in the airline baggage compartment, Mary disappeared for a moment. Upon her return, she handed us a bottle of their White Riesling, vintage 1992, and made us promise to have it with dinner when we got back to Monterey that night. Paired with a simple plate of sautéed snapper and roasted Jerusalem artichokes, it was a delicious reminder of our visit – hinting at the mellowed edges and mineral tones that come with age, tasting very much alive and finishing with a touch of sweetness.

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Recommended reading:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Miami Dining: Michy's

Alright, I admit it. I couldn’t bring myself to go through another trip to southern Florida without including at least one ambitious restaurant on the itinerary. After conducting a modicum of research, I decided to make it Michy’s (6927 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami). Chef Michelle Bernstein and husband David Martinez opened Michy’s in 2006, designing a menu that successfully dances between nods to Bernstein’s South American roots and a clearly Mediterranean approach to main ingredients and technique. Asian flair, Florida tradition, the occasional Italian influence and classic brasserie selections also present themselves. It’s all wrapped up in a two-part menu, smaller offerings followed by slightly more substantial plates, with every dish available in half or full portions. The idea is not to be a tapas bar but rather to provide the diner with the option of creating a personalized tasting menu or selecting a more traditional appetizer/entrée pairing.

Michy’s is a street front operation, set in an active business and shopping district in the Upper East Side of Miami proper. Though a front entrance is available, most patrons arrive from the rear. A back porch, adjacent to the parking lot which is valet-only on weekends, allows for al fresco dining. That’s never my thing when dining more seriously, particularly not with the smelled but not seen dumpster ambiance that’s inevitable given a parking lot frontage, no matter how nicely it’s dressed up with plants and palms. In any event, we dined on a Sunday evening in the midst of a violent, spectacular thunderstorm. Open air dining was not an option. Once inside, the rear entrance hallway leads past the restrooms to the host table set in the corner opposite the bar and looking into the main dining room. The square room is inviting and smartly casual, with twilight blue walls offset by white linens and mix-and-match dollhouse dining room style chairs. Tables are spacious without being oversized and are set in an uncrowded yet intimate arrangement. The small bar itself serves mainly as service space, an alternate dining area or as a place to have a quick drink while waiting for a table; it does not appear to draw an active drinks-only or wine tasting crowd.

The main wall behind the bar is functionally decorated – a wall of wine. While it provides some eye candy for the room and easy access to bottles, it does a disservice to the wine itself, leaving the bottles exposed to the vagaries of Miami climate control. Aside from the storage snafu, the wine program at Michy’s is well conceptualized, sized to offer variety and to complement the menu without being out of scale with the space nor overtly pretentious. Like the menu, the cellar offers some international variety but centers its strength in versatile, food friendly offerings from France. Particularly good depth is available from Burgundy and the Loire. Few bottles break the $100 barrier with plenty of solid choices under $50. Mark-ups are quite reasonable.

The t-shirt and apron clad wait staff were friendly without being intrusively so, relatively well informed as to the food and wine selections and not afraid to share an opinion or some constructive criticism about the menu offerings. We were given plenty of space and time to peruse the menu and wine list. Service was done in tag-teams and was solid though just a bit shy of the ideal attention to pouring and timing. After taking some time to consider the menu, I finally decided on a mixture of half portions chosen for diversity, interest and local inspiration.

Peruvian Style Ceviche
Changed daily based on local market availability, Sunday’s ceviche was a mixture of grouper, shrimp and scallop, prepared with just the right level of lime driven acidity – refreshing, lively yet unobtrusive. The plate, extremely generous given the $8 half-portion, consisted of well-sized morsels of seafood offset texturally by crisped, puffed Peruvian corn – somewhat akin to CornNuts® with a gourmet flair – and a garnish of roasted yams.

Turks and Caicos Conch, Escargot Style, Garlic, Parsley, Butter
Here’s a dish that just doesn’t exist in the Mid-Atlantic States. While I knew that it was unlikely to showcase the real talents of the kitchen, I simply had to order it in the context of eating locally. The menu description was apropos, a pair of smallish conch par-boiled to a toothsome yet tender chew, sautéed in garlic and parsley butter, and then reinserted into their shells and set in a shallow pool of the same garlicky sauce for presentation. There was nothing cutting edge nor even particularly interesting about the dish; I wouldn’t order it a second time but I couldn’t pass it up the first.

Wine note: Rias Baixas Albariño, Do Ferreiro 2005
At first sip this was classic Albariño: crisp, lemony, briny with a suggestion of off-dry fruit up front wiped away by cleansing, refreshing acidity. The problem was that the finish included a hint of rot, a possible growing season flaw but more likely the result of a short bout of heat damage somewhere in the shipping or storage cycle of the bottle. A bit disappointing as a result, the wine nonetheless worked well enough with the simple seafood starters.

Crispy Sweetbreads, Braised Pork Jowls, Jason’s BBQ Sauce, Fava Beans
For an ex-vegetarian (long past), I’m astonishingly fond of organ meats. The honeyed pungency of sweetbreads, in particular, can be hard to refuse. And Michy’s preparation didn’t disappoint. Lightly crisped, still quite juicy, the sweetbreads were set atop a cluster of smoky, tender pork jowl glazed by the executive chef’s own BBQ sauce and balanced on the palate by a sprinkling of small, perfectly cooked favas.

Lamb T-Bone, Eggplant-Harissa Terrine, Fruit & Nut Couscous
The sweetbreads may have been the most inventive combination of the evening. The lamb, though, proved to be the kind of dish I’d go to again and again. A single, thick-cut lamb t-bone, cooked perfectly medium-rare, stood on end topped by a dollop of herbed butter. The couscous, fine little pearls, was cooked just past al dente, seasoned with aromatic Moroccan spices and sweetened with the addition of just enough Mediterranean fruits to offset the fiery, earthy kick of the harissa slicked eggplant terrine.

Wine note: Santenay “Vieilles Vignes,” Michel Colin-Deleger 2002
Red Burgundy has a reputation for delicacy, for being one of the most easily damaged wines in the general marketplace. But there were no problems with this bottle, a welcome relief after the bruised Albariño. Warm red cherry and berry fruit, medium ruby color and delicate aromas combined with well balanced acidity and soft, supple tannins to make this an excellent pairing for the sweetbreads and to provide just enough stuffing to do justice to the lamb dish. It didn’t hurt that it represented a reasonably good value given the all too often insanely high price points of village level Bourgogne on restaurant wine lists. My only complaint goes right back to Michy’s wall of wine – the serving temperature was about five degrees too warm.

Pear-Apple Tarte Tatin, Thin, Crispy and Warm, Sabayon Ice Cream, Sea Salted Thyme Caramel Sauce
Though tarte tatin is not the signature sweet of the house, I was drawn to the idea of rum-infused ice cream and the promised savory accent of sea salt and thyme. That accent would prove to be the only real saving grace of an otherwise mundane dessert, an all too common ending at many smaller chef-driven restaurants. The tarte itself was reasonably executed but lacked that certain something extra that could have taken it to the next level.

Wine note: Cadillac, Château Reynon 1999
1999 was a solid vintage for botrytis affected Bordeaux stickies and wines from the somewhat obscure Cadillac AOC don’t often appear on US lists so I was jazzed to try this. As soon as I saw the thimble on a stem in which it was served, I knew I should have passed on dessert wine. Tiny “liqueur” glasses do not provide enough room for wine, no matter how sweet, to show its aroma; I’d always rather see a small pour in a regular white wine glass than the illusion of a full pour in a tiny stem. In any event, the Cadillac was tasty if simple and worked reasonably well with a dessert that was sweeter than expected.

All in all, Michy’s is a destination restaurant that would also make a great neighborhood haunt; I would visit regularly if it were in my own town. The menu is interestingly conceptualized, the food skillfully executed and the wine list manageable and selected with care. Aside from the somewhat lackluster dessert offerings, the only noticeable faults related primarily to minor flaws in service and presentation, problems much more easily rectified than those emanating from a less well-honed kitchen. I think I’ll look forward a bit more optimistically to my next Miami sojourn.

6927 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL
(305) 759-2001
Michy's in Miami

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Relevant reading:

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Miami Miscellany

I’ll be blunt right up front. If I didn’t have family in the Miami area, it’s a place I’d rarely if ever choose to visit. Because my brother-in-law Erik lives there though, fate – mixed with a dash of brotherly love – takes me there every year or two. Erik’s generally an eat-to-live kind of guy so it’s rare that our visits revolve much around food and wine destinations. On this trip, though, I decided to make the best of things by seeking out some good, basic chow in the context of Miami’s multi-cultural hodge-podge.

In South Beach proper, we stumbled upon a couple of decent grazing stops, places I would pass by for dinner but which offer some pretty solid cheap eats for lunch or snacks. At Sushi Rock (1351 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) we found well cut and impeccably fresh nigiri and the most elaborately presented (and tasty) lobster tempura roll I’ve ever seen. A few blocks away, Lime (1439 Alton Road, Miami Beach), while hardly a serious Mexican restaurant, is a worthwhile stop for fish tacos, fajitas and other good sultry afternoon munchies. The food’s a bit bland on its own but can be doctored to order at Lime’s condiment counter with a selection of about 20 different salsas and 50-odd hot sauces.

With my crew, any trip to Miami requires at least one jaunt into the Florida Keys where The Fish House (102401 Overseas Highway, Mile Marker 102.4, Key Largo) is our traditional lunch stop. A typical Keys spot – half local hang-out, half tourist trap – The Fish House does a good job with no-nonsense preparations of local seafood. Their conch chowder is a must – chunky, spicy and full of toothsome nuggets of, you guessed it, conch. Likewise, their fish sandwiches, grilled, fried or blackened versions of the day’s catch, are de rigueur. Taking the back way out of the Keys afforded us the opportunity to stop at a local crabber’s stall, just short of the Card Sound Bridge, and pick up a couple of pounds of stone crab claws. Fresh, sweet and refreshingly briny, they were the perfect pick-me-up after the drive north and saved us the lines, hubbub and prices at Joe’s Stone Crab, a Miami tourist institution we chose to avoid.

Saturday Night's Live at Tap Tap
Back to South Beach on a Saturday night, the one stop of our basic eating adventures that could stand on its own as a dining destination was Tap Tap (819 Fifth Street, Miami Beach). Aided by live music in the back room, it also happened to be, by far, the most fun of our Miami meals, though we had to push to make it so. The hostess had initially tried to seat us in the empty front room. Tap Tap serves traditional Haitian food in a colorful, multi-room set-up far enough off of the main SoBe drag to avoid the plastic club set but close enough to ensure a good vibe. Their simple beer offerings and non-existent wine list are more than compensated for by good use of Haiti’s own Rhum Barbancourt. Barbancourt 3-Star (with an optional upgrade to 5-Star) forms the base of their house cocktails. The Natif – rum, fresh lime juice and a slight shake of cane sugar, served on crushed ice – made for an exceedingly refreshing drink, well suited as an aperitif and a better match with food than their equally tasty Mojito. Both the pumpkin soup and stewed goat (served with fried plantains and a wickedly hot and vinegary cabbage slaw) were rustic, soulful and completely satisfying.

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