Well, the OTBN of last week flowed right into Purim this year and that meant there as a lot of wine consumed over a short period of time. That is all fine with me, but it took some time to get this down is all. Though I will be very short this time, I did want to highlight a few wines that surprised me on the good and the bad. The 2011 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon opened nicely, but then turned on me very hard – not quite dates, but far too sweet and unbalanced for my liking. The 2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc, while showing nicely in Israel, and lush here was fine for the first few hours, but then went straight to date juice. This was the Israeli label I hand carried back home, so I do not think this wine is long for cellaring – but nice out of the bottle.
Finally, the 2013 Dalton Viognier is ready to go. Last year the wine was tight and closed, and needed a real decanting to bring it to life. That is not needed any longer! It is delightful from the bottle and I think has three or so years left in the tank, but it is clearly ready and very close to peak, if not there already.
The wine notes follow below:
2013 Dalton Viognier Reserve – Score: A- (and more)
All I can say – IT IS BACK!!! Thank goodness for that! It has been too long without a GREAT kosher Viognier option. The 2012 was a nice wine, but it paled in comparison to the 2007-9 vintages. The 2013 is CRUSHING in comparison and is the best kosher Viognier I have ever tasted, so BRAVO!
The last time we had this wine it needed air galore, that is not the case anymore. Beyond that, there is not much that has changed about this wine!
The wine continues it heritage of wild yeast fermentation and was aged in French oak for four months. The nose on this wine shows beautiful notes of ripe melon, pear, peach, along with crazy floral notes of violet and rose. The mouth on this full bodied wine is oily and textured with layers of honeyed notes of peach and apricot, spiced melon, mango, crazy acid and intense concentration of ripe summer fruits, all balanced with bracing acidity, bitter notes, and sweet oak. The finish is long and intensely spicy with saline, mineral, slate, white pepper and hints of vanilla and lovely bakers spices. BRAVO on many levels!!!!!
2009 Shiloh Legend – Score: A-
The nose on this mevushal purple colored wine explodes with ripe blueberry, dark cherry, ripe raspberry, licorice, and lovely spice, with a hint of roasted meat and smokiness which leaves soon enough for more crazy spices and ripe fruit. The mouth on this full bodied, ripe, round wine is expressive with sweet fruit, blackberry, ripe strawberry, plum, more blue fruit, along with sweet cedar, and mouth coating tannin that lingers and makes the mouth feel ripe, sweet, and round. The finish is long and spicy with nice vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate mocha, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and mint.
This wine is slowing down – so DRINK UP!!!
2013 Don Ernesto Vin Gris – Score: A-
WHAT a nose fresh squeezed strawberry, rose hips, raspberry, and peach. The mouth on this Syrah rose, is viscous, medium weight, and lovely, with great acid, lovely mineral, and awesome fruit. The strawberry explodes with kiwi, guava, currant, quince, cranberry, and orange marmalade. The finish is long and spicy and bitter with hints of herb, orange pith, saline, mineral, and slate – BRAVO!!!!
2005 Hagafen Zinfandel, Reserve, Estate Bottled, Moskowite Ranch Block 61 – Score: B+
Sadly I kept this too long. This bottle felt thin and dying, still had great acid and spice, with OK fruit. Drink up!!!
2011 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Score: B+
The nose on this purple colored wine is rich with prefume of blackberry, lovely black fruit, hints of blueberry, nice anise, and dirt. The medium body is tinged with mad acid and mineral, along with a lovely mouth coating tannin that gives the wine body, along with great acid and mad graphite, cassis, CRAZY kirsch black cherry, and green foliage. The finish is long and green with bright fruit, leather, chocolate, vanilla, and lovely sweet dill and tobacco leaves. Very nice.
With time, an hour or two, this wine breaks down very quickly. I would be careful.
2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc, Vineyards – Score: B+
Vineyards is essentially the Appellations label and a lovely CF it is. This is the Israeli label, the US label continues with the appellations label and animals.
This wine is blend of 85% Cab Franc, 10% Cabernet, and 5% Petit Verdot. The nose on this wine is rich and lovely with raspberry, dark cherry, plum, sweet cedar green herb, and foliage. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and unctuous with mad green bell pepper, tart juicy raspberry, mad tobacco, and lovely mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and green, with sweet herb, firm tannin and more tobacco.
I did like this wine from the start, but after an hour or two it went straight to dates, this is not a wine for long cellaring – and this was the Israeli label.
A few weeks ago, we had dinner with friends and it centered around an epic bites, AKA Isaac Bernstein test rollout of some new and great oldies. Any excuse to try new Bernstein fare is going to be an epic experience, so I was in. With dusk slowly on its way, the cool evening air slowly coming across the valley, and the sun slowly falling into its nightly bliss, we agreed the best bet was to eat outside, Fresco style.
The funny thing about Bernstein and his crew is that they are becoming super professional and precise and I am still living in the world of 27 courses! So, when I hear 12 courses, I kind of always have a letdown. Sure, the courses are crazy complex and layered and wonderful and I have no idea how long it takes to create or source any of these dishes, but hey I am still a caveman at heart! Still, Bernstein and Epic Bites is slowly moving me away from the awe of the multiple dish madness to the awe of the depth of fewer dishes. The more time I spend with and eat Bernstein’s creations, the more I come to appreciate the effort and the time it takes to get a dish to the point where it blows me away. The sad fact is, that I am getting so spoiled that I may never be able to enjoy another dish! Maybe, Epic Bites should start the “aggressive drug dealer” (totally dinner! Where they gives away free samples of all of their dishes. Then the customers will come to see what I am now suffering from, after they have them hook line and sinker, they will never go back to another dinner anywhere else! There is an idea for the next big event!!!
Course #1 and #2
The first two courses were really two at once – a nice and controlled manner to get through the dinner without making it last 4 hours! The first duality were Cubes of Big Eye Tuna and compacted watermelon, with Heirloom Tomatoes, balsamic reduction, and shiso dehydrated pine nut/black olive/onion dust. But the Marilyn Monroe of this couple was served in a shot glass! In it was a Tomato base/Avocado Sorbet covered in EVO and sprinkled with black salt. The seductress stole the spotlight for sure, but it was more than just body and soul, this vixen was creamy, sweet, salty, and acidic, all at the same time. The acid from the tomatoes, balanced to sheer perfection with the green and dreamy dressed avocado sorbet, all covered in a chiffon dress of EVO and accented with black jewels of salt. BRAVO!!
The Big Eye tuna and compacted watermelon was nice, it did not hit it for me, but the black dirt made up of; dehydrated pine nut, black olive, and onion was a classic tour de force for Bernstein and his gastronomical diabolic ways!
I paired the course with a bottle of the 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, which continues to impress even the most cynical of kosher wine drinkers – BRAVO!!!!
Without any attempt on my side we enjoyed a Syrah weekend, along with a unique Cabernet Sauvignon from Herzog. This past weekend we were invited to the home of some very good friends of ours, ER and HK, ER of the baking culinary fame! Well this meal was culinary all the way, roast beef, perfectly cooked chicken and great side dishes to boot! OH! I cannot forget that split pea soup, which was quite lovely as well.
We brought two Syrah like wines and another guest brought a Syrah wine, while yet another guest brought the new and limited 2007 Herzog Napa Cab 7. Sorry, I have no pictures, though most of the wines are well-known wines, other than the special Herzog Cabernet. The wine is called: 2007 Herzog One Over XII Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Vivino has an image of it, which is displayed to the left. The wine has a great story, a bunch of barrels from the 2007 Herzog Napa Cab, which we tasted, was left in a barrel for 55 or so months. So, one would think it would be an oak bomb, but it is not overpowering, though friends of mine disagree. The thing that is really lovely about the wine is its caressing and insane tannins and the mineral that jumps up and slaps you across the face! Like I say in the notes – this wine is polarizing and to me that is what good wine is all about! This bottle is limited and available only at the Herzog Winery’s wine bar.
Thanks so MUCH to ER and HK for hosting us and putting up with me! We love hanging with you guys! The wine notes follow below:
2010 Tabor Shiraz, Adama, Terra Rosa – Score: B+
The nose explodes with awesome blueberry, plum, currant, cherry, with loads of dirt and licorice. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is nice and spicy with good concentration of date, sweet blue and red fruit, nice candied raspberry, sweet cedar, with good integrated tannin, and good extraction. The finish is long and spicy with garrigue, bramble, fig, date, chocolate, light leather, and animal notes. This is a wine that is a hair under the QPR line, though if pressed it could well join the ranks. A great Israeli “supermarket” option for sure. Read the rest of this entry
I am really behind on my blog, as I have been busy with a new hobby which is taking up all of my time. Anyway, I wanted to highlight the meal we had two weeks ago which was in honor of my nephew and his beux leaving the area to go east. So in honor of them, I wanted to try a bunch of Israeli Merlot wines. Now, when people think of Israel, Merlot is not first on their mind, mostly because many do not appreciate Merlot, which is done incorrectly tastes bland and benign. That blandness and lack of character, was initially its draw, but over time, it was nuked both by the Sideways effect and by its sheer lack of anything fun. The folks in the know, would blank at Merlot from Israel, given the areas hot climate, which is counterproductive to making good Merlot.
The truth is that I have been talking about Merlot from Israel, but Merlot only from the Shomron region, a region that has found a way to harness what Israel has to offer and channel it into lovely and rich Merlot. The Shomron is becoming quite the up and coming wine region, much like the Judean Hills was some ten years ago. Now, Castel, Flam, Tzora, and many other wineries have made the Judean Hills a household name. I think the Shomron will soon follow in its next door neighbors footsteps, and come out from under the shadow of the Jerusalem hills to capture its own claim to fame; namely Merlot!
Merlot, as stated above has many needs, one is climate, two is proper drainage, and three is it needs careful vineyard management to control its vigor, nitrogen levels, and many other intricate issues that make Merlot a finicky grape, though not as maddening as its Sideways replacement Pinot Noir. As a total aside, the Sideways movie to me was far too vulgar and not to my taste, but there is a hidden joke in the movie that many miss. In the movie, the shlubby protagonist, Miles, screams afoul of Merlot and even disses Cabernet Franc, but especially extolls his love for all things Pinot Noir. Why did Miles love Pinot Noir so much, why go to great lengths to get his beloved nectar, well he defined right at the start:
“Um, it’s a hard grape to grow … it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early … it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention … it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked- away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”
On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!
When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.
The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.
With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.
The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (email@example.com), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry
These past two weeks have been what the Jews call the 9 days that are rather famous for the infamous events that have occurred in this specific span of time. Thankfully, once they were passed Herzog Cellars and Royal Wines put on an encore event of the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), this time in the Herzog Winery itself, to celebrate the winery’s 25th year in the industry! What an event and celebration it was! It brought back memories of the old IFWF events that were held in Oxnard, since the inaugural IFWF event in 2008.
Sure there were some 200 or so in attendance, but with the fully expanded setup, including an enclosure in the back that housed the French wine table, dessert table, and room to hunker down, it felt spacious and very comfortable.
In many ways, this event felt like an almost exact replay of the first International Food and Wine Festival. The crowd size was perfect, there was room for you to hunker down and taste wines and there was room for you to huddle up and talk with friends or people of like or dislike opinions.
Besides the layout and crowds, the food was absolutely fantastic, just like in previous events here. Once again, Todd Aarons and Gabe Garcia created wondrous delights that were so wrong in all the right ways! Of course, I came to the food area too late to partake of all of the goodies, but I still got to taste many fantastic culinary treats, including the absolutely stunning puffed chicken nuggets topped with incredibly tasty barbecue sauce.
Unfortunately, I came a bit late to this event because of what I came to call parking lot A and B (405 and 101 respectively). Whenever, I watch the Dodgers or the Angels, I can now understand why the crowds are so empty for the first three innings, because everyone is parked on one or more highways! My guess to why they all leave by the 7th inning is that after the folks get so aggravated waiting in the traffic, they get tired and want to go home. Quite clearly getting to and from any event in LA adds a few hours to the overall time and that is aggravating and tiring. However, like I, once the guests arrived they had to almost physically throw us out. The place did start to peter out in the last hour, but the place was still humming and drinking until the last second. Read the rest of this entry
As stated in the previous posting on this lovely event, there were many wines to taste and there was no way I could post all the wine notes in a single posting. Here is my follow-up posting on the wines tasted at the event, including the wines that I loved and did not love.
The wine notes are listed in the order that I tasted them:
2010 Domaine Netofa – White – Score: B++
The nose on this light gold colored wine shows clean and lovely nose of green apple, peach, grapefruit, kiwi, light quince, and rich/nice loamy dirt and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and balanced with nice minerality, along with nice bright fruit that mingles well in the mouth. The finish is long and spicy with nice quince, tart green apple, grapefruit, and green tea.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve, Unoaked – Score: B
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, the wine was flat without much to grab your attention. The nose on this straw colored wine has apple, lemon, nice mineral, bright acid, and melon. The mouth is somewhat plush and the finish has citrus to round out the wine.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve – Score: B+
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, though not as bad as its unoaked twin. The nose on this dark straw colored wine has light oak, brioche, lemon, nice spice, light creme, and honey. The mouth is round with spice, summer fruit, and oak influence.
2011 Tulip White Tulip – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 70% Gewurztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc with the sweet and floral notes of the Gewurztraminer showing nicely with honey and guava, while the green apple and bright lemon notes from the Sauvignon Blanc blend together in a unique manner. The nose on this straw colored wine hits you with mineral, light honey, bright lemon, green apple, and guava. The mouth is nice and honeyed with light petrol, and citrus. The finish is long with both sweet lemon creme and bright lemon at the same time, along with fig, and tart notes. This is a great wine that would go well with fish or sushi.
On October 20th of this year (2011), for Shemini Atzeret lunch, we crashed at our friend’s party, as we did not put up a sukkah, and one needs to eat in a sukkah (without a blessing) on Shemini Atzeret. Anyway, the meal was truly fantastic, but Benyo (from Four Gates Winery), my wife and I, were invited to taste a vertical tasting of Herzog Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve. We have had many vertical tastings in the past, but this one was driven by our friend’s access to the wines. You see the Herzog Winery Wine Club, sent him an email asking if he wants to taste a 4 bottle vertical of Napa Valley Cabernet! Our friend bought the vertical and shared it with us all, and it was a true treat. These folks are our friends, so it is always fun to enjoy a meal with them and their lovely family.
The meal started off (Kiddush) with a bottle of 2004 Herzog Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was killer, the nose was awesome and the mouth was smooth with lovely rich flavors. This was followed by some lovely fish and a bunch of lovely dips. We all enjoyed a glass of the wine, and then the bottle was moved to the side, to follow it through the meal. This was a really good tactical approach to a vertical wine tasting. The correct approach to a vertical wine tasting is to taste a glass of each wine one after the other, and then loop back to the first wine and do another round, until the wine is done.
Just a bit of information. The 2004 vintage was not mevushal! What? Herzog not being mevushal? Yes, in 2003 and 2004 Herzog decided to mevushalize their wines BEFORE bottling and NOT, as they do now, which is after fermentation, well before bottling.
So we tasted the 2005 Herzog Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon next. Where the 2004 was a killer wine, the 2005 was a total let down, truly sad! The wine has a lovely nose, but the mouth and finish were not enjoyable at all. I will state that the wine was starting to turn brown, but it should not have affected the wine to this significance. We then moved to the main course, which was some killer barbecue chicken, salads, and mushrooms. The next wine was the 2006 Herzog Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was rich with clear chocolate covered cherries and then lovely fruit. The final wine we enjoyed was the 2007 Herzog Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the other huge winner for the meal. When we returned to the 2004 – it was dead :-(. So clearly this is a wine you want to enjoy NOW, and do not hold and pray, this is a wine to be enjoyed now. The 2005 vintage did not improve with more air, it was equally unbalanced. The 2006 vintage was slightly improved and the 2007 vintage did improve with more air. Read the rest of this entry
Rosh Hashanah 2011/5772, Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf, Sweet and Sour Brisket, Vegetable kugel, and many wines
Rosh Hashanah (literally translated ”head of the year”) has come and gone again (Wednesday Night – September 28th, 2011), and once more I am reminded that it is a holiday that is more about your relationship with God than your gastronomic relationship with friends and family. Yes of course it is not a fast day like Yom Kippur, of course, but still the frivolity needs to be toned down a bit, and the attention placed on the fact that we are all being judged at this time of the year. So with that frame of mind, yeah too many early morning Selichot Services kind of kill the mood, my wife and I set out to make our menu and meals.
This year we hosted the first meal. We invited friends and family and it was quite awesome! Like last year, we had the same simanim (literally translated to “signs”), except that we modified the way we make the leeks. The simanim are a play on word and are a very basic Jewish tradition of using word play to bring out symbolism and actual changes or good tidings. This year we made all of the simanim, as our friends were laid up, but we had other friends staying over with us who helped us out, so it was no biggie. The simanim are a yearly rite of passage, and one of my favorite Jewish traditions. Many of the recipes have been changed to protect the innocent. The customary recipes from my mother recipes consist of 4 basic ingredients, oil, more oil, honey, and some vegetable, and one cooking style – frying. We decided that this tradition was awesome, but that it needed to be toned down such that it could be enjoyed for years to come and not just for the few where we are vertical. So it called for some baking and less oil. We ordered the symbolic food in the order of Sephardic Jewry, and here they are:
- Dates or Figs (Tamar in Hebrew)
- The symbolism here is that God should end our enemies
- Broad Beans coated with a mixture of olive oil, cumin, and garlic (Rubya in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should increase our merits
- Leeks – prepared masterfully by our stay over friends, leek fritters recipe found here(Karti in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should cut down our enemies
- Spinach – prepared masterfully by my wife using her spinach kugel recipe (Salka in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should remove our enemies
- Sweet Butternut Squash – sliced butternut squash, sprayed with oil and covered with honey, then baked in an oven set to 400 degrees (Kra in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should tear up our evil decrees and read before him our merits
- Pomegranate seeds (Rimon in Hebrew)
- The symbolism here is that our mitzvot (observance of the Jewish laws) be as plentiful as the pomegranate seeds
- Sweet apples dipped in honey
- The symbolism here is that God should grant us a New Year as sweet as honey
- Fish head – Salmon head poached in white wine and water
- The symbolism here is that in this New Year we should be at the head of the class and not at the tail
We always joke that we should try to bring out a head of a lamb instead of a fish head and freak out everyone there. It would be totally epic, but while it is the preferred manner of implementing the head symbolism, it would fly in the face of “behaving”. The good news is that we did FAR better than last year on the wine parade, which was not too difficult!
The rest of the meal started with our reliable Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf and simanim left over’s. The reason I really like this recipe is because while normal gefilte fish recipes tastes like bland boiled white fish, this recipe tastes like herb-encrusted fish that is lightly charred with the herb and spice flavors permeated through and through the fleshy texture – quite a treat. The main course consisted of our patented sweet and sour brisket, brown rice, vegetable kugel, and fresh vegetable salad. While the brisket recipe is normally rock solid, this one was far from perfect. Once again I am underwhelmed by South American whole Brisket. The US whole Brisket has a layer of fat that helps to baste the meat as the meat cooks slow and low in a 300 degrees oven. The South American whole Brisket is too lean, and lacks the self-basting fat. Further the meat is not marbled like the US whole Brisket, unfortunately, that was all that was available at the time. Read the rest of this entry
Some 5 years ago I was watching an episode of The Food Network’s Iron Chef and the chefs started using some high tech gear to create dishes that were far from your average Julia Child cookery. Instead, the dishes were shaped in manners that were illogical, almost impossible, and downright weird. Welcome to the world of Molecular Gastronomy. I could devote an entire posting or two to this subject, but today’s post is not about me – it is about two extraordinary individuals, Steven Long, the head chef at The Kitchen Table and Jeff Morgan, the head wine maker of Covenant Wines.
As I posted earlier, the event started at 7 PM promptly. We all arrived at 7 PM, and as the proverb states; the early bird gets the worm, was as true as day, as we had the pick of the tables. The first obvious thing to hit you upon seating was the wait staff. Are you kidding me! There must have been 14 wait staff for some 40 or so guests! We were waited on ALL night like royalty. I can remember only once throughout the entire evening, when I raised my hand and there was not a scrum of staff in front of our table. The other aspect that hits you was the mood. The mood was set by the wonderful wait staff, the wine and food enthusiastic guests, while the Pièce de résistance was the dulcet tones and musical abilities of Hot Kugel!
Hot Kugel is a San Francisco Bay area Klezmer ensemble. Their music is a blend of traditional Klezmer with the musical styles of old time jazz, ethnic folk, theater and American popular music, as well as blues, rock and reggae. Both Suska and Mordecai were playing a mixture of instruments and music that were both wonderful to listen to and wonderful to have in the background, in the nicest way. The beauty of a well executed offensive play in football always leads back to the offensive line, the unsung heroes, that go unnoticed, unless they make a penalty, and then all you hear is boos. When you are at a fine dining experience you want to enjoy the time with friends, family, and new acquaintances, while still being stimulated and entertained. That is exactly what Hot Kugel delivered. When I wanted to tune them in and listen, I was impressed and highly entertained, and when I was talking to my friends, they never imposed; instead they just lifted the atmosphere as a whole. On an aside, when I was listening and tuning in, I could not help but be mesmerized by Suska’s voice that really did not sound like a voice, but rather an instrument. The varied instruments, music abilities, along with music sensibility, and song choices truly did add to the already wonderful mood.
On our table was a basket of, what I can only guess to be, freshly baked beer and rosemary dinner rolls, along with a bowl of lovely olive oil to dip them in. They were quite a treat and a boon for me, as I had not eaten anything since the morning. I listened well to my mother, who always told me (many times), do not fill up on the challah, there is much more food on its way. Sure enough, almost immediate after satiating my immediate appetite, Mr. Long and his staff came out to serve the very first dish – the Amuse Bouche. The first thing I noticed was that Mr. Long had changed his chef’s jacket, from when we saw him walking around before the dish was served, this was something he did throughout the night. When asked by a guest, at the end of the evening, about the apparent attempt to channel Nicole Richie’s dress code (same day by the way!), Mr. Long was partly shocked and unready with a response, however Mr. Morgan stepped in and stated that he needed to keep a clean look, and it is pretty busy back there.
In either case, the first dish hit our tables, and the Amuse Bouche looked interesting, to say the least. The term Amuse Bouche loosely translated means amuse your mouth or palate. The dish came served on a platter of Chinese Soup spoons, for the entire table. Each soup spoon held what Mr. Long called Hot Roast Squash Gel Cube with Apple Caviar. This was the first of many examples of Molecular Gastronomy that Mr. Long would showcase during the evening and most definitely his weakest attempt. I do not want to get on my soap box about the ideals of Molecular Gastronomy, however, throughout the night there would be hits and misses, and some were clear strikeouts. This was one of them, the idea behind Molecular Gastronomy is simple, in the words of Grant Achatz, the head chef at Alinea where he daily melds technology and Haute Cuisine, “The technology allows us to get to the essence of food, it allows you to be more true with flavor, not less true.” We are supposed to feel the food, taste its raw essence, without all the trappings and machinations of Thomas Keller and his French Laundry restaurant. In this dish, Mr. Long succeeded in losing the trappings, but missed on extracting the essence and feel of the dish. The hot roast squash gel cube had nice flavors, with clear sign posts leading to roasted squash, but the road ended rather abruptly. The Apple caviar, felt more like an early warning system for “all things molecular” coming your way, without actually showcasing the apples or helping to tie the two flavors together. What was missing was a bit of salt to balance the flavors, instead, we had a shot of sweet and a shot of bland apples and not much else. To be honest, I told my table mates, who did not care for the dish much more than I did, that I really hope that this is not harbinger for what else is to come tonight. And to that I scream loud and clear – Heck NO! It was an aberration and one I am sure that maybe we did not get, but let it be clear from my pen to your eyes; the evening held many wonderful surprises and this was the one and only real miss.
Around the same time as the Amuse Bouche was being passed out, Jonathan Hajdu, the associate wine maker and on-site kosher supervisor was pouring out the first of the four wines that we would be tasting this evening; the 2008 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay. When I tasted it earlier this year at the 2010 Herzog Food and Wine Festival in Oxnard, it actually showed more ripe fruit and tannin – from the oak. It was still young then and crazy fun. Now when we tasted it, the wine seems to be hitting its stride. The tannin is gone or covered over with a blanket of toasty rich oak and butterscotch, along with a bit of fruit. Clearly this is a bottle that is ready to party and one that really was not meant to pair with the Amuse Bouche, but heck it was there so we tasted it. Again, the gel cube barely survived the oak attack, while the poor apple caviar was gutted from the inside out, never had a chance. Again to be fair, it was not a real pairing, but we tried for the fun of it.
Since we tasted the wine at this point – I will post the note here. I wanted to compare it against the notes I have from earlier this year, so here is my previous note and my newest one as well:
2008 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, Napa Valley – Score: A- to A
The nose on this vibrant yellow colored wine is screaming with lychee, green apple, guava, peach, oak, and almonds. The mouth on this full bodied wine is creamy and hopping with butterscotch, apple, peach, and oak. The mid palate is balanced and structured with bracing acidity, spicy oak, oak tannins, and mineral. The finish is long and creamy, with more butterscotch, almonds, oak, peach, and lychee. (Tasted February 2010)
2008 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, Napa Valley – Score: A- to A
The nose on this lemon to straw colored wine is screaming with toasty oak, green apple, guava, butterscotch, peach, Crème brûlée, lemon, and almonds. The mouth on this full bodied wine is creamy and hopping with butterscotch, apple, peach, lemon, and oak. The mid palate is balanced and structured with bracing acidity, rich toasty oak, Crème brûlée, and butterscotch. The finish is long and luscious, with more butterscotch, peach, lemon, almonds, and guava. The butterscotch, lemon, and almonds linger long on the palate. (Tasted December 2010) Read the rest of this entry