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Archive for July, 2012

Wine of the Week: Les Larmes de Divona Bourgogne Rouge, 2008

The color of this fascinating unfiltered Pinot noir is its first striking feature. An almost dark orange hue glows in the background of the deep rose meets burgundy body. The unfiltered nature of the wine provides a cloudy element that when combined with these contrasting colors provides the same striking appearance of when dark, ominous storm clouds start to make way for a calming sunset.

Or, you can just say the wine looks like a perfectly balanced Kir apertif.

At just 11.5 % abv, this is far from a heavy, prodding Pinot noir that strives to be more of a Malbec or Cabernet sauvignon. This is far from rosé or fruit juice either. The tannins and oak are very present, making this an absolute lock for a salmon with blueberry sauce or lamb burger with harissa mayonnaise.

The year old wine bar in Copenhagen, Manfreds & Vin, recently poured this wine, one of many in its extensive and awe-inspiring French collection. I didn’t see a wine not from the old, often forgotten country that still knows how to make world class and exciting wines. The Les Larmes de Divona is more rugged than the typical Burgundy, but it shows that the classic regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux may be dominated by heavy hitter heavy, luxurious wines, but there are young winemakers striking a new balance between elegance and innovation.

You can’t fairly call this wine a Pinot noir. It is entirely its own species, in a magnifique way. Then order from Manfreds excellent menu to enjoy with this wine. Or, just savor a few sips and enjoy dinner across the street at Manfreds’ big brother, Relae, where New Nordic cooking and even more excellent French wine awaits.

Cocktail of the Week: Trinidad Sour from Bar Boca, Oslo, Norway

When the bartender and co-owner of Bar Boca, a charming, quirky bar-coffee shop-cafe in Oslo’s hip Grünerløkka neighborhood, asked for my cocktail preferences, I talked about my dislike for crushed ice, how I enjoy something spirit forward, but a touch of sweetness. In other words, not a mai tai and not a Manhattan. She asks about bourbon. no problem at all.

Somehow from my vague preferences she crafted the perfect drink that seemed identical to what my palate seeked, but couldn’t put into words. The drink had just the right bourbon expression, with hints of spice, fruit, and nuttiness. And of course, served up.

Afterwards I requested the recipe and she enthusiastically wrote it down. The recipe was shocking.

4 cL each of Angostura bitters, orgeat syrup, and fresh lemon juice, with just 1 cL of bourbon (forget the type she used, potentially Knob Creek). Angostura bitters are usually just used for a finishing touch, merely a few drops. Orgeat syrup? It’s best known from flavorless mai tais and the artifical syrup in Starbucks almond flavored lattes. Lemon juice, now that’s a great ingredient anywhere.

Bar Boca’s Trinidad Sour on the right, a Hemingway Swizzle to the left

But, the bourbon, whose taste is clear in the drink, relegated to being just 1cL? It’s as if the Angostura bitters and bourbon swapped spots.

Either way, the drink is flawless. The orgeat’s almond notes provide smoothness to the bitters’ spice, and the smokiness from good ol’ bourbon. The drink channels Kentucky through the tropics, enjoyed in Norway. It’s a small, small world.

Yet the real shock is the revelation of how impressive Angostura bitters can be as a cocktail’s headline ingredient. After some research, the Trinidad Sour was first created by Giuseppe Gonzalez of Brooklyn’s Clover Club, one of our fine drinking country’s premier bars. It’s a variation on the Trindad Especial, based on pisco. Gonzalez’s recipe is 1 ounce each of Angostura bitters and orgeat syrup, 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice, and just 1/2 oz.  of rye whiskey. I can certainly seeing a peaty Scotch such as Laphroaig working too.

Everything works and even if it seems like the drink hides the bourbon, it doesn’t. Norway may have some fascinating beers to dominate your attention during a visit, but the mixology circuit from San Francisco to Brooklyn has now made it to Oslo, with an assist from Trinidad.

Tuesday’s Project: Caprese: The Dynamic Duo of Tomato and Mozzarella

It’s the final day of July, which means the latter half of summer unofficially is about to begin. Peaches, corn, cherries, and those other signs of early summer will soon bow down to the summer produce king: tomatoes. For the past 8 or 9 months, much of the country has either preached the Alice Waters gospel and avoided tomatoes altogether or been like me and grin and bear it through the occasional hothouse Roma or Campari tomato to add color (not taste in the case of these tomatoes…) to salads or garnish a sandwich. The current box Campari tomatoes I’m looking at here in the kitchen comes from Mexico (only 1,00o miles away!), yet somehow was delivered through a distributor based in Ontario, Canada.

Let’s just say now that it is hours from being August, it’s time for real tomatoes that express sensational citrus meets earthy notes, bursting with the juice that covers your plate when you try to cut through an heirloom slice in a caprese. Soon I can look the other way at the tomato box from Mexico and shift full time to our tomato garden that is showing excellent promise after the usual weeks of July California sunshine.

Caprese at Trattoria Popolare in Oslo, Norway

A few trickles of cherry tomatoes arrived right after I returned from Scandinavia recently and since Trev’s Bistro is about to hit the road again for a few weeks, it’s time to use as many of the first of the crop tomatoes. There still aren’t nearly enough to make a gazpacho. We’re still in salad and hamburger garnish territory. And in the case of last night’s appetizers, that wonderful Italian summer staple: caprese.

Caprese is as basic as it gets: fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil for garnish, olive oil drizzled on top, and perhaps a spritz of sea salt on top. O.K., a dash of pepper can help too. Sure, you can have your interesting variations on the caprese, perhaps liquid mozzarella and spherified tomatoes à la José Andrès, or you can turn a panini or an omelette into a caprese. Even recently, David Tanis, former chef at Chez Panisse and now a writer with The New York Times wrote about evolving caprese into an antipasto spread.

Ultimately, it’s the quality of the ingredients that determine how special your caprese would be. You can get caprese with industrial grade olive oil, rubber mozzarella from a Ohio warehouse, hothouse tomatoes from Guatemala, and dried basil at The Olive Garden.

Then there are several different steps that can be taken to achieve the blissful summer heights that a caprese can easily reach. Fresh tomatoes, perhaps Early Girl or Cherry (Sweet 100 or Sungold) or Brandywine or Yellow Pear, are pivotal. The darlings of chefs are the heirloom tomatoes, for both their sweetness and spectacular colors.

Mozzarella ranges dramatically as well, from the ethereal creamy Burrata to more structured smoked mozzarella you’re more used to the almost watery Fior de latté from cow’s milk. At home, the mozzarella di bufala from water buffalo’s milk is preferred, slightly tangy compared to burrata, and much less creamy, easier for cutting with tomatoes. Of course you could just look at the menu for Nancy Silverton’s brilliant mozzarella bar at Los Angeles’ Osteria Mozza for a whole, definitive guide to mozzarella and its best pairings (it’s hard to ever pass up the burrata with bacon, caramelized onions, and bitterness from marinated escarole, pure genius).

Of course McEvoy Olive Oil’s nuttiness or a pristine E.V.O.O. from Italy or Sicily will transform the caprese even further, along with the fresh basil. Sea salt works wonders when topping the creamier mozzarellas, such as Burrata.

Of course caprese is just one way to enjoy this summer’s King produce. Go crazy with gazpacho and B.L.T.’s, or be innovative like a “B.L.T.” recently enjoyed at San Francisco’s Park Tavern where the “B” is smoked raw tuna, evoking bacon without the crunch or grease. It didn’t hurt to have superb butter lettuce as the “L” and, oh yes, sensational heirloom tomatoes as the “T.”

Then there are always Bloody Marys…

Happy Tomato Season!

Restaurants: Relae, Copenhagen, Denmark

Romaine lettuce is usually an afterthought, hardly the focus of a salad like its glitzier lettuce siblings Little Gems and mizuna night be. It almost seems romaine lettuce gets the adrenaline pumping like iceberg lettuce.

Then after you’ve sampled around a bit in the restaurants of Copenhagen’s New Nordic cuisine generation that swept the city off its feet a few years ago and now the rest of the world is striving to replicate, much like molecular gastronomy beforehand, you’ll never look at any ingredient the same way again. Whether the ingredient is a plant or animal, in the hands of these champion foragers and visionary chefs, fungus, moss, and ants are all ripe for the picking. And little did you know, they pack sensational tasting rewards. (more…)