On the third day in Barolo, tears poured out of my heart

enter I cried on my third day in Italy.  I cried hard in the shower after a full day of tasting the most delicious wines of Piedmont during Ian D’Agata’s 3iC course on Piedmontese food and wine.

http://irinakirilenko.com/?deribaska=bin%C3%A4re-optionen-mindesteinsatz&c13=46

http://bowlnorthway.com/?jisdjd=best-binary-options-broker&eec=bf Why?  It wasn’t because I was sad, or was suffering from jet lag or being overwhelmed by the material, or from being homesick.  It wasn’t from having too much to drink.  I was absolutely delighted to be there in Barolo, surrounded by the beautiful vineyards that make the wine that the world talks about. The place is so otherworldly.  Somehow I felt like Piedmont was a sort of Brigadoon – foreign, suspended in time, secretive, magical.  I was immersed in culture, language, tradition, delicious food and wine.  I was surrounded by people with passion.

http://curemito.org/estorke/2792 The emotion I felt in the shower was purely from the connection that I had made. Finally.  You see, my experience with wine has always been by way of the what’s in the glass.  It’s a vessel that virtually transports you to another place.  And if you’re aware, with each sip you can imagine the place, the soil, the air and humidity, and get a sense of the culture and the people who make this magical juice.  To me, this is the ultimate beauty of wine.  It’s what I often call a sip trip.

The stained glass windows at G.D. Vajra

http://agencijapragma.com/?kiopoa=opzioni-digitali-double-up&f66=d9 What I wasn’t prepared for was to actually go there.  By that third day, I had the pleasure of tasting wines that I’ve been reading about in a hefty 600 page book entitled Native Grapes of Italy by Ian D’Agata.   I indulged in foods that friends have told me I would for sure be trying …Bagna Cauda… Vitello Tonnato … Tajarin… hazelnuts… And on that afternoon, I visited two wineries.  I had no idea where I was going until I got on the bus, but when I found out, my heart was full before I even arrived at the wineries.

The first was G.D. Vajra.  Already feeling emotional because it was the first single vineyard Barolo  I ever had (Ravera). It was given to me by a very dear friend. Since then I had tasted other Vajra wines and one I was particularly looking forward to tasting again was the ethereal Bricco delle Viole (hill of violets) Barolo, as I had enjoyed this wine and written about it in the past. We spent the afternoon with the lovely Francesca Vaira. Her sweet, passionate and thoughtful demeanor was infectious.  We stopped to visit the blue stained glass windows that illuminated the fermentation room. She spoke of the importance of these works of art to her and family; it captured my heart.  As we continued the tour, Bricco delle Viole appeared in more ways that one, the first of which was a framed label hanging on the wall, then a child’s drawing displayed in the tasting room, in liquid form during a tasting among other Vajra wines, and finally when a colleague shouted, “Look over there, that’s Bricco delle Viole.”  I was immersed in joy.

The next visit was at Poderi Gianni Gagliardo. Again, special because it was the first Favorita I ever had. And I just opened this bottle on the first hot day of the year two weeks prior to coming to Barolo.  The time with Stefano Gagliardo was memorable – touring the wine cellar, tapping into still-aging Barolo, tasting the generous offering of wines from him and other producers and finally tasting the Favorita – a touch spritzy, refreshingly crisp and once again, a crystal clear connection to something that mattered so much to me. 

The point here is, what matters to me doesn’t have to matter to you.  I don’t expect you’d understand.  But on this third day, I felt a connection and emotion that I never felt before.  How could something like wine do this?  The answer is that it’s not just the wine.  It’s the people, the places, all your senses all working in harmony, the gatherings, the friendships, it’s the slightest realization of something during conversations that took place years ago, it’s the celebrations, it’s shared experiences,  it’s noticing what’s around and keeping it in your memory bank, then all of a sudden, it’s discovering the true meaning of it all. It’s an emotion that overwhelms with happiness. It conjures, evokes, re-creates. It’s about reminiscence, recollections and reflections.

Wine has the capacity to not only take you to place, but like a friend has told me more than once, they can be “fascinating, beguiling, and hauntingly beautiful experiences. They are like drinking pure emotion.”

Now I know.

 

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller.

Road trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina: The spiritual land and the spirit of wine

Shaped like a boomerang of sorts, Croatia twists around the small land of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this strangely-drawn boundary provides the joined countries with access to the Adriatic Sea. From the town of Kaštela along the Dalmatian Coast, we left early in the morning, drove into the rough, limestone-rich hills of Croatia and passed through the border crossing in Croatia to enter into Bosnia and Herzegovina. While most border agents speed this process along, travelers from outside of the European Union inevitably slow things down because passports are taken for inspection (and, stamping!).

hook up seafood Medjugorje
We first stopped in Medjugorje, a small town not far from the Croatian border in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Medjugorje is notable because in 1981 six children “visionaries” were said to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary while playing on a nearby hill.

Commonly referred to as “Our Lady of Medjugorje,” Catholics believe the apparition of the Virgin Mary continues to bring messages to the visionaries.  This makes Medjugorje a major pilgrimage site for Catholics all over the world to experience what is undeniably a very spiritual spot, comparable to Lourdes and Fatima.

We attended a Catholic mass at 10 am.  Father was from Chicago and alongside him on the alter were six to eight other priests – each presumably from other parts of the world. He talked about his “calling,” which came at a time when he said he appeared to look nothing like the church-going type: Hair down his back, cigarette in mouth, playing music on the streets and nurturing a long-distance girlfriend in France. His casual nature was welcomed by all and his message was strong.

The church itself is sizable, but not that much larger than one found in a major city.  However, because of the potential crowd that it draws, the mass is also broadcast over loudspeakers into the town and the immediate area surrounding the church can hold an estimated 5,000 people.  The largest group of individuals who visit are from Italy.  They have the Vatican there, but Medjugorje has the sightings and also the largest number of confessionals.  Once the 10 a.m. mass was over, another mass started around 11:15, this time in Italian.

go site Brki http://laprovence.sk/familjarnosty/830 ć: Herzegovina wines

It’s quite clear that the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina are deeply vested in their land… and the wines in an almost spiritual way. But that doesn’t mean that tradition and convention is for everyone.  After visiting Medjugorje, we drove a little ways to visit the winemaking family by the name of Brkić.   The wines of Brkić are about as far-removed from conventional as one can get. Located in the small town of Čitluk, a mere speck at the heart of Herzegovina wine production, Josip Brkić and his twin sons are producing fermented juice made of of Žilavka (white) and Blatina (red) that are not only as close to truly representative of the region, but also delicious and unique.

We sat down in his comfortable winery to taste several of the Brkic wines and listen to Josip and his sons tell their story.

Over 15 years ago, during a trip to Italy, Josip learned about biodynamic practices and Steiner’s farming philosophy and fell in love with the concept, which changed the course of his winemaking for good.  Brkić is probably Herzegovina’s only biodynamic grower at the time of this writing this post.  Going against all conventional wisdom, Brkić converted the family’s four hectares and set out a new path. According to Josip, being one with the land, means to be thoughtful and and to fully embrace one’s surroundings. He said something to the effect that all he needed were his hands and grapes [to make wine].  Of course, he understands that organic and biodynamic farming is risky, and not for everyone but it makes complete sense to him, thereby he creates a spirit that revolves around his wines and he radiates his belief in confidence.

Josip Brkic specializes in the indigenous white aromatic Žilavka and rustic red Blatina from his region of Čitluk in Bosnia/Herzegovina. Utilizing organic and biodynamic principals and the lunar calendar, Josip respectfully fulfills the responsibilities to the land with his desire to make wines of terroir. Greda is the name of the plateau vineyard where the Blatina fruit was sourced. Fermented by native yeast in local, Bosnian oak to soften the angular nature of the grape it is an understated  red of elegance, style with a little rusticity.

Mjeseċąr, which means the moon walker in Bosnian, is Josip’s first wine made in a complete biodynamic way and supported by the power of the moon. Moon walker is an “orange wine” (made from white grapes with extended skin contact).  All  the work in vineyard was performed according to the moon phases, from pruning, harvesting, grape selection, to the wine itself. Tasting it was like tasting passion.

The winery itself is comfortable and inviting.  Outside and in the back and down the stairs is the wine making facility and cellar. Nothing fancy, but impeccably clean and with a feeling that their life’s work all happens here and in their nearby vineyards.

Herzegovina is spiritual in more ways than one and the feeling of connection is strongly magnetic. Coming here was a pilgrimage that satisfied and nourished all the senses.

 

follow link While in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, look up www.travel-medjugorje.com. 

Who do I see and taste in a glass of Ruchè?

Here I am getting ready for another upcoming wine tasting/seminar and I’m already thinking about what my notes will reveal.  Will I see a person in one of those wines next week?  Now that I’m fully aware of this “thing” that happens every now and then I think I’ll do a brain dump on the last person I saw in a wine before I get a pile up of people 🙂  By the way, I’m still trying to figure out if I associate a type of person with a varietal.  So far nothing, but I’ll keep putting my thoughts down, but if you think this content is strange, move onto the my last post about Santorini.

A few weeks ago, my pal Kirk Peterson brought over a bottle of Ruchè (La Miraja Ruche’ Di Castagnole Monferrato) , which is a grape grown in the Alto Monferrato  in Piemonte, Italy.  I’ve never had this varietal before, so naturally I was excited and interested.

Handing me a glass, he said, “Here, try this. It’s rrrrrrukay!”

Delighted by his enthusiasm, I immediately gave it a swirl and took a sniff. Right away, I took in its extraordinary and magnetic floral intensity, which started to present a person. But who was she?  Part of me ignored the vision of this girl from an Eastern Europe, dressed in a rust-red velvet tea-length dress with flat smooth, satin slip-ons.  The other part of me just wanted to savor this wine, re-join the conversation and forget about the girl because really, who cares?

But, back to the girl.  The vision always presents itself as a still image of a person in some form of action.  This girl is sitting at her piano, which  isn’t the jet black shiny type. Instead, it’s crafted of distressed marled wood of sorts and the setting is not at a concert hall, but rather a practice room either in a basement or music school.  This is a girl with long and thick mahogany hair is probably playing  Baroque but could also be playing rock ‘n roll from a legendary British band for variety, which could be why her talent is slowly getting recognized and taking her outside of her tiny speck of a  town.  I’m just guessing this, as I don’t actually hear anything.

Her eyes are green with lots of dark pigments of earthy-brown and ochre.  She has a small mouth with a dab of semi-sheer tint of red on her bee-stung lips. Her hands are youthful and skinny, but her fingers are long and strong, precise and determined. I was intrigued by how delightfully aromatic this wine is and how unique and funky it is on the palette. Certainly, a contrast from nose to palette.  I’m not certain it’s a wine for everyone’s taste, but I think she is a delicious experience.

Enjoying La Miraja Ruche’ di Castagnole Monferrato at Otto inside The Venetian Las Vegas.

Then I had the opportunity to taste her again this past weekend. She was much more pronounced this time – 17 and half years of age to be exact, from Eastern Europe, like I thought earlier – either Bulgaria or Romania.  She’s the only child of older parents.  The family’s hope is for her to become a well known concert pianist.  She’s not as concerned about it, though.  There is some tension in the family. Not sure why I see this – perhaps something tragic happened in the past?  I sense there is some complexity in her history, and it shows in her hands. And I’ll just leave that alone right there.

As for the wine, I’m not sure if it has any correlation to the person, but it’s a light to medium bodied wine, young, pretty, nervy, gutsy, mysterious, passionate, vibrant, yet melancholic at times.  Downright delicious.

See?  I told you I can’t describe wine like the somms.

And oh, I saved the original bottle (empty since that day) Kirk gave it to me and just took a sniff. Roses.  My son described it like the crushed pink rose petals that are inside the sachet bags.  Yep.

NOTE:  When I took a picture of the bottle for this post, I noticed the girl on the label. I knew she was there all along, but I never paid much attention until today.  Admittedly, she’s not quite the person I see, but I’m going to contact the producer and find out who the girl on the bottle is.

Santorini: Hues Beyond Whites & Blues

Striking and charming whitewashed buildings topped with azure-blue domes are perched on sheer caldera cliffs that soar out of the Aegean Sea. This is the Santorini that many people are enchanted by.  But, to go beyond the postcard is to discover the true beauty and colors of this volcanic island.

As the only inhabited volcano cauldron in the world, Santorini is already special. Sitting  half way between Athens and Crete, its crescent shaped island offers an astonishing array of contrasts.  There are jagged rocky promontories and smooth downhill slopes to the Aegean Sea, arable land crawling with volcanic rocks, deep ravines that break up the scrubby plains and the fertile slopes, grape vines trained in curious shapes, which from above, look like green sea stars invading the land.  And the sea that surrounds the island is clear, blue and calm.

Boat “lockers” are carved into the cliff walls on Santorini
What was once a round island, the center is now filled with water and remaining volcanic islands.
Aerial shot of Assyrtiko vineyard in early summer.

To scour the land by foot is to notice that volcanic rock is everywhere. From red sand beaches at Red Beach and black lava sand beaches in Perissa, the island’s colors are the product of nature’s wild side.  Santorini is essentially what remains from an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single, round island. It is the most active volcanic center in the South Aegean volcanic arc.

On the island’s beige, rolling plains, the wine country extends from the interior to the caldera’s edge.  At the ground level, heavy, black, semi-shiny, angular, fist-sized rocks dot the land.  Considerably smaller porous black pebbles and light and airy white pumice stones crunch under the feet like puffed rice. Walking between the vines, the whiff of salty air, mixed with the scent of ash,  blows from the sea.

It is this land that Santorini has built its reputation in the international wine market. Its aged vines, some a few hundred years old, were unharmed by the phylloxera louse which couldn’t stand a chance in this soil.  The island produces four classic varieties: the white Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani, and the red Mandilaria. And it’s no coincidence that they go so lovely with the food.

The wines of Venetsanos Winery.

But, Assyrtiko remains the dominant cultivar on the island, accounting for roughly 75 percent of the total terroir. It is considered the choice white grape for its ability to produce a variety of styles, from the fresh and crisp, to complex and aged, sweet and semi-sweet, to sparkling.

No one knows for sure where Assyrtiko came from, except that it has been prolific on Santorini for hundreds of years continuously.  And, it’s delicious.

The indigenous grape, Assyrtiko, grows in its “basket” at Venetsanos Winery

The vines, too, are unique to the island.  Each vine is trained in the shape of a coiled basket (or kouloura).  In the summer the “baskets” are covered in bright green leaves and within their embrace, the grapes ripen while being protected from the blasts of sand borne by the strong Etesian winds, which would knock the buds before bud-break otherwise.

Finally, from the ground to they sky,  sunsets streak the strata with colors ranging from spring lilac to plum and eggplant, and marigold to amber, as the golden sun sinks into the shimmering sea, only to rise for another glorious day tomorrow.

On Santorini there is no definition of time. It’s a magical destination worth visiting again… and again.

optionen handeln online ohne mindesteinlage auf deutsch Aerial shots provided by @ReadyFinetti @Youtube.

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Beard House Evening at Costa di Mare

Cooking at the historic James Beard House in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood is an honor that Chef Mark LoRusso experienced twice before this past March when he showcased Costa di Mare’s passion for seafood.  Inside Mr. Beard’s original kitchen, Chef created a menu that celebrated the fish and shellfish from the Italian coastline.

A Forbes Travel Guide Four Star Award-winning restaurant located inside Wynn Las Vegas, it’s no surprise that Costa di Mare’s seafood program works like a jeweled time piece – geared by 75 fisherman spinning reels of line around Italian coastal waters to deliver the freshest seafood to restaurant guests.

Chef Mark LoRusso

Inside the acclaimed James Beard House, before 63 guests, LoRusso’s goal was to stay true to the heart of Costa di Mare. “I wasn’t just proud of myself, but also of Wynn and the whole team. It took a great team to deliver,” says LoRusso.

LoRusso’s eight-course tasting menu highlighted hard-to-find breeds of fish and crustaceans shipped straight from Italy.  Each dish was paired with stunning regional wines.

“Since our cuisine is Italian, all Italian wines were chosen made from grapes that you can’t find anywhere else in Italy, except mainly in the selected region,” says Miklos Katona, wine manager of Costa di Mare.  “The goal was that the two together (food and wine) would create a higher level of joy and experience on the palate than separately!”

Following the success of the James Beard House event, guests of Costa di Mare, located inside Wynn Las Vegas, can now enjoy the exact same tasting menu.  “A Night at the James Beard House” menu is a celebration of seasonal flavors which starts with Ricci di mare con oilo – sea urchin mousse, served beautifully in a sea urchin shell, with olive oil and chives and paired with a lambrusco by Albine Canali; crudo misto di mare, a crudo trio of cuttlefish delicately sliced like “cappellini,” prawns, Sicilian amberjack and palomita is paired with refreshing and luxurious bubbles of Bella Vista’s Alma Franciacorta Brut.

 

crudo misti di seppia “capellini”, gamberi, ricciola, palomita crudo tasting – cuttlefish “cappellini,” prawns, Sicilian amberjack, palomita -Photo courtesy of Wynn Las Vegas
Bella Vista “Alma Franciacorta Brut”
ricci di mare con olio sea urchin mousse, olive oil, chives
Jermann “Vinnae”

From the organic vineyards of Jermann located in Friuli is a riveting white blend called “Vinnae” which harmonizes with scampi al burro conpiselli di primavera – butter-poached Imperial Langoustine with spring peas. Off the coast of Liguria, comes polipo Ligure all griglia- grilled octopus with crispy potatoes, olive oil-poached fennel and olives follows, which also happens to be a dish that both LoRusso and Katona share a particular affinity.

“We slowly cook the octopus to give it its tender grill marks. There is a nice char on it but not too much, just a light touch,” says LoRusso. “The dish is combined with a little bit of olive vinaigrette, a little bit of rapini, pepper based sauce, all to compliment the octopus. The octopus is the star of the dish.”

polipo Ligure alla griglia grilled octopus, crispy potatoes, olive oil poached fennel, olives, romanesco

 

Together with the Punta Crena Ca’Da Rena, the distinctively Ligurian wine makes a profound pairing from a very special coastal region of northwestern Italy.

“What brings this two elements together, besides that it is a marriage made in the heaven, that not just the flavor but the unique texture of the octopus being complimented by the round texture and wild white floral  aromas of the pigato grape grown on  old vines (35-40 years-old), supported by just enough acidity!” says Katona.

Miklos Katona, Wine Manager at Costa di Mare

Next on the tasting menu is risotto Sardo – Sardinian Red Mullet, bottarga and risotto with mussels.  Bottarga is a local favorite from the island of Sardinia.  It is a brick colored cured fish roe that is shaved on dishes for added flavor and texture. It is best enjoyed with the captivatinig Jankara “Vermentino di Gallura, a 100 percent single vineyard vermentino, also from Sardinia.

Finally, the rombo con caviale Oscietre  – line-caught Mediterranean Turbot with butter-poached leeks and Osetra Caviar –  is an exquisite fish with a perfectly crispy skin making way to a flaky white flesh that harmonizes with Anselmi “Capitel Croce,” a powerful, pure and fresh white wine from the Veneto region.

rombo con caviale Oscietre – line-caught Mediterranean turbot,
butter poached leeks,Osetra caviar

The dinner finishes with bright limoncello semifreddo with limoncello cream, poached rhubarb, strawberry and coconut streusel.  Complemented with a passito from a Sicilian producer, Planeta, the wine is made with moscato bianco grapes that undergo a special drying process that results in a concentrated dessert wine showing explosive aromas of exotic and candied citrus fruits.

Guests who experience the James Beard House dinner at Costa di Mare will be swept to far away Italian waters for a thoughtfully-created, grand seafood feast, quenched by delicious regional wines not readily found in other parts of the globe.

Costa di Mare’s mesmerizing view at Wynn Las Vegas

Omakase dining at Sen of Japan

It’s the way we dined in Tokyo. Hanging out with dad at his favorite sushi spots was like visiting friends, who just happened to be master sushi chefs that knew your palate. Like magic, they’d prepare stunning, one-bite dishes that were presented over the counter like a sacred ritual. Indeed, it was a gift of honor and respect was paid by savoring it.

Dining omakase (o ·ma·ka·se), a Japanese meal that consists of dishes selected and coursed entirely by the restaurant’s sushi chef, is the most traditional way to enjoy sushi. For the true sushi lover and adventurer of food, it’s like receiving a series of surprise gifts, which are hand-crafted with thoughtful care just for you.

After a hot hand towel (oshi·bori) is presented to cleanse your hands and dietary restrictions covered, then it’s time to relax and welcome a multi-course selection of deliciousness. With exacting precision, chef prepares the freshest fish of the moment, not to mention fish of the highest caliber. Each one requires a different mastery.

In Las Vegas, Chefs Hiromi Nakano and Shinji Shichiri of Sen of Japan deliver an experience that keeps the curious and adventurous coming back for more. The product of two masters from the Las Vegas strip – Nakano from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Nobu and Shichiri from Bellagio’s Shintaro (now Yellowtail) –  there is no denying their culinary talent and synergy. Sourcing only fish that exceeds their expectations translates to an unsurpassed dining experience.  And if you’re seeking to discover more about any of the fish they serve, ask anyone and they’ll be able to tell you where it was caught and when.

Here is a look at their recent offerings. Next time I go, it will be completely different.  That’s the beauty of omakase.

Kanpachi (amberjack) with roasted garlic slivers, sea bream with micro greens and kiwi vinaigrette.
Sashimi salad featuring four different fish: Suzuki sea bass, Big Eye tuna, Scottish salmon and fluke presented with garlic oil and capers.
Poached lobster from Maine with spicy lemongrass dressing and sun-dried beets.
A Sen of Japan signature dish – Alaskan black cod, topped with foie gras, flash-fried shishito pepper, wasabi aioli and crushed red peppercorns.
Succulent cuts of filet mignon served with Peruvian bell pepper sauce, asparagus and micro greens.
Assorted nigiri (L-R): Akami (lean blue fin tuna from Spain) brushed with wasabi soy; Japanese snapper, shiso leaf and sea salt; Shima ahi (striped jack), kombu and yuzu soy; fresh scallop with spicy lime dressing; seared Tasmanian ocean trout with spicy ponzu sauce; tekka maki (tuna roll)

 

Obento box with house-made chocolate soufflé and green tea ice cream to finish the evening.

Get personal with Chef Pierre Gagnaire

When I asked the illustrious Chef Pierre Gagnaire to articulate his sheer genius in the kitchen, he leaned over and with a gentle smile that came through his deep steel blue eyes, to say, “I try to create an emotion.”

Clearly, Gagnaire has such an ability.  His food is as artistic as it is delicious. Edible art that is simple, and also ingeniously creative, his creations are capable of drawing out feelings of love, happiness, inspiration, delight, curiosity, ultimate pleasure.

Yet, Gagnaire is modest in every way.  Though he has gained a cult of international devotees and owns highly-acclaimed restaurants worldwide and has garnered three Michelin stars for his eponymous restaurant in Paris, he finds himself short of expressing his brilliance. But he understands that his business is a process and that constant evolution has allowed him to stay at the forefront of the international culinary scene and remain relevant in an ever-changing world.

Gagnaire is the type of individual that is present at every front. By example, this is one of the reasons for his visit to his only U.S. restaurant, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, located on the 23rd floor of Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. Working alongside his kitchen team, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don, and wine director, Master Sommelier Will Costello, he says that consistency is supremely important – one that takes patience, the ability to empower his team to envision his idea, then organically allow their magic to take place in the kitchen.

“He creates an environment of family which allows me to have his full support when I am creating new menu items,” says Twist’s, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don. “Most of all, he trusts our team.”

Gagnaire has always encouraged chefs to break free of the rules that have governed the French canon for so long.

“Finally, one day I was ready to open my vision with all these chefs,” says Gagnaire, “A chef has the capacity to translate .. he or she is talented.  I’m obsessed with the quality, and I try to give the process. Not the recipe, never the recipe – just the idea.”

The feeling of creativity, design and artistry delights the senses from the very moment you enter Twist. The majestic floor-to-ceiling windows heighten the energy in the dining room and a dramatic glass staircase leads up to a suspended wine loft.  The restaurant also boasts a most striking lighting feature, which incorporates more than 300 spheres designed to look like bubbles floating across the ceiling. All this, is after being greeted by hundreds of silk purple butterflies that are seemingly an extension of the warm hospitality one receives as a guest.

twist-at-mo-las-vegas

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire continues to garner accolades for its groundbreaking menu of classic French cuisine, from vegetarian specialties, like Jardinière (Fava Beans, English Peas, Spring Onions Baby Carrots in Onion and Curry Juice English Pea Soup), to Muscovy Duck from Grimaud Farm (Thinly sliced with Cassis Bigarade Sauce Celeriac-Red Beetroot, Baby Carrots Turmeric Pommes Gaufrettes, Bacon Powder), Chef’s creations are a “twist” on the contemporary.

Gagnaire admits that his life in the culinary world was specified at an early age. His father was a chef, and while his siblings opted for other careers, cooking became Gagnaire’s destiny.  After working under some of the finest chefs in the business, he struck out on his own in the town of St Étienne, where his illustrious career took flight.

Since then, he has overseen the development of a number of restaurants around the world, from London, to Paris, to Seoul and Dubai – each of which stay true to the defining quality and innovation synonymous with Chef Gagnaire.

But, working closely with his team is where he feels most at home.  He explains how relationships are made through food, not only with his guests, but also with his team.

“I didn’t have a [career] choice, but I found that it was possible to tell a story.  Food creates relationships with people, and people are the keys to my life.”

marisa-finetti-will-costello-pierre-gagnaire

Seattle’s Spinasse Charms the Palate and Soul

The moment I arrived at Spinasse (pronounced speh-nah-say), in the gastronomically-gifted Capitol Hill area of Seattle, I was in love.  On the street level of this handsome, multi-storied brick building,  an intimate spot welcomes us with charming outdoor seating consisting of wooden plank tables, surrounded by a whimsy of colorful chairs.  An old-world iron sign hangs above the quaint entrance door, of which the window is tastefully etched “Cascina Spinasse.”

Spinasse_sign_

A peek through the glass is like looking into a rustic Italian farmhouse. Wooden trestle tables with knotty imperfections imply generations of celebrations with suppers and wine that had been consumed around them. Soft and delicate ivory lace curtains grace the front windows, wrought-iron chandeliers illuminate the cozy space, and mismatched wood and marble countertops suggest a sense of history and soul.  Any more rustic, and I’d have arrived by wagon.

We sit in a cozy corner table next to the window,  but this isn’t a quiet dinner spot at the 8 o’clock hour by any means. Conversations just inches away give the entire space a comforable, convivial vibe.

Spinasse Door Love and Relish

I knew that Spinasse was one of those places that is hotly acclaimed by fervent foodies. It’s easy to understand why, with robust platters of pan-roasted rib eye with plums and spring onions, lovage and balsamic, to a light arugula, fennel, prosciutto cotto and green bean salad with cherry tomatoes and fennel maioneses – everything is lovingly prepared, oiled, and seasoned.

The pasta is capable of achieving density and delicacy at the same time, in the fine hand cut egg pasta (tamarin) with butter sage – a classic Spinasse dish – or hearty cavatelli with beef short rib and shoulder ragu with marinated cherry tomatoes and parmigiana.  Everything is a masterpiece that pays homage to northern Italian region of Piemonte (Piedmont),  under the creative and passionate direction of Executive Chef Stuart Lane.

Lane attended the Italian Culinary Institute in a castle in Piemonte at Costigliole d’Asti.  He later staged at the Hotel Monte del Re in Dozza Italy outside of Bologna in the heart of Emilia-Romagna.  While there, he crafted tortellini by the thousands and was immersed in the Italian food culture. Today, Lane oversees the menus at Spinasse and the adjacent casual Italian eatery and bar, Artusi.   He is passionate about Piemonte, and you can taste it in the food and in the wine.

Photos by Suzi-Pratt.com
Executive Chef Stuart Lane Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com
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Uovo con fonduta – poached egg with parmigiano fondue and fried sage.
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Pio Tosini 14 month aged prosciutto with cantaloupe and laudemio olive oil. Green bean salad with prosciutto cotto.

handmade pasta

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Tarajin al burro e salvia – Hand-cut egg pasts with butter and sage. Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com
Agnolotti di melanzana
Agnolotti di melanzana – eggplant and anchovy agnolotti with peperonata and parmigiano.

handmade pasta Spinasse

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Cavatelli al ragu di manzo – Cavatelli with beef short rib and shoulder ragu with marinated cherry tomatoes and parmigiano. Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com

Barbaresco

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Mascarpone cheese cake with huckleberries.

Overall, the experience is one to remember. The interior is charming and picturesque, with the kitchen-view dining as a portrait in craft, as well as a warm welcome to this old world space. Spinasse is one of Seattle’s most delicious places. I can’t wait to go back.

Las Vegas Epicurean Affair – A Delicious Soiree

The Las Vegas Epicurean Affair is without a doubt one of the premier events to attend in Las Vegas to satisfy your inner gourmand.  It takes place one night a year in the most gorgeous setting – the Palazzo pool deck – and guests are treated to the most delicious soiree featuring nearly the city’s most renowned chefs, along with 80 restaurants, nightclubs and beverage purveyors.

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Photo: Erik Kabik
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Photo: Erik Kabik

This year, on May 26, more than 2,300 guests mingled under the stars on the most perfect night and enjoyed tastings of dishes and specialty cocktails from the illustrious restaurants of The Venetian and The Palazzo, including AquaKnox, B&B Ristorante, B&B Burger & Beer, Carlo’s Bakery, Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, db Brasserie, Delmonico Steakhouse, Hong Kong Café, Lagasse’s Stadium, Lavo Italian Restaurant, Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro, OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria, Public House, SUSHISAMBA, Table 10, and Tao Asian Bistro; as well as other local celebrated restaurants both on and off the Strip, including The Capital Grille, Carmine’s, Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant, Hash House a Go Go, Il Mulino, Katsuya, Origin India, Shake Shack, Texas de Brazil and Triple George.

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Photo: Erik Kabik
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Photo: Erik Kabik
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Photo: Erik Kabik
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Photo: Erik Kabik

In addition to culinary delights, live band The Lift with special guest star Corinne Zarzour entertained the crowd while synchronized mermaids the Water Beauties put on a show in the main pool.

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Photo: Erik Kabik

Proceeds from the evening will fund NvRA’s educational and scholarship programs, including ProStart®, a national high school culinary skill and restaurant management program.

With so many amazing restaurants in Las Vegas, this event will give you a taste of the best the city has the offer.  Then, go back and make a few reservations at your favorite picks!

Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen showcases Sonoma County wines

Could I have chosen a favorite wine that night?

“No favorites…” I was reminded by Dry Creek Kitchen’s wine director Rolando Maldonado.  As if each bottle of wine was a child of his own, not one would be singled out.  Of course, he’s right.  Every bottle and varietal is so perfectly suited to certain foods and/or occasions. But, the selection of Sonoma County wines he showcased paired so harmoniously with every dish, I tended to exclaim, “I love this!  They go so well together, perhaps my favorite!”

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Wine Director, Rolando Maldonado

I hadn’t been to Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA in 10 years.  But, last week I had the opportunity to dine there again with two close friends during a work trip.  I loved it then, and I love it even more now. We met Rolando, who maintains Dry Creek Kitchen’s focus on all-Sonoma County wine selections. Rolando honors the traditions and people of Sonoma County by offering bottlings of passionate producers, burgeoning varietals, and well-loved classics. In collaboration with Dry Creek Kitchen’s chef, Rolando creates pairings that highlight the flavors and ingredients of Sonoma County to deliver truly memorable dining experiences.  Below are visual highlights from the evening. Delicious food.  Delicious wine.

Dry_Creek_Kitchen menu

The setting: A cold, rainy February night in the charming town of Healdsburg.  After tromping through soft, rain-soaked vineyard soils while witnessing unusually early bud break in neighboring Geyserville, I was ready to drink some wine.

Cut to: Interior of Charlie Palmer Dry Creek Kitchen, with a staff committed to gracious conviviality, the atmosphere is welcoming, natural, and elegantly California wine country.

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Dunstan’s rosé of pinot noir 2013. 99 cases produced. Lucky to have tasted this gem!
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Surprise appetizer with foie gras
Front Porch rosé of grenache/syrah from Russian River valley
Front Porch rosé of grenache/syrah from Russian River valley
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Quivera Dry Creek Valley Grenache 2012
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A product of Hank and Maggie, Skewis pinot noir 2013
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Risotto with parmesan trio
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Syrah-braised Sonoma lamb shank with Brussels sprouts, turnips, celeriac espuma, lobster mushrooms, and rosemary lamb jus
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Special that day – beet-infused tagliatelle
Martinelli's Muscat of Alexandria coats the mouth with rich honeysuckle, mango, lychee, passion fruit, vanilla and sweet spices. Delish.
Martinelli’s Muscat of Alexandria coats the mouth with rich honeysuckle, mango, lychee, passion fruit, vanilla and sweet spices. Delish.
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Portalupi dessert wine to finish the evening.
The one I was calling my "favorite." 2014 UNTI Cuvee Blanc - 50% vermentino, 40% granache blanc, and 10% Picpoul. Only 490 cases produced. I'd love to taste it again. A trip back to Healdsburg, I guess.
The one I was calling my “favorite.” 2014 UNTI Cuvee Blanc – 50% vermentino, 40% granache blanc, and 10% Picpoul. Only 490 cases produced. I’d love to taste it again. A trip back to Healdsburg, I guess.